Teacher’s Overview: Lifeway “Explore the Bible” John 5:5-16, “Pick Up Your Mat”

A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders, over Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of John 5:5-16 for Sunday, January 15, 2023, with the title, “Pick Up Your Mat.” (A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:

INTRO:  “Who is someone in our society who might be considered divisive or controversial?” (Some could include: Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lena Hidalgo/mayor Houston, Franklin Graham; Whoopi Goldberg, etc)

After you/your group have mentioned some of these and why, then I would = I’d add another: JESUS is very divisive and controversial! Jesus Himself said “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34) — He is divisive. All through this book of John we see John write: “there arose a division because of Him.”  Then = In today’s lesson we see controversy arise as some legalistic people take offense to Jesus’ ministry. Let’s look at what He did, and how we do not want to be like them! 

CONTEXT:   The Book of John

Chapter 1: the Person and Work of Christ: “fully God and fully man,” and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Then 7 MIRACLES that form the “backbone” of John 2-11:

– John 2 water into wine was the first.

– End of John 4, healing an official’s son at Capernaum, :54 = “this is again a second sign.”

– Today we’re looking at the 3rd: the man at the pool at Bethesda.


I. The Root Attitude

II. The Only Answer

III. The Odious Legalism

IV. The Vital Repentance

I. The Root Attitude

:6 WHY do you think Jesus asked the man, “Do you wish to get well?”

This addresses the man’s root attitude.

??? Do you think sometimes people do NOT wish to get well?

(There are some who find a kind of “comfort” or identity in their weakness: “this is who I am …”, or use it to try to keep people giving them attention, doting over them, etc.)

This also applies to our SIN. Sometimes people are more comfortable in their sin — even with destructive consequences — than they are with the thought of turning away from it.

They don’t WANT to be saved. 

They don’t WANT to change. 

They don’t WANT to leave a certain lifestyle. 

SO the bottom line is, this was a GOOD question that Jesus asked (of course!)

And: we need to realize that if this man’s answer was “NO” — that if he didn’t want to made well — the truth is, there was not much that could be done for him.

And the same is true with many people today, too. If they have no desire to change, you can’t just “talk them into it.” There has to be that willingness there.

Some of you may know someone like that. If so, all you can do is pray for them. Only God can touch and change their heart.  

Then in :7 the man answers. And he gives what we might call “excuses” — I have no one to put me in the water when it is stirred up.

He thought the only way he could be healed was by the superstition.

But Jesus had another way:

II. The Only Answer: (of course is Jesus!)

:8 Jesus said to him: “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.”

Jesus had the power to totally deliver this man; to do what no one else could do.

This is one of the major lessons of this text. 

— the man couldn’t help himself

— superstition couldn’t help him

— no one else really could

BUT JESUS COULD. And He DID, :9 says. The man picked up his pallet and walked.

That’s the way it is with a lot of people’s problems TODAY too:

We all know people — we may BE people ourselves — 

— who can’t help ourselves with our problem

— we have nobody else who can help us

— common “pop culture” “solutions” aren’t helping us


This applies to US, and it applies to people we KNOW:

— We need to look to Jesus to do for us what only Jesus can.

— We need to ask Jesus to do for our loved ones what only HE can.

— We need to TELL people to look to Jesus to do what only He can!

III. The Odious Legalism

THEN :9b introduces a major element in this text: “Now it was the Sabbath on that day.”

This is big. The Sabbath was a BIG deal to the Jews — and to some extent, rightly so, because God gave them the command originally. So they were very diligent about it.

ILLUSTR: In the 1830s John Lloyd Stevens was in Jerusalem on his trip to the Middle East. He wrote:   “It was Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. The command to do no work on the Sabbath day is observed by every Jew, as strictly when the commandment was given to his fathers; and to such extent was it obeyed in the house of my friend that it was not considered allowable to extinguish a lamp which had been lighted the night before and was now burning in broad daylight over our table. This extremely strict observance of the law at first gave me uneasiness about my dinner; but my host, with great self complacency, relieved me from all apprehensions by describing the admirable contrivance he had invented for reconciling appetite and duty—an oven, heated the night before to such a degree that the process of cooking was continued during the night and the dishes were ready when wanted the next day.”  (John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, p. 372)

I would probably NOT want to get into a big discussion of “is the Sabbath for today;” you could spend a lot of time on that.

If you need some help with that I would =

— The Sabbath was a very important command in the OT; one of the marks of genuine faith in God.

— The Sabbath is the ONLY one of the 10 Commandments that is NOT repeated in the New Testament.

— The Apostle Paul = Rom. 14:5 “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind,” and Colossians 2:16 “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a SABBATH DAY.”   So Paul = this is NOT for everyone, do as you are convicted.

+x BFM Article VIII:  “The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

I think that is a great statement. It allows for a diversity of convictions regarding the Lord’s Day. Some = a “Christian Sabbath.” Others = “the Lord’s Day for worship” but not a “Sabbath.” Do as you are convicted — but I wouldn’t necessarily want everyone’s opinions on the Sabbath become the focus of the lesson.

What we DO see is that the Jews who were opposing Jesus made this “religious observance” more important than the amazing thing Jesus did in this man’s life!

Did you ever know somebody who was so legalistic that they condemned something good that someone else was doing?

+x David Hamilton and running the van, getting people to church. Someone criticized him because they saw him filling up the church van with gas on Sunday morning. “It’s the Sabbath!”, they said. 

??? What do you think of this example???

(Perhaps he could have gotten gas on another day? I happen to know he had a very demanding full-time job during the week, so it could have been virtually his only opportunity.

But on the other hand, isn’t it easy for people who are NOT reaching people, to condemn those who ARE, because they aren’t “keeping all the legalistic rules.”)

ONE OF OUR LESSONS IS: DON’T BE LIKE THIS! Don’t be so legalistic in your observing “rules” (especially man-made rules) that you don’t care about the good things that God is doing. 

Did God give the Sabbath command? YES

But did God say you couldn’t even carry a PALLET on the Sabbath? NO!  That was a man-made rule that the Jews invented to “protect” the Sabbath. 

Their man-made rules were not as important as the miraculous things that Jesus was doing!  

(Can you think of any other examples of this that you have seen/experienced?)

?? In the 1700s, George Whitefield was preaching out in the open air, and thousands of people were coming and hearing him, and being saved. But some criticized him because he wasn’t preaching in a church building! 

?? My sister is overseas training men and women to share the gospel in an unreached country. Some criticize her because she is training men.

?? Some Baptist “business meetings” care more about how they are following “Robert’s Rules of Order” than they do having a kind Christian spirit towards one another.


??? A good discussion question you might use: “What do you think is the difference between ‘obedience’ and ‘legalism’?”

(Obedience is doing what God commanded; legalism is putting MAN’S traditions ahead of God’s word and people’s needs)

NOW AGAIN, I would emphasize: If God gave a command, we should be very diligent to keep it. But if it’s a man-made tradition or interpretation of a command, we are NOT under obligation to keep that — especially if it keeps us from doing or supporting something that God is obviously blessing. 

Jesus had very little patience with legalistic, “religious” people. He had much more patience with those we would call “sinners.”

IV. The Vital Repentance


He didn’t have to find Jesus; no, Jesus found HIM! 

That should be comforting to us. Are you trying to “find God”? Are you even as a Christian, “seeking God” in some way, for something? HE WANTS TO BE FOUND BY YOU. And HE is really the One who is seeking YOU! 

Now when He found the man in :14, Jesus says something VERY important — and something we really need to keep in balance in this lesson.

When He finds the man He says to him: “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 

??? What did Jesus tell the man to do now??? (“Do not sin anymore”)

This is SO important. Jesus told him to stop sinning. We need to hear this in this lesson, because it would be tempting for us to think something like: “Well, Jesus doesn’t care if we break the Sabbath, or if we sin, etc. He lets us break the rules.” NO HE DOESN’T. He didn’t think much of the Pharisees’ “man made rules,” but He had great respect for GOD’S rules. He specifically told this man: “DO NOT SIN ANY MORE.” 

Repentance is a vital part of Jesus’ message. Those who are really following Him are to turn away from sin.

??? Can you think of another EX of this in the Gospels???

(One of the most famous is later in John 8, where He tells the woman caught in adultery: “go and sin no more.” This is important. He does NOT = “Go and I don’t care if you sin or not.” NO! He specifically said; “SIN NO MORE.” 

(Last week we saw where He purposefully brought up the Woman at the Well’s immoral relationships. He was concerned about her sin. She had to deal with it to have a relationship with Him.)

And that is Jesus’ word to us today, too. He is not unconcerned about our sin. He wants us to “sin no more.”

??? What do you think He meant when He said sin no more “so that nothing worse happens to you”???

(There are worse things than being sick/disabled. The effects of sin in your life are destructive:

— Sins will hurt you NOW 

??? What are some EX of ways that sin can hurt you now?

(Get you addicted to drugs/alcohol; STDs; broken relationships; prison, etc.)

— Sins will really hurt you for eternity! 

Jesus took sins seriously — as we see in His warning to the man here in John 5.  DO NOT take from this lesson that Jesus is “light on sin.” He took sin so seriously that He went to the cross to DIE for our sins. Of all people, Jesus knew how serious sin is.

WE need to take it seriously too!

ONE APPLICATION we should all make from this passage is:

What sin is in MY life today? And what do I need to do about it?

(We need to repent of it; ask God to forgive us for it; and give us the power to CHANGE it. We can’t do it on our own, but He will give us the power to do it, just like He gave this man who had no power to walk, the power to pick up that pallet and walk. He can help you do it.  But just like this man, you have to be WILLING. ASK HIM to help you turn from YOUR sin today.

It’s a great passage; I hope this overview will help you present it Sunday with some applications that will impact the way your people live and serve. 

And if you write something in the Comments below, I’ll be sure to pray for your and your group by name this week.

Per my licensing agreement with Lifeway:

– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.

– Lifeway resources are available at: goExploretheBible.com  and: goexplorethebible.com/adults-training

– If you have questions about Explore the Bible resources you may send emails to explorethebible@lifeway.com

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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11 Responses to Teacher’s Overview: Lifeway “Explore the Bible” John 5:5-16, “Pick Up Your Mat”

  1. Betty Heard says:

    Do you have the Explore Lesson for Jan. 22, 2023 available … Thank you

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      I’m sorry I didn’t get to answer this earlier; you may know that it is up now. I typically post the lesson for the next Sunday, on the Saturday night the week before. And I am preparing them week by week, so I do not have them done any further in advance than that. Praying for you for this weekend! God bless you as you prepare!

  2. Howard Kitchens says:

    We decided to do John 3 on Jan. 8 and will do John 4 on Jan, 15.
    Could you suggest a place where we might “double-up” two lessons later in the quarter?
    Thanks for any help with this you might give.
    Your weekly suggestions are helpful since our class is not into participation very much.

  3. Brenda Waller says:

    Thank you so much for this lesson and what you do. I’m now reading your “new member” lessons. I can’t wait for 2-4. We have voted to update our by-laws at our church.

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      YES I forget that y’all get those as well if you subscribe. Well, I am thankful that you’re enjoying that. I am excited to get the Membership class going in our church. Lesson 3 this week: Discovering Your Ministry! I’m praying the Lord will use it to get more people plugged in to specific places of service. I was praying for you this weekend!

  4. S. Bolton says:

    I really appreciate your comments on this scripture. Thank you. I lead a women’s Life Group. This lesson will challenge us to consider our lives today and what sin may be holding us back.

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      Amen; that’s so important – sin does indeed hold us back. I’ve been praying for you and your group this weekend! Thank you for letting me know that the overview was helpful.

  5. Josephine Brown says:

    Thank you for your prayers for our class! Last Sunday we had a room full — twenty people — and some great discussion!
    Your teaching on the Scripture is so helpful, and I use it every week in my preparation.
    Thanks again, and may God continue to bless and use you!

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      Wow, that is amazing Josephine! Praise God! I am seeing over & over how He hears and answers prayer. I am thankful that the overviews are helpful to you as you teach — and thankful that you are having good discussion! Thank you for the blessing, and know that I was praying for you this weekend!

  6. Marna Higgins says:

    I have been teaching a small ladies class since September. I always use your videos and transcripts to help me pull together the readings from my Leader Guide and commentary as I prepare. Pray for me to glorify God in this endeavor and my personal life.

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