Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 55 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last couple of episodes we’ve looked at the beginning of Jesus’ early Galilean ministry. We saw how He had made His way back up north after being rejected in Jerusalem and after learning about the imprisonment of John the Baptist. Upon His return, the Gospels tell us that He healed a nobleman’s son in Cana from a distance and then was rejected in His own hometown of Nazareth. The significance of this rejection is profound - Jesus said that just as the prophets Elijah and Elisha turned to the Gentiles during their ministry, so too would Jesus. Jesus had come to Israel for division, to expose the hearts of the Jewish people. And that’s exactly what we saw happen in Jerusalem and now in Nazareth. As we move forward through some of the other events in Jesus’ early Galilean ministry, we can’t forget this point. There’s a real mission that Jesus is on - he’s not just randomly walking around Israel just waiting for the right time to go to the cross. He’s looking for a people who would bear the fruits of repentance, and sadly he is not finding many so far who are tender towards God.
In this episode, I want to look at the next major event the Gospels tell us about in the chronology of Jesus’ life, and that is the healing at the pool of Bethesda from John chapter 5. Before we look there, I want to give you a little more context to see how this fits chronologically into the broader narrative of Jesus’ life. Remember, Jesus had returned to Galilee perhaps in the late spring or early summer of 27. The few disciples He had met in Judea had traveled with him up to Galilee where they were from and presumably had gone back to their own hometowns and their original jobs. Jesus had not yet given them a formal invitation to discipleship. So Jesus returns to Galilee and likely spends the summer traveling alone throughout the region and teaching in the synagogues. All we have is very broad, sweeping statements from the Gospels about this part of Jesus’ ministry, and there's no mention of any particular disciples with Him. All we have recorded are the two events in Cana and Nazareth, but surely this must have been a very memorable summer in the mind of Jesus and the minds of the Galileans. And now as we approach the fall of 27, we see Jesus heading south to Jerusalem to attend a feast of the Jews. John 5:1 says:
"After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem."
(John 5:1 ESV)
Now this particular feast in Jerusalem is not named by John. Some think this feast was another Passover feast, but to me that seems highly unlikely. Firstly, because John names all the other Passovers in his gospel, in John 2, John 6, and John 12 and 13, and it wouldn’t make much sense for him to not name this feast in John 5 as a Passover if in fact it actually was. Secondly, if this was a Passover, that would mean that we’re in April again because the Passover feasts take place in April every year. And so that would mean a whole year would have passed since the Passover in John 2. That would mean that there would be very little recorded in the Gospels about that entire year. Does that make sense? So for both of those reasons, I just don’t see how this could be a Passover feast. More than likely, it is one of the fall feasts in Israel - perhaps the feast of wood-offering or the feast of Trumpets. Wood-offering was a feast in August where the people of Israel would bring up wood to be used for the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem. And Trumpets was a feast in September that marked the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Trumpets is a pretty significant feast, which is why I don’t think John would leave it unnamed. So in my opinion, John is probably talking about the feast of Wood-offering, which is certainly one of the lesser known feasts in Israel.
Now Jesus was probably alone on His journey, but it is possible that the beloved disciple John went with him. Either that or he heard about it from Jesus later on and wrote it down in His gospel. But if John was with Him, just imagine what it must have been like for him. What would a three or four day journey with Jesus be like? We so quickly forget that Jesus had to walk from place to place, and it took more than just a few minutes to get to where He wanted to go. This happened over and over again throughout the scenes we read about in the Gospels. What was it like for John and the other disciples later on? What did they talk about? Where did they eat? Think of all of the conversations they must have had that are not recorded anywhere. This is the same Jesus we worship, the same one we pray to. That’s how near He came… God walked on Israel’s streets and talked to a bunch of young fisherman, over and over and over again for two years. When this becomes real to us, the Gospels come alive. Well, let’s keep reading in John 5:
"Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath."
(John 5:2–16 ESV)
So at some point after His arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the pool of Bethesda and heals this man on the Sabbath. The pool was located just to the north of the Temple complex outside of the main city wall. Archaeologists have actually found this ancient pool and confirmed its existence as the Bible records it. And it’s here where a multitude of sick people would gather, presumably because many had been healed there in the past. Now John introduces us to a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. Stop for a second and think about that - maybe some of you watching this haven’t even been alive for 38 years - I mean, I haven’t - and still a smaller number of you actually know what it’s like to be paralyzed in some capacity. Think about what daily life could have been like for this man. We don’t know exactly how he was paralyzed, but it was severe enough for him to not be able to make it to the waters of the pool before anyone else. John said that Jesus knew this man had already been at the pool a long time. Are we talking months? Years? Decades? Just imagine what it was like to be this man, watching so many others get healed before you, and you are still there. Even though this man had been waiting so long and it never seemed like he'd get the chance to make it to the waters, there really was no other better option for him than to take the chance and sit there day after day after day. It’s in this context that Jesus finds this man at the pool and miraculously heals Him with a word.
Now don’t let the overfamiliarity you might have with this story prevent you from standing in awe of what happened. For 38 years this man has been paralyzed! Surely many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem must have known him and watched him grow older. Maybe some had pity on him, and probably others completely ignored him. But now he’s up walking! What did the people think when they saw Him? “Is this the same guy that’s been at the pool of Bethesda for years now? Surely it can’t be… He’s walking!” There’s just so much to meditate on here, so I’d encourage you to spend some time pondering the scene. Go check out episodes 5 and 6 in this series to hear more on what I mean when I say “ponder”.
Well, as the healed man carried his mat around as Jesus had instructed Him, the Jewish authorities found him and rebuked him. Eventually they discovered the one who had told him to get up, take his mat, and walk was Jesus. Now this is really significant - and I want to connect this chronologically with the other events in Jerusalem we’ve already looked at. If this healing happened in August or so around the feast of Wood Offering, it’s been less than 6 months since Jesus had confronted the Jewish authorities at the Passover by cleansing the Temple. Undoubtedly they remembered Jesus from what He did back in April, which John chapter 2 records. We looked at that event back in episode 49. We have to feel how the cleansing of the Temple and Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath here in Jerusalem are connected. In both instances, the controversy that stirred up the Jews so much was the issue of authority. Who was Jesus that He would dare do to such things? That’s the pivotal question that I’ll return to in a moment. The other important thing to recognize as we evaluate this scene is that nowhere in the Law or in the Old Testament does it say that when you were healed you weren’t allowed to carry your mat on the Sabbath day. This was one of the traditions of the Jews. These traditions were specific regulations that they created which essentially put a “fence” around the Law to ensure that there was no chance whatsoever that they would break God's commandments - in this case, the specific commandments relating to not doing work on the Sabbath. So Jesus is not violating the Law of Moses in any way by healing on the Sabbath or by telling the healed man to pick up his mat and walk. He is violating the traditions of the elders and Jewish authorities. Do you see what’s happening here? The collision is between the Jews’ authority and the apparent authority Jesus is exercising over the Temple and now over the tradition of the elders.
Imagine if you’re a scribe or a Pharisee or one of the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Jesus had cleansed the Temple at Passover and now just a few months later Jesus is right back in Jerusalem and He’s picking a fight again. He says:
"But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God."
(John 5:17–18 ESV)
Jesus here is exposing still more of His identity to them - not only is He the unique, promised Son of God who will fulfill the promises given to Abraham and David, but He is Yahweh Himself. Just as the Sabbath was made for man and not for God, Jesus says that He is working all the time, just as His Father is. The Sabbath was set up for man to worship God, and so Jesus is exposing the condition of their hearts for the sake of mercy. But it was to no avail, and they grew even harder in their hearts and in their resolve to kill Him.
Well, we’re out of time for this episode, but come back next time as I continue to walk through the events of Jesus’ early Galilean ministry. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes, you can check them all out on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and see you next time!