Saturday, September 6, 2014

Get Up and Walk (John 5:1-9)

“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 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. 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. Now that day was the Sabbath.” (John 5:1–9, ESV)

Having left Jerusalem at the end of John chapter 2, Jesus returned for an unspecified Jewish feast of which they had several. Going back to chapter 3 and verse 35 we read that it was four months until the harvest, and if we knew how long He was away or how long after the previous events of chapter 4 had occurred then we might know which feast of the Jews John was referring to. But we don’t. All we know is that sometime after the official’s son was healed Jesus returned to Jerusalem in order to observe one of the feasts of the Jews. Having arrived John sets the scene for us by describing a pool at one of Jerusalem’s many gates. This gate was known as the Sheep Gate, and it was located in the north-east section of the city. In Nehemiah 3:1 we read about this gate being built during the time that Nehemiah had led the people in the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem. By the time of Jesus there was a pool which was said to have healing properties if you were to enter it when the waters stirred. The name of the pool was “Bethesda” which is means “house of healing.”

Under the colonnades (likely covered walkways) there were a number of invalids who were there with a variety of afflictions as we have listed in our passage. One particular man was singled out by Jesus who had been unable to move himself for thirty-eight years. Jesus, knowing all things about men as we have already established, knew this man had been there for an exceedingly long period of time. Questioning him Jesus asked, “Do you want to be healed?” Well, of course he did! But this really wasn’t the full purpose of the question. This was another one of those questions which Jesus asked when the answer might seem quite obvious. After all, the pool was for healing and the man was at the pool. What else was he there for?

But this is not why Jesus asks questions. As we’ve already seen, He has a pattern of asking questions to lead the conversation to something eternally better. The man, looking to his own ability to enter the pool at the right time (when the water was stirred), answered Jesus that he indeed did want to be healed but that there was no one to help him, and when he did manage to get to the steps someone else would jump in front of him. Yes, he wanted to be healed, but in all of his years of waiting he was unable to find that long desired healing. Day after day the man must have waited for that moment, and night after night he remained in his helpless condition.

It was then that Jesus then did something which only the One who is sent by God with the power of God could do which is to command the man to stand and be healed. People had long placed their hopes in the healing powers of the water, but Jesus, who had earlier offered living water, told the man that all he had to do to be healed was to get up, grab his bed, and walk. As we read the man did not waste any time thinking about whether or not this could possibly be true or whether this person was trying to be cruel to him by telling him to do something everyone knew he could not do. No, our passage records that AT ONCE the man was healed and he took up his bed and walked.

As I reflected about this passage I thought about some I’ve met who’ve had to walk through portions of their lives with some great burden, hoping that an answer or some relief will be around the next corner. Yet, for many of them the condition continued for the remainder of their lives (or is continuing at present). Among them there have been a great number of these people who have been incredible testimonies of God’s strength and grace, not because of their immediate healing but because of the peace and joy they had as they endured the struggles with their faith firmly placed in Christ who will not fail. But there have also been those I’ve met who look at their struggles (and even the joys) in this life as all there is. For them they have to find their purpose in living in something else such as the good they might do, the love they might share, and the hope they might muster.

I remember years ago when Oregon was seeking to pass its Death with Dignity law, and someone very close to me said that if she had some debilitating condition that she would appreciate having the option to end her life as she did not think she could live like that. The law passed, but even with it in place the State’s statistics show that it has been very lightly used totaling to only a small fraction of a percent of the total deaths in Oregon indicating that there might be something more compelling that drives people to endure hardship in life. Like those others who endured, this particular person did wind up with a significant debilitating condition that led to many years of struggle. In her case there were a number of factors that made a difference. I can’t speak to all of them, but among them were the things that cause many to continue such as the love and support of her faithful husband and her family. But there was also the practical realization that she really could endure much more than she ever thought she could, and that she could even find joy in those struggles. Woven through all of these was her growing realization that God had her firmly in His hands and because of that there was hope. For her, this hope has been fully realized as she stepped out of her worn body and into His presence.

Jesus provided physical healing for the man at the pool of Bethesda. He provided full healing for this dear person above just as He has done and is continuing to do for so, so many others. He is the One that holds our lives in His hands and is fully able to heal whom He chooses, as He chooses, when He chooses. He is the One that gives the most important healing that any of us could ever experience. Apart from Christ we are all dead in our trespasses and sins according to the Bible. There is no hope for us to do anything about it. We cannot make ourselves alive from this death, and as a result we are eternally doomed in judgment for our rebellion. But in Christ all of this has changed. Jesus paid the price for our sins. He took our sins upon Himself when He gave His life on the cross. And with His resurrection He also gives eternal life to us. He proved that He had the power of life, and when we believe in Him and call upon Him for salvation we not only receive the forgiveness of sins but we receive the eternal healing that comes with being given eternal life. Sure these bodies will continue to be subject to disease and death, but the Bible also says when these bodies are packed away that we will receive a building not made with human hands eternal in the heavens.

I find it interesting that this pool of healing was at the Sheep Gate. As John the Baptist said, Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. What water could not do for the man, Jesus did by the power of His word. He is the Great Shepherd, and even now He sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. We have not been left on our own to endure the things of this life until that day in our own strength, but we have been given the Spirit of God to work in and through us to make us able to stand. We read in the Bible that God actually frames in all of these events and gives us the ability to endure them, coming out victoriously on the other side whether in this life or eternity.

I think of this man being told to get up and walk. He did this without much information. For those who have placed their trust in Jesus for salvation our walk is not so blind. We have been given so much by God to enable us to walk in His strength. Included in these blessings are the incredible truths of His Word from where we read verses such as these:

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4, ESV)

“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:6–9, ESV)

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,” (Colossians 2:6, ESV)

Footnote: Some manuscripts provide additional information concerning the pool at Bethesda. The New American Standard puts in brackets [indicating not in some early manuscripts], “In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]” (John 5:3–4, NASB95) In translations not including this additional text verse 4 is skipped, going from verse 3 to verse 5.

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