4-26-20: Online Sunday School: Jesus Encounters...The Man at the Pool of Bethesda: Bernie Shoemaker

The Word: John 5:1-15

In this story, a man has been disabled for many years. He feels trapped by circumstances beyond his control. Jesus bursts onto the scene and heals the man, instructing him to get up and walk. The man is invited to new life, both physically and spiritually. The scene takes place on the Sabbath, stirring up anger amongst the Jewish leaders, revealing once again their hardened hearts and blinded eyes. Now the story turns ugly. The ugly part is not in the verses assigned for this week’s study but would come a few verses later, where we are told that the Jewish leaders began to persecute Jesus and tried to kill Him (5:16-18). A lovely story of healing, and a nasty picture of a murder plot. The Gospel of John invites us to ponder the baffling nature of these events in the life of Jesus.

1. A Gathering of Disabled People (Read John 5:1-[3b-4]) "waiting for the stirring of the water; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had." (NRSV)

The NIV, like other English translations, omits verse 4 and places the omitted text in a footnote. The reason is that the oldest and most reliable manuscripts do not have these words, which were most likely added by a later copyist to explain the sick man’s statement to Jesus about the stirring of the water in verse 7. The legend about the angel’s stirring of the water in verse 4 is certainly a misunderstanding of the nature of God’s abundant grace of healing. Why would only the first one into the pool be healed? Do we have to compete for God’s gift of healing?

Our lesson writer, Jirair Tashjian, writes: Our gospel writer may have had a theological reason for mentioning the pool of water where the sick gathered. Water is a favorite theme in the Gospel of John and comes up in a number of contexts. Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water to wine in Cana of Galilee (2:1-11). The new wine of Jesus, miraculously produced from water, turned out to be superior to the old wine that was depleted. In Jesus, God was offering the world the greatest and best gift.

Soon after that first miracle, Jesus told Nicodemus that “no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (3:5, NLT). In the following chapter, Jesus said to a Samaritan woman, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14). When Jesus was later in Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles, He referred to the miracle of healing in this week’s passage and said to people around Him, “‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (7:37-39). Finally, and most significantly, when Jesus died on the cross and a soldier pierced His side with a spear, “at once blood and water came out” (19:34, NRSV). (Commentary on John 5:1-15 by Jirair Tashjian)]

2. “Do You Want to Get Well?” (Read John 5:5-9a)

Jesus is in Jerusalem once again for the celebration of a religious festival. During His time in the city, He encounters a great number of people with physical ailments, gathered around a pool. Jesus approaches one individual from among the crowd of disabled, one who had been disabled for many, many years and asks Him an unexpected question, “Do you want to get well?” How would you answer that question?

Unexpectedly, the man does not express a desire to get well, nor does he deny it. Instead, he offers an explanation of his situation. Perhaps he does not know Jesus or His reputation as the healer. The man’s response seems to indicate a deeply ingrained sense of powerless as he cites others’ behavior as the reason for his continued status. Unhindered by the man’s response, Jesus issues a three-fold command: Stand up, take your mat, and walk! The man is healed, but perhaps just as surprising is the man’s response: immediate obedience to Jesus’ command.

Only after the healing does the gospel writer reveal that the healing takes places on the Sabbath. Jesus knew that both His behavior and command to the man would cause conflict with the Jewish leaders.

3. The Sabbath (Read John 5:9b-13)

After following Jesus’ command, the healed man is confronted by Jewish leaders who take issue with the man’s behavior, specifically his carrying of his mat on the Sabbath.

Jirair Tashjian, one of the lesson writers, wrote: Now we begin to get “the rest of the story” in the statement that the day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and the Jewish leaders’ assertion to the healed man, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” The Jewish leaders did not object to the man’s healing on the Sabbath. The objection here was against carrying a mat on the Sabbath.

The religious authorities could justify their position on the basis of several texts in the Old Testament. For example, according to Jeremiah 17:21, the Lord said to Israel, “Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day.” However, a careful look at the larger context in which such instructions are given in the Old Testament makes it clear that the prohibition was not against carrying any sort of loads, but carrying merchandise to engage in income-producing business on the Sabbath. This is clearly indicated in Nehemiah 13:15-17, which tells about the practice of treading winepresses, loading grain, wine, grapes, figs and other merchandise on donkeys and bringing them to Jerusalem and selling them on the Sabbath. Nehemiah rebuked the people for desecrating the Sabbath. As time went on, however, interpretation of the Sabbath law became much more restrictive among some Jewish groups, such as the Pharisees.

The specific instruction of Jesus to the sick man to pick up his mat was very likely for the purpose of giving him and the religious authorities an object lesson on what it meant to keep the Sabbath holy. If a sick man is healed on the Sabbath and carries his mat and goes his way, has he violated the sanctity of the Sabbath? Jesus was telling everyone in so many words that there ought to be a great celebration that healing had taken place even on a holy day rather than fussing over the fact that the healed man was carrying his mat. Legalism has always been a temptation for overzealous religious groups. (Commentary on John 5:1-15 by Jirair Tashjian; Illustrated Bible Life, p38)

4. “Stop Sinning” (Read John 5:14-15)

While the text is not clear about the man’s response to Jesus’ call to leave off sinning, we learn he reports to the leaders that it was Jesus who healed him. After this report, the Jewish leaders began to persecute Jesus (John 5:16).

Why might the man have responded to Jesus’ command in this way? (running to the Jewish leaders)

In what ways might our testimony of what God has done, or is doing, in our lives result in persecution?


Each one of us is familiar with the experience of powerlessness and brokenness in our own way. Some face the challenge of chronic illness or pain; others carry the weight of depression or anxiety. Some of us bear the heavy burden of past regret and sin, some of which still bear consequences in our daily lives. We can trust God’s redemptive, restorative intentions for our lives. We are invited to lay aside fear, apathy, bitterness, and anger and instead allow the Holy Spirit to empower us to grow in Christlikeness. Obedience to Christ is the only path to wholeness and freedom.

The man had laid by the pool for 38 years. Healing introduced a completely new way of being in the world.

Consider what would change in your life if you surrendered yourself to God’s will and way.

While one man was healed, dozens remained unhealed that day. While that is not the outcome we would prefer, it does not diminish the presence of God in the lives of those unhealed that day.

How can we faithfully receive God’s “no” when our hearts long for “yes”?

In what ways can we tell others of the spiritual healing we have received from God?

Close in prayer, inviting God’s healing touch into our lives.

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