What Happened at Bethesda?
© 2021 C. O. Bishop
John 5:1-18 compare John 9:34-38
Last week, we talked about the situation (John 4:46-53) in Cana, where a man’s son was healed from 16 miles away, and another in Mark 5:21-43 where a woman was healed by touching Jesus’ garment, and a child was raised from the dead. We were able to see that the healings happened by the will of Jesus, and often in company of the faith of the sick person…but not always. (The little girl’s faith was never in question: Jesus told her father to believe, but only commanded her to “get up.”)
So, in the next chapter, there is a strange situation: Jesus went to the pool at Bethesda, where it says that there was a “great multitude” of people seeking healing.
In the situation in Mark chapter five, we decided that the reason only the one woman was healed was that she alone had come there for healing, in faith that touching the hem of Jesus’s robe would provide her with healing. We observed that none of the others were there for that purpose, except the man to whose house Jesus was going, in order to heal his daughter. OK…that seems evident, because Jesus confirmed that “thy faith hath made thee whole!” But at Bethesda, there were many present: and evidently every single one was there because they believed that if they could get into the water FIRST after the angel disturbed the waters, then they would be healed. So what actually happened?
What actually happened at Bethesda?
1After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. 5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? 7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. 8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
So, the first and most obvious question would be “Why heal just the one guy? They were all there in faith, right? And Jesus never even confronted that particular man about faith: just whether he wanted to be healed.”
And my next question would be, “Why that particular guy?”
So, let’s look at the facts, as laid out in the scripture, and try to discern what happened:
- There was a pool called Bethesda, meaning “House of Mercy.”
- At certain times an angel went down and disturbed the water in that pool,
- People try to make this just a “fable,” or a “superstition,” attempting to explain by natural means what happened at Bethesda. The scripture does not allow for that possibility: It flatly declares that an angel did disturb the water, and that whoever jumped in first after that disturbance, was healed. We do not have the option to say that it was just a subterranean spring that occasionally “burped” and disturbed the water. We do not have the option to say that “the healings were psychosomatic.” God says they were real, and that it was an angelic action, not geological. He also says that whatever disease they had, the healing was available. To deny any of this is to deny God’s Word. Further, if it had not been observably true, then there would not have been a crowd there, knowing that only one would be healed each time. (Sad, really.)
- There was a great multitude gathered there… a crowd of people, all believing that, if they could just be the first one into the water, they could be healed.
- Jesus asked one man, who had been there a long time, “Do you want to be healed?”
- That seems a rhetorical question: he wouldn’t be there if that was not his desire: But Jesus did ask. However, there was no question regarding faith. Nor did God mention anything about his faith or lack of it. Jesus just questioned his desire, and the man responded as to why he was not getting healed. (He could never get there first, because he couldn’t walk, and had no one to put him into the water.)
- Jesus commanded the man to “ Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” And the man didn’t question it: he just obeyed! (Odd thing, here: there was no “walking and leaping and praising God,” in this account. There is not even a mention of gratitude, or joy.)
- Finally, It was the Sabbath. (This may actually be the key fact in the whole account.)
What was the Result?
10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.
It was completely predictable that the other Jews (especially the scribes, pharisees, priests, etc.) would accuse the man of breaking the sabbath: even the common man was aware of this law. They seemed especially good at accusations of this kind. And rather than saying, “Yes, I know! I was just healed after 38 years of paralysis! I will go to the priest and bring a sacrifice!” he shifted the blame to Jesus, saying, “The one who healed me told me to carry my bed!”
So, they wanted to know who told him to carry his bed, not, apparently, who healed him. But, as it happened, he couldn’t tell them because he himself had never focused on Jesus even enough to recognize him, let alone get his name so he could thank him properly. He just plain didn’t know! And that didn’t seem to bother him very much, until found that he couldn’t point him out to the accusers. What an odd response to having been granted instant relief after 38 years of disease! I am grateful to get well after being sick for even a few days!
The “Second Chance” Meeting
14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. 15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
The man had a “second chance to get to know Jesus,” there in the temple: Jesus found him again, (notice that it is God who seeks us, not the other way around: see Romans 3:11) and He told him, in essence, “you need to get your priorities straight, so something worse doesn’t happen to you!” (Was Jesus threatening the man? No: the man evidently did not have a saving faith at all, and Jesus was simply warning him of the coming Judgment.) Bear in mind: There was another (later) healing where the healed individual also did not know who Jesus was, but it was because he had been blind from birth, and had never seen anyone, let alone Jesus. And when Jesus found him, and identified Himself, that man fell at the feet of Jesus, and worshipped Him! (John 9:38)
So, what did this man do with that warning? He departed! He left Jesus, and found Jesus’s enemies, and pointed out Jesus to them! (Real gratitude, there!) Now, nothing more is said about this man. I can’t tell you what ended up happening to him. Did he later repent and become a believer? We are not told, and I will not speculate: But his responses seem to be those of an enemy, not a grateful recipient of a blessing. Keep that in mind.
How did the Jews Respond?
16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
Their response was not, “seek to question Him as to His authority, and investigate whether He was, in fact, the Messiah:” Nope! Their first response was to try to kill Him! And they were persistent about it, too. This response occurs repeatedly during Jesus’s earthly ministry.
Notice, also, that the priorities of the Jews did not include finding the One who could heal them of all diseases, but rather seeking to kill Him, because he healed on the sabbath day. (How strange!) It specifically says they initially sought to kill Him because he had healed on the sabbath. This actually comes up over and over, in the Gospel accounts, and this particular incident just seems to be the “opening round.”
How did Jesus Respond?
17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
Jesus simply stated the source of His authority: “My Father!” We are going to see this challenge made to them over and over, as well. All the religions of the World run head-on into this barrier: The Deity of Christ! And what is their response?
18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
Even more vehemently, they now desired to kill Jesus because He claimed to be deity! Consider: We might simply have thought that Jesus was “claiming God as His Heavenly Father,” as anyone might say today. But they understood that the issue went much deeper: Jesus was not claiming to be “A” child of God. He was claiming to be “THE” Son of God. And they knew it! They also knew that if it were true, then He was quite literally equal with God, as the Heir!
Isn’t it interesting, that in the various parables where Jesus talked about a King, or a landowner, sending emissaries to receive the tribute due Him as the owner of the land, the people beat those emissaries, stoned them, and killed them. But when He sent His Son, they said, “This is the heir! Let’s kill Him, and then WE will own the land!” (What?? How do you figure that? All that would do is make you all guilty of a capital crime, as murderers!)
But that was their response! And the parables were referring to these very people whose forefathers had killed the prophets God sent, and who now sought to kill Jesus, the author of life and healing, as well as the ultimate authority in the Universe!
Now: do I understand the Trinity? Nope! I freely admit that I do not! Isaiah 9:6, 7 tells me that “the Son … shall be called…the Everlasting Father!” And yet, Jesus said “My Father is greater than I!” I cannot make those two statements agree, by human reasoning: I would have to alter the truth to make them somehow “fit.” From Human perspective, it seems paradoxical, at best. But both statements are clearly taught in the scripture, and both are equally true. I am not required to understand them, nor to explain them: but I am required to faithfully teach them. And, I do not have the authority to change the truth of God, to make it more palatable to human reasoning. God says it, and it is true. Deal with it! (And, next week, we are going to see just how far the Authority of Jesus reaches.)
I happen to believe that Jesus “handpicked” that man at Bethesda, knowing how he would respond. The Jews were only beginning to see what they were up against: The conflict began right here in John 5! (But then…)
How Should We Respond?
I doubt there is any chance that any of us will respond to Jesus in the way the man at the pool of Bethesda did, or at least not to the extent that he did. And I think there is even less chance that any of us will respond with the animosity that Jesus’s enemies displayed.
But I do think that we should take a lesson from the sharp contrast between the response of the man whose sight Jesus granted, and the one who had been unable to walk for 38 years. The one wanted to know who Jesus was, and immediately gave Him worship, let alone ordinary gratitude! He saw Him as God in the Flesh! The other showed zero gratitude, and only wanted to know who Jesus was so that he could shift any blame for his having broken the sabbath onto Jesus. What a contrast!
Now, it seems to me, that as God’s born-again children, those already redeemed from among the dead, and guaranteed Eternal Life, through the promise of God, our response ought to consistently be more like the man who received his sight.
I know that I tend to take for granted the blessings of God, and to not fully contemplate His supply, let alone the enormity of His saving Grace at the Cross. I want to respond in genuine gratitude, not with a casual, “Oh, that’s cool!” and then immediately forget what was done for us. But today is especially not a good time for any of us to take a casual attitude toward God: For one thing, we are in a time of social upheaval; of serious health threats, as well as the political turmoil of our times.
But, even more importantly, as we approach Christmas, it seems especially important that we not forget what that tiny child in Bethlehem came to do! He didn’t just come to be a cute, precious baby. He didn’t come to just live a perfect life, nor just to be a perfect example for us, nor even the powerful teacher and prophet that the Jews were struggling to deal with: He came to die!
This was God the Son; Immanuel…”God with us;” the “Word made Flesh:” The Lamb of God, chosen before the foundation of the Earth for ONE eternal purpose: to be the substitutionary sacrifice for the entire Human race.He cameto satisfy forever the Holiness and Righteousness of God, by His blood at the Cross.
That is why we refuse to replace Jesus Christ with any of the World’s ideas about Christmas. But in the midst of that mental and spiritual conflict, we also need to “pull back” from the struggle and give our heartfelt thanksgiving and worship to the Christ who came to give His life for us. Are we thankful for healing, when it happens? Absolutely! Are we thankful for His abundant supply? Surely, we are! But apart from everything else, even when things are hard, we need to be thankful for Who He IS, as our God and Savior!
You see, even if the man at Bethesda was grateful to some degree (and it doesn’t appear that he was,) his desire to clear himself before other humans evidently superseded whatever gratitude he may have felt.
The other man, who had been born blind, went far beyond simple gratitude, and recognized Jesus as the Creator God. How do I come to that conclusion? He was a Jew: he knew the very first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve!” So, for him to offer worship, he had to be sure that Jesus was that one God! How did he know? It must have been by revelation: Jesus only called Himself the “Son of God” in that passage, but that man clearly made the correct connection: he had already seen the proof, and now he knew the source!
We know the source, and we are constantly seeing the proof! I hope we will learn to consistently respond in gratitude, worship and praise!
Lord Jesus, lift our eyes out of the pit of this world, above the dirt and struggle and bickering strife that we see daily in this life. Lift up our eyes to see You: heal our diseased spirits, the eyes of our hearts, and raise us to a clean worship and thanksgiving before Your throne. Fill us with Your Joy and Peace. Amen!