The Healing at the Pool: John 5:1-9

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “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.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

There once was a man who was always put into the water first. He had the pool all to himself and people were there to carry him at his beckoning call. He snapped his fingers and what he demanded, he usually received. The man was Franklin Delano Roosevelt and he was President of the United States. He led the US out of the Great Depression, gave millions jobs and provided hope for a panicked people. He led the US through World War II in a determined way but in spite of all of his power and prestige, he had a devastating disease, polio. He was taken to Warm Springs, Georgia for decades for treatment on his crippled, polio riddled body.

I have visited Warm Springs numerous times and there are hot, bubbling, natural flowing springs fresh from the ground. The waters are warm year round but even when the air is cold, steam surrounds the waters because of its hot temperature collides with the cold air. The President was put in first in these waters and it soothed his aching, crippled body, but only for a time. The waters were always so refreshing and renewing to him but unfortunately, once he was pulled out of the waters, he still had a broken, polio riddled body. Reality would always set in and his heavy, painful leg braces would be strapped back onto his withered legs and he would be put back into his wheel chair. If he had hoped for a cure in those warm waters of Warm Springs, he expected from that body of water more than it could give.

The pool chapter five describes was found by archeologists some thirty years ago in the shape of a trapezoid. It is four sided and the archeologists found it just outside of the city walls of Jerusalem with five porches as the Bible says. Those who were brought to this pool were those who had come to the end of their rope. Certainly when FDR contracted polio in 1924, he and his wealthy family became frantic for a cure by almost all-means possible. He desperately sought the soothing, mystical waters of Warm Springs.

Those mentioned in chapter five like FDR thought maybe, these waters could be it for them. They had tried all the specialists, their favorite HMO doctor, vitamins, oils and the herbal teas. They had tried it all and now they are focused on superstition and magic. They’ve switched the channel from the Discovery Channel to “The Jerry Springer Show.” Their only glimmer of hope was a rumor. They had exasperated their options and faintly, prayed for the magic to happen. It was their only hope.

I am from the Sunshine State, the great state of Florida. Ponce de Leon, the European discoverer of Florida came to our great state five centuries ago seeking mystical waters called, “the fountain of youth.” People have been following him ever since to Florida. Florida is surrounded by water on almost all sides. People come to be young, to enjoy life and for refreshment. Our state seems to cry out, ”put your cares behind you and come all who have bright, loud clothes and black socks.” We need a statue of liberty in Florida, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” People yearn to be free from old age in Florida. You don’t go on vacation in the desert; you go where there is water! You go to Florida where there is sand and beaches (and lots of concrete). You escape to where there is life and retirement homes. The hope and dream of millions of people around the world is to keep pushing through the daily grind of work so you can retire to Florida one day. Water in Florida is refreshing but it cannot give you everything. It only makes you feel young at the moment. It quickly fades away. Death and illness follow people wherever they may retire. Water is soothing, but it can leave you empty and unfulfilled.

Verse five says, “And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.” Thirty-eight years by the way is the longest recorded illness in the Bible. Others have been ill for long periods of time but none written down longer than thirty-eight years. In Deuteronomy, it mentions the children of lsrael were in the desert for thirty-eight years as well. People say forty years but it is actually thirty-eight and has just been rounded up. Maybe John is making a comparison with those Israelites who were wandering in the desert in search of the land of milk and honey? Of course they were just going in circles and were extremely close to the land of milk and honey. This man in John 5 is in a desert and wilderness of his own and yet he is inches away from Jesus, the Water of Life and the Great Physician. Surprisingly, we are only a prayer away ourselves. Jesus says in John 4: 13-14 to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst. But the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

This crippled man had no idea who Jesus was when He walked up to him. Here is this man, thirty-eight years bed ridden, dried up and left out. No one is there for him, not even his family. He too must have grumbled and complained like the Israelites and those around us today. Surely he asked God, ”Why me? Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” In this desert of his, maybe he looked up to people to give him answers and they could not. He was left empty, dry, and forgotten. He watched life go by him and nothing to do about it. Thirty-eight years is an entire life span for some. This man remained crippled while others went through all the stages of their life without a second thought to what they have.

I had a great aunt who passed away twenty years ago. Her name was Ruby. Aunt Ruby was paralyzed from the waist down and spent twenty years bedridden. She saw the seasons pass and people come and go, all from her bed. Life seemed to go on all around her. It was the tradition in my family to bring a newborn baby to Aunt Ruby for her to give her traditional blessing. Her blessing was “that’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen” and we laughed. Every family I guess has their own traditions. This was ours. She watched those babies grow up and start families of their own, including myself. Her wilderness was that bed, very much like that man of thirty-eight years. Aunt Ruby was paralyzed in 1975 by a wrong shot given to her. She almost immediately became bedridden after she received the wrong injection. Doctors told her she could be in a wheel chair but she tried it and quickly gave up on the idea. She would rather stay in her bed. It was safer for her and less work. Her life was set and she would rather it not be changed. Doctors and family encouraged her to try physical therapy more but she refused. People visited frequently and she knew all the town gossip. It was amazing the minute details she knew of people’s lives. She kept abreast of all the news and gossip in her small town of Dunnellon, Florida. She would love to have been healed if there was ever a miracle cure but of course that did not exist. Life just went on for her in her bed and sadly, she passed away in 1994.

This man in John 5 was asked by Jesus, “Do you wish to get well?” It seems like an obvious question but Jesus truly wanted to know if he really wanted to be well. Why get your hopes up on getting well? Sometimes we don’t want to be made well. It’s easier being sick and bitter. We get in this pattern and just rather not get our hopes up. No, we don’t really want to be made well a lot of times. Our hurt, pain and bitterness becomes almost a security blanket and eventually an identity. Jesus wants to give healing to those who want to be healed. Those who needed to be healed.

The sick man replies, “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.” He basically tells Jesus, “I’ve seen it all and it just is not going to work. There is no hope for an old broken down man like me.” What absolute torture to be so close to that which he considers the source of his healing but to be run over by those less deserving or needy. Sound familiar? This crippled man of thirty-eight years was inches away from these supposed healing waters but the ones with the best abilities and those most crafty came running through first. I bet he was even splashed with water by those who jumped ahead of him. He was probably even taunted by those in the water.

How incredibly cruel I bet the people were to him. Healing for the healthy and for those who were in the right place at the right time. You can hear in the man’s voice, “It’s just not fair.” He was the one with the longest illness and others just ran right past him. Healing for the healthy. Jesus said I came not for the healthy but for the sick. Have you ever felt like this man? Life seems to be passing you bye and all appears hopeless? Maybe you’ve even been taunted?

Jesus went searching for this man. This man obvious could not seek after Christ. Christ is actively pursuing us today. He wants to make you whole today. “Do you want to be healed?” Its not a trick question and one that Jesus is still asking. Jesus still heals today and still brings renewal to dry bones. Observe where Jesus went when he arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover. He was spending his time around dried up, sick people. Jesus calls us today that whoever feeds the poor, clothes the naked, visits those in prison, invites in the stranger does it in His name.

Could this pool at Bethesda, which stands for “House of Mercy,” be a description of our churches today? Are we ”Houses of Mercy, for those at the end of their rope? Or are our churches like Country Clubs and healing for those who are already healthy? Poring out our bounty of eternal water just for those who are most active in the church to wade and swim. Those who are too timid or do not have the means we leave out. We pander at the pool and enjoy the sun while people dry up all around us. The saddest part of it all is those drying up have no idea they can be healed.

How does Jesus respond to the man? He says in verse 8, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.” Simply, get up, your illness is over. It is just that simple. God simply has power over everything and we will be built up with anxieties until we figure that out. How incredibly straightforward Jesus is here and what command He displays. This man confessed he needed help and like a snap, he was healed. Does “Ask anything in my name and I will do it” sound familiar? Jesus repeats it throughout the Gospels. Matthew 7 is almost screaming to us: “ask; and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.” To sum it up … ASK HIM!!!

I think that after we die and God allows us to look behind the scenes of our lives, we will be absolutely blown away with how many times God wanted to bless us abundantly more than we could ever imagine but we failed to simply ask him. I wonder how many people remained sick because we did not pray for their healing? Or how often we even failed to just say “yes” to God and we would have been made well. If our world only knew how easy it is to ask! They are wasting their money pursuing their fountain of youth. Seeking earnestly for that which heals them from within by preserving their temporary shell on the outside. All the health club bills, Rolex watches, the new cars, the implants, etc. Jesus said in John 10: 10, “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” We have a powerful message that our world is dying to hear. They can save their money! Peace comes from within, and His name is Jesus. He wants to make us well if we just let Him.

Verse nine seems too plain to me. “And immediately the man became well and took up his pallet and began to walk.” Here is this man who for thirty-eight years is lying almost lifeless on a mat and Jesus simply tells him to “arise, take up your pallet and
walk” and he is free. Immediately, blood starts to flow through all the limbs like never before, nerves strike up life again, and muscles that have been on vacation for almost
forty years are called into duty. His life is changed in a flash and all verse nine says is, ” . .. he began to walk.” Kind of ho-hum. I bet this man did cart wheels and summer salts all the way home. He bet he ran home! I wonder what his family’s reaction was? What did the home folk say when he came running home? I bet he was like Forrest Gump, “I was running … ” every where he went. Did the people rejoice and celebrate? Was it worthy of a celebration? Yes, indeed it was for this lame, crippled man who was healed in an instant and was made completely well. And of course the Great Physician’s “made well” is by far a complete physical renewal. The choicest of muscles, the perfect circulation in his legs, and I bet he could run like the wind.

Do you think his family, neighbors, and church killed the fattened calf and put a ring on his finger like in the prodigal son? Did they rejoice and say “GLORY” like in Psalm 29? We have that same opportunity today in our churches. Christ is making people well in our souls as well as physical healing all around us. What was once useless for entire lifetimes has now become alive!! Will we welcome those who have been lifeless in their souls for over thirty-eight years back with open arms or will we allow those who have been healthy for years be first in line? This is no time to be ho-hum about it. Let’s make our churches places of celebration and worship where we sing out praises to Jesus in absolute thankfulness because of what He continues to do daily. Do you want to start the party? Do you have your dancing shoes on? Do you have the invitations? Don’t hold back on those invitations! Let everyone into the pool to be healed!

The man who’s hosting our party never wants the guest list to end. Our world is so dry. Whatever you do, don’t keep the water to yourself. The party is just too good to leave anyone out. Wherever you are today, don’t walk away without a time talking to God. Do you want to be made well? He wants to make you well and restore your soul. Have you asked him?