SESSION SEVEN: THE HEALING AT THE POOL (JOHN 5:1-15)
INTRO: When you get sick, what are you like: Oscar the Grouch? Superman? Rip Van Winkle?
- How do you picture the setting of this story (vv. 2-4)? What is the smell? The noises? The atmosphere?
- How would you picture the invalid (vv. 5-7)? What does Jesus mean by his question in verse 6? What did the invalid hope Jesus might do?
- As the invalid, what would you feel in verses 8-9? In verses 10-13? In verse 14?
- Why were the leaders so upset? How do you suppose they responded to the healed man's testimony (v. 15)
- In what ways do people today try to be healed without Christ?
- How would you respond to someone who said all sickness is a result of sin?
- What ailments--physical, spiritual or otherwise--does Jesus need to treat in your life?
TAKEAWAY: What is your greatest takeaway from this passage? What specific life changes do you need to make? How will you hold yourself accountable?
COMMENTARY: THE HEALING AT THE POOL (JOHN 5:1-15)
There were three Jewish feasts that were feasts of obligation—Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Every adult male Jew who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to attend these festivals. Unlike the other gospel writers, John shows that Jesus attended these great feasts. The question is which festival is this one? The Jewish calendar (which starts in the fall) has several Jewish feasts:
• Rosh Hashana or New Year (September/October)
• Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement (September/October)
• Tabernacles (September/October)
• Hanukkah (December)
• Purim (February/March)
• Passover ((March/April)
• Feast of Pentecost (May/June)
Using John's gospel we can chart a timeline for his events using the festival calendar:
In John 2, Jesus left Galilee and traveled to Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover (vs 13). That means Jesus met with Nicodemus during the Passover that occurred in his first year of ministry (John 3).
After this Passover Jesus took his disciples into Samaria and headed back to Galilee (John 4:3-4). He stayed there for a couple days (John 4:43) and then headed north to Galilee where he healed an official’s son (John 4:46-53). This was miracle #2 for Jesus, if you’re counting.
In John 5, Jesus is back in “Jerusalem for one of the festivals.” Pentecost is 50 days after Passover so that’s a possibility. However, it could also be attended Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur or the Feast of Tabernacles in early fall. Between Pentecost and Tabernacles, given travel time between Galilee and Jerusalem, many scholars believe this is the Feast of Tabernacles in John 5.
Another interesting factoid is that Jesus is alone. There’s no mention that his disciples joined him for this feast. Perhaps they stayed behind in Galilee, with their families, in their own homes and towns. After this brief episode in Jerusalem, Jesus returned to Galilee.
THE POOL OF BETHESDA
Jesus found his way to a famous pool translated by some as Bethesda or literally “House of Mercy.” Other translators (in the better manuscripts) call it Bethzatha or “House of the Olive.” From the writings of first century historian Josephus, we know there was a section of Jerusalem known as Bethzatha. The word John used for "pool" is kolumbethron which derives from the Greek verb to “dive.” Consequently, it was a deep pool, deep enough to swim in.
Some translations include a parenthetical thought that does not appear in our best manuscripts for John 5:3-4. It was likely added later to explain what people were doing at the pool:
Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed—and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.
Beneath this great Jerusalem pool was a subterranean stream that, every now and again, bubbled up and disturbed the waters. According to lore, the first invalid to dive into the pool when it’s troubled, was healed. For us today this is superstitious mumbo jumbo, but for the ancient it was common and accepted. People believed in various demons and spirits. They believed these spirits were everywhere and lived everywhere, including trees, streams, hills and rocks. In fact, every pool had its resident spirit.
Furthermore, the ancient was impressed with the sacredness of water, particularly rivers and streams. We are so used to water in our lifestyles that we forget its specialness. We expend gallons to water lawns, fill tubs and accentuate fountains. But for the ancient good, pure water was rare. To the contrary, most water was fouled and dangerous.
Hesiod, the Greek poet, noted that before a man forded a river, he should pray and wash his hands (because unwashed hands could anger the gods). There are stories of kings and generals who sacrificed their horses, bulls and other animals, before attempting to cross a river. To this day, some tribes in Africa refuse to rescue a person drowning in a river because they believed the spirits are taking him.
A MOST INTERESTING CONVERSATION
Jesus arrived at the pool and noticed a man who had been crippled for 38 years. It’s possible this invalid was even older, but regardless his disability had paralyzed him for most of his life. He had no one to help him, even if the waters were stirred. He was all alone in life, living on what blessings he received from those who passed by.
DO YOU WANT TO GET WELL?
Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be healed. It’s a bit of an odd question. You’d think that anyone in that predicament would want to be healed, but that’s not always the case. The physically disabled often become disabled in other ways. They get used to being enabled by others, helped by others, served by others. They get used to free meals, financial gifts and other supports. Some like the attention their disability brings. Besides, if you’re healed, then you have to work like everyone else.
It’s also possible that this man had simply lost hope. He had lived so long as a cripple that he figured that was his lot in life. He had no opportunity, no chances, no future.
PICK UP YOUR MAT AND WALK!
Jesus then told this cripple to pick up his bed. The Greek word suggests a pallet that he’d been sleeping upon. It’s possible he never left the side of the pool. He’d lived here for years and now Jesus commanded him to get up, pick up his pallet and move.
Essentially, the very thing that has carried him for decades will now be carried by him. The bed that once comforted him is no longer necessary. The circumstances that once controlled no longer do. The helplessness that once disabled no longer invalidate. In fact, we often call the disabled “invalids” but when Jesus heals us he “validates” us.
It’s interesting how this inner healing happened near a pool. A pool often used for ritual baptisms. In fact, many people wonder how 3000 people could be immersed on the Day of Pentecost. The pool of Bethesda is probably where it happened.
In our baptismal “pool” moment—when God stirs the waters and heals us through the power of Jesus Christ—we are liberated from the past. Paul tells the Corinthians that our baptism is like the people of Israel going through the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:2). Our baptism gave us a fresh start, a new lease and an inner Power with the indwelling Holy Spirit that we never had before.
Ironically, early Christian art picked up on this idea of the “stirred waters” being baptism. There are paintings of this man in John 5 rising out of the waters carrying his bed upon his back.
STOP SINNING OR SOMETHING WORSE MAY HAPPEN TO YOU!
Our story isn’t over with the healing. The old man by the Bethesda pool now walked and, no doubt, ran around the temple courts. People who knew this cripple as a poster child for disability now witnessed a happy, healthy and healed man. We’d expect the whole community to celebrate. But not all do. Who had a problem with this incredible healing? None other than the Jewish religious leaders. Of course, it didn’t help that he walked through the streets of Jerusalem carrying his mat...on the Sabbath. That was a sin.
According to Jeremiah, it was wrong to "carry a load" on this day: This is what the Lord says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 17:21).
In our study of Nicodemus, we learned it was illegal to “carry a burden” heavier than a fig on the Sabbath. But here is this old guy traipsing through downtown Jerusalem carting a bed on his shoulders! By the way, the penalty for breaking the Sabbath was death by stoning.
The man told the religious leaders that he did not know who healed him. Later Jesus finds him back at the temple, likely for the first time in years offering sacrifices. That's when Jesus told him to stop sinning or he'd face a worse fate.
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