As we head into chapter 5, I found it interesting that the NIV Application Commentary suggests the purpose of chapter 5 is to begin building the case against Jesus (cite below this post). This outline is helpful to give us some context for discussion:
The Crime (John 5:1–15)
- A man at Bethesda is healed on the Sabbath
- The man is interrogated
- The criminal [Jesus] is identified
The Decision to Prosecute (John 5:16–18)
- First basis: Jesus violates the Sabbath
- Second basis: Jesus is making divine claims
Jesus Goes to Trial (John 5:19–47)
- Jesus describes his “criminal” work
- Jesus brings witnesses in his defense
- Jesus prosecutes his opponents
- Jesus identifies their crimes
- Jesus challenges their ability to appeal
Read: John 5:1-15
In contrast to the request in the previous post where the principal character begs Jesus to heal his son, we now read a story where Jesus initiates the conversation. Instead of appealing to Jesus for help, Jesus sees the man and reaches out to him. While the man is not named in John’s gospel account, he would have been well known by the people from that area. After decades of inability to walk, people would certainly know him and his family.
In our modern culture, we can hide away in our houses and avoid our neighbors by slipping in and out of the garage by remote control. Not so back in the times represented here. Even though there were lots of people showing up for the special waters at Bethesda, this man was not nameless.
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?” John 5:6
The man’s response is one of logistics, he knows the process, but perhaps after so many years of sitting and waiting he has few friends or family that will do more than drop him off at the pool. Do the math. There are nearly 14,000 days in 38 years. That’s a lot of days to put up with a friend or relative that can’t walk! I don’t know if they transported him daily, but they certainly had to tend to his needs in some way or another.
“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.” John 5:7
When the healing waters of Bethesda are stirred, there’s a chance you can be healed if you’re placed in the water at the right time in the right location. Jesus doesn’t even address this superstition, nor does He denounce any potential medicinal benefits of minerals contained in the water. He simply says,
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. John 5:8-9
After years of sitting and waiting, the man is healed in an instant! No wading in the pool. No special anointing oil or board of elders with hands on his legs. Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to gather around and see how this is done. None of this implies any spectacle or special gathering. No spotlight, no microphones, and no additional words of instruction. The guy didn’t even know who Jesus was and most importantly, there was no public confession of faith before he was healed. None of that. Just a command.
The Pharisees check their rulebook and throw a flag:
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” John 5:9-10
Seriously? For the first time in nearly 40 years, this man is able to walk, he is actually able to carry his mat, and you want to play the Sabbath card?
It takes them a while, but eventually, the Pharisees find out it is Jesus who committed the crime, He healed a man on the Sabbath.
The story is of a real person at a real place at a time when people saw a direct correlation between sin and suffering. If you are a sinner, you suffer. Do good and you will be rewarded. Right? Not exactly, but Jesus’ response directed at this man opens up a floodgate of questions:
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” John 5:14
Stop sinning certainly implies the man has been sinning and the rest of the statement leaves us to believe his infirmity was the result of said sin. This is problematic.
What do we do with this story?
John must have had a particular reason to share this story. Was he trying to establish that the Pharisees had lost their way as the NIVAC outline suggests? Is this story about superstitions versus miraculous healing? Should we focus on the relationship of sin to suffering? Pass the mic around. I’d love to hear what you think!
For this man and in this case it appears that he needs to repent and have a change of heart. I think he showed up in the temple because he understood that God is to be honored for such a miracle. When Jesus tells him to stop sinning with a warning, it’s pretty clear that there is some relationship between sin and suffering for this man at this time. I would hope that I would be open to hearing such words in my own life! If there was any inclination that my infirmity would return because of sinful actions, I believe I would heed the words of Jesus.
Source: Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland, David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 62791-62798). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.