After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. – John 5:1-9
In the middle of one of the busiest holy days of the Jewish year, when leaders were purifying themselves, offering sacrifices, giving thanks, feasting and going to the Temple, Jesus seeks out a quiet, neglected corner in Jerusalem to extend mercy. This Pool of Bethesda is where no self-respecting Jew would ever visit, because this space was reserved for the poor, the sick, the diseased: in this culture, they were those abandoned by God because of their “sin.”
The fact that Jesus loves the “least of these” is reinforced in this story. The picture above is of the Pool of Bethesda, and I put it there to give you an idea of how crowded, loud, dirty and uncomfortable such a place would be when it was filled with “a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.” Jesus goes to the lowest places, the dirtiest places to make Himself known. As Philip Yancy says, “Grace, like water, descends to the lowest point.” How true that is, and that lowest point includes you and me and our own wicked hearts. In this story, we are the crippled man.
In this crowded area Jesus sees a man who had been crippled for 38 years. Can you even begin to imagine the implications of being crippled in this society for that many years? Thirty-eight years of being carried around, crawling with your arms down the street, being shunned and cast out by those around you, begging for money because you cannot work, with people recognizing you as “that” beggar everywhere you go…. Being born crippled in this society was interpreted as the consequence of you or your parents sinning, and therefore it was a scarlet letter to everyone in this society. He was not to be touched or talked to by anyone other than lepers or other invalids.
What is amazing about this story is that there are dozens and dozens of needy, broken, poor and sick people by this pool, and Jesus finds only one to heal. Why does He do that? Why doesn’t He (like He does elsewhere) set up camp and just start healing and blessing everyone in the room? There are several opinions here: 1) Jesus was going to the Feast and did not have the time to delay. 2) Jesus picked the man who had been there the longest amount of time and healed him. 3) Jesus wanted to pick the most recognizable person to demonstrate God’s power.
Personally, I like to let Scripture and context interpret Scripture. When asked about why He had healed this man in John 5:19, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” In other words, Jesus is healing in the same way He sees God healing, and He is listening to and obeying His Father. Salvation and healing are specific and personal. Jesus is showing us what a relationship with God looks like – God speaks, Jesus obeys. God led Jesus to this one man, and Jesus followed. More on this later.
Jesus’ question is amazing, isn’t it? “Do you want to be healed?” It is so obvious that His question seems out of place. An equivalent would be if I saw you crawling on the desert sand with tattered clothes in the middle of nowhere and asked you, “Are you thirsty?” “Of COURSE I’m thirsty!” you would say. If I found you bloodied and close to death and asked you, “Do you want to be saved from death?” you would scream, “Yes!”
But this man doesn’t really answer Jesus’ question, does he? He doesn’t say “Yes I want to be healed!” He says something about having no one to carry him to the water and someone walking in before him and gets healed. (There was a belief at this time that an angel would stir the waters with his wings, and the first man into the Bethesda pool would be healed.) He has a desire to be healed, but is trusting in superstition and chance. This man has only Need and Excuses, but the Giver of Life is standing before him.
So Jesus, as He has so many times before, speaks to the man’s heart and desires instead of his words. Jesus commands the crippled man to get up, take his mat and walk out of there. The man is healed, he gets up, takes his mat and walks out. How amazing is this? I think I read about Jesus healing people so often that I lose the miraculous about it, but this crippled man didn’t. His life is now utterly changed. He can see his family again, can get a job, can go to the Temple, can walk and run and dance and skip. This healed man will be accepted into society again and will not be judged by his outward appearance and condemned. This man’s healing reverses everything the Jews knew about illness – this man sinned and therefore God crippled him. But Jesus comes along and restores this man fully, and the narrative changes from “Cast out by God” to “Restored by God.”
What about you? You see, you and I are the crippled man in this story. All we bring to God are Need and Excuses, but Jesus can heal us and save us anyway. Have you been saved by Jesus? Has the Gospel changed you utterly – once you were an outcast, and now you are brought in? Does your salvation utterly captivate you, change the way you live your life, astonish you, humble you, fill your heart with joy and give you a new meaning and purpose?
Remember, you were dead in your sins, cut off from God and His promises, utterly lost, a sheep without a shepherd … and now, if you know and love Jesus Christ, if He has captured your heart and made you a new creation, you are alive in Christ, you are grafted into His family, a recipient of all of His promises, etched into the palms of His hands, under the leadership of the Great Shepherd.
Go out there and live today. Live today full of joy and thankfulness and praise. Live like you were dead, completely lost, and then you were alive again, given a second chance, the brought back from death … because you were. And you have Jesus to thank for that. Really revel in your salvation, like the Father does with the prodigal Son. Because you were lost, and now you are found. Praise God.