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The Pool of Bethesda – John 5:1-15

This post is part of an ongoing series in the study of John we are doing during January. Subscribe to the blog for daily updates in the Bible Study posts. Subscribe to the podcasts to hear our discussion of the book of John throughout this month. Join us in your daily devotions as we travel through this fascinating account of the life of Christ.

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1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. 5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 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.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” 11 He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’ ” 12 Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” 15 The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. John 5:1-15 (NKJV)

If I were a detective reading this passage, something would immediately seem off. Knowing whether the pool at Bethesda could really bring healing is unimportant. It is only important to understand that the culture and the people believed that to be the case. The fishy part of this story is how a man who endured an infirmity for 38 years could never find a way into the miracle-making pool. Consider that! For nearly four decades, he could not find a way into the pool. He found a way to be near the pool. He found a way to know about the pool. He found a way to talk to others about the pool. But he never found a way into it for himself.

Perhaps Jesus recognized something amiss with this man’s story too. The first thing Jesus says to the man, upon meeting him and recognizing his long-term conditions is, “Do you want to be made well?” One would think that the desire for healing would be implied and understood. Who wouldn’t want to be made well?

That Jesus’s question suggests there was more going on with the infirmed man than meets the eye is further revealed by the man’s answer – or lack of an answer. “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.” Instead of answering the question posed to him by Jesus, the man explains. This explanation is apparently his stock excuse to anyone he speaks to. Not only has he been unable to find a way to the pool for nearly four decades, but others have been cheating him all those years.

The infirmed man has made a lifestyle out of his infirmity. He has learned to live with it. In his warped perspective, healing could potentially upend more in his life than it could help. He has found his place in society. Learned how to make a living, likely through alms he collects as he tells people his sad story by the pool. His relationships have learned how to accommodate his infirmity. The man is not seeking healing. He is seeking assistance to maintain his status quo.

Then Jesus Messes It All Up

In a single statement – “Rise, take up your bed and walk” – Jesus changes everything. Note there is no mention of the man giving thanks, praising God, or even celebrating his healing like many other accounts when Jesus healed people. He probably did not know what to do. The formerly infirmed man had a pattern and routine to his life. None of that mattered now. It was all outdated. His healing, far from freeing him, resulted in the man being lost on what to do next.

So we find him before the religious leaders. Like the infirmed man himself, they seem to miss the point. A man who suffered an infirmity for nearly four decades was healed but what they take notice of is the fact that he is carrying his beggar’s mat on the Sabbath. Doesn’t he know the rules?

Our unnamed healed man is in good company with these leaders. They are all intent on adventures in missing the point!

When questioned about his violations of the Sabbath, the man leans into his standard answer for life’s questions – “It’s not my fault. Someone else made me do it.”

A Point of Honor

We all have quirks we may or may not be aware of that help us navigate life. The pathway to maturity leads us to discard these character flaws, but the man at the pool of Bethesda was missing the essential element needed to begin that journey. He did not honor Christ. This requirement becomes more apparent as we move through chapter 5. The same failure of the man at the pool was evident in the religious leaders more concerned about the day of the week than the fact that a man was healed.

It is challenging to subordinate that which is familiar and comfortable to that which is true. When we encounter Christ, His influence on our life requires change. That is what honoring Christ looks like.

Jesus gives us the doorway to walk through and inherit a new life, but we must walk through it. We must commit to the path. If we fail to do that, we face the same warning Jesus gave to this man at the passage’s conclusion.

See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you

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JB Shreve

JB Shreve is the host of the JB Shreve podcast and the End of History podcast channels. He is the author of multiple books.

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