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“Get A Life!”

John 5:1-47
Bob DeGray
February 2, 2003

Key Sentence

Jesus has the right to tell you to get a life, and the authority to give it.


I. Rise and Walk (John 5:1-18)
II. From Death to Eternal Life (John 5:19-30)
III. Testimony (John 5:31-47)


        Jesus never used the phrase ‘get a life’ as far as we know. In fact, the origins of the phrase are somewhat obscure and it didn’t come to prominence until William Shatner used it on Saturday Night Live in 1986. The skit was about a Star Trek convention, with Shatner, as James T. Kirk, the guest of honor. These pointy-eared Star Trek fans are asking incredibly geeky questions like “what was the combination to your safe in episode 38?” and finally Shatner gets frustrated with all this ‘Trekkie’ madness and says “Get a life, will you people. For crying out loud it’s only a TV show.”

        The American Heritage Dictionary tells us that ‘get a life’ means to acquire some interests or relationships of one's own. Anytime you and I get focused on some inconsequential detail of life we’re likely to hear this phrase. But I don’t think Jesus would have used it quite that way. When he says ‘get a life’ he means ‘take hold of an eternal life now.’ In John chapter 5 Jesus more or less says ‘get a life’ to a paralyzed man, but the scope of this command is much wider. The chapter shows that Jesus has the right to tell you to get a life, and the authority to give it.

I. Rise and Walk (John 5:1-18)

        We begin with an encounter between Jesus and an invalid. Our section is is John 5:1-19, but I’ll only read 1 to 9 right now. Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 4 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" 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." 8Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

        This is the only time John mentions a feast of the Jews without naming it, presumably because the feast itself didn’t have a lot to do with the incident. It simply brought Jesus to Jerusalem, which he entered through one of the smaller gates, the Sheep Gate, known to us from Nehemiah’s mention of it in the Old Testament. Nearby is a pool called Bethesda, surrounded by covered colonnades. In the shade of those covered patios a great number of people used to lie and wait for healing. Archaeologists have found that area and confirmed these details. In fact this is the third or fourth time already in John that archaeology has given us solid evidence of the accuracy of the text. John cannot have been written two or three generations later or these accurate details would have been lost.

        The King James, based on later Greek manuscripts goes on to say that people waited there “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 stepped in was made well.” Much of this is implied in the narrative, but none of the early copies of the New Testament has these verses. It’s likely they were added as marginal explanations or footnotes. Some are even between parentheses in the Greek texts.

        One of the people waiting for healing, was a man who had been an invalid for thirty eight years. John doesn’t identify his illness, but it left him weak, or more likely lame or paralyzed, since he couldn’t move himself to the pool. As Jesus passed by he picked out this man and learned, or better, knew he had been in this condition for a long time. Jesus knew the state of this man’s life and took sovereign initiative to choose him for healing. We often tell ourselves that the people Jesus healed were those with faith, and even in this case that could be true, but the initiative was with Jesus.

        He asks “Do you want to get well?" It’s a good question, isn’t it? Some commentators over-psychologize this text, seeing in a desire for wholeness the key to this man’s healing, as if the desire to change could make it happen. Truth is that unless God intervenes in this man’s life, all the desire in the world won’t make a difference. Still, Jesus does ask “do you want to get well?” After thirty eight years of dependence, do you still have a desire to walk on your own? Do you want to be free from this burden? Do you really want to have a life? Sometimes Jesus has to ask us these questions too: we know we need to be made better, but do we want to?

        The man responds by telling Jesus that from his point of view the reason he’d never been healed is that he’d never been first in the water. His reply is a cry for help, whether he is saying ‘yes, I really do want to be healed’ or complaining that ‘even if I wanted to be healed, I couldn’t.’ Jesus hears this cry and by his own word heals the man. He says “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” This is almost ‘Get a life’ but not quite. The ‘mat’, normally made of straw, was light enough to be rolled up and easily carried on the shoulder of a well person. Jesus may have given the command to show that the man was not staggering off in doubtful health, but leaving with all the bodily strength he needed.

        Only Jesus has the right, as Messiah, to say to the man ‘Get a life; get up; walk.’ Only he, as Son of God he has the power to make it happen. It’s ironic then that this clear sign gets Jesus in trouble with the Jewish leaders. Let me read 9 to 19. 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat." 11But he replied, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.'" 12So they asked him, "Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?" 13The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

        14Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." 18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

        John briefly mentions that the healing took place on the Sabbath day. In the gospels the Sabbath is always a point of contention, which Jesus responds to in several ways, saying, for example, ‘the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” and “it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath.” Here it is the man, carrying his mat who attracts the attention of what we might call the Sabbath police. He’s told that the law forbids carrying the mat on the Sabbath. In fact, the Law says no such thing. It was the rabbis and Pharisees who said this, because to do so would violate one of the thirty-nine kinds of Sabbath work they said were forbidden.

        The man defends himself by saying the one who healed him told him to do it. Some have said that he is doing this out of respect for Jesus, as if to say that anyone with the power to heal him certainly had the right to tell him what to do. Others think he says this just to get attention off himself. It’s interesting that Jesus later finds the man at the temple and warns him against further sin. This may or may not mean that his illness was the direct result of sin; the two things may be unrelated, but now this man’s sin is standing in the way of faith. If he never comes to faith something worse will happen to him. In any event, possibly because of an unwillingness to deal with his sin, the man goes to the Jewish leaders and tells them who healed him.

        As soon as they heard it was Jesus who had done this they began to persecute him. Their words are not recorded, only the answer Jesus gave: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” In a Jewish context this is actually a very powerful argument. The rabbis at that time were actively debating whether God kept his own Sabbath laws. How could he, since plainly his care for creation and his people continued on the Sabbath? Assuming that to be true, Jesus tells them that in working on the Sabbath he is simply following his Father’s example. He is saying that whatever factors justify God’s continuous work also justify his.

        For this defense to be valid, the same factors that apply to God must apply to Jesus: he must have the same status and authority as God. Those who questioned him saw this, and seized on the fact that he was calling God his Father. In their view this was blasphemy. If the Jews had learned anything from their exile to Babylon it was that they must worship God alone, and anyone or anything that tries to set itself up alongside God is an idol to be destroyed. That’s why they tried to kill him. They didn’t know and couldn’t see his real relationship to God.

II. From Death to Eternal Life (John 5:19-30)

        So what have we seen? Principally that Jesus is the one who has the authority to say ‘Get a life.’ This man who had been ill for thirty eight years was no more deserving than anyone else around that pool, but Jesus has both right and authority to tell him to take his mat and walk. It was this authority which brought Jesus trouble from the Jewish leaders, first because it seemed to violate their petty Sabbath laws and second because in answering them Jesus seemed to make himself equal with God. The response Jesus gives in verses 19 to 30, makes it clear that he really is the one who has the authority to say ‘Get a life’. John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

        22Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. 24"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. 28Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. 30By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

        Jesus answers the charge that he made himself equal to God by explaining the unique relationship the Son has to the Father. Even though this gospel presents Jesus as truly God, and though he takes for himself divine titles and divine rights, yet he is always submissive to the Father. Being equal with God did not mean complete or even partial independence: He does only what he sees his Father doing. The Father initiates, sends, commands; the Son responds, obeys, performs his Father’s will.

        All this is done in the context of God’s love for his Son. Like all true love, God’s love is open and transparent. He reveals himself fully to the Son. The Son then does all he sees his Father doing, even greater things than he has so far. Verse 21 describes those works: “just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” The Son’s will and pleasure are so completely one with the Father that their choices are identical. And what do they choose? To awaken the dead and give them life. Jesus has the right to give the spiritually dead new life and to call the physically dead from their graves.

        But the power to give life implies the right not to give it. Verse 22 “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” God was recognized in Genesis as the Judge of all the earth. He judged Israel and promised a final day of judgment, on which, Jesus says, he will be the judge. In John 3:17 we were told that he sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him. But when all have been saved who will be saved, the Son will come again to sentence those who have condemned themselves by not believing. As a result all will honor the Son as they do the Father: every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

        Verse 24, reinforces this truth, that the Son gives life to whom he pleases: “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus gives life to those with faith in him and in his Father. Just as the invalid by the pool was healed by Jesus’ powerful word, so also it is his word that brings eternal life. Just as the words and deeds of the Son are the words and deeds of the Father, so faith placed in the Son is also placed in the Father who sent him. And when Jesus by his powerful word says ‘get eternal life’ he is not talking exclusively about the future. He is talking about an eternal life that begins now with crossing over from the death side to the life side.

        The classic illustration we use, the bridge illustration, makes this perfectly clear. Jesus by his death and resurrection bridges the gap between man and God, between death and life. All who believe in him cross over into life. All who refuse to belief refuse life. We use John 5:24 in sharing the good news about Jesus because it makes this choice clear: He who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and shall not come into judgment. He has crossed over from death to life.

        I was struck by this verse this week. I’m afraid at times we get complacent about eternal life and about resurrection because we are so used to the concepts. But it really is radical to be told in a passage like this that death no longer matters, because in believing Jesus you have found life. What better way is there to prepare ourselves and others for something like the Space Shuttle accident that happened yesterday, if it isn’t by being convinced of the truth that through Jesus we have eternal life. Verse 25, Jesus says to you and me, “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” This is the ‘now’ part of the ‘now and not yet.’ Right now the spiritually dead can be made alive by his word. You and I and people around us can have radically renewed lives now by faith – lives that are abundant, real, and eternal.

        Jesus has the authority to give life because God has granted him ‘life-in-himself’, that is, self-existence. Our lives, like all created things, are derived from the life of God. But He is self-existent, and Jesus, the Word-made-flesh, shares that self-existence.

         So Jesus, like God, has the power to give life. He also has the authority to judge, because he is ‘the Son of Man’. It is no outsider who holds the power of life and death over us. It is one who became like us, one who as Son of Man subjected himself to our weaknesses, but who never sinned. As Son of Man he was unjustly judged when he was crucified, but by his death and sin-bearing he became the perfect judge of men.

        If verse 25 emphasizes the ‘now’ aspect of eternal life, verse 28 emphasizes the ‘not yet’: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out.” The authority of his voice reaches the grave, as Jesus proves when he raises Lazarus, though the resurrection described here is not to earthly life but to eternal life. It is given to those who have done good, which could be taken as a works based salvation except John has already taught that we’re saved by God’s grace. John 3:21? “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." In chapter 6 Jesus say “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

III. Testimony (John 5:31-47)

        So, this second section confirms our observation that Jesus has the right to tell you to get a life, and the authority to give it. He has that right because he is the Son of Man who suffered for your sins. He has it because his Father, to whom he submits in all things, has given him it to him. By this authority his powerful voice gives life now to all who hear his word and entrust themselves to him. And by that same authority he will one day call the dead to life. In the last section of the text Jesus reinforces for his hearers his legitimacy in saying things like this by reminding them of the witnesses that testify to him. Let’s look at this section briefly before we close. John 4:31-47 31"If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. 32There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. 33"You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. 36"I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. 37And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41"I do not accept praise from men, 42but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? 45"But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?"

        When we began John we saw that John the Baptist was sent to be a witness, pointing to Jesus. We listed various people and things in John’s Gospel that were additinal witnesses. Many of those were in chapter 5, and now we can see the context: Jesus has started making disturbing claims for himself: either shockingly wonderful or shockingly blasphemous. The natural response is to look for some way to verify what he says. This could be difficult, since his claims are primarily about things that cannot be seen, like his relationship to the Father, or that are still future, like raising the dead. But Jesus, in these few moments, has no trouble listing several things that do testify to the truth of what he says.

        The first and most important is the Father himself. In verse 31 Jesus admits that in one sense his own testimony about himself need not be accepted. A man can say anything he wants about himself, but just saying it doesn’t verify it. So he asserts “there is another who testifies in my favor.” In verse 37 Jesus concretely identifies the Father as one who testifies to him, but points out to that crowd that they don’t hear his voice, don’t see his form, don’t have his word in them because they don’t believe. The conclusion we have to draw is that the testimony of the Father to Jesus comes through the presence of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives.

        But even skeptics can appreciate the other witnesses. In verse 33 Jesus recalls the testimony of John the Baptist: they had sought this testimony and John had without hesitation pointed away from himself to Jesus: ‘this is the one I talked about.’ Of course, John’s testimony was only human testimony, but Jesus knew that John had been widely accepted as a prophet. His testimony would carry weight with many. Jesus says ‘I mention it that you may be saved’. Weightier still are the works Jesus is doing. This includes his signs, the miracles that are evidence of the Father’s hand on his ministry. In the first miracle of turning water into wine, John says, “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” But his work also includes his conversation with the woman in Samaria. Jesus said of that conversation ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’

        Both of these things - the witness of others and the witness of his works - are visible ways in which the Father gives testimony to the Son. An even more direct witness is found in Scripture. Verse 39 is great: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” The Scriptures testify to Christ; not just the New Testament scriptures, like the Gospel of John, but the whole Old Testament, the prophecies, the types, the events, the examples and the promises also points to Christ.

        So here are four witnesses to the truth: God the Father, who through the Spirit witnesses in the hearts and lives of believers, people who have seen the truth about Jesus, his work in the world, and most especially the Scriptures.

        All these point to Christ, but many people do not believe. That was true when Jesus spoke to this crowd, and it is still true. In the last several verses Jesus addresses those people and challenges them to believe the Scriptures. Don’t let your belief be based on men. Rather set your hearts on the love of God and the approval that comes when you accept the testimony of the Scriptures. Because if you don’t, he says. those same Scriptures that you don’t believe will accuse you before the Father and you will be condemned for unbelief. “Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

        Let’s review for a moment. At the start of the chapter Jesus gives a new life to the man who had been an invalid for 38 years: “Get up. Take up your mat and walk.” Jesus has the right to say ‘get a life’ and the authority to make it happen. In the middle section he teaches that anyone who hears his word and believes has eternal life and has crossed over from death to life. He freely gives eternal life as a gift to those who trust in him. He has the right to say to you ‘get eternal life’ and the authority to give it to you. This authority is confirmed by the Father, by John the Baptist, by his works and above all by the Scriptures which testify to him.

        I want to close today with a brief testimony I found on the internet. Here’s someone who had this universal need to get a life, and found it in Jesus: “For the better part of my life I was searching for Truth. Not 2+2=4 truth, but deeper truth, the meaning of Life, a ‘What's it all about?’ truth. During all that searching, I instinctively felt that part of me was missing. I didn't know what it was, or where to find it, only that I'd know it, when I did. I researched the sciences, I looked at both Western and Eastern religions, I studied the occult, but I never found what I was looking for. I found a lot of dead ends and cul_de_sacs, but not that Truth with a capital 'T'.

        Then one day in 1986, I was checking a reference in the Bible - it was actually a reference toward the back of the book of Ecclesiastes _ and I thought it was so interesting, I'd read the whole book. I got as far as chapter one, verse 17 and 18, then stopped, dumb founded. Those two verses seemed to stand out so much I couldn't read any further; I felt like I'd been hit with a sledge-hammer. Here in front of my eyes was Truth. "I gave my heart to know wisdom, and madness, and folly; I saw that this was vexation of spirit; For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increases knowledge, increases sorrow." That was my life in a nutshell. And if there was so much Truth in just those two verses, how much Truth did the rest of the Bible hold?

        I didn't come from a church-going family, but I did believe in God as a Supreme being. What I had never seen was how he could make a difference in my life. I felt a new excitement as I started to read the Bible - This was God's Word! I could believe it to be the truth it said it was, because God had already revealed His truth to me.

        Soon I found that God says in the Book of John that He loved the world so much He sent His Son Jesus, to die in my place; This is not the action of someone unconcerned about our lives. God said that if I believed in Jesus I would have eternal life. I knew then that I had to accept Jesus in my life. This I did willingly, and my life changed from that moment. Jesus was the missing part of me I'd searched for. God is not the impersonal being I thought He was: it's possible to know Him personally. Jesus is part of my life now- the most important part, and if I've any regrets, it's that I didn't find life sooner in Him.