The Helpless Sinner - John 5:1-16

Expositions by H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


Jesus' physical miracles were always performed for the purpose of teaching spiritual truth. No doubt His heart was touched with sympathy because of the infirmities of men's bodies, but He knew what He so clearly taught, that the spiritual infirmities, while not so apparent to men, were really the greater and more terrible. So while He ministered to those whose sicknesses were pictures of spiritual needs. He was teaching His power and gracious desire to heal the spiritual diseases of men. The story of the lame man healed at the Pool of Bethesda thus becomes a plain lesson in God's method of saving the sinner. The name "Bethesda" means literally "the house of mercy," and surely it was made a house of mercy to this poor cripple.


John 5:1-7

Throughout the Word God makes physical illness a picture of sin. When He wants to describe Israel's sin He says, "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores; they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment." (Isa. 1:6). This poor crippled man is a clear picture of the sinner because of his very sickness. The sinner is sick with a desperate sickness, though he may not realize it. His sickness is the sickness of soul which must end in death if no cure can be found. He is sick because of sin. Matt. 9 :i 1-13 ; Rom. 3:23; Rom. 6:23.

This sick man was helpless, and thus a striking picture of the natural helplessness of the sinner. The Scripture definitely calls him an "impotent man." He could do nothing to help himself, and no one else could help him. He had looked in vain to men for help. His sickness had lasted now for thirty-eight years, so he was a confirmed cripple. How suggestive of the sinner's helpless estate this is! Men have been weakened by generations of sin. They may have tried in vain to rid themselves of their sin. Religious ceremony, church ordinances, church membership, charity, education, reform, — all have failed to give the needed relief. Others have struggled desperately, seeking through sheer will-power to be rid of sin and its terrible conseciuences, but they are impotent. The sinner in himself can do nothing to help himself, nor can he find relief in any merely human assistance. As the impotent man needed God's healing power, so the sinner needs God's saving and cleansing power. Rom. 5:12; Isa. 64 :6; Titus 3 :5.


John 5:8

The impotent man was face to face with a wonderful opportunity. He was in the presence of the Saviour. So the sinner has a wonderful opportunity if he will only believe it. Jesus came into this world to seek and to save that which was lost. He died for the sins of men, and is constantly offering to them the gift of eternal life. He is constantly standing with outstretched hands inviting the sinner to trust Him and be saved. The impotent man had fully realized his own helplessness and need of some power outside of himself; so he was ready to believe Jesus' word. God is always ready to save the sinner, but He cannot do it until the sinner sees himself poor and needy and helpless in himself. When the sinner gets to the place where he recognizes that he needs to be saved, then God can save him. I Tim. 1:15; Jno. 3:16; Matt. 9:11-13 ; Isa. 1:18; Luke 19:10.

When Jesus said, "Rise, take up thy bed. and 'walk," He was practically saying, "I heal you, if you will believe me." The impotent man had been lying in this helpless condition too long to be fooled into believing that he had any inherent power to do this thing. He had no power of himself to execute this command, but God provided power for him, conditioned on his faith. So Jesus is saying to sinners today, "If you will only believe Me, I will save you." He says, "Verily, verily I say unto you. He that heareth My word and believeth on Him that sent Me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." These are the exact words He used a little later in interpreting His action in healing the impotent man. (Jno. 5:22). God is holding out to men as a free gift that which they need, oh, so badly, but which they cannot possibly get in any other way. He offers all men the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus. Rom. 6 :23 ; Eph. 2 18-9.


John 5:9

The impotent man was healed through faith. He did not hesitate, but believed the word which was spoken to him. This is the only thing any man needs to do to be saved. God constantly repeats His offer of life and always attaches only one condition to it. The only condition is that the soul shall believe. Nothing else can avail from a human standpoint. God asks no great moral works for salvation. He asks only faith. Every one that believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. Jesus did not say to that lame man, "Now if you will only go home and get your face and hands washed and put on a clean suit of clothes I will heal you." He did not say, "Now if you will only learn to stand on your feet I will heal you." He did not ask anything of the man, but gave a simple word of instruction which, if carried out, meant that the man would simply believe Him. The cripple believed His promise, implied in the command, so rose to his feet a well man. He was healed through believing the word of Jesus. I John 5:1; Jno. 1:12-13; Acts 16:31; Jno. 3:16.

How wonderfully gracious God is to make salvation so simple from our standpoint. If it depended on any great works which we were to do we would be hopeless. If God asked anything but simple faith we could many of us never be saved. But He puts it within the reach of all. No one is so weak physically, morally, or mentally that he cannot believe. The smallest child, old enough to hear the Gospel story, can believe. The most infirm invalid, the most morally degenerate, or the most helpless old man can believe. That is all God asks. Jesus did all the work necessary. He shed His blood on the cross that He might save us. He paid the penalty for all of our sins. He has sent His Spirit to testify to His finished work. He has given His Word to tell men about Him. He has sent forth His children into the world to carry the "good news." He has done everything that needs to be done. Now He appeals to the sinner just to believe it and in the moment that is done He saves him. His message to the sinner is the same as that of the Apostle Paul to the Philippian Jailer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." (Acts 16:31). Jno. 3:1-15; Heb. 10:10-12; Heb. 9:26-28; Isa. 53:5-6.


John 5:10-16.

The impotent man told others that it was Jesus who had made him whole. Even before this he testified to the blessing he had received. Even so God wants His children to testify to His grace. He saves men without any works of any kind, but He saves them that they may work for Him. He is eager that we may tell others about His goodness to us in order that they may trust Him too, anti know that He is good. A doctor went into n little town Where there was much sickness, but no doctor. He waited many days in vain for the sick people to come to him for treatment. Finally one day he met a poor old blind beggar on the street. Looking closely into his eyes he became convinced that he could cure him. He asked the blind man if he would like to recover his sight, and was told that he would like it more than anything else, but could not afford to pay for an operation. The doctor told him that he would care for him and he would not need to worry about money until he was well. He operated, and the man's sight was restored. When he was well he came to the doctor's office and asked how much he should pay him, promising that he would pay as soon as he was able. The doctor said, "I do not want you to pay me a cent. But there is one thing you can do for me if you will." The other asked, "What is that?" "You can tell others who did it," was the answer. He wanted the man who had been helped to tell others, that they too, might come and receive the help the doctor was so well qualified to give. So God will accept no payment for salvation, but He does appreciate it when His children tell of the salvation they have received through faith in Him, so that others may believe and be saved as well. Psa. 107:2; Eph. 2:10; Matt. 4:19.

We should testify to His goodness as best we are able. So many of God's children withhold their testimony because they cannot give as good a testimony as another, or because they feel that they do not know enough to give a good testimony. This impotent man sets us a noteworthy example. He did not wait to go to school to learn all about the theology of his cure before he began to testify, but began immediately, and testified to all that he knew. His life was the testimony which we see first, for the Jews realized that there was a difference in him. God wants us to so live for Him that others will realize that He has done something for us. many times this is the strongest testimony we can give. But this man did not stop here. He told men of the blessing he had received. He did not even know that it was Jesus who had cured him, but he testified, saying, "He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed and walk." Then as soon as he knew who it was that had wrought the cure he testified to this new knowledge, and told them that it was Jesus that had made hi-n whole." God wants His children to tell others, and to testify in accordance with what light He has given. As we do this our knowledge is increased and our testimony enriched. Let us learn from the example of the impotent man. Psa. 107:2; Acts 18:24-28; Rev. 22:17.