Sunday, November 19, 2023

“Pick Up Your Mat and Walk” [Matt's Messages]

“Pick Up Your Mat and Walk”
Life in Jesus’ Name - The Gospel of John
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
November 19, 2023 :: John 5:1-18 

In many ways, this is a story about how NOT to respond to Jesus.

One of the reasons why God gave us this story in His scriptures is to show us how some people responded poorly to Jesus so that we can learn from what they did wrong.

That actually happens a lot in the gospels, especially in these middle parts of the story when Jesus begins to have more and more conflict with the Jewish religious authorities. That conflict started already in chapter 2 when Jesus cleared out the temple, but it continues here to grow and grow and grow.

In our passage for today, it grows to the point where they are already starting to try to kill Him. How not to respond to Jesus!

But I’m getting ahead of the story. The story starts with a miracle.

Let’s go back to verse 1 of chapter 5.

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.” 

Do you get the picture in your mind’s eye?

Jesus has returned to the South at some point for a feast of the Jews in Jerusalem. We’re not sure which one. It doesn’t matter for this story. What matters is that Jesus is there. And He’s not just in Jerusalem. He’s visiting the pool of Bethesda (which probably means “The Home of Mercy”) which is a great name for this particular place.

Because there is a lot of suffering there. A lot of need for mercy. There was this pool near the Sheep Gate, and it had five covered walkways (colonnades, which are a row of columns that have a ceiling across them to provide shade for those walking or laying under them). 

Many scholars believe this is the same place as the two pools near St. Anne’s church in modern day Jerusalem. If so, the pool was about as large as a football field and as much as twenty feet deep.

And there were hundreds of disabled people lying around it. “A great number,” John says. Some were blind. Most could not move on their own. They were paralyzed or too weak to walk.

This must have been a very sad place. This was not a hospital. This was a place where people went after they had gone to the hospital and there was nothing more the doctors could do. They couldn’t work. They weren’t getting better. They were just there.

And I’m not surprised to find Jesus there. Jesus always waded into places of suffering.  You and I might avoid a place like this, but I’m not surprised to see Jesus there.

Now, apparently, one of the reasons why these people hung out there was that they believed there was “power in the pool.” Some of you have an extra verse in your Bible that was probably added later (not by John) that says something like these people were “waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted” (Jn. 5:3-4 NAS).

Those words are not in the earliest and best manuscripts, so they were probably not written by John, but put in there later by a scribe who wanted to help readers understand why those folks were gathered around the pool.

It’s likely that the pool was fed with an underground spring, so from time to time the waters did bubble, and it would be easy for people to latch onto that and hope that it meant an angel would heal the first person in. Power in the pool! People will latch on to all kinds of things when they have very little hope.

Well, Jesus was there and saw all of this, and he specifically saw one man who had been lying there for 38 years. Almost four decades of lying there, weak and powerless and paralyzed and unable to get around on his own. Look at verse 5.

“One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” (vv.5-6).

Isn’t that an interesting thing for Jesus to ask? You might think it might be obvious. And maybe it was. Maybe that was a no-brainer. Of course he wanted to be well, to be whole, to be healed. Who wouldn’t?! But Jesus doesn’t tend to ask no-brainers, does He? No, Jesus often asks questions to get to our hearts. “Do you want to get well?”

If this man was healed, his whole life would change. For one thing, he’d have to go to work. He has been “on disability” for 38 years. He’s had to live on the charity of others for four decades. We don’t know how old he was. Maybe that’s all of his life. His identity would change. He would no longer be defined by his disability which sounds great, but who would be now? Does he even want to find out?

He has not sought out Jesus. Jesus has picked out him. And so Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?”

And you and I know that all of Jesus’ healings are just a foretaste, a picture of the greatest healing ever–healing from our sins–salvation.

So, I think this is a great question for us to hear Jesus asking us too, “Do you want to get well? Do you want to be saved? Do you want ultimate healing? Do you really want your life to really change?” Do you?

This man does want to be healed. He says that’s why he’s there. Verse 7.

“Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’”

He obviously doesn’t know Whom he’s talking to. He is fixated on how he can’t get to the power in the pool. He doesn’t realize the power of the Person right in front of him.

But he clearly does want to be healed. So Jesus...just heals him!

He doesn’t ask him to believe in him.
He doesn’t get him over to the pool.

Just like last week, Jesus just says the word and it happens. The Word gives the word, and it comes to pass.  Verse 8. Our sermon title for today.

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.”

Can you imagine?!!! Just think about that. For 38 years, his legs did not work. And Jesus just said, “Get up!” and he could get up. Jesus said, “Walk” and he could walk!

He knew it immediately. “At once.” BAM! Just like that. He could stand up and walk. Can you imagine what that must have felt like? I cannot. But this man was living it.

And everyone around Him praised God and began to trust in Jesus.

Uh, no. That’s NOT what happened.

Remember, this is a story about how not to respond to Jesus. Verse 10 says that this man quickly encountered people who got angry that he was healed. Because of the day when Jesus did the healing. Look at the end of verse 9.

“The day on which this took place was a Sabbath [uh oh], and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’”

Yes, you heard that right. The Jewish Religious Leaders find this guy taking a stroll on the Sabbath, and they get in his face about it. “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

That’s your takeaway?! That’s what you are focused on?

I’ve got three points of application I want to make this morning about how to not respond poorly to Jesus, and here’s the first one:


Don’t miss the power of Jesus. These guys are totally blind to what Jesus has just done. They don’t even see it.  All they see is a guy carrying his straw mat on a Saturday morning.

The guy tries to tell them. Verse 11.

“But he replied, ‘The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.'”

“I was just healed. From 38 years of paralysis! This man made me whole again. And he said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ So I did”

And what part of that did they hear? All they heard was that some guy told him to break their rules. That’s all they hear. V.12

“So they asked him, ‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’ The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there” (vv.12-13).
Now, just for the record, it was not against the Law to carry a mat on the Sabbath. The Law forbid work on the Sabbath, so if you were a professional mover, you probably shouldn’t have been carrying beds around. You need to take that day to rest. That’s a day of rest.

But the Jews had made all kinds of rules about the Law to make sure that no one ever got anywhere close to breaking the Law (though they had plenty of loopholes for themselves when it suited them, too). And one of their rules was to not take possessions from one place to another on the Sabbath.

And this guy was taking his bed somewhere. His straw mat. Oooooh.

They were missing the point of the Sabbath, but they were missing the power of Jesus altogether!

“Who does He think He is? Telling you to carry something on the Sabbath?”

I don’t know? Maybe the guy who just worked an amazing miracle with nothing but a simple sentence? “Pick up your mat and walk.” And look at me walk!

There are a lot of ways that we can miss the power of Jesus. The man who was healed might have missed the power of Jesus if he had said he didn’t want to be healed after all. The Jews missed the power of Jesus because they were focused on their rules. 

You and I might miss the power of Jesus because we just don’t slow down enough to see it. One of the great things about the Thanksgiving holiday is that we are given an opportunity to slow down and think about all of the amazing wonderful things that Jesus has done for us. So easy to take them for granted.

It strikes me that this man never thanks Jesus in this story. At this point in the story, he hasn’t even learned His name!

But it’s nothing like how hard-hearted these leaders were. They heard about this healing, and all they could think about was how their rules were being broken.

They should be praising God and seeking out and following Jesus. But instead they are locked in bitterness and focused on themselves.

Don’t miss Jesus’ power.


The point of the Sabbath, or the point of His healing.

Jesus runs into this man once again, later on. We don’t know how much time has passed. But the man is still healed. And Jesus finds him and has a warning for him. Look at verse 14.

“Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’”

Wow. Those are ominous words, aren’t they? They are supposed to be. The last time these two people met, Jesus said, “Do you want to get well?” And this time, Jesus says, “See, you are well...” So He reminds this man of what Jesus did for him. But Jesus says, that’s nothing compared to what is coming if you do not repent.

“Your suffering of being paralyzed was nothing compared to what that suffering represents–judgment. Something much worse.”

Jesus is not saying that if this man continues in his sins that he will be paralyzed again. That’s possible, of course, especially if his sins are dangerous ones! 

But he's saying that just like the healing was a foretaste of something glorious to come, his past suffering was a foretaste of something dreadful that is coming for all who remain in their sins.

That’s the point. And Jesus says, don’t miss the point. Repent!

Remember, Jesus is after our hearts. He’s not just after our bodies. He cares about our bodies. He wants us to be well.

But just like we saw last week, Jesus has something much more important in mind than our physical health and life. He is aimed at our spiritual health and life!

“Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Something like Hell.

Now, of course, we can’t just “stop sinning” like turning off a faucet or switching off the lights. But we can repent of our sins and trust in Jesus for salvation and sanctification. We can turn away from whatever sins have had us in their grip and take an off-ramp through faith in Jesus and what He did on the Cross and at the Empty Tomb.

What sins do you need to stop? What changes do you need to make in your life?

You can’t just do it yourself any more than this guy could have gotten himself into the pool. But Jesus is here to heal, and not just our bodies. But our souls. He can give us power to say NO to temptation. And, by faith, to live holy lives that please Him. That’s the point. That’s the point of all of the good gifts that He has given you. 

It would be easy to go into Thanksgiving this week and praise Jesus for all of His gifts, and then turn around and use all of those gifts for selfish sinful purposes.

Jesus gives us His gifts to enjoy and to show love with, to be holy with. Don’t miss the point. “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”  You don’t want to go to Hell. Stop.

I don’t know if this guy did that. I don’t know what he did with the healing Jesus gave him. I don’t know what he did with the warning that Jesus gave him either. He’s not a great example. Even here, it doesn’t say that he was grateful. In fact, it looks like he turns tattletale on Jesus. V.15

“The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.”

At least he now gave Jesus the credit. It have been the blame! But there was no mistaking Who it was Who had healed this man. It was Jesus. Number three and last.


Don’t miss Who Jesus really is. This man has identified his healer as Jesus. And that healing took place on a Sabbath, so that puts Jesus directly in the crosshairs of the Jewish Religious Authorities. Verse 16.

“So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.”

Apparently it would have been okay if an angel had healed in the man in the pool on a Saturday, but it wasn’t any good for Jesus to do it with a Word on a Sabbath, especially if he was telling people to walk around with their mat in their hands on the Sabbath. Oh no, not that.

So the Jews press in. We don’t know exactly what the persecution looked like. It was harassment at least at this point. And how do you think Jesus will take that?

Do you think that Jesus will apologize? “I’m sorry. I was just trying to help.”

Do you think that Jesus will defend Himself?  “Let me try to explain how my actions actually fit within your rules.”

Or do you think that Jesus will go on the offensive?

Look at verses 17 and 18. “Jesus said to [to those persecuting Him], ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” Don’t miss the Person of Jesus. 

We’re going to get into this more next week and the following week, Lord-willing. It’s some great stuff!

But here’s the basic logic: God rested on the Sabbath day, right? Right! But He also has to work on the Sabbath day or we’re all in a world of trouble. If God stops His work, then everything goes to pot, right? So God can’t break the Sabbath right? He’s Lord of the Sabbath.

And Jesus says, “Yep, and He’s my Dad.” “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too, am working.” 

You see, the Jews are not wrong about Who Jesus is claiming to be. They get it right in verse 18. He keeps calling God His Father in a way that you and I can’t. In a way that only the One and Only Son can call Him Father. They are just wrong in believing that Jesus is wrong!

Jesus does not deny working on the Sabbath. He just says that’s what God the Son should be doing.

“So, yes, you’ve got it right. I’m saying that I am God the Son.”

And that makes Him equal with God. Don’t miss that! Don’t miss that Jesus is not just some healer. He’s not just the Messiah. He isn’t just the Son of God. He’s God the Son!

That’s why they want to kill Him. Because they think He’s blaspheming. Because this is Who He says He is. Which leads us to answer the question for ourselves.

Who do you believe Jesus is?

So this is how NOT to respond to Jesus. Don’t miss His power. Don’t miss His point. Don’t miss His person. Because the power is not in the pool. 

The power is in the Person of Jesus of Jesus Christ. Let’s worship Him!