Some solemn thoughts arise in reading this chapter, though the questions and answers it awakes bring out blessed subjects for the soul's meditation; for since sin entered into the world, its sorrowful effects have ever been the occasion for the manifestation of divine grace, and the discovery that the blessed God is above all the power of evil and the evil one.
Without at all intending to dwell on the detail of the chapter before us, I would notice two things which stand out with prominence; viz., the miracle wrought, and the sabbath apparently broken - two things that a pious Jew would find it difficult to reconcile. The smallest reflection would assure him, that the power and goodness displayed in the miracle was none other than that of God, the Jehovah-Rophi of Israel, who had come down into the midst of the sorrows of His people in the Person of the despised Jesus of Nazareth; but that this work of power should be wrought on the sabbath-day, and the ordinance of the Lord be seemingly broken, would be his perplexity. He knew that of nothing was the Lord more jealous than that His sabbath should be kept inviolate. It was one of the most intimate links between the Lord and His people Israel; but now this same Lord is in their midst, giving the most convincing testimony of who He was, yet according to their thoughts disregarding the sacred sabbath, and when charged with it justifying Himself with the well-known words, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."
This was quite inexplicable to a conscientious Jew, but still more intolerable to the religious fanatic, in whose eyes the keeping of the sabbath was of far greater moment than the relief of human suffering and woe. But, dear reader, this difficulty only brings out, as do all other difficulties which sin has occasioned, the manifold wisdom and goodness of that God whom we know as our Father.
The very meaning of sabbath is rest, and rest implies satisfaction, as we see in its first mention in Gen. 2. God had created the heavens and the earth, had perfected all in order and beauty according to His own mind; at the close of each successive day's toil He had pronounced it very good; and when all was finished, and He could look out on all with pleasure and approval, He rested from His labour, and sanctified the day that thus expressed this satisfaction in the works of His hand. But let us for a moment reflect on the scene of our chapter. Alas! how changed, a change baffling description! Everything is in disorder; the beauty of all is tarnished and spoilt; man, the lord and head of the first creation, himself a total wreck, lying a helpless cripple at the poolside. What a sight to meet the eye of the Son of God! Could He rest in such a scene, and amidst such surroundings? Could the sorrow and misery which met His eye yield any satisfaction to Him? How far from it! Too keenly did He feel human woe, too deeply in His bosom were the interests and well-being of poor man to allow Him to pass through all with unfeeling indifference; nay, the suffering of man and the tender sensibilities of His nature made it utterly impossible for Him to keep any sabbath here. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work," tell us this.
Ever since sin entered the world the God of all grace has laboured, and will continue His labour until sin and all its bitter fruits are for ever banished out of His realm; then will He keep His long and unbroken sabbath of eternity - "He will rest in His love; He will joy over thee with singing;" but this could not be in the day of our chapter. Love cannot but be active so long as there is a need or sorrow to call it forth; and so it was as Jesus passed through those dismal porches of Bethesda. No Jewish ritual or Jewish hatred could check the activity of His love; with a dignity above it all He moved. He had come to do His Father's will, to reveal the Father's love, and He finds in the misery before Him a suited occasion for its display. Nothing can exceed its beauty. He singles out the most pitiable case - one who was "without strength," and had "no man" to help him. How like a Saviour to select this case out of all others to display His power and goodness. "Wilt thou be made whole?" says Jesus. What a strange question to ask! We should have thought the question of willingness lay all on the other side; but so it is, however it may surpass our thoughts. Jesus is more willing to save than sinners are to be saved. He came to save; His very mission from the glory was to bring down the grace and power of God to relieve poor man from the misery under which he lay, and so here He seeks one who is willing for Him to exercise His mission upon.
Amazed that such a question should be asked him, the man replies, "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool." Although this divine visitation was brought so near him, he had not enough strength to avail himself of it, nor one who was sufficiently above his state to assist him; but, blessed be God, there now stood by his side One who could not be numbered among the fallen race - Son of man, it is true, but also Son of God. In grace He had come down to "destroy the works of the devil," and deliver poor man from his grasp. No sooner is there the confession of his helplessness and an implied willingness than the word is spoken, "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk."
This is a lovely picture of what grace would do eternally after the mighty work of redemption was accomplished, a work in which not only the guilt of sin, but the whole state of man as a sinner, should be dealt with. Jesus "died for our sins according to the Scriptures;" but more, "He was made sin for us." He takes upon Himself the whole condemnation under which we lay as children of fallen Adam, and now "grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life." Not only are we thus justified from all things, but quickened out of our death in trespasses and sins, raised up in that life in which Jesus was raised, and have our place in Him now in the heavenlies according to Eph. 2. Unspeakable blessing! Unspeakable grace, that has bestowed it on such as we! And if we are left on earth for a time, as we are, it is that we should be to the praise of Him who has blessed us, just as the once impotent man was as a testimony to the power and grace of the One who had healed him. It is this testimony that evoked the hatred of the Jews, because it seemed to set aside what gave importance to themselves, and it is still true that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." May the Lord Himself give each of us grace in our varied circumstances and callings to be witnesses of His grace and power, not only by our words, but by our walk homewards, taking a lesson from the example before us of being able to justify all we do by the beautiful word, "He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk." H. A. C.
I can be before God just as I am: take care not to pass that by. It is a wondrous part of the glory of Christ that a person with sin in him can be in the presence of God in perfect favour. Sin could not be there, but it was all borne by Him who was the accepted sacrifice in His own body on the cross, and put away for ever. By faith in Him I am brought into the light with nothing to hide - and I do not want to hide anything. There is sin and mortality about me, but all that I am cannot separate me from Christ. God says, "He is the accepted sacrifice, and I have nothing to say against you as to all you are in yourself; in Him you are perfectly accepted, the blood cleanseth from all sin." But I have need to be in the light to keep up a walk that becomes such a place. If I turn aside, I shall forget that I am purged from my old sins, and God must come in with a rod. You must keep your walk up by having your eye fixed on Christ. G. V. Wigram.