THE HEALING AT BETHESDA – John 5:1-9

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INTRODUCTION:

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl argued that the “loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect on man.”  As a result of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, Frankl contended that when a man no longer possesses a motive for living, and has no future to look forward to, he curls up in a corner and dies.

In 1965, James B. Stockdale became one of the first American pilots to be shot down during the Vietnam War.  He was captured by the Viet Cong, and spent seven years as a prisoner-of-war.  During that period of time he was frequently tortured in an attempt to break him and get him to denounce the U.S. involvement in the war.  He was chained for days at a time with his hands above his head so that he could not even swat the mosquitoes.  Today, he still cannot bend his left knee and walks with a severe limp from having his leg broken by his captors and never reset.  One of the worst things done to him was that he was held in isolation away from the other American P.O.W.s and allowed to see only his guards and interrogators.

How could anyone survive such treatment?  As he looks back on that time, Stockdale says that it was his hope that kept him alive – the hope of one day going home; that each day could be the day of his release.  Without hope, he knew that he would die in hopelessness, as others had done.

In this passage of Scripture, John 5:1-9, we will see the description of a man whose life seems hopeless.  Then he has an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ and everything changes.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 1-2)

Verse 1 says, :After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem”  We don’t know for sure what feast this was.  The Jews living a day’s journey from Jerusalem were required to observe three feasts a year:  Passover, Tabernacles, and Pentecost, so it was probably one of these three feasts.  Notice also that Jesus is mentioned by name but His disciples are not mentioned in this verse, nor in this passage of Scripture we are studying.  It appears that Jesus went to the feast alone.  Once again, we do not know for sure.  But we know from what follows that the Father had another appointment for the Lord Jesus to keep, and this appointment was near the Temple area in Jerusalem.

Verse 2 describes that location in some detail.  “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.”   From his description, the apostle John is telling us that the pool at Bethesda is going to be Jesus’ first stop in Jerusalem.  As we shall see, this pool is not a place that healthy people would normally visit.  Bethesda means “house of mercy”, but some manuscripts use the name Beth-Zatha which means “house of the olive”.  This pool is located by the sheep gate.  That gate is only mentioned four times in the Bible:  here, and three times in the book of Nehemiah (3:1; 3:32; and 12:13).  It is a gate near the temple area which is used to bring sheep and oxen to the temple as sacrifices during the temple services.  Commentator William Barclay gives a helpful explanation for the pool of water at Bethesda.  “The word for pool is kolumbethron, which comes from the verb kolumban, to dive.  The pool was deep enough to swim in.”  The five porticoes were porches that were probably covered, providing some protection from the sun or the rain.  This is the only place in the Bible where the word Bethesda (Beth-Zatha) occurs.

II.  THE ENCOUNTER (verse 3)

Verse 3 describes what Jesus sees as He enters the pool area and gets a panoramic view of the five porticoes:  In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered [waiting for the moving of the waters.].”  The place was crowded with people, and they were people who were limited in their mobility and were probably not able to take care of themselves.  Family and friends probably carried them to these porticoes or helped them to get there.  You’ve probably heard the saying “Misery likes company”, and maybe you’ve used those words yourself in appropriate situations with various shades of meaning.  The phrase has been around for many centuries.  A translation of the words of 14th century historian Dominici de Gravina reads:  “It is a comfort to the unfortunate to have had companions in woe.”  Having other people to converse with, who understand what you are going through because they are going through something similar themselves, can be a real source of comfort and encouragement.  Sometimes the greatest suffering can be emotional and social – the feeling that you are alone in your suffering; that no one else understands or cares.  As John Stockdale said in my introduction, that one of the worst things that happened to him as a P.O.W. was being isolated from the other Americans.

The apostle John says that the sick people were “waiting for the moving of the waters”.  What do those words mean?  Historians have remarked about a spring underneath this pool, and excavations have verified John’s words.  It was an “intermittent spring” that would occasionally force hot water up between the rocks at he bottom of the pool.  When this happened, the surface of the water would become agitated and bubbles would appear.  That’s what the disabled people lying on the porticoes were watching for and waiting to see.

III.  THE POPULAR OPINION (verse 4)

The explanation of the moving of the waters is given in verse 4 as the popular opinion of the people.  “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.]

It was not unusual for the Jewish people of that time to attribute such occurrences to the ministry of angels.  In the Old Testament, angels are mentioned as protectors of the nation of Israel against oppressors, and as the ones God used to supply the physical needs of the prophets.  When the nation of Israel turned away from the true God to worship false gods, many of those religions of the other nations believed that every body of water had its own spirit that protected it.  So it became customary and popular for the people to attribute to angels or spirit beings any natural occurrences that they did not understand or could not explain.  Many bibles show brackets from the second half of verse three and continuing to the end of verse four.  This was done to indicate that the information within the brackets is missing from some of the oldest manuscripts.

IV.  THE WORST CASE SCENARIO (verse 5)

In verse 5, the apostle John gives us the worst case-scenario.  “And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.”  We don’t know when this illness began in his life; we are only told how long he has been afflicted with it.  Thirty-eight years – that’s half a lifetime!  If anyone there would be considered a “hopeless case”, it was he.  We  also don’t know the diagnosis, only that he had no strength in his body and was incapacitated.  Little does he know that he is going to become the focus of Jesus’ attention.  In the midst of that crowd of ailing people, Jesus is going to be talking to him personally.”

V.  THE QUESTION (verse 6)

In verse 6, we see the situation from Jesus’ perspective.  “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?’ “   Does that sound like an odd question to you?  It did to me at first.  The Lord Jesus’ question reveals to us something about what Jesus knows and what He doesn’t know.  While Jesus was here on this earth, He was not all-knowing.  When He became a man, He became like us in all things except sin (Philippians 2:5-8; John 8:46, Hebrews 7:26).  His knowledge consisted of what He learned from experience and study, plus what the Father revealed to Him.  So in this case, He was not given an understanding of this person’s thoughts and emotions.  He did not know whether this person wanted to be healed or not.  The ailing person knows that what Jesus is asking by the question, “Do you want to be healed”  is “Do you still believe that you can be healed, or have you given up all hope of ever being healed?”  Does he have the faith needed to be healed or has he closed the door of his heart to such a possibility?  If his answer reveals that his faith and hope are completely gone, there would be no reason to pursue the conversation any further.

VI.  THE RESPONSE (verse 7)

The man gives Jesus the answer He hopes to hear, but he does so in an indirect way.  He’s saying, “I’m helpless, but I’m not hopeless.”  He didn’t need hope; he needed help.  I think this man is also giving Jesus a hint  concerning his unspoken request:  “Would you be willing to help me into the water the next time the ‘stirring’ occurs?”  Since Jesus asked him the question, would He be willing to be part of the answer?  Little does he know that he’s talking to the Son of God!  The answer to his “long-suffered problem” is just a few words away!

VII.  THE HEALING (verses 8-9)

To his surprise, a command is given to him by Jesus, and he responds by faith.  A miracle happens!  “Jesus said to him, ‘Arise, take up your pallet, and walk’.  And immediately the man became well, and took up his pallet and began to walk.”   There were actually three commands given by Jesus:  “arise”, “take up your pallet”, and “walk”.  All three of those commands were fulfilled when the man obeyed.  It became obvious to him and everyone around him that this was no “adrenalin rush”, nor “power surge”, but a complete and total healing.  Muscles, tendons, and ligaments were restored; joints lubricated, circulation restored, nerves reconnected to the brain, and the ability to walk while carrying his pallet – all done instantly without any physical therapy or re-learning.  All the effects and side-effects of his long illness were removed at once.  Amazing!  And I’m sure I missed many other physiological and neurological events that happened at that moment in time.  When the Lord Jesus gives commands, He also gives the enablement to carry out those commands.  As the Son of God, Jesus has the power and authority to instantly heal body, soul, and spirit.

When the Lord Jesus gave the command, did this disabled man feel the strength in his body before he chose in his heart to obey and make the effort to get up?  It doesn’t say.  I prefer to believe that faith came first – faith that this Man had the power to fulfill His command.  As the ailing man believed, made up his mind to obey, and began to act in obedience to Christ, the strength and healing came to him to enable him to fulfill Christ’s command.  This man who had not been able to do anything for himself for thirty-eight years, was instantly able to everything that a healthy man could do!

CONCLUSION:

Do you want to be healed?  Do you wish to get well?  Are you suffering from a spiritual illness that has no natural cure?  Do you feel like you don’t have the strength to go on because your life is empty and meaningless?  Have you become fatalistic or are you still desperately looking for answers?

Do you believe in miracles?  It will take a miracle to change your spiritual condition, heal you, and make you a new person.  Do you want to be healed?  If not, there will be no miracle in your case.  The only cure for your spiritual condition is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  The Lord Jesus Christ is asking you to believe that He is the Son of God, the God-Man; to take that first step of obedience by repenting of your sin and turning your life over to His control and power to change your life.  Only then will the miracle occur.  As II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  You will become a new person with a new spiritual life that will affect every other part of your life. 

Do you wish to get well?  Have you come to the conclusion that you are, at times, a weak, faltering Christian?  What are you struggling with in your life?  Could it be pride, anger, lust, dishonesty, foul language, smoking, drinking to excess, or something else?  The temptations are always there.  Are you often discouraged because of these temptations and sins?

The following is an imaginary story that illustrates our dilemma and struggle, as Christians:

The devil decided to have a garage sale.  On the day of the sale, his tools were displayed for public inspection, each being marked with its sale price.  There were a treacherous lot of implements:  hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, lust, lying, pride, and so on.  Set apart from the rest was a harmless-looking tool.  It was quite worn and yet priced very high.
“What is the name of this tool?” asked one of the customers, pointing to it.
“That is discouragement,” Satan replied.
“Why have you priced it so high?”
“Because it is more useful to me than the others.  I can pry open and get inside a man’s heart with that, even when I cannot get near him with the other tools.  It is badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since so few people know that it belongs to
me.”
It is still his favorite tool today, and he continues to use it on God’s people.  But be encouraged!  God’s miracles are much greater and more powerful than any of his tools!  May you find in the Lord Jesus Christ the hope, the strength, and the encouragement that only He can give.   May each day of your life be a miracle that others can observe as you joyfully walk by faith and in obedience to Him.

A friend recently sent me a true story taken from Joni Eareckson Tada’s book, Beyond Suffering:

Dorothy Williams was a British missionary who served in West Africa during the 1930’s.  She was a nurse from Wales who spent her time on the mission field training African nurses.  Dorothy was very frail, and her mission board back home didn’t expect her to last more than a year or two working in Africa.  But with God’s help, she amazed the board by serving many years, refusing to be discouraged by her limitations.  This inspired the young African nurses under her charge who were often disheartened by their own poverty and lack of resources.

One day a nurse was carrying a tray of surgical instruments, and Dorothy noticed a sad look in her student’s eyes.  “Oh, Mum, I am feeling much afraid today,” the young woman shared.  “Dearie, look at those shiny instruments on your tray,” Dorothy said, picking up the sharpest one.  “The devil has a tray of instruments too, and the shiniest and sharpest is his tool of discouragement – it’s sharp because he uses it so often.”  The student nurse smiled, blushed, and then went on her way with fresh resolve.

Ezra 4:4-5 describes the devil’s strategy against God’s people.  It is “to discourage and frighten people , , , to work against them and to frustrate their plans.”  Do not be fearful, for the Bible repeats the phrase, “Do not be afraid,” 112 times.  And Dorothy would add, “Don’t be discouraged.”  You have your own shiny, sharp tool:  The Word of God (Hebrews 4:12).  Keep it sharp and use it often against your adversary!

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NOBLEMAN’S SON HEALED – John 4:45-54

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INTRODUCTION;

A 39-year-old woman in England, who was born deaf and is going blind because of Usher syndrome, is offered the option of having cochlear implants surgically placed in her ears.  There are serious risks involved.  She recounts her fears as she considers the alternatives.  “I’m overwhelmed by fear.  My mother is worried too.  ‘You’re OK as you are, Joanne’, she says, ‘What if it goes wrong?’  But what if it doesn’t?  What if there’s a chance that I’ll take out my hearing aids and never put them back in again?”  (She wears hearing aids but they just provide a constant “white noise”, nothing more).  But if her auditory nerve is damaged during surgery, she will hear nothing for the rest of her life.  What’s she going to do?  Is it worth the risk?

The man in the passage of Scripture we are studying is also faced with a decision.  His son is about to die and there is nothing that the medical doctors can do to change that prognosis.  He’s heard about the “Miracle-Worker” who changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee.  He needs a miracle and this Man is his only hope.  There may be serious consequences to him and his family if he pursues such a course of action.  What’s he going to do?  Let’s take a look at John’s Gospel, chapter 4, beginning at verse 45.

I.  JESUS’ RECEPTION IN GALILEE (verse 45)

Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Cana in Galilee, having passed by Nazareth where Jesus commented to His disciples about that town.  As they enter the region of Galilee, their reception is much different from the reception they had in Judea.  Verse 45 says, “The Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.”  Jesus and His disciples were in friendly territory.  Many of these Galileans were present when He performed His first miracle, and many others heard about it from those who were there.

II.  THE NEED EXPRESSED (verses 46-47)

Verse 46 says, “He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum.”   We aren’t given the exact reason why they are making this trip.  We do know from other passages of Scripture that one of His disciples, Nathaniel, comes from there, and Jesus and His mother have friends in Cana.  There is also someone in Cana who has travelled a day’s journey to meet Him, and is anxious to talk to Him.  This man is described as a “royal official” (nobleman, courtier).  The Greek word is basilikos, which literally means ” of the king” or “belonging to a king”,  He is probably a royal official appointed by King Herod in some capacity.  We don’t know whether this man is a Jew or a Gentile, but we do know that he is desperate.  He would not have come all the way from Capernaum to be seen in public talking to Jesus if he wasn’t desperate.  What did he have to lose by doing such a thing?  He might lose his reputation, his job, his friends, his family, and possibly even his life.  But right now, what he might gain is more important than what he might lose.  His son is dying and he is willing to do anything, and risk everything, in order to keep that from happening.

Verse 47 tells us how he responds to this critical need in his household.   “When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him. and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.”  He arrived at Cana and waited for the opportunity to speak to Jesus.  When the opportunity was given him to speak, he pleaded for Jesus to come and heal his son.  The nobleman could have sent his servants to make the request but preferred to lay aside his nobility and come humbly to Jesus.  His faith has been called “crisis faith” because believing in Christ’s healing power was his only hope for saving his son who could die at any moment.  You can imagine that a man wearing fine clothing that distinguished him as a high-ranking member of the Roman government, arriving in the little town of Cana, would attract the attention of everyone in the town.  Then to see this nobleman approach Jesus and plead with Him to come and heal his son – this would cause people to come closer to watch what is going on, and to hear the conversation.  The crowd may be thinking, “I wonder if Jesus is going to perform another miracle like He did at the wedding?”  Some members of the crowd may want to “go along for the ride”, so to speak, to watch Jesus perform another miracle.  It’s as if they are saying in their hearts, “Keep showing us miracles; we aren’t convinced yet!”

III.  THE CROWD REBUKED; THE NEED REPEATED (verse 48-49)

The Lord Jesus, looking around at the crowd that has gathered around them, says in verse 48, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”   I don’t believe that Jesus is saying those words to the nobleman, but to the crowd and to the people in general.  He was not performing His miracles for entertainment purposes.   Jesus may have looked away from the nobleman and around at the crowd when He said those words, because the pronouns (“you . . . you”) in the Greek text are both plural.  The nobleman also understands that those words weren’t directed toward him because he says in verse 49, “Sir, come down before my child dies”.  We see no offense taken.  He wasn’t concerned about the crowd, nor about his reputation.  He just continues his conversation, repeating his plea; this time addressing Jesus as “Lord” (“kyrie” in the Greek text).  He’s gaining a clearer understanding of Who Jesus is, and his persistence tells me that he is convinced that Jesus can and will heal his son.  However, his understanding of Jesus’ healing abilities is limited.  He thinks that Jesus can only heal someone by going there in person.  As God, the Lord Jesus Christ is not limited by distance (or space).

IV.  THE REPLY OBEYED (verse 50)

In verse 50 his faith is put to the test.  “Jesus therefore said to him, ‘Go your way; your son lives.’  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off.”  After Jesus kindly spoke those words of assurance, the royal official’s “crisis faith” has now become “obedient faith” (“confident faith”).  He’s taking Jesus at His word, and his faith in Jesus’ Person and His healing abilities has been tested and has increased as a result.  He’s heading for home.  I’m reminded of the centurion’s words to Jesus in Matthew 8:8, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.”

V.  THE RESULTS RECEIVED (verses 51-52)

As the royal official is walking those 20 miles back home, he has nothing but Jesus’ word to keep him going.  Then, in verse 51, something unexpected happens.  “And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living.”  The child’s recovery was so sudden and unexplainable that his servants hurried to find him and let him know what had happened.  Verse 51 says that “,,,.his servants met him, saying that his son was living.”  Without knowing it, they were echoing Jesus’ words to him:  “Your son lives”.  Jesus was telling him that his son was immediately healed, and his servants were saying that his son was suddenly and completely healed.  The royal official responds, in verse 52, with words you would expect to hear:  “So he inquired of the hour when he began to get better”.  He was expecting a gradual recovery.  His servants replied, “yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”.  They were telling him that it was an immediate recovery for it happened at the seventh hour (one o’clock that afternoon).  I think the servants were hurrying to find their master before he talked to Jesus in the hope of sparing him the risk of losing his reputation, job, or even his life as a result of being seen with Jesus.  But their words confirmed that the Lord Jesus was the One who healed his son, removing all doubts that Jesus truly was the Messiah, the Son of God.

VI.  THE REPONSE GIVEN (verses 53-54)

Verse 53 says, “And the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives’; and he himself believed, and his whole household.”  I am convinced that the royal official “believed”, surrendering His life to Jesus Christ as his Lord, at the moment he was given the hour the fever left his son; and the man’s life changed immediately and dramatically.  As he talked to his servants on the way home they could sense this change in his life because he spoke with joy and conviction about the Man who had healed his son.  When he arrived home and held his son in his arms again, he shared with them, not only the details of his meeting with Jesus, but also the change in his own life when he believed.  His “household” – family and servants, heard his testimony, witnessed the change in his life, and “believed”, making the same commitment to Jesus Christ that he made.  It was now a Christian household.  In verse 54, John records that this was the second miracle that Jesus performed, and both of them occurred in Cana of Galilee.

By believing in Jesus Christ, this household was accepting new risks, besides the ones the father took by going to Jesus.  Is it worth the risks?  Ask anyone who has truly made that decision, and whose life has changed because of the power and presence of Christ.  You will see a smile come to that person’s face and a gleam in his or her eyes.  You will also hear expressions of joy from the person’s lips.  The results and rewards are infinitely greater than the risks.

As you review in your mind all the excuses and fears that have kept you from making that decision, also consider what Joann considered in my opening illustration.  “What if it goes wrong?”  “But what if it doesn’t?”  What if it’s true?  What if my life can be drastically changed and I can have a joy, peace, and purpose in my life that’s beyond comparison?  Isn’t it worth the risks?  Won’t the Lord Jesus be faithful to keep His promises if I put my life in His hands and trust in Him?  He was faithful to keep His promise to the royal official.  Why put off the joy that would begin today and last forever?

Joann decided to put her fears aside and have that surgery.  The implants were now in place, and she had to wait a month for her ears to heal.  Then the audiologist connected electrodes, made adjustments, put new hearing aids in place, and made more adjustments.  When the adjustments were completed, the words:  “caaaaaan , , , yooooooou , , , heeeeeear . . . meeeeeeee?” rang in her ears.  “The first words I’ve ever heard . . . tears spill into my lap as I try to take it all in . . . “.  (“Hearing For The First Time … at Age 39 “, by Jo Milne, (Readers’ Digest, 7/8/2015); from the book, “Breaking The Silence”).  It was worth the risks!

There’s a whole new life and a whole new world that opens up to you when you repent of your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  He took the greatest risks and paid the greatest price to provide you with this opportunity.  His grace is sufficient to enable you to rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances that might result from your decision (Ephesians 5:20; I Thessalonians 5:16-18).  As you consider again the two alternatives:  a commitment to Jesus Christ, or not; remember that in this case, what you gain, you gain forever, and what you lose, you lose forever.  Is it worth the risks of putting it off?  Is it worth the risk of suffering the consequences both now and forever?  I hope you will follow the example of the royal official and his household.

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