Another feast of the Jews had come, and so Jesus travelled down to Jerusalem to worship His Father at the Temple. Jerusalem was surrounded by high, protective walls that had been built hundreds of years before. These walls had large gates so the people could enter their holy city. One of them was called the Sheep Gate. Near that gate was a pool called Bethesda. It had five porticos. Many people would bring their family members and friends who were sick or lame or blind to this pool and wait in a portico for something very special to happen. It seems that from time to time the water of the pool would stir. They believed it was the work of an angel, and that whoever climbed in the water after it stirred would be healed of whatever was wrong with them.
On the day that Jesus came there were crowds of people waiting for the waters to move. Imagine all the people in their brokenness, bodies shattered by the wages of the Curse. From among all the people the Lord noticed a particular man lying there. He had been sick for thirty-eight years. Jesus understood how this man had suffered and said, “‘Do you wish to get well?’”
The man said to Jesus, “‘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.’”
What a terribly loneliness! This man was without any help at all. How frustrating to watch people walk callously in front of him no matter how long he waited. But now Jesus had come, and unlike all those others, He saw. He said, “‘Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.’”
The man was instantly healed. Imagine how it must have felt for him….to suddenly move from misery to health. He stood up, took his pallet and began to walk around! Wow! Can you imagine the look on his face? Imagine the surprise of everyone around! A great miracle had taken place! A son of Israel was set free!
The day of this beautiful freedom was the Sabbath, the day of rest set aside by God for His people. It was a day that was meant to be set aside from work and the cares of daily life and given to God for worship and reflection on His Word. Over the centuries, the Jewish religious leaders took the ideas of Sabbath that God had given in the Old Testament and added a bunch of new rules to it. They wanted to make sure nobody got even close to breaking the Sabbath rest! The rules were so severe that it was illegal to even spit on the Sabbath day. The rulers said that the spit might dig a little hole in the dirt, and that could be called work. It was ridiculous. They put these rules on all the people of Israel, creating a rigid, wearying legalism on the day meant for rest in the Lord! Jesus would have none of that. He knew what His Father intended the Sabbath to be, and that was the code He followed.
Some Jewish religious leaders saw the man walking along, carrying his pallet. They asked him why he was carrying it on the Sabbath day. He said, “‘He who made me well was the One who said to me, “Take up your pallet and walk.”’”
The men asked him who it was that told him to do this, but he didn’t know. Jesus had slipped out of sight before he could find out.
Later on, the Lord Jesus found the man in the Temple. He said to him, “‘Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you.’”
Why do you think Jesus might have said that? What might the man have been doing that required this warning? It doesn’t seem like the amazing healing that God had given him had caused his heart to change.
So the man went and told the religious leaders that Jesus was the One who healed him. Jesus healed him, and he turned around and got Jesus in trouble.
The Jewish leaders were enraged. Who was Jesus to tell someone else to violate the law of the Sabbath! They began to attack Jesus with their words, accusing Him because He had broken the rules they had crafted for the people. How dare He show their authority such utter disrespect?
Jesus looked at them and simply said, “‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’” Wow. Jesus basically declared that He was above their rules. Notice that He wasn’t trying to convince them anymore. The time for that had passed.
It was a bold statement. He called God His Father. He claimed to be the Son of God! In Jewish culture, that was the same as declaring that He was equal with God. It was bad enough that Jesus was causing people to break the Sabbath. Now He was claiming to be God Himself!
If somebody said that to you, what would you do? Would you reject it immediately? Would you laugh? What if it was someone who had just miraculously healed someone from a debilitating disease? Would you at least pause for a moment and think about what He said?
The Jews were livid with anger. Have you ever seethed with rage? Have you ever been around people seething with rage? It isn’t pleasant. Sit in the moment and imagine what that was like. These men were so emotionally committed to their false rules and their own positions of authority that they were taken over by their wrath. They weren’t excited about the healing. They weren’t curious about this radical young preacher whose teaching had amazed the common people of their land. None of the goodness of Jesus seemed to touch them. Nothing God was actually doing in their world had any effect on what they demanded in their supposed service of God. Their hearts were utterly hardened.
The problem for the religious leaders was that technically, Jesus had done nothing wrong. He wasn’t the one who picked up the pallet and walked. He told someone else to do it. They had nothing to charge Him with. The religious leaders began looking for ways to accuse Jesus so they could put Him to death. Did any of them ask themselves where He got the power to heal? What if He truly was from God?
As we read these stories, we are meant to be drawn into the deep wonder and amazement of the beauty of Christ. There He was, knowing that this all would end in His death. He knew these guys were going to kill Him some day. That didn’t stop Him from spending His days healing and helping and setting the society straight about its corruption and misuse of the things of God.
We are also meant to watch the behavior of the all the characters around Him. What do they do with His teaching? What do they do with the miracles? And then we can ask: What would I have done? What would I do if the same thing were happening now? What about you?