John 5:1-17 - The Healing at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath
(A modern-day model of what the Pool of Bethesda looked like in 1st century Israel)
This past week in our L3 journals, we read about Jesus' healing on the Sabbath at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5:1-17. In this post, we will look a little deeper into what happened that day at the pool, and why it is significant.
In the first century where we find Jesus encountering this man, the Pool of Bethesda was a place of healing. Located near the Temple mount, hundreds of "blind, lame, and paralyzed" (Jn 5:4) would lie in the colonnades and wait. What were they waiting for? The angel of the Lord. Every so often, the angel of the Lord would come down and stir the waters of the pool, and the first one in the water would be healed of his or her infirmity.
The man who we find laying at the pool in this story "had been an invalid for thirty-eight years" (Jn 5:5). He had probably been waiting for a long time, as Jesus knew that the man "had already been there for a long time" (Jn 5:6). My guess is that Jesus saw the man laying there the last time He was in Jerusalem, or even at Passover the year before. Remember that Jesus did not live in Jerusalem, but only came occasionally to minister there and to celebrate the Passover. It was probably during one of these prior trips that Jesus had seen this man laying at the pool. The man's problem was that he could not get himself into the water before anyone else when the angel of the Lord would stir the pool's water. He could not even move. He required the help of someone else, and that was something he didn't have.
The Great Physician
Enter Jesus. He knew the man's predicament, but asked anyway, "Do you want to be healed?" The man told Jesus about his situation, and Jesus bypassed the pool altogether: "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." Can you imagine the surprise of the crippled man? What kind of questions ran through his mind when Jesus said this to him? Based on the verses that followed, he had no idea who Jesus was. Therefore, the crippled man had no reason to believe that Jesus had any power to heal. He had not been able to move himself for thirty-eight years, yet now he was supposed to just get up and walk? That is exactly what happened; the man was healed immediately, stood up, picked up his bed, and walked away (Jn 5:9), still clueless about the real identity of the one who healed him.
Is There A Problem?
The Jews (mainly the Jewish leaders) had a problem with Jesus doing this, because it happened on the Sabbath. You see the Jews took the written words of the Torah (law) very seriously (notice I did not say they took the spirit of the law...). When Exodus 20:8-10 says,
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.
they took that to the extreme, and continually updated the list of what was considered "work" and what was not. For instance, the Mishah (a collection of first century rabbinic teachings) has a list for this purpose. Here's a list of some of the things that qualify as "work" (for expanded explanations, see here):
- Beating/Combing Wool
- Making two loops
- Separating two threads
- Measured cutting
- Extinguishing a fire
- Igniting a fire
- Applying a finishing touch
- Transferring between domains
As you can see from this list, the rules were exhaustive regarding what was permissible and impermissible on the Sabbath. The Jewish leaders who were getting angry with Jesus were merely trying to uphold the rules of their religion, the Torah. What they failed to see, however, was the reason for the rules and for the Sabbath. As Jesus said in Mark 2:27, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." The law was given by God for the benefit of humanity, to help us live the best life possible on this earth by loving God and loving others. The law was meant to show mankind what that looked like. The Sabbath was created so that we would rest and trust God. Even God rested, and He created us with a need to rest. If someone doesn't sleep for days, he will go crazy, because we need to sleep and rest. When we rest on the Sabbath, and cease from our work (using common sense when considering what is work, and not going to the excess of the Mishnah), we are essentially expressing our trust in God's sovereignty. We are trusting that God will continue to provide for our needs, even though we aren't working for it. We are trusting that He is good and gracious, and that He is true to His promises.
When Jesus spoke and healed the man, He was in complete keeping with the purpose and spirit of the law (Rom 2:29). He was fulfilling God's purposes. The Jewish leaders could not see God's heart behind the law, and could only see the written rule, and tried to reduce the law to a checklist which they could control and understand. The spirit of the law requires much more of ourselves than merely completing a checklist of do's and don't's. It requires our love. Paul said it this way, "the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal 5:14).
The Bottom Line
Fulfilling God's calling and will in our life may mean doing something we don't understand fully. It may involve doing something that makes us look foolish to others. It may draw insults and derision from friends or family. So, what is the point? What is the goal here? To give all glory and honor to God, and to share His gospel of salvation with the people we encounter in this world (1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:17). Whatever it takes to give glory and honor to God, whatever it takes to share His gospel of salvation with others, that is what we are to do. That is what Jesus did in this situation. Jesus healed the crippled man to give glory to God the Father and to proclaim the gospel of salvation to him.
Let us follow in Jesus' footsteps, and let us lay aside our pride and our reputation to glorify God and to proclaim His gospel to the people we encounter.
In the Son,
FBC Worship & Arts Pastor