1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 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. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  [b] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 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?”
7 “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.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 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.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
The Pool of Bethsaida
Located in Jerusalem, near the Sheep’s gate and beneath the ruins of a fourth century Byzantine church, lies the pool of Bethesda. With its five colonnades (four peripheral, and one central one dividing the pool into an upper and lower part), the pool of Bethesda stands as an altar of Jesus’ healing offer.
The pool was said to possess healing qualities and as such, many disabled people would lie and wait for a chance of healing. The blind, lame and paralysed waited for the stirring of the water, which indicated an opportunity for healing. Some commentaries explore the idea of an angel stirring up the water occasionally so that the first person to enter the pool at that time would be healed. This text is found in the second part of verse 3, and all of verse 4, but is omitted in most bible translations.
The name, “Bethesda” is derived from the Hebrew and Aramaic “beth hesda” meaning “house of mercy” or “house of grace”. Indeed, this is where Jesus extends and invitation to his house of mercy and grace to one man who accepts the Lord’s offer and is consequently, healed.
Waiting for the Stirring of Water – Where do we place our hope?
Blind, lame or paralysed, the plight of the disabled was the same. These were people who could not function in society but were outcast from the temple and poor in spirit and body. There they were, gathered in crowds by the edge of the Bethesda pool, waiting for the waters to be stirred. When would the waters stir? And what chance did these people have of truly becoming cured? Despite the odds, all who waited by the pool, waited with hope. The invalid Jesus healed had been lying by this pool for thirty-eight years. This was all they had to put their hope in, all they could look to for salvation and life. The words of the invalid in verse 7 alludes to the frenzy which may have occurred at the slightest stirring of the water. For thirty-eight years, every time he tried to get into the pool, someone else would go down ahead of him. Here we have a picture – crippled outcasts, desperate for healing, hoping that the stirring of the still water before them might bring this healing to their bodies.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:3] The spiritually blind, lame and paralysed are those who recognise their infirmities but desire healing. The blind desire to see God, the lame desire to walk with God and the paralysed desire to dance with joy for God. Yet, there they lie oppressed by their strongholds, waiting by a pool of still water, waiting to perceive the slightest move of God. These are the poor in spirit, they know their weaknesses. Yet, theirs is the kingdom of heaven! Still, multitudes wait for a sign, for the stirring of water, before they leap up to pursue healing. Of the multitudes that rise up when they see the sign, only one is healed, only one encounters the Lord Jesus and is made whole. The others return to their place of spiritual idleness and disability. In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul exhorts the Philippians to “continue to work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in [them] to will and to act according to his good purpose.” God works IN us. He does not work in a distant way, occasionally allowing us to see his work, but through the Holy Spirit, reveals to us the very nature of His word and His will [1 Corinthians 2:10-12, Ephesians 1:9]. Therefore, let us be active in pursuing Him and active in working out our salvation with fear of the Lord. Let us not idly wait for a sign, but instead, may we be found in God that He might work in us to make us whole and healed. In John 20:29, Jesus says, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Our hope, therefore, is found in Jesus Christ, the only one who can heal us, the One who took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows; “he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” [Isaiah 53:4-5] What is hope? It is patiently waiting for what we do not have [Romans 8:24-25]. The disabled people at the pool of Bethesda waited and watched patiently for the healing of their bodies, having placed their hope for this in the uncertain promise of stirring water. How much more should we, who have a faithful and true promise of returning Saviour, wait and watch patiently for His arrival. How much more should we place our hope on Him, to spend our lives expectantly waiting and watching for His arrival? Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” [Mark 13:30-33]
In Romans 8:22-25, Paul describes the hope that we have in Christ:
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
John 9 recounts Jesus’ encounter with a man, blind from birth, and a group of Pharisees, who are spiritually blind. The man who is blind from birth, is healed by Jesus and in receiving His physical sight, also receives spiritual sight to recognise Jesus as the Son of Man, and to worship Him. This man put his hope in something he did not yet have when he obeyed Jesus’ instructions to him. Consequently, he experienced the promise of healing and sight that Jesus offers as the way, the truth and the life [John 14:6]. In contrast, the Pharisees scorn the idea of being blind, saying “What? Are we blind too?” [John 9:40] They fail to recognise their spiritual blindness, believing that they already have sight. As such, they cannot hope for sight in Jesus for this is sight they believe that they already possess. The words of Jesus in verses 39 and 41 of John 9 rebuke the stubborn and proud attitude of these Pharisees:
(verse 39) “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
(verse 41) “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
May we then, recognise our blindness and place our hope in the One who brings us sight, that a righteousness from God, apart from the law, may be made known to us through faith in Jesus Christ [Romans 3:21-22].
(verse 5) “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 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?”
Jesus sees the man, learns of his condition, then asks him if he wants to get well. We are not the ones who find Jesus. It is Jesus who finds us. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” [Ephesians 1:4-5] God the Father desires us to be with Him. He chose us to be in Him before the creation of the world, long before we saw Him or made any decision to know Him. The Son, Jesus, also sees us and desires that we be His inheritance. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” [John 17:24] In the following verses (25-26), Jesus expresses the work He has done so that we, have been seen and desired by God, may be able to see Him and know Him: “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” Those who know the Son, know He has been sent by the Father and know the love of the Father because the Son has revealed it to them. [Matthew 11:27] “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Jesus not only sees us, he also knows and learns about our condition. “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.” [Psalm 139:1-4] God searches our being and knows us better than we know ourselves. Many times, I have made plans in my own mind, and judgements of my own accord as I thought good. Many times, the Lord has shown me that He knows better; that His thoughts and His ways are higher than mine [Isaiah 55:9]. Because Jesus knows us, and God has placed His Spirit on us, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” [Romans 8:16-17]
Jesus knows us, yet He also learns about us; He hears us and answers us. David complained to the Lord many times and called to Him. The psalms he wrote are filled with joy, despair, complaints, requests, thanksgiving and always, praise to God who is exalted above all things. Through the whole spectrum of human experience and emotion, David gives God glory. God hears David’s prayers, all his descriptions of what he is feeling and what he is experiencing, and God answers. This is reflected continuously through David’s psalms:
[Psalm 17:6] – “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.”
[Psalm 30:2] – “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.” [Psalm 86:1] – “Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”
[Psalm 116:1] – “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.”
[Psalm 141:1] – “O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you.”
In the book of Habakkuk, we witness the conversation between Habakkuk and God. God gives revelation to Habakkuk as He answers His complaints. Jesus desires to speak with us, to learn about us through conversation because he desires to have relationship with us. In this relationship with us, He asks about our desires and invites us to partake in His kingdom. In Him, we have no thirst, no hunger, and no death [Revelation 7:15-17]. In Him, we find healing and salvation. While this gift of healing and salvation is freely given, it is only received by those who know Jesus. If we do not know Him, we cannot receive what He will give us. Part of our relationship with Jesus, is asking for Him and desiring Him. When we desire Him and turn to Him, healing is a consequential outcome. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Again, in Jeremiah 3:23, God says, “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” When Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?”, He is asking if we want to have relationship with Him. How do we get well? By knowing Him and being found in Him! The invalid in John 5 responds to Jesus’ question by sharing his struggle – he has no-one to heal him, to show him the way to the hope he really desires. Jesus’ response to this man is the answer to his complaint. After healing this man, Jesus finds him at the temple and says, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” [John 5:14]. The man then goes away and tells the Jews it is Jesus who had healed him. In his encounter with Jesus, this man not only experiences physical interaction with Jesus, but also experiences spiritual healing and sight to know Jesus as His true hope and salvation. Jesus has extended his invitation to us and asks us to tell him our desire. May our response to Jesus’ question be like that of the Beloved in Song of Songs 6:3 – “I am my lover’s and my lover is mine”.
Immediate Obedience to Jesus
1 John 3:3 says, “This is love for God: to obey his commands”. When Jesus hears the man’s response to his invitation of healing, he does not delay in responding but says, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” The man is immediately cured, picks up his mat and walks. What if the man did not pick up his mat and walk? What effect would his healing have then? He may have been healed but if his lifestyle did not change, what use would it be that he were healed? This passage bears similarities to Luke 9:23 when Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” When we hope in Jesus, we are healed. Yet, if we do not take up our mat and walk with Him, what use is our healing? We are only truly healed when we obey His commands and live according to His word. In Isaiah 58, the Lord rebukes Israel because they have not lived according to His word, but have forsaken His commands. Isaiah 58 contrasts the fasting of Israel with the kind of fasting God has chosen – “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” [Isaiah 58:6]. Verse 8 says, “Then your light will break forth like the drawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” Jesus has spoken and His healing is given, but in order to experience this healing, we need to take up our mat and walk; we need to take up our cross daily and follow Him; we need to submit ourselves completely to Him and keeping in step with the spirit [Galatians 5:25], knowing his commands, and walking in his ways.
Declaration of Faith
In accepting Jesus’ offer of hope and healing, we submit ourselves completely to Him and become citizens of His kingdom [Philippians 3:20]. As such, we live as strangers in the world. In John 5, we see the healed man act out his faith in two different situations.
- The man is confronted by Jews who rebuke him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath because this is against the law. The man responds by saying, “The man who made me well, said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” [John 5:10-11] Here, the healed me declares He will follow the instruction of the One who has healed Him and is under the law of His kingdom rather than the law of the world. However, He does not yet know who Jesus is.
- After meeting Jesus at the temple and recognising Him as his Saviour, the healed man declares the name of Jesus to the Jews.
1 Peter 2:9-12 gives instruction to those who, like the healed man in John 5, have come into the kingdom of God.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
We are exhorted to, like the healed man, live as aliens and strangers in the world, that God might be glorified in our living, and to declare the praises of our Saviour.
- We are all “disabled”, “not one is righteous”
- Jesus knows us and learns about us; he extends an invitation of healing to us if we will follow Him.
- When we put our hope in Jesus who is faithful, we enter into and eagerly await the promise of God and the heir-ship of the Son who took up all our infirmities upon Himself on the cross. When we put our hope in other things, they cannot heal us and we waste our life waiting for dust. Jesus alone, is hope!
- Having been justified by grace, we live in love, to glorify Jesus Christ through obeying His word and proclaiming His gospel.
- The Blind Man (John 9)
- The Leprous Man (2 Kings 5)
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