After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.…
This third of the miracles recorded in John's Gospel finds a place there, as it would appear, for two reasons — first, because it marks the beginning of the angry unbelief on the part of the Jewish rulers, the development of which it is one part of the purpose of this Gospel to trace; second, because it is the occasion for that great utterance of our Lord's about His Sonship and His Divine working as the Father also works, which occupies the whole of the rest of the chapter, and is the foundation of much which follows in the Gospel. Christ comes to this impotent man, and says, "Wilt thou be made whole?" meaning thereby to say, "I will heal thee if thou wilt." And there comes the weary answer, as if. the man had said, "Will I be made whole? What have I been lying here all these years for? I have nobody to put me into the pool." Yes! It is a hopeful prospect to hold out to a man whose disease is inability to walk, that if he will walk to the water he will get cured, and be able to walk afterwards. Why, he could not even roll himself into the pond, and so there he had lain, a type of the hopeless efforts at self-healing which we sick men put forth, a type of the tantalizing gospels which the world preaches to its subjects when it says to a paralyzed man, "Walk that you may be healed; keep the commandments that you may enter into life." I fix upon these words, the actual words in which the cure was conveyed, as communicating to us some very important lessons and thoughts about Christ and our relation to Him.
I. CHRIST MANIFESTING HIMSELF AS THE GIVER OF POWER TO THE POWERLESS THAT TRUST HIM. His words may seem at first hearing to partake of the very same almost cruel irony as the condition of cure which had already proved hopelessly impracticable. He, too, says, "Walk that you may be cured"; and he says it to a paralyzed and impotent man. But the two things are very different, for before this cripple could attempt to drag his impotent limbs into an upright position, and take up the little light couch and sling it over his shoulders, he must have had some kind of trust in the person that told him to do so. A very ignorant trust, no doubt, it was; but all that was set before him about Jesus Christ he grasped and rested upon. He only knew Him as a Healer, and he trusted Him as such. So it is no spiritualizing of this story, or reading into it a deeper and more religious meaning than belongs to it, to say that what passed in that man's heart and mind before He caught up his little bed and walked away with it, was essentially the same action of mind and heart by which a sinful man, who knows that Christ is his Redeemer, grasps His Cross and trust his soul to Him. In the one case, as in the other, there is confidence in the person; only in the one case the person is only known as a Healer, and in the other the person is known as a Saviour. But the faith is the same whatever it apprehends. Christ comes and says to him, "Rise! take up thy bed and walk." There is a movement of confidence in the man's heart; he tries to obey, and in the act of obedience the power comes to him. All Christ's commandments are gifts. When He says to you, "Do this!" He pledges Himself to give you power to do it.
II. We have in this miracle our lord set forth as the absolute master, because he is the healer. The Pharisees and their friends had no eyes for the miracle; but if they found a man carrying his light couch on the Sabbath Day, that was a thing that excited their interest, and must be seen to immediately. And so, paying no attention to the fact that it was a paralyzed man that was doing this, with the true, narrow instinct of the formalist, they lay hold only of the fact of the broken rabbinical restrictions, and try to stop him with it. "It is the Sabbath Day! It is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed." And they got an answer which goes a great deal deeper than the speaker knew, and puts the whole subject of Christian obedience on its right footing. He answered them, "He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed and walk." As if He had said, "He gave me the power, had He not a right to tell me what to do with it? It was His gift that I could lift my bed; was I not bound to walk when and where He that had made me able to walk at all, chose to bid me?" And if you generalize that it just comes to this: the only person that has a right to command you is the Christ that saves you. He has the absolute authority to do as He will with your restored spiritual powers, because He has bestowed them all upon you. His dominion is built upon His benefits. He is the King because He is the Saviour. It is joy to know and to do the will of One to Whom the whole heart turns with gratitude and affection. And Christ blesses and privileges us by the communication to us of his pleasure concerning us, that we may have the gladness of yielding to His desires, and so meeting the love which commands with the happy love which obeys.
III. WE HAVE HERE OUR LORD SETTING HIMSELF FORTH AS THE DIVINE SON, WHOSE WORKING NEEDS AND KNOWS NO REST. "Father worketh hitherto, and I work." The rest, which the old story in Genesis attributed to the Creator after the Creation, was not to be construed as if it meant the rest of inactivity. But it was the rest of continuous action. God's rest and God's work are one. Throughout all the ages preservation is a continuous creation. The Divine energy is streaming out for evermore; as the bush that burns unconsumed, as the sun that flames undiminished for ever, pouring out from the depth of that Divine nature; and for ever sustaining a universe. So that there is no Sabbath, in the sense of a cessation from action, proper to the Divine nature; because all His action is repose, and "e'en in His very motion there is rest." And this Divine coincidence of activity and of repose belongs to the Divine Son in His Divine human nature. With that arrogance which is the very audacity of blasphemy, if it be not the simplicity of a Divine consciousness, He puts His own work side by side with the Father's work, as the same in principle, the same in method, the same in purpose, the same in its majestic coincidence of repose and of energy — "My Father worketh hitherto, and I Work. Therefore for Me, as for Him, there is no need of a Sabbath of repose." Human activity is dis. sipated by toil, human energy is exhausted by expenditure. Man works and is weary; man works and is distracted. For the recovery of the serenity of his spirit, and for the renewal of his physical strength, repose of body, and gathering in of mind, such as the Sabbath brought, were needed; but neither is needed for Him who toils unwearied in the heavens; and neither is needed for the Divine nature of Him who labours in labours parallel with the Father's here upon the earth.
IV. WE HAVE IN THIS INCIDENT THE HEALER, WHO IS ALSO THE JUDGE, WARNING THE HEALED OF THE POSSIBILITIES OF A RELAPSE (ver. 14). The man's eight-and-thirty years of illness had apparently been brought on by dissipation. It was a sin of flesh, avenged in the flesh, that had given him that miserable life. One would have thought he had got warning enough, but we all know the old proverb about what happened when the devil was ill, and what befell his resolutions when he got better. And so Christ comes to him again with this solemn warning. "There is a worse thing than eight-and-thirty years of paralysis. You fell once, and sore was your punishment. If you fall twice, your punishment will be sorer." Why? Because the first one has done you no good."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.