Jesus Is Not What We Expect

November 11th, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

 John 5:1-18

In the story about the healing of the disabled man at the pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda (in Aramaic), the Apostle John shows us the limitations of our own minds and gives us an glimpse into the greatness and goodness of God.  As we look at this story with a minimum of details, we see that once again Jesus is performing a miracle which “revealed his glory” and would draw others to Him (John 2:11). This time, as in the story of the Samaritan woman (Jn.4:25,26), Jesus goes beyond physical healing to expose the darkness in the minds and lives of people (here, the Jewish leaders) (Jn. 5:16-18) and to reveal in His actions (Jn. 5:8) and words (Jn. 5:17,18) the attributes of God Himself.

In the minds of the disabled people looking for healing around the pool, they expected a person could actually be healed if they were the first in the pool after the waters were agitated (Jn.5:7).  Jesus, instead revealed His glory with a few words as He told the disabled man to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” In the minds of the Jewish leaders, they would expect Jesus to follow the religious law and not work/heal on the Sabbath (Jn. 5:16-18), but Jesus chose not only to heal the man on the Sabbath but for him to carry his mat (a violation of the law). And then Jesus unexpectedly burst past any of their thoughts, to reveal Himself to be like God! (Jn.5:17)

In our minds as we read this story, we might find many things unexpected:

I. Unexpected recipient:  This disabled man did not make the initial contact with Jesus, and did not even know Jesus’ name, although he is quick to tell the Jewish leaders that Jesus (“him”) is responsible for the healing. To this man, Jesus surprisingly showed mercy and grace.

II. Unexpected Deed:  Since Jesus was Himself a Jew, we would expect, as the Jewish leaders did, that He would follow the law and choose a non Sabbath day to “work” a miracle (Jn.5:17). They might have been keeping an eye out for a miracle based on His previous actions with the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4:18) and the Royal Official’s son (Jn. 4:50), but He additionally chose to do the miracle on the Sabbath, which would expose the hearts of the Jewish elders and allow Him to clarify His authority as the Son of God.

III. Unexpected Claim:  Instead of running from trouble, as most people might have done, Jesus made a counter claim to those who accused Him of putting Himself in God’s place: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (Jn.5:17) Jesus showed He was far more than what people expected.  He was and is the Son of God, even God Himself.

May we understand with our minds that Jesus has the authority to violate our expectations in order to show the mercy and goodness of God.  May we step beyond our fears/anxieties and our desire to control our days with our own expectations, and submit our wills in faith to our God who lovingly knows infinitely more than we do what would be best for our lives.  May we daily be transformed by His love and mercy…. from our own likeness into His.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you tend to react when the unexpected occurs? A challenge? A threat? Faith? Fear?
  2. What keeps us from having faith when Jesus’ Spirit directs us in new ways?  
  3. Why do we want to run, hide, or blame others instead of simply following the Spirit’s guidance (especially when the guidance is not what we expect or plan)?
  4. Jesus is in conflict with the Pharisees’ idea of religion.  When is conflict necessary?
  5. How should we respond to conflict which is caused by our own response to Jesus?

Read aloud I Peter 3:13-16

  1. Is there an “Unexpected Recipient” that God has placed in your life to serve and share the Gospel?  Describe.


Today I want to talk about the Jesus and expectations. I want to start by asking you a question: When was the last time that Jesus did something unexpected in your life? When was the last time he surprised you? Amazed you? Maybe even disturbed you by what he was doing in your life?

Gilbert Imbiri was back helping us today in worship. Gilbert is a wild-man from an island called Papua in Indonesia who married Amber, a small-town girl from Nebraska! You can see their two daughters, Mae, who is 2 and Ole, who is 1 in this picture. Jesus has done something unexpected in Gilbert’s life! Several months ago Gilbert and Amber decided to sell their lovely home in the Kansas City area, pack up their family and move to North Carolina, so Gilbert could attend Southeastern Baptist Seminary. About 12 weeks ago, they moved into their two bedroom campus housing apartment and started living on their new shoestring budget. Four weeks after that Amber found out she was unexpectedly expecting. Two weeks after that at their second doctor’s appointment the doctor heard something unusual in the heartbeat and Gilbert and Amber found out that they’re not just expecting they are expecting twins, in their two bedroom campus apartment with their shoestring budget!

Bet you didn’t see that coming! I asked Amber how Gilbert responded. She said “For the first several hours, he mostly just walked around with his mouth agape.” He told me had to call Amber later, and say “I-I-I am h-happy.” Jesus did something unexpected in Gilbert’s life (and Ambers!)

What has Jesus done? What is he doing that is unexpected in your life? Has Jesus maybe given you an unexpected blessing, something really generous that you didn’t know was coming? Or has Jesus given you an unexpected challenge, something you just didn’t think you were going to have to be dealing with and now you are? Or has he exposed you to an unexpected circumstance? Maybe you have a situation around you where Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing it by the numbers! Maybe right now, he doesn’t seem to be rewarding the obedient and punishing the wicked, and you’re a little confused by that. What is Jesus doing in your life that is unexpected?

Today we are going to look at a passage that is in almost every way unexpected! It’s a fairly well-known story, the story of Jesus healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda. many people know it or know of it. It’s a story with a lot of unanswered questions. There are so many things we don’t really know about the details of this story! We don’t know exactly when it happened. We don’t know whether the pool of Bethesda really healed people or, if it did, how it did that. Jesus talks about sin in this story. We don’t know what specific sin he’s talking about. There are a lot of questions in this passage! In fact, I made a list, and I still have 12 unanswered questions about this passage! But I have to preach it anyway, because we’re going through the book of John!

So I sat down last Sunday afternoon and just said “What do we actually know about this passage?” What we do know is this: To the people involved in this story, everything about Jesus, everything he did, everything he revealed was unexpected. He heals an unexpected person. He does it in an unexpected way, and it leads to Jesus making an unexpected claim. Jesus is simply not who we expect him to be. Not in this story. Not in our lives. He does things and is things that we would never expect.

So today, as we look at this story, we are just going to do three things. We’re going to:

1) Walk through this story together

2) See three things that are unexpected in the story

3) Talk about how we should respond to the unexpected things that Jesus does in our lives

My prayer today for each of you is that you would recognize that Jesus often does the unexpected in our lives. It is his way, so I want you to expect the unexpected. My prayer is that you would ask yourselves how you are responding to the unexpected things he is doing right now. That’s my prayer. In fact, let’s just stop and pray now.

We are going to start with the story today, so turn in your bibles to John 5:1-18.

The Story is that Jesus heals a disabled man

Let’s jump right into it. John starts our story with these words:

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.

– John 5:1

You may remember in the last two stories Jesus left Jerusalem, went north through Samaria (where he met the woman at the well) and on to Cana in Galilee (where he healed the nobleman’s son the story we looked at last week). Now he has gone south once again to observe one of the Jewish religious feasts. We’re not sure which one, but he is now back in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the city where the Temple is at, where Jesus would observe the feast. Jerusalem is also home to something else. Look at:

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.

– John 5:2-3

So in Jerusalem, just north of the temple, on the east side of the city there was a pool whose Hebrew name was Bethesda. Archaeologists have found the ruins of the pool. Here’s what it would have looked like. There’s the temple. There’s Herod’s fortress for his soldiers. The thing with the red roof is the pool. You can see it was actually two pools, one that flowed into another. John tells us that a great number of disabled people, blind people, people that couldn’t walk, people that were paralyzed or weak used to lay near this pool.

The reason they used to lay near it is that at certain times the water of the pool would be stirred or agitated and they believed that when that happened the first person who entered the pool would receive healing from their disability. Some other translations have an extra verse between verses 3 and 5 that says an angel used to stir the water, and that that is what cause people to be healed. Most modern translations don’t have that verse because it’s not in the oldest Greek MSS of John. It’s probably not part of the original.

So we don’t know why the water was stirred. Some scholars think there was an underground spring in the pool. Maybe it was an angel captive manatee?  We don’t know. And we don’t know whether people were truly, consistently healed when the water was stirred. But we know that they believed that they would be healed. So they gathered there.

One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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?”

– John 5:5-6

Jesus is probably on his way to the temple. He passes the pool, and he sees a man there that had been disabled for 38 years. That’s a long time, longer than Jesus had been on earth (since disco). This guy probably laid by this pool day after day begging and waiting for the water to be stirred, so he could be the first one in win the Bethesda healing lottery and be cured of his sickness. When Jesus sees this guy and learns of his situation, he asks him an obvious question: “Do you want to get well?”

“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.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

– John 5:7-9

Jesus asks the guy if he wants to walk. Rather than answering Jesus’ question, this guy just tells him why he can’t be healed. He says “Nobody will help me! Every time the water gets stirred, someone else beats me to it so I can’t be healed.” He doesn’t respond to Jesus’ question. But Jesus responds to the man’s situation. Notice Jesus doesn’t touch the man. He doesn’t pray over the man. He doesn’t do anything. He just tells the man to do three things: (1) Get up, (2) Pick up your mat, and (3) walk. Jesus tells the man to do that and it happens! This man is miraculously healed!  This guy who has been so severely impaired that he can’t even drag himself to the pool ahead of other people even when he’s waiting. This guy who has been disabled for 38 years is set free and is able to walk.

Now you would think that would be cause for great rejoicing, wouldn’t you? Don’t you think you would be a little bit excited? Some of you have loved ones with serious disabilities. some of you have friends with illnesses. Don’t you think you would be excited? In our own church, we have our friend Jeff who had a stroke three years ago. We were so excited the first time Jeff walked through the communion line! Can you imagine what would happen if a guy named Jesus came in here and Jeff not only threw away his cane, but picked up like the communion table? This place would go wild! We would be giving Jeff a Gatorade bath! And Jeff would be hoisting Jesus onto his shoulders. Don’t you think? That’s kind of the way we expect the story to end, but look at:

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath,

– John 5:9b

Uh oh! It’s a Sabbath. The seventh day of the Jewish week, the day of rest. That was a problem, because the Pharisees and Sadducees were the self-appointed Hall Monitors of Israel. They were the guys who minded everyone else’s religious business. Of all the 10 commandments on the stone tablets, of all the 613 commands and prohibitions in the Old Testament Law, the Sabbath was their favorite. They had 39 categories of things that they had said you couldn’t do on the Sabbath, and one of those 39 categories was carrying household stuff. It was against their interpretation of the Law. I don’t mean carry stuff like tables and chairs. I mean they had said you couldn’t carry anything. It was against their law for a woman to wear a brooch on the Sabbath, because she was carrying it! It was against their law for a person to stick a needle into their clothes. Some of them thought it was wrong to put on a wooden leg or wear dentures, because you were carrying something. So when they saw this guy carrying his mat around there was going to be trouble.

and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

– John 5:10-13

I reckon if someone healed me from 38 years of disability I would be finding out who that was, but this guy apparently doesn’t know!

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.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

– John 5:14-15

I would love to understand exactly what that little conversation meant, but I don’t. There’s still a lot of questions we don’t have answers to. We don’t know what sin Jesus is referring to, whether it’s just a general command to avoid sin or whether he is sinning by blaming Jesus for making him walk on the Sabbath or whether there was a sin that originally led to him being lame, and he is doing it again. We don’t know what the sin is. We don’t know for sure what the worst thing that might happen to him is. Is it more paralysis? Is it some other kind of punishment in the guy’s life? It seems more likely that Jesus is warning him that if he doesn’t turn from sin he’s going to face eternal punishment, but Jesus doesn’t go into detail about it.

There’s a lot we don’t know for sure. John doesn’t explain. What John does explain is that this healing occurred on a Sabbath and now the Jewish Religious Authorities know that Jesus was the one who did it. John tells us how they responded:

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

– John 5:16-18

Whoa! In a move that was surely unexpected by the Religious Authorities, Jesus didn’t try to deny that he was working on the Sabbath. Rather, he explained to them that God was his Father. He explained that God was apparently working on the Sabbath, because He had healed this man. Then Jesus boldly stated that just like God he had work to do on the Sabbath, so yes he too was working. Their response was immediate:

For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

– John 5:18

So that’s the story of the healing of this disabled man. Now as you can see there’s a lot in this story that we don’t understand. We don’t understand why the man was disabled. We don’t understand whether the pool actually healed people. We don’t understand the exact sin Jesus is rebuking in the man. There’s lots that we don’t understand. But we do understand one thing: Everything Jesus does in this story is unexpected! Jesus doesn’t do anything that people expect him to do. Let me show you what I mean. Let me show you three unexpected things about this story. First of all, Jesus’ healing has:

An Unexpected Recipient

When I think about this guy, I have to say if I were Jesus this is not the guy I would choose to heal! I can’t help but think that there were better people at that pool! Think about it in contrast to most of the other people that Jesus heals in the gospels. This guy doesn’t do hardly anything! He doesn’t initiate contact with Jesus. He doesn’t answer Jesus’ question about whether he wants to be healed. He doesn’t say “thank you.” He doesn’t hide Jesus’ identity from the Religious Authorities. He doesn’t defend Jesus once they know who he is. He doesn’t believe in Jesus. In fact, he doesn’t even bother to find out who Jesus is!

What he does do is blame people. He blames the people who won’t help him into the pool. He blames those who get in ahead of him. He blames Jesus for making him walk on the Sabbath!

This is not a likeable guy. He’s kind of a Mr. Grumpy-pants! Of all the people at the pool, this is the guy Jesus chooses to heal! Can I tell you something? Jesus is not just going to show mercy to the people we think he should show mercy to. He’s going to show mercy to unexpected recipients.

Think about it. If it were up to us, how would we do this healing? We would go to the pool, look at all the qualified recipients and pick the best one, maybe the nicest person or the one who prayed the most or the one who is going to testify most powerfully (get good ROI). This guy was none of that. But he’s the one Jesus chose.

Why? I don’t know. I was thinking about it this week, and I was thinking he’s kind of like a picture of the nation of Israel. Sometimes I’m like “Why was Israel God’s chosen nation?” He chooses them, rescues them, literally parts the Red Sea for them, and then what happens? The complaining starts, and the resistance and the disobedience. It goes on all throughout the Old Testament. It’s still happening in this story! In fact, do you know what the name “Israel” literally means? “He who wrestles with God!” I think “This is the people you chose? This is the best you could do? It kind of seems like a ridiculous choice one I would never make.”  

Until I think about myself. When God got hold of my heart, I wasn’t looking for him. I wasn’t nice. I didn’t pray a lot. I was running away from God. Kelley reminded me this morning that if you know her story when God got hold of her heart, she was literally pursuing other gods thinking about become Zoroastrian, but Jesus reached out to her. He shares his mercy with unexpected recipients.

I want to speak this word to some of you today. If you’re serving Jesus, chances are there is someone that he has placed in your path that is difficult to serve. Maybe they’re resistant. Maybe they’re ungrateful. Maybe they never seem to change. We wonder from time to time “Is this really who Jesus wants me to serve? Is this really who he is choosing to receive his mercy?”  Just know that Jesus chooses the unexpected. This is an unexpected recipient.

This is An Unexpected Deed

Not only does Jesus not work on the people we think he should, we also see in this story that he doesn’t work the way we think he should. He works in unexpected ways! Think about it: Jesus could have healed this man on any other day of the week, and there would have been no problem! M-T-W it’s fine! Instead, what does Jesus do? He picks a guy that everyone will know in a spot near the Temple right in the epicenter of the Religious Authorities’ power. He heals the guy on a Sabbath, and he tells the guy to carry his mat around just so no one can miss him. Now, I’ve got to tell you that is NOT the way I would do it!

Why on earth does Jesus do it that way? He’s exposing the heart of the Religious Authorities. Look at their response! How did they respond to the healing of this man who had been in bondage for 38 years? Did they respond with Joy? Amazement? Reverent awe? Worship? Did they celebrate the good thing that God had done? Did they respond by asking themselves if Jesus might be the Messiah? Because one thing we see in John is that everyone is looking for the Messiah. Nathaniel is looking for him. The Samaritans are looking for him. Even the Pharisees are looking. In chapter 1, they sent some people to John the Baptist to see if he was the Messiah. Do they respond by asking if Jesus could be the Messiah?

No! What’s their response? Their response is this: “You’re doing it wrong, Jesus! You’re violating the Law!” And it wasn’t even the Law! Do you really think that God wrote “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy” so that people wouldn’t wear brooches and false teeth on the Sabbath? Do you really think for one minute that God wrote this to keep people from carrying their beds home when they were healed? No Way!

What’s going on here? Their hearts are full of fear and darkness. They are so afraid of losing religious control, so afraid that Jesus is going to knock down their legalistic house of cards that they can’t even rejoice in a healing because Jesus didn’t do it the way they expected! And Jesus exposes them!

Can I tell you something? Jesus almost never works the way we expect him to work. In my own life, I find that Jesus rarely works the way I want him to. He’s constantly nudging me into the deep end of the pool, doing things I didn’t think he would do, exposing me to unexpected circumstances and bringing me face to face with my fear, because he loves me too much to not expose my brokenness. He wants me to know that it’s not about my goodness, my strength of character. He wants me to know it’s not about the correctness of the rules I’ve set down. It’s about his grace.

Jesus (1) worked on an unexpected recipient (2) with an unexpected deed. Now one last way in which this was unexpected. It led to:

An Unexpected Claim

Near the end of our passage Jesus makes a claim that would have been most unexpected for anyone who was there at the time to hear it. The crowd was not expecting Jesus to make this claim. The Religious Authorities definitely were not expecting it. Even the Disciples would not have expected Jesus to say this at this time.

Having done this on a Sabbath and especially having told the man to carry his mat on a Sabbath, the average person in this story would be thinking only one thing. Jesus is in big trouble! He’s in danger of being charged with Sabbath breaking! So I’m sure they would have expected him to try and escape that charge by any means possible. The Pharisees probably expected Jesus to claim that he didn’t actually work on the Sabbath, maybe say all he did was speak. The Disciples probably expected Jesus to say that the Religious Authorities had misinterpreted the Law, that this wasn’t the kind of thing God was prohibiting in the Sabbath Law because it wasn’t right.

But Jesus didn’t do that! Instead of running from the claim that he had worked on a Sabbath, he made a counter-claim, a claim that was unexpected and shocking and would have been blasphemy for anyone else. Look at:

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

– John 5:17

See the Jews understood that in some sense God worked on the Sabbath. The sun still rose on the Sabbath. Rain still fell on the Sabbath. Babies were still born on the Sabbath. They knew God worked on the Sabbath, but they figured that was his prerogative, not man’s! For a man to work, for a man to claim that he had the authority to choose to work, was blasphemy. You were putting yourself in the place of God making the rules. Jesus responds to the Religious Authorities by saying this: God is at work on this Sabbath day. In this healing (as anyone can see), I am not just a man, I am the divine Son of God and as God’s Son. I am taking the prerogative of God and choosing to work on the Sabbath.

It was a bold, divine, unexpected claim. In making this claim, Jesus is telling us something very important. Not only does he show mercy to people we don’t expect and do it in ways we don’t expect, but he is more than we expect. He’s more than just a nice guy, more than just a prophet, more than just a healer, more than just a miracle worker, He’s divine. He is of the same kind as the Father. He is God every bit as much as the Father is God. And as God, he has the authority to violate our expectations and to do things we never thought he would do. To amaze and surprise and even frustrate us in the people, he shows mercy to and the way he goes about it and even in the things he reveals about who he is.

He is God. We are not. The point of this passage is that unlike the Pharisees, and Sadducees, and Religious Authorities we need to yield to Jesus’ unexpected ways. We need to respond not with the fear of what it’s going to cost us when God violates our little expectations and preferences and formulas, but with faith, a faith that rejoices in the good that we can already see that God is doing and a faith that expects him to do more so much more than we could ever ask or think. We need to respond to Jesus’ unexpected ways with faith, not fear. How are you responding today?