THERE’S A LAW AGAINST IT – John 5:10-14

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INTRODUCTION:

A man is walking down the street one day with a smile on his face, a gleam in his eyes, and a spring in his step.  Suddenly he is stopped by several policemen and a conversation ensues.

“Where are you going?”
“I’m going home.”
“What’s that under your arm?”
“It’s my lounge chair.”
“What are you doing with that?”
“I’m taking it home.”
“How much does it weigh?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t you know it’s against the law to carry one of those on Saturdays?”
“I was told to do so.”
“Who told you?”
“I don’t know.”

By now you’re either confused, amused, or both.  This imaginary conversation doesn’t seem to be making any sense, does it?.  It’s also spoiling the moment for this happy traveler!  He was minding his own business and now he’s accused of breaking the law!

I mean no disrespect for policemen and other law-enforcement agencies and personnel.  They do a valuable service by protecting the rights of our citizens and upholding the laws of our country.  My purpose is to focus our attention upon a group of self-appointed “policemen” in this passage of Scripture.  These public spokesmen had their own version of God’s laws, and they were trying to “enforce” them, or force them upon the nation of Israel, making life miserable for everyone except themselves.  We will see how they try to turn this amazing miracle into an act of civil disobedience, and expose the Miracle Worker as being a Criminal.

I.  DATE AND TIME OF INCIDENT (verse 9)

Verse 9 of John’s Gospel, chapter 5, ends with these words:  “Now it was the Sabbath on that day.”  I purposely left that sentence out of my previous sermon because I didn’t want to take the focus away from the Lord Jesus and the miracle He performed at the pool at Bethesda.  A man who had been an invalid for 38 years was told by Jesus, “Arise!  Take up your pallet, and walk.”  The man gladly obeyed.  This incident occurred on the Sabbath day, probably in the late morning or the early afternoon.  We don’t know for sure.  There may have been a hundred or more people at that pool who witnessed the miracle.  Most, if not all of those witnesses, were invalids like himself.

II.  THE ACCUSATION (verse 10)

Verse 10 reads, “Therefore the Jews were saying to him who was cured, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet’.”  The Sabbath – that’s going to be a major arena of controversy between the Lord Jesus and the Jewish leaders because this is the first of several miracles performed by Jesus on the Sabbath day.   In John 9:1-12 Jesus healed the blind man.  In Luke 4:31-37 He cast the demons out of the demoniac, and in Matthew 12:9-14 He healed the man with the withered hand.  All three of these miracles were performed by the Lord Jesus on the Sabbath day.

Before we go any further, we need to have a clear understanding of the “Sabbath-day laws” that the Jewish leaders have been adding to God’s Sabbath law over a period of hundreds of years.  These laws were part of the 613 laws that the Jewish leaders had put together as interpretations of the laws God gave to Moses.  But the process of making interpretations and stipulations didn’t end there.  By the time of the ministry of the Lord Jesus on this earth, those 613 laws had become 613 categories of laws as more interpretations were still being added to each category.  I don’t know how they kept track of them all!

The category of bearing burdens on the Sabbath was a result of their misinterpretations of Exodus 20 and 23, as well as Jeremiah 17:19-27 and Nehemiah 13:15-19.  The original intent of those passages of Scripture was the prohibition against  the carrying of heavy burdens on the Sabbath for the purpose of doing business on that day.  Let me give you some examples of just how far they drifted from the intent of Scripture.  What constituted a burden in their minds?   According to their laws, you could not wear false teeth or an artificial limb on the Sabbath, nor could you wear shoes or sandals that had nails in them.  You couldn’t carry a needle in your robe, nor wear jewelry.  All of those things were considered “burdens”, and those are just a few examples.

Let’s look again at the wording used by the Jewish leaders in verse 10:  “It is the Sabbath; and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.”  Did you notice their wording?  They said, “It’s not permissible”.  They didn’t say “God forbids you”, because He doesn’t.  They didn’t say, “It’s against God’s Law”, because it isn’t.  They could not show this man any Scriptures that specifically prohibited his activity.  What these leaders are saying is :  “We forbid this activity; it is not permissible in our sight because it is a violation of our laws.”

This legalism concerning the Sabbath observance wasn’t just limited to the Jewish Rabbis at that period in time.  There are many cases, even in this day and age, when people have gone beyond the teaching of the Scriptures concerning the Sabbath, and have tried to impose their beliefs onto others.

There is a true story about a minister who was a Sunday guest in a home in Scotland.  It was a very warm day and he suggested opening a window to get some fresh air.  The hostess eyed him sternly and said, “Mon, dinna ye know that ye can have no fresh air in this house on the Sabbath?”  No fresh air was her rule for keeping the Sabbath Day.

The following illustration may be closer to home.  The story is told of a pastor who found the roads blocked one Sunday morning and was forced to skate on the river to get to church, which he did.  When he arrived the elders of the church were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord’s day.  After the service they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all.  Finally, one elder asked, “Did you enjoy it?”  When the preacher answered, “No,” the board decided it was all right.  In this case, doing “enjoyable work” was forbidden on the Lord’s day. (Today in the Word, December, 1989).

II.  THE ALIBI (verse 11)

The healed man’s answer to his accusers shows good reasoning on his part.  But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Take up your pallet and walk.’ “  The Man who gave such an “impossible” command, and then gave him the power to fulfill it, was certainly Someone to be obeyed.  Jesus’ authority was superior to theirs in his mind.  I doubt that he even thought about their “Sabbath laws” in his amazement and exuberance. Jesus gave him the command and the impossible became a reality.  He was now a new person physically.  May that also be our attitude as well.  “I do what God says because He says so”.  It’s as simple as that!  He is worthy of my obedience because of Who He is. 

III.  THE SUPPORTING EVIDENCE (verses 12-13)

The man’s alibi wasn’t sufficient to satisfy the Jewish leaders.  They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet and walk’?”  They are not asking that question so that they might meet Him and worship Him.  Quite the contrary!  They consider the perpetrator of this miracle to be guilty of the greater crime, and deserving of even greater punishment.  In their minds there was no excuse for His behavior.  Not even a miracle from God could supersede their laws, and they didn’t even want to know the details of the miracle.  Evidence was not important in this case of theirs.

Verse 13 says, “But he who was healed did not know who it was; for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.”  I don’t find it surprising that this former-invalid didn’t know the name of the Person who healed him.  It was still early in Jesus’ public ministry, and since this man had spent most of his life laying next to the pool of Bethesda, he probably didn’t hear very much news from the “outside world”.  It appears that this was the first and only appearance of the Lord Jesus at the pool of Bethesda.  Not only that, but Jesus made a quick getaway after performing that miracle, disappearing into the crowd of people that had gathered around them.   The Greek word literally means “to dodge”.  You might say He “quietly made His way through the traffic in order to dodge any stones that might be thrown in His direction”! This was not yet the time or place for the Lord Jesus to have a major confrontation with the Jewish leaders.

IV.  THE HEALED MAN REVISITED (verses 14)

When the commotion was over, we read in verse 14:  “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘Behold, you have become well;  do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you.’ ”  After dropping off his pallet at home, this man went immediately to the temple to praise God for what He had done, and possibly to offer a grain offering of thanksgiving as well.  This is where the Lord Jesus finds him, and admonishes him not to sin anymore.  Thirty-eight years earlier, this man must have committed a sin in his youth that resulted in his weak and helpless condition.  The fact that he had been healed of the consequences of his sin did not give him the right or permission to engage in such behavior again.  I think this was the intent of Jesus’ admonition and I hope the man learned his lesson.

This passage of Scripture doesn’t tell us whether or not this man believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Messiah.  There is no indication that he worshipped Christ or followed Him.  However, I don’t think it’s fair to conclude that he didn’t do so.  Every step he took and every move he made was a reminder of who Jesus was and what He had done for him.  The Bible doesn’t record everything that happens in the lives of the people mentioned in it.  I prefer to believe that this man became a changed man on the inside also, and that his life and his words became a testimony for Christ to others around him.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

This incident isn’t over yet.  In the next message the Jews are going to be interrogating Jesus and we’ll be studying part of His response to them.  From the passage of Scripture that we’ve just studied, I’ve derived four principles.

1.  God’s grace and power can only begin to become effective in our lives at the point when we acknowledge our own helplessness and look only to Him in obedient faith.

2.  The love, mercy, and generosity of God are not an excuse for sin, but rather a motive for grateful obedience

3.  God’s purpose was not to enslave man but to free him.  In Mark 2:27 Jesus said, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  Rest on the Sabbath day meant rest from work in order to be refreshed and have time for worship and fellowship with other believers.  It also did not rule out acts of kindness and mercy to others in need.

4.  My standards, if they go beyond the teachings of Scripture, should not go any further than myself.  Legalism consists, not in having standards which exceed the bounds of the Scriptures, but of considering these personal standards as being equal to Scripture, and trying to impose them on others.

May this study help you to understand and deal with the forces of legalism around us today.  I believe that the only cure for legalism is a humble heart and a correct understanding and application of God’s Word.  So please stay in God’s Word and make it your only guide for living.

If you would like to watch a well-enacted video of the healing at Bethesda as well as the rest of John 5, click the following link below.

 

 

NOBLEMAN’S SON HEALED – John 4:45-54

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INTRODUCTION;

A 39-year-old woman in England, who was born deaf and is going blind because of Usher syndrome, is offered the option of having cochlear implants surgically placed in her ears.  There are serious risks involved.  She recounts her fears as she considers the alternatives.  “I’m overwhelmed by fear.  My mother is worried too.  ‘You’re OK as you are, Joanne’, she says, ‘What if it goes wrong?’  But what if it doesn’t?  What if there’s a chance that I’ll take out my hearing aids and never put them back in again?”  (She wears hearing aids but they just provide a constant “white noise”, nothing more).  But if her auditory nerve is damaged during surgery, she will hear nothing for the rest of her life.  What’s she going to do?  Is it worth the risk?

The man in the passage of Scripture we are studying is also faced with a decision.  His son is about to die and there is nothing that the medical doctors can do to change that prognosis.  He’s heard about the “Miracle-Worker” who changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee.  He needs a miracle and this Man is his only hope.  There may be serious consequences to him and his family if he pursues such a course of action.  What’s he going to do?  Let’s take a look at John’s Gospel, chapter 4, beginning at verse 45.

I.  JESUS’ RECEPTION IN GALILEE (verse 45)

Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Cana in Galilee, having passed by Nazareth where Jesus commented to His disciples about that town.  As they enter the region of Galilee, their reception is much different from the reception they had in Judea.  Verse 45 says, “The Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.”  Jesus and His disciples were in friendly territory.  Many of these Galileans were present when He performed His first miracle, and many others heard about it from those who were there.

II.  THE NEED EXPRESSED (verses 46-47)

Verse 46 says, “He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum.”   We aren’t given the exact reason why they are making this trip.  We do know from other passages of Scripture that one of His disciples, Nathaniel, comes from there, and Jesus and His mother have friends in Cana.  There is also someone in Cana who has travelled a day’s journey to meet Him, and is anxious to talk to Him.  This man is described as a “royal official” (nobleman, courtier).  The Greek word is basilikos, which literally means ” of the king” or “belonging to a king”,  He is probably a royal official appointed by King Herod in some capacity.  We don’t know whether this man is a Jew or a Gentile, but we do know that he is desperate.  He would not have come all the way from Capernaum to be seen in public talking to Jesus if he wasn’t desperate.  What did he have to lose by doing such a thing?  He might lose his reputation, his job, his friends, his family, and possibly even his life.  But right now, what he might gain is more important than what he might lose.  His son is dying and he is willing to do anything, and risk everything, in order to keep that from happening.

Verse 47 tells us how he responds to this critical need in his household.   “When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him. and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.”  He arrived at Cana and waited for the opportunity to speak to Jesus.  When the opportunity was given him to speak, he pleaded for Jesus to come and heal his son.  The nobleman could have sent his servants to make the request but preferred to lay aside his nobility and come humbly to Jesus.  His faith has been called “crisis faith” because believing in Christ’s healing power was his only hope for saving his son who could die at any moment.  You can imagine that a man wearing fine clothing that distinguished him as a high-ranking member of the Roman government, arriving in the little town of Cana, would attract the attention of everyone in the town.  Then to see this nobleman approach Jesus and plead with Him to come and heal his son – this would cause people to come closer to watch what is going on, and to hear the conversation.  The crowd may be thinking, “I wonder if Jesus is going to perform another miracle like He did at the wedding?”  Some members of the crowd may want to “go along for the ride”, so to speak, to watch Jesus perform another miracle.  It’s as if they are saying in their hearts, “Keep showing us miracles; we aren’t convinced yet!”

III.  THE CROWD REBUKED; THE NEED REPEATED (verse 48-49)

The Lord Jesus, looking around at the crowd that has gathered around them, says in verse 48, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”   I don’t believe that Jesus is saying those words to the nobleman, but to the crowd and to the people in general.  He was not performing His miracles for entertainment purposes.   Jesus may have looked away from the nobleman and around at the crowd when He said those words, because the pronouns (“you . . . you”) in the Greek text are both plural.  The nobleman also understands that those words weren’t directed toward him because he says in verse 49, “Sir, come down before my child dies”.  We see no offense taken.  He wasn’t concerned about the crowd, nor about his reputation.  He just continues his conversation, repeating his plea; this time addressing Jesus as “Lord” (“kyrie” in the Greek text).  He’s gaining a clearer understanding of Who Jesus is, and his persistence tells me that he is convinced that Jesus can and will heal his son.  However, his understanding of Jesus’ healing abilities is limited.  He thinks that Jesus can only heal someone by going there in person.  As God, the Lord Jesus Christ is not limited by distance (or space).

IV.  THE REPLY OBEYED (verse 50)

In verse 50 his faith is put to the test.  “Jesus therefore said to him, ‘Go your way; your son lives.’  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off.”  After Jesus kindly spoke those words of assurance, the royal official’s “crisis faith” has now become “obedient faith” (“confident faith”).  He’s taking Jesus at His word, and his faith in Jesus’ Person and His healing abilities has been tested and has increased as a result.  He’s heading for home.  I’m reminded of the centurion’s words to Jesus in Matthew 8:8, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.”

V.  THE RESULTS RECEIVED (verses 51-52)

As the royal official is walking those 20 miles back home, he has nothing but Jesus’ word to keep him going.  Then, in verse 51, something unexpected happens.  “And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living.”  The child’s recovery was so sudden and unexplainable that his servants hurried to find him and let him know what had happened.  Verse 51 says that “,,,.his servants met him, saying that his son was living.”  Without knowing it, they were echoing Jesus’ words to him:  “Your son lives”.  Jesus was telling him that his son was immediately healed, and his servants were saying that his son was suddenly and completely healed.  The royal official responds, in verse 52, with words you would expect to hear:  “So he inquired of the hour when he began to get better”.  He was expecting a gradual recovery.  His servants replied, “yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”.  They were telling him that it was an immediate recovery for it happened at the seventh hour (one o’clock that afternoon).  I think the servants were hurrying to find their master before he talked to Jesus in the hope of sparing him the risk of losing his reputation, job, or even his life as a result of being seen with Jesus.  But their words confirmed that the Lord Jesus was the One who healed his son, removing all doubts that Jesus truly was the Messiah, the Son of God.

VI.  THE REPONSE GIVEN (verses 53-54)

Verse 53 says, “And the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives’; and he himself believed, and his whole household.”  I am convinced that the royal official “believed”, surrendering His life to Jesus Christ as his Lord, at the moment he was given the hour the fever left his son; and the man’s life changed immediately and dramatically.  As he talked to his servants on the way home they could sense this change in his life because he spoke with joy and conviction about the Man who had healed his son.  When he arrived home and held his son in his arms again, he shared with them, not only the details of his meeting with Jesus, but also the change in his own life when he believed.  His “household” – family and servants, heard his testimony, witnessed the change in his life, and “believed”, making the same commitment to Jesus Christ that he made.  It was now a Christian household.  In verse 54, John records that this was the second miracle that Jesus performed, and both of them occurred in Cana of Galilee.

By believing in Jesus Christ, this household was accepting new risks, besides the ones the father took by going to Jesus.  Is it worth the risks?  Ask anyone who has truly made that decision, and whose life has changed because of the power and presence of Christ.  You will see a smile come to that person’s face and a gleam in his or her eyes.  You will also hear expressions of joy from the person’s lips.  The results and rewards are infinitely greater than the risks.

As you review in your mind all the excuses and fears that have kept you from making that decision, also consider what Joann considered in my opening illustration.  “What if it goes wrong?”  “But what if it doesn’t?”  What if it’s true?  What if my life can be drastically changed and I can have a joy, peace, and purpose in my life that’s beyond comparison?  Isn’t it worth the risks?  Won’t the Lord Jesus be faithful to keep His promises if I put my life in His hands and trust in Him?  He was faithful to keep His promise to the royal official.  Why put off the joy that would begin today and last forever?

Joann decided to put her fears aside and have that surgery.  The implants were now in place, and she had to wait a month for her ears to heal.  Then the audiologist connected electrodes, made adjustments, put new hearing aids in place, and made more adjustments.  When the adjustments were completed, the words:  “caaaaaan , , , yooooooou , , , heeeeeear . . . meeeeeeee?” rang in her ears.  “The first words I’ve ever heard . . . tears spill into my lap as I try to take it all in . . . “.  (“Hearing For The First Time … at Age 39 “, by Jo Milne, (Readers’ Digest, 7/8/2015); from the book, “Breaking The Silence”).  It was worth the risks!

There’s a whole new life and a whole new world that opens up to you when you repent of your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  He took the greatest risks and paid the greatest price to provide you with this opportunity.  His grace is sufficient to enable you to rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances that might result from your decision (Ephesians 5:20; I Thessalonians 5:16-18).  As you consider again the two alternatives:  a commitment to Jesus Christ, or not; remember that in this case, what you gain, you gain forever, and what you lose, you lose forever.  Is it worth the risks of putting it off?  Is it worth the risk of suffering the consequences both now and forever?  I hope you will follow the example of the royal official and his household.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

This work-in-progress is complete.  There may still be some finishing touches.  The next construction site will be John 5:1-9.  If this is your first time at this website, I put my study of God’s Word on this site a section-at-a-time as I study it   There are over a hundred completed sermons on this site and you are welcome to visit them all.  May this be a joyful and productive day for you, whether it’s risky or risk-free.

QUESTIONS TO PRAY ABOUT – James 5:13-16a

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James begins this verse by asking, “Is any one of you in trouble?”  Do you think that James is expecting a “no” answer?  Is he using the laws of probability here? Let’s say that James expects at least 5000 people to read or hear this letter. Therefore there must be at least one person who has this “trouble”.  I don’t think so.  James is expecting a positive response.  If that’s true, then why is he asking the question?  Why doesn’t he just tell them to pray when they are troubled? James is asking a “rhetorical question” here, and he uses three of them in verses 13 and 14.

Sometimes a rhetorical question is used to give the recipient a moment to pause and think about it before receiving the answer.  It can be used as a teaching tool.   Since the reader or listener knows that the answer is “yes”, he may be more likely to listen and pay attention to what is said next.  The Lord Jesus used rhetorical questions.  In Mark 8 He used them repeatedly for the purpose of encouragement and application.

I.  ARE YOU TROUBLED? (verse 13a)

The Greek word translated “troubled” in the NIV, is the word kakopathei.  It can refer to suffering evil or hardship of any kind.  These Hebrew Christians and their families have been scattered all over Asia Minor because of the persecution, so they are struggling to find jobs, learn a new language and adjust to a different culture.  That can be very frustrating!  James knew that they needed some encouragement and some practical steps to take in order to ease their troubled minds.

Let me translate the Greek word into terms and expressions that we can all identify with.  “Are you feeling down?”  “Are you worried or distressed?”  “Are you having a bad day?”  “Are things just not going your way today?  “Do you feel like you got up on the wrong side of the bed?”  James’ response to his question is:  PRAY.  He doesn’t mean “say a prayer”.  He is encouraging them to go into the presence of God, praise and worship Him, get right with Him, give thanks to Him, and then bring their requests to Him.  By the time they get to their petition, they might find that they don’t have any urgent requests anymore.  They now feel refreshed and have a new perspective on their day.  The focus of attention has moved from their problems to their all-sufficient God.

II.  ARE YOU CHEERFUL?  (verse 13b)

The Greek word translated “cheerful” here means feeling good inside; a joyful spirit that is not dependent upon circumstances.  James says, “when you’re cheerful, sing about it, and don’t sing just any song, sing a psalm – a song of praise to God!”  Let the joy that’s inside come out – don’t keep it to yourself!   The apostle Paul and Silas were singing praises to God at midnight while they were in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:25)!

Many of you have probably enjoyed listening to a large choir as they sang the great hymns of the faith.  But if you’ve ever sung in a choir yourself, you know that singing your heart out with the other choir members after all the hours of practice is an even greater experience of joy and praise to God.  And don’t forget the enjoyment that God is experiencing as He listens to your voices and the expressions of praise from your hearts.  It is a mutually gratifying experience!

Singing played a major role in the history of the people of Israel.  There are several times in the Old Testament when the whole nation of Israel sang together to the Lord.  These occasions probably came to the mind of James as he was writing these words, and also to the minds of his readers and listeners.  The first time was in Exodus 15, when Moses and the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, and the entire Egyptian army drowned when the waters returned to their place.  The first few words of that song are:  “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously!  The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea” (NKJV). Can you imagine what that must have sounded like?  Thousands of people singing it as loud as they could, their faces beaming with joy!  If you read the entire song, you will see that it was more than just a song.  It was a cheer to God, a vocal applause, shouting out to Him in song in response to the great things He has done. When was the last time you gave God a “round of applause” for the things He has done in your life and in the lives of others?  Don’t you think He deserves that kind of a response from our mouths?

When we’re happy we can be a source of cheer and encouragement to others also.  If you’ve been to a football, basketball, or soccer game, and the cheerleaders have you and the rest of the crowd cheering, your team usually plays harder and better.  Your cheers are urging them on and building their confidence. Statistics generally show that more games are won when the team is on its own “home field”, or has the “home court advantage.”

Once, when a great fire broke out at midnight and people thought that all the occupants of the building had been evacuated, way up on the fifth floor a little child was seen crying for help.  Up went a ladder, and soon a fireman was seen ascending to the spot.  As he neared the second story the flames burst in fury from the windows, and the multitude almost despaired of the rescue of the child.  The brave man faltered, and a comrade at the bottom cried out, “Cheer him!”  Cheer upon cheer arose from the crowd.  Up the ladder he went and saved the child, because they cheered him.  When we’re happy, let’s be “cheerleaders” to those around us.

There are several other occasions where the whole nation of Israel sang praises to God.  For example, there is I Chronicles 15 (the return of the Ark of God), and II Chronicles 5 (dedication of the temple).  In addition to these occasions, James remembers the final Passover meal that he and the other disciples celebrated with the Lord Jesus.  Since Jesus presided over the meal, after they had eaten the lamb and unleavened bread, it was Jesus who also led them in the customary singing of a hymn.  Jesus sang a hymn of praise and deliverance from the land of Egypt, knowing that the next day He was going to be that Lamb Who would be sacrificed to pay for the sins of the world.  Yet He was able to sing for joy!  I hope and pray that there is a song in your heart, and on your lips today!

III.  ARE YOU WITHOUT STRENGTH?  (verses 14-16)

Another time for specific prayer is when someone within the congregation is sick. I believe this is the only place in the New Testament where praying and anointing of the sick are mentioned in conjunction with each other.  Therefore we must be very careful to understand the context of James’ words, and especially to understand the meaning of the Greek words that are used in these verses. This is not a passage of Scripture that can be clearly understood by just reading it in several translations.  Rather, I think that this is a passage of Scripture that can be easily misunderstood and misapplied if it isn’t thoroughly examined.  Get ready for some hard work and attention to details!

After examining the context of verses 14 to 16, and in the process of studying the first significant Greek word in verse 14, I am getting an altogether different understanding of what is happening in these three verses.  Please join me in laying aside previous ideas and conclusions for a while, and let’s take a fresh look at this text and its applications to us today.

Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself as I look at the context.  James has been addressing emotional, social, and spiritual issues in this letter.  Why would he suddenly switch to physical healing in an unclear manner and then back away from it as suddenly as he brought it up?  What does anointing with oil, confession of sin, and forgiveness have to do with sickness?  What kind of “healing” is being spoken about here?

The first Greek word I am now studying is the word asthenei.  It is the word I have highlighted in the NASB translation of the first sentence in James 5:14:  “Is anyone among you sick?  It literally means, “without strength”.  In Mark 6:13 it is associated with the casting out of demons. The apostle Paul used this Greek word when referring to one’s conscience being weak (Romans 6:19; I Cor. 8:7), and the weakness of one’s flesh when it comes to giving into temptation and sin (Romans 8:3).

Notice also in verse 14, it says, “is any one among you sick, let him call for the elders . . . “.  Whatever this “sickness”  or “lack of strength” is, it isn’t incapacitating and it doesn’t appear to be physically contagious.  Also, since he is the one calling upon the elders, his specific purpose for doing so is so that they might pray for him, anointing him with oil as they pray.    This person has come to the point where he wants to make it known that he is ready and willing to do this, and wants the elders of the church to be in charge of it.  If it seems that I am belaboring the point, there is a reason for it.

I like the way the Greek Interlinear New Testament literally translates what the elders are doing:  “let them pray over him, having anointed with oil . . . “.  The  word “anointed” here means “to rub”.  It is a different word from the one used to anoint people or vessels for service to God.  Here is my interpretation based on the context of what James dealt with before it, and what proceeds afterward. As we all may know from experience, many of the issues that James has been addressing (e.g. anger, jealousy, bitterness, guilt, and anxiety) can have overpowering effects on us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and also physically.  They can draw us inward and control our personalities much like the effects of a harmful addictive drug.  Therefore I personally wonder if the elders were giving this man something similar to massage therapy and aroma therapy to soothe and comfort him in his anguish.   At the same time they were praying over him, so that he might get some things that have been bothering him “off his chest” so to speak.  The penetrating oil, the soothing aroma, the faces of these elders above him, and the sound of their prayers are preparing him to release the troubles and sins that have been eating away at his soul.  It is done in the name of the Lord, because God deserves the glory and praise for what only He can do.

In verse 15, James says, “and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick” (NASB).  The word translated “prayer” is a different Greek word for prayer.  It is the Greek word euche, which means “intense prayer“.  It is intense because it is offered in faith – grounded in the assurance of God’s will in this matter, and trusting in His enabling.  It may also be “intense” because these elders are praying together for a common purpose.  The following devotional article in Our Daily Bread is a true example of intense faith and intense prayer.

Louis Banks relates a story of a veteran missionary who returned to China after a long absence.  On the day of his return, he was met by a former convert and six other Chinese nationals.  These six, as the missionary later learned, had received Christ while living in the dark shadows of opium addiction.  Amazed by their good health, the missionary asked his former convert what remedy he had used in their deliverance.  The man answered by pointing to his knees.  He had prayed for them, and when they came to him for help he encouraged them to pray for themselves.  When they came back saying that it did them no good, the man of faith sent them back to their knees.  He said he did this again and again until they stood before him clean, sound in body and mind.  Through prayer, their cruel chains had been broken, and they had new songs of joy and praise on their lips.

Dr. M.R. DeHaan II, ends his devotional with these words:  “This doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t use other means of help.  But it says that whatever help we seek, nothing must replace the role of prayer.”

As James says in verse 15, “the prayer of faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.”  (NASB)  God has given each of us a body, soul, and spirit, and when one of these aspects of our being is weak and hurting, it affects the other two.  From this verse and verse 16, it appears that the source of the weakness is spiritual, but it has weakened the body and emotions as well.  When God “raises him up”, He is restoring vitality to every part of his being.

So James exhorts them in verse 16 to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (NIV).  He is emphasizing that the sins they have been committing against each other are the source of their problems, and gives the remedy.  As Jews, his readers would tend to associate suffering with sin, and in this case they are correct.  The remedy is not only to confess their sins to God, but also to confess their sins to those whom they have wronged, praying for each other as well.  Only then can our relationships be healed.  As Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, “. , , first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:24).

Confession isn’t easy, but it’s the right thing to do in God’s sight.  God will always give us the strength to do what is right if we ask it of Him.  Is there someone you should talk to today, confessing your sin and asking for forgiveness?  The first stanza of the hymn entitled “The Evening Prayer” contains these words:

If I have wounded any soul today,

If I have caused one foot to go astray,

If I have walked in my own willful way,

Dear Lord, forgive

by Maude Battersby

 

May you experience the joy of our Lord’s presence and closeness today, and may He shine out on your countenances as He did on the face of Moses!  BE SHINY!  (Matthew 5:16 – a child’s paraphrase).