Summary: God gives Grace for us, both personalized and pervasive. But we need to pay attention and choose to see it in order NOT to miss it.
I want to tell you a story of God’s Pervasive Grace; it’s a story of His Personalized Grace.
As with any story, it started out with the setting: “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 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.”
If you visit St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem, they will show you the deep excavation that has revealed the ancient Pool of Bethesda. The Hebrew name Bethesda has been spelled various ways and given differing meanings. Some say it means “house of mercy” or “house of grace,” but others say it means “place of the two outpourings.” There is historical and archeological evidence that two adjacent pools of water served this area in ancient times.
We do not know which feast Jesus was observing when He went to Jerusalem, and it is not important that we know. But it’s important to realize this is not the place for Jesus to be to observe whatever the Jewish religious ceremony to take place. The five covered porticoes on four sides of and between the pools attracted a large number of disable people as the text described here, “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie - the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.”
Why were they there for? All manuscripts earlier than 400AD omit the end of v.3 and all of verse 4, as your NIV footnote shows, “they waited for the moving of the waters. 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 he had.” Is this just a superstitious rumor? The fact that all the sick people gathered here (and the man’s words in verse 7) would suggest that something special had happened here. Why would anybody, especially a man sick for so many years, remain here if nothing were occurring? You would think that after thirty-eight years of nothing happening to anybody, the man would go elsewhere! It seems like something extraordinary kept all these handicapped people at this pool, hoping for a cure.
Grace is what God gave us even when we don’t deserve it. But “Pervasive Grace” is the grace which available to all. For example, we don’t deserve to get any healing outside of the name of God, but He allows it. We all read reports of healing from other religions, sometimes even from questionable sources such as the one mentioned here.
And here is also “Pervasive Grace”: it is the grace available to us, even when we don’t know about Him, or even when we stand against Him. This “Pervasive Grace” of God can be seen in the self-healing capability of our physical body. Don’t you realize that without that built-in capability, all medicine would be of no use? Students of medicine know that antibiotics were just like weapons for our white-blood-cells to use in order to kill off foreign cells. This “Pervasive Grace” of God can be found in our own internal psyche. Why is it that we just won’t get any satisfaction in drinking, partying, indulging and even achieving? Augustine said that our hearts will forever go wandering until it found God, because God had already “set eternity in our hearts”. The “Pervasive Grace” of God is available for all of us. Do you realize that even when people use God’s name as a curse word, God Himself sustains the air they breathe so that they could curse Him in their ignorance?
But God’s Pervasive Grace is also presented to us in a very personal manner, even when we don’t know Him. Here, the text go on, “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time.” Invalid was from the Latin invalidus (from in, not; and validus, strong), it is like a form of paralytic from what we can gather from the story. There were many sick people there, but Jesus did not come to all of them; He singled out one man. Did He single out this man because of his enduring hope despite the long history of illness? Or did Jesus just pick a person, any person, to be a representative of the healing everyone would have in eternal life ? We never know for sure. The only thing we knew was that that Jesus came to the man, spoke to him, healed him, and then met him later in the temple. This is the proof of God’s wonderful grace and mercy, a grace that is personalized to each one of us, a mercy that is individualized for each one of us.