Sapphire Sky

January 11, 2015

Can you have too much faith?

Filed under: theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 5:10 pm

“You just need to have faith!”

This is a common sentiment that we use when people are doubting, are in trouble, or are facing problems in their lives.  It is a “nice” and well-meaning thought.

But as I am studying through the life of Jesus Christ, I am struck by the fact that Jesus encounters people with too much faith!

What is the problem?  They have a lot of faith, but in the wrong object!

As we study the scene in John 5, we see that Jesus encounters two groups of people.  Both of these groups have too much faith in the wrong object.  Both of these groups are lost.

The first group of lost are the lowly, the outcast, and the hopeless.  You cannot consider these people without evoking pity.  They are the invalids with no hope of recovery.  The text says they consist of blind, lame, and paralyzed (John 5:3). 

They have placed their faith in a bubbling pool.

Their only hope is that when the pool bubbles, the first one in the water gets healed.  We have no record that this has ever worked.

The second group are the leaders and the teachers.  They are the pillars of society, like Nicodemus in John 2. They know the Old Testament scriptures and several more of their own laws.

They have placed their faith in their rituals.

Their hope is that God will think well of them for diligently observing their rituals.  They have hundreds of a laws for what they can and cannot do on a Sabbath.  They are so caught up in their rituals that they completely miss God as he walks by.  Instead, they want to kill him.

This is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry.  From now on, he will have an organized opposition wherever he goes.  This opposition will continue to grow until Jesus is crucified on a Roman cross, only two years from this point.

Jesus goes to the invalids at the pool and heals one man.  He then goes to the temple, among the leaders, and offers life to both the man and all of the people.

Having faith is good, but only if it is faith in the correct object.  Jesus’ words to the man who had been healed were to “stop sinning”.

“The warning was they his tragic life of 38 years was no comparison to the doom of hell. Jesus is interested in not merely healing a person’s body. Far more important is the healing of his soul from sin.” [4]

 

Previous post: What will it take to believe?


John 5:1-16

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.


There are a lot of details which are omitted from this account.  John leaves out specific details regarding the time, the place, and the nature of the disease, leaving us only to guess what may have fully happened on that day.  What John does consider relevant is to show us these two important points: First, Jesus heals a desperate, hopeless man who has been sick for 42 years.  Second, Jewish leadership reacts with hostility because this happened on the Sabbath.

 

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

We can only speculate which feast is mentioned here. Most commentators believe that this was the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Trumpets, both in September-October [1].

It is also likely that Jesus came here alone.  His disciples have returned to their regular jobs after Jesus returned to Galilee and he has not yet commissioned the apostles (Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16).  There are also no references to the disciples in this section. [2]

 

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

The pool of Bethesda has been excavated near the Sheep Gate on the Northern wall of the city.  The name of “Bethesda” is uncertain, but it likely means “house of healing”, “house of mercy”, or “house of kindness”.

This pool is fed by an underground spring which would cause the water to bubble and gave rise to the superstition that it would bring healing.  The Jews in this time believed that angels inhabited rivers and streams, and so it would be a natural progression for them to believe that this mysterious bubbling in the pool was caused by an angel who ready to dispense healing.  This superstition (and their despair) is further augmented by the belief that only the first one in the water would be healed. [3]

 

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

We don’t know the man’s condition, but it appears to have rendered him incapable of moving on his own, as he says that he needs help to be put into the pool. 

Jesus knew that the man had been there a long time.  The Holy Spirit may have given him insight to know about the man’s life as he did for the Samaritan woman (e.g. John 4:17-18), but this can also be explained by simple observation.  Either way, Jesus initiates the conversation with the man, who voices his despair that he cannot be healed by the pool.  The man has a lot of faith, but his faith is in a pool which will never help him.

Jesus commands the man to get up, take up his bed, and walk. The man has no faith in Jesus yet he is instantly healed.  Not only is his body healed, but atrophied muscles are repaired and coordination is immediately restored.  The man obediently takes up his bed mat and leaves.

 

Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.

Once again, we see a misplaced faith.  The Jews care more about their Sabbath observance than that the man was healed.  John most often uses the term, “Jews”, to represent the ruling Jewish leaders.  They don’t ask the man about his healing, but rather confront him for carrying his mat.  It is the man who points out that he has been healed and appeals to the authority of the man who healed him (he does not know it is Jesus).

The law of the Sabbath was from the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11).  However, the Jews had taken the Sabbath law a step further, stipulating what specifically could and could not be done on the Sabbath.  The constant failure of the Jews was that they had taken their traditions and held them up to the same level as Scripture.

 

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.

The man goes to the temple where Jesus meets him and challenges him.  Jesus is not accusing the man of being an invalid because of sin, but he is telling the man that he has a new chance to be free from sin, and dire consequences if he does not.

 The man tells the Jewish leaders that it is Jesus who has healed him. The man’s true belief and motivations are left for conjecture.  Some have said that he came to the Jews in order to share the good news about his healing.  Others have said that he simply went to turn in the very one who gave him his life back.  We can only guess.  But the point of this passage is not to tell us about who the man is.  It is to tell us who Jesus is.

Jesus continually confronts the Jews in their areas of unbelief.  This passage shows the beginning of their growing opposition. 


 

[1] The most likely conclusions are that the feast was either the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Trumpets (both in September-October).

  • The Feast of Tabernacles was one of three major feasts where all men were required to travel to temple.  The other two (Passover in April, and Pentecost in May) would have been earlier in the year and less likely for this to happen so soon after Jesus’ arrival from Samaria (John 4:35).
  • Passover is also ruled out by silence, expecting that the most important feast would be noted in the text.
  • The ancient myths of angels inhabiting bubbling springs also say that the angels would provide healing on the New Year.  Therefore, the New Year Feast (Feast of Trumpets) might be the time when there would have been the large congregation at Bethesda.

 

[2] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Section III, “The Ascent”, Chapter xii.

 

[3] 5:3b-4 are not part of the original text, but were added afterward as a commentary on the mystical beliefs of the time.

 

[4] John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John 5, p. 290.

2 Comments »

  1. […] Previous Post: Can You Have Too Much Faith? […]

    Pingback by Jesus says that he is God | Sapphire Sky — January 18, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

  2. […] [1 The “unknown” feast mentioned in John 5 was likely the Feast of Tabernacles the previous year, which would have made it exactly one year since Jesus’ last appearance in Jerusalem. If the feast in John 5 was another celebration, it would have been anywhere from a year to a year and a half since Jesus was last in Jerusalem. For further discussion on the unknown feast, see the previous post here. […]

    Pingback by If Anyone is Thirsty | Sapphire Sky — March 22, 2015 @ 5:33 pm


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