John 5 is a chapter in which there are many interesting contrasts. One of the most interesting contrasts is that of people’s reactions to the offering of two different miracles. One man receives his miracle and the other group of people refuse theirs. Let’s take a look at what happens.
The chapter opens with Jesus returning to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. He passes the pool of Bethesda where there were five porches filled with people who were sick, lame or blind – people hoping for a miraculous healing if they could be the first to get into the pool of Bethesda when the waters were stirred by the angel of the Lord. There Jesus encounters a man who has been lame for thirty-eight years. Jesus asks him, “Would you like to get well?” The man replies that he can’t because he has nobody to help him get into the pool and someone always beats him to it. Jesus then commands him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” The man is instantly cured and begins to walk!
Let’s think about this man for a minute before we move on to what happens next. This man has been lame for thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years of not being in the workforce and able to support himself. Thirty-eight years of limited social involvement. Thirty-eight years of being abandoned by friends and family. Thirty-eight years of watching the waters, of waiting for them to be stirred, and of trying to get into the pool first. That’s a very long time to wait and hope for a miracle, and yet he didn’t give up. He remained by the pool, ever watching for his chance to receive a miracle. He had done all that he could do but in the end he was unable to help himself be healed. He knew that help would have to come from someone else if he were to receive his miracle. This man who had nobody to help him is ultimately helped by the Son of Man, who cures him in an instant. Oh, to have a heart like his that remained hopeful and believed through such a long period of suffering!
When the Jewish leaders see the healed man as he leaves Bethesda, they are not amazed that he has been cured. They do not celebrate his healing with him and welcome him back into society. Instead, they are concerned that he is breaking the law by working on the Sabbath by carrying his sleeping mat. They demand to know who commanded him to do such a thing, breaking the law of Moses. When they find out it was Jesus, they begin harassing Jesus about it. Jesus replies in verse 17, “My Father never stops working, so why should I?” This claim, which makes Him equal to God, enrages the leaders, who plot all the more to kill Jesus.
Jesus, fully aware of their murderous thoughts, continues to explain that He is authorized by the Father to do the things that He does. He even goes so far as to offer the Jewish leaders the gift of eternal life in verse 24, where He says:
“I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”
The Jewish leaders react with surprise so Jesus continues to reason with them. He lays out all the witnesses that testify that He is the Son of God in verses 31-47:
- John the Baptist testified as to who Jesus is,
- Jesus’s teachings testified as to who Jesus is,
- Jesus’s miracles testified as to who Jesus is,
- The Father has testified as to who Jesus is,
- Scriptures testify as to who Jesus is,
- Moses testified as to who Jesus is
In their culture, two witnesses to something were treated as irrefutable evidence and Jesus laid out many more than just two witnesses to testify for Him, and yet the Jewish leaders still refused to believe that Jesus is who He said He was. You can almost feel Jesus’s heart breaking as He tells the leaders in verses 39 and 40, “You search the Scriptures because you believe they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me so that I can give you eternal life.” [Emphasis added.] He makes another desperate plea for them to believe in verses 45c-47 where He says, “Yes, Moses, on whom you set your hopes. But if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me because he wrote about me. And since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” These men, scholars of the Scriptures, were unable to accept that Jesus was the Messiah and therefore they denied themselves the miracle of eternal life.
What if the man by the pool had refused Jesus’s miracle because he wasn’t being helped into the water, where he thought the miracle would come from? What if, unlike the Jewish leaders, we looked at the evidence for ourselves and chose to believe?
We, like the people we just read about, have decisions to make. Will we prepare our hearts to receive a miracle, even when it seems distant from us? Or will we be so insistent that the miracle look a certain way that, if packaged differently than we expect, we refuse it?