Scripture: John, chapters 5-6
John 5:1-15 (NASB):
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 in Hebrew is called Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these porticoes lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, limping, or paralyzed [; waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first stepped in after the stirring up of the water was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]
Now a man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight 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 into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” 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.
“Do not sin anymore”
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 it up and walk?’” But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there 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 had made him well.
I usually do not reflect on passages from John’s Gospel in my daily reflections. I have spent many years studying, preaching, and writing about John’s Gospel in my ministry. In fact, the Gospel of John is my favorite book of the Bible. But whenever I start to reflect on passages from John, I feel guilty – as though I’m re-using something that I’ve done before. At this time of year, however, I have no choice; the only readings for this week are from John’s Gospel.
As I read today’s chapters (John 5-6), my thoughts stopped on Jesus’ comment to the man whom He had healed. “Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” Our modern sensibilities push back from statements like that. We know that physical conditions like paralysis are usually not punishments from God. Rather, diseases and conditions like paralysis are an inevitable part of living in a fallen world.
Almost 30 years ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. By the time that diagnosis came, she was in Stage 4. Thankfully, God and the doctors whom He used helped her to recover, and we have enjoyed these past 30 years together. There’s no question in my mind that her cancer was not the result of any sinful activity on her part. In fact, part of my “discussions” with God about her illness pointed out that if either of us “deserved” to have cancer, it was me, not her. God made it clear that her cancer was not a punishment. Like the man born blind in John chapter 9, it was an opportunity for God to demonstrate His power and His grace.
“Do not sin anymore”
So what do we do with Jesus’ statement to this paralyzed man whom He healed? Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you. People probably take one of two approaches to this statement. First, they might focus on do not sin anymore – and try to explain that away as being impossible. Second, they might look at so that nothing worse happens to you, and assume that perhaps the man’s condition was a punishment for sin.
I believe there’s a third option. First, it is possible for us to “not sin anymore” – certainly in the sense of intentional, willful sin. If that were not possible, why would Jesus have challenged him that way? “Don’t sin anymore – but that’s impossible! Ha ha!” I don’t think so. (The distinction between intentional and unintentional sin goes back to the Old Testament, and the offering of the Day of Atonement. That subject, however, is beyond the scope of a blog post like this.)
Second, Jesus’ statement so that nothing worse happens to you should be understood in the sense of spiritual sickness and death, rather than physical. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that our spiritual life and health is of much more importance than the physical. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28, NASB). Thus, something worse would be spiritual punishment and death. Jesus challenges the man to not sin anymore in order to avoid that.
God is reminding us today that He calls us to be holy, as He is holy. His holiness, and His call for us to be holy, is the reason we are to not sin anymore. Instead of finding excuses for sin, let’s see how faithful and obedient we can be! In other words, instead of seeing how close we can stay to the world and sin, let’s see how close we can get to God!
Father, thank You for calling us to “not sin anymore.” You remind us that the call to live above sin also shows us that You enable us to do so. Help us not to serve You out of fear – focused only on “something worse” that might happen. Instead, help us to serve You out of love and gratitude for Your gift of forgiveness and life. We pray in the name of Your Son Jesus. Amen.