John 5:1-15 – The Healing at the Pool

In today’s passage I see three kinds of disappointment and false hope which Jesus confronts head-on.

First is the disappointment of superstition, second is the disappointment of ritualized religion, and third is the disappointment of sin.  In keeping with the water metaphor, I’d beg your forgiveness as we consider each of these using the motif of treacherous water, contrasting them with the living water of Jesus. 

5 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [Some manuscripts include here, wholly or in part, paralyzed—and they waited for the moving of the waters. 4 From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 

7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “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.” 

8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. 

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 

12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. 

Today’s passage marks yet another sign in John’s gospel revolving around water. Where earthly waters fail, Jesus is the living water who breaks forth in heavenly power. 

It starts in John 1:33 when John the Baptist declares that the Spirit baptism of Jesus is greater than his water baptism: 

“the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” 

The living water of Jesus is more powerful than the water of John’s baptism.

Again, at the wedding in Cana in John 2:6-10, Jesus turns the inadequate water of purification into perfect wine representing life in the Spirit:

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:6-10)

Later Jesus reveals to the samaritan woman that the water she is drawing from Jacob’s well will always leave her high and dry, but the living water – Jesus Himself – will satisfy our deepest thirst for hope and truth and purpose:

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but 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.” (John 4.13-14)

And now, once again, at the story of the healing of the lame man at the Sheep Gate Pool, we discover the disappointment that earthly waters bring, contrasted with the restorative power of Jesus, the living water.

Three Waters, Three Disappointments

In today’s passage I see three kinds of disappointment and false hope which Jesus confronts head-on.

First is the disappointment of superstition, second is the disappointment of ritualized religion, and third is the disappointment of sin.  In keeping with the water metaphor, I’d beg your forgiveness as we consider each of these using the motif of treacherous water, contrasting them with the living water of Jesus. 

The Swirling Eddies of Superstition

First, let’s begin with the swirling eddies of superstition.

Fortune cookies. Horoscopes. Palm readers. Psychic hotlines. All baloney. All a waste of time. All whirlpools that spin us right round, baby – right round. All swirling eddies offering false hope, all tools used heavily by the evil one to distract many of us from seeking the living water, Jesus. Now, let me be clear – I’m not saying it is a sin to enjoy a fortune cookie. At best it is a form of mild entertainment. Our family has fun with fortune cookies … If we’re out for Chinese food, before we open the cookie, we agree on a phrase we’re going to add to give each fortune a little bit of color. For example, if you add the phrase “in the bathroom” to a fortune like: “Something big is coming your way” it can be good for a few laughs. So we enjoy fortune cookies as a gag – but we don’t live by those fortunes. Some people, however, do live by fortune cookies and horoscopes. 

At worst, superstitions offer false hope and trap people into an endless whirlpool of broken promises. This man had spent 38 years lying on a mat based on a superstitious belief that he could be healed if he could touch the water first after it swirled. 

Now, your Bible may include a verse 4 that explains: “From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.”  

None of the earliest manuscripts of the Bible include that verse, and only a few of the later ones do. It is a footnote someone added later to try to explain the context of the story, but it is not anything John originally wrote. The version I read rightly removes that verse from the official canon, and adds it as a mere footnote where it belongs. So even though it is not scripture, it does help us understand the reason someone might spend 38 years spinning in the eddies of superstition. He clung to the false hope of a hocus superstition that was neither scriptural nor consistent with the character of God.

There are some – even those who pose as Christians – who cling to superstitions instead of Christ. They don’t go out on Friday the 13th. They cross themselves for luck. They recite endless prayers on a beaded chain. They believe in things they don’t understand, and they suffer. Superstition ain’t the way. 

But Jesus – Jesus is the way. If you want healing, if you want direction, if you want hope – don’t get caught up in the swirling eddies of superstition – don’t submit yourself to the circular currents of astrology, of horoscopes, of fortune cookies. 

Look instead to Jesus. Instead of memorizing your fortune, memorize some scripture. Instead of calling a sham psychic, call on Christ. Instead of starting your day with a vague horoscope, start your day with the Word of God. Those swirling eddies of superstition will leave you drowning in misery, but Christ will bring you real healing, and lasting hope.

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. (Colossians 2:18)

The Riptide of Ritualized Religion

The second type of troubled water we encounter in this story is the riptide of ritualized religion. The Pharisees, the self-appointed referees of ritualized religion, are so pathetic in this story, it would be laughable if it were not so tragic. Here is a man, who they must know after 38 years of seeing him, who was unable to walk, who gets healed, who comes walking past, and the only thing they have to say is "offsides!" Not "Wow!", or "Congratulations", or "Yea God"? Instead of focusing on the miracle right in front of them, they focus on a violation of their ritualized religion: the mat in the man's hands.

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

(vv8-10)

I love Jesus here. He told the man to carry his mat because he knew it would reveal the coldness of the Pharisees and flush out the stupidity of their man-made rules that distort the word of God.

They say ““It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” (v10).

Can anyone here find that verse in the Old Testament where the law forbids someone to carry a mat on the sabbath? Anyone? … Of course, no one can find that verse, because it doesn’t exist. The law they are referring to is the fourth commandment, found in Exodus 20:8-11:

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex 20:8-11)

Did anyone see anything in that verse about carrying a mat? No, of course not – because it isn’t there.

You see, ritualized religion loves to take a grain of truth and turn it into a boulder of burden. The point of the fourth commandment is that we all need a regular day of rest from our regular work, and that we should make some space in our week that is sacred to God. Religious leaders, who sometimes love to place heavy burdens on people to control them, can’t stand the simplicity of the ten commandments. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day came up with a list of no fewer than 39 different categories of activities that might be considered “work”. On that list was carrying your stuff any more than a few yards.  (Shabbos light switch)

Instead of living by the spirit of the law, ritualized religion brutalizes its adherents by dragging them out to sea in a riptide they could never possibly swim against. And just when we think we can start to make some headway against the unending torrent of rules and regulations, they introduce new amendments, hold more policy meetings, add a few footnotes and rulings – not to make us drown, but to keep us paddling so hard in their lane that we cannot see Christ.

Friends, true religion isn’t a bad thing. In fact, the word “religion” is a very simple word that means “reconnect” with God - It is based on the latin word “religare”, and you might be able to hear in that word “ligare” which shares the same root as the modern word “ligament” - it is a re-binding – only in this case not binding muscle to bone, but our temporal lives with things that are eternal. Religion in that sense is a good thing.

But religion that devolves into rote ritual and a lengthy list of As Paul charges us in Colossians 2:21-22, we must be vigilant against swimming in the riptide of ritualized religion:

“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.

Instead, Paul urges us to get past legalism and look to the living water, Jesus Christ. As he says in Romans 8:1-4:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The Cesspool of Sin

Finally, we cannot ignore the third type of water that disappoints: the cesspool of sin.

I know it is gross. I apologize for even using the word. Last Christmas, we learned firsthand just how disgusting a cesspool can be when a truck backed into our septic tank and collapsed the lid completely. Right outside our living room window. They couldn’t fix it until New Year’s. But as gross as the idea of a septic tank’s contents are, the sepsis of sin is even more horrific. 

Notice what Jesus says to the man at the end of the story: “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”  I love that line. Nobody quotes that one on little farmhouse-hand towels, do they? Some people think John’s gospel is wishy washy about sin, but not here. Later we see that same attitude in chapter 8, when Jesus says to the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” 

You see, a lot of people mistakenly think Jesus is soft on sin, when actually, he is very stern about sin. As much as he loves, loves, loves sinners, he hates, hates, deplores, rages against sin. 

Why? Because he knows that the single greatest cause of suffering in the world is sin – and not someone else’s sins, but yours and mine. God doesn’t generally cause suffering in the world, we do by our rebellion against Him and our own sins. 

Even so-called “little” sins have lasting effects that bring great pain and suffering to ourselves and to others. Allow me to explain. Have you ever been caught in traffic? Do you know what causes most traffic? It’s not accidents or construction. In fact, most everyday traffic is caused by a cascade of minuscule bad driving choices. One car taps it’s brakes for one second to let someone in. The car behind it taps its brakes for two seconds. The car behind that for three seconds, and so on, until the entire freeway is a parking lot – all because of a series of overreactions. It is a cascade of poor choices. That’s what original sin is like. We may not have created the mess, but the moment we get in line, we’re contributing to it. Little decisions, little sins, they pile up and paralyze us. 

Now, I’ll finish with this: God does not bless sin. 

A little disclaimer on this subject: we have to be careful about pointing the finger at people who are suffering and trying to figure out who sinned – them or their parents. We’ll talk about that in a later story in John’s gospel. The truth is that the consequences of some sins take generations to manifest themselves. And just because someone is lame on a mat for 38 years doesn’t necessarily mean he did something wrong to get there.

But, having made that disclaimer, we can say for certain that if we presumptuously persist in sin, we are excluding ourselves from God’s blessings. If we say yes to sin, we are saying no to God’s blessings.

Have you been praying for something, but not getting an answer? Do you want your situation to change? Do you want relief? Have you wanted God to bless you, but you aren’t seeing Him come through? I would remind you that a holy God simply will not bless unholy sin. 

If we are willfully engaging in sin, God is under no obligation to bless us. In fact, if you are engaging in a pattern of volitional sin, you are deliberately blocking God from pouring out the blessings He eagerly wants to give you. He has given us His son, extending the offer of full forgiveness – and that offer of grace will not be revoked until we breathe our last. But if we trample on that offer by choosing to continue in sin, we can expect only worse things to happen to us in life. Such lack of blessing will be our own fault, not God’s.

1 John 1.8-9 says: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Jesus can lift us out of the cesspool of sin and cleanse us with living water. All we need to do is confess – own up to it. And he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

“Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14b)

Are you ready to confess? Are you ready to stop spinning in the swirling eddies of superstition? Are you ready to stop swimming against the exhausting riptide of ritualized religion? Are you ready to stop sinning, so something better can happen to you? Then let’s pray together.

Mailing Address

PO Box 221
Spring Valley, CA 91976

Contact Us

(619) 342-1414
info@svchurch.org
© 2022 Spring Valley Community Church. Login