“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water; for 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. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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?’ 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.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. 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.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 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.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” (John 5:1-17)
We Find Jesus in a Hospital
So, what’s the story here? We have Jesus going to Jerusalem for a feast. Now there are three feasts each year in which the Jews were obligated to celebrate and go to Jerusalem for. But John doesn’t tell us whether this is the Feast of Passover or the Feast of Pentecost in the spring, or whether this is the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall. And it is not important either. But what is important to note is that although Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate and remember Israel’s history through this feast, He took the time to be with the sick and the needy. You could even say He deemed it more important than the feast. So, while all of Israel is feasting and rejoicing, we find Jesus walking among the poor whom He loved so much. Can you imagine spending your New Year’s Eve at a nursing home helping an old man or woman eat or play a game with or just provide a listening ear? Is it wrong to party? Not at all, but what a beautiful picture Jesus paints here for us as an alternative for doing what everyone else is doing.
And so when Jesus was in Jerusalem, we find Him at Bethesda, or house of mercy. It was a poor provision for the city’s abounding sickness. You could call it a hospital perhaps. It was a place at the north side of Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate. Now you may recall that when Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem some 450 years earlier after the Babylonians had destroyed it in 586 BC, the Sheep Gate was the first gate they built (Neh. 3:1) and called that way because that’s were the sheep were brought into the temple for the sacrifice. And five covered colonnades or porticos surrounded this house of mercy. Now it was told that an angel sometimes stirred the pool, and whoever was in the pool first when this happened was healed. So I am guessing this place was packed with the blind, the lame, the paralyzed, sitting on the cold steps or lying on their wretched pallets, waiting for the moving of the waters. While the whole city was feasting, these people were in deep physical pain, forgotten by society; but not by Jesus. Our Lord was at home amid this mercy, for here there was room for His tender heart and healing hands to work
miracles. When we are full of health and strength, let us remember those to whom these privileges are denied. This is a difficult lesson for me to be reminded of because I don’t like hospitals. I’ve been a patient in one myself before, when I got operated on my Achilles tendon when I was seven years old, and afterward went many times for regular checkups (which is never fun when you are young). But I also have many footsteps in a nursing home in Amstelveen, one that has recently been
torn down. In the late 80s and early 90s (so in my late teens), both my Grandma and Grandpa were in a nursing home until they passed away. My Grandma even for as long as five years. My Grandpa was in there because of multiple strokes and he simply wasn’t able to take care of himself anymore. And my Grandma suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. And when you come in a nursing home that often you just see terribly sad things and are confronted with unavoidable tragedy of sickness and
death. I remember at the closed wing my Grandma was at, there was this one old woman who just kept on circling the block within the wing, the whole day through. It probably took her up to an hour to circle it once, but that’s just what she did all day. And I can also remember this one woman who lay in bed and was always wailing at the top of her lungs, and you could hear it throughout the whole wing. It was just terrible. But this was all in my late teens when I wasn’t a Christian yet.
But two years ago, in 2009, my Dad spent the last five months of his life in that same nursing home, also because of Alzheimer’s disease. Now I am in my thirties, I am a Christian, and it’s my Dad. There is just no comparison to your grandparents being in a nursing home and your own Dad being in a nursing home. Such sadness. And although I loved my Dad and wanted to spend as much time as possible with him in his final days, it was really difficult to go the nursing home and just be confronted with all this sickness and death. And yet Spurgeon once said, “I venture to say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness.” That is a strange saying, right? But I guess what he means to say that since sin is in the world, sickness is a good thing. Although it is very unpleasant, it is a friend to man’s soul for it reminds us of the inevitably approaching end of life, and hopefully humbles us, and makes us think seriously about God and His goodness. But also being among the sick can invoke these thoughts and feelings, and soften our heart to reach out to those who are sick. Which is why reading this text is a difficult reminder because I really struggle being among the sick, like Jesus is here.
We Are Hopeless Without Christ
Now coming into the hospital, Jesus noticed this one particular man. There were many painful cases there, but He singled out this one man who had been bound to a stretcher for 38 years, a victim of rheumatism or paralysis. Let us hope there no worse case on all Bethesda’s porches! Now this man had never managed to get into the pool. He had never been able to win a friend or find a helper to get him into the pool in all the long years he had been there. And Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” Now God doesn’t ask us questions because He lacks information. The question is a gift to lead our thoughts in the right direction. And the man’s answer reveals much. This man had been at the edge of the pool daily as a matter of habit, so you would imagine that when finally there is a man asking him if he wanted to be healed, finally there was a man possibly willing to carry him in the pool when the water was stirred up, that he would grab the opportunity with both hands, right? Not so. His answer shows what a poor creature he was, for there was not a sparkle of hope in him. And he had not only ceased to hope, he had also ceased to wish, for he said to Jesus, “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.” It is one thing the man doesn’t know that this is Jesus and/or that He is a miracle worker (how could he for he had been lying at the pool all the time), but the man doesn’t even consider the possibility that Jesus is willing and able to carry him into the pool. Wow! Consider the hopeless state this man is in! And is this not the same state we are all in without Jesus? The same state we were all in before we knew Jesus? Or worse even! I mean this man is very much aware of the miserable state he is in, and very much aware that he cannot get himself out of it, and even he doesn’t have any hope to get out of that situation. Yet most of us are completely blinded to the miserable state we are in to the point we don’t even consider we need any rescuing. And even if so, we look to ourselves for the solution; we look to ourselves for the cure; we look to ourselves for the hope. Don’t we? We do not naturally look to Jesus to be healed, to be made well, right? “No, no, I am not an impatient person,” you say to yourself while you are at the bus stop while you keep looking at your watch and start tapping with your feet, anxiously looking if the bus is coming. “No, no, I am not a proud person,” as you in that moment start thinking “doesn’t that bus driver know that I have important things to do today. How inconsiderate of him to be so late.” And even when we do think in those moments that we are impatient and proud, do we look to Jesus or to ourselves? To ourselves, right? “Oh, I need to just calm down, find my inner peace, think happy thoughts…” Let’s face it; we are worse off than this man at the pool.
Justification: Jesus Makes Us Whole
Ah, but look at what Jesus does. At the moment of complete and utter despair and hope, He comes to us and says, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” Christ died for those that are without strength. Christ died for the hopeless. He is the hope of the hopeless. He is the Savior not of those partly lost, but of the wholly lost. We don’t come to Him. He comes to us. And He comes to make us whole. And just as He spoke creation into existence with words of divine power, He speaks to us, and we are healed, just like this man was, for the next verse says, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” One moment you are paralyzed by sin, completely unable to help yourself and get out of your miserable situation, and Jesus acts, and the next moment you are able to stand upright and walk in His ways. What a beautiful picture of our justification! Jesus acts, and at once Jesus sees us standing upright, and we are on equal standing with Him. And it is all His work. We cannot work ourselves into this standing. Jesus did this work for us. And just as it was for this man so it is for us, Jesus completed (finished) this work for us. Our standing has been accomplished for us, and it is there. Jesus sees us standing upright.
Sanctification: Now Go and Sin No More
So far so good, right? But now we come to the tricky part of the story. The question we have to answer is what does the man do now that he has been healed? He goes to the temple, where Jesus finds him again, and then says to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” Now, I have read through a whole bunch of commentaries, and they all say the same thing. And that is that the man went to the temple to thank God for His mercy for healing him. And that when Jesus said to him to sin no more that nothing worse happen to him, Jesus warns Him not go back and do the sins which resulted in his paralyzed condition for 38 years in the first place. And this could well be what the text means, but I don’t think it’s the point of the text.
These Jewish leaders took no notice of the glorious healing of the man (he must have been “famous” having been there for 38 years). They willfully ignore Christ, but spent all their energy on telling the man he broke some man-made rule, carrying his bed on the Sabbath. Later, Jesus finds the man again in the temple. What was he doing there? It is save to assume that he was there praising God for healing him, but on the other side it could also have been that the man went to the temple making amends for violating the Sabbath law. Regardless which it is, we can say that the man is trying to obey the law by going to the temple. But Jesus came to fulfill the law. Didn’t He say in John 2, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) And didn’t He say to the Samaritan woman in John 4, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:21, 23). In both these verses Jesus is referring to the fact that He is the object of worship. He is the ultimate temple through which and by which to worship God.
Now, I believe that when Jesus sees the man in the temple and says to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more” that He is referring to the fact that Jesus had just healed him; Jesus had just done this miraculous work for Him, changing his standing before Him; Mercy had just been given, that He is now giving him a warning not to go back to observing the law, but to exhort him to continue in the mercy shown to him.
You see, when the man was healed there was an inherent obedience that flowed out from that. It is unthinkable that after the man was healed he would have just continued lying on that stretcher. No! The obedience to “get up and walk” was part of the miracle. We see this play out a couple of verses later in verses 10-11 when the Jewish leaders ask the man about it, and he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” He saying, “Hey, I just did what He told me to do” He simply obeyed Jesus.
And I believe Jesus is saying here “Well, great that you obeyed, but I gave you mercy, so now continue in this mercy. I released you from the law for I fulfilled it for you, so don’t go back to the law now.” Does that make sense? Jesus is saying that He has made us whole (that He did a completed work for us), and that the result, the outflow of this work for us is obedience in us; an obedience based on His completed work.
When Jesus says, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you,” what is the issue? The issue is holiness, not health. “I have healed you to make you holy. My aim in healing your body is the healing of your soul. I have given you a gift. It’s free. It came first, before my command. You didn’t earn it. You weren’t good enough for it. I chose you freely. And I healed you. Now, live in this power. Let the gift of healing, the gift of my free grace, be a means to your holiness.” And Jesus warns him that if he turns away and mocks the gift, he will perish. In other words, “I have healed you that you may be holy, that you may stop doing evil, and that you may not rise to the resurrection of judgment, but to the resurrection of life. I have pointed you to myself as a life-giver. Don’t turn from me to a life of sin.”
What a wonderful story this is! Jesus not only shows us His compassion and mercy in healing the lame man, but He gives us a beautiful picture that we all are in desperate need of His compassion and mercy, and that, incapable of coming to Him, He not only comes to us but also does all the work for us by making us whole, and then calls us out of the life we have been living and into a new life that is based on His continued work in and through us, which is based on obedience to the Spirit He has given us.