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. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.
Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
Common grace by the pool
Jesus had been ministering throughout Palestine and made his way to Jerusalem. He was there because his Heavenly Father had ordained times of public worship, and Jesus made these festivals of grace his priority.
While in the Holy City, on the Sabbath, Jesus made his way to the Sheep Gate Pool. It was on the north-east corner of the city, and it was the traditional entry point for shepherds and their flock. There, the dirty animals would be washed before being paraded to the Temple for sacrifice. Interestingly, this was not the day nor the place one would find a ritually pure Jewish leader. No, at the Sheep Gate Pool, one would normally find dirty sheep, dirty shepherds, disabled beggars, and sabbath-breakers. However on this particular day, on this particular sabbath, one would also find the Good Shepherd. Jesus was at the pool!
While there, Jesus witnessed human tragedy. About the pool and its colonnades was a great number of severely disabled, hurting, isolated, and hopeless individuals.
Why were they gathered there? It could have been the weather. It could have been the water. It could have been the community. It was most likely the miraculous healings that took place when the water was stirred.*
Jesus’ heart and eyes focused on one particular man. Somehow, Jesus knew he had been there for a long time — 38 years. It was then that Jesus asked him an odd query, “Do you want to be healed?” But Jesus was not so much asking a question as he was giving an invitation.
The disabled man answered in effect …
“Oh sir, how I long to be physically healed. However, I cannot perform and cooperate with God. I have not a proper friend, and I can’t get to the magic water quick enough.”I have not a friend who will serve and save me. I have not the ability to perform and get to the stirred water in time. I am too weak, too slow, too late, and too alone.”
The lame man did not take the initiative. It is not stated that he participated at all. His faith is not mentioned, and it may have been non-existent. He knew not the God-man with whom he was speaking.
However, at this point, despite his faithless dullness, Jesus showed him common grace. Jesus proved to be his best friend who performed. Jesus supernaturally, easily, quickly, completely, and physically healed the broken man. On that Sabbath day of worship, by the pool, the invalid took up his bed and walked. Thirty-eight years of misery was cured in a moment by the Friend of Sinners, the Great Physician, and the Good Shepherd. Jesus graced his body.
Apparently, as graced fellow was making his way home, he attracted the interest of the religious mafiosos. Traditional and ritualistic Jews could not believe he was so callously violating their man-made Sabbath legislations by walking such a long distance while carrying his sleeping bag.
He tried to tell them what transpired. He told them of his misery, his healing, his new friend, and consequential command. However, strangely, he knew not his healer’s name or where he had gone. All he knew was, “I once was lame, but now I walk.”
How did this happen? How did he receive supernatural common grace and not respond immediately with contrite worship? I believe the man was like the Ten Lepers in Luke 17. He was so thankful and filled with joy that he failed to express his gratitude. I believe the man was like you and me — so impressed with the gift that we fail to contemplate and commune with the Giver. I also believe Jesus hid his identity … for a time.
However, more good news was around the corner. God was not finished gracing this fellow. More grace was on the way. Grace that would prove to be eternal and even more spectacular. Grace that was greater than all his sin.
Saving grace at the Temple
As providence would have it … as grace would have it … Jesus and the healed man intersected at the Temple. Jesus seemed to hunt him down. Jesus spoke easy words, “See, you are well.” But then Jesus transitioned and said, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” What was Jesus saying?
It could be, but I do not think this to be the primary point, that Jesus was saying sin was the past cause of his sickness. As one reads in the Bible, disaster happens to Job and Judas. There is not a one-to-one correspondence between tribulation and transgression. Oft times, those who are most holy experience the most hell. (John 9:1-3; Luke 13:1-5)
It also could be, but I do not think this to be the primary point, Jesus was saying sin could be the cause of future sickness. Although God does reserve the right to hurt sinners (1 Kings 13:4; 2 Kings 1:4; 2 Chronicles 16:12; Galatians 6:7; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 11:29-30; 1 John 5:16), he does not always do so. More than that, he does not regularly do so. While God never “looks the other way,” he never treats men fully as their sins deserve. If that were the case, we who are always sinning, would be always hurting.
It cannot be that Jesus was saying his current spiritual salvation could be kept, improved, lost, or forfeited if he walked in sin. According to more clear scriptures, one cannot conclude eternal life may be a temporary possession. All, who are united, clothed, covered, pardoned, regenerated, justified, and adopted, they are preserved and safeguarded to the end. None of Christ’s elect can fall away, no not one.
I believe Jesus was saying, “My common grace is not sufficient, you need saving grace even more, because sin damns both body and soul.” Notice in the story, up to this point, that Jesus had said nothing about the law, sin, the soul, excommunication, damnation, atoning sacrifice, forgiveness, faith, repentance, communion, discipleship, worship, hell, and eternal life. Thus far, the grace shown by Christ shown had been physical, external, and temporary. And Jesus was not inclined to merely treat the body. Therefore, Jesus hunted down, engaged, and warned the man in the Temple. In the words of J. C. Ryle, “A sick bed was a sorrowful place, but hell was much worse.” Therefore, Jesus, in his warning, bestowed even more grace. He was interested in gracing both body and soul.
And what was the result of Jesus’ gracious confrontation? Who knows if the man received the grace of regeneration or not? Hopefully he became a worshiping disciple, and hopefully he honored Jesus by telling the Jews about the Great Physician. However, commentators have differed on the motive behind his testimony.**
Lame people, how can we apply this passage?
We are broken people. Physically we are deteriorating and heading towards death, and this is because we are already spiritually deceased. According to God’s description, we are handicapped, deaf, dumb, blind, lame, crippled, paralyzed, and dead.
We are impotent people. Even when the Savior draws near, we have not the ability to perform and cooperate.
We are blessed people. With multitudes of people lying about us — like the man in this story — why is Jesus coming and addressing us? How odd is God to communicate special grace to us.
We, who respond to the words of the Savior, are healed people. If we hear Jesus say to our lifeless souls, “Get up and walk,” we prove our healing by hearing, believing, and responding with faith. If this is us, then Jesus is proving to be our Best Friend and Performer.
Therefore sinful friends, would you like to join us? Would you like to be spiritually healed by the only possible Savior of your soul? Jesus has lived a holy and sinless life for you; it can be yours. Jesus has died for you on the cross; his hell can take the place of yours. Jesus offers you his report card, his sonship, and all the corresponding benefits. You can be set for eternal life. Do you want it? Do you want him? Have you a desire to follow him as your Lord? Then just say, “Yes” to Jesus and start walking. What a fantastic day this is. Christian brother or sister, find someone and tell them about your newfound faith and Friend.
Healed people, how can we apply this passage?
First, Jesus has healed us that we might practice holiness. Sin hurts; let’s pray against temptation, flee temptation, and then take our stand against the devil and his lies.
Second, Jesus has healed us that we might share common grace with others, so let’s be Good Samaritans and help our neighbors. Teach English. Give money. Buy food. Visit the elderly. Correspond with the imprisoned. Adopt or foster a child. Donate time to charities. Vote for wisdom and justice. Befriend the alien. Support widows. Mentor the fatherless. Rescue the abused. Listen to the crying. Hug the lonely. Be hospitable to neighbors. Oh friends, let us love our God by loving those made in his image. Let’s get out of our holy huddles. Let’s out-philanthropize the lost. Let’s minster tangible and temporary grace as did Jesus Christ.
Third, sharing common grace is temporary, honorable, and loving. But, in addition, sharing saving grace is eternal, more honorable, and more loving. So, as we go about ministering in the name of Jesus, let’s minister after the model of Jesus. In the name of Christ and power of his Spirit, let’s see if we can grace both body and soul. Let’s give them books, send them links, tell our stories, and invite them to worship. Let’s not be satisfied with healed bodies perishing in hell.
* Miraculous healings when the water was stirred
- The KJV and ASV have a verse not found in other modern versions based upon more ancient manuscripts.
- Did God send an angel to stir the waters?
- Did Satan send a false angel to stir the waters?
- Had the Jews adopted Roman pagan thoughts regarding springs?
** Some see this as a betrayal of Jesus. (Whitacre, Keenner, Carson, Kruse) Others do not think so. (Pink) Some remain undecided or leave it untreated. (Bruce, Beasley-Murray, Hughes, Ryle)