Blessings at Bethesda

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Text: John 5:2-15 KJV


2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep (market) a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. 5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time (in that case), he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? 7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. 8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. 9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry (thy) bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in (that) place. 14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. 15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.

Introduction: After the events of chapter 4, Jesus and the disciples had come to Jerusalem in order to observe one of the feasts of the Jews (verse 1). We are not told which feast. While He was in Jerusalem, Jesus went over to the Pool of Bethesda and found one particular person who had been in “pretty bad shape”, colloquially speaking, for a long time. What, if anything, was going to happen when Jesus spoke with this man?

I The situation

John introduces this episode in the healing ministry of our Lord by giving some landmarks and other historical information. He says the Pool of Siloam was near (by) the sheep market, which was probably close to the Temple (see verse 14, where Jesus found this man—walking!—in the Temple). John also states that there was “a great multitude (verse 3)” waiting for healing. They believed that the first one in the water, when it was stirred, would be healed.

Among the people waiting for healing, and hoping to be healed, was one certain man who had had an (unspecified) infirmity for 38 years (verse 5). Several questions come to mind, such as what had happened—and why?—he was in this condition; who, if anyone, brought him food and water; did anyone help him with his clothing?; how were matters of personal hygiene handled; and perhaps even more issues could arise. The one definite thing is that he was sick, and apparently not able to do much if anything for himself.

So when Jesus walked into the area where the people were waiting, He asked the man “Do you want to get well?” Many people have pondered this question and have attempted to arrive at a conclusion. The sick man’s reply, “Someone gets into the pool and is healed before I can get there (paraphrased),” probably indicates that he was trusting in the water and its action/s other than anything else. This may mean his ability to move was limited or that, perhaps, he was “parked” or staying at a good distance from the pool itself.

Remember that the water had no set schedule as to when it would “be troubled”. Most likely no one could predict when this would happen, either, Could this man—would he—ever be healed?

II The solution

Jesus saw or heard something that spoke of the man’s desire to be healed. It’s odd that the sick man didn’t ask for prayer, or to be moved closer to the water, or anything else. He didn’t really ask for anything. So he must have been surprised beyond measure when Jesus told him to “get up (from the floor), take up (your bed), and walk!” Note that Jesus didn’t tell him where, exactly, to walk after he was healed.

Think about it: no touch, no obvious signs, no other people asking to be part of this, nor did Jesus ask anyone else to do anything. This was an immediate miracle!

Interestingly, this healing took place on the Sabbath. Certain things about the Sabbath had changed over the years: in the Law, no Israelite was even supposed to leave his house on the Sabbath day (Exodus 16:29) nor even to do any work (Exodus 20:8-11, 31:14-16). But by this time, the religious leaders had added traditions or supplemental information to the rather plain text of the Law. Some of these included the (elaborate?) washing of various items (Mark 7:3-4), one’s hands or other parts of the body (Luke 11:38) and the “Sabbath Day’s Journey (Acts 1:12)”.

Other refinements or supplements (man-made, of course) included the concept of healing being considered work on the Sabbath (Luke 13:14) and the process of eating food (Matthew 12:1-8) on the Sabbath. To be consistent, why were the Pharisees tracking Jesus and the disciples on the Sabbath? Were they not also under the same restrictions they put on others?

The formerly sick man was about to find some of the religious leaders, though, who promptly told him, “Why are you carrying your bed? It’s the Sabbath and not lawful for you to be carrying that item on the Sabbath (verse 10, paraphrased).”His reply was simply, “the man who healed me told me to take up my bed and walk (verse 11, paraphrased).” Of course the Jews (the religious leaders) pressed it farther: “Who, then, told you to pick up your bed and walk? (verse 12, paraphrased).” One might wonder at the intent of that question. But the formerly sick man didn’t know who had healed him—but he knew he had been healed.

And for him, that was enough.

III The final words

The formerly sick man had been healed, after suffering from an infirmity over 38 years! Jesus found him, healed him, and told him to pick up his bed and start walking. Amazingly, from a human perspective, the man was able to walk, and walk he did. Right into trouble, that is, when he ran into a group of religious leaders who were concerned (!) that he was carrying his bed. At the time, he had no idea that it was Jesus Who had healed him, but he is about to get re-acquainted with the Great Physician!

Verse 13 states that Jesus had gone over to the Temple, implying the Pool of Siloam was close to the Temple at that time. The man has made his way to the Temple, after departing from the “Jews”, the religious leaders. We are not told just why he went to the Temple but he received a surprise: Jesus found him again! Then He gave the man a stern message: “You were made whole; stop practicing sin because something worse than this might happen to you (verse 14, paraphrased).” After a “sentence” of 38 years, the man probably was scared straight at the words of Jesus. As a result, he goes and informs the Jewish leaders that Jesus had healed him.

The sick man’s story stops here. We do not know his name, his specific problem, or much of anything else but we know that Jesus healed him by only speaking a few words. Jesus employed no other devices except the power of speech to heal this man. Nothing else could have healed him: not the water in the pool, apparently there was nothing a doctor could do, but when this man replied honestly to Jesus, he received a gift—healing—which few seemed to enjoy in those days.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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