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 [[waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.]] 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. (John 5:2-9)
Please note, the second half of verse 3 and all of verse 4 are disputed texts and are therefore bracketed.
The fifth chapter of John’s account of the gospel contains the story of an invalid at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. This pool has five covered walkways, or porticoes, leading to it. These walkways are filled with what John says is “a multitude of invalids”. The Greek word for invalid just means very sick people. John describes the scene further by saying that there were some who were lame and paralyzed. He also mentions that there were some who are blind, (Gk. tuphlon). This word can mean either a physical blindness or a spiritual blindness (Jesus uses this term in referring to the Pharisees as blind guides in Luke 6:39). All of these people would have been viewed as “unclean” in view of the Law…sinners, accursed by God.
Before we move on, there’s some back story on the pool to which John refers. Some translations include verse 4 of John 5 while some don’t. It gets down to which ancient manuscripts are more reliable, but that’s not the focus of our discussion. The story goes that at times an angel comes down and stirs the waters in the pool. After this happens, the first person to get into the water is healed of any infirmity that he has. There’s not really a question whether this was the belief of the time, just whether this was in John’s gospel or if it was added later. John then turns his focus on a man who had been invalid for thirty-eight years. Jesus knew that this man was sick and He knew how long he had been sick. This is where the story gets odd.
Jesus walks up to a man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight years and asks him what seems like a preposterous question: “Do you want to be healed?” This man was probably thinking, “Really, Jesus? Did You have to ask that question? I’m crippled. Of course I want to be healed.” So, why did Jesus ask this question? Why would the Lord of all creation ask a question that seems to have an obvious answer? I think the answer to that lies in the man’s response.
This man who had been sick for so long doesn’t answer Jesus’ question. He doesn’t say, “Yes, Master, I would be healed.” He doesn’t ask Jesus if He knows how the man can be healed. The man responds to Jesus in John 5:7,
“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.”
Translation? “Jesus, I’ve been trying to! I’ve been trying to get healed my entire life!” This man, who has no power within himself to get to a place where he can be healed, has been laboring for thirty-eight years to be healed. Thirty eight years and Jesus does it in an instant (John 5:8-9).
Jesus asked the sick man if he wanted to be healed because He knew that this man had been trying to be healed by his own effort for so long. He had been struggling and working his whole life to do something that he obviously can’t do. In so many ways, we are not unlike this man. We are trying to make ourselves clean by our own efforts. We’re trying to heal ourselves by our own power but we have no hope of ever actually accomplishing that goal. Paul says in Ephesians that we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). We struggle to clean ourselves up before we come to Christ, but that’s not how it works. In ourselves, we can never be clean enough to stand before a holy, perfect, sovereign, majestic God. Even our righteous acts are filthy to Him (Ezek 36:17, Isa 64:6). So how could we ever be clean enough to stand before God?
Jesus tells this man to get up and walk (John 5:8) but He doesn’t address the man’s sin until later (John 5:14). Jesus doesn’t look at this guy and say, “Sin no more, then maybe I’ll heal you.” Jesus heals this man – He saves him – then He addresses the behavior. Jesus says, “I will heal you… and then I’ll work on the filth that you’ve covered yourself in.”
We don’t get clean then come to Jesus. We come to Jesus and He cleanses us. Like a loving spouse, He washes us clean with His word (Eph 5:25-26). And this doesn’t change after the cross. When we sin, we don’t rely on our own “righteousness” to clean ourselves up then come back; we come to Christ repenting of our wickedness and begging forgiveness, falling upon the grace that given at the cross.
So if your sin is owning you…if you’re caught up in some situation you never dreamed you’d find yourself in…don’t waste the time trying to make yourself acceptable to God. Just repent and come back…quickly. Come be made whole. Because of Jesus’ righteousness that covers our filth, our loving Father welcomes the prodigal home with open arms and much celebration. Praise God for His mercy and grace!