I have said before that every miracle presented in the gospels is given to illustrate a spiritual parable. And so it is with the miraculous account of the healing at the pool of Bethesda. In fact, this text perhaps more than many others offers several spiritual lessons which I would like to bring out today. Not the least of which is the nature of healing. That is the most obvious application in the context and so we should look at it first.
I suspect that everyone sooner or later will come to a point of desiring to receive a healing from God. If not for yourself, then perhaps for a loved one. It is the nature of human frailty to find oneself afflicted in the flesh sooner or later. It is the nature of man to die. That is a certainty. And the same curse of death also produces various illnesses, not all of which produce immediate death – we may in fact recover – but eventually everyone will one day still die.
However, there are numerous examples in both the Old and New Testament of people being healed. And while I believe that they symbolize a greater spiritual principle, I do not want to minimize the fact that physical healing does occur in the Bible and that the possibility exists for physical healing today. But I would strongly emphasize that being healed of an infirmity is not universally promised in the Bible. And that is proven by our text today. Not every facet concerning healing is dealt with in this text, but let’s start by looking at what it does teach us, and then at the spiritual principles it teaches.
First of all, a little historical background is necessary. John says that Jesus has left Galilee, where He had healed the nobleman’s son, and now has returned to Jerusalem to attend a feast. There were three feasts which Jewish men were required to attend, and it’s possible that this could be any of the three or even a lesser feast. Many would like to say this is THE feast, that is the Passover. And that is possible, but to say that extends the ministry of Jesus by a year more than that which the synoptic gospels seem to indicate.
But as to which feast it is, it is not really that important to John, otherwise he would have made it clear. He then describes a pool which is by the sheep gate. It was called Bethesda, which means “house of mercy.” That sounds like one of those holy roller healing churches, doesn’t it? I recently saw one called “The Holy Ghost House of Deliverance and Healing” or something like that. You see them here and there in Sussex county, and I suspect other places as well.
So I suppose that people are drawn to that sort of thing. The promise of miraculous healing. John tells us that this pool was called Bethesda and it had five porches or porticos. Now there is a very interesting historical fact here which is helpful to know about. And that is, when you read early commentators, particularly those in the 18th and mid nineteenth century, there was a common consensus that this place did not exist. And many skeptics said that was evidence of the unreliability of the scriptures. Additionally, they pointed to the fact that the Bible said it had 5 porticos and suggested that it had to be untrue because that would indicate a five sided pool which would have been unheard of in those days. But in any event, there was no evidence for it’s existence, so it put a doubt upon the reliability of the scripture.
But in the late 19th century certain excavations were made by archeologists during which this pool was discovered, and they found that it actually did have five porticos. Turns out that the pool was rectangular shaped, but divided across the middle to form in effect two pools, and the center division had it’s own porch on it. Thereby creating 5 porches. So as in so many other cases, archeologists came to verify what the Bible claimed all along, but they had not yet discovered.
There is another situation regarding these verses which have been viewed suspiciously as well. Starting halfway in vs.3 and through vs. 4, you will notice that your Bible may have brackets around those verses indicating by a side note that they are not found in the best manuscripts. Some Bibles eliminate them altogether. And so a lot of translators say that those words were not inspired in the original text, but were added later by an overzealous scribe.
The fact is that the information contained there is not essential to the story. Most commentators dismiss the legend concerning the pool being stirred up as superstition and therefore not factual, and furthermore should not even be in the Bible. But I am not so sure about all of that. I am hesitant to dismiss something that God let stand as scripture for 500 years. The truth is, that there are no original copies of the New Testament. However, there are a tremendous amount of early copies compared to other historical texts. There are about 6000 early copies of the New Testament. But of those, some are considered earlier than others. The KJV of the Bible used one set of texts called the Textus Receptus. But since that time, translators have found other copies which they believe are older and thus more reliable which are called the Morphological Greek New Testament. But both are copies of the original texts. There are not a lot of differences between the two, but this is one of them.
However, there is some other evidence that this suspect information does in fact belong in the text. It is found in the Alexandrian manuscripts, and in the Latin and early Syrian versions. The second century Christian writer Tertullian refers to it. So all of this points to a wide acceptance from the second century onwards, which lends a lot of credence to it being claimed as original.
So that being said, I have no problem accepting those verses as part of the original text. However that does not answer the question if what it’s speaking of was just superstition or if it was a divine act of God that brought about healing at certain seasons.
There is another historical note that is of significance and possibly has bearing on the correct understanding of what happened in this pool. When archeologists discovered the pool of Siloam which is mentioned in context with another miracle healing of Jesus in John 9, it was determined that it was a mikveh, which was a pool constructed in such a way as to perform ritualistic cleansing. And since the discovery of the pool of Bethesda, it is also believed by some to be a mikveh. So there is a possibility that Jesus deliberately healed two people at mikvehs, which may have some theological implications in the stories.
Now I know this is a lot of technical stuff, but I promise it has some application if you will just bear with me for a moment. In order for a pool to be considered a Mikveh, it had to have a well of water or spring of water coming up in it, so that it had fresh water flowing through it. They referred to it as “living water.” Interesting, isn’t it? Especially in light of the previous chapter when Jesus was speaking with the woman at the well and said that whoever asked of Him He would give them to drink of the living water.
The purpose of the mikveh then was to provide a means of ritual cleansing according to Jewish law. A man had to be ritually clean before he could enter the temple. And there were a number things that could make him ceremonially unclean. The bath by the way had to be big enough and deep enough so that they could be fully immersed. This was also the bath that was used to baptize persons who wanted to convert to Judaism. So this is the predecessor of the baptismal pool. And it should answer the question of whether baptism is by immersion or sprinkling. John the Baptist did not initiate a new ordinance, but he simply administered it to everyone as a means of repentance, which symbolized spiritual cleanliness.
So that’s the context of the pool. The pool at Bethesda then was more than likely a mikveh, and also had become known as having miraculous powers at certain times. Now the question remains was the angel stirring up the water causing healing true or just superstition? I would say it is impossible to know for sure. But I would lean towards being true. To accept the text at face value, then at certain times, an angel of the Lord would stir the water and the first person who made it into the water was healed. I would suggest it may have just been a way that God showed His mercy towards HIs people, and especially towards the sick. I would also suggest that it would seem that this man had been there a long time (maybe as long as 38 years, but not necessarily), and there were many others there as well, so that there would undoubtedly have been multiple examples in those years of people who were healed. Otherwise, I think that it would have soon been proven to be a false hope, and the sick people would have deserted it. Many infirmed people in those days survived by begging, and there would have been limited resources for that if all of them stayed there together. So I think they stayed there because there was real hope, but it was only achievable for a few.
And I think there is Biblical evidence of God showing that kind of compassion upon His creation. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “for [God] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” And Paul said in Acts 14:17 “and yet [God] did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” So God does good because it is His nature to do good, to be merciful, and to leave Himself a witness on the earth so that men might turn to Him.
Now note also that it says all kinds of sick or infirmed people were lying around this pool. Vs. 3, “In these [porticos] lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered.” Now to this place Jesus comes, we are not sure why. Maybe He or His disciples needed to ritually cleanse themselves prior to entering the temple. But irregardless, He goes to this place full of sick people who were lying around this pool under these porches. And yet He focuses His attention on just one man there, the paralytic who had been sick 38 years in that condition.
There are a couple of points to be made about this. First, that Jesus does not heal everyone who is sick at the pool. Some people have a hard time with that. They have a hard time with the sovereign prerogative of God. That He has a right to choose some and not choose others. We want to know why. We want to try God according to our understanding, according to our concept of justice or fairness. But I would suggest that to question God is to have a failure of faith. And the Bible says whatever is not of faith is sin. So I would caution against questioning God’s motives. Rom.3:4 says, Let God be true and everyman be a liar. God is true, He is just, He is good, and He is merciful. But He is also sovereign. Our responsibility is to trust Him.
So the obvious conclusion that we can make from this is that not every person is healed of every disease. Everyone there at the pool was desirous of being healed. But only one was chosen to be healed. God does not chose to heal everyone.
This man laying there did not even seem to know who Jesus was. But Jesus knows who He is. He knows that he has lain there for 38 years in that condition. And if Jesus knew that, then obviously He knew the man’s heart. Jesus reveals His omniscience with this man the same way He revealed His omniscience with the Samaritan woman. So for reasons which are the domain of only God to know, Jesus spoke to this man and asked him what seems to be a superfluous question; “Do you wish to get well?”
But I would suggest that it isn’t superfluous. I don’t ever see Jesus do anything superfluous in the gospel accounts. His every word and action were in obedience to His Father. Rather, I think that Jesus asks this man a simple question, similar to the question that He asked the Samaritan woman, in order to produce a desired response. Even though God acts in His sovereign will to do whatever He pleases to do, He almost always includes the agency of man. He doesn’t override man’s freedom to choose, but operates His will through the agency of man’s will. So Jesus asks a question designed to get the man to admit that he wants to be healed.
I have some experience with people that are caught up in addictions. And one fact I have learned is that rehab or AA or anything like that cannot deliver a person. They can help, they can be tools to help that person who desires to be healed. But in order for a person to be healed of addiction, they must come to the point of surrendering all hope of doing it themselves out of their own strength. They have to come to the point of asking God to heal them. And when that point is reached, then the help of God is there for them. I know of many people who have done that and have been delivered from addiction, but as far as I know they may not have been saved. But God heals people who stop trusting in themselves and call on Him.
So that is what I think Jesus is doing. This man is hopeless, helpless, depressed and probably close to giving up. I would suggest Jesus picked him because he had already given up. He had no friends to help him get into the pool. Year after year he must have waited only to see someone else, maybe someone who didn’t even have as serious an illness as he had, and yet they slipped into the pool and were healed when he wasn’t hardly able to move. Perhaps he had given up on anyone helping him. Perhaps he had given up on having enough strength to muscle his way into the pool. Perhaps he had come to the end of hope in himself and his circumstances. And that is the point at which God can help us, when we surrender.
So the paralyzed man says to Jesus, “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.” Notice the phrase, “I have no man to put me into the pool.” What a tragic statement. I have no man to help me. I can hear the heartbreak in this man’s voice, even 2000 years later. Lying by this pool in misery for years and years, being in this paralyzed condition for 38 years and there is no one to help him, no one who cares about him.
But Jesus has compassion on him. Jesus said I have come to seek and to save that which is lost. This man was surely lost. He was hopelessly, helplessly lost, and he knew it full well. And perhaps in response to some private unspoken prayer, God sent Jesus to help him. In 1 John 2:1 John says that Jesus is our Advocate with the Father, acting on behalf of sinners. Advocate is from the Greek word Paracletos, which means one called alongside to help; an Intercessor. Jesus comes along side this man to help him because of the mercy of God.
So Jesus said, “Get up, take up your pallet, and walk.” I love that. I think there is a sermon in that statement alone. Get up, take up, and walk. That’s a formula for the Christian life. Get up out of your sin, get up out of the world, take up the full armor of God, take up the helmet of salvation and the shield of faith, and then walk with your feet shod with the gospel of peace, walk in the power of the Holy Spirit in obedience to His commands and after His example.
Now notice something. This man didn’t even ask to be healed. Christ chose to heal him out of compassion and out of a desire to show forth the glory of God. And notice that Jesus didn’t ask him if he had enough faith to be healed. I don’t think this man had any faith at this point. He had no man, no one that showed him compassion, so he had no reason to hope in any man or even perhaps in God. The Jews really believed that to be infirmed was evidence that God was punishing you for your sins. So he had no reason to have faith that God would heal him. And note that Jesus doesn’t do all kinds of physical remonstrations in order to heal him. He doesn’t smack his head, He doesn’t knock the poor guy over backwards, He just simply speaks and gives him a command to get up, take up his bed and walk.
You might say, well the guy had faith in that he tried to obey Jesus. I don’t think that is indicated in the text at all. I think that the power flowed into this man’s body, and he suddenly felt strength in his legs that hadn’t been there before. He was able to move, to feel, and so he got to his feet. Vs. 9, “Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.” In fact, I think that the spoken word of Jesus brought this man to his feet. It says immediately. He didn’t have to think about it, or get used to the idea, or try it. Jesus spoke it and it came to be. That is the power of the Creator. He spake everything into existence and it came into existence. That’s what John was talking about in chapter 1,vs.3, when he calls Jesus the Word and says about Him that “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” The Word spoke and it came into being. So Jesus spoke and the man got up completely and immediately healed.
This man is obedient as well. Jesus said “walk”. And I”m told by Greek experts that the tense of that word indicates “keep on walking.” So this man walked right out of the porches of Bethesda and kept right on going. Some have criticized this man for not stopping to thank Jesus and find out more about Him. We see in vs.13 that the man did not know who it was who healed him because Jesus slipped away into the crowd.
In fact, most commentators I read seem to want to find fault with this man. They say that he ratted out Jesus to the Jewish leaders. That he showed more allegiance to them than he did to Jesus. They say that he was some sort of obvious sinner since Jesus said to him to stop sinning or something worse would happen to him. But I just don’t buy all of that. I believe this man was sincere, earnest, and appreciative of what Jesus did for him. And I’ll tell you why. Because immediately after being healed this guy headed for the temple. Why would he do that? Maybe because his prayers had been answered. Maybe he didn’t know who Jesus was, but he believed that God had healed him and so he went to the temple to give thanks to God. Maybe he had lain there in that portico for umpteen years and had wanted to go to the temple, but couldn’t. But now that he was healed he made a beeline for it.
I would to God that more people were like this guy. I’ve seen far too many people caught up in some sin, or some addiction, or some debilitating situation and they pray and pray for God to have mercy on them and deliver them. But then when God does deliver them, they quickly forget all about God and all the pledges that they made to Him when they were in need. When God answers your prayers folks, then He expects to find you worshipping and praising Him in HIs temple.
So this man picks up his pallet and walks, and heads for the temple. But the Jewish religious leaders head him off at the gate and say “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” I don’t think that they could have known at this point what happened to this guy. I think that they just see this man walking in the gate of the temple carrying his pallet on his head on the Sabbath day. He probably stood out from the crowd just a little. So he says, ““He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’” See, I told you this guy was obedient. He didn’t care about the laws concerning the Sabbath because the One who made him well told him to pick it up and walk. He was just being obedient.
Of course they want to know who that was. And he says he doesn’t know. So presumably they left him alone. But then afterwards, Jesus found him in the temple. That’s why I think Jesus went to the pool to be cleansed or His disciples needed to. Because Jesus was going to go to the temple. Remember they had stayed in Samaria for two days. That wasn’t forbidden by the law particularly, but who is to say that something there did not ceremoniously defile them. But anyway, Jesus finds him at the temple. To me that is an indication that this guy was sincerely ready to surrender to God. Jesus didn’t find him at the bar, Jesus didn’t find him fishing, or at a nice restaurant. It was the Sabbath, and he was in the temple. Boy, we can learn a few things from this guy for sure. We aren’t under the law of the Sabbath anymore. I will be the first to declare that and defend that freedom we have in Christ. But I think the principle is the same. That there is to be a day set apart to the Lord as His day. A day of rest. A day of worship. A day to come together corporately as a body to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us.
I’m appalled that Sundays have become Little League days. They have become football game days. They have become “get out of town” days. Us Christians love to blame the woes of this world on the sinfulness of the unsaved. But I think that’s the wrong focus. I think that the world is so corrupt because the salt has lost it’s savor. We can barely give an hour a week to God, and everything seems to take precedence over church. And then we wonder why the world is in the mess it is. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and heal their land.” 2 Chron. 7:14
So Jesus found him in the temple. When the Lord comes back, I hope that he finds us in church, don’t you? I hope He doesn’t find us in a bar, or at a rock concert, or watching some Hollywood movie. I hope we are not embarrassed when He comes back.
Vs. 14 “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.”
So this is where the critics point to say that this man was obviously guilty of some heinous sin and was loyal to the priests and not Jesus. But again, I don’t see that at all. I would rather believe that this is the means by which this man was saved. Up until this point, he was merely healed. But as I said concerning the nobleman and his family last week, God had something bigger in mind than just a physical healing. God desired salvation; spiritual healing. The physical healing was just to bring him to the point of recognizing that Jesus was the Son of God.
Jesus meets him and says don’t sin anymore so that nothing worse happens to you. What could be worse than 38 years of being paralyzed? Well, the answer of course, is an eternity in hell. That’s far worse. So what Jesus is presenting here is the need of this man for repentance. To turn away from his sin. To be willing to turn from it, to want to turn from it. He needed to understand that if he really wanted to be well, then he needed to be spiritually well. He needed salvation. He already had a belief in God. That’s why he was in the temple to thank God, to worship God. But as Jesus said in the last chapter, they that worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth. What is truth? Well, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father except through Him. So this man needed to know who Jesus was in order to be saved. And so I believe that Jesus introduced Himself to him there in the temple. I’m sure that John does not record all the conversation that occurred there. He doesn’t say that Jesus said, “Hello, I’m Jesus.” But yet the man tells the priests that it was Jesus who healed him. So there was obviously more conversation than what was stated in the text. And I believe it was enough for him to know that Jesus was the Son of God.
So then salvation comes to the former paralytic by repentance and faith the same way all men come to Christ. The physical healing was only an instrument of God’s grace to show this man Jesus Christ. The physical healing had not saved him. It merely was the means by which Jesus opened his eyes to see who He was and to believe in Him.
That’s the spiritual application. This whole scene was divinely designed to illustrate a greater spiritual truth, the only truth that can set you free. All of humanity is represented in the multitude of sick and lame and blind and withered people that were lying by the pool of Bethesda which was by the sheep gate. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have each turned to our own way.”
So the entire world lies in the sickness of sin, bound to the captivity of sin and under the penalty of death. The world is gathered together in the “house of mercy” where the living water is supposed to be stirred up on occasion so that some may be cleansed of their illness, but where many come to be washed ceremoniously. It’s a picture of the ineffectiveness of ceremonial religion that believes in a form of God, but denies the power thereof, and relies upon the sick person’s power to get himself into the pool at just the right time.
But Jesus comes into this world, into this world of death, into this world of religious ritual, into this world of hopelessness and helplessness, and He finds there one who is ready to be well. Who wants to be made well, but who realizes that there is no way to be made well without God’s intervention. And so to that aching heart, Christ speaks, “Get up, take up, and walk out.”
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” This water that the angel stirred up in the pool of Bethesda could only heal one person. The water of the mikveh could only make one clean until they sinned again. But the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin, for all time and forever, and purchases for us an inheritance which will not fade away. He is able to save completely. He is able to heal completely, both inside and outside. Both physically and spiritually.
The question for each of us today is the same as it was for the paralyzed man. “Do you wish to get well?” Not just get healed from some malady. That may or may not be in the plan of God. But it is the desire of God that you would be made well. That you would not have something worse happen to you. The formula is simple; repentance and faith in Jesus Christ results in forgiveness of sins and new birth resulting in eternal life. God will produce in you a well of water springing up into eternal life, everlasting life, where sin and death will no longer have dominion over you. I trust that you wish to get well. Surrender to God and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior today and receive the eternal life that God has promised.