Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 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 making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.” –John 5:1-15
He cannot walk. There are no wheelchairs. The concept of universal design wasn’t even a forethought at this time. There is only the mercy of others. Perhaps, each morning, family members carry him to the pool and pick him up at night. Each day, while sitting beside the pool begging for coin, pleading for nourishment, and sharing stories with those beside him; he one day hopes to win the angelic healing lottery.
The name Bethesda means “House of Mercy.” The pool itself was fed by nearby spring; an intermittent spring. It was believed that angels were the ones who were troubling the water, and once the water was stirred the first person to enter would be healed. So here a great crowd of people – paralyzed, lame, blind, and sick – were waiting for the water to be troubled. Jesus enters the story. Out of that crowd Jesus picks one man. He doesn’t allow the pool to be emptied, healing everybody. He did not invite them all to come down so that he might lay hands on them; nothing of that sort. He went only to one man.
“The value of a story like this, and the reason it is in the gospels, is not only to reveal to us who Jesus was — truth about the Lord himself — but also to show us how God proposes to deal with human helplessness and weakness. Undoubtedly it was the helplessness of this man that drew Jesus to him.” – Stedman
The grace of the gospel is found in the compassion Jesus displays for his creation. It is found in the constant pursuit he has for our hearts. John goes on to say what Jesus did next:
“When 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?”
What a remarkable, yet strange question and invitation from Jesus to a man that had been sick for 38 years! “Do you want to become well?” Ordinarily, Jesus healed in response to faith, however, in this moment Jesus extends his hand of compassion. This man was left with a choice to make. One that would demand worldly sacrifice, turning his dependency to something much greater than himself. A beggar of that day could lose a sometimes profitable (and easy) income if he were cured. However, Jesus’ invitation was not only to provide physical healing, but in his mind he was offering something much greater; something eternal. The eternal consequences of sin were more serious than any physical ailment (v. 14). Jesus was presenting an opportunity for complete freedom from the bonds of sin. Not recognizing Jesus as a potential healer, the man responds:
“Sir, 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.”
In other words, “Yes, I want to be healed, but I cannot. I’ve tried, I have done everything I know how. I want to get in that water; I want to be well, but I lack the ability. I have no one to help me. I have given up. I have no hope.”
Within this story I find my story. I identify with the invalid man; hopeless, broken, lost, and afraid. There are times where I have tried and done everything I know how in my own power to be well and free from my burdens. I have given up hope. Jesus enters the story. He comes to me and takes compassion on me. In his grace, he reminds me of the sacrifice he has already made for me. Through the work of Jesus, though I am unworthy, I am declared his beloved. Though I am broken, I am declared holy. Though I am lost, I am declared found; a child of God.
So let us leave with a question that Jesus is asking each one of us: “In some area of your life, do you want to be healed? Do you wish to leave your shame and guilt behind, and take on the joy and responsibility of a relationship with someone who will heal you from your brokenness?”
May our response be, “Yes Lord, I want to be healed?” And just as the invalid man did, let us “get up, take up our mats, and walk.”