1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3Here a great number of disabled people used to lie - the blind, the lame, the paralysed. 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When 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.”
8Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
12So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
13The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted Him. 17Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” 18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him; not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
In the miracle we are looking at today, Jesus walked through a crowd of disabled people gathered around an open-air pool. The pool at Bethesda is still there today, and it was supplied by an underground spring, which occasionally would cause bubbles to rise to the surface. The superstitious belief of the day was that an angel was stirring up the water, and they believed that the first person to get into the pool after this happened would be healed.
On this particular day, Jesus initiated a conversation with the crippled man, so here we see a complete role-reversal from the norm when Jesus healed people. They usually went to Him for healing, and they would begin the conversation. In this case, Jesus selected one from the many in need and initiated the conversation. It is also striking that Jesus walked through the crowd of the people unrecognised. While most would have heard of Him by now, there was nothing out of the ordinary about His appearance. We often see pictures of Jesus in a white robe, looking something like an after picture from a washing powder commercial, sticking out like a sore thumb in contrast to the rest of the crowd, but this is simply not true. In His humanity He looked like anyone else.
The man had been bedridden for 38 years, and he was without hope of being cured. He had no idea who Jesus was. Even after his healing, when questioned by the religious leaders, the text says, “the man who was healed had no idea who it was.”
There is no question about one thing: faith was not a condition of this healing.
The Jewish leaders were scandalised that the man, after being healed, was carrying his bed. He was breaking their precious Sabbath, and they were even more furious when they learned that the miracle had not only been performed by Jesus, but also on the Sabbath.
John sets the scene by describing a “great number” of disabled people. It must have been a really depressing scene. Nowadays we are far more aware and caring of the disabled, but in those times, the crippled and lame were regarded as a burden on society. They were a nuisance and were seen as incurable. They received little or no care and help, so their only hope was for a miracle. You can’t blame them for their strange superstition in thinking an angel stirred the water, and it must have been even more depressing and pitiful seeing these people desperately trying to drag themselves into the water, only to be disillusioned time and time again.
John then draws our attention to one man in the crowd: a man who had been an invalid for nearly four decades, as Jesus entered and walked through the crowd. He stopped before this particular man and asked him a question, and his answer tells us a lot about him. He had lost all hope, and couldn’t even bring himself to answer yes, as you’d probably expect.
He’d given up all hope by now. After 38 years, he had lost not only the ability to move but also all hope. Without further comment, Jesus told the man to get up, pick up his bed, and walk. The man must have felt the strength flow back into his limbs, because we’re told that he got up immediately.
He was spotted by the religious teachers, who told him he was breaking the Sabbath law. When the man told them what had happened, they demanded to know who had instructed him to violate the Sabbath. The man replied that he didn’t know who he was, but you have to wonder if they already knew just who had healed him. Jesus was well-known to them by now, and they were determined to get rid of this man who they regarded as nothing more than a trouble-maker.
Later on, Jesus found the man He had healed. He identified himself and warned him to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
The man then went to the religious leaders and reported that it was Jesus who had made him well.
Sometime later the incident led to an open confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders, which John records in the rest of chapter 5. John often does this – the miracle of Jesus is followed by a message. In this particular case, Jesus taught that His miracles demonstrated His intimate relationship with God the Father, and that He was to be honoured as God. If the religious leaders truly believed the Old Testament, they would acknowledge Jesus, because the Scriptures testified to Him. In verses 39 and 40 Jesus says to them, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Those are the basic facts of this miracle, but as usual, there is much for us to learn in the details.
The characteristics of the paralysed man are significant. He had been an invalid for a long time, and he didn’t expect to recover. He didn’t recognise Jesus or even know who He was. He was a man without faith. Even after being healed, he didn’t know Jesus. But later, when Jesus found him the second time, his eyes were opened as to just who this was who healed him.
This gives us a glimpse into God’s grace shown to sinners throughout human history. Are His miracles reserved only for the believer who knows the Lord and exercises faith in Him? Clearly not, because Jesus showed and extended His grace here to a man who neither knew nor believed in Him. God is sovereign, and He is free in His sovereignty to show grace to anyone whom He chooses.
If you think about it, how often does He show grace to people who either don’t, or refuse to recognise Him? They may say it’s just sheer good luck, providence, the stars were aligned, or whatever, but the reality is that nothing happens without God’s provision. Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”
“Do you want to get well?” What a strange, yet penetrating question. But it is a question which goes far beyond this man’s physical situation. The question Jesus asks Him is really one of His many timeless questions which echoes throughout the ages. It is one He asks of us.
“Do you want to get well” is a valid question indeed.
How many today don’t really want to be healed? The tragic answer is that there are people all over the world who don’t want to be healed, because they see no need for healing. The very first step in seeking salvation through Christ is recognising our greatest need: Forgiveness of sin.
The man in John 5 gave Jesus an interesting answer. What he did was to avoid the question. Instead of replying yes or no, he laid the blame for his condition on others. Now, I’m not saying that his disability was his fault, but if we try to see his answer from a spiritual perspective, how typical is his answer of human nature? When we are confronted by the Truth of God, how easily do we make excuses, blaming others or our circumstances for the position we’re in?
Instead of acknowledging that our sin has offended God, we try to justify our sin. One of our favourite ploys is to compare ourselves to others. “I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not as bad as…”
Instead, Jesus asks us, “Do you want to get well?”
The man didn’t answer Jesus’ question. He made an excuse, explaining why he couldn’t be made well. But Jesus didn’t wait for his answer. He said to him “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
Perhaps the question, “Do you want to get well?” helps us to face our own hesitancy to acknowledge how our sin has crippled us. You might be thinking that you are beyond cure and have lost all hope of healing.
You’ve been a spiritual invalid for 38 or more years, and you have no more hope.
Jesus’ answer to you is, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
He reminds us that we are to acknowledge our need for healing, and that by His grace He will and does heal.
And then we come to the reaction of the religious elite – the Pharisees. When the man was told he was breaking the Sabbath laws, they didn’t give a single thought to the joy he must have been experiencing after being so miraculously healed. They couldn’t care less about how this man’s life had been so wonderfully transformed. They didn’t rejoice with him or seem to care. All they could see was firstly, someone violating their precious man-made religious law, and more importantly, they wanted to find the person who had violated their rules on the Sabbath by healing so they could confront Him and sort Him out.
Someone once said that when in the name of religion, we lose our capacity to care about others, there is something wrong with our religion.
Verse 13 tells us that initially the man had no idea who had healed him. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” The healing of this man was an act of sovereign grace. There was no appeal to Jesus for healing. He didn’t even say “yes please” when asked directly. He exercised no faith – in fact he didn’t even know who Jesus was. And yet, in His sovereign grace and mercy, God reached into his life and healed him.
And that is not the end of the story. One would think that this man would have been frantically trying to find out just who this stranger was that healed him and disappeared into the crowd, but the text doesn’t say anything about that. Verse 14 actually tells us that Jesus found him.
Again, Jesus sought him out.
It is significant that Jesus found the man in the temple. Now, there are two possibilities here. It is quite possible (and one would hope) that he may have gone there to thank God for his healing. The other possibility is that the Pharisees may have dragged him off to the temple to interrogate him about who had broken their laws.
Either way, Jesus found him.
And then He warned him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
Some interpreters say this suggests that when Jesus healed the man’s body, He also forgave his sins. Others emphasise the connection between sickness and sin in the Bible.
But it is more likely that when Jesus warned that something worse may happen, He was speaking of the spiritual consequences of sin. In other words, nearly forty years of being physically paralysed will pale into insignificance in comparison with what being spiritually crippled will bring about for all of eternity.
In a way it’s a pity that the story of this man’s healing and the subsequent teaching by Jesus throughout the rest of the chapter should focus on the Pharisees and their refusal to recognise Jesus for just who He is, but it should not surprise us.
Every day in countless ways we receive God’s grace in ways we don’t even recognise. Every lungful of air you breathe, every single beat of your heart – all of these things are blessings from God, but the vast majority of people refuse to acknowledge Him. As Paul writes in Romans 1:18-23, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”
The Pharisees – those who should have known better – all they were concerned about was that the man and Jesus had broken their warped understanding of the Sabbath laws.
This wasn’t the only time this happened. The Gospels record seven healings by Jesus on the Sabbath, and each time it led to a confrontation with the authorities.
Verse 17 begins by saying that Jesus answered them. He was not afraid to confront and teach those who were mistaken.
The incident in John 5 gave Jesus an opportunity to confront the assumptions of the religious elite and to state His claims openly.
Verses 17 and 18 say, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him; not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”
They knew exactly what Jesus was claiming about Himself. They weren’t rejecting Jesus out of some misunderstanding of who He claimed to be. They understood His claims perfectly well. They rejected Him because of these claims.
Jesus goes on to say, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to judge because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:24-27) The dead that Jesus is speaking about who will live are the spiritually dead – those who respond “yes” to the question, “Do you want to get well?”
This particular miracle displayed the power of God to act in sovereign grace on behalf of anyone whom He chooses. Contrary to some false teachings out there, miracles don’t depend on our faith. How many believers have had their faith in Jesus shipwrecked because they have prayed for some kind of healing which has not come about? And how many heretical “preachers” have laid the blame firmly at the feet of those who have not been healed because of their lack of faith?
This miracle confronts that kind of false teaching head-on.
God is free to work with or without our cooperation, and in His sovereignty, He will bring physical healing to whom He wishes.
The miracle also showed that God is willing to touch the lives of those who don’t even know Him.
And of course, the miracle Jesus performed on the Sabbath supported His claim to be One with the Father. He acted as sovereign Lord, choosing to show grace to whomever He wished. He acted on the Sabbath, demonstrating His Lordship over that holy day. And the nature of His miracle - restoring a hopeless and helpless cripple - suggests what God’s power can do if we heed the call of the Gospel to get up and walk with Him throughout this life and into eternity.
The big question remains. “Do you want to get well?”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read John 5:1-18
What do you think is significant about the fact that Jesus approached this man, rather than the other way around, as we usually see with Jesus’ miracles of healing?
What are the spiritual implications of Jesus’ approach to the man?
At first glance the question Jesus asks seems strange and even silly.
Discuss the man’s answer.
What does his answer say about the spiritual condition of the sinner?
What do you think Jesus meant by his comment in verse 14?
A feature of this miracle was the fact that Jesus not only healed a man who neither knew Him nor asked for healing, but He only healed one man among a crowd of people who were desperate for physical healing.
What does this teach us about the sovereignty of God?
Discuss in your group a time when you have prayed in faith, but the answer was a firm “no.”
How did this affect your walk with Him?