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The Miracles of Jesus Part 18: An Invalid is Healed at Bethesda
John 5:1-17. Jesus heals a disabled man sitting by the pool at Bethesda. The circumstances enrage the Pharisees. This miracle is a parable about waiting.
“After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day. So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk’?” But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.””
John 5:1-17 NASB1995
The next miracle is the third one documented strictly in the Gospel of John and begins chapter five of that Gospel. Jesus goes to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews (the feast is unidentified). The text does not say if any of the disciples are with Him, but we can perhaps assume some of them are there. The circumstances around this miracle are very intriguing - why did Jesus go to the pool at Bethesda and why did He select the man who had been hoping for healing for 38 years? It’s almost like He made a beeline to this suffering man; He doesn’t talk to or heal anyone else waiting for the moving of the waters. This miracle also happens to occur on the Sabbath. This devotional is on the longish side, so please bear with me. There are several things to unwrap in this particular miracle.
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The pool is surrounded by the sick, lame and blind who are waiting for the stirring of the waters (supposedly by an angel of God). The first one into the pool when this happens is cured of their ailment. They come and they wait and they wait and they wait. Perhaps one is lucky and makes it to the pool, but most are disappointed. If you are a paralytic, you are likely never to get to the pool unless you hire someone able-bodied to sit with you and watch the waters. Jesus enters the area and no one calls Him over. He was well-known by this time for a track record of many healings, but the souls gathered around the pool would rather wait for a stirring of the waters (the normal routine) than ask for healing from a controversial new rabbi.
There are many who are “waiting” for the Lord. Commentary in Enduring Word by David Guzik on this passage paraphrases Charles Spurgeon on those who wait:
· Some wait for a more convenient season.
· Some wait for dreams and visions.
· Some wait for signs and wonders.
· Some wait to be compelled.
· Some wait for a revival.
· Some wait for particular feelings.
· Some wait for a celebrity.
When I was growing up in the Lutheran faith, no one talked very much about the Holy Spirit. He was mentioned in the creeds we recited, but that was about it. When I came back to faith, again in a Lutheran church that was rapidly heading for total apostasy (and that we left in 2019), once again no one talked very much about the Holy Spirit, except one of our assistant pastors who insisted on calling the Holy Spirit “She” (a clear sign that it was time to move on).
I recall being in a Women’s Bible study at that church and I asked the other women if they knew they were filled with the Holy Spirit. I got a lot of blank looks and shrugs and most said they felt “nothing”. So I believe we were all “waiting” to feel something, like being struck by lightning or hearing a rush of wind or having tongues of flame over our heads, like the Apostles experienced at the Pentecost in Acts 2:1-31. It doesn’t necessarily work that way, although pure joy can be felt if you humbly submit to God and trust in faith. If you are not acquainted with Phil Robertson (from Duck Dynasty fame), you must follow his Substack posts on his beliefs (Unashamed). He had a great post recently about how “feelings” are not necessarily part of the equation of a life filled with the Holy Spirit.
Another way we wait from the list above: Waiting for revival. Our current church (non-denominational) is quite energetic and many people, including the pastors, are fervently hoping for a spiritual revival across the country (we also share in that wish). After the revival at Asbury college recently, our senior pastor felt that revival was in “season” and the worship sessions suddenly extended for many hours, finally leading them to have 24/7 worship in the sanctuary if people wanted to attend (they now have a sign-up form so that you can show what hours you plan to be there) and people are there even in the wee hours of the morning. Little signs and wonders have been noted, including the aromas of incense and campfire (We both smelled the incense a few weeks ago; it was a very pleasant and distinct aroma).
This atmosphere of revival is truly an awesome event, but cerebral cold fish Barb (yes, that’s me - I blame my Finnish and German ancestry, engineering education, and innate old Lutheranism) does wonder how this supports the primary mission of our church, which is the Great Commission and evangelizing lost souls. A few may be brought into the fold by this, but most are probably scared off by what they are seeing or are skeptical (we heard a story about how a contractor doing work in the sanctuary was frightened by the worship and left).
How this spreads to other churches is a mystery, but God can do anything, so we must rely on Him. When is revival at its peak and when is it “over” (and God decides when that is)? How will people feel? Will there be a letdown? Of course there will be! Revivals are not sustained for the long term.
I also have a deep confession to make - I am not particularly fond of worship as it is done in most non-denominational churches (like ours) with loud contemporary Christian music and dancing and demonstrative gestures.
Forgive me, Lord! I do like true Gospel music and booming organs with great traditional hymns and oratorios by massed choruses and have been roused to tears by great works like “The Messiah” (Handel), “Mass in C Major” (Beethoven), and various classical requiems (Mozart, Brahms and Verdi in particular). I am starting to learn some of these contemporary songs, though, so perhaps I’m being won over. My worship of our beloved Lord is also felt most heartily with learning His Word (I love a good sermon or writing these devotionals to learn) and seeing His splendid and amazing creation. Worship is an everyday thing for each person individually in big and little ways, like prayer. God deserves all of our worship every day.
Back to our miracle: These people at the pool at Bethesda are the ones waiting for signs and wonders. Jesus approaches this man, who has been sitting there for 38 years, and asks him a pointed question: “Do you wish to get well?”. Jesus knows the human mind and condition and knows that some people who suffer from chronic illnesses cherish their special natures and treatment or have resigned themselves to utter hopelessness. Here’s more great commentary from David Guzik on Enduring Word:
Do you want to be made well? This was a sincere question. Jesus knew that not every sick person wants to be healed, and that some are so discouraged that they put away all hope of being healed. Jesus dealt with a man who may have had his heart withered as well as his legs. Jesus therefore attempted to build the faith of this man.
“It certainly is possible that the man’s long and apparently hopeless infirmity may have given him a look of lethargy and despondency, and the question may have arisen from this.” (Henry Alford)
It is possible that Jesus asked this even as the waters were stirred and people started jumping and diving and rolling into the waters, each hoping for evidence that they were the favored one. The man Jesus spoke with knew that he was not one of the favored, and had no real hope to be healed.
In this man’s particular case, it was reasonable to wonder if he really wanted to be healed. “An eastern beggar often loses a good living by being cured of his disease.” (William Barclay) As bad as his current situation was, at least he was familiar with it.
The man responds with the utter hopelessness of his situation, that someone else always reaches the healing waters when they are stirred before him. Jesus tells him to “Get up, pick up your pallet, and walk.” His no-nonsense command is immediately followed by the man who suddenly has faith in this stranger; he is totally healed and strengthened and he picks up his pallet and walks away from the pool. He was told to do this to recognize that his cure is permanent.
Now a big controversy is unleashed, adding to other events like this during this part of the ministry of Jesus. The man is observed carrying his pallet by the which is a violation of the rules of the Sabbath because it is “work”. The Jewish leaders observe the man and confront him about violating the rules of the Sabbath by carrying the pallet. They don’t care about the fact that the man is healed (or they were so unconcerned about the man that they didn’t recognize him as one of the regulars beside the pool). The rules around the Sabbath are convoluted, as noted in the continuing Enduring Word commentary on this passage:
It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed: Carrying a bed (actually a sleeping-mat or a bedroll) was in fact a violation of the rabbis’ interpretation of the commandment against doing work or business on the Sabbath. It was not a breaking of God’s law of the Sabbath, but the human interpretation of God’s law.
“The Rabbis of Jesus’ day solemnly argued that a man was sinning if he carried a needle in his robe on the Sabbath. They even argued as to whether he could wear his artificial teeth or his wooden leg.” (William Barclay)
“Jesus persistently maintained that it is lawful on the sabbath to do good. He ignored the mass of scribal regulations, and thus inevitably came into conflict with the authorities.” (Henry Morris)
This devotion to the rabbis’ interpretation of the Sabbath law continues in modern times. An example is found in an April 1992 news item: Tenants let three apartments in an Orthodox neighborhood in Israel burn to the ground while they asked a rabbi whether a telephone call to the fire department on the Sabbath would violate Jewish law. Observant Jews are forbidden to use the phone on the Sabbath, because doing so would break an electrical current, which is considered a form of work. In the half-hour it took the rabbi to decide “yes,” the fire spread to two neighboring apartments.
Human-made rules to honor God that go far beyond the point of His commandments can result in smug, pompous leaders and spiritual guides full of tyranny and self-righteousness, writing rules that make no sense. I read later in that same commentary that contortions done by the Pharisees to prevent traveling on the Sabbath and to honor the “camp of the Lord” (where the temple or tabernacle was located) meant that people were prohibited from going to the bathroom on the Sabbath. The day of rest was given for US by God to pause in our work efforts, enjoy our families and honor the Lord, not keep people in misery or even allow them to die in disasters.
The leaders question the healed man and ask him who told him to take up his bed and walk. The man doesn’t know who Jesus is and doesn’t see Him, as our Lord has blended into the crowd. Later, Jesus finds the man at the Temple and tells him he has been made well and to sin no more so that nothing worse happens. The man, obviously an ungrateful wretch or frightened of the rabbis and their rules or both, goes and tells the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the man who healed him and told him to walk with his pallet. Jesus answers them that “The Father has been working until now and I have been working.” That’s it - not only has He violated the Sabbath rules again, but He is equating Himself to God! The rule-bound leaders, who won’t swat a fly on the Sabbath, now actively plot on that same day to murder our Lord.
A final thought - our God is a working God, not resting from governing His creation, which requires His infinite energy and provision. From the same Enduring Word commentary referenced before, David Guzik has this thought-provoking response to an anti-God tract:
This answers the objection raised by a hostile (and ignorant) critic of Christianity. I saw this statement written in an anti-Christian tract: Just say “no!” to a god who claims to be all powerful, but then requires a nap after only six days of creating (Genesis 2:2). This objection betrays the lack of understanding on behalf of the writer. The Bible clearly says that God does not need sleep or rest (Psalm 121:3-4, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep). The rest of God on the seventh day was given for man’s benefit, not God’s, demonstrating a pattern of rest necessary for man’s well being.
So what have we learned from this miracle?
A man is healed by Jesus by the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath: Jesus homes in on a man among the many who has hopelessly waited for healing in the pool for 38 years. He asks him if he wants healing, then tells him to stand, take up his pallet, and walk. We are all waiting for something, but we should stop waiting and be actively seeking Him in our everyday lives through our worship and prayers. Human-made rules and rituals can separate us from our Creator, who is working constantly to sustain us and His creation.
My next devotional is a BIG miracle, the only one documented in all four Gospels: The feeding of the 5,000+.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - I thank you for your healing powers and the work done to sustain your Creation. Please help me to not “wait” for something (feelings, signs and wonders, revival) to worship You today and continue to increase my learning and humbly submit my requests to you in prayer.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
The Miracle List:
Water to wine: Jesus can overcome time, He creates beauty and abundance, and He shares in our joy.
Healing of the official’s son: Jesus can overcome space (distance), He does not need to see the person He heals, He has infinite power, but He also wants us to believe without signs and wonders.
Casting out of the evil spirit in the synagogue: The authority of Jesus is recognized by the demons and He triumphs over evil and silences it.
Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law: Jesus does not need crowds to demonstrate His power and He has compassion about the needs of one person, even if those needs seem smaller and only worthy of a couple of verses of scripture.
Healing and casting out demons of many in Capernaum (at Peter’s house): Jesus has compassion on all who come to Him and has no conditions that He places on giving them His mercy. He can heal instantly with a light touch and again demonstrates authority over demons and silences them.
Miraculous catch of fish on the Sea of Galilee: Jesus demonstrates His powers over His creation, He once again brings abundance, and He teaches humble fishermen that their task of bringing souls to Him is the most important thing they can do. They must follow Him.
Cleansing of the Leper: Jesus is willing to heal us, is compassionate towards those who suffer and can instantly cure a dreadful and feared disease. We must have faith when circumstances seem hopeless.
Healing of the Centurion’s Servant: Jesus came so that anyone who believes on His name is saved, Jew or Gentile. One of the most humble and devout persons that He encounters during His ministry is a Roman Centurion who cares and loves a servant who is sick or paralyzed. Jesus has instant authority over this illness, again eliminating space (distance) as a barrier to healing; He also marvels at this man’s faith.
Healing of the paralytic passed through the roof: Jesus demonstrates His ultimate authority as the Son of God to forgive sins and to heal a condition that seems irreversible. He can sense and read the hearts and thoughts of others. He turns a major disruption into a lesson on forgiveness. The friends of the paralytic show tremendous faith in how they solve this problem.
Healing of the withered hand on the Sabbath: Jesus can instantaneously heal a chronic condition, restoring a hand to full function. The man he heals exhibits great faith in His ability to heal and obeys Him. Jesus also challenges the assumptions and rules that have taken the place of faith and wisdom in the hearts of the Pharisees and Scribes. His anger is righteous; their rage is murderous.
Raising of the widow’s son from death: Jesus is filled with compassion for the suffering and grief of others. He has power over death and can restore us to joy and hope in the face of a hopeless situation. His endless grace and the power of His word are sufficient. We are to spring into action, serving Him and bringing His hope to the hopeless.
Taming the storm on the Sea: Jesus has the unlimited power to tame nature and He calms a storm on the Sea of Galilee instantly. His disciples, after seeing one miracle after another before this, are struck with memory loss when this crisis hits and forget that He is the Creator of the Universe and creation will obey Him. Jesus is there in the storms of life for those who believe on His name.
Casting demons into a herd of pigs: Jesus has the ultimate authority over evil and demons must have His permission to even enter into animals that immediately die. Demon possession is a real thing, but is likely rare and would not occur in a believer who is under the power of the Holy Spirit. We should not get so comfortable with evil surrounding us that we are fearful of holiness and good. Jesus wants us to tell others about His power and healing and to be without superstitions.
Healing of a woman with a bleeding disorder: Jesus knows when His healing powers are used and, with great love and compassion, tells this daughter of the Kingdom that her faith has made her well. Casual contact with Jesus doesn’t save us. We are saved by coming to Him with everything (sins, sufferings, distractions, hopes, and belief). Jesus cleanses and revives us!
Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus from the dead: Jesus, the Son of God, has power over life and death. His power is infinite - healing can come from a touch of His garment or a touch from His hands. His compassion is infinite. His words can bring a person back to life and He knows for those who believe that death is just sleep. Just as in His time, our age is filled with mockers and scorners and we must pray for those lost souls.
Jesus heals two blind men: Faith and persistence leads to miracles. Jesus extends mercy and compassion to those who are suffering and recognize Him as the Messiah, by healing two blind men who follow Him.
A mute demoniac is healed and speaks: Jesus has ultimate authority over evil and easily casts out a demon, allowing a man to finally speak. The Pharisees are not impressed and accuse Him of being a demon. As He continues His ministry and healings, He laments the lack of harvesters.
A man is healed by Jesus by the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath: Jesus homes in on a man among the many who has hopelessly waited for healing in the pool for 38 years. He asks him if he wants healing, then tells him to stand, take up his pallet, and walk. We are all waiting for something, but we should stop waiting and be actively seeking Him in our everyday lives through our worship and prayers. Human-made rules and rituals can separate us from our Creator, who is working to sustain us and His creation.
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