In John 5:1-8, John tells a story about a disabled man who has been stuck in a place called Bethesda for thirty-eight years. At this particular time, there was a one-week celebration during one of the three Jewish festivals. According to the New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Bethesda means “house of grace.” The dictionary defines grace as favor or kindness showed without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that person deserves. The disabled man was in proximity to grace but yet could benefit from it. The pool of Bethesda attracted many sick people because it was believed to have miraculous cures.
Before Jesus came to the sick man, the previous chapter gives an account of Jesus healing a government Official’s son by the spoken word. By every account, Jesus had a record of healing the sick. Jesus singled out this sick man because he had been in this condition for too long. Unfortunately, the sick man had accepted his situation and had allowed his problem to become a way of life. Apparently, the sick man has succeeded in convincing himself that his situation is hopeless. The truth is what we go through in life does not have to define us.
By this biblical account, no one has ever helped the man get into the water, but neither did it say that anyone helped those who went ahead of him when the water was stirred. The man felt alone, neglected and forgotten. Indeed, hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12a). It is likely that he had to depend on others for his daily survival. The truth is no matter how isolated and stagnated our infirmities may make us feel Jesus has the power to solve our predicament.
Many sick people who were at the pool of Bethesda for the past thirty-eight years were no longer there. Jesus singled him out because he had been there the longest. As others over the years received their healing, it felt very frustrating and disappointing. Instead of looking at the situation from a negative perspective, the sick man should have celebrated the healing of others and be hopeful about his case.
The question is, why was this man stuck in the same place for thirty-eight years with no progress, and yet many who were in the same predicament were no longer there? How can we use the story to apply to our daily lives?
There are three principles that we can derive from this story, and they are: define what you want, stop the excuses and take ownership of your own life.
Define what you want: even though the disabled man remained in the same place for thirty-eight years, he could not define what he wanted. Jesus asked him a simple question which required a yes or no answer, but instead, he started complaining. Similarly, when we find ourselves stuck in life and there is no precise definition of what we want we are likely to go round in circles. When we go to God in prayer, we must define what we want and ask Him about it. God is always ready to meet us at the point of our needs.
Stop the excuses: when Jesus asked the disabled man a question he replied with an excuse; "I have no one to help me when the water is stirred." He made an excuse and blamed others for not helping him. We must always look to God for help and not man. It is not our responsibility to determine who helps us and when we do it mostly end in disappointment. We should leave God to do what God does. When God chooses someone to help us, it mostly comes from unlikely places and it is not our responsibility to identify and receive the needed help.
Take ownership of your life: the disabled man did not want to take ownership of his own life. He wanted to depend on others, and this made him stuck at Bethesda for thirty-eight years. Being disabled places you in a vulnerable position but does not mean the end of your life. Many people who were in the same predicament had long gone from Bethesda. Jesus told the disabled man "get up pick up your mat and walk." We can deduce from Jesus' instruction that a new law called grace was available to move him to a new place of reality. The new reality was that the sick man did not have to wait for the stirring of the water any longer. Jesus was trying to show the man to take ownership of his life and not blame others. In life, we must own up to our mistakes and failures and rise above our situation. God has given us the power of choice. Every situation in our lives presents us with the opportunity to make a decision. Choose wisely.
We don't have to get stuck with our problems for a very long time like the disabled man in John 5:1-8. Jesus is there for us, and when we go to Him in prayer with a sincere heart, He hears and answers us.