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. 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.
I am fascinated by the invalid man’s reply to Jesus’ initial question. John tells us that this man had been unable to walk for upwards of 38 years. It is clear as well from the text that there was a certain belief that healing properties could be experienced in the pool, Bethesda, when it was “stirred up.” Being of this persuasion, the invalid man placed himself near the pool in anticipation of being healed, but it had not yet occurred. And he had been waiting for a long time.
This was the man that Christ approached, intentionally, no doubt, to display His power. He asks him a simple question:
“Do you want to be healed?”
A simple question requiring a simple answer, but the man does not give one. Instead, he registers a complaint. He has no one who will place him in the pool at the right time and when he tries on his own he is beaten to the punch. You can almost hear his defeated sigh and see what little hope that may have remained flutter away. I wonder what he was like aside from this brief encounter with Jesus? How many other pools had he visited? Did he ever have hope? Was he the kind of man who, with great enthusiasm, ran from one hope to the next without ever finding what he felt he needed?
I suppose we cannot know, but what is clear in his response to Jesus’ question is that he is a defeated man. This pool of Bethesda, though full to his sight, had run dry in his heart. Sure, it seemed to work for others, but not for him. He had no helper and he was not quick enough on his own. It is easy to feel sorry for him.
It seems that in his frustration, he misheard the question of Jesus. There is a tired defensiveness in his voice when he answers. It is not a complex question that is presented to him. A simple “yes” or “no” would have sufficed. However, this man who “had already been there a long time” offered two excuses for his present state:
1) No one would help him
2) And he could not do it on his own
He mistook the question of Jesus for an accusation rather than an invitation. It is as though he had been asked this before. Not only did he misunderstand Jesus’ intent, but he was blind to His presence as well. There is a casual discarding to his tone. Perhaps even shame. I cannot picture him even looking at Jesus as he replies. If only he were good enough, fast enough, strong enough, he could be healed. This was the life he had been dealt and he was tired of having to look up to another “Sir” like this one to explain himself.
Of course, there is much irony here. He believes, at least to some degree, that he could be healed if he were to enter the pool at the appropriate time. He may have even accepted assistance from this “Sir” if the waters were stirred up, but he mistook His words for accusation and His presence for commonplace. When Jesus spoke, he heard the words of a mere man while he gazed at the pool wishing it would heal him.
The irony is that this man in need of saving could not see his Savior. He mistook the Savior of the world for a simple individual who had received a more fortunate estate than his own. This plight of his would be resolved if only he could make it into the pool when the waters were stirred, never mind the fact that he was sitting beside the One who separated the waters above from those below (Gen. 1:6-8).
…the One who spoke to the sea and commanded its boundaries upon the earth (Job 38:11).
…the One who placed a well in the arid wilderness of Beersheba so that Hagar and Ishmael would live (Gen. 21:15-21).
This was the One who could walk upon the water (Matt. 14:25), command its most terrifying inhabitants (Ps. 104:26; Job 41) and eternally quench all thirst (Jn. 4:13-14) because He Himself was and remains “the fountain of living waters” (Jer. 2:13). Rather than look to the Savior, this broken man waited on the edge of a pool hoping it would heal him while the One who fashioned the very waters within stood at his side asking, “Do you want to be healed?”
Here is where we can all relate. We have all exchanged the Creator for His creation; the Giver for His gifts (Rom. 1:22-23) and have looked for our quenching in “broken cisterns that can hold no water” rather than the fountain of living waters Himself. This is the Great Chasm – the impassable divide between a Holy God and sinful mankind.
And yet, what happens next is the best part of all.
The invalid man has misunderstood the words and presence of Jesus. He hears accusation rather than invitation. He sees a mere man rather than the Son of Man. He looks to a public pool for healing rather than the One who offers living water. And what does Jesus do? Does He walk away disappointed in this man’s unbelief? No, he heals him. Despite his limitations, his distractions, his unbelief, Jesus says, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”
Here is grace. Love, freedom, and life given freely and unconditionally to one who has done nothing to deserve it. This story is good news because all of us are the invalid man paralyzed by circumstance and, far too often, self-pity. Each of us has a pool we sit next to hoping it will heal our brokenness and fill whatever emptiness we feel. We look to that which cannot save in our unbelief. And yet, we are not left on our own. This Gracious God of the universe has made a way through the death and resurrection of His Son for us to know Him – the Great Physician Himself – on an intimate and eternal level.
We are saved by grace through faith. That is a truth that can never run dry.