Overlooked by most modern commentators is something that would have leaped out at any ancient Jewish reader or hearer of this text: The man had been sick for 38 years. Israel had wandered in the wilderness for 38 years (Deuteronomy 2:14). No synagogue-educated Jew would fail to make this obvious connection. And it would start him thinking about the rest of what is going on in John 5.
The connection is pregnant with meaning. It explains everything that follows: Jesus, whose very name is the same as Joshua, is the New Joshua who is leading His people into Sabbath rest. Hebrews 3-4 makes this point, and if the author of Hebrews could figure it out, so could John; and so could Jesus.
As angels, under the Angel of Yahweh, guided Israel to the promised land in the wilderness era, so now Jesus, the New Joshua, the Son of Man, leads the new Israel out of the wilderness and into a New Creation.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Jesus performs this miracle on the Sabbath day. Jesus is bringing people in to true rest. We notice that Jesus tells the man to take up his bed and walk back into the community. He is told to re-enter the Promised Land, carrying his possessions with him. And, as soon as he enters the Land, he meets the new Canaanites, the Jews, who tell him he has no business doing what he is doing.
But, and this is the gospel in a nutshell, Jesus soon returns and takes the dock in the place of this new man and from then on, it is Jesus who is on trial.
Jesus came to fulfil Sabbath Rest. His determined plan is to heal in order to make holy – go, and sin no more! Jesus is determined to set people free from slavery to sin. The Canaanites are also determined. Determined to keep Gods people under the weight of man made rubble and rules.
Lessons for Little Saints…
Who is Jesus like in this passage and why?
If Jesus is the New Joshua, who was John?
Whose rule was the lame man breaking – God’s or man’s?