Healing on the Sabbath. John 5:1-9

John 5 begins with a miraculous healing from Jesus. 

Jesus travels to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish feasts. In other words, it’s one of the Jewish holy days. We don’t know exactly which one. John talks a lot about the feasts in this gospel. He mentions three Passovers, mentions the feast of booths, among others. The fact that he does not specify in this instance might be that the specific feast is not theologically significant to this event. 

Verse 2 begins to tell us about a specific place to which he travels within Jerusalem. 

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 

Verse 3 gives us the likely reason for why Jesus is there. 

 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.

So there are people who have various physical ailments and who regularly go to this pool. 

From the context of the passage, it seems that they did this because they thought the pool itself was a place of physical healing. 

The problem with this is that it is God alone who brings healing. 

So that being said. I think it’s helpful to look at verse 3 and then continue it into verse 5. 

3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 

So lots of people who suffered from various disabilities would go to this pool. In verse 5, we’re introduced to a man who has been an “invalid,” as the text says, for 38 years. 

Think about that for just a moment. 

38 years, in a time that was before modern medicine. 

We don’t know all of the ailments he might have had, but among them, as we will learn in this passage, he was unable to walk. 38 years of suffering. The average life expectancy in this period was about 35. 

Verse 6, he encounters Jesus. 

6 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?

Jesus sees the man lying by the pool. There are others there. He doesn’t seek Jesus out, but Jesus seeks this man out. 


We’re never told. It’s the divine initiative. It’s providence. 

The text says that Jesus knew he had been there a long time, which is reminding us of the supernatural knowledge Jesus has as God. 

And then he asks the man “do you want to be healed?” 

An interesting question

It’s interesting to consider the first two sign Jesus has performed. When he turns water into wine, his mother comes to him. In John 4, it was the Roman official who came to Jesus and asked him to heal his son. But in this event, the man does not come to Jesus. 

It is Jesus who comes to him. 

That’s one of several reasons why this event is significant in this gospel and it’s making a theological point. 

God heals whom he will. And it is not always because of great faith that he heals a person. Everyday there are people who God heals, God blesses in a multitude of different ways where they didn’t ask for it, they aren’t looking to God. It’s simply because of God’s own goodness, grace, and providence. 

Verse 7, the man responds: 

7 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.”

This guy thinks that being at this pool is his hope of healing. 

He’s superstitious. 

It’s not the pool that heals, it’s not being the first one in the pool that offers the promise of healing. It is ironic that he looks to the water as if it’s some mystical force of healing, when he’s in the presence of Jesus. 

They’re in Jerusalem, the holy city. They’re near the temple, the sacred site which represented the presence of God on earth. And he’s focused on getting into a pool. 

The point isn’t to fault this man for having the desire to be healed. Everyone who’s afflicted wants that. 

But he’s looking to the wrong place.

Illustration – faith healing

It’s a point I made a few weeks ago, but our society and our world is drawn to people who claim to be faith healers and superstition. 

In the early days of the Coronavirus epidemic, disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker was selling a silver substance which he claimed could cure a person of the virus. Peter Popoff who was another disgraced televangelist in the 80s continues to offer miracle spring water.

There are people who pray to statues or believe that praying in a specific place will carry unique favor with God. 

Those are not Christian values. 

Christianity is not a faith of superstition. It’s a faith that’s rooted in the almighty God of creation. God knows all. He is sovereign. Praying in special ways, or special places, or with special objects is not the basis by which God suddenly will hear us. 

It’s idolatry. 

But Jesus shows him grace anyway. 

 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. 

As we’ve seen other times in this gospel, John is very matter of fact in his reporting of Jesus’ miracle. 

Jesus tells him to pick up his bed. I’m sure the term “bed” is pretty generous here. It’s not like he had a sleep number mattress out by the lake. It was likely a very thin and dingy mat that he was using. 

So that’s our first scene. The miracle which Jesus has performed for this man. 

It’s another display of the power that Jesus has as God on earth, but it’s also important to this gospel because of what happens in the aftermath of this miracle.

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