The pool of Bethesda was a magnet for the sick and the infirm of Jerusalem. A great and pitiful multitude lay sprawled out across its five covered porches, each of them looking for a miracle.
They were in the right place. Everyone knew Bethesda’s pool was the place to go for a miracle. On a regular basis, an angel would enter the water and stir it up (note: some manuscripts differ on this part of the story), and the first person to enter the pool would be healed. Just like that. All you had to do was be first.
But being first wasn’t easy. The cards were already stacked against you: a veritable host of the sick, the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed all wanted the same thing you did, and if you were a man who had been without the use of his legs for 38 years, the odds were simply not in your favor—unless, of course, the Son of God happens to walk up and speak with you.
That’s exactly what happened to one man during the ministry of Jesus Christ. Why this particular man? I don’t know. We’re not told. But Jesus, in His infinite wisdom and understanding, singled this one man out of an entire multitude of the sick and mangled and then asked him a question:
“Do you want to be made well?”
For 38 years this man had been unable to walk, and Jesus asks him if he wants to be made well. Do you want to be made well? Does the sun rise in the east? Does gravity pull us back down to earth?
What kind of question is that?
I don’t claim to know the mind of Christ in that moment, but I do know this: Jesus never healed the same way twice—not in the recorded gospels, at least. Every time we see Jesus perform a miracle, the procedure is a little different. I suppose He could have adopted some sort of trademarked move—the wave of a hand, a few important-sounding words, some elaborate ritual—but the fact that each healing was unique pointed back to the fact that God was the one doing the healing, not some magical concoction or mysterious phrase. The only thing all these healings had in common was Jesus Christ Himself.
More than that, the healings performed by Jesus all convey something deeper than the healing itself. They’re there to teach us something. When Christ healed a leper, Luke made sure to include in his account that Jesus “put out His hand and touched him” before healing him (Luke 5:13). Jesus didn’t need to do that. He could have stood at a distance and healed the man just as effectively, but Christ touched him. Lepers were untouchables, pariahs whose disease forced them to remain quarantined from the rest of civilization. In reaching out and touching that leper, Jesus revealed His deep compassion for a man who had likely been bereft of human contact for quite some time—and, by extension, His deep compassion for all those who need healing.
But what about this man at the pool of Bethesda? What made Christ ask what He did?
The gospel account tells us that from the moment Jesus saw the man lying near the pool, He “knew that he already had been in that condition a long time” (John 5:6). He knew. He knew how long the man had been plagued with this disease. He knew the man was at the pool where people went when they needed healing. He knew the man was looking for a miracle.
And yet He still asked, “Do you want to be made well?”
If you look carefully, there’s actually another question buried within in the one Jesus asked:
“Are you comfortable being broken?”
Being healed would change everything about this man’s life. It would change how he got up in the morning and it would change why he got up in the morning. Christ was asking a legitimate question: “Is this what you want? I can make you well, but are you ready for your life to change on a fundamental level?”
All Scripture is given for a reason. As Paul said to Timothy, it is “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). So why was this healing—and, more specifically, Christ’s question—recorded for us?
I think because Jesus is asking all of us that same question.
Baptism isn’t the end of the journey. It’s a step. That journey starts with repentance and continues on until perfection, and as Christians we’re all somewhere along that continuum.
Do you want to be made well?
Are you comfortable being broken?
Because it can happen. I’d wager it has happened to each and every one of us. It’s a human tendency to stop at “good enough”—better than we were, but not quite where we’d intended to be. Are you there yet? Are you where you wanted to be? Are you where God wants you to be?
We can get so used to the way things are that the way things could be or the way things should be starts to scare us. Deep down, in the hidden parts of your heart and mind that only you and God can see, do you want to be made well?
Healing means changing. It’s a blessing, but it’s also a responsibility. “To whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). When God heals us spiritually, He makes us capable of doing more. Of being more. Healing comes with the responsibility of putting that brand new potential to use.
Jesus told the man at Bethesda to take up his bed and walk, and the man did. Thirty-eight years of infirmity and atrophy, reversed in a single moment. But the blessing comes with a warning: “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” (John 5:14). The gift of walking physically came with the responsibility of walking spiritually.
How long has it been since God gave you the use of your legs? How long has it been since He led you to the straight and narrow path and pointed you toward salvation?
How far have you come in that time?
Probably not as far as you’d like. I know I haven’t. I can see the path stretching on before me, and behind me I can see all the obstacles that have slowed me down—many of them of my own devising. Jesus wasn’t exaggerating when He said that the road we’re walking is narrow and difficult. But He also wasn’t exaggerating when He said it was worth walking—that at the end of that journey is a crown and a future worth striving toward.
Do you want to be made well?
Then take up your bed and walk. There’s a long road ahead.
Until next time,