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Our Greatest Impossible

Original Date: 
Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Grave Robber Our Greatest Impossible John 5:1-15

The SS City of Rio Dejinaro

An excerpt from the February 23, 1901, Woodland Daily Democrat, Woodland, California, U.S.A.

On the morning of February 22, 1901, the Pacific Mail Steamer City of Rio de Janeiro was feeling her way through the Golden Gate toward San Francisco in one of California's dense coastal fogs.
They had sailed with a crew that was mostly Chinese. Of the 84 crewmen only two spoke English and Chinese. During the long voyage orders were given by using signs and signals and it seemed to work fairly well. It was known that the ships' equipment and lifeboat launching apparatus were in good working order and should have been able to be lowered in less than five minutes.

The Rio was inbound from Hong Kong with 227 passengers. Visibility was zero. Captain William Ward paced the bridge as crew stared blindly into a damp, gray void. Shortly after five o'clock, the liner neared the Golden Gate. She was a little too far south on her course when she struck the jagged rocks near Land's End and Fort Point.
The blow was devastating. Virtually the entire underside of the vessel had been torn open by the collision and the engine room and cargo holds rapidly flooded.
The ship had been built in 1878, before watertight bulkheads came into use, and sunk in 320 feet (98 m) of water in only eight minutes after striking the reef.

200 of her passengers rushed up on deck, while the steamer sank fast amid the wail of her whistle and the sound of escaping steam. Passengers fought for a seat in the lifeboats, only to overcrowd and sink the boats. Fist fights broke out over life jackets.
The wreck was so sudden that the lookout at the Fort Point Lifesaving Station, only a few hundred yards away, was completely unaware of the situation for two hours when finally a lifeboat was sighted emerging from a fog bank. Rescue boats were dispatched but only a few survivors were found, clinging to wreckage.
Harry Ironside one of the most prolific Christian writers of the 20th Century tells of his reaction when he read this story that day. He says the following:

The Paper told this story: among the saved ones was a young American journalist. Both of his legs had been broken, and in that condition he was thrown into the water. The cold water probably brought him back to consciousness, and he began to float.
Hours went by when finally, utterly helpless man was drawn out of the water by a local fishing party. I thought as I read that, what a picture of God’s grace to needy sinners! There were others around this man who were strong and hearty that swam for hours and still drowned. But this man had no ability to swim.
He was helpless, yet he was saved. What a picture of many of us! We read in Romans 5:6 that “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” We helpless sinners were saved and found life and peace.

-H. Ironside 1948

We just saw a story very similar to this tale of a man who was also helpless. A man who was an invalid for 38 years.

My name is Eric Meeter I am the worship director and assistant youth director here at Hope. And today we are continuing our look at the 7 miracles found in the gospel of John. As Russell has said the last couple weeks, the gospel of John has a different format from the other gospels. Like the others, John tells of the person of Jesus Christ, but he wants us to see the glory of Jesus and has chosen seven specific miracles that act as signs pointing us to the deeper reality about Jesus.
This morning we will be taking a look at the third miracle found in the book of John. If you would like to open your Bibles and turn to John 5 we will be focusing in on the first 15 verses today. As we look through this text together I want to plant this thought:

This is not merely a miracle of healing a crippled man; this is the miracle through which Jesus reveals what he had truly come for: to die on the cross for our sins.

We will work through this thought by splitting the text into three headings that speak to the sign John is trying to convey through this miracle.

Our first heading here is A picture of the impossible condition of man.
Let’s look at chapter 5 verses 1 & 2

5 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.
This story directly follows last week’s text; Jesus continues on His journey and comes to Jerusalem. We are told he is there for a Jewish festival though we do not know which Jewish festival the main point is for us to know that that is why Jesus has come to town. And in Jerusalem we find a place called Bethesda.

Bethesda was known for its pools and translated it means the “house of outpouring”. Through historical and archeological research we can be almost certain is located near the church of St Anne, in the north-east quarter of the Old City. It consists of two pools with four columns around both and one separating the pools.

Continuing at verse 3 it says:

3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] [b] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

This is the part in the story were we are introduced to the “who”. We see that in this place it is packed with “a great number of disabled people”. But then focuses in on one man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight years.
Before we move on, I need to point out something interesting about this passage. If you look closely in your Bibles, you’ll notice that there is no verse 4 in this chapter. It goes from verse three right to verse 5, and all we get is this footnote.

If you’ll check the bottom of the page, though, you’ll find verse 4:

and they waited for the moving of the waters. 4 From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.

After visiting with Russell on this issue this is what I learned.

What happened is that when the verse numbering system was first created, this part of the text was assumed to be a part of the original gospel. But more recent research has turned up older copies of John that don’t have this verse. Most scholars now agree that this explanatory note was probably added by later copyists who didn’t feel that John explained the situation at Bethesda well enough.

This sort of thing should not weaken your confidence in the Bible, but rather strengthen it. There is a great deal of research that goes into making sure the words we have in our Bibles are as close to the original as possible, and the amazing thing is that footnotes like this occur so infrequently.

Whether verse 4 is original to John or not, it does help us understand what is going on here. There was a pool near one of Jerusalem’s gates that would occasionally be disturbed, possibly because of an intermittent spring at its bottom. But local legend had it that whenever this stirring occurred, it was actually the angel of the Lord, and whoever could be the first one into the pool at that point would be healed of any and all infirmities.

There is much theological debate on whether the pools actually did heal or the stirring was merely underground springs. But I do not believe getting stuck on this point is the reason John wrote of this pool. I think we need to zoom out to the scene that is at place in front of us.

This truly would have been a deplorable sight, a pitiful mess of people. Hundreds of sick people have gathered at this place to put their hope in a bubble bath. This pool became a kind of convalescence porch for Jerusalem. Many of the invalided—“the blind, lame, and paralyzed”—would gather and wait for the water to move. And when that happened there would be a kind of free for all—canes flying and bandages streaming and blind people shoving— just simply to be the first one in the water.

And one man who can do nothing more than merely lift his head without immense struggle is laying there before the pool in the thick of this mob.
If we stop and think about it, this is a true picture of the impossible condition of man.
So many of us are blind to the truth of the gospel, putting our hope in things that really don’t matter, and we are all paralyzed like the man at the pool; no matter how much we struggle, how much energy we exert, we are incapable of saving ourselves.
This is how God views us before His great work takes place in us.

How do you define impossible? Too often we use this world to describe things that are more conditionally impossible than truly impossible. For instance maybe you are running on hard times and you say “It is going to be impossible for me to pay my bills this month.”
The reality is that is just a condition. If someone were to gift you some money or if had the opportunity to pick up a second job your condition has changed and now the impossible has become possible.
This is not the type of Impossibility we are talking about in this series. We are talking about things that no matter what are impossible. It is impossible for something true to be false. It is impossible for 2+2=6 it is impossible for black to be white, etc.

As Dr. James Boice puts it: this is where man is, it is impossible for man to please God in his own nature; man=helpless.

So our first heading is a picture of the impossible condition of man, but that points us directly to our second heading: Christ can do the impossible.
Verse six picks up the story by saying this:

6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

Many people have looked at the scene and focused on different themes that one might see. Such as the question “Do you want to get well?” Is Jesus asking the man for a show of faith? Is there some prerequisite for healing to take place?
Or the man’s response; “I have no one to help me…” Is this a call for the need of Christian friends? Or is this the man standing up for himself and saying, I do the best I can I’m here every time the water stirs, but someone always gets there first.
Though some of these are interesting questions I believe they are missing the main point of the text. We need to go back to the purpose of John’s writings. He is pointing us to the deeper reality found in JESUS.
D.A. Carson puts one of these thoughts to the test and says this:

A very charitable reading of the invalid’s response might take it as a direct response to Jesus’ question: the depth of his desire for healing can be measured by his persistent presence at the pool when the waters are stirred, even thou he has no close friend who will ensure he is first into the water.
That charitable reading would in turn reinforce the view that Jesus is testing the man’s willingness; the test now passed with flying colors. But John’s deft portrait of the invalid through this chapter paints him in far more dour hues.
He tries to avoid difficulties with the authorities by blaming the one who has healed him. He is so dull he has not even discovered his benefactor’s name; once he finds out he reports Jesus to the authorities. in this light v. 7 reads less as an apt and subtle response to Jesus’ question than as the crotchety grumblings of an old and not very perceptive man who thinks he is answering a stupid question.

…Crotchety grumblings of not very perceptive man. Now to me that sounds more like us. Our nature blinds us and creates the impossible condition of man in relationship to God. But God has a plan that changes everything.
Jesus tells this crotchety old man, who did nothing to deserve healing, to” Get up!” And in an instant the man is on his two feet for the first time in 38 years. Not only is he able to stand up, but is so fully healed he is able to bend over and roll up his matt and carry it on his shoulders.

My neighbor just recently had open heart surgery. And a few nights after returning home I met him out in the back yard on the patio. I asked him how he was doing and what his days were looking like now that he was home, and he responded by telling me about his current rehabilitation exercises.
He said his goal for the week was to be able to take two strings and tie and pull the knot tight. I asked him how it was going and he said that the simple action of pulling the strings apart to tighten the knot nearly put him on the ground. He said that he is going to have over 18 weeks of recovery before he can even get back to lifting something twenty pounds or more.
This puts this amazing act we see in scritpure into perspective. Jesus does the impossible by not only healing the man to the point of being able to stand up, but also to the point of being able to carry his mat which would have weighed anywhere from 10 to 20 lbs.
And Jesus does this with just two words, “Get Up”. Jesus has boundless authority over the physical.

As amazing as that is, the real beauty of this story is still to come; we have seen a picture of our impossible condition, that Christ can do the impossible, but now we need to see that more than just our physical healing Christ has come for our “greatest Impossible”.
And that is our third heading; Christ came for our “Greatest Impossible”.

Continue with me by picking half way through verse nine.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

First of all what is going on with these Pharisees! Can you imagine! This man who has been sitting by this pool for 38 years is up and walking around, and all these guys care about is that he is a carrying a straw mat!

You see the religious laws of that time had a lot of regulations on what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath 39 laws to be exact and one of them stated: no one is allowed to carry something from one point to another. So these leaders see this man carrying his mat and would most likely have recognized this man as being an invalid. But instead of celebrating his miraculous healing they question him on why he is carrying his mat and breaking a rule of the Sabbath!

This is a turning point in the Gospel of John. Remember John is trying to point us to the cross and resurrection of Christ and here we find the catalyst that begins that journey to the cross.

This sets the stage for the conflict between the religious leaders and Jesus’ ministry. The indignation of these leaders is what will eventually lead Christ to being arrested and crucified. God’s plan has been set into motion and Jesus once again shows His true power.

Scripture continues by saying “Later”, though we don’t know how much time has passed Jesus sees the man again and says “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
This line is the sign I think we want to pull from this miracle.

Jesus is revealing to us that He has power over sin. It’s not that this man sinned and that cause him to be ill, and it’s not saying that if he were to sin again he would fall back to the ground.
Jesus is talking about how sin separates us from His Father! This is our “Greatest Impossible”. The Bible says our biggest problem is not the inability to walk for 38 years, or being a drift in the Pacific Ocean.

The bible says our greatest problem is being separated from the Love of God.

But this is it, this is the answer. Jesus has come for our greatest impossible. When Jesus died on the cross he bore the sin of everyone! He freed us from our impossible condition. Even when we were undeserving Christ died for you, and me!

Jesus did the impossible, Jesus healed us from an eternity apart from Him, Jesus has overthrown death and sin.
And that is what this miracle shows us, dare I say this is the sign the author is pointing us towards:

Christ came to heal us from our greatest impossible: Sin

So what do we do with that amazing truth?

Before the sermon the team introduced a song call “This Glorious Grace”. This song has been one that has been on my heart for about a year now. And as I was beginning the process of writing this sermon the words of the song just continued to resonate in my mind. As we look back on the three headings of this text I saw an incredible parallel to the sections of this song.

It starts by say God I need you, I need you, I need You the impossible picture of our condition, we are hopelessly afloat in the water with two broken legs. We are laying on a mat in front of a pool with no one to help us and completely unable to move.

The chorus goes, God pour out your grace, glorious grace. I am undeserving, You are high and worthy The one who is high and worthy the one whose mere words can create the cosmos and heal a man who hasn’t walked in 38 years, pours out His grace on us and does the impossible.

The bridge says, God, Your grace like rising seas, has swallowed death and sin in me Our Greatest impossible, our sin has been swallowed by Christ’s work on the cross.

So back to that question what do we do with that amazing truth? Well, I think verse 3 of this song says it best, should bring us to our knees.

God I worship, I worship, I worship You. We must be drawn to our knees to receive this great gift of grace, we must be drawn to our knees to worship the giver of grace, and we must be drawn to our knees to pray for the courage to share this grace with others.

So to close the service today the team is going to come up here and lead us in this song. But we are going to do things a little different.

The words will be on the screen for you to read and follow along with, but I want to challenge you to use this song to respond to God’s amazing grace in whatever way you need to today.

Maybe for some of you, you are still in the water or on the mat waiting in need of God to save you. Use the words of this song as your prayer for Him to enter into your life and forgive you of your sin.

Maybe for some of you, you have been walking around for some time, but Jesus’ words “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Hit too close to home. We are all undeserving but one who is high and worthy loves you, take this time and the words of this song to let that soak in and challenge you.

Maybe for some of you, you understand the true depth of glorious grace and you just need to stand and give God the worship and glory He is due!

Where ever you are, hold tight to the truth found in the words!

You are welcome to stand and join us or remain seated and use this time for prayer. Let us respond to the amazing healing power of Christ through the words of "This glorious grace”.

God I need you, we are like all those at the pool: blind, lame, & paralyzed. It’s impossible for us to save ourselves, but: Christ came to heal us from our greatest impossible: Sin! Please stand for the benediction.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.