Healing at the House of Mercy

In the following account by the apostle John of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, there are several noteworthy details we can explore. From the meaning of the name of the pool where the man is located, to the order of the details of the interaction between Jesus and the man, to the initial meeting and the follow-up encounter, to the parallels in each of our lives, this divine appointment is instructive and relevant to us.

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “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.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” John 5:1-14.

To start, the name Bethesda in Hebrew (Beth hesda) means “house of” and “mercy”. In Aramaic, Bethesda can mean “shame” or “disgrace” as well. For thirty-eight years this man lain there, desperately needing mercy and grace and experiencing only shame and disgrace. No one extended mercy to him, no one aided him, even though people passed by him daily for nearly four decades! Finally, when Jesus encountered him there that day, the man received mercy and grace. Just as the man was powerless to help himself, we are powerless to save ourselves and require a Savior to extend mercy and grace.

In addition, the order of the interaction between Jesus and the paralyzed man is also significant. Here are some highlights that stood out to me in my study of this text:

1. “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus obviously saw the man and knew he was unable to move to the purported healing waters himself. Still, He seems to have required the man to acknowledge his need and desire a change from his current, and longstanding, circumstances. Before Jesus heals him, or expects him to fix his life, Jesus asks the simple but profound question: “Do you want to be healed?” (emphasis mine). Jesus doesn’t force Himself on anyone, neither then nor now. The question hangs in the air for you and me today: Do we want what we so obviously need, that is, grace? mercy? healing? salvation? freedom from sin and death?

2. Jesus’s interaction with the man stemmed from His own compassion on the man, not as a result of the man’s demonstrated faith. The man very clearly expressed his piteous state and his helplessness that he had experienced for 38 years. Rather than first requiring that the man clean up his act, or first requiring a profession of belief that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus acted upon His sympathy and love for the man in need. In other words, Jesus orchestrated this encounter with the paralyzed man first and foremost because He loved him and had compassion on him. The same is true of Jesus’s love and compassion for people in need today. Romans 9:15 states “…he [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

3. The manifestation of the man’s physical healing required action. Like the woman who had an issue of blood, constantly bleeding and considered unclean for twelve years (MT. 9:20), this man had suffered for thirty-eight years, a very long time. Also like the woman, his healing would come following action on his part. Jesus told him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”. Obeying this command gave this man an opportunity to demonstrate faith in Jesus’s ability and desire to heal him. I imagine this man was quite perplexed by the instruction, especially since he just explained his dilemma to this Stranger, but he obeyed Him nevertheless, demonstrating his faith. When Christ pursues our hearts and moves us to see our need for His grace and mercy, we also must respond in obedience to be saved.

4. Later, AFTER healing, “Jesus found the man … in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”” (v.14). Jesus was interested not only in the man’s body and physical healing, but also with the condition of his soul. In fact, Jesus is more concerned with our holiness than our healing. That can be hard for us to fathom, because we live in a material world, but it is true as evidenced by scripture.

Note that Jesus didn’t require the man to be sinless before He healed him. He just asked if the man acknowledged his need. Later, after the man returned to the temple, he was commanded by Jesus to sin no more. The word says that “Jesus found him” and told him to sin no more. Don’t miss the detail: Jesus, God incarnate, found him and told him. It wasn’t fellow disciples, or leaders, or the chief priests who instructed the man to sin no more, but Jesus Himself. Has Jesus ever ‘found you’ and spoken to your heart? I don’t think this was a casual, accidental meeting; I believe Jesus sought him out to finish their first encounter. He makes it clear to the man that His concern was for his holiness.

Like this paralyzed man, we have no power to arise, turn from our sin and follow Christ any more than he is able to stir himself to get into the water by himself. Without God’s mercy (Bethesda), we are just as helpless. It was not in this man’s power to do so alone, and it isn’t within our power to do so alone either. It is only by the power of Christ.