In John 5:1-16, we read the narrative referred to as “The Healing by the Pool.” At first glance, most people view this passage as the story of another miracle. It is that – but it is also much more. Here we see a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, as narrated by John. We see a change in relations between Jesus and the established church of the day; the establishment.
Those of us who lived through the ‘60s certainly remember this term, “the establishment.” It was almost always spoken with a snarl – and was often accompanied by the motto; “Never trust anyone over 30.” It was negative. It labeled one generation as “those who messed up the world and left us a lousy legacy. It meant those in charge – who aren’t interested in change or relinquishing any of their power.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, we’ve tended to think that new is “good,” and old is “bad,” and we’re responsible for the creation of all good things. We have to recognize, though, that we didn’t even invent the “establishment.”
Four times in this passage, the term “the Jews” is mentioned. The first of these, in verse 1, is used as an adjective. The feast spoken of was a Jewish feast. The other times, however, (in vv. 10,15,16) form an important commentary on the religious situation in 1st C. Jerusalem. For instance, in verse 10 we read, "and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, 'It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat."'
So the question that comes to mind is: “Who Are These Jews?” It’s obvious that John, who was Jewish himself, was not referring to all of the Jewish people of Jerusalem. Rather, he was referring to the powerful – and hostile – leaders of the religious establishment. We get a little more insight into the mindset of these “Jews” in John 9:20-22, which reads:
We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.
Another question that arises is: “What Was the Complaint of These Jews?” Verses 8-10 give us one viewpoint on that question:
Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat."
Allow me to give some examples of how Israel actually treated the sabbath. A man was not to travel on the Sabbath, according to Scripture. So the scribes defined a “sabbath day’s journey” as a distance equivalent to about 1,000 yards from home. That’s how far you could walk without sinning. What if you tied a cord to each house in a village or town? Obviously, then you could walk to the end of the village and another thousand yards. If that cord went out into the forest, would it not still be part of one’s home? The possibilities are numerous.
Carrying a burden on the Sabbath was also prohibited in Scripture. Ah, but what if it were an article of clothing. Tying something to one’s body made it clothing, so it could then be transported with a clear conscience.
The Jews were concerned. But their concern was not for the purity of the Word of God. They were concerned over a possible loss of control. These men were leaders of the “messianic religion.” Their scriptures prophesied the coming of the Christ. And they decided to do away with the Messiah! (read verse 16). He was in the way of their program; their plan; their leadership!
The Church is always in danger of crossing this line. When the church gets caught up in politics, social issues, guarding its orthodoxy, proper order, tight committee structures, budgetary processes, ecclesiastical infighting, fill-in-the-blank, all to the exclusion of worship for their Savior (the one who is the head of His body, the Church), then we become the hostile, jealous, sinful religious establishment.
How do you think about the church? Is it a “clubhouse?” Is it some sort of “dueling society?” What is your role in assuring that the church keeps its eyes on Jesus? Are you part of the “religious establishment,” or are you a follower of the Head of the Church?
We, individual members of the Church; we, the redeemed, need constantly to remind ourselves – and one another – to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.