Posts Tagged ‘pool of Bethesda’

We are in the Gospel of John once again this morning with another story of Jesus healing a person in need. But we are also moving into new territory. We are into a new section of John that begins in chapter 5 and goes until the end of chapter 10. And within this new section, the healing and teaching of chapter 5 all go together and give us some really important insights about who Jesus is. And so I invite you to read ahead and follow along as we work our way through these Scriptures in the weeks to come.

Our story

1After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.”

After healing a royal official’s son, Jesus has now gone from Galilee back to Jerusalem. He went up for a feast but John doesn’t tell us which one. As we will see, the focus of this story is the Sabbath.

“The Jews” is a phrase that refers to a certain group of Jews – the Judean establishment and those in agreement with them, not all Jews. After all, Jesus and his followers are Jews. This section of John, chapters 5-10 is all about conflict between Jesus and these ‘powers that be,’ and ultimately their rejection of him.

pool of Bethesda

This is a model that shows us what the pool of Bethesda looked like. As you can see there were actually two of them connected together. Both of them together were as big as a football field, and are thought to have been 20 feet deep.

(It’s not clear where the Sheep gate was -Nehemiah 3:1; 12:39. It was most likely a small opening in the north wall of the temple – A. Kostenberger).

“3In these (five roofed colonnades) lay a multitude of *disabled people – blind, lame, and paralyzed.” It’s unclear what this pool was used for (public baths? cleaning sheep before entrance to the temple?)  But it attracted those with physical afflictions because in the ancient world pools of water and springs were often thought to have healing powers. This is still true today in some quarters.

5One man was there who had been *ill for thirty-eight years.” As we learn from v. 7 he can’t walk. And here we learn that he has had this condition for a very long time. Longer than many people lived in that day – 38 years.

6When 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?’” Jesus knew, supernaturally, that the man had been there a long time longing for healing.  So Jesus initiates this conversation with him. Usually people ask Jesus for healing. Here Jesus asks if he wants to be healed.   

7The 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.’”

Perhaps some of you have in your Bible, or in a footnote a longer verse 3 and a verse 4. This is a textual variant, something not found in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. It says that those at the pool were 3bwaiting for the moving of the water; 4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.”

This is an attempt to provide a background to our verse here. What is this stirring of the water about? An angel does this. And why does it matter that he can’t hurry in? Because only the first one in is healed.

A copyist of Scripture inserted this note in the column that sought to explain the situation or the superstition that was believed. (And some later copyist took it as Scripture).

The man thinks Jesus is wondering why he hasn’t been healed by the water yet. Does he really want to be healed? And so the man explains that he can’ walk to get in in time. He assumes that Jesus also believes in the healing power of the pool. But Jesus doesn’t operate by superstitions – he operates by the power of his word, for he is the Word made flesh. 

8Jesus said to him, ‘*Rise, take up your bed, and walk.’” His bed would have been a mat made of palm leaves or straw. This would have been be rolled up and easily carried.

The reason Jesus asks him to take up his bed and walk is to demonstrate the healing. This makes it clear that he is in fact healed.

9And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” This is an amazing healing! He wasn’t able to walk for 38 years, but when Jesus spoke he was healed at once and then he rose up and walked. Again, John narrates really difficult miracles that Jesus does as signs that point to who Jesus is and what he does. And this one certainly qualifies.

But there’s a problem . . . “Now that day was the Sabbath. 10So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’”

If you are reading this story for the first time, this is the first indication that this took place on the Sabbath.

According to Mosaic law you cannot carry a work load on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-35; Jeremiah 17:21, Nehemiah 13:15). But this isn’t what is happening here. What is really at stake here is the oral law or what is called the traditions of the Elders. According to the oral law you cannot carry an item from one domain to another on the Sabbath. And he has carried his bed from the pool of Bethesda to the temple. (M. Shabbat 7.2; 10.5) He has broken a tradition of the Elders.

[Jesus often contradicted the traditions of the Elders (Mark 7) but he does not break the Sabbath. He is not a Mosaic law breaker or sinner (8:46); he does not annul the Law (10:35).]

[In this story the focus is not on Jesus healing on the Sabbath but on carrying things on the Sabbath, since they are confronting the man, not Jesus. (The latter is taken up in 5:16 and following and 7:21-24).]

Notice in all their concern for the things of God there is no recognition of the amazing healing that just took place!

11But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’’ 12They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk?’’ 13Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.”

He feels the pressure of the authorities and is quick to point to Jesus as the source of the problem. Jesus is now seen as leading someone astray to break the Sabbath by telling him to do this, at least according to their understanding of the Law and their extra-biblical traditions.

14Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’”

Jesus makes a connection here between his previous physical ailment and his unfaithfulness to God. And he warns him to stop sinning so that an even worse fate doesn’t befall him. Now, of course, we have to be careful with this because there is certainly not always a connection between our sin and illness.

For instance in chapter 9:2-3 Jesus is clear that in the case of the man born blind that it was not because he or his parents sinned that he was blind. So it can be true (here, 1 Corinthians 11:30), but not always (Job and Jesus’ own sufferings). Jesus knows the connection in this case by supernatural insight. And unless God gives you this it is best not to make any assumptions.

(Notice how both the Jews and Jesus have a concern for sin in his life.)

15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.” Throughout this passage the man doesn’t come across in a good light:

1) Jesus talks to him and heals him, but he doesn’t even know who Jesus is.

2) The man displays no faith in the story. Jesus simply found him, healed him and told him to rise up.

3) When he gets in trouble by the Jews he is quick to shift blame onto Jesus to get himself out of trouble.

4) When Jesus speaks to him again in the temple, he doesn’t thank Jesus or respond to his call to repentance.

5) Rather, he uses the healing Jesus gave him – his ability to walk – to go and find the Jews in order to turn Jesus in.

Some gleanings for us

1. Don’t be like this man. If last week the royal official was an example to us of one who had real faith in Jesus, this man is not an example to us. He received a great blessing from Jesus, but had no gratitude, and in fact turned Jesus over to his enemies.

Well, when Jesus blesses us how do we respond? With faith in him, with devotion, with gratitude? Or are we just focused on the blessing we got?

And when Jesus blesses us do we then still hang out with those in the world – who don’t know God, who don’t walk in God’s ways, who are enemies of God? (James 4:4)

Don’t follow the example of this man!

2. Nothing is too difficult for Jesus. Once again, even when a person has been unable to walk for nearly a lifetime, Jesus is able to bring instant healing. This should encourage us because this is the same Jesus who loves us and cares for us in all our difficulties.

3. Don’t focus on human teachings and miss the work of God. The Jewish leaders were zealous for mere human traditions that went beyond the word of God. And in their zeal for these, they missed out on what God was doing through Jesus – not just this healing, which they completely overlooked – but all that God was doing through Jesus. In fact, they came to oppose God and God’s work because of their concern for these lesser things that God didn’t even require.

Well, we like our extra-biblical traditions as well.

– What? New people are coming, so we are going to sing some different songs now that they can relate to? Even though there are a thousand different ways to worship God, we want what is comfortable to us. We hold on to our mere human traditions.

– What? God speaks a powerful message to us, but it came through tongues and interpretation and we don’t do that kind of stuff!

– What? God is bringing people into his kingdom here, but they are different than we are and we don’t know how to relate to them and it makes us uncomfortable.

Don’t hold on to the lessor things. When God moves, let him move.

4. Jesus gives life. This miracle is also called a sign (6:2). And what it tells us about Jesus is really the same as the last healing. Jesus is the one who gives life – resurrection life.

If we skip ahead here to John 5:21 we can see this connection. Jesus says, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son give life to whom he will.” The same word is used in v. 21, “raises” the dead as the word Jesus used in our story in 5:8 when he told the man “rise” take up your bed and walk.

This healing pictures Jesus as the one who raises the dead and gives new life. Remember, Jesus isn’t about miracles, the miracles are about Jesus – and this one teaches us that Jesus gives new life. May we all receive the new life that Jesus has for us this morning. May we be transformed by it. And may we go forth and share this good news with others.

William Higgins

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