Do You Want To Get Well?

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie - the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?"
"Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me."
Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
(John 5.1-9)

Am I the only one, or does this story just seem strange? What is going on here? Where did this pool come from, and why is Jesus there? These are important questions.

Let’s try to unpack some of this. First, the name of the pool and the location are important if we are to grasp what is happening here. The name of the pool is Bethesda, an Aramaic compound word: beth meaning either mercy or grace and hesda meaning house. Thus Bethesda is the House of Grace and Mercy. Likewise, John tells us that this pool is located near the Sheep Gate. The Sheep Gate is mentioned only one other time in Scripture. In Nehemiah 3, we are told that the first Gate to be rebuilt once the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon was to be the Sheep Gate (Neh. 3.1). It was essential to rebuild this Gate first so that the sacrificial system – established by Moses over 1,000 years earlier - could resume. The Sheep Gate was needed as this is the Gate that the sheep would be brought through as they were led into the temple courts for sacrifice. In the New Testament, Jesus is constantly referred to metaphorically as a Lamb or Sheep. In fact, in John 10, Jesus even goes so far as to refer to Himself as the gate (vv 1-10).

The men and women lying under the porches surrounding this pool are waiting for the waters to be stirred (supposedly by the wings of an angel). If they are the first to touch the water, they will be healed.

This practice is clearly part of a Greco Roman tradition that has been passed down through the ages. In the first Century BC, it is said that caves surrounding the pool were turned into baths as part of an asclepieion by the Roman garrison of the Antonius Fortress (the home of the Roman governor presiding over Jerusalem and located very near the Temple). Asclepieion’s were healing temples sacred to the Greek god Asclepius (the god of healing whose symbol – the snake entwined staff – remains the symbol of medicine to this day).

With all of this in mind, we come to the episode before us. Jesus is walking among the invalids lying under the porticos awaiting a stirring of the waters. Why is he there? Because Jesus is always where the hurting people are! A simple glance over the Gospels will reveal the incredible value that Jesus places upon the “poor, the meek, the lame, the lost, the outcasts and the sinners.” It only seems right that this is a place that Jesus would be.

He stops by a man who the text tells us has been invalid and trying to get into this pool for 38 years! I don’t think the exact number of years is necessarily significant, but the point seems to be that some people allow themselves to live with their brokenness for long periods of time. Jesus has compassion upon this man and asks him a question that he asks all of us today: “Do you want to get well?” This is a troubling question for some of us, and perhaps it was for this man as well. Truly being healed means that we have to do some things that maybe we have grown accustomed to not doing; it means not allowing others to wait on us anymore; it means taking some responsibility for our own wholeness and well-being.

Notice that the man does not answer the question, he responds with a justification for why he can’t be healed: “Sir, I have no one to help me …” Jesus proves him wrong in an instant: “Get up. Pick up your may and walk.” Jesus says, in essence, I am with you, and I am all you need (see Matthew 28.20).

The only thing left for the man to do is to be obedient. And he is. He gets up and walks.

This man is you. And this man is me. Throughout our lives we will find ourselves in situations where we’re paralyzed: spiritually, emotionally, relationally, financially, and otherwise. Perhaps you’re there right now. You don’t know where to turn and you don’t know what to do. Perhaps, you’ve been dealing with an issue in your life for several years, and you’re just not sure that God even cares. This passage reminds us that God has not left us, in fact, He is right there with us smack dab in the middle of our pain and helplessness. Perhaps, like this man, we’ve been looking for healing in the wrong places. Perhaps we need to take a look once again at the One who walked through the Sheep Gate for us – our ultimate Sacrifice – Jesus Christ, and respond in the affirmative to His probing question:

Do you want to get well?

If you do, you will.

Get up and walk today!

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