Healing at the Pool

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(Below is a message I shared to a local congregation.)

There is a place in southern France that every year 3 million people make a pilgrimage to this town. Many of them are sick and have illness, and they hope that they would be healed by the water there. The place is in the foothill of Pyrenees mountain, a village named Lourdes. The water comes from a spring and it flows into a grotto. Pilgrims will touch the water, drink it, or even take a bath there. A Catholic church is erected near this site, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. To date, there were 70 claimed miraculous healing since 1858.

There are other places in the world where people will go hoping to be cured in its healing waters. Like the Ganges River in India. Hindu devotees believe that taking a bath in the revered river will free them from sins and sprinkling the ashes of a deceased loved one in the waterway can help the soul rest in peace. Unfortunately, Ganges River is one of the most polluted waterways, that there are floating sewage and garbage or even bodies of dead cows.

In New York City, if you go to the Central Park, there is a fountain named Bethesda Fountain, which is one of the biggest water fountain in the city. In the center of the fountain is a sculpture of an angel with its wings spread open. The sculpture is called Angel of the Waters. People don’t visit this fountain to be healed. People go to New York to get crazy, but that is beside the point. Bethesda Fountain and its sculpture Angel of the Waters (photo below) was inspired by the story in the Bible which is what we will study today.

John 5: 2-9

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 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. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 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?”

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.”

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

House of Mercy

First, let us dive deeper (pun intended) into this Pool of Bethesda. In Aramaic, Bethesda means “house of mercy.” In 1956, a German archeologist living in Jerusalem unearthed the site which is what we believe now as the pool of Bethesda. As what was described in the Bible, the pool was surrounded by four portico or a column that support the roof, with the fifth column dividing the pool into two separate pools, thus 5 porticos or columns. This site is in Jerusalem, close to the where Church of Saint Anne of today, and near the original Sheep Gate of the old city, true to its location as described in John 5: 2.

Scholars believe that the Pool of Bethesda must have been a Jewish mikveh. What is a mikveh? It is a pool where they perform their ritual bath to be ceremonially clean. Archeological diggings found that it has two basins. The southern basin had broad steps with landings while the northern basin provided a reservoir, to continually replenish and repurify the pool with fresh water flowing south through the dam between them, indicating that it was indeed a mikveh.

Moreover, the pool is supplied by an underground spring, so once in while the water will bubble up, which is what they believe as an angel stirring the water.

The question is, does this pool has healing powers? The culture of that day, people believe in healing power of natural spring. For example, the Greeks had created a cult around Asklepius, the pagan god of healing. During the Hellenistic period, the Greeks built ancient healing centers called “Asklepions” all across the Greek Empire, where the ill and disabled would congregate at these regional healing centers which has pools of water. They would drink and bathe in the waters and then sleep within the temple’s walls.

Today, we really find that there’s healing property of water. That’s why our hospitals and sanitarium use water therapy or hydrotherapy. It is used for physical therapy, for managing chronic pain and arthritis, for relaxation and blood pressure control, and many others. In vogue right now are the many establishments that offer health and relaxation thru spa and sauna bath. So if you’re feeling sick and fatigue, maybe you just need to take a bath.

But that is not what you want to know. You want to know if there’s really healing powers in the Pool of Bethesda. For me, the fact that many sick people congregate around that pool, it must true. For the man in our story who was sick for 38 years, and stayed around the pool, he must have witnessed people getting healed or he would not stick around that pool that long. Is that enough evidence?

Bethesda. House of Mercy. What an appropriate name. The blind, the deaf, the mute, the lame were gathered there. People who are hurting are waiting for mercy. It could be the Pool of Bethesda. Or a jammed-packed emergency room in New York City. Or a crowed but understaff nursing home in Florida. Or underfunded orphanage in India or Bangladesh. Or it could even be Joe’s Heartbreak Bar where people are drinking to drown their miseries. Or maybe it is a church like ours, where people who are hurting and with heavy burdens, are gathered seeking mercy.

We all need mercy. Welcome to the Pool of Bethesda.

Let’s now look closely at this man in our story. What is his illness? The way the man described his disability that he needs help in order for him to get into the pool, tells us that he must have been a paralytic. Perhaps it was a significant paralysis that he cannot even crawl and he was totally dependent on others for him to get around. He could see, he could hear, he could speak, but he couldn’t move.

In my sermons before, we discussed possible causes of paralysis during the Bible times. One of the cause of acquired paralysis, are infectious disease that affect the nervous system. One disease that scientists and scholars believe was rampant during the Bible times is syphilis. In fact many diseases described in the Bible could be from this. Syphilis in its advanced stages affects the nervous system. It is a sexually transmitted disease. With loose morals and plus with pagan worship that involves temple prostitution, no wonder these diseases were widespread in those times.

In our story, when Jesus saw this man later in the Temple (John 5:14) He said to the man that he should not sin anymore or else worse thing will happen to him. Could it be that his paralysis was caused by a sin, like committing an adulterous affair or having involvement in pagan worship? We don’t know, but it is a possibility.

Do You Want to Get Well?

38 years is a long time. That is a life sentence. To be paralyzed for 38 years, that took away all his productive years. If he got sick when he was young like in his 20-30’s, he is now old in his 60-70’s. All the youthful years where he could be useful and profitable were gone. All the dreams that he dreamt when he was young of what he wanted to be or what he want to accomplish in life were all gone and past beyond him. He spent and wasted his life lying in a mat for 38 long years.

Day after day, month after month, year after year, he lay there near the Pool of Bethesda. And day after day, month after month, year after year, he witnessed a sick person get healed because they got to the water first before he could. He saw their joy for he was not blind, he heard their shout of happiness for he was not deaf, and maybe he may be happy for them too. But why can’t it be him?

After 38 years, I can only imagine the frustrations of this man, of being there – so close and yet so far!

Why God have not answer our prayers? We have asked day after day, or perhaps month after month, or maybe even year after year. Why haven’t God healed me? Why cannot He take away my pain and suffering? Maybe it is arthritis, or diabetes, or heart disease, or cancer, or some other illness you are afflicted with right now. Why can’t God help my son or my daughter who has gone wayward in life? Why can’t God fix our broken family?

I don’t have a straight answer for you my friends, but one thing I’m sure is that God knows what is best for us. Perhaps he has some other purpose for us. Perhaps he just wanted us to depend on Him more. Perhaps He has something greater or better for us more than what we’re asking for. We just have to trust Him and wait.

Back to our story. Then one day, Jesus came and asked this paralytic man, “Do you want to get well?”

“Are you for real? I have been lying and waiting here for 38 years, definitely I want to get well.” But that is not what the man answered. Instead he began to give excuses of why he cannot get well. “I have nobody to help me. I tried but always somebody else beat me on coming to the pool first. I do not have anybody who really cared for me!”

Are we giving God excuses? He is asking us if we want be get well, not reasons of why we cannot get well.

This paralytic man did not know Jesus. In fact later on the story when he was asked who healed him, he cannot identify who Jesus was. He did not recognize that the man who asked him if he wants to get well was the promised Messiah himself who has healing in his wings. He did not realized that he does not need another man to help him. He did not realize that he did not need to be the first one in the pool when the water is stirred. He did not realize that he do not even need the Pool of Bethesda itself! For in front of him was the Creator of Life himself.

The Lord asked us, do we want to get well? What else do we need?

If you have not walked or used your legs for 38 years, what do you think was the condition of those legs?

When I was young, I had a lot of accident and falls. I was fearless. Climbing on structures I should no climb, jumping on places I should not jump. Once I was on a swing and my father was pushing the swing higher and higher. Then all of a sudden I jump out of the swing thinking I could fly. And I did fly, temporarily. Then I came crashing down and did a face plant busting my lips open, requiring the doctors to suture it up. Another time, I jump from a concrete stairs and did another face plant busting my forehead open, again requiring the doctors to suture it up. Let’s just say I was exposed to the practice of medicine early in life.

Then one time I was playing I was Spiderman and miscalculated my jump and my landing. This time I protected my face, but used my right arm to break my fall. It broke my fall alright, but it broke my arm too. I was brought to the orthopedic hospital to fix my broken arm. My arm was in cast for 2 months. When the cast on my arm was removed, my right arm was so weak. It was thinner than my left arm. My arm felt so light, I thought the wind was causing it to sway. It was so weak I cannot lift a glass of water with my right arm, and have to use my 2 arms to drink.

That was only 2 months of not using my right arm. How much more if you’re not using your arms or legs for 38 years? Those legs were skin and bones, no muscles. They were probably atrophied, twisted, and permanently contracted.

But when Jesus told the man to “Rise, take up your bed and walk,” the man did so. I can just imagine, the muscles in those legs suddenly bulking up. The contracted, twisted joints and ligaments loosening up. The bones got stronger. Then gush of blood started to flow in those dried up arteries and veins. The dead nerves from the spine waking up and making connection to the muscles. Then the bones, muscles, joints, ligaments and nerves started clicking together again and the man stood up and walked. He perhaps even jumped and ran. Those legs that have not walked for 38 years all of a sudden had power to carry him.

My friends, when God asked us to do something, he will equip us to do it. When He gave us a task to do, He will empower us to do it. If He calls you to be a leader or an officer for this church, he will equip you. If He calls you to be a missionary or to be a witness for Him, He will give you the courage to go and the words to say. Whatever God asked us to do, He will give us the power to do it. All we need is follow His lead.

In many occasion when Jesus healed a paralytic, He told them to carry their bed and go. In this case, the man got in trouble for he carried his bed and it was Sabbath. I cannot understand those Jewish leaders of that day, they saw a man who they knew was paralyzed for 38 years and now that he was walking and all they could see was the law being broken, for he was carrying his bed on a Sabbath. The bed by the way was most likely a mat that was rolled up, and not a padded mattress, and definitely not a bed with structured frame. So he was not carrying a heavy load or doing heavy work.

The Jews have many laws and traditions about the Sabbath. For example even today, if you go to a hotel in Jerusalem, a Jew when they use the elevator on a Sabbath cannot push the buttons, for that is operating an electrical system which is considered work. So there is a Sabbath elevator which automatically stop on every floor so you don’t have to push the buttons.

So why did Jesus told the man to carry his bed? Because Jesus wanted him not to go back to his old condition. He would not be needing that mat anymore where he laid when he was sick. He would not be begging people for mercy anymore. When God changed us, He does not want us to go back to our old condition anymore. No more going back to our nasty habits. No more going back to our addictions. No more going back to the places of our sinful acts. God has healed us and changed us, He wants us to move on and continue to live the life He wanted us to live.

Let us take up our bed and walk. Walk away from our old self.

The last point I want to make in this story is how this healed man witness for Jesus. He did not even know who Jesus was. In John 5:12-15, when the Jewish leaders asked him, he really did not know who Jesus was, but he know he was healed. When Jesus saw him in the temple later that day, that’s when he realized it was Jesus, and he told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who healed him. It may have put Jesus in jeopardy as the Jewish leaders became more angry with Jesus for Jesus broke the Sabbath law. But I am sure this man told other people, who was responsible for his healing. Jesus made him well.

My friends, when we witness to others it does not need to be too complicated. We may not understand all the doctrines and teachings. But it does not need to be. We just tell others how Jesus have healed us. We just tell others how Jesus has changed us. We just tell others how Jesus has saved us. But unless we realized what Jesus has done for us, then it will be hard for us to share Jesus to others.

Where’s My Miracle?

I would like to end with a story about a woman whose life’s account was the opposite of the Bible story we just reviewed. For the paralytic in the Bible was trying to dive into the water to be healed, but this woman, whose name is Joni, dove into the water and became a paralytic.

Joni came from an athletic family. She rode horses, she played competitive tennis, she was a strong swimmer. Then one day when she was 17 years old, she dove into a water not realizing that it was shallow. When she hit the bottom of the water, her head snapped and she was instantly paralyzed from her neck down.

Joni spent several months in the hospital where she underwent intense treatment and rehabilitation. Despite all the medical efforts, the doctors told her and her family that she would never walk again. Joni prayed to God for healing, her family prayed for her healing, and friends prayed for her healing. However Joni remained quadriplegic.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years, Joni remained in her wheelchair unable to use her arms and legs. She fell into deep depression, that she wish she could drive her wheelchair into the wall, or drive it into the stairs so she could end her life, be she could not even do it, for she was paralyzed. She would cry at 2 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the morning for God to take her life away as she said in her testimony, but she felt so pitiful as could not even wipe the tears in her eyes or wipe her nose, that she has to stop crying.

As time passed, slowly Joni realized that God still has a purpose for her life. She would then find comfort in the old hymns as she would sing them when she was discouraged. She would sing “Be Still My Soul,” and “Abide with Me” to find reassurance in the Lord. One of her favorite hymns was “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” In one of the lines of that hymn it says:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love,

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy court’s above.

Joni has accepted her fate, and she was telling the Lord, here’s my heart – take it and seal it. She realized that God has indeed healed her. God has healed her soul.

Joni Eareckson Tada (her photo below), became a Christian author, a radio host, an evangelist, who was also the founder of the organization Joni and Friends, whose mission is to glorify God by empowering, and discipling, and serving people living with disability.

One of the books Joni wrote was titled: “Where’s My Miracle?” – in this book she relates how she understood her unanswered prayer by finding God’s ultimate goal for her life and finding joy in knowing God’s purpose for her life.

Today, 55 years spent in a wheelchair, Joni continues to inspire others and minister for the Lord.

May we also realized the miracle God has done in our lives and may we find joy knowing what His purpose for us. This is my prayer.


(*photos from the web)

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