The healing of a man sick for 38 years in John 5

“Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes (porches or colonnades). 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). And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And immediately the man became well; took up his pallet and began to walk.” John 5:2-9

Try to imagine the scene here in John 5. There was a history of people getting healed whenever the waters were stirred up. No wonder there was a multitude, hundreds, of those with sickness and infirmity there to “just maybe,” if they were lucky, be healed. Picture the setting of hundreds of sick people just hanging out. It states they were sick with disease, blind, lame and withered. What a contagious and depressing place to hang out. And yet, our misery does love company. It doesn’t say how large the pool was, only that there were five areas where people could sit, stand or lay down. I imagine the pool was smaller than the five porches, but that’s just me. The man in the story “perhaps” was lame but it doesn’t say that specifically. It just says that Jesus saw him lying there. Perhaps everyone was lying down. If you’ve been struggling with some health problem for a long time, all you want to do is lay down. It does signify giving up or giving in to one’s situation.

I find the whole reason why so many people were there intriguing. That God would send His messenger to heal this way is quite remarkable. It’s as if God wanted to heal people so much, that He went ahead of Jesus and arranged for some healing before Jesus arrived in person. And, to have this one place where so many sick were gathered is amazing. Who (if you were healthy) would want to go near the place? When you think about that, it makes it all the more miraculous and loving that Jesus went there to seek out this man!

Also, when it says “made well” that means made whole, made sound in both mind and body. I think that is particularly striking given this man’s situation. The mental and emotional anguish that comes with any illness is often worse than the illness itself. And, if it’s gone on for a long time, the damage done to our minds and hearts is real and tangible.

Jesus knew all that when He approached this man. He had been sick for 38 years, so he’s older and been suffering a very long time. The damage done to his mind and emotions were as real as I stated before. “Jesus saw him lying there.” Oh friend, He sees you today wherever you are and whatever state you find yourself in! Jesus came into this huge gathering of people to find one man. We have no record of Him healing anyone else that day. Maybe He did since wherever He went He “healed all”, but the Holy Spirit wants us to know only about this one man.

Have you ever noticed that the people Jesus healed were predominantly suffering a long time? There’s no record of Him healing someone with a temporary cold, flu, broken leg, acne or another short-term thing people deal with. I’m sure He healed those, but it’s not recorded. He healed those who were born with issues, or like this “certain man” were sick for decades. I think that’s incredibly significant. It tells me that God knows how much time has gone by. He has a record of it and knows and deeply cares about a specific and personal length of time. He knows the way out of it too, and I believe it’s through His Son Jesus; all healing comes through Him.

Jesus asked the man a thought-provoking question: “Do you wish to get well?” The NLT says, “Would you like to get well?” Now, stop there for a moment…if you had been sick for that long and God asked you this same question, what would you say? We’d like to think we’d shout at the top of our lungs, “YES, YES, I want to be well!” But long term illness does something to our spirits and this man didn’t say yes or anything remotely close to a yes. He had no idea who Jesus is and just addressed him as “sir.” It’s almost as if he didn’t really hear the question.

“Sir, I have no man…” Straightaway the man saw only his own resources and the resources of those around him. Even though he’s there to be healed miraculously, by the angel stirring up the waters, he’s not thinking about God, not really. He only sees his weakness and inability and that no one is caring for him. He sees the water get stirred up and has probably witnessed many people get healed, otherwise he’d have given up coming to this place a long time ago. So there’s a glimmer of hope inside him. But his heart only feels left out; like he’s the most unable or most unlikely person to get healed. And yet it sounds like he does try himself to get to the water, despite no one helping him into it.  “…but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Allow me to bring this into our modern world. Today the man might say something like, “I’ve tried seeing this doctor or that specialist, but they don’t help me and in fact, I feel worse and it was really expensive!” Or, “I don’t have the money to see a doctor, woe is me.” “I’ve tried taking every known drug or supplement for my condition, but none of it has made me better. What a waste of my time and money.” (But we keep spending the money, don’t we?) Now, these may all be very true, just like the man responded with the truth to Jesus. He wasn’t lying when he told Jesus all his excuses why he couldn’t be healed. The man only saw the natural, which was perfectly normal for him to do. Jesus knew the man didn’t know who He was. Jesus didn’t rebuke the man for telling him all the reasons why healing was out of reach for him.

I kept thinking about why Jesus would ask this man if he wished to get well. Jesus asked a blind man one time what he wanted, and the blind man told Jesus he wanted his sight. His request was granted immediately. But here, Jesus asked such a curious thing of the man. Why? Perhaps, Jesus wanted the man to wake up from his very long search for healing. Perhaps, Jesus wanted to bring the man to a point where healing was a reality verses healing always being out of reach, no matter the reason. Maybe in answering Jesus, the man allowed himself to realize, “Why am I here anyhow? Why do I bother? It’s hopeless.” Maybe Jesus wanted to bring the man to that point honestly, without always hoping that “one day” he would be healed, knowing that he could never get in the water by himself or have anyone help him. I mean everyone else around him was sick too, so there really wasn’t anyone to help him get in the water. Every man for himself was probably the prevailing thought in that dark place of illness.

Whatever the reason that Jesus asked him what He did, I believe it was for the benefit of the man. It wasn’t to show up the man or make him feel disqualified or a failure. I love that there is no response from Jesus to what the man said. I think there was something that got exchanged between Him and the man though. Something happened that is not recorded for us, something deeply personal that I think, let the man know these 38 years were seen by God Himself. I bet there was a look of deep love on Jesus’ face as He said, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.’ And immediately the man became well; and took up his pallet and began to walk.”

Right away the man became whole, sound and healed! I also love what is not there. Jesus didn’t stand around waiting for the man to say “Yes, I want to be healed.” There was no rebuke for not saying yes. There wasn’t anything pertaining to what the man said. Jesus did not say, “Well, if you have all those excuses, I’ll just wait to heal you until you get your act together.” Nothing like that from our Savior. This was grace in action – unmerited favor and healing. This is the very image of God in Christ to be seen by all; God’s character revealed to us in Jesus.

If you’ve been sick a long time or struggled with anything for decades, know that He knows all the damage it’s done to you. He knows you’ve tried everything under the sun to get well, but with no success. He alone is the healer and He knows how to heal instantly. There weren’t any rules for the man to follow – just to get up, get going, live your life now and leave this place of sickness. Sometimes we’re so used to our condition, that it’s almost fearful to think of not living like you have for a long time. It’s similar to those getting out of jail. There’s a fear of living free and abundantly again. Jesus knows how you feel and desires to heal you more than you want to be healed yourself. Allow Him to bring you out and set you free!

(There is more to this man’s healing too, if you read a few more verses, as it does make the man’s healing even more full of grace. That’s for another time).

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