After months of ministry in the area of Galilee, Jesus and His disciples once again made the trip to Jerusalem for one of the annual feasts. As was typical in Jesus’s very unique ministry, along with regularly teaching in the temple complex, He also healed some who were sick and occasionally cast out demons. During His first year of ministry, Jesus had been cautious about revealing who He actually was to the world. He seemed to be performing His miracles somewhat discretely, much to the confusion and annoyance of His disciples. But with this trip to Jerusalem, although Jesus began to change His strategy, it wasn’t in a way that fit into His disciples’ expectations. Once again their faith in their Master was going to be challenged.
On the Sabbath day of the feast, after spending His usual time teaching in the temple, instead of leaving through the south gate to head to the lower city, Jesus led His followers across the large court and traveled through the north temple gate, past the Roman Fortress Antonia, and out of Jerusalem through the Sheep Gate.
“Uh, why are we going north, Teacher?” Philip asked what they were all wondering. “We usually go through the lower city and out to the Mount of Olives.” Everyone turned curious eyes on their Master.
Glancing back at His friends, Jesus gave a slight smile and answered, “I have an appointment.”
“An appointment?” John questioned to some of the disciples standing near him. “Maybe Teacher is meeting up with other believers,” Andrew suggested.
“That would be great!” James said enthusiastically
“Yes, it would,” agreed Rock. “The Teacher needs to strengthen His followers and build greater loyalty among those who already believe in Him.”
“That’s exactly right,” Judas added. “We need a strong base, a core group of dedicated people who will stand with us when the fight comes, especially among the priests and religious leaders who have shown an interest in Him. We can’t let those fellows slip away from us. They’re too important to our movement.”
They followed Jesus out of the city and along the road that would lead them past the walled pool of Bathesda. The disciples thought they were headed to a secret meeting away from Sanhedrin and Roman spies. They were surprised when Jesus turned off the road and headed toward the pool.
The name Bathesda means House of Mercy and was considered by Jews and Romans a place whose waters promoted healing. The pagan Romans had even set up shrines at the pool and declared it an asclepeion, or a healing temple. Because of that, many Jews shunned the place. The only Jews who came to the pool were those in desperate need of healing, and there were many who fell into that group in Jerusalem.
The Pool of Bathesda was actually two pools, an upper one and a lower one that were connected, both of which were surrounded by rectangular stone walls. Inside the unique building were five separate porticos covered with roofs that were held up by stone columns.
When Jesus and His followers entered the structure, the disciples were stunned at the huge crowd of sick and injured people who literally covered most of the steps and all of the porches.
“What is going on here?” John asked in amazement.
“Well, the whole thing is really sad and disgusting,” Judas answered. “It’s believed that every once in a while an angel comes down and stirs up the pool waters, and the first one in gets healed. I’ve heard the fights to be the first one in the water are brutal.”
They watched as Jesus carefully walked down the crowded steps and onto the nearest porch. Moving cautiously so as not to tread on any of the many invalids lying there, He made His way to a man who seemed to have more space around him than any of the others. The man rested in a shady spot on a thick mat and had a worn pillow between his back and one of the columns. The fellow had a reasonably comfortable setup and had obviously been there a long time. A club lay close at hand, and it was clear that the man was ready to defend his spot.
When Jesus stopped beside the man, the invalid quickly snatched up his club and gave the Teacher a threatening look.
“Do you wish to get well?” the Teacher asked as He looked into the man’s eyes.
The invalid rolled his eyes at the question. “Of course I want to get well,” the man shot back angrily. “But nobody gives a rip about me! When the water finally does get stirred up, I can’t get there by myself, and nobody will help put me in the water! Every time somebody else steps in front of me—EVERY SINGLE TIME!” As he said these last words, he pounded his club against the ground, venting his anger and frustration.
Jesus watched the angry man for a moment, then said, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.”
The invalid was about to turn and spit some caustic remark back at the annoying stranger when suddenly he felt strength shoot through his legs. He actually saw his withered leg muscles plump up. In amazement the man began to test out his new legs and found that, after thirty-eight years, he could walk again!
Everybody there knew the man, and nobody liked him. He was so full of anger and bitterness that all the others accepted without question that the man deserved the illness that he had suffered for so long. So they were all stunned when they saw him suddenly stand up and begin skipping and hopping around on legs that hadn’t worked in decades. Of all the people in the world who should get a miracle, it shouldn’t have been him. Suddenly pandemonium broke out as everyone wanted to know what had happened.
By this time, Jesus had returned to His friends and was leading them back the way they had come.
“So was that it, Teacher?” Matthew asked as they returned to the temple. “I mean, the place was full of sick people, but you only healed that one man.”
“He obviously didn’t know who You are,” Thomas added. “Didn’t You tell us that You want to build people’s faith in You?”
“Yeah, Teacher,” Philip joined in, “that guy didn’t have any faith in You at all, but You healed him anyway. What’s that all about?”
Jesus stopped and looked at all of His disciples. “You will all see in less than an hour.”
Picking up all of his bedding and his club, the healed man began to push and threaten his way through the excited crowd, who all wanted to touch him to see if some of his miracle might rub off onto them. For the first time in thirty-eight years, he longed to be with people—normal people. And since it was the Sabbath, he knew that many of the people in Jerusalem would be in the temple, so that’s where he headed.
As he entered the temple grounds, he was confronted by some of the religious leaders. “Hey, you! This is the Sabbath day! You can’t be carrying stuff around today. It’s against the law.”
“Don’t yell at me,” the man said defensively. “It’s not my fault! The man who healed me told me to pick up my bedding and walk.”
“Somebody healed you?” one of the Pharisees demanded angrily. “TODAY?”
“Yeah,” the man answered. “I haven’t been able to walk for thirty-eight years, and this guy comes up to me and tells me to pick up my stuff and walk, and suddenly I was able to.”
“He can’t do that on the Sabbath day!” another shot back. “Who was it?”
“I don’t know!” the man snapped. “He was just there, he healed me, and then he left.”
“Well, if you see him, you’d better come tell us, or it’ll be the worse for you. Now drop all that junk you’re carrying and go ask God to forgive you.” Reluctantly the man laid down his possessions and walked into the temple.
A short time later Jesus, Who was standing in the temple with His disciples, spotted the man He had healed and approached him.
“You!” the man said with surprise when he saw his healer standing in front of him.
“Look at yourself,” Jesus said. “You are completely well. Now stop all of your sinning so that nothing worse happens to you.”
With a look of anger, the man quickly turned from those piercing eyes and pushed his way past the disciples. “What business is it of yours?” James and John heard the man growl as he stomped off.
“Well, that went well,” James said loud enough for the others to hear.
“We aren’t done yet,” Jesus answered as he watched the man rush toward a group of Pharisees. The fellow began using very animated expressions and pointed toward Jesus.
“Uh-oh,” Thomas muttered as they watched all of the angry religious leaders walk purposefully towards them. “Maybe we should leave, Teacher.”
“No, Thomas,” Jesus returned with a smile. “This is why we are here.”
“How dare you heal this man on the Sabbath!” one of the Pharisees snarled.
“And then,” another joined in, “you also ordered him to break the Sabbath by requiring him to carry his baggage!”
“My Father in Heaven works on the Sabbath,” Jesus answered calmly. “If my Father is working, then I will work also.”
“YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN?” the first one shouted. “SO YOU THINK YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD? THAT’S BLASPHEMY!”
“I’m going to tell you the truth,” Jesus returned calmly, “the absolute truth. The Son can do nothing of Himself. He can only do what He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does—just the way the Father wants it done. This is because the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything that He Himself is doing.”
As Jesus said this, He gestured toward the man He had healed. “And even greater works than these will He show the Son so that you will be amazed.”
“Like what?” one of the disbelieving Pharisees shot back.
“Just like the Father raises the dead and gives them life,” Jesus answered, “in the same way the Son gives life to whoever He wishes.”
“Oh, is that so?” the Pharisee asked with a sarcastic chuckle.
“Yes, it is,” Jesus responded. “And not only that, but the Father, Who is Judge of all the earth, has given all judgment to the Son. He did this so that everyone would honor the Son as they honor the Father.”
“Ha! You’re not going to make much of a judge,” one of the Jewish leaders shot back, “since you don’t know how to keep the Sabbath.”
“He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father Who sent Him,” Jesus answered. “I’m telling you the truth—the absolute truth! The person who listens to the words the Father has given Me to speak and believes Him Who sent Me has eternal life, and that person has passed out of death and into life, and he will not be judged.”
“Okay, I get it,” one of the Pharisees who hadn’t spoken yet said. “He’s not talking about raising people physically from the dead. He’s saying that listening to his teachings will give people a spiritual life.
“Isn’t that right teacher?”
The disciples behind Jesus were all nodding yes.
“I’m telling you the truth—the absolute truth!” Jesus returned firmly. “The time has come for all who are dead to hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son to have life in Himself.
“Don’t be amazed at this,” Jesus continued. “A time is coming when all the dead in the tombs will hear the Son’s voice and will come out: those who have done good to a resurrection of life, but those who have done evil to a resurrection of judgment.”
There was an uncomfortable silence as Jesus looked intently into the eyes of each of His adversaries. Finally the Teacher broke the silence. “You question who I am. If I was My only witness, you would have a right to doubt me, but I have other witnesses. You sent to John the Baptizer, and he bore witness of me. But I have even greater witnesses than John. I’m going to tell you about these witnesses because I want you to be saved.” Once again Jesus pointed to the man He healed. “The works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the works that I am doing, these miraculous works are my witnesses. They declare that the Father has sent Me. Even the Father Himself has been My witness.”
“Brothers, have any of you heard God testify that this man is His son?” one of the religious leaders asked the other Pharisees.
“No!” they enthusiastically answered.
“Of course you haven’t,” Jesus returned. “You can’t hear His voice because you don’t know Him. He sent His own Son to speak to you, and you refuse to believe Him.”
One of the angry Pharisees started to interrupt Jesus, “But the scriptures…”
“The scriptures?” the Teacher shot back, cutting him off. “You search the scriptures because you think you’ll find eternal life in them. It is these same scriptures that bear witness of Me, but you are unwilling to come to Me for life. I have come in My Father’s name, but you won’t receive me. Others come in their own name, and you run to them. Even though I am His Son, don’t think that I’m going to be the one to accuse you before the Father. The one who will accuse you will be Moses, because he wrote about Me. He told you I was coming, but you didn’t believe him. If you will not believe the writings of Moses, then you will certainly not believe My words either.”
As Jesus led his followers away from the tense confrontation, a discussion broke out among the disciples.
“Did you hear them?” John said, looking back at the angry Jews having an intense debate. “As we were walking away, one of them said that Jesus must die!”
“We haven’t heard the end of this,” Simon, the former assassin, said. “I’ve seen that look before. Those guys are definitely going to cause trouble.”
“Well, you wanted the Teacher to proclaim Himself,” Matthew said.
“But not like that!” Simon exclaimed.
“Why did the Teacher do this?” Judas asked angrily. “It’s dangerous, and it doesn’t help our cause! It’s like He arranged the whole thing!”
“The Teacher only says what the Father tells Him to say,” Rock returned. “Maybe it’s somehow a part of God’s plan.”
“Well,” Judas shot back, “all I can say is, the Father’s going to get His Son killed if He keeps giving Him words like these!”
By Alan W. Harris
(Inspired by John 5:1-47)