After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Scripture a Record of Human Sorrow
I. There lay about the Pool of Bethesda a great multitude of impotent folk—of blind, halt, and withered. This is a painful picture, such as we do not like to dwell upon—a picture of a chief kind of human suffering, bodily disease; one which suggests to us and typifies all other suffering—the most obvious fulfilment of that curse which Adam's fall brought upon his descendants. Now it must strike everyone who thinks about it that the Bible is full of such descriptions of human misery. Little does it say concerning the innocent pleasures of life; of those temporal blessings which rest upon our worldly occupations and make them easy; of the blessing which we derive from the sun and moon and the everlasting hills; from the succession of the seasons and the produce of the earth; little about our recreations and our daily domestic comforts; little about the ordinary occasions of festivity and mirth which occur in life, and nothing at all about those various other enjoyments which it would be going too much into detail to mention. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity; man is born to trouble; these are its customary lessons.
II. God does nothing without some wise and good reason, which it becomes us devoutly to accept and use. In truth, this view is the ultimate true view of human life. But this is not all; it is a view which it concerns us much to know. It concerns us much to be told that this world is, after all, in spite of first experiences and partial exceptions, a dark world; else we shall be obliged to learn it—sooner or later we must learn it—by sad experience; whereas, if we are forewarned, we shall unlearn false notions of its excellence, and be saved the disappointment which follows them. By being told of the world's vanity at first, we shall learn, not indeed to be gloomy and discontented, but to bear a sober and calm heart under a smiling, cheerful countenance. The great rule of our conduct is to take things as they come. The true Christian rejoices in those earthly things which give joy, but in such a way as not to care for them when they go. For no blessing does he care much, except those which are immortal, knowing that he shall receive all such again in the world to come. But the least and the most fleeting he is too religious to contemn, considering them God's gift; and the least and most fleeting, thus received, yield a purer and deeper, though a less tumultuous joy.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 325.
References: John 5:2.—A. Blomfield, Sermons in Town and Country, p. 273. John 5:3, John 5:4.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. vii., p. 194; H. Wace, Ibid., 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 197. John 5:4.—G. Colborne, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 360; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 242; vol. viii., p. 202. John 5:5-14.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. ii., p. 203. John 5:6.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 112.
John 5:6-7Consider whether, over and above the general typical features which we may detect in this miracle, there be not significative circumstances in the history from which, as Christians, we may draw great practical lessons.
I. Observe, that it was only at certain seasons that the angel descended, and only the individual that was instantly on the alert, to take advantage of the troubling of the waters, that was healed of his infirmities. The waters were not at all times equally efficacious, and the dilatory, by letting slip an opportunity, ran no inconsiderable risk of remaining uncured up to the day of their death. Now, we do not mean to say that there is any moment at which men can turn in repentance to God and find Him unwilling to receive them. I do not mean to say of the Fountain open for sin and uncleanness that, like the Pool of Bethesda, it is healing only at certain times, and loses its power when stated solemnities have passed. But, nevertheless, there are precious opportunities in every man's life, turning-points as we may well call them, on the taking advantage of which may altogether depend his final salvation. So far as we ourselves are individually concerned, the troubling of the waters is an occasional, rather than a permanent, thing. The point to be observed is, that if we be not on the watch for that troubling of the waters, and if we do not, as soon as it takes place, endeavour to avail ourselves of these motions, we are likely to die in the porches of Bethesda, with the sickness of the soul altogether unrelieved.
II. The lesson comes out clear and distinct, that in religion everything depends on taking immediate advantage of the suggestions and emotions of God's Spirit, seeing that the visitations of grace are only occasional, and there is no pledge that a neglected opportunity will ever be followed by another. There is something singular in the question which Christ proposed to the cripple: "Wilt thou be made whole?" You may possibly decide against being cured. It is a secret unwillingness which frustrates the ordinance of grace, and keeps our Bethesda still crowded with the halt, the withered, and the blind.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 3251.
References: John 5:6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 955. John 5:6.—W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxi., p. 380; J. Williamson, Ibid., vol. xxxii., p. 196; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. xiv., p. 302; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 307. John 5:8.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 128. John 5:9.—Ibid., My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 133; Church of England Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 258. John 5:10-20.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 374.
John 5:11The authority for our life
I. The principle contained in these words of the healed man is a grand and far-reaching principle. When truly interpreted, it applies to the whole life of every saved man. He that saves the soul has a right to command and govern the life.
II. The motive—I mean gratitude—is the purest, the deepest, the strongest, the most constraining, the most abiding of all the motives which a Christian man can feel. There is nothing which it cannot impel us to do, nothing that it cannot enable us to sacrifice, nothing that is cannot strengthen us to bear; and if this ever dies within a man, all that is distinctively Christian dies with it.
III. It is a glorious thing to remember that whatever He commands us to do is right. Having assured ourselves that it is His command, then the obedience should be prompt—as prompt as was the obedience of the healed man, who at once "arose, and took up his bed, and walked."
E. Mellor, In the Footsteps of Heroes, p. 17.
References: John 5:11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv., No. 1479. John 5:13.—Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 129.
John 5:14I. We feel interested in hearing that the impotent man was restored to health, and yet, what was the benefit he received? He lived a few years, and then he died. What is life? Holy Scripture saith, "It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." Therefore, observes St. Augustine, in his comment on this miracle, "In that health was restored to this man's body for a time, some duration was added to a vapour; so then, this is not to be valued much, for vain is the health of man." The health of the soul is the thing to be thought of, for the soul endureth for ever; and the miracles effected by our blessed Lord on the bodies of men were only types of those greater miracles which, throughout the last dispensation, He works by His Spirit on the souls of men, in their regeneration, renovation, and sanctification.
II. What is our exhortation to those who have come to the Lord and are cleansed through the living stream—the spiritual Bethesda? We do not tell them to take their ease and be at rest. Our Sabbath is not here; it is an eternal one in the heavens. The threescore and ten short years, which is our appointed time on earth, are our working days. And we would send every one away from our Bethesda with the injunction, "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk." We would say, Go and serve God by doing the duties of your calling, whatever they may be. Dare bravely to be singular in the cause of Him who died to save you. To be singular, in order to attract notice to yourself, is indeed folly, and it may be a sin; but to be singular in rendering obedience to the word of the Lord, as speaking to you through the precepts of Scripture and the injunctions of your Church—this is the part of godliness. Let your answers to all gainsayers be the same in principle as his was who replied to the cavilling Jews, "He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed and walk; such a Benefactor I cannot distrust; and such a Benefactor I will, by God's help, in all things strive to obey."
W. F. Hook, Sermons on the Miracles, vol. i., p. 121.
Christian fear of relapse into sin
I. Consider what awful notions our Saviour would here impress on us concerning the future end and sore punishment of sin. Do so no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. From what we read of the sufferings of him to whom this was said, it is plain with what peculiar force the expression would come home to him. "A worse thing:" worse, that is, than a palsy of eight-and-thirty years. Suppose the man never so thoughtless and ignorant, such a threat would naturally fill him with alarm. Coming as it did from One who had just before clearly shown His almighty power! it would set him upon meditating, more seriously than ever he had done, upon the infinite danger of offending God, and the absolute necessity of amending his ways.
II. Where the caution of our Lord is slighted, and the evil habit of a man, suspended only by the affliction, returns and grows over the man anew, or he falls into fresh transgressions, that man's case is worse in many respects than if he had never been visited at all. (1) First, his wickedness is greatly aggravated by his ingratitute for God's especial mercies. (2) As such a case is very bad in itself, so it has the worst possible effect. It sears and deadens the heart and conscience, rendering it more and more difficult for any good advice, either of God or man, to find its way into our thoughts. The evil spirit knows his advantage, and presses it, of course, more and more earnestly, with sullen thoughts of the hardship of Christian obedience. While the evil spirit is thus gaining strength, the good Spirit of God is gradually so grieved and vexed that He begins entirely to depart from those who will not listen to His gracious admonitions. And when God leaves a sinner to himself, we know too well what must follow. To all, therefore, who have been made whole by baptism, and not to those only who have been favoured with any signal temporal mercy, the Son of God here gives counsel, that they should make it very much their care to keep up a tender sense of the great things which have been done for them, the wretchedness from which they have been redeemed, and the continual danger of a relapse. It is in vain to think of continuing religious and improving in goodness as a matter of course; your heart must be steadfastly set upon that great blessing, and resolved to obey the good rules, by which only the Holy Spirit has taught us to obtain it.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. i., p. 88.
References: John 5:14.—J. M. Charlton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 19. John 5:15.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 282. John 5:16-18.—F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of St. John, p. 141.
John 5:17I do not think there is a better characteristic of the more earnest thinking of these days than its profound reverence for faithful work; its profound sense that if a man have found his work he has found his felicity. In the text we have our Lord's own example, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." We are not able to understand much concerning God; but we are perfectly sure of this, that week-day or sabbath-day He is never idle. He does not abide in remote glory, hearkening to the praises of heaven. We think of Him as with the keen eye that misses not a movement of a being in nature; with the sharp ear that loses not a sound; with the unwearying hand that has wrought on from eternity and will work on to eternity. The Being who has set every man his work does not shrink from His own. And if He has appointed man's lot to be a laborious one, He bids His creature do no other than He does Himself. He does not say, Go; He says, Come.
I. God works in creation. When our bewildered mind owns its utter incapacity to grasp the millionth part of the awful sum that we name so easily when we say the universe, then remember that One Mind planned it all, and One Hand fashioned it; that all this, with its infinite relations and adaptations, of which science is daily telling us more, is God's work; and think what commentary it reads on my text—"My Father worketh hitherto."
II. God works in Providence. It is fresh this day. It is sustaining each of us at this moment. The universe is not like a machine that just needed to be wound up once and then it could go by itself. It was not enough to launch a world on its orbit and then leave it alone; its course must be steered and prescribed, as it rolls on its way. To think that everything that is high and low, in earth, and air, and sea, is considered by God's eye, is tended by God's hand—what a comment on the Creator and Redeemer's declaration, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."
III. God works in Redemption. What work on God's part is implied in man's Redemption! All the persons of the Godhead are tasked here. The Father so loved us as to send the Son; the Son came and lived and died; the Blessed Spirit must now apply the Gospel remedy to the refractory and repellent soul. Truly, in the case of each separate soul brought into the fold of the Good Shepherd, you may see a repetition of the work that was done in the creation, that is done in the Providence of the outer world.
A. K. H. B., From a Quiet Place, p. 225.
References: John 5:17.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 14; A. Blomfield, Sermons in Town and Country, p. 233. John 5:19.—C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons; p. 331. John 5:21-23.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 484. John 5:23.—H. Bonar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 163; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 49. John 5:22-23.—Ibid., vol. iii., p. 18.
John 5:24There are two things here which at once stand out to the mind with equal prominence—the smallness of the conditions and the magnificence of the offer. The salvation of a man's soul is simply a matter of capitulation. All that God requires of His creatures, who have become by sin first rebellious and then hostile, is surrender—absolute, unqualified surrender. The terms of this capitulation are simply two—hear the messenger and believe the mission. The proffered result is instant security of life—that life infinitely prolonged, and no punishment.
I. This life which Christ offers to every man is a present possession; it is a fact. The moment that you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you live, and there is no more death. The elements of death are taken away. You did die with Christ upon the Cross, as a member of His mystical body. Now you as essentially live with Christ; therefore, there is no more death for ever and ever.
II. Secondly, this life lasts. In that life which you have had to do with, and which you used to live before you became a Christian, there was nothing Very lasting; either the thing itself passed away, or the zest of it went, or your power to enjoy it ceased. In this life nothing perishes, because it draws out of the infinite; it is a life with hidden springs in God, and therefore there is eternity in it all.
III. There is nothing now behind; there is no condemnation to you; there is nothing hanging over your head; no future to be afraid of, for your sins have already been condemned and punished in Crist. Being in Him, and continuing in Him, there will be no processes of prosecution, there will be no terror. The old sins lie buried, there is no resurrection for forgiven sins, they will never appear again; they shall not come into judgment.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 121.
References: John 5:24.—R. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 17; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1642; J. Hamilton, Works, vol. vi., p. 464. John 5:24-30.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 495. John 5:25.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. v., p. 197; Ibid., vol. xix., p. 277. John 5:25-28.—C. J. Vaughan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 262. John 5:27.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 97. John 5:27-29.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 451. John 5:28, John 5:29.—Ibid., vol. xii., p. 54; W. Landels, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 412; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv., No. 896. John 5:30.—Homilist, new series, vol. ii., p. 385. John 5:32.—H. Calderwood, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 266. John 5:35.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 95; J. Hamilton, Works, vol. vi., p. 86; M. Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 272; Homilist, vol. vi., p. 350; Ibid., third series, vol. i., p. 329; W. Braden, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 65; J. Brown, Ibid., vol. xxxiv., p. 168; G. Huntsworth, Ibid., vol. viii., p. 65; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 362. John 5:37, John 5:38.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 65.
John 5:39-40Searching Scripture and finding Christ
I. It is evident that the failure of many men to find Christ is not from any deficiency in the means of discovering Him. It is this which our Lord so emphatically marks in the case of the Jews. They had the Scriptures, and they searched them. They had the mine, and they dug in that mine in quest of the eternal riches. They not only venerated, but almost worshipped, the sacred volume. With privileges far less than the mass of professing Christians have now, they improved them far more. Yet, after all, they failed; multitudes of those who thus searched the Scriptures failed in finding Christ; or, if they found Him, found Him only to reject Him.
II. The failure in question does not arise wholly from a want of intelligence—right understanding in the use of the means. Observe the case of the Jews, We have seen how they searched the oracles of Divine truth, and let us now observe the views with which they searched them. "Ye search the Scriptures," said Christ, "because in them ye think ye have eternal life." They thus sought the right thing, as well as sought it in the right place. How many Bible readers now-a-days are there of whom even this much can be said? Surely we may ask if the Pharisees and Scribes of those degenerate and unhappy days were not nearer the kingdom of heaven than many of ourselves?
III. Now, then, the true reason for the failure of these men. The evil lay in the will. "Ye are not willing," says Christ, "to come to Me, that ye might have life." It is thus a moral perversity, not an intellectual defect; not a want of light, but a want of love. The reason of this unwillingness is twofold:—(1) The natural carnality of the heart. By nature and by habit we live immersed in the things of sense. At home, among things outward, material, tangible, we with difficulty rise to any conception and contemplation of things spiritual and unseen. (2) The love of sin. They instinctively feel that they cannot come to Jesus and live in His Divine and holy fellowship and yet live in sin. They feel that there is a natural and eternal incompatibility between the two things. They may come to Jesus just as they are, but they cannot abide with Jesus just as they are. Therefore He and they remain strangers for ever. Learn, in conclusion (a) The preciousness of the Bible as a means of leading us to Jesus. (b) The worthlessness of the Bible if it leads us not to Christ.
J. Burns, Select Remains, p. 18.
John 5:40The Lamentations of Jesus
I. Men, before regeneration, and apart from the salvation of God, are in a state which Jesus counts and calls death. In this plaint of the Saviour the true condition of sinners is seen with awful distinctness. No room is left here for dispute or mistake. In the bosom of the Father, Jesus knows the mind of God. He sees the end from the beginning. On the foreground of time He declares that death is men's character; with His eye on eternity He pronounces that death will be their doom. If we remain to the last where we are found at first we shall be lost for ever.
II. In order to pass from death unto life, it is necessary to come to Jesus. The lost must wrench themselves away from a whole legion of possessing spirits,—come to Jesus as simply and as really as the cured demoniac came, to sit at His feet. To put off the old man and put on Christ is as real as to put off garments that are filthy and put on garments that are clean, and as great in its results as to put off this mortal and put on immortality.
III. In order to life, nothing more is needed than to come to Jesus. No preliminary qualification is demanded. No selection of persons according to their merits is made. None are excluded for the presence of one quality or the absence of another. To the dead one thing only is essential, that they should come to Christ.
IV. Those who are spiritually dead are not willing to come to Christ for life. This seems strange, even the Lord Himself wondered at their unbelief. It is the very mystery of iniquity, that man's resistance to the Divine proposal is great in proportion to the easiness of its terms.
V. Jesus complains that men will not come to Him for life. It follows from this, as clear and sure as the reflection of your face in a mirror, that He delights to give, to be eternal life to the lost. Here the Saviour opens His heart, that we may look in and see the love that fills it. I know not any passage of Scripture whence the compassion of Emmanuel more freely flows. This plaint, when interpreted aright, is more consoling than any promise—more solemnising than any terror. When Jesus tells us what grieves Him, we learn with certainty what would make Him glad. The inference is infallible. No truth can be more plain or more sure than this, that the flight of sinners to Himself for life is the chief delight of God our Saviour.
W. Arnot, Roots and Fruits of the Christian Life, p. 38.
References: John 5:39.—W. Dorling, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 232; vol. xxxii., p. 250; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, pp. 161, 162; J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 1st series, p. 8; W. Cunningham, Sermons, pp. 42-58; Homilist, vol. vi., p. 186. John 5:40.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., pp. 210, 326; E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. iii., p. 47; Homilist, new series, vol. iii., p. 642: L. Campbell, Some Aspects of Christian Ideal, p. 71; G. Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 165; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i., No. 52; vol. xxii., No. 1324. John 5:43.—F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of St. John, p. 156. John 5:44.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1245. John 6:1-10.—Phillips Brooks, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxi., p. 364. John 6:1-14.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 59; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 291. John 6:1-15.—R. Lorimer, Bible Studies in Life and Truth, p. 357. John 6:3.—Sermons for Boys and Girls, p. 136.
Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.
He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.
Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?
And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.
For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.
But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.
But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
I receive not honour from men.
But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.
I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.
How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?