During the time of Jesus, a pool known as Bethesda occupied a space just north of the temple. Rumored to possess healing properties, invalids of every kind lay near the waters hoping for a miracle of their own. The pool makes a brief appearance in John 5:2–8 as Jesus enters Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Passing by, He notices one particular man suffering from an unspecified malady who had remained by the pool for a “long time” (v. 5). In verse 6, John tells us that Jesus asked the man:
“Do you want to be healed?”
It’s a simple question requiring a simple answer, but the man does not give one. Instead, he registers a complaint. He says, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me” (v. 7). You can almost hear his defeated sigh. How many other pools had he visited? Did he ever have hope? Was he the kind of man who, with great enthusiasm, ran from one source to the next without ever finding what he felt he needed?
While we cannot answer these questions from the text, his response makes clear that he is a defeated man. The pool may have worked for others, but not for him. He had no helper and moved too slowly on his own. It is easy to feel sorry for the man and perhaps that’s what he was looking for because in his frustration, he misheard the question of Jesus. There is a tired defensiveness in his answer.
Jesus did not ask a complex question. A simple “yes” or “no” would have sufficed, but this man who “had already been there a long time” mistook the question for an accusation rather than an invitation. It is as though he had been asked this before. There is a casual discarding to his tone, possibly even shame. If only he were able enough, fast enough, strong enough, he could be healed.
We have all exchanged the Creator for His creation, the Giver for His gifts. We have sought to quench our thirst with broken cisterns rather than the fountain of living waters Himself.
Of course, the irony is that this man in need of saving could not recognize his Savior. When Jesus spoke, he heard the words of a mere man while he gazed at Bethesda wishing it would heal him, never mind the fact that he lay before the One who separated the waters above from those below (Gen. 1:6–8).
The One who commanded the boundaries of the sea (Job 38:11).
The One who placed a well in the bone-dry wilderness of Beersheba so that Hagar and Ishmael would live (Gen. 21:15–21).
The One who sweetened the water of Marah (Ex. 15:22–25) and caused streams to flow from the rock Moses struck to preserve the Israelites (Ex.17:1–7).
The One who stirred the swells against Jonah (Jon. 1:4) and quieted them with a word in the presence of His disciples (Mark 4:39).
This was the One who could walk on water (Matt. 14:25), command its most terrifying inhabitants (Ps. 104:26; Job 41) and eternally quench all thirst (John 4:13–14). The sick man waited on the edge of a pool he hoped would heal him while the One who created the water within stood at his side asking, “Do you want to be healed?”
The irony of this story applies to us, as well. We have all exchanged the Creator for His creation, the Giver for His gifts. We have sought to quench our thirst with broken cisterns rather than the fountain of living waters Himself. And yet, what happens next is the best part of all.
The invalid man misses and misunderstands Jesus, hearing accusation rather than invitation and seeing a mere man rather than the Son of Man. He waits beside a public pool for healing rather than turning to the One who offers living water. And what does Jesus do? Does He walk away disappointed in this man’s unbelief? No, He says, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” and heals him (v. 8).
Don’t let the good news of this scene slip by. Each of us has sat beside our own pools in the hopes of healing, paralyzed by our circumstances and self-pity. We have looked to that which cannot save, and yet our gracious God has drawn near through the death and resurrection of His Son. Even now, He asks, “Do you want to be healed?”
Today, Bethesda is an arid ruin with no more allure than that of historical fascination. Only the grace of God can provide the healing we need, and that is a truth that will never run dry.