John 5:1-15

The first section in chapter five finds Jesus once again in Jerusalem and, once again, faced with someone who needs healing. This was not surprising because Jesus had gone to a pool called "Bethesda" near the Sheep Gate. The precise name of the pool is uncertain but "Bet hesda" has a meaning in Hebrew of "house of flowing (or outpouring)" and has also been called "house of mercy (or grace)". The first meaning was probably based on something literal (such as water flowing from a basin into the pool) but there was also a tradition that, when water was flowing in the pool, the first person to enter it would be cured of any disease or illness because an angel was "stirring the water". This may have been purely superstitious, but it was a place where sick people gathered in hope of being healed.

Why had Jesus chosen to go here? We don't know for sure but, once again, He is in the right place at the right time. He seems to have been paying careful attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Long-term sickness

Jesus notices one particular man amongst those gathered around the pool. He asks some questions and finds out that the man has been an invalid for thirty-eight years. Jesus next question is interesting. He says to the man: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6) A casual observer might have thought that anyone who spent all their time lying beside this pool would naturally want to be healed but, sometimes, a person with a chronic illness can become defined by that illness. It becomes a way of life. After thirty-eight years, there is a danger that someone no longer wants to face the changes that healing would bring.

In response to Jesus' question, the man replies that he has nobody to help him. Was this just an excuse or did he genuinely want to be healed? The narrative doesn't give us any direct answer, but Jesus must have seen something in the man's attitude, because He then commands the man to pick up his mat and start walking.

Whatever his doubts may have been, the man responds immediately and is instantly healed. He picks up his mat and walks away with it. After one short conversation with Jesus, he waved farewell to:

  • his lack of hope;
  • his unbelief that it would ever happen;
  • his self-pity;
  • his disappointment over previous, wasted opportunities;
  • his potentially bleak future and
  • his concern about what others might think of him.

Would you like to get well?

This is such a valuable question today. Many of us can probably think back to a time when we made a choice to stay sick, because getting better would have involved us having to face up to a situation that was easier to cope with when we could hide behind ill health. How many times have we had a cold or headache because we did not want to go to a prior appointment? "Throwing a sicky" has become a common way of avoiding a potentially difficult day at work or school but, for the Christian, all it really does is open the door for the enemy to give us sickness. Many illnesses are related to emotional problems, often stemming from our own sinful failures or shortcomings and we really need to tackle these problems with honesty.

This does not mean that people only become sick because of some sin that they have committed, or that people can only be healed once their sin has been forgiven. Certainly, the man by the pool of Bethesda was healed before Jesus began to tackle the problem of the sin in his life. No matter how trapped you feel in your problem, God can minister to your deepest needs. Don't let disappointment, difficulty or hardship cause you to lose hope.

Although most modern societies have reasonably efficient medical services that didn't exist in Jesus' day, there can still be obstacles to people overcoming poor health, especially long-term medical conditions. For example, the provision of sickness benefit may discourage people from seeking full healing because a swift return to health and strength would immediately result in a main source of income being removed. It could leave them in urgent need of finding good employment in order to be able to provide for themselves or their family. Walking (living) by faith is an ongoing, never-ending adventure. We may trust God to heal us, but then we also have to trust Him to provide a job for us once we are well.

To everything there is a season

God’s plan is that we should live life to the full - in abundance. (John 10:10) Sickness and disease will not have any place in the "new heaven and new earth" that He has promised us. (Revelation 21:1) But, until that day comes, like the apostle Paul, we may need to depend on God's grace to allow God's power to be made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

God may have special work for you to do in your condition, or even because of it. Many have ministered effectively to people who are hurting, because they have already triumphed over their own hurts. Whatever you do, do not sit and think that you are always going to be sick. Spend time studying God's word and seek to know what He is saying to you personally.

My Father is always at His work.”

Just like the Samaritan woman, who had been an outcast but became the source of salvation for many in her town, this man, who no one had bothered about for years, became the centre of attention and the start of a campaign of persecution against Jesus by the religious authorities.

Those authorities had built a fearsome reputation over the course of many years as experts in the Old Testament laws. Slowly, but surely, they had built up an enormous body of "interpretations" and extensions to the law itself. A good example of this was the "Sabbath" - the seventh and last day of the Jewish week. God's command had been: “Remember to observe the sabbath as a holy day.” (Exodus 20:8) "Holy" means "set apart" and God's people were to follow His example. God had spent six days working and creating the heavens and the earth. On the seventh day, He rested. So, the essence of His command was that no work should be done on the sabbath day.

However, the religious teachers and legal experts had gone further in seeking to define what counted as "work" and what didn't. According to them, carrying a mat counted as "work" and was, therefore, a contravention of God's law. If they had known anything of the heart of the Father, they would have known that God was rejoicing over this man’s new life. God's law had only ever been designed to turn us towards His grace, but the religious authorities were now using it to try and frustrate His grace. God is prepared to do great things in our lives, but we cannot dictate to Him how He should do His work.

A man who hadn’t walked for thirty-eight years had been healed, but the Pharisees were more concerned about their petty rules than the life and health of a human being. It is easy to get so caught up in our human structures and rules that we forget that their sole purpose is to benefit people, not make their lives difficult. Are your guidelines for living God-made or man-made? Are they helping people or have they become needless stumbling blocks?

This man had been paralysed, but now he could walk. It was a great miracle! But he needed an even greater miracle: to have his sins forgiven. The man was delighted to be physically healed, but he had to turn from his sins and seek God's forgiveness in order to be spiritually healed. God’s forgiveness is the greatest gift you will ever receive. Rejoice now over who you are in Jesus Christ. (John 5:19-30)

The son can do nothing by Himself.”

The religious authorities had a bigger problem with Jesus Himself. Carrying a mat was one thing, but healing someone was a much greater transgression in their eyes. More than that, they could see that Jesus was claiming that God was His Father and saying that His Father had given Him the authority to work on the Sabbath, because: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath". (Mark 2:27)

The authorities also called God their Father, but they realised that Jesus was claiming a unique relationship with Him. Because of Jesus’ claim, the Pharisees had two choices: to believe Him, or to accuse Him of blasphemy. They chose the second.

Because of His relationship with God, Jesus lived as His Father wanted Him to live. If Jesus spoke about not being able to live life in His own strength, then how much more should we depend upon the Father to be able to live as He has called us to? Jesus was "taken up" to heaven so that the "comforter" - the Holy Spirit - could be sent to give us the power to do God's work and walk in obedience to the word of God. If we have put our faith in Jesus and see ourselves as being "in Him", then we must live as He wants us to live. The questions, “What would Jesus do?” and “What would Jesus have me do?” may help us make the right choices.

Eternal life - living for ever with God - begins when we accept Jesus Christ as our saviour. We may not understand with our minds how we are bound up with the three persons of the "Trinity", but we can certainly rejoice in our spirits that God has an amazing plan for us and we are all a vital part of it. God is the source and creator of life. There is no life apart from God, here or hereafter. The life in us is a gift from Him. (Deuteronomy 30:19,20; Psalm 36:9,10) Because Jesus exists eternally with God, the creator, He too is “the life” (John 14:6) through whom we may live eternally. (1 John 5:11)

Those who have rebelled against Christ will be resurrected too, but only to hear God's judgement against them and to be sentenced to eternity apart from Him.

The key for us, if we want to walk the supernatural life of victory, is the same as it was for Jesus: to recognise that, “by myself I can do nothing”. We must seek not to please ourselves but Him who sent us. We need to walk (live) in the power of the Holy Spirit.

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