the Paralytic at Bethesda
There was a place called Bethesda near the Temple in Jerusalem. It was dubbed the “Sheep Gate” because sheep were led through here to their slaughter place. It had a pool with a fountain beneath it. Every once in a while, the fountain would emit bubbles and the water in the pool would be stirred. People believed that angels were stirring the pool water. Whoever got into the pool first while the water was stirring would have their sickness or disease healed.
Excavation around the Pool of Bethesda revealed that it was surrounded by four pillars, which divided the place into five colonnades. Modern archaeology proves the accuracy of the biblical record that the Pool of Bethesda was located at the Sheep Gate.
There was a man lying beside the Pool of Bethesda for a long time. He had been sick for 38 years. Jesus took the initiative to approach him and asked, “Do you want to get well?”
The invalid man did not give a direct answer. Instead, he replied, “Sir, 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.” (v. 7)
This man was a paralytic. He was simply too weak to compete with others physically. So, he could never be the first to jump into the pool to be healed. Now that Jesus came to talk to him, he thought that Jesus intended to help him into the water as it stirred. But Jesus did not do it his way. Jesus was certainly willing to help and heal the paralytic but the approach He used was far beyond what the man could imagine.
Then, Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once, the man was healed – he picked up his mat and walked (vv. 8-9)! God’s amazing grace came upon the paralytic through Jesus Christ!
Be Gracious and Courageous for God is Gracious to Us
The Pool of Bethesda was a place where the hope for healing was offered to the sick, who were helpless and in despair. The blind, the lame, and the paralyzed would definitely want to give it a try.
Yet, the Pool of Bethesda was also considered a cursed place. There were many sick people lying there groaning and gazing sorrowfully at the pool. The sound of sorrow, anguish, and tears of disappointment resounded among the colonnades, birthed from hearts craving to be healed.
All of a sudden, there was a stir in the pool and everyone rushed for it! They stepped on one another. They tussled, pushing and pulling, in order to be the winner. Yet, ironically, the water in the pool might become still the moment the winner got into it!
Everybody wanted to be the first to get healed. Nobody paid attention to the others. The sick were tormented and defeated inwardly again and again before they could receive their physical healing. As a result, the sick may have shifted their trust from God to the Pool. They became rivals instead of fellow countrymen.
The Pool of Bethesda was supposed to be a place where God’s love and mercy could be experienced, but it was turned into a platform for human cruelty and selfishness.
In summary, the Pool of Bethesda reveals to us the religiosity and rigidity of Jewish tradition. It became a routine and was useless in touching lives. The logic behind its operation was “first come first served; winner takes all.” Whoever got into the water first would be healed.
Certainly, the one who eventually got healed would neither be the one who suffered from the most critical condition nor the weakest among all. It would not be the one who needed healing the most. Jesus came to overthrow and to pronounce His judgment upon the rigidness of this Jewish tradition, which was derived from man-made religion.
The paralytic believed in the words of Jesus and he was healed. He responded to Jesus, who was the Word, and “the Word was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2). What Jesus said was the Word of God. His truth brings life to us for “grace and truth come from Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Our society is like the Pool of Bethesda. It is fraught with weak and helpless people. People are suffering and struggling. Unfortunately, they are all bound by worn-out traditions and legalistic beliefs. They abandon themselves to sin and drift along in the sea of failures and dejections in life. Still, people are fighting against one another. They are stepping on each other so that they may end up the winner.
Those who received healing in the Pool of Bethesda were the strongest among the sick. These are the self-righteous. They were healed by virtue of their physical superiority. They found themselves indebted to nobody. Those who have this type of attitude will not be grateful. They will find it hard to be compassionate towards the sick. They will be responsible to neither God nor society.
In contrast, the salvation that Jesus offered to the paralytic reflected the free grace and sovereignty of God. The paralytic was healed even though he did not place his trust in Jesus. He had no idea from the outset that Jesus was the Healer.
The Jews saw the formerly paralyzed man carrying his mat. Apparently, it was not lawful for him to do that on a Sabbath. So, they rebuked him harshly. He replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” But he had no idea who was his Healer (v11-13).
Jesus gives us His salvation free of charge but it is not cheap grace. It is priceless grace from God. The Son of God gave Himself up as a living sacrifice in order to save the world. We should not boast that we have received salvation. It is God who chose us from the multitude. He freely grants us mercy and grace.
We are men and women redeemed by His mercy! May this understanding take root in our hearts, so that we may be inspired to take on our Kingdom responsibilities to show love, mercy, and compassion toward others.
How do you see yourself before God today? Are you the self-righteous and strong one? Or, are you the weak one who is blessed by God’s mercy? Are you merciful and gracious to your neighbours? May the Spirit of God move our hearts and open our eyes to see that we are indebted to our neighbours.
Let’s go all out this day to show mercy to the needy and the weak. Let us extend the grace we have received from God to others because we too are merely sinners who received the grace of God. Be gracious to people particularly those who are near us. We often neglect or act merciless to them.
On the other hand, we need not worry about our own weaknesses, limitations, or difficulties to the extent that we dare not embark on new undertakings or accept new challenges. God’s grace is sufficient for us to overturn the rules of the game, which are “first come first serve,” “the fastest is the victor,” and “the survival of the fittest.”
God’s grace enables the weak to be strong and the poor to be rich. The Lord Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Persevere to the End and You Shall be Saved
What else can we do since we are saved solely by the grace of God?
Although the paralytic did not place his trust in Jesus and did not even know Jesus personally, he did not succumb to his situation. He had a strong desire to live on. It is true that he did say that no one helped him to get into the pool as the water stirred. We can translate what he said to mean, “I am not able to compete with others.” It is true that this carried the undertones of complaining, murmuring, and accusation.
Nevertheless, he did not leave the Pool of Bethesda throughout the years. He maintained a strong believe that a miracle would ultimately happen to him. This serves as a strong reminder to those of us who give up easily when we are frustrated, weakened, and distracted by our circumstances.
God’s sovereignty, His mercy, and human faith are what it takes for God’s miracle to happen. These prerequisites are not mutually exclusive. Jesus is the one who takes the initiative to invite men and women to experience God’s great power and mercy as long as they persevere and do not give up or despair even if their faith is small and possess only a nodding acquaintance with Him.
It is not difficult for us to describe what it means to live in a perfect world, or be part of a perfect church, or have the perfect physical appearance. But it will be far more difficult for us to live responsibly and persevere in the reality of imperfection. However, we have to assume our responsibility and live our lives to the full by faith. We need to be filled with determination, hope, and courage regardless of what situation we may face.
In reality, what seems to be imperfect is actually perfect. Flaws and defects found in one’s appearances are sometimes where the attraction lies! This is a paradox! It is in the midst of an imperfect world where honorable character traits are forged. For example, courage, accountability, spirit of self-sacrifice, mutual help and support, the joy of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, mutual acceptance (including seemingly imperfect outward appearances), gratitude, compassion, hope, etc.
Therefore, it is pointless for us to blame God for not creating a perfect world that is undefiled by sin.
No matter how helpless you feel, how pathetic your situation now, Jesus is always there to care for your deepest concerns. Jesus meets your every need whenever you are downcast. Do not lose hope in the midst of the difficulties and discouragements you are encountering. God has His perfect will even if the circumstances are gloomy.
Miracles will happen if we persist in waiting upon the Lord. There will be reward for us. Just as Jesus healed the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, He will do it unto us. Persevere until the end and we shall be saved! God will grant us His mercy so that our conditions will improve. We shall break free from our predicament and our lives shall be renewed by Him.