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. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 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, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“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.”
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.
John 5:1-9a (NIV)
If you ever wanted to see a hopeless cause, all you had to do was to go down to the Pool of Bethesda. There were probably a lot of sick people there all the time, but this guy seems like he was probably the most hopeless case of them all.
The Pool of Bethesda, right in the shadow of the Temple itself, was a double pool, with five covered areas, one around each edge, and one down the center. The story was told that from time to time an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and stirred up the waters, and the people who got in while the waters were moving were instantly healed of whatever ailed them. Naturally the pool attracted sick folks from all over the place, each of them waiting for days, or maybe weeks, intently watching the waters for the smallest ripple. And then, when the waters were stirred up, there was probably a mad rush from all corners as people climbed over each other, knocked each other over, and elbowed their way into the water in the hopes of receiving a miraculous cure.
But this man, unable to walk for 38 long years, lay on his mat by the pool day after day after hopeless day, waiting for the water to move, and hoping that when it did, someone would be willing to help him into the water. He probably talked with those who had come from far away, hearing their stories, listening to their hopes for a cure, maybe even asking them if they would be kind enough to help him into the water when they went in. And then came the stirring of the pool, and every kind thought of these strangers was forgotten in their own helter-skelter rush to get into the water before the healing power was gone.
We don’t have any idea how long this man had been brought to the pool, or who he got to take him. But we do know that he had nobody who cared enough about him to sit with him, nobody who was willing to share the lonely hours of waiting and watching, nobody who cared enough to help him get into the water at the right time. He was all alone. And each time that the water was stirred, his hope drained away a little more. Honestly, I think that the only thing that kept him coming back was the realization that if he wasn’t there he would have NO chance of being healed. At least if he was waiting by the pool, there was a slim chance that he might eventually find someone who wouldn’t forget about him in the midst of seeking their own healing.
And then, one day, Jesus came along. Jesus somehow found out that this man had been lame for 38 years. A hopeless case by anyone’s reckoning. But Jesus approached the man and asked him a single question: “Do you want to get well?” It seems like such a silly question! Of COURSE he wanted to get well! That’s why he had spent years sitting by this miserable pool, sitting there with all of these other disabled people, waiting, hoping, and ultimately ending each day in total disappointment.
But the man didn’t say, that; he just gave the reason why he hadn’t been healed: “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.” A sad, hopeless story indeed.
But Jesus isn’t into hopeless. And He isn’t into useless sympathy, either. He was into hope, and joy, and action! This man had been waiting for years for a messenger of the Lord to disturb the waters so that he could find healing. And now, even though He didn’t realize it at the time, the Lord had showed up to do the job in person!
I can picture Jesus smiling encouragement as He spoke, not words of healing like we might expect, but words of encouragement: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” And that’s all that it took. Immediately the man was cured, and he knew it. He felt the strength flood into his arms and legs; he felt the energy flow through his atrophied muscles, and with a joyous whoop, he jumped to his feet, rolled up his mat, threw it over his shoulder, and he WALKED!
The Pool of Bethesda wasn’t a bad thing. By all accounts, at least some people had received healing from its angel-stirred waters. But this man, and very likely lots of the others who were sitting by the water waiting for their own personal miracle, had somehow stopped seeking God Himself for the wholeness that he needed in his life, and had turned instead to something else. His whole focus had turned inward; it had turned to his physical ailment and his need for a cure. And so for long years he had tried in his own strength and his own cleverness to get into the water to be healed. But the healing had always remained just out of his reach; tantalizingly close, but infinitely far away.
That’s when God showed up. As long as we are willing to do things in our own strength, I think that God is willing to let us try. It is only when we reach the end our resources, when we finally admit that we are helpless; that there is no way we can do what we are trying to accomplish on our own, only when we turn to Him and say, “I guess I can’t do it,” that He can release His power into our situation and flood our lives with miracles.