Summary: Of COMPASSION, of PURPOSE, of OBEDIENCE
It is important to our purposes here, to briefly discuss the chronology of the events recorded in the first 18 verses of John chapter 5.
Jesus has just come from Galilee, where the gospel writers tell us He was performing many miracles and teaching the people.
It is very near the end of the second year of Jesus’ ministry. He has reached the summit of His popularity with the people; not necessarily for the right reasons, but because of His miracles and His method of teaching that so freed them from the drudgery and bondage inherent in the teaching of the scribes.
So Jesus of Nazareth is a well-known name by now; a topic for much discussion and speculation and debate for disciples, seekers and even His enemies.
It is in this setting that we find Jesus going to the pool of Bethesda, near the sheep gate, a pool that has 5 entry ways, and is surrounded by what the author defined as a ‘multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered’.
We don’t know if Jesus performed other miracles while He was at the pool, either before or after approaching this man, and that fact alone indicates to us that John had purpose in telling of this one man’s confrontation with our Lord.
The passage tells us that the man had been an invalid for 38 years. Notice it does not say that he had been by the pool for 38 years; but he must have been there for quite some time, or at least had friends or family taking him there often, as verses 3 and 4 say that an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons, and in verse 7 the man indicates that he has tried more than once to get into the water but hat someone always got there before him.
So with all that in mind, isn’t it puzzling (at least on the surface), that Jesus would approach him and ask the seemingly ridiculous question, “DO YOU WANT TO GET WELL?”
John has already told us that Jesus saw him lying there and “knew that he had already been a long time in that condition”.
So the approach at first appeared foolish. No sick person would choose to remain sick. On the other hand, the phrasing of Jesus’ question reveals to us that he already also knew the condition of the man’s heart, as is made evident by the man’s response.
He did not say, “Yes, of course I want to be well!”
He did not say, “Well, no-duh!”
He did not ask who this was who was speaking to him, or challenge His ability to correct the problem.
His answer seems to come from a psychological makeup that has resigned itself to its fate and has accepted the inevitable. His answer reveals that the man was placing the blame for his condition on what somebody else had NOT done for him.
In the words of Merrill Tenney, “He was bound by his circumstances and could rise no higher than a futile complaint.”
In retrospect, Jesus’ next command seems almost as out of place as His original question. First, He asks the man if he wants to be well.
Notice that He didn’t say, “Do you need help getting to the pool” and He didn’t say, “Do you have faith to be healed”.
But in response, not to faith - not even to a positive answer - He says, “TAKE UP YOUR PALLET, AND WALK”
This was not a response to prayer (so far as we know), and it wasn’t because Jesus had been given any clear indication that the man wanted to get on with a normal life and be set free from the chains of his physical condition.
In point of fact, it may be the clearest example we have in the gospels, of what the Lord meant when He told Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY UPON WHOM I WILL HAVE MERCY, AND COMPASSION UPON WHOM I WILL HAVE COMPASSION”.
Not only are we not shown any evidence of faith in the man by the pool, we also are not shown any evidence of gratitude.
In other accounts of Jesus’ miracles, we see people giving thanks to God. We hear a man testifying, “I was blind, and now I see’. We see people falling at Jesus’ feet and declaring Him both Lord and God. We even have the story of the leper who was so excited he came back later, searching for Jesus, for the sole purpose of thanking Him.
Not this man. He picked up his pallet and walked away, apparently without a word. When the Jews criticized him for carrying his pallet on the Sabbath (compassionate bunch, weren’t they?) he pointed the finger. “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Take up your pallet and walk’.”