Five Minute Devotions: John 5
John 5 requires a bit of background explanation. There was a popular belief in that time that a certain pool in Bethesda had healing properties. John 5:4 explains the belief:
An angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had. – John 5:4
However, if you look closely at most Bibles, you’ll find that this particular verse is omitted entirely. Turns out, this is for good reason. This verse stems from older translations—like the King James Version—that had access to fewer and less credible texts in the original languages. In the centuries since the KJV, scholars and archaeologists have uncovered older and better manuscripts that omit this verse entirely. The implication? At some point, someone added this verse in by way of explanation, not to state what actually happened.
Because of this popular myth, people with all sorts of ailments and illnesses would gather at the pool and await the stirring of the waters. Jesus is walking by this pool when he has this encounter.
Waiting on Myths
For thirty-eight years, this man had been waiting on a myth. Since before the birth of Jesus, he had lain in the shelter of the colonnades and eagerly anticipated his physical salvation in the form of a churning pool of water. We don’t know how often this event occurred. We don’t know what caused healing powers to be attributed to this pool.
One theory is that its connection as the pool of water closest to the Temple is what began its association with the miraculous. Since the disabled were not allowed inside the Temple walls, this pool with its shelter had become the surrogate temple of the lame and blind.
Jesus walks by and he asks a superficially dumb question: “Do you want to be healed?” The answer is yes, yes, obviously yes! For thirty-eight years, he had waited on his miracle, but he was never fast enough. He didn’t have the community to surround him, wait with him, and make sure he won the next opportunity for healing.
Waiting No More
Get up. Pick up your mat. Walk! Now the lame man has a decision to make. Does he accept the word of this enigmatic passerby? Or does he hold to the myth of the pool, the one that he’s waited on for most of his life? In a blink, he makes his decision. He picks up his mat. He walks.
This is more than just a healing miracle. This is Jesus, destroying the old myths with his abiding presence. He cuts down a superstition that relies on a capricious god who rewards only the fastest to react or respond. He replaces it with himself. The man did not need to win some angel’s lottery, have the quickest reflexes, or put hope in enchanted water. He needed Jesus.
How often have we sat beside our own Bethesda pools, awaiting something we either hope for or even feel we deserve? Physical healing. Emotional healing. Security. How many times have we placed our hope in the stock market or our careers or our relationships, just waiting for them to bubble up and make us whole again?
Only Jesus can make us whole.
Civil Disobedience (But Righteous Obedience)
The Jewish leaders who had long ignored the plight of the lame and blind and sick are now suddenly interested in the formerly lame man. Who healed you? Don’t you know it’s the Sabbath? Put your mat down.
I find it interesting that Jesus directly told the man to disobey the Sabbath law—not the law of Moses, but the laws added by the Jewish leaders. Picking his mat up wasn’t integral to the healing. The mat could have easily been left on the ground. Picking it up was a violation of the laws to not do work on the Sabbath.
But Jesus says to pick it up. He demands this civil disobedience. The man must decide if the words of Jesus or the words of the political and religious leaders will take precedence. And he chooses Jesus. Christ not only takes down the mythology of the pool at Bethesda, he destroys the superstition of law-keeping. He clearly charges that obedience to God—not reliance on government or on religious leaders—is what brings peace and wholeness.
Father, give us the strength to listen to your word, even when it means going against popular culture and those in power and will read to our opposition and persecution. Take our eyes off of myths and set them solely on you.
What do you think about the concept of civil disobedience as it relates to this passage? How do we walk the line between biblical obedience toward authorities and biblical disobedience against them?
Does your preferred version of Scripture explain John 5:4 in any way?
How does the later part of John 5, particularly verses 41-47, fit contextually with the portion we’ve discussed here?
The header image is The Healing of the Cripple of Bethesda by Pieter Aertsen (1575). It currently hangs in the Rijktsmuseum in Amsterdam.
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