Pick Up Your Mat and Walk
We’re going to be in John chapter five this morning, with all that we’ll jump into this passage. John chapter five this morning. This section of scripture, I’ll just tell you, I’m being honest because when I approached this section of scripture, I had a hard time at first seeing okay, how does this relate to in the beginning of the story, how does it relate to the end of the story? How does this pull all together? Why is John sharing this story with us at the time he’s choosing to share the story? Wrestled with this passage for a little bit. I think I’ve finally reached a conclusion that when you see it with me, you’ll be like, “Oh yeah, this is definitely why John’s doing what he’s doing here in this passage of scripture.” But it’s a beautiful story inspiring for us in how Jesus addresses the need here.
John 5:1. When you read what Jesus is doing here, he’s heading back into Jerusalem for the Passover. In John chapter six, it tells you Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the Passover. In verse one, it says, “After these things, there was a feast of the Jews. And Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Now in Jerusalem, by the sheep gate, there is a pool which is Hebrew is called Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these porticoes lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, limping or paralyzed. Jesus went back to the festival of Passover, again, walking into Jerusalem, wanting to celebrate with his people. But instead of going to the normal entry of where people typically converse and interact, Jesus goes to the sheep’s gate. And when you look at the sheep’s gate in comparison to other places the temple describe the sheep’s gate is not where you go for this warm hospitality, right?
This is the place that out of all the entrances into the temple that you could just enjoy, this is kind of like the one that you would avoid. This is the one that’s dirty, stinky, smelly. It’s where the animals go. The least amount of upkeep, I guess, or at least the best sites are not seen here. They probably have to do a lot of upkeep because of what sheep do when they go into the section. But this is not the one that you would necessarily desire to enter through. This would be the last spot on your mind in the tour of the temple. But Jesus goes here because not only does it tell us that this is the sheep gate in this section of the temple, this is also the place where people believe there are this portico of water. And they believe that angels come down and stir this water. And if they can get down to this water after an angel touches it, the first one in gets cured of whatever their ailment is. So this is also a place of suffering, of despair, of pain. It’s a hard place to be.
And this is where Jesus goes. Why does Jesus go here out of all the places? Well, I think we see the answer in the way Jesus demonstrates his character in life. He goes to the people that are suffering in situations that are somewhat downright miserable. And Jesus carries a characteristic that’s often reflected on throughout the gospels. Jesus is compassionate. Jesus loves people. That’s why Jesus came. And so Jesus walks to this Temple and the place Jesus is interested in is the place where people are suffering. And Jesus goes to this area and it teaches us about the way he ministers to one particular person in this moment. Doesn’t mean it’s the only person that he ministers to, but it certainly communicates the way Jesus chooses to minister to someone in need.
It’s a good mark of reflection for us as followers of Christ. When you see Jesus interacting in this way, and to think you being a Christian follower of Jesus to stop and maybe consider the compassion in your own life. And I think it’s a wonderful mark of maturity in your Christian life to simply say, “How do I treat those closest to me? What kind of person do they think I am? When they think of me, are their first thoughts of Jesus? The characteristic that I express with compassion, be at the top of the list?” Not only just the people closest to you, but you could also ask the same question about how do you treat those that you have nothing to gain from? How do you interact with people in the supermarket? You are at the Walmart or standing in line when you’re not quite getting your way and things are taking a little a bit longer?
The mark of Christian maturity is often seen in the way that you treat people in this world, especially those closest to you and those you have nothing to gain from. I mean, you think about the calling of Jesus in this world. It’s certainly go in this world and make disciples. But the attitude that we carry as we do it is seen in the great commandment, right? Love God, love others. So the way that you reflect the goodness of God in this world is seen in how you love other people. That’s the way the spirit of God moves. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, the fruit of the spirit is relational words. You think as a Christian, how do I determine my spirituality? Well, certainly, certainly you want to know God’s word. You want to cherish in your heart, but to simply just be able to quote God’s word, doesn’t make you mature. It just makes you knowledgeable.
And Jesus’ demonstration in this passage, as one of compassion is a place of reflection for us to ask the question, well, who am I in Jesus? And when I live in this world, is it a true demonstration of Jesus? The story goes on from there. And Jesus asks a man in this circumstance a question. Verse five. Now, a man was there who had been ill for 38 years. Jesus, upon seeing this man lying there and knowing that he had already been in that condition for a long time, said to him, “Do you want to get well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up. But when I’m coming another steps in before me.”
Jesus, I think asks a very interesting question. Maybe one would even consider possibly a foolish question in a circumstance like this. Here is in a scenario with sick people, people that have been suffering for years, this guy 38 years. I mean, you think about that, in Jesus’s day, that’s your life expectancy. This man has spent his life in a state of perpetual pain and suffering for really the longevity of what a life was to be during this time. And Jesus is asking this guy, “Do you want to be made well?” It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Who would look at this situation and say, “Ah, you know what? I’m going to pass.” But as you think about it, perhaps this is a very important question. Perhaps this question is driving to something deeper that Jesus wants us to understand throughout the remainder of this text. Maybe even in this circumstance, maybe this man has found his identity in his element. You ever met people like that, or you ever been a person like that? Where you find your worth in your circumstance.
This guy has been this way for so long. He has no really interest or ability to even start to think about, “How can I identify myself in any other way or what if I did get well, what would I do with my life? Now I’m towards the end of my life in Jesus’s day. So this has been all I’ve known in life.” In fact, when you look at the answer of this individual, it seems to suggest that his interest isn’t on a solution, but rather he merely addresses his circumstance based on the problem. I mean, I can think of in my life, I read a store like this, I know as a pastor interacting with people, there have been people that have been battling things for years, that they would just love to be over. And one day, one day I look forward to being in heaven together and just seeing how well those legs work, that body works when it’s completely cured in Jesus.
Then there are other times where people just can totally identify themselves in everything their doctors say. If you ask them how they’re doing, it’s just a list of repeating everything their doctors have just recently told them and that’s all you ever hear. And you see in this man with the question that Jesus has asked, rather than focus on the solution, the way that he defines his circumstance is by merely looking at the problem. “Here it is, God. When the angel comes down stirs the water, which is the belief that the people have in this circumstance before I could even get down there, someone else has already beaten me to it. So yeah, it’s never going to happen. It’s never going to happen.” You sort of get this feeling by reading the story, this man that he’s found his identity by staying in these circumstances.
Guys, we’re a lot like that. We meet a challenge. And after a while, we just start to live in the problem, just embrace it for what it is. I know with this individual, he finds his cure in just a few moments, but we’re going to see is Jesus really, what he’s doing is he’s coming to this man to heal this man. And without even this man placing faith in him, he does it. He performs this miracle, but he’s going to use this as a greater illustration for everyone in this story that interacts with this man that puts an obstacle before their relationship in Christ. And we all do.
I know in ministry, if I go to talk to pastors in this world and I say, what’s the biggest thing that God can do in your ministry right now and or to a church? And it’s typically this, “We need a bigger building. We need more money and we need more people.” That’s kind of like the big three that everyone wants in ministry. More money, bigger building, more people, right? It’s like, yeah, but do you know if we just live what Jesus calls us to live, those things, will just they’ll come. The calling of the church is to make disciples. If we go into this world and make disciples, the people that follow Jesus in a healthy way, they’ll demand everything get bigger.
I mean, they’ll give, and the ministry can grow to reach more people. And because their heart is for Jesus in this world, they’re going to reach more people. And because by nature, as you grow, you just need bigger buildings, you’ll get all that. Sometimes we just focus on so much on the problem is like we’re never going to get there. We’ll never have better, whatever that we forget that the calling isn’t really bigger buildings or better financial status, it’s to make disciples. Or what about in your own life? Like you think about home sometimes the battle at home. “I don’t want to go home. I like my kids. I mean, I love my kids, right? Let me just say, I love my kids, but right now I don’t like my kids. I’m pulling in the parking lot, I hang on the car for an extra hour. Well, if they weren’t my kids by now, I’d be killing them. I only got so many more years and they’re gone.”
Problem. But you know what Jesus calls you to? Make disciples. That tension in the home, that’s not the time to run away. That’s the time to step in. That’s the ministry God calls you to. It’s not just focus on the problem, but to look towards the solution that you can have in Christ, make disciples. You don’t like the way your country’s going? Stop complaining, make a disciple, be a part of the solution. Don’t just fixate on the problem, vote on someone, think that that’s going to be it. That’s never been Jesus’ plan. Make disciples. Look to the solution in Christ. Yes, sometimes you can’t fully change your circumstance but you can still be faithful to Jesus. Make disciples.
Jesus is using this man’s circumstance to be that example for us not to raise the white flag in the middle of the problem. But to say, got in this circumstance. And sometimes you go through challenges and maybe, maybe it isn’t something that God calls you to, has called you in, or it’s not something you’re responsible for. And so then you realize in the middle of a circumstance, why am I here with this problem? This is not my problem to address. My area of life to address is, I mean, where I work and my family and my church and where God gives me responsibility, I need to be faithful to those things. And sometimes the areas that we need to address do come up, but God leads me into those challenges to help see my family move forward, to help see my church move forward. And when I say come and face those challenges, I’m not saying you come in like a bull in a China shop and you just demand your way or the highway because you’re sick of it and you’ve had enough.
That’s not the way we deal with it as Christians. I think within the context of, if I just go back to home and there’s a struggle with my children, I don’t come in with just a rod and just say, “Get in line.” That’s not what God calls me to do to just to conform their life to the behavior that I demand. But rather God calls me to speak a word of transformation in their life, to reach their heart, to minister to their heart. And I know I can’t change a heart, but I can point them to the one who can. Be faithful, just be faithful. And that’s what you’re going to see with this question that Jesus is asking this man, “Do you want to be made well?” And this man is just focused on the problem. And he wants them to know how big his God is, but he’s going to use this as a greater illustration for everybody.
I had a professor once in college, he taught through the gospels and what was interesting about my professor, he was actually training for the Olympics. He was going to be a pole vaulter in the Olympics. And he was in a Jeep accident with a friend and it paralyzed him. He became a quadriplegic and he faithfully ministered for the Lord in that challenge. But he would get the passages like this in the gospel. And he would say, “I want you to understand what a great miracle this is. Because if God were to do something like that to me, miraculously, right now.” He said, “He would have to give my muscles the strength to hold my body for the first time.” That’s incredible.
And he would say, “But not just my muscles, but if God gave me my muscles the strength to do that, he would also have to strengthen my bones. Because if I just stood up with the strength of my muscles, my bones would instantly break and I’d fall to the ground because my bones aren’t used to supporting my body weight. And if God miraculously healed my bones, he would also have to do it to my heart because my body, for me to stand up, my body would not be used to pumping the blood throughout my entire body. And I would immediately pass out and fall in the floor.”
I mean, this is a complete transformation that Jesus did in the life of this individual. It’s a miraculous thought, but do you want to be made well? It’s a question we wrestle with every day in areas of our life where we meet challenges. Do you want to be made well?
Verse eight, “Jesus said to him, get up, pick up your pallet and walk. Immediately the man became well and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now, it was a Sabbath on that day. So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, it is a Sabbath and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet. But he answered them, he who made me well was the one who said to me, pick up your pallet and walk. They asked him, who is the man who said to you pick up your pallet and walk? But the man who was healed did not know who it was. For Jesus had slipped away while he was a crowd in that place afterward, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, behold, you have become well, do not sin anymore so that nothing worse happens to you. The man went away and informed the Jews that it was Jesus who made him well.”
Could you imagine this moment, 38 years, 38 years, this guy’s hanging out at this portico, just looking for the hand of God’s grace to make him well, 38 years, he’s been there. He finally, this moment comes where he’s made well, and Jesus says to him, I can imagine this moment, this guy, just all of a sudden, so excited gets up and leaves. And Jesus says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa come back here and get this pallet. Pick up your mat, pick up your mat and now go.” And Jesus is communicating something here that we don’t necessarily pick up in our culture, but he’s intentionally causing this man to do something, to confront an issue, not just for this guy, but for everyone.
And so he says, “Come back, get your mat. And I want you to go.” And the man picks up his mat and full of joy just walks. And when he gets into the temple complex, he’s going to pass through there. He goes through all these religious leaders and their question for him isn’t, “How did you get, well? This is incredible. Let’s blow the trumpets and celebrate. We’ve seen you here for years.” That’s not their statement at all. The statement that they make is, “Who do you think you are carrying a mat? That crummy old mat that you’ve also laid on for 38 years, why do you got that in your hand?” Do you see the problem here?
In the Pharisees day, there was the Mishnah of the Sabbath and the Mishnah of Jewish law, or at least Jewish wisdom literature, according to how they are to obey the law. So God created the law for the Jews. And then the Jews said, in order to protect the law, that what they’re actually going to do is create more laws to guard the laws that God created. So that way they would never get near to breaking God’s law. And God’s law says don’t work on the Sabbath and to rest in it. And what he means is, look, don’t get so distracted with everything in the world, set apart a day for your mind, your soul to be refreshing God, concentrate on him. That’s what God’s desire was for his people, that they would come to him on a day and spend a day together. Just letting their soul be refreshed in the goodness of God that they could live for his glory in this world, that was God’s desire. But then they created the Mishnah of the Sabbath that elaborate on, I mean, just some extreme rules.
But one of those rules, you couldn’t carry a mat. Can’t carry a mat. That’s what these religious leaders are focused on in this story is that not that this guy has been made well, but that he’s breaking the rules. Could you imagine? And it’s not even God’s rules, it’s their rules. Could you imagine if this guy in that moment was that cognizant of this situation where he’s like, Jesus comes in and is like, “Look, I’m going to heal you.” He’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry Jesus. Rules do not oblige your circumstance here. You’re going to have to come back on Sunday.” The Sabbath for them is Saturday. He’s like, “Jesus, sorry, you’re bound by Saturday. The laws are greater than you.” That’s what they expect this man to say to Jesus, “Jesus, what are you doing tomorrow? You got free time in your schedule. Sorry, sorry. We can’t interact today. You can’t perform any miracles today. You need to restrict yourself and everything that you might want to do because there’s something more important than you. It’s the rules.”
And what’s Jesus illustrating here? Their religion is keeping them from relationship. These laws that they think that are so important are the very things that are driving them away from just knowing their God and spending time with him. Do you want to be made well? Pick up your mat and walk. What keeps you from Jesus? What religion have you created in your own life that doesn’t allow you to spend that kind of time with Christ? To allow your soul to be refreshed with him. To prevent you from picking up your mat and just walking with Jesus. Jesus uses this man as a way to settle.
To answer that question in his life. “Do you want to be made well?” But rather Jesus knew by having this man pick up his mat and walk through that crowd exactly how this crowd would respond. And it would bring him to this place of helping them see where they really need to meet God, what they need to let go of. Verse 16, “For this reason, the Jews were persecuting Jesus.” But when you read this passage, I’ll say this chapter five to chapter 10 becomes this place where there’s a lot of turmoil around Christ. And it’s how he interacts with the people based on their religious law in these circumstances. So Jesus, this tension just from chapter five to chapter 10, you see this tension just building and building around Christ.
And it says, “For this reason, the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath, but Jesus answered them, my father is working until now and I myself am working. For this reason therefore, the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him because he was not only breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God his own father, making himself equal with God.” Somebody say this, Jesus is doing a couple things here to help us understand the importance of his identity. One, is he calls himself not in this verse, but the next few verses the son, not a son, but the direct son of God, the one that mimics the quality of God or the character of God because he is God. And two, the Jews had this thought on the Sabbath according to their Mishnah, that the only one that could work on the Sabbath was God, no one else was allowed to work. But the only one that is allowed to work is God, because if God ever stopped working, the world would fall apart.
And so in verse 16 to 18, when Jesus then addresses them and their challenge of Christ, “Who do you think you are picking up the mat?” And he’s like, “This guy told me to do.” “Who is this guy? Did you see it?” The story, the guy said, “I don’t even know who he was.” It’s like, Jesus, tells you just disappears. And it’s not until later Jesus comes back to him and he finds out that it’s Jesus. And then he goes, and he just, “Hey, guys, just want you to know. Don’t get mad at me. Get mad at Jesus. It was Jesus. I got his name. It was Jesus. That’s this guy.” I just tell you if Jesus does something miraculous for you in your life, don’t throw Jesus under the bus. Okay? Walk with Jesus. That’s important. If Jesus loves you. Love Jesus back.
And so this guy comes and he tattles on Jesus and these religious leaders they put these rules of God, just above the experience of walking with the Lord and Jesus in this story wants them to identify exactly who he is. And he does it in a subtle way for us. But culturally have been right there in the forefront because what Jesus addresses in this statement verse 16 to 18 is that he’s working. I mean, he doesn’t deny it at all. Against their rules on the Sabbath no one can work. But yet in verse 16, 17, 18, Jesus says, “I’ll tell you what I’m doing. Let me tell you what I’m doing. I’m working.”
Why would Jesus do that? Because according to the Jewish law, the only one that could work on the Sabbath is God. So watch Jesus say, “I’m God, I’m God.” That’s why on verse 18 they’re so ticked. They say, you’re making yourself equal with the father. Now, why is Jesus doing this? Because guys, anything you do in this world for God, the primary thing that should drive it, is not in the greatness of who you are, but in the greatness of who he is. Sometimes we get so fixated on our problems because we forget the God that we follow. God is greater than any of our struggles. God is greater than our challenges in life. That’s why he continued to say to his disciples. “I am with you always.” Because he knows wherever he leads us in this world, it’s going to be met with his power to accomplish what he desires.
Never forget the greatness of your God in the midst of the challenges that you experience in the world. That’s what gives us the strength to step into the fray when life feels like a challenge to walk in the goodness of who our God is, because we will never, we will never accomplish what God desires within our own strength. Because what God desires to accomplish only happens in the strength of his spirit. You can’t fabricate the spirit. It’s the spirit who accomplishes his will. And that’s what Jesus teaches us.
Look at verse 21. Jesus wants the people to identify the goodness of who he is. Verse 21, “For just as the father raises the dead and gives them life. So the son also gives life to whom he wishes.” According to Deuteronomy 32 only the creator can give life. So what does Jesus say? He’s creator God. He’s creator God able to transform and give life at any moment. Verse 22, “For not even the father judges anyone, but he has given all judgment to the son.” According to the Jews, only the creator can judge.
So what’s Jesus saying for us? He’s creator. Look in verse 23, “So that all we’ll honor the son just as they honor the father, just as they honor the father, the one who does not honor the son does not honor the father who sent him.” What’s Jesus saying? Jesus is demanding worship and nothing created can be worshiped. But Jesus is demanding worship. Therefore, Jesus must be God. Verse 24. “Truly, truly I say to you, the one who hears my word and believes in who sent me, has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
You read a verse like that in every religion in the world says moral behavior brings you to God. That’s what the Jews are believing here, right? Obey the law, obey the law, obey the law, you’re breaking Mishnah, but that’s not what Jesus teaches here. Every religion in the world says moral behavior brings you to God. But really what Jesus is saying is your only hope isn’t religion, it’s a savior. He gives life. It’s connecting to Jesus. So the answer to the question is, where do you bind God? Where would you put roadblocks up that prevent you from coming to him? Are we blind to them? Are we aware of the things that we in our own personal life put before, what it means to really walk with God? What took precedent in your life this week above just spending time with Jesus?
You think about how sacred just that thought is. You could have spent time with Jesus. Yes. But what took precedent and is that really going to cure ultimately? We get so busy in life, right? We just want to rush, rush, rush, and hurry up and just make it better. Make it better. Do what I say, do what I say. But been totally ignoring the heart, taking the time to minister to our soul and the people around us. How well did you love the people around you? Jesus gave his life for them. What roadmaps blocks do we put up before God? I just think about like even our own country. I know that you know this, if you just turn on the news for five seconds, but the state of our country is not in a good place, is it? The urgency to be a church that does what God calls us to do in this world or lives, how God calls us to live in this world to make disciples. How important is that?
To not complain for change, or to the place in Christianity where the God’s people will complain about the condition of the state of our country, but not even disciple the kids in their own home. No wonder. No wonder. It’s a no brainer is kind of like, if we’re not careful, if we’re not careful, our religion will become politics. Materialism will become our God. And that’s kind of where the condition of our country is. We don’t have time to play those kind of games. The urgency of what Jesus calls us into this world to make a difference for him, that’s what’s important. And really the only thing standing in our way is ourselves. Pick up your mat and walk. Where am I putting my obstacles of just meeting with Jesus? The Christian life is not complicated. It’s driven out of a love for God that stirs my heart for compassion, for love for this world. Because when I love God, I start to see this world the way that God sees this world, and Jesus is the one that went to the sheep’s gate. He didn’t run from the problem. He stepped into it.
And when you think about stepping into the problem, it’s not because of us. It’s not because we’re great. That’s not what drives it at all. Because the minute I start depending on my stuff to see the success of things in this world, is the minute everything’s going to fall apart. I am not superman, but I know him and his name’s Jesus. So where do my eyes stay? My eyes constantly, constantly should fix on the very things that Jesus taught us from verse 16 to verse 24. He’s the one working. He is creator, God, judge of life that calls us into worship for him. What a privilege that is.
I should probably end with just this thought. Sometimes we look at our problem and think, “Too overwhelming, too overwhelming. I quit. This is my lot in life I’m just staying right here. Maybe in five years, it’ll be different, but I’m just going to lay on my mat.”
When I think of the first century Christianity, first century Christianity, guys was a grassroots, a bunch of nobodies. I think Jesus went after the fishermen, not the PhDs. Jesus went after the fishermen and they went against a religious world. And what happened? Revolutionized and not just religious world. Once persecution started, they went out into the pagan world as well. And what happened? Revival. The church stayed faithful in the midst of persecution and God transformed. No matter how big the problem is in life, I think if we just consider what Jesus is teaching us the greater illustration of this man. If we remain faithful to this one thought, pick up your mat and walk. Jesus will see you through and the church will make a difference.