Where the sick and the suffering silently endure their pain. Where the bruised and battered wait for help that never seems to come. Where the failures and the forgotten lead lives of quiet desperation, there is where we find Jesus at work.
This is now the third of the seven signs that John gives us to help form our faith in Jesus. This third sign is the story of a healing of a man who has been paralyzed for thirty eight years. Jesus heals this man at the pool of Bethesda. What is the pool of Bethesda all about?
It was on the northern side of the city by the sheep gate, called the sheep gate because that’s where they brought the sheep in for the sacrifices in the temple. There was a very large pool there, and around this was built five porticos, five porches, a five sided structure with a roof covering the top and steps going down into the pool. The pool of Bethesda has been identified and excavated, you can actually visit this excavated site if you visit Jerusalem.
It was fed by a natural spring, and as such the pool would occasionally bubble up. The legend, superstition, grew up around the pool that when the water bubbled like this, it was an angel come down from heaven doing the stirring. The idea was that whoever gets in first is healed. People came, not just because of the legend, but because it was a mineral bath. We can imagine that those who suffered with skin diseases probably were helped, and some did recover and get better as a result of getting in these baths. But I don’t know how much help a mineral bath has for a paralytic.
So this was a popular place for people to come in search of getting well, not only Jews but also Gentiles. This was an unusual thing, Jess and Gentiles both congregating in the same place. But human sickness and disease crosses all borders and boundaries. If there’s any kind of hope for people to get well, they will flock to it. So we know the Jews came here, but so did the Gentiles. In fact, right by the pool just outside the northern gate of the ancient city of Jerusalem, there has been discovered an Ancient Greek temple to the god Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. If you see a statue of Asclepius, he carries a rod with a serpent wrapped around, which to this day is our symbol for the medical profession. And there was a temple to this Greek god of healing right next to the pools. People (Gentiles) would take the baths then go to the temple and offer sacrifices to this Greek god of healing in hopes of getting better.
So this is where Jesus shows up one day, because Jesus is not just the hope of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the hope of the Jews and Israel. He’s also the hope of all the Pagans who are looking for something to heal their lives. That’s who Jesus is. He is the Great Physician, and he shows up at this pool on the edge of town. He’s got a whole city full of the sheep if Israel, but he shows up on the edge of town, to love even those unlovables, those who are hurting and know they are hurting. He’s there to give hope to the hopeless, Jew and Gentile alike. The souls around this pool are weary, weary of waiting, weary of begging, asking for help from those who pass by, those who are on their way to the temple and don’t have time to stop and help. Jesus comes here to give rest to these weary souls, crying into a world that passes them by, because to stop and help might in and of itself make them “unclean.” Yet somehow Jesus never gets made “unclean”, those who touch him are made clean by him. “…”If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”” John 13:8 ESV
“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 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.”
John 5:1-3, 5-9 ESV