“Power, Pride and Prejudice”

8 August 2004

Texts: John 4:46-50; 5:1-9


            The power of God infuriates.  That is the human condition.  We want to be in control and when the power of God reminds us that we are not pride and prejudice kick in.  That is yet another expression of our fallen condition--all men everywhere are prone to imagine a vain thing.  As Psalm 2 reminds us with its opening question: Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?  The short answer is pride and with that pride a prejudice against the power of God, against the divine way of doing things.  We hate the constraint implicit in God’s omnipotence and our spiritual incapacity.  Verses 2 and 3 of the same psalm relate that: The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed: Psa 2:3  "Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!" If this is part of the human predicament, what’s the remedy?  Repentant humility.  We can humble ourselves to desist from pride.  By the power of the indwelling Christ, we can escape our patterns of prejudice.  We can ask that the power of God become for us acceptable, right and desirable.

            First a word about those patterns.  It is written of our Lord that He ministered widely in Galilee, but that He avoided Nazareth--because “a prophet hath no honor in his own country.”  Here’s the problem.  What we know, or think we know, prevents us from receiving prophecy from those we share proximity with--our presumed familiarity breeds contempt.  Admittedly this is not very spiritual, or even open-minded of us but it is a common pattern.  Jesus’ own brothers (John 7:5) did not believe in Him because they “knew” Him as their elder brother, as a carpenter and son of Mary, their own mother. Joseph was held in contempt for his prophetic gift by his father (Gen. 37:10) and by his brothers  (37:19-20).  They disparagingly called him “a dreamer” and ironically, it was by way of interpreting dreams, with divine assistance, that Joseph finally ascended to office, second only to Pharaoh.  David was abused in his prophetic office by Eliab, his oldest brother (1 Samuel 17:28), Jeremiah was maligned by the men of Anahoth (Jeremiah 11:21) and Paul by his own countrymen.  It is pride and envy that makes men scorn to be instructed--whether in times past, or in the church presently.  Some even go so far as to assert that prophecy has ceased.  (Now if what they mean is prophecy as in adding to the revelation of God, Scripture, I concur; but if they mean the ability to hear from God and to quicken the spiritual awareness of God’s people, I am in complete disagreement.)  So, the timeless pattern of dishonoring the prophets in our midst is a serious impediment.  Matthew Henry declares, based on the parable of the owner of the vineyard (Matthew 21), that God denies His gospel to those who despise the ministers of it.  The rejections consist of ridicule, contempt, contradiction, character assassination and even murder.  Stephen preached: Acts 7:51  "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Acts 7:52  "Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; Acts 7:53  you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it." Typically, it is the “religious folk” who hold to the form of religion and resist the power of God who do such things.  But my concern here extends beyond these issues.  My concern is also that these patterns of pride and envy, unless grace completely effaces them, have a tendency to come back, to re-assert themselves to our great spiritual harm, to our deprivation.  Even Jesus had to adjust His ministry to account for human pride and envy.  Think of all that the people of Nazareth missed out on because they presumed to know what in fact they did not know.

            It is not an accident that John moves from this concern about honor directly to the healing of a nobleman’s son.  This nobleman[1], as a member of the Herodian party, a royalist as some take him to be, was likely to be full of pride and envy, but the dire need of his son for healing from a fever motivates  him to lay aside such things.  His pride is momentarily checked by this crisis.  Questioning Jesus’ motives, or impugning his character are plainly luxuries that he chooses not to indulge in.  This miracle takes place at Cana and at Capernaum simultaneously--both where Jesus is and where the sick son is.  The distance between is some fifteen miles.  It is the first miracle amongst those that are about to occur in Galilee.  It fits in the gospel narrative around Matthew 4:23 which John does not duplicate here.


            What do we learn?  We learn that we all must come as beggars before God, that social rank and position mean absolutely nothing.  Further, the nobleman plainly has a measure of faith like the other Galileans who had witnessed Jesus’ miracles in Jerusalem but it is limited; he apparently believes that effective prayer for healing depends upon the physical presence of the healer.  Jesus, however, heals with a word and is not confined in any way to such limitations of time and place.  The centurion of Matt. 8:8 had a stronger faith than this.  He said, in essence, don’t bother to come. . .just say the word and my servant will be healed.  That reflects a truer sense of Jesus’ divine authority and power.  Jesus reproves the man, justly but gently exposing his sin and weakness: Isa 11:3  And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;.  The Lord does this in preparation for His mercy, or favor because conviction must precede persuasion.  It is a problem when people will believe no further than they are driven by signs and wonders, preferring sensible power to the spiritual power of the word!


            It is to the man’s credit that he doesn’t respond defensively to this rebuke.  He shows wisdom in patiently remaining with his importunity.  Isa 28:16  Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.  He doesn’t acknowledge the reproof formally, but it is possible that his worldly sorrows are weighing him down. Exo 6:9  So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.  And perhaps he can only believe that a sick child may be healed, not that a dead child may be raised.  At any rate Jesus gives him a benediction of peace: Go thy way, thy son liveth.  What power! Without so much as a visit, the son is healed.  What pity!  He shortens the reproof by way of compassion.  This interpretation is warranted because the man believed on the word of the Lord.  The cure is effected because He said so.  While he is going, another spiritual principle is enacted: good news greets those who hope in God’s word.  We read that he asks the time of his son’s recovery in order to confirm the double miracle: the healing of his unbelief and the healing of his son’s fever.  It is good to confirm the words and the works of the Lord to confirm our faith!  About the seventh hour (probably 1 p.m. but possibly 7 p.m.) the son was suddenly and entirely well (the fever left him).  This kind of event is known as synchronistic--a beautiful and harmonious expression of divine Providence., delivered when promised  Exo 12:41  And it came about at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.  It occurs when prayed for, as in Acts 12:12: Acts 12:12  And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.  So we may conclude that this man had the soul of a believer and Jesus recognized this in him from the start of their encounter.  With this miracle his soul, and later his whole household was ordered.  He was able to remove all external hindrances to belief because of his witness to the power of godliness in Jesus--the same power that resides in every true believer.  So we remember that great good may come of our afflictions!


            In our next miracle of healing, also by the word alone, the scale of affliction is magnified.  But please note, before we leave the nobleman’s story too far behind, that the person healed was the son but it was the father’s faith that occasioned that miracle.  In the healing of the paralytic of Bethesda pool, the man doesn’t even know who Jesus is, nor do we have any information at all about his faith and he is completely healed because Jesus commanded it.  The scene has shifted back to Jerusalem.  We are in the midst of another Passover celebration, the crowds are immense.  We are learning all that Jesus did and taught.  The miracle of healing is coupled with a sermon--what He does conforms his teaching and vice versa.  We should note that while Jesus went about doing good, He was frequently accused of evil-in this instance, He is accused of being a Sabbath-breaker.  How ironic, the Lord of the Sabbath is accused of breaking the Sabbath!  Anyway, this incident takes place by the pool of Bethesda--until the late twentieth century liberal theologians denied the existence of such a place.  After all this healing is only recorded in John, John was considered by liberals to be of very late composition, highly edited, definitely a theological but not historical book--then archeologists found evidence of the place just where John indicated it was, right by the sheeps cote, the enclosure where the sacrificial lambs were kept for Passover observances.  The historicity of John is no longer disputed and the reliability of Scripture received a major boost, even single references to events are now taken more seriously.  The error of modernists was to assume the biblical record was false until proven otherwise--it is far better to approach scripture the other way around.


            The man who had lain beside the pool for 38 years was impotent, paralyzed by his sin, unable to lift himself into the pool when the angel of the Lord came to stir the waters--imbuing the waters which flow out of the pool of Siloam with their healing virtues.  All this is powerfully symbolic.  The pool of Siloam signifies the kingdom of David pouring forth into the kingdom of Christ, a son of David after the flesh.  The fact that only the first to get into the pool were healed symbolizes the priority of Israel in receiving salvation (it came first to Israel) as well as the limitation of the Old Covenant.  Jesus opened up a new and better way, salvation by faith, instead of salvation by one’s place in line, either the line of history or that of proximity to the pool.  And, finally, the fact is that we are all impotent, spiritually paralyzed unless the Lord quicken us.[2]  As we focus on the patient, we notice that he is grievously ill.  His body is a burden instead of his soul’s instrument.  And Jesus saw him because instead of touring the palaces, He was visiting the hospitals looking for those who would be healed.  Why that seems astonishing is that we assume that everyone who is sick would want to be whole, but that is not the case.  Some are married to their illness; it’s their excuse for not taking responsibility for themselves, for doing what they should.  For such their illness has become their identity--they become their critical spirits, their negativity and can‘t see themselves any other way.  They are enslaved to their habits, or attitudes even if these are killing them.  Those unwilling to be cured are loath to part with their sins. Mat 8:2  And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down to Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Mat 8:3  And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.  We cannot know entirely why Jesus singled this one individual out except that He saw in the man the capacity for belief--one amongst that great multitude!  This man looked for no other cure than the pool and no other deliverer than a friend to get him to the waters.  How like us!  He imagines no other way of deliverance--God can deliver any way He chooses.  He complains for the lack of a friend--is that blame shifting, or what!  He bewails this infelicity (the lack of a friend) in his every man for himself world but does not appear to be peevishly irritated.  He has learned to be patient under great duress, massive contempt so we cannot tell whether is it resignation, or a godly calm but Jesus knows and calls him out.


            Jesus commands him, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.”  What could He be thinking of?  Doesn’t Jesus know that this is the Sabbath and that this activity is expressly forbidden in the Jewish law?  Was Jesus doing good, or was He being provocative?  Did you know that it is impossible to do good without being provocative sometimes?  Certainly, under ordinary circumstances[3], the Sabbath should not be profaned.  Someone who has just been healed of paralysis is hardly the same as the person who without cause deliberately sets out to profane the day by doing something on it that could easily be deferred to another day.  Besides, this man is simply obeying the orders of someone who is able to cure disease with a mere word.  It was in attempting to rise that he was healed.  It was in beginning to obey that he was made whole.  Surely we can all relate to that!  Take up thy bed is much more the proclamation of a cure than a gesture of defiance but look at the construction that the opponents of Jesus put upon it!  Lawbreaking. It is clear that Jesus was declaring His lordship over the Sabbath on the Sabbath; He was declaring that He was even greater than the Law.  Works of necessity, or of mercy were always in order and much more in keeping with loving God than taking care not to carry one’s bed on the Sabbath.


            The Jewish leadership is revealing their hearts of pride and prejudice with every accusation and every question.  Note: they are determined to treat Jesus Christ as a mere man, they are determined to look upon Him as a bad man, and they want to know which Jew would be so delinquent as to order such an action as this on a Jewish high day.  The poor man who was healed has not answers for them.  He doesn’t even know Jesus by name.  Christ heals those who don’t even know Him demonstrating that His knowledge of us is always more important than our knowledge of Him.  Isa 45:4  "For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me. Isa 45:5  "I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me.  And Gal 4:9  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 


            Now Jesus had conveyed Himself away, losing Himself in the crowds.  But the story doesn’t end there.  He meets up with the healed man in the temple and says to him a frightening thing: "Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you."  This is frightening because what could be worse that 38 years of paralysis?  It is also frightening to hear that sin may be the procuring cause of such an affliction!  But Jesus precedes this stern warning with a word of wonder.  He says, in essence, consider and wonder that you have been, after all these years, been made completely well.  Let wonder and gratitude steel you against any further excursions into that which defiles a man.  Matthew Henry’s comment on this verse bears repeating: When the trouble, which only dammed up the current is over, the water will return to their old course; and therefore there is a great need of watchfulness, lest after healing mercy we return again to folly.”  Yes, unless grace has dried up the fountain head of sin, we may indeed find ourselves in a worse predicament than we were in prior to our healing!


            Verses 15-18 tells us that once the Jews learned that it was Jesus who had made the man whole, they decided to persecute Him.  Their enmity was undeserved and unearned but they chose to return evil for good nonetheless.  They had seen the power of godliness displayed in mercy and not only did they want to persecute, they wanted to kill Jesus.  Why?  Could it be that murder, the urge to destroy and to do evil resided in their hearts?  These same channels run deep in every person’s heart--even the hearts of the redeemed used to run in these channels.  And, they can run with rivers of suspicion and resentment again.  That’s what we have to guard against.  That’s why we are enjoined to watchfulness, to guarding our own hearts.  The Jews who did this in Jesus’ day were hypocrites and Christians who do this in our own day are hypocrites, too.  The problem: hostility to the power of God.  Those concerned with the form of religion, with process and protocol need to be very careful lest they fall into this trap--the trap of spiritual relapse.  Let us examine our lives ourselves.  Let us resist the temptation of focusing on the sins, real or imagined in others, dealing with ourselves is quite enough.  Keep with your prayer needs of others, or focus on yourself as the one in need, and your will not only escape the tempter’s snare--you will thrive and prosper.


[1]  Surmises as to his identity abound.  One scholar believes the man might be Chuza, a member of Herod’s household.  Another proposes that he might be Manaen, Herod’s foster brother Acts. 13:1.  Because Jesus later sets up the headquarters for His ministry to Galilee in Capernaum, it has been postulated that this healing, which led to the conversion of an entire household , may have supplied a vital connection in the future support of Jesus’ ministry.  The more one studies the New Testament narratives, the closer and more familial the account becomes--a matter shared between cousins and close friends such as partners in business (ie fishing).  The houses of family seem to be preferred sites of ministry.  While we cannot know for sure, these theories are not mere speculation or fancy.

[2] It is a sad fact that the existence of this pool has been almost entirely suppressed by Jewish writers--this suppression may have contributed to the mistaken assumption of liberals that it never existed.  Why?  Because the pool was seen as a presage of the near appearance of the Messiah.  Formerly the pool was used for ablutions, for the ritual cleansing of the ceremonially unclean; but in Jesus’ time the use of the pool had plainly moved in a medicinal, or therapeutic direction.  The Jews would suppress this because of the Christian claims that the Messiah had already come.  It was a destruction of evidence contrary to the defensive claims of the Jews after their execution of Jesus.  It was a type of the Messiah--a fountain of healing opened. Isa 8:6  "Inasmuch as these people have rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah, And rejoice in Rezin and the son of Remaliah.  --two rivers that flowed in foreign lands..

[3] And provided it isn’t your own paralysis that is in question--your sense of personal need might well shade your reaction!