Scripture is meant – at times – to be a mirror. We are to see ourselves in it. This is especially apt on John 5:1-15. As we read and study this passage, let’s remember that even though Jesus was talking to an invalid 2000 years ago in another country he is talking to us in much the same manner today.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.
Imagine that for a moment. The five porticoes built around this “miracle pool”. The blind, lame, and paralyzed surrounding the pool – potentially hundreds of them. They were likely in their own filth, in their own waste, unwashed and unclean.
The pools were a double pool, one pooling into the other via a heating duct. It likely was this transfer of hot water that ‘stirred’ the pool, though the insert (v 3b-4) claims it was done by an angel. The infrequent stirring mentioned in scripture might account for this angelic intervention, since the heated stirring would have been more consistent.
6 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?”
As always, what the heck Jesus? Jesus asks some questions and says some things that come across as ridiculous if we think about it. This poor invalid has been laying there – probably on and off – for 38 years. Of course he wants to get healed!
But, Jesus doesn’t ask ridiculous questions. Why is he asking this man this question? And why does he ask it of us? Do we really want to be healed?
How many of us have addictions or character flaws that we don’t address because we know fixing them is harder than living with them? We are not afraid to be healed, we are afraid of what the healing requires.
“Christ and what he offers look so delicious from a distance, and yet when we look at it closely, it may appear in an entirely different light. We begin to see that Christ is an aggressive, requiring Lord.” - Preaching the Word.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
7 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.”
Good guy or bad guy?
How do we understand the man here? Is he stuck in a hopeless situation and acknowledging he needs help? Or he is blaming others that he is in the situation?
It isn’t immediately clear, so more context is needed. The invalid isn’t portrayed in the most favorable light throughout the rest of the passage. He blames Jesus when he is confronted by the Jews. Then, he is warned by Jesus to not sin anymore. Finally, he reports Jesus once he discovers who it was who had healed him. I tend to think the man is being portrayed negatively, and we should read verse 7 in this light.
7 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.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So 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.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
The invalid seemed to turn on Jesus at every turn. Why did Jesus heal him? Why heal someone who was thankless and turned to the Pharisees?
Again, think of him as a mirror. His behavior should help us see our own. How often do we accept the good from God and not the bad? Or, how often do we pray at home and curse at work? We’re not supposed to look at this man and judge his indecency, we’re supposed to look at him and see our own indecency.
Do we blame others for our helplessness? Or do we recognize Jesus in front of us? And, when/if we recognize Jesus, whose side are we on? What is a modern-day equivalent to telling the Pharisees it was Jesus who healed him on the Sabbath?
There is a lot here to discuss. To start with:
16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
The Jews clearly understood what Jesus was saying. There was debate about whether God worked on the Sabbath or if he rested, as well. They eventually declared that God worked on the Sabbath in order to sustain life. Here, Jesus is saying he can work for the same reason. The rest of the discourse is related to this point: Jesus’ authority. To testify to his authority, he brings forward 5 witnesses.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist
33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.
His own works
His own works
36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.
God the Father
God the Father
37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
What’s the point of all these witnesses? Can someone be argued into faith? Is that what Jesus is doing?
How is this talking to us?
Are we supposed to be learning how to witness?
Again, let’s look at this like a mirror. Who are we? Sometimes were are showing Jesus to people, similar to how he is showing Himself to the Jews. How does this passage help us there?
We can know that we will not be able to convince everyone. Even the man Jesus healed wasn’t thankful. The Pharisees, with all of their knowledge, wouldn’t accept him. Yet Jesus spoke to them both, nonetheless. He ‘witnessed’ to them, showing them Himself.
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
Sometimes we are the Jews, thinking we have salvation in a manner apart from a trusting relationship with Jesus. For me, this one hit home. Do I try to replace a trusting relationship with Jesus with an in-depth knowledge of scripture? Do I think that because I “know things”, then I automatically get my salvation from that?
43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
Sometimes it’s like we actively look for an excuse to not follow Jesus. We follow false messiahs, we put our faith in money or knowledge or power. We try in so many different ways, to figure out our own salvation.