Verse 1: “After this…” an undisclosed time after Jesus heals the officials son. (I skipped over this passage but would encourage you to read it for yourself - John 4:46-54)
The Feast of the Jews – This is another feast and we are uncertain as to which Feast is being referenced. It is probably one of the three major feasts… Tabernacles, Passover or Pentecost, but it does not say for certain which feast it is.
Verses 2 & 3: Pool called Bethesda – Means house of mercy or house of outpouring. It was a well known place of healing. It probably was not actually a magical pool that healed people but was most likely a place that traditionally people thought to have powers to heal. We know this because there are many invalids at this pool seeking to be healed.
In some Bibles (ESV, NIV, RSV, & NLT) you may notice that there is no fourth verse. The reason for this is that some of the best and earliest copies of this book do not have verse 4 in them. This does not mean that if you have a verse 4 it is wrong (because in actuality it is helpful to have it) it’s just that someone probably added it in over time.
Regardless of whether you have it in your Bible or not there apparently was either a folklore or tradition belief that an angel would come down from heaven and stir up the waters and the first person in the pool would be healed. What we do know is many handicapped people came to the pool seeking to be healed. They all had the hope of being restored and healed.
Verse 5: The story now shifts to one man in particular who had been handicapped for 38 years. We are not told what his infirmity was and many speculate he was paralyzed. For 38 years this man could have possibly been coming to the pool in hopes that one day he would be the first in the pool. For 38 years he was disappointed because he had not been the one.
Verse 6: Enter Jesus. He knew (divine knowledge) this man had been there for a long time (for some unknown reason out of the multitudes of invalids Jesus pinpoints this one man. A deeper reading could suggest that this, just like the meeting of the Samaritan woman at the well, was a divine encounter; with the ultimate purpose of glorifying God) and he approaches him and asks, “Do you want to be healed?” One version reads, “Do you want to become well?” Kind of a silly question to ask a person who has been handicapped for his entire life; but we see Jesus is a gentleman. He doesn’t just go up and force himself on the man and heal him; he asks him directly if he wants to be made well.
Verse 7: Obviously the man had no idea who he was speaking to. He had no idea that Jesus was God in the flesh and was offering to restore him back to health. So in his response you can hear the hopelessness he had, “I want to be healed but every time I try to step in the water when it stirs someone gets there before me.” He is a defeated man. Here is a man who for 38 years was putting his trust in a legend, myth or tale and for 38 years left disappointed. The legends, myths and traditions had failed him. When Jesus asked him I am sure he was hoping he would help him get to the water but overall he believed there was no hope for getting to the water… Yet he still determined to try all the time. He was hopeless but determined. All the while he was unaware that the great healer was standing before him, engaging him in conversation and offering to make him well.
In this I am reminded of certain Christians who have pessimistic attitudes towards life like this man. They are people who are hopeless, giving up and seeing no flipside of the coin. Some are this way for good reason and some not. I know someone who is never happy, never satisfied, and always looking at the negative side of life. People like this are like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh… Their attitude is like his "After all, what are birthdays? Here today and gone tomorrow." They have no cause for celebration, see no purpose in rejoicing and forget about seeing the bright side of life. There are many Christians who are like this as well they are always negative; nothing ever works out for them. Their motto could be, “I can never get a break.” Or “Why bother, I’ll just fail anyway.” These are hopeless individuals who focus so much on how hopeless the situation(s) are before them that they forget they serve a God who is willing and able to bring hope to any situation. There is so much focus on the situation that they lose sight of God.
Verse 8 & 9: In one fell swoop this hopeless man is given hope! As Jesus speaks (even his words are powerful) the man is immediately healed. We are witness to yet another miracle of God and in this instance a man who was handicapped for 38 years is now made well! Now the pessimists would say, “Why did God wait 38 years to heal this man? It’s not fair he had to be invalid for this long.” The true believer in Christ rejoices because he is now physically restored. My friend there is hope in Jesus!
Verse 9b: Now that day was the Sabbath. This is a significant statement made by John. The Jews kept a strict day without work. Nowhere in the OT does it prohibit one from carrying a mattress on the Sabbath (maybe the closest they could come was not to carry a burden on the Sabbath). However the Jews had developed traditions throughout history in regards to the Sabbath. There were 39 classes of work that was prohibited on this day one included carrying something from one place to another. This was an added law (tradition) to God’s command. There was an exception for carrying something on the Sabbath if it was an act of compassion.
Verse 10 - 12: The Jewish authorities see this man carrying his mattress and confront him about carrying something on the Sabbath. He responds by enthusiastically saying a man healed him of his infirmities of 38 years and told him to get up, take his mat and walk. They responded by rejoicing and praising God for the wonderful miracle that He performed! Well, maybe not so much. They wanted to know who told him it was ok to break their traditions. They didn’t care that the man was healed, they didn’t care that God did a miraculous deed. Their only concern was someone dared to break the Sabbath by healing someone and then telling the healed person to break the Sabbath as well. We will talk a little more about the Sabbath next week.
With this encounter I am reminded of a second group of people who are so concerned with keeping the rules and following traditions that they sometimes miss God’s work. These people are quick to dismiss what God does because either it was done in an unorthodox way or because it breaks certain traditions. We need to be careful to not place such a high value on human traditions that we refuse to see God at work. This happens so often in Christianity today. We have so many human traditions (which are not all bad) but we sometimes place more value on our traditions than we do on God. Just because something is done in an unconventional way or goes against human tradition does not mean that God is not in it (just as it also doesn’t guarantee that He is… we must be diligent in discernment). But may we not be so focused on human traditions that we miss a movement of God.
Verse 13: The man didn’t know who had healed him because Jesus had slipped away into the crowd.
Verses 14 & 15: Later on Jesus seeks out the man in the temple and says, “See you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” You see when Jesus heals he not only physically heals but he also deals with the sin issue in ones life as well. Whenever Jesus encounters a sinner he always deals with the sin issue. The man is now physically made well… He is healed from his infirmity. Now Jesus tells him to stop sinning. This could imply that his infirmity is related to his sin, but is not definite and certainly does not mean that all infirmity is related to sin in ones life. He tells the man to stop sinning which could mean pursue holiness, or pursue God so that when the Day of Judgment comes nothing worse will happen.
After this last encounter the man goes to the Jews (probably thinking it was the right thing to do) and tells them that it is Jesus who healed him.
The healing of the lame man at the pool is very similar to Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. In both instances Jesus gives hope to individuals and also deals with sin. In this instance I have two observations that we can use in our everyday relationship with Jesus Christ.
- When our focus is always on the hopelessness of a situation then we will fail to see God at work. There is no doubt many of you are faced with hopeless circumstances in life (Whether it is finances, relationships, work, school, family, life, health etc.) we cannot allow our focus to be diverted from Jesus. God is a God of hope. He can and will (and it may take 38 years) bring hope to any crisis you may be facing.
- When we focus on keeping tradition or on what God won’t do then we limit Him. Traditions are not bad; they also are not the Gospel truth either. When we fail to see God’s hand at work because we think God wouldn’t do such a thing or it goes against our traditions then we have placed God in a box and God cannot be contained by a box. God is a God of surprises. He will sometimes use unconventional means to accomplish His will. We must be mindful to not discredit something just because we don’t think He would do it a certain way. Just as well we need to be diligent in discerning whether God is behind the movement or not.