John 5:1–18: The Sabbath Rest of Jesus
John 5–6 marks a significant shift in the narrative of the Gospel. Up to this point, the worst response Jesus has met with in his ministry is apathetic disbelief. Even where people do not honor Jesus as the Prophet or believe in him as the Christ or the Son of God, they still find him interesting and potentially useful for their agendas. So, when Jesus cleanses the temple, we do not read of any more significant response than that the Jews demand the authority by which he performs his signs (John 2:18), and when Jesus tells them that he will raise up the temple they destroy in three days (John 2:19), they merely scoff at his answer (John 2:20) without doing anything worse. With this narrative in John 5, Jesus’ opponents begin to recognize the serious threat he poses to their position and power, and they escalate their opposition accordingly.
We saw the first hint that the tide might be turning against Jesus in John 4:1–3, where the Pharisees began to pay more attention to his increasing popularity among the people. When Jesus learned this, he left Judea for Galilee, and now in John 5, when Jesus returns to Jerusalem, the religious leaders (“the Jews”) begin to oppose Jesus directly for a variety of reasons (John 5:18). Then, when Jesus returns to Galilee in John 6, he will experience the intense support of a large crowd of Jews who at one point seek to make Jesus king by force (John 6:15), but who ultimately turn against him and abandon him (John 6:66). In John 5–6, we see the opposition against Jesus rising in both Judea and in Galilee—opposition that will culminate in our Lord’s eventual condemnation and crucifixion. The story of Jesus’ healing at the pool of Bethesda, then, identifies the point where this opposition begins: with the healing of a lame man on the Sabbath. The Jews begin opposing Jesus because they believe that he breaks the Sabbath and that he blasphemously claims equality with God in the process (John 5:18). In reality, Jesus keeps the Sabbath by restoring restful work to those carrying the burden of inactivity and fruitlessness.
1. What does it mean to know that God does not love you because you are somehow lovable? How does that idea undermine your pride? How does that idea uplift your depression and anxieties? How does that idea compel you to love other unlovable people?
2. What kind of rest does God seek from us on the Sabbath day? Why is it important to rest from our common work on the Sabbath?
3. What can you thank God for today? Have you overlooked or taken for granted his mercy and kindness toward you in some area? What would your life look like if you lived in perpetual gratitude, thanking God for everything he provides in his kindness and mercy?
4. What kind of work does God seek from us on the Sabbath day? How does God use worship and acts of mercy in our lives to reorient us toward his work of salvation? How do you use the Sabbath to enter into the works of God?