John 5:1-Jesus goes to Jerusalem for a feast. Bible scholars are uncertain which feast this was…perhaps Passover, but it is not certain. On the Sabbath, He goes to the pool which is called “Bethesda” (means: “house, or place of mercy”…because sick people supposedly found healing there). It is by the “sheep gate” (cf. Neh. 3:1; 12:39). It is surrounded by “five porticoes”…these are covered areas, porches where the sick can lie comfortably as they wait.
For a picture of the site of the Pool of Bethesda see:
Verses 3-4 tell us that there was a popular belief that on occasion an angel would fly near the pool and touch the water with its wing…causing ripples on the surface. When this happened, the first person to get into the water would be healed. You can only imagine how the sick and infirm would sit, day after day, hour after hour, watching intently with the hope of seeing the water stir and being the first to dash into the pool so that he would be healed. For some, this was their only hope in life. As Jesus looks around, He sees a man who had been sick for 38 years…the insinuation being that for many of these years he had been coming to the pool in hopes of being healed. Obviously this is no minor sickness…he has been coming for all these many years, and his sickness is so debilitating that he cannot move quickly. Jesus asks him, “Do you wish to get well?” The man tells him that there is no one to help him get to the pool and others beat him to it. Wrong answer! Jesus did not ask him if he could make it to the pool. He asked him if he wanted to get well. So, instead of asking him another question, Jesus gives him a direct command. He tells him to stand up, pick up his pallet (a small bed), and walk on his own. All three directives are in the imperative mood…meaning that they are not questions, not requests, but commands. The man did so…and was instantly healed! You can spend the rest of your life waiting on everything to line up perfectly (the movement of the water, the people to help) before you act…or, you can be obedient to the command of Jesus. John is very deliberate in telling us that this miracle occurred on the Sabbath.
Later, when the Jewish leaders heard about what had happened, instead of giving God glory for healing this man, they reprimanded the man for carrying his pallet on the Sabbath. To them, this constituted the breaking of the fourth commandment, to keep the Sabbath holy, since he was carrying furniture (their interpretation of passages such as Nehemiah 13:19 and Jeremiah 17:21ff). But he tells them that Jesus told him to do so. At the time, he did not fully know who Jesus was. Later, Jesus approaches the man in the Temple and tells him to not sin anymore…so that nothing worse will happen to him. The man then told the Jews who Jesus was. The Jews criticize Jesus for working on the Sabbath. Jesus responds that if the Father chose to heal this man on the Sabbath…who were they to say that it shouldn’t be done? In making this statement, Jesus speaks of God as, “My Father”. The Jews recognized this statement as a claim by Jesus that He was equal with God (:18). Jesus tells them that He only does what the Father tells Him to do. In other words, He is telling them that their argument isn’t with Him, but with the Father. They would agree that it is God Who heals…and so His argument would proceed like this: “If the Father wasn’t healing people, then He wouldn’t be healing people. But the Father is the One Who is healing people, and He is only carrying out His work. So, they shouldn’t argue with Him. They should take their complaint to the source of the healing, the Father.” He then tells them that the Father is the source of the other things that He does that they complain about, as well. The Father has given Him authority to pass judgment, to give life, to raise the dead, and to receive honor. Jesus says that He does nothing on His own initiative, but only on the Father’s command. Because all of these things originate with the Father…when they argue and complain against Him, they are actually doing so against God. The opposite is also true. When they hear Jesus speak and believe…they are hearing the voice of God and believing in Him…the results being that they will have eternal life (they will not have to face the judgment of their sin).
Prayer: Father, the Jews were so committed to their doctrine and beliefs…that they failed to recognize Jesus even when He did miraculous things right in front of them. Please keep me from becoming so committed to what I want to be true that I fail to see the truth. Help my heart to be open to You and to what You are teaching me.