“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.””
What a wonderful text to focus on in one of the first reflections of 2021. Taken in its context this verse brings us to a point of decision between faith and unbelief. In John chapter 5:1-15 the evangelist tells us about an event which took place at the pool called Bethesda near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. Of this pool John tells us that it was surrounded by five covered colonnades. Late in the 19th century this pool was located and what scholars discovered about it helps us to shed some light on what was being described for us by John. First of all it was the pool described for us in 2 Kings 18:17 and Isaiah 7:3. Further it was at that pool that Isaiah called King Ahaz to faith in God. In Isaiah 7:9b we read, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” By the time of Christ, under Roman rule this pool had become associated with the superstitions surrounding the Roman God of Healing. John hints at this in John 5:7 and most scholars believe that verses 3b and 4, which are left out of the NIV text, seems to be an addition which points to this superstition as well. One can only imagine the desperation of those who assembled at this pool looking for healing. John calls them the blind, shrivelled, and disabled. They would lie in the colonnades and wait for the sign that healing power was available. Then the first one into the water it was believed would be healed.
It is interesting that the LORD Jesus Christ does not make use of the pool for healing. He heals simply by His own word. It certainly looks as if John is leading us to ask which we trusted in, the superstition of the healing water, or the LORD Jesus Christ? The gospel always brings us to this question. As sinners we find it so much easier to believe in all of those things in our world which are not of God. To take God at His Word and believe in the LORD Jesus Christ is something that so many of us are not prepared to do. As an evangelist the Apostle John confronts us with this question however.
There is more here however. John shows us how the LORD Jesus Christ pursues this one man. The word used in verse six, translated in the NIV as “learned”, is actually “knew.” John has been taking great pains to tell us that Jesus knew all men, therefore He did not entrust Himself to them. The meaning of this word is something much more than Jesus just having a general understanding of human psychology. It pointed to the fact that Jesus knew each person intimately. He knows all about you and me. There is nothing that He does not know about us. That should be a fact that humbles and encourages us. How often do we find ourselves thinking that if our friends only knew the real us they would not want to have anything to do with us? Jesus does know you completely. He still loves and redeems you, just as you are. I know that this is a constant cause for wonder and praise on my part. Jesus knew the paralysed man. He sought him out. He asked him just the right question. This question led the man to confess his total inability to help himself. He had no one to help him. His situation was hopeless. That is what his answer reveals. The thirty eight years of suffering and failure had brought him to the end of all his resources. There is hope here however. The One who created and sustains all things had sought him out. That One, the LORD Jesus Christ need only speak that one single word and the man would be completely and permanently healed. The word was spoken; the man was healed, without having to go down into the pool of superstition. The LORD Jesus Christ had done it all.
Later Jesus seeks the man out again to impress upon him the necessity of his continuing on in faith. He is not to go back into his sinful unbelief. That will lead to a worse fate, the eternal judgment. He is to continue to put his faith in the LORD Jesus Christ. The message here for each of us is that the LORD Jesus Christ knows us, and seeks us out, calling us to recognise that it is He alone that we need. Do we trust Him over everything that this world has to offer? This question becomes especially urgent when we find ourselves cast into a crisis which brings us to the point of desperation. When all of our resources have failed us, do we trust in the LORD Jesus Christ? That is the only way to remain standing when the judgement of God is revealed.