Genesis 3: 9
John 5: 1-9, 14
Acts 19: 2 (to ‘believed’)
We read in Genesis of God asking man a question: “Where art thou?” I suppose God would ask that question in the glad tidings tonight of everyone here. Where do you stand in relation to God? What is your standing before Him? I suppose it would be easy to think that you do not need to answer that question, you do not need to be concerned about God, you do not need God’s Son. You may go to work or school and see persons that have no regard for God at all going about their daily lives. They do not seem even to think about Him and their lives go on, you might say, in relative normality. So if it appears to be all right for them not to be concerned about God, then why do you need to be concerned about where you stand with God? When the Lord Jesus was here, He spoke about the days of Noah. He says, “But as the days of Noe, so also shall be the coming of the Son of man. For as they were in the days which were before the flood, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day on which Noe entered into the ark, and they knew not till the flood came and took all away”, Matt 24: 37-39. That is, persons were going on unaware of the impending matter: God was going to bring in a flood, and it was going to take them all away. Their lives carried on as normal; they were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage”; they were indifferent to God and independent of God. But the glad tidings are being preached because there is another matter, which is that this day of grace, which God has allowed in His great patience to go on for nearly two thousand years, is going to end. We are not told in Scripture when it is going to end, and when it does end, it will end even faster than the time we read of. In that day the flood came, and there was rain for forty days and forty nights. We might imagine some persons trying to climb hills to try to escape the judgment. It was futile, of course, but there would be a certain period of time. Scripture says this dispensation will end “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15: 52), that is, much less than a moment. There will be no time for consideration then, no time to wonder if I will really believe the glad tidings and all the testimony that has been borne to me? Will I repent of my sins? Will I get right with God?. No, the day of grace will be over, and it will be too late. What a frightening prospect that is!
But the blessed news in the glad tidings is that God does not desire to judge men. Indeed, He desires your blessing. What God has in mind for every man is the greatest possible blessing, and He has provided the means for that blessing for you in the gospel that is still going out, in order that you might avail yourselves of it. What is it that I need to get right about with God?. The simple matter is that we each have a sinful history. If you look at the history of man all through Scripture, you can see that it is a history of failure. You see that God created this garden of Eden and He set Adam in it. It was the most blessed environment in which man was set. Adam was to till it and to guard it, but the serpent was allowed in, and, I suppose, there was some failure in relation to that, and man was tempted and he failed. When you look at man as under the law, you see that God gives the law in order to prove man through the nation of Israel, and it is a history of failure. And your history, and my history, in relation to what is due to God is a history of failure. Scripture speaks of God as “judge of all” (Heb 12: 23), and it will be true that those who reject the glad tidings will come under the judgment of God, forced to account for their histories. The question would be for everyone here - it is a solemn matter but it is real - that if you have rejected the glad tidings, what will you be able to say to God about your history? Will you hope that perhaps God will be happy to accept your estimation of your history? That can never be so. Will you hope that a righteous and holy God will overlook your history? That can never be so. God is absolutely righteous; compromise is not of God. God has never compromised His righteousness, but the blessed news in the glad tidings is that He has established a righteous basis whereby you can be before God completely clear of your sins, your history no longer standing against you, and it is all in the Man that we read of here in John’s gospel chapter 5.
Round about this pool in Jerusalem, Bethesda, “lay a multitude of sick, blind, lame, withered”. I suppose they might represent the mass of humanity. They all had a need. Their needs varied, but we can say simply that every one of us here, speaker included, has a need, a need for salvation, a need that their sinful history might be met, a need to get right with God. I suppose the various conditions that are spoken of here could be applied to those who have not yet believed the glad tidings.
Some were said to be “lame”; a lame person cannot walk properly or normally. In Acts 3 we read of a man who was lame and he has been likened to the nation of Israel. They were taken up by God, but any walk in relation to God was inconsistent and feeble, although there was some recognition of God and what was due to Him. There is another man in the Acts of the Apostles in Lystra; it said that he “had never walked”, Acts 14: 8. He represents the Gentile - that is you and me. We were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel”, Eph 2: 12. He had no share in Israel’s claim upon God by any means at all, and was unable to please God. And why is it that we are unable to please God? It is because of sin. It is found in the garden; the serpent deceived the woman. The woman ate the forbidden fruit and offered it to Adam, and he ate it. He disobeyed God. Sin is not just the transgression of the law; sin is lawlessness, that whole principle. Man sinned, and that poison has entered into every generation, I am a sinner - I know it in my own heart - and because of sin we all seek to do our own will. Isaiah in chapter 53 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way”, v 6. That is, I have done my will, and you have done your will. God has rights over you; He has rights in creation, and His rights have been disregarded; God has been wronged. Every time I have done my own will I have sinned. I may have sinned against other persons, perhaps members of my family, perhaps persons at work, perhaps strangers, many persons I may have sinned against, but in every one of my sins, God has been offended. The younger son in Luke 15 came back to the father and he said, “I have sinned against heaven and before thee”, v 21. In every one of our sins we have offended God, and the question in the glad tidings is, how can you get right with God about your sins? Job asks that question, “how can man be just with God?” chap 9: 2. God has provided the answer in the glad tidings, that you can be right with God and have your whole history settled; and God has much more to give besides.
Then there were those that were “blind”, which could also be applied to those who have not yet come to salvation. If you have not yet come to Christ and come to see something of the glory that is in Him, blindness marks you. We read in 2 Corinthians 4 about how “the god of this world has blinded the thoughts of the unbelieving, so that the radiancy of the glad tidings of the glory of the Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine forth for them”, v 4. It is shining; “the glory of the Christ” is shining, and I suppose it shines in heaven, but for certain persons the glory of it is not apparent to them. And why is that? It is because “the god of this world”, that is, Satan, “has blinded the thoughts of the unbelieving”. He has prevented them by one means or another from seeing the glory of the Man that God is presenting in the glad tidings, the Man that is at the centre of everything for God. And so, would to God that He might, if never before, in this time, give you to see something of the glory that is in Christ. It is not outward glory; it is not the kind of glory that man attributes. Scripture contains a lot of teaching as to that; the nation of Israel chose Saul, a tall man, a good-looking man, and that is the kind of man that man wants. You will notice men who become popular tend to be those that are taller and more handsome; that is the type of man that people like. The natural man has no appetite for Christ at all; Isaiah speaks of that too. He says, “and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him”, chap 53: 2. That is that God’s man does not appeal to us naturally, does not appeal to the flesh at all, but would to God that He would work in your heart and give you to see something of the moral glory of Christ. It shone beautifully in that life of perfection down here. It shone all the way through; there was perfection at every stage. What manhood it was for God! You read that even at the age of twelve, there He was, the Saviour in subjection to His parents. Have you ever thought about that? Here was One who was God Himself, manifest in flesh, a divine Person here in the form of a Man, in one sense no different to look at outwardly , and yet God Himself there, and at the age of twelve He is in subjection to His parents; It is a beautiful moral feature. His parents, Joseph and Mary, were very fine persons, and there are a lot of positive things that could be said of them, but they were sinners just like you and me, and here is a sinless One in subjection to them. There was moral beauty at every stage in Christ’s life. God delighted in that life: “Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect in whom my soul delighteth!”, Isa 42: 1. God delighted in that blessed Man, the One who is the Saviour of sinners, and would to God that you might get some view of the glory that attaches to Him and see by faith all that He has done; and come into the blessedness of it.
Then, too, at this pool there were some who were “withered”. We read in another gospel about a man with a withered hand. I suppose it might speak of damage coming in. At one stage it may have been healthy, but it has been damaged. This world is a damaging place to live in. I am speaking about the world in its moral sense, the sin-system, because Satan, is “the god of this world”. He has brought about a system, independent of God, and it ministers and appeals to the flesh that is in me and the flesh that is in you, and persons come under the thrall of it and they come under the domination of Satan, and they get damaged by it. They damage themselves; they get damaged in their minds; their physical bodies become degraded. It is a damaging world to live in, but God has in mind that if you are in any way enthralled by it or under its domination, you might be emancipated and brought in to see something of all that is in God’s world and enjoy that world where things are satisfying and eternally satisfying.
So these persons who were gathered round this pool were waiting for something. “For an angel descended at a certain season in the pool and troubled the water. Whoever therefore first went in after the troubling of the water became well, whatever disease he laboured under”. What was the value in that? It was a divine visitation, and the value of it was good for one person and one person only. It says he “descended at a certain season”. It does not say how often that happened; it may be that this only happened once each year. The value of it was for whoever managed to get into the pool first. That is, whatever they were suffering under, the damage or the sickness or the lameness or the blindness, was reversed - perhaps for the rest of their lives. Now that was blessed and that must have been wonderful for that one person, but I cannot help seeing something of the contrast between the efficacy, the value of that one visitation that was available for one, and then the efficacy and the value of what Christ has accomplished for all of mankind, for you and for me.
The Lord Jesus was God, the self-existent One, “over all, God blessed for ever” (Rom 9: 5), and yet He came into this world in order to draw near to man, to make known the love of God to you and to me. He did that to demonstrate, to show forth, all that God is - to reveal Him. It has been a very full revelation, the revelation of God in Christ. He was here among men in lowliness, setting out exactly what God desired to see in man. The whole history of man had been a history of failure, grievous to God, and finally here on the earth was one green spot in whom “all the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell”, Col 1: 19. What divine delight was in Him, but He came here not in any haphazard way but He came here in line with the purposes and counsels of God in order to die, and in order to be the Sin-bearer. The whole system which was of God, which had been set up before, the system of offerings under the Jewish dispensation every single offering all pointed forward to Christ. You sometimes wonder at these offerings. In Solomon’s time there were thousands upon thousands of animals slain, offered to God, but then there was one offering of Christ which ended that whole system and settled the whole question of sin, not only sins but sin. In order to qualify to be the sin-bearer, it had to be a perfect offering; you can see that in the typical teaching. Only animals which were without blemish were to be offered to God, and there was a time in Israel’s history, when they offered the torn and the lame and the sick (Mal 1: 13) and it was displeasing to God, but the perfection demanded of these animals all spoke of the perfection that would be seen in Christ. And so He walked a perfect life, “holy, harmless, undefiled” (Heb 7: 26) and undefilable. This character of manhood was an undefilable order of manhood. The acacia wood, the tabernacle wood, used to make the boards of the tabernacle and the ark speaks of an undefilable character of manhood. “The ruler of the world comes”, He could say, “and in me he has nothing”, John 14: 30. There was nothing which Satan could get a hold on in Christ; He was entirely undefilable. When the Lord was tempted at the start of His public service, Satan came to tempt Him, and it says, “And the devil, having completed every temptation, departed from him for a time” (Luke 4: 13): “every temptation”. Satan did his utmost to divert the Lord Jesus from the path of absolute devotion to the will of God, but he found One who was superior to it - one Man who was beyond his grip, and Jesus went through in victory. There was opposition all the way through. I remember a brother speaking about the contrast between Adam, the first man created, and Christ. He said Adam was put into the most congenial and blessed circumstances in that garden, and what do we find? We find that he fails; that is the history of man. Then you find Christ who came into a world which was entirely strange to Him. He came from heaven where the will of God was done, and He came into a world where sin ran amok, a completely strange environment where everything was against Him: “the reproaches of them that reproach thee have fallen upon me”, Psalm 69: 9. All the enmity of the heart of man against God found its target and centre and focus on Christ, and what we find is, in the most difficult and hostile environment, Christ excelled in every way. He went through with everything for God in order to secure a basis for which God could come out in blessing towards man. What a wonderful thing!
And so it involved His death, a death unlike any other. When we come to the end of our lives, we lose our lives; Christ said Himself of His life, “I have authority to lay it down”, John 10: 18. That was a different kind of death, that He had “authority to lay it down”. He says in Revelation, “I became dead”, chap 1: 18. That is, there was divine control over the whole matter, and the whole matter involved that He should go and suffer, suffer at the hands of man. A great deal transpired at the cross. One of the hymns says:
This world’s judgment stands recorded
So the judgment of the world on Christ stands recorded, and that judgment was, “Away with this man”, Luke 23: 18. So we see the enmity and the hatred in the heart of man, but we see the love of God in its depth in that the Lord Jesus did not shirk any of it. Man was allowed certain scope to do what he would by way of physical sufferings and reproaches and reviling, and the Lord Jesus went through it all perfectly, “when reviled, reviled not again” (1 Pet 2: 23), and the blessed matter is that on the cross the Lord Jesus bore the sins of every believer. Every single sin of every single believer who has put their faith and trust in Christ was borne there in those three hours of darkness, which are hidden from the eyes of man. That is a remarkable matter, is it not? I remember a preacher saying that every sin received its righteous and just retribution. That is, that the punishment that was rightly due for each individual sin was not overlooked, was not spared; Christ bore it in His body on the tree, v 24. Is that not a remarkable matter? The whole question of sin was dealt with there because He was made sin. He who knew it not: that is, there was no sin in Him; not a sinful action or deed or thought or word or motive was ever in Christ. “Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in him”, 2 Cor 5: 21. He was made the very thing that He hated. What deep matters these are! What it was to God! But the blessed matter is that not only did He bear them but He exhausted the judgment, and we know that because He could say, “It is finished”, John 19: 30. That whole period of suffering was finished after a certain period of time. Then He went into death, went into the heart of the earth, went into the tomb for three days and three nights. He could not only say of His life, “I have authority to lay it down”, but He could say, “I have authority to take it again. I have received this commandment of my Father”, John 10: 18. You can see something of the glory of that dependent manhood: “I have received this commandment of my Father”. Every single movement, you might say, controlled and in communion with His Father and in absolute subjection to His Father. What a Man for God! What a blessed Object for faith He is!
And so He rose again: one of the hymn-writers could say,
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
He rose and appeared to many He was received up into heaven. Peter says, “whom heaven indeed must receive”, Acts 3: 21. It was a moral necessity that Christ should go back into heaven, that the One who glorified God on the earth should go back into heaven, and there He has been installed at God’s right hand. He “set himself down on the right hand of the greatness on high”, Heb. 1: 3. Another scripture says that God had done that, has “set him down at his right hand in the heavenlies, above every principality, and authority, and power” (Eph 1: 20, 21) but He is now available as a Saviour, as an Object for faith, and you can come into the good of all that He has done by way of “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ”, Acts 20: 21. That is, it is not just being sorry about what you have done, but you have come to something of God’s estimation of what your history has been. You see how much has offended God, and you come to see how awful it is. It does not exactly depend on how much you see that, but it is by simple repentance. That is, you repent towards God. God has been offended, and you ask the Lord Jesus simply to save you from your sins and come by way of faith. Perhaps you say, ‘I do not have faith’. There was one man in the gospels who said, “I believe, help mine unbelief”, Mark 9: 24. He had a measure of faith but he felt his weakness. God loves to grant faith. You ask God for faith. God does not hold back faith if we ask in genuineness. Why would He not grant you the faith to believe? Think of what God gets from a repentant sinner! Think of the joy that is in heaven over repenting sinners! What a wonderful thing!
Well, it says, “But there was a certain man there who had been suffering under his infirmity thirty and eight years. Jesus seeing this man lying there, and knowing that he was in that state now a great length of time …”. The Lord Jesus knows all about your history; He knows how long it has been. I would say simply that God knows your history better than you know your history yourself. He knows every single one. I suppose I must have forgotten the vast majority of my sins, but I am glad to be able to say that by virtue of faith in Christ, they are gone from before the eye of God. “Their sin will I remember no more”, (Jer 31: 34), God says. It is a matter of righteousness that God should not remember them. If Christ has borne your sins and righteously borne them, and exhausted God’s wrath for them, how could God bring them up again? That would be unrighteous, would it not? You can rest your faith in that too, and you can rest your faith in the fact that God is perfectly satisfied with the One who bore your sins, because He has received Him up into heaven and given Him great glory and honour: “granted him a name, that which is above every name”, Phil 2: 9. That is what God has done with Christ; so you can be certain that God is satisfied with what Christ has done. You are able to know this by faith in what He has done, His blood, that efficacious blood, having been poured out, in order that you too can be clear of your history.
And so this man says, “Sir, I have not a man”. What a thing it must have been, “thirty and eight years”. That would take us back to 1977 if we were to talk about it today. What a length of time! He had been there so many times when the angel had come and had disturbed that water, and the man had maybe seen it most of these times, but he was not able to move. That speaks of you and me too in the glad tidings, that we do not have the power within ourselves to save ourselves. We can do nothing to satisfy God: Scripture says, “our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”, Isa 64: 6. This man did not have a man, but he found Christ. Christ came to him and He is the Man. “For neither is there another name under heaven which is given among men by which we must be saved”, Acts 4: 12. Christ is the only Saviour of sinners. So Jesus says to him, “Arise, take up thy couch and walk”.
I just want to say a little as to the efficacy of the work of Christ. We spoke about it in the reading, the value of it and the scope of it, and I could not say I comprehend it at all, or how much I apprehend it. But, you know, in the epistle to the Hebrews you get some fine touches as to what Christ has done and you can see the delight of heaven in Him. In Hebrews 9 it says, “But now once in the consummation of the ages he has been manifested for the putting away of sin by his sacrifice”, v 26. I think what it means is that sin is gone from before the eye of God, the whole question of it, all that opposed God, all that stood out, the whole matter, has been dealt with by Christ. Then it goes on to say, “And forasmuch as it is the portion of men once to die, and after this judgment; thus the Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many”, v 27, 28. Think of the pool being moved and one person being restored, and that is wonderful. How much greater what Christ has done! The “many” takes in the scope of every single believer, no doubt millions of persons, and their whole history is cleared and their eternal future secured. How much greater the work of Christ! How efficacious it is! And He “shall appear to those that look for him the second time without sin for salvation, v 28”. That is, He is coming again “without sin”. The footnote to that is interesting; it says, ‘The first time He bore our sins, and was made sin (being sinless); but now, having put sins wholly away for them who look for Him, and having made them partakers of the whole fruit of his sacrifice to put sin away, He appears to them without having to say, or need to have anything to say, to it’. You just get a sense as you read that of something of the greatness of what He has done. It goes on to say, “For by one offering he has perfected in perpetuity the sanctified”, chap 10: 14. What a wonderful work He has done! How full and complete it is! How we can have perfect faith and confidence that if we place our faith and trust in what He has done, we will never come into judgment ourselves.
And so the Lord Jesus says to Him, “Arise, take up thy couch and walk”. And it says, “And immediately the man became well”. I suppose the simple point to make in relation to that is that we do not work up to salvation. As soon as you repent towards God and place your faith in Christ, your eternal salvation is secure, and it can never be undone because it does not depend upon what you do after that. It does not depend upon how you feel about it. It does not depend upon your estimation of your history at all. What it depends upon from that point onwards is the value of that work and the acceptability of that work to God. Christ is now beyond the scope of Satan; He is in heaven. The work is inviolate, absolutely full and complete: how wonderful that is! So He says, “Arise, take up thy couch and walk. And immediately the man became well, and took up his couch and walked”. There was a change, a great change, an evident change. It would be true to say that, having come to Christ for salvation, there should be an evident change in every single believer - a new power should become evident in their walk. If Christ died to save me from my sins and to bring me into such blessing, I should no longer live to myself. I should no longer be the centre of all my thoughts and plans, but Christ is to be the Centre, “that he might have the first place in all things”, Col 1: 18. God has given Christ that first place and He desires that in your life, and in mine, Christ might have that first place and be the first consideration.
And then too, I thought it was a touching thing in verse 14, “After these things Jesus finds him in the temple”. It is fine to see the persons that Jesus finds. Jesus also found the man in John 9. He was cast out of one system, the Jewish system, but Jesus finds him. It is like a fine, personal touch. It is true to say that God is “preserver of all men,” but it says “specially of those that believe”, 1 Tim 4: 10. There is a special, personal interest in those who have come to Christ, and Christ would make Himself known in order that He might have a relationship with them, and that they might have a living relationship with the Saviour.
Jesus says to him, “sin no more”. Well, where is the power going to come from for a walk that is going to be pleasing to God? I think the answer is in what we read of in Acts 19: “Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye had believed?”. The power of the Holy Spirit is the power for walk. Deuteronomy speaks of Asher: “And let him dip his foot in oil”, chap 33: 24. It speaks of a walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. God in His great love has not only provided a Man for your eternal salvation, in whom your eternal salvation is secure, but He has provided the power by which you can be here in testimony for God, and it involves availing yourself of the Holy Spirit. He has been given to those who obey, and if you come by way of the obedience of faith in the glad tidings you have started on that track. The Lord also says that the Father gives the Holy Spirt to those who ask. How good God is! Think of that: another divine Person is here dwelling not only in the assembly but in the hearts of the personnel of the assembly, in believers. One of the things He will do is He will help you overcome the flesh, that which is opposed to God within, which we all have. Galatians says, “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh”, chap 5: 17. He will help you to put to death the deeds of the body in order that you might be here walking pleasing to God, in measure, after Christ. Peter speaks of Him as the One who has been given as “a model that ye should follow in his steps”, 1 Pet 2: 21. He is the great Model for God, and God has absolute delight in Him, and He has great delight in the saints. The psalmist speaks about “the saints that are on the earth … the excellent”, Ps 16: 3. That is what believers on the Lord Jesus are: they are morally excellent. They are persons who have come by way of faith and repentance and God has delight in them: “In them is all my delight”. It is not just in Christ, but now, by extension, divine delight is in believers who come by way of faith and repentance, and who are now characterised by the Spirit. And what would the Spirit do? The Spirit would form you after Christ. Is that not a remarkable thing for persons like you and me who were once away from God, having no thought of Him, acting in a way which was indifferent to Him, doubting that He even existed, thinking and doing things that were hateful to Him? What a triumph for God that He now has persons whom He can look at and say, ‘I can see features of my beloved Son in that person’. How is He doing it? It is not by imitation. There is that which is by way of imitation, persons trying to be like Jesus, and, while the motive is right, I think it has been said that it leads to one of two things: it either leads to pride because you feel as if you have been like Him, or it leads to disappointment because you realise you have not. But the Spirit is forming Christ inwardly in the saints. He is here to magnify Christ and He is here to form Him in you in a very real way; so you do not have to try to be like Christ. The believer is not trying all the time, but Christ is formed inwardly and, therefore, Christ is here in expression because a person is becoming in a real way more and more like Christ. What a triumph for God!
Well, may it be your portion tonight for His Name’s sake!
14th June 2015