Healing at Bethesda – A Sign of Restoration: Is Jesus able to restore what we have lost? Back in Jerusalem, Jesus encounters a man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years. Jesus responds by healing him, restoring his mobility, and so much more. This is the third of seven miraculous signs in John’s gospel, a sign of restoration. Recorded on Sep 10, 2023, on John 5:1-15 by Pastor David Parks.
Finding Life in Jesus’ Name is a sermon series on the gospel according to John in the Bible. Have you ever felt unsatisfied with your life? Or, even when things were going well, something was still missing? Many people sense there must be something more. But what?? John, one of the closest friends of Jesus, believed that Jesus came into the world so that we may have life and have it to the full. Jesus turned John’s life upside down, and John claims this new life — marked by God’s power, presence, and purpose — is available for all who believe.
So all year, we’re going through the gospel according to John in a series called Finding Life in Jesus’ Name. And if you missed any of the messages so far, you can always go back and watch or listen online. But this morning, we’ll start John, chapter 5. For the last several weeks, we considered several one-on-one conversations between Jesus and individual people. Today, as we head back south to Jerusalem and the healing of the man at Bethesda, the Apostle John gives us the third of seven miraculous signs. As we’ve said, Jesus did many more than seven signs in his ministry. So, the seven signs John records here are designed to be just a sample of the miraculous part of his ministry, but each sign has been chosen to teach us something unique about Jesus and the kingdom where he is the King. So far, we’ve had the sign of celebration of turning water into wine, then last week, we considered a sign of healing in the healing of the official’s son. Today, we have a sign of restoration in the healing of the man at Bethesda. Have you ever lost something that was valuable to you? Maybe you feel you lost out on an opportunity you could’ve had or that you lost your money/time/health/or something else. I have, and one thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes these losses are our own fault, and then there are feelings of guilt/shame/regret that flood our minds when we think of what we’ve lost. Other times, these losses are completely out of our control, and then there are feelings of bitterness/resentment at what we rightly see as being stolen from us. Some of you are too young to remember the 1980s and earlier when seatbelts were optional, and the kids could sit in the backseat of a car (especially a station wagon!) and look out the back window while their parents drove. As a kid without an iPhone or even a DVD player, back in the dark ages, it was considered fun to drive forward while looking backward. But some of us today are stuck that way — looking out the back window of our lives, stuck looking back at our past and all we have lost or all we’d want to see restored, when we should be looking forward as we move forward into our future. But what can we do? What do you think Jesus would have to say about what you see through that back window? Would he care? What do you think he would do? Could he restore what you’ve lost? If you have a Bible/app, please take it and open it to John 5:1.
John 5:1-5 (NIV), “1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 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. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” Ok, let’s pause here. So let’s recall that it’s the Apostle John who is our author, a young man with a temper who earned the nickname Son of Thunder when he started following Jesus. But over the course of time, John not only became one of the closest friends of Jesus, but he was so changed/transformed by the gospel that by the end of his long life, he would become known as the Apostle of love. Do you think John would’ve had some regrets when he thought back on his younger self? Maybe some things he wished he could’ve restored? I’m sure he did. But it was this John who tells us that sometime after the healing of the official’s son, later on, Jesus went up in elevation to the city of Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now, we don’t know which festival it was, but we know from passages like Leviticus 23 that the Jewish people had been commanded to hold certain feasts and festivals together as a people to celebrate different things that God had done for them over the generations. And that’s pretty cool, right? God was like, I command you to stop working constantly and rest and enjoy and celebrate all the blessings in your life. Some of us need to bring that practice back into our lives today. But as many people as were able would’ve made the journey to Jerusalem, so it would’ve been packed with people. And near the Sheep Gate, called Bethesda in Aramaic, the language that Jesus and the disciples would’ve spoken at the time, John says, “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.” Now, I’m not sure if you noticed, but v.4 has become a footnote in the NIV translation because only some manuscripts include it. But it provides a possible reason why these disabled people were there. It says that these people waited for the moving of the waters because, “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 they had.” This might also help explain v. 7, which mentions a stirring of the water. But this was why a great number of people with a great deal of losses, losses of ability or mobility; I’m sure the losses of career or family in some cases; the loss of independence/autonomy in life. But John tells us that among all these people, there was one man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. Now, we don’t know what happened to the man. Other passages talk about someone with a certain condition from birth, but John doesn’t say that here. Perhaps he had an illness when he was little or perhaps he had a work accident when he was a young man and never fully recovered. We don’t know. But for thirty-eight years, this was his life. How would Jesus respond to him?
John 5:6-9a (NIV), “6 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?” 7 “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.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” Let’s pause and unpack this. So when Jesus sees this man and learns about his condition, he doesn’t immediately heal him. He does something a little unexpected. He asks him, “Do you want to get well?” And wouldn’t the answer be, “Of course I do, Jesus! Do you think I want to be here?” So why does Jesus ask him this seemingly obvious questions? I think the answer is it’s not always true that people want what is best for them. Some people would rather stay in the mess or the brokenness of their lives than do the hard work that leads to change/growth. Some would rather stay stuck than ask for help. Some who struggle don’t really want to get well. Jesus knows this because he knows people. True healing that brings about true and godly change/growth/transformation must start with a change of heart that includes a desire to get well. The biblical term for this is repentance. To repent means to change your mind in a way that results in a change in the direction of your life. To repent means to turn around and go in the other direction. So what an insightful question of Jesus. “Do you want to get well? Do you want to change? Do you want to get help?” “Sir,” (lit., he says “Lord,” which is the same respectful title that the father from our passage last week used for Jesus) “Lord, 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.” And this is heartbreaking to me. Not only did this man lose his mobility and probably whatever career he would’ve had, but he didn’t even have a friend to help him into the pool for whatever natural or supernatural healing properties it had. Whether this was his fault or not, John doesn’t say. But Jesus immediately responds, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” And what happens? “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” Thirty-eight years is nothing to Jesus. And he doesn’t need to get in the pool when it has been stirred in a certain way. He doesn’t need other people’s help. He can heal; he can restore what has been lost in an instant. And here, right in the middle of a busy gate in the packed city of Jerusalem, Jesus again does what only God can do. He performs yet another sign that reveals his glory. So, how would the people respond?
John 5:9b-15 (NIV), “The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.” This is God’s word. So there’s a problem with this sign. Jesus had the audacity to perform this miracle on a Saturday, which was the Sabbath, or the Jewish day of rest. The fifth of the Ten Commandments is to keep the Sabbath holy, to work for six days, but on the seventh, to stop/cease and rest and enjoy the blessings of God and to worship him. But by the time of Jesus, the command to keep the Sabbath day holy to the Lord was taken far beyond a day of rest and worship and became a long list of added commands of men that carefully defined just what exactly constituted work and what was allowed on the Sabbath. The religious leaders had completely missed the point of rest and worship and had made it a purely legalistic religious box to check. So what do they find here, but a man who was carrying his mat, which violated their Sabbath rules. So they confront him, but he replies, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” Like, listen, I was healed, and the guy who healed me told me to carry this thing, so I’m gonna go ahead and carry my mat. Of course, the religious leaders aren’t satisfied by this, so they ask him who healed him, and he doesn’t know! No idea! Just some guy who came in and noticed me when so many others passed me by; just some guy who saw me when I was invisible to so many others; just some guy who gave me the dignity of talking with me and listening to me and then healing me after thirty-eight years. I was so surprised that when I turned around again, he was gone. I don’t even know who he was. This must have infuriated the religious leaders because legalistic people hate the idea that there might be exceptions to their man-made rules. And next week, we’ll see the investigation that is sparked as a result of this so-called Sabbath-breaking and the authority of Jesus, but for today, our passage ends with Jesus later finding this man again and introducing himself to him. And I think it’s very telling that Jesus found the man in the temple. He was healed; his mobility, and maybe his very life, had been restored! What was the first thing he did? He walked, or maybe he ran or went skipping or dancing, all the way to the temple to give thanks and praise to God. How many prayers did the man pray over thirty-eight years asking God to provide help/healing, but now, in God’s timing and according to God’s wisdom and his will, he was well. When Jesus found him in the temple he said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Now, this doesn’t mean that it was because of sin that had been an invalid. Later in John 9, Jesus is clear that not every illness or affliction has a moral/spiritual cause. Sometimes, these conditions are simply the result of life in a broken world. But sometimes, hardship or suffering is caused by sin. Either way, after serving his physical needs (and most likely helping his emotional and financial needs as well), Jesus seeks to help him with his spiritual needs. Turn from your sin, turn from your way, and turn to my way. It doesn’t matter if it’s been thirty-eight years or forty-eight years or longer. Anyone at any time can repent and be forgiven and turn and find new life and healing and restoration. But how? How can we do this? How can we deal with all that junk we see out the back window? How can we deal with the losses of our past? How might we find restoration? This man serves as a great example to us. The day he met Jesus, the day he heard the word of Jesus, for whatever reason, he decided to listen to Jesus and do what he said to do. In a very similar way to the father in our story last week, he took Jesus at his word, he believed him, and so he got up, he picked up his mat, and he walked. There’s a blessing in obedience, in doing what Jesus says. It’s a common trap for Christians to fall into, to think that learning more and more about God is the goal of the Christian life. Now, don’t get me wrong, bible study, learning theology, and growing in our understanding of right doctrine is a good thing! But knowledge, even theological knowledge, is not an end in itself. The Apostle Paul says that knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Or listen to James, the brother of Jesus. James 1:22–25 (NIV), “22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Now, to be clear, obedience to God’s word isn’t the way of salvation. We are not saved by our own obedience or our ability to avoid sin but by faith alone in Christ alone. However, saving faith, as we have seen in John’s gospel, includes being born again and receiving a new heart with new desires, which includes listening to and obeying the teachings of Jesus. So obedience to God’s word isn’t the way of salvation, but it is the way of the Christian life. So today, if you feel stuck looking out the back window of your life, stuck looking back at your past and everything you lost, or you’d want to see restored, turn today. Turn around and go in a new direction. Repent and be forgiven, and rise and pick up your mat and walk! Listen to Jesus and do what he says. His power/authority to bring new life and healing and restoration is no different today than it was all those years ago. Is it too hard a thing for Jesus to restore lost health or relationships or years? But imagine if our lives and our church became known as a place of restoration. Would it not bring glory to Jesus today, even as it served as a sign of his glory all those years ago? I think it would. May we become known as people who love and work for and pray for restoration in Jesus name. Let us pray.