Today’s reading describes the third of Jesus’ signs (the first two are found in Day 5), raising the question of disease and suffering and Jesus’ thoughts about it. It leads on to a long discourse in which Jesus talks about himself and His unity with the Father (vv. 16-30)
Here is the healing of an invalid who had been disabled for 38 years. The word translated ″invalid″ (v. 5) depicts a weakness or illness, causing the man to be immobile. Elsewhere in the Gospels we read of Jesus healing a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). In Acts, Peter and Paul will also heal paralytics (Acts 3:6), showing theirsolidarity with Jesus.
As is the case with other miracles, Jesus calls the man to activity (see Mark 2:11). From a lesser person, this call to an invalid of 38 years to get up and carry his mat would be mockery. The man must have been weak, his muscles extremely wasted. Yet, at the word of Jesus he is cured and does exactly what Jesus says (v. 9).
Jesus’ compassion towards a man who has been in misery for so long is evident. Jesus’ words in verse 14 indicate that the man’s state was due to his sin. In this particular case it may have been, but as a general principle it is much better to see disease as an intrusion into God’s created order, the consequence of living in a fallen world (Luke 13:1-5). Jesus says this man’s sickness is a reminder to him, from God, to turn from sin. J. C. Ryle comments, ″How safe a life is this compared to one spent in full prosperity and pleasure!″4
The Jews’ response is cruel. Here is a man able to walk and carry-wonderfully able for the first time in nearly 40 years-yet they see only that he has broken the law by working (carrying his mat) on the Sabbath.
What a contrast this healed invalid is to the blind man in chapter 9. The blind man makes it quite clear to his neighbours, and the Pharisees, that it was Jesus who healed him; this man has no idea who had made him well (v. 13). When Jesus later spoke to him, he reported His identity to the Pharisees (v. 15). John deliberately leaves his motivation up in the air. We don’t know whether he became a disciple like the blind man, or was more concerned about shifting blame to Jesus for breaking the Sabbath regulations.
The Jews’ attitude to Jesus shifts gear-from persecution for encouraging Sabbath breaking (v. 16) to intensified efforts to kill Jesus for making himself equal with God (v. 18). Their blindness and hardness is evident, and Bible commentator Matthew Henry states: ″How industriously they overlook that which might be a ground of their faith in Christ!″5
4Ryle, John, vol. 1, 255.
5Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991), 1943.
Are there areas in your life where ″law-keeping″ rather than freedom is at work? Talk to God about it now.