Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”
Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, so the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!” But he replied, “The man who healed me told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” “Who said such a thing as that?” they demanded. The man didn’t know, for Jesus had disappeared into the crowd. But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” Then the man went and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had healed him (John 5:1-15, NLT).
The third miracle Jesus performed in the Gospel of John seems pretty straight forward. Jesus had returned to Jerusalem, and on a particular day walked through an area, the Pool of Bethesda, which had a dense population of sick people. Some were crippled, some were blind. Apparently they stayed by the pool due to a superstition that claimed an angel would occasionally come down from heaven to the pool and stir the water. The first one into the pool when the water was stirred would be healed of their infirmity. There is no historical evidence that this belief was anything other than superstition. In fact, better translations footnote this portion of the passage because it is not in the oldest, most reliable Greek manuscripts.
Of all the people at the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus singled out one man who has suffered some form of paralysis for 38 years. Jesus asked him plainly, “Do you want to get well?” When I ask simple questions like this to my children, they sometimes reply, “Duh, dad!” The reader would expect that the lame man would answer Jesus directly and affirmatively, but he didn’t. He simply made excuses. He told Jesus how he didn’t have help to get into the pool when the water stirred. He described others who were able to race ahead of him selfishly to get into the water. Never mind the fact he had been waiting his turn for 38 years.
I love the plainspoken manner of Jesus. He had little tolerance for excuses, and commanded him to “stand up, pick up your mat, and walk.” And so he did.
Like I said, this is pretty simple and straightforward. But there’s a twist. The healed man did what Jesus said. He stood up, picked up his mat, and began to walk. As he walked, he was confronted by the religious leaders of the day, who rebuked him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. When they inquired how he was healed, he described a man who was no longer in sight.
Being healed of a disease that had ravaged his strength for nearly four decades is certainly cause of praise and thanksgiving. The scene moves to the Temple, where the healed man must have offered thanks to God for the miraculous healing. In the Temple he meets Jesus, who simply says, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” Didn’t see that one coming! Did Jesus just imply that the reason for his long term disability was his sin? Yes.
I don’t believe that every instance of adversity or suffering is the direct result of some sin we have committed. Without a doubt, we live in a fallen world and our depravity does create complications. But it’s not fair to assume that every illness or problem we experience is the consequence of some sin we have committed. In John 5, however, that is precisely the case. He had been disabled for 38 years as the consequence of a sin or sins he had committed.
Sin is its own consequence. This week I want to offer some practical stuff from Romans regarding how to deal with chronic sin patterns in our lives. I hope that you’ll check back each day, because Jesus wants each of us to be “well” and to live “well.” In the meantime, think about this: What sin(s) in your life is keeping you from living life as God intended?