John 5:1 – 15

5  1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 

6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 

9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

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In this story which records for us how Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for 38 years, we get our first glimpse in John’s Gospel of the tension between Him and the Jewish authorities which ultimately led to His crucifixion.  In this event, we see the compassion that Jesus has for those who suffer.  On the other hand, we see the Jewish leaders lack of concern for the sufferer who had been healed as they criticize Jesus for breaking their religious rules and regulations.

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To more fully understand this story, let me first unpack some of the cultural and religious aspects that are going on here.  The story opens with Jesus leaving the province of Galilee and going up to Jerusalem.  (The city of Jerusalem is situated on the top of a mountain ridge, so almost all biblical writers talk about going “up” to get to Jerusalem.  There were three major Jewish festivals that occurred in a year that caused many thousands of Jews to come to Jerusalem in order to celebrate and worship God.)

We don’t know for sure which festival this was here in chapter five, but in any case, we see Jesus coming to attend, partly I think to fulfill the requirement to come to Jerusalem for this festival, but also I’m sure to continue doing God’s Kingdom work among His people.  What we do know from this text is that many sick and disease stricken people were also there lying beside a pool of water which was near one of the large entry gates into Jerusalem.

(The footnote in some versions, which is considered to be verse four, states that when the water was stirred up for some reason, the people believed that an angel had come down and was causing this and that by going into the water, a person could be healed.)

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So when Jesus entered the city, even though He would have been surrounded by thousands of people, His attention was immediately drawn toward this man who had been paralyzed for so many years.  Jesus went over to him and then asked him, “Do you want to be well?”  Now that might seem like a dumb question to ask a paralyzed man, but really, I think that Jesus was basically asking the man if he wanted Jesus to help him to be healed.

The man misunderstood Jesus, thinking He was offering to help him get down into the water once the water would begin to stir.  But Jesus was going to bypass the use of an intermediary agent and by His own authority He healed the man.  He then basically asked the man to trust His word by standing up (something he hadn’t done by himself in 38 years), picking up his mat and walking away with it.  When compassion and Divine Will come together, amazing and miraculous things happen.

But then religious ritualism reared its ugly head.  When the Jewish leaders saw the man carrying his mat on the Sabbath (the day set apart to only worship God), they accused him of doing work on the Sabbath, which they proclaimed to be forbidden by God in their laws.  (In reality, this was their narrow human interpretation regarding this law which we know to be part of God’s “Ten Commandments”.

The problem is that the Jewish leaders were so zealous to observe religious rituals that they could not see the hand of God working in this man’s life.  They thought that “proper” human behaviour took precedence over the needs of the human soul which needed deliverance from the curse and bondage of extreme physical sickness and disease.

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We must all remember that God’s compassion extends itself to mankind in order to bring honour to Him and freedom to us to willingly return our love and submission back to Him.  Rules will never save a person from sin and bondage.  If that was true back then, it is still true for us today.  Let us now be careful not to impose religious ritualism on fellow believers in hopes to make them more “acceptable” to God.  God already accepts us just as we are, if we have turned to Him in faith.

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