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12 February 2012

Jesus Heals a Guy Like Us

In 1888 there was an archaeological dig that was the result of repairs that had begun on St. Anne’s Church building. A 4th-century building was found first, with paintings on the walls depicting an angel stirring the water of a pool. Below that building the site of a pool was unearthed.

In 1888 excavations near St. Anne's Church… revealed the remains of an ancient church building. Beneath this lay a crypt, with its north wall divided into five compartments in imitation of arches; on this wall there could also be distinguished traces of an old fresco representing the angel troubling the water. Clearly those who built this structure believed that it marked the site of the pool of Bethesda. And subsequent excavations below the crypt showed that they were right; a flight of steps was uncovered leading down to a pool with five shallow porticoes on its north side, directly underneath the five imitation arches on the north wall of the crypt. There are few sites in Jerusalem, mentioned in the Gospels, which can be identified so confidently.
(from "The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?" by
 F. F. Bruce, emphasis mine)


This pool is the setting of the action that occurs in John 5:1-17, which our house church group is planning to read and study today. This post covers the first bit of what we'll be looking at.

Verses 1 through 17 give the account of Jesus arriving at the Pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath day. He healed a man who'd been an invalid for 38 years, telling the man to pick up his mat and walk. That was a no-no; carrying a mat from one place to another on the Sabbath was a violation of oral tradition which was eventually written down in a document called the Mishnah. There were 39 kinds of labor prohibited on the Sabbath according to the Mishnah.

You need to read the whole story before going on. In case you didn't click on it two paragraphs ago, here's another link to it.

Most modern translations of the Bible don't contain John 5:4 because it’s not found in the oldest Greek manuscripts. The text that's missing is part of verse 3 and all of verse 4: “Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches waiting for a certain movement of the water, for an angel of the Lord came from time to time and stirred up the water. And the first person to step in after the water was stirred was healed of whatever disease he had.” (NLT)

Whatever the case, people seem to have been healed at the pool. It may have happened once a year, at the time of this Jewish festival (which is not named in this chapter but was probably Passover). The man may have been sitting in the little porch for 38 years. Or he may have been taken there this time every year (which is unlikely, because we read that he had no one to help get him into the pool). He was very used to waiting, and very used to failure.

We’re not told why Jesus picked this man out of everyone sitting there, but the way the story unfolds, it’s clear that Jesus chose to heal only him, not any of the countless others hanging around. And there seems to have been nothing remarkable about the guy; certainly he wasn't like the government official whose son had been healed by Jesus in the previous chapter. The man at the pool was at the bottom of the societal ladder. On top of that, he apparently didn’t even know who Jesus was, as evidenced by his response to the religious leaders after he was healed.

Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” and instead of saying, “Yes!” the man described what had become the story of his life. “I can’t.” Then he explained why he couldn’t be healed: “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don't have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.”

This is like us in at least a couple of ways:
  1. Most of the time we have a pre-determined idea of how God will meet our need or answer our prayer. And we think it’s very sensible – and the only possible way God could respond. And frankly, we may be used to Him not answering in the way we’ve decided He should. We put God in our box, just like this man put God in his box. We have faith in God, but it’s very limited by what we expect to see. When we limit God like that, it serves to diminish our respect for Him and our faith in Him. What we’re left with is a faith that is there, but is weak and powerless. Or...

  2. We have repeatedly done our best to get rid of some sin or bad behavior in our lives, but in spite of our best efforts, we know that tomorrow we’re doomed to fail again, just like we have every single time. And we complain, or we despair. “I’ve tried, but God hasn’t done anything.” This has the same result: it limits God in our minds and diminishes our belief and our faith in Him. We wind up with faith that is still there, but again, it's weak and powerless.
Jesus’ response to the man was, “Get up, pick up your cot, and walk away.” At first glance, Jesus’ healing of the invalid didn’t seem to depend on the man’s belief or faith, but we should remember that the man had strong enough faith to remain by the pool, knowing that God could heal him. He was beaten down by circumstance, he’d grown to think God wouldn’t heal him, and “knew” that there was only one possible way God could do it. But his faith remained. This, too, is also like many of us.

I believe Jesus wanted to use this man, on this day, in this setting, to bring attention and honor fame to Himself. That’s his prerogative – He is God and if He chooses to work this way, He may. That may be why He chose this man whose faith was so weak; so His strength could be seen in spite of a man’s weakness.

Our focus should be to keep our eyes peeled for Jesus in the midst of all the clutter around us, not to keep our attention on the problem, or on the way that we think God should resolve it, but to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on Whom our faith depends from beginning to end,” even if we have to wait 38 years.

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