Scripture: John 5:1-9
Jesus left Cana in John 2 to go to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. Either in Jerusalem or in the surrounding area of Judea, He spoke with Nicodemus in the night in John 3. In John 4, He departed from Judea because the Pharisees had heard about Him and the baptisms taking place by his disciples, at which he left for Galilee and passed through Samaria (more specifically Sychar) on the way to Galilee. In Galilee, he went back to the town of Cana as in John 2 and what did He do after that but return to Jerusalem for another Jewish feast? We have to wonder if the disciples felt like a repetitive cycle was emerging. Jesus was constantly on the move. It’s very likely in both instances of traveling to Jerusalem that He went the traditional way to go south back to Jerusalem alongside the Jordan River. The special note of going through Samaria was only mentioned in John 4, at least so far.
The Sheep Gate was one of the gates on the north side of the ancient part of Jerusalem in which sheep entered to be used for sacrifice in the Temple. The pool near the gate was called Bethesda, and the name means “house of outpouring” or “flowing water.” It can also be translated as “house of twin outpourings.” There are obviously some variations in how it is to be translated. It is thought that the water actually was provided by a spring or springs, and at times it would bubble forth. D.A. Carson says this:
“Probably the lines in vv. 3b-4 were first introduced as marginal glosses…reflecting popular belief about the cause of the water’s disturbance. Although the twin pools were fed by the large reservoirs called Solomon’s pools, they may also have been fed by intermittent springs which caused the disturbance. Some ancient witnesses speak of the redness of the water, popularly thought to be medicinal: the springs may have been chalybeate.” Carson, D.A. “The Gospel According to John.” The Pillar New Testament Commentary, p. 242. Leicester: Apollos Press, 1991.
There are times in ancient translation copying (a very tedious process) where scribes would add marginal notes when they translated. Sometimes, those notes were added into the translations themselves. In translation work, we can call this textual variants; one of those ways, for instance, that they often choose which wording to go with is usually the shorter of multiple translations as it is more likely to be the original. There are multiple rules in how translations were determined by groups; this is all just a side note.
This particular passage, in speaking about an angel coming down and stirring the waters, may very well only be a marginal note added in; it was the commonly held belief of the time as to why the waters would stir. Knowing what we know about the springs there, more likely it was stirred by their intermittent flow but this doesn’t make the Bible less reliable. The primary point is that people who were sick and vulnerable often came to this pool of water hoping to be healed and waiting for the stirring of the water that something might make them well. By the way, the term “chalybeate” that Carson mentioned is referring to mineral water with iron salts in it, the redness being caused by mineral oxidation.
There’s something to be said about the folks who came to the water for healing: they weren’t necessarily scholars sitting there debating deep theology, just sick people hoping for mercy. If we catch something in the Bible about those who were sick and lame, who had leprosy and so forth, it’s often that they were not highly esteemed people; not rich, not influential, not typically well-educated. Often those with maladies were judged with some moral and spiritual reasoning as to why God would do this to them. (People often still think that way, don’t they?) Christ had great mercy for vulnerable people and loved them and served them every time we observe His interactions with them. Their faith was often simple and they just wanted help and He was glad to give it. Sometimes we forget that being needy with God is not a bad place to be at all; it gives Him great pleasure and glory to show mercy to needy people (and really, we all are needy just the same spiritually).
The man Jesus particularly heals here “had an infirmity for thirty-eight years.” Jesus, moved in compassion, saw the man and knew that he’d been there a long time. We don’t need to get into the nuance of “knowledge” here, but it’s simply speaking to observation and perhaps even that Jesus had seen him there before (the man would have been paralyzed for longer than Jesus had taken on the flesh). “Do you want to be made well?” Think about His question: what does being well entail? The word for well is referring to physical health in this verse. This man was hoping to be made well but didn’t know what “well” really meant. For Jesus, it meant far more than just being mobile to be described as “well.”
Humans often have a way of being very narrow in their scope of what would fix their lives. “If only I had….if this problem would just go away…” Jesus said Nicodemus needed to be born again; Jesus offered the woman at the well living water; to the man lying paralyzed with an infirmity, He asked him if he wanted to be made well. The gospel often meets people by speaking to the most basic levels of their perceived needs, like the opportune door to their hearts that it is. Even now, a child or an adult may fear death and want to alleviate that fear by trusting Christ. Salvation is far more than simply not having a fear of eternity, some sort of quick fix to anxiety or depression; nevertheless, that’s one area it may touch upon to begin with in unpacking a whole host of needs that a person usually is not aware of.
The sick man answered Him, “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.” From what can be understood by this man’s words, he is hoping that perhaps Jesus might have compassion on him and pick him up and put him in the water. The hope still remains in the potential for the stirred water to heal him. The Source of Life, the Giver of mercy, was there to do something even greater than this.
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. Jesus spoke with authority that was absolutely not questioned by this man; he simply believed Him and did as he was told. Belief is the one word not mentioned here, but belief is the reason the man got up and walked. Simple faith, childlike faith, is faith that trusts the one speaking with total confidence. A father says to his child, “Jump into my arms,” and the child jumps, no thought or hesitation given even though they can’t guarantee their dad will catch them. Sometimes we hesitate way too much in mulling over whether God can take care of us when He’s already promised to do so, and we just need to trust Him. Salvation starts by a “jump into God’s arms” but we have to be careful that our trust in God doesn’t get usurped by biblical knowledge, logical thinking and self-reliance. Use them, but submit them to God.
The beautiful picture of the paralytic man’s faith is not like Nicodemus’ logical dilemma; it is the simple faith of a vulnerable person who needs help and cries for mercy; yet both needed Jesus just as much. Praise God that we can see many different types of people in the Bible in multiple situations who end up finding Him…but really, who are found by Him. He has made each of us the way we are and put us where He wants us and though our sin is great, His grace is greater. We may come to Him through an intellectual battle, a health scare, financial destitution, or any other form of pressure that He uses in drawing us to Him. God is quite resourceful with the pressures of life and the subjects in question. Let His grace bring humility and gratitude to your heart once more.
Father, give us a compassion for others. Help us to show kindness to those in need, especially those often overlooked and unattended. Fill our hearts with Your grace and mercy and move us to see people as eternal beings who have all fallen short of Your glory and who need salvation. Help us to be captivated by Your love for us and grow in us a desire to reflect that to those we encounter. Be with those in hospitals or nursing homes who may be alone, and may have been alone for an extended amount of time with the measures that have been taken. Give them extra grace in such difficulties and isolation. I pray that those who know Christ as their Savior would feel Your presence deeply. I pray that those who don’t know You would soon find a Bible in their hands, a sermon in video or audio, or a Christian friend in contact somehow that perhaps they too would find You for the first time. Lord, please show mercy to us and make people spiritually well, not just physically better. Help our prayers to be more far-reaching than just those most immediate felt needs. Be with those especially attending to the physical needs of others; thank You for their service and I pray for their families, too. Give them strength and rest and wisdom in each circumstance they face. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.