“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. [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.] One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.” (John 5:1-9).
John begins to show us the different responses by people to the signs and wonders Jesus performed. In John 4:46-54, the response was heartfelt belief. In John 5:1-9 it was apathetic superstition.
The setting is most likely the spring of Jesus’ second year of ministry. The feast is most likely Passover, although we cannot be sure. John’s Gospel consistently constructs his narrative to various Jewish feasts (2:13—Passover; 6:4—Passover; 7:2—Booths, or Tabernacles; 10:22—Hanukkah, or Feast of Dedication; and 11:55—Passover). However, this is the only time when he did not identify the particular feast.
The setting shifts from Galilee (John 4:46-54) to Jerusalem and particularly to the Sheep Gate. The Sheep Gate was located at the northern wall of the city which surrounded the temple compound. Located outside the gate is a pool called Bethesda which means “house of grace” or “steadfast love.”
It should be noted that John 5:3b-4 is not found in the earliest and best Greek manuscripts. It is a textual variant. It contains a superstition regarding the Pool of Bethesda. A superstition is (1) a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of a cause leading to a concluding effect; and/or (2) an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition. Let us understand that the text in question is not a textual variant because it contains a superstition, but rather because the text (5:3b-4) is not found in the most reliable Greek manuscripts that we presently possess.
At this pool were a multitude of invalids including the blind, lame and paralyzed. John 5:3b-4 explains why they were there. It was a common held superstition that 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.”
The worldly culture is filled with superstitions. However, so too is the church. Sometimes our superstitions or traditions may take on more authority in our lives than the actual Word of God.
We do not know if the superstition mentioned in John 5 was true. By definition a superstition is a non-truth. However, this did not dissuade many people from coming to the pool with the hopes of being healed.
One such person was a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. The text does not tell us how old the man was, whether he had been afflicted with this ailment since birth or if it was the result of an injury. In fact, the text does not tell us exactly what kind of ailment the man actually had. The word for invalid (ἀσθένεια; astheneia) simply means incapacity, illness, disease or weakness. What we do know for certain was that he was one of the many who were hoping for a healing.
As with the woman at the well (John 4) and her life of immorality, Jesus omnisciently knew that the man in question had been at the pool for a long time. Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to be healed?” We should note that the man did not know who Jesus was and claimed no faith in Jesus to heal him. This is proven by the man’s response: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” The man’s faith to be healed was placed in his superstition of the pool and not in the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said to the man, ““Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” Jesus gave the man three commands: (1) Get up; (2) Take up your bed; and (3) Walk. This the man immediately did. Wow! What a moment it must have been for one who had walked in 38 years.
Yet, in spite of this great miracle, the man does not thank Jesus for healing him. It seems that it was no big deal. Oh, by the way. John adds one more detail at the conclusion of John 5:9. “Now that day was the Sabbath.” This seemingly insignificant detail sets us up for the overall response by the religious leaders of the day to this miracle. It will also provide significant meaning for us to the man’s response to Jesus for healing him.
Have you ever prayed for something to happen and when it does your response is less than one filled with gratitude? Take the time today to thank God for all of your blessings and to reveal to you where and when you trust in superstitions. Perhaps the greatest superstition we have is that we are good enough to earn acceptance before God. What a superstition this truly is.
Soli deo Gloria!