In the majority of cases, Jesus’ healings are initiated by the person in need or a loved one of the person in need. But in about a third of the cases, the healing is actually initiated by Jesus himself. This story is one of those cases, and it begs the question of why out of all the people that he could have healed at this pool, Jesus chose to seek out this particular man. I don’t think we really get a clear answer to that question, but it is a fascinating narrative about Jesus’ initiating grace to broken people who aren’t even looking for his help.
This man is stuck. He has been in a state of paralysis for 38 years. Not only has his body deteriorated after nearly four decades of neglect, but after experiencing the accompanying cruelty and disdain from society, his soul has withered as well. We get a sense from his deflated, complaining words that his soul is as sick as his body.
We might find Jesus’ question surprising. “Do you want to get well?” Of course he wants to get well! But Jesus asks this question because perhaps the man was not capable any more of asking it himself. He had lost all hope for healing. He had resigned himself to his broken status. Perhaps he had even lost the desire to be healed, because the implications of being made well at this point would be too overwhelming to manage. Even when Jesus asks him about his desire to be made well, he has been so worn down by his disappointment and discouragement that he cannot even answer with a direct affirmation. He is that fatigued, embittered, and emotionally defeated.
Yet this is no match for Jesus. Jesus ignores his negative explanation of why he can’t get better, and simply commands him to get up. In a single word, Jesus heals his atrophied body and opens him up to a completely new life. He is restored in a moment. This is a powerful demonstration of the gospel, that grace comes like a mighty intervention into our lives even when we are not asking for it. “You were dead in your transgressions in sin…. but God made us alive with Christ” (Eph. 2). Grace searches us out and finds us and saves us even when are not looking for it.
A final fascinating element of this story is that Jesus seeks this man out later in the timeline. He tells him to “stop sinning.” In some ways this is the second part of this man’s healing. Jesus tells him that he is facing a crisis greater than his broken body- his broken soul must also be healed. Now that he has met Jesus, he has the opportunity to be free from his bondage to sin and to live a new life. We never really know whether this man responds to Jesus’ final invitation.
As you prepare for worship, consider whether there is an area of your life in which you have lost hope. Have you gotten so used to a bad situation that you have stopped trying to resolve it? Imagine Jesus coming to you as he did to this man, ready to “intervene” in your discouragement and offer you freedom and life. Ask the Lord to cultivate your desire for real and lasting change.
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Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 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. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 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?”
7 “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.”
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaderssaid to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.