John 5:1–47 (NKJV)
5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. 5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”John 5:1-9
7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.
After healing the nobleman’s son in Galilee, Jesus proceeded to Jerusalem for a feast. By the Sheep Gate was a collection of pools, surrounded by columns in a portico. This was a collection point for the desperate souls who longed for healing, as one of the pools–called Bethesda–was known to have intermittent healing powers. This was attributed to an angel coming down at times and “stirring the waters.” At this stirring, the first person into the water would be healed of whatever disease plagued him or her.
Jesus spoke to one of the men, a paralytic, who sat by the pool daily and could not make it into the water first, time after time. He had tried to receive his healing this way for thirty-eight years, unsuccessfully. He had been bound to this pool for that long. Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed, and all the man could say in response reflected his hopelessness and pain. He did not have the faith of the nobleman asking for his son’s healing, yet Jesus simply told him to do what he knew he could not do: get up, roll up that bed of infirmity, and walk. Somehow he knew that healing had come, and he obeyed the command, and was healed. The wording of the next tiny sentence is almost ominous, but yet insignificant if the reader is not paying attention: “And that day was the Sabbath.”
10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”John 5:10-16
11 He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’ ”
12 Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”
15 The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16 For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.
The Sabbath, that holy day of rest, that dartboard for the Jewish fundamentalists, that day when everyone was under scrutiny. Did they walk more than a mile? Did they carry firewood or light a fire? Did Jesus really just heal a man on the Sabbath? This story is usually paired with the account of Jesus healing the nobleman’s son at the end of John chapter 4. The defense of these miracles, especially this one that occurred on the Sabbath, follows beginning in verse 17. So this is the middle passage in the bigger story of Jesus’ healings of others that causes the Jewish leaders to hate Christ and begin to plot against Him.
The Jews are stunned and appalled at this wanton display of “sin.” Jesus transgressed the law by “working” on the Sabbath. Yet Jesus would do so several more times as recorded in the gospels, and each time the Jewish leadership reacted in their typical, legalistic way. What they did not realize was that this man was Lord of the Sabbath. What would you do with this man? The believer should celebrate Him. The sinner should call upon this Sabbath-healer and be saved. But all of us should praise Him for taking a man, bound for thirty-eight years, and setting Him free…Sabbath or not.