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The Great Physician

John 5:8-9 - Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your bed and walk." 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his bed and walked.

Read John 5:1-9.

Not all of the sick and handicapped people in Israel were healed when our Lord Jesus was here on earth. Not even all the infirm in Jerusalem, or in other towns where the Lord Jesus spent considerable time, felt the healing touch of the Great Physician. But many did! Some of those who were healed came by themselves or were brought by their friends. They implored the Lord for His help and were not disappointed. There were others who didn't seek out the Lord and weren't brought by their friends, but they were sovereignly selected by the Great Physician for healing. The Lord Jesus came to them where they were and made them well.

Such is the case of the lame man in John 5. He did not come to Christ for healing. In fact, as far as we know, he had not even seen or heard of the Great Physician (v13). But the Lord Jesus came to where he was, selected him from among all the other sick and handicapped people and healed him instantaneously. Can you imagine the joy of this man who had waited and hoped for 38 years that he would be cured? How often he had been disappointed by others who took advantage of his particular handicap and got to the healing waters ahead of him. As far as we know, he had no friends--at least not the kind who cared much about helping him with his problem. Thirty-eight years of illness, bitterness, loneliness, frustration and dashed hopes! In addition to this, it seems that he carried a load of guilt for some past sin (or sins), and the knowledge that his condition was possibly linked with his mistakes of years before (v14). What a sad situation. But it was changed in a moment by the Great Physician!

What a beautiful picture of what God can do and has done for us! Before conversion we were in a hopeless, sin-sick condition. Some of us were bitter and disappointed with life. Some of us were spiritual and emotional cripples. Many of us were struggling under a heavy load of guilt--guilt from deliberate acts of sin. And many of us were not seeking God at all, and we were totally unaware that He was seeking us. But the Lord found us in our helpless and hopeless state. The Great Physician selected us for salvation and gave us the strength to "pick up our beds and walk."

The healing of the lame man in John 5 is one of the "sign miracles" of the Gospel of John. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle John chose to record seven miracles of the Lord Jesus in his Gospel, and near the end of the book he gives us his reasons. "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30-31). We see that John had a twofold purpose in choosing each of the seven sign miracles. One purpose was to show that Jesus of Nazareth was definitely the Jewish Messiah, the Son of God whose coming was predicted in the prophetic Scriptures. The other purpose was to show that personal commitment to Jesus as Lord and God results in new spiritual life. Thus every one of the selected sign miracles in John's Gospel in some way points up the deity of Christ and teaches us something significant about the life of faith. These two themes are the key to opening up the meaning of the selected miracles recorded in the Gospel of John. What, then, does this sign miracle teach us about the deity of Christ, and what does it teach us about Christian faith?

The deity of the Lord Jesus is certainly emphasized by the fact that the lame man was instantaneously healed without the aid of the "healing waters." Notice that the Lord did not heal the man by helping him into the pool at the right time, nor did He just initiate the healing process and start the man on the road to recovery. No! There was an immediate and complete cure, apart from any special healing time or angelic agent, and apart from any real or imagined healing power of the pool. What human healer could possibly match the healing power of the Great Physician? Isaiah had prophesied that "the lame will leap like a deer" as a mark of the true Messiah (Isaiah 35:6). Have you ever seen a person who has had a cast on a broken leg for weeks start walking normally right after the cast is removed? How about jumping up after being bed-ridden for 38 years! The dramatic healing of this lame man by the Pool of Bethesda should have left no doubt in the minds of the observers--as well as the readers of John's Gospel (then and today)--that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the promised Messiah, the Son of God.

There may be other reasons why the Holy Spirit had John select the healing of this lame man to demonstrate the deity of Christ. After all, there were other lame people healed by the Great Physician. (See Matthew 15:30, for example.) Some commentators suggest that this lame man was chosen because he illustrates for us the nation of Israel under the crippling effects of sin, with the Law and Judaism unable to help in any way whatsoever. Israel had the Law of God contained in the 5 books of Moses (possibly portrayed by the pool with 5 porches), but because they were crippled by sin they were unable to walk in the ways of God. There was nothing wrong with the Law, but God's Law could not bring spiritual vitality to the people. Only God Himself could do that. The Law, in line with God's original intention, could only point out how hopeless the situation was apart from the healing touch of the Messiah. Israel's 38 years of wandering in the wilderness after the Law was given (compare verse 5 with Deuteronomy 2:14), had proved that Israel was helpless without their Messiah.

But even after the Messiah came to His people and offered them healing, their response was similar to that of this lame man in John 5. As the lame man still thought that his healing must come through the waters of the pool, so the Jewish people continued to believe that somehow their salvation was tied up with trying to keep the Law, as defined by the teachings of Judaism. What a pathetic situation! The remedy for their predicament was close at hand. All they had to do was acknowledge their inability to meet God's holy standards in their own strength and respond in faith to the gracious directives of the Messiah. Miraculously, they would have been enabled to "walk" in the strength of new life. But Israel chose to remain in its hopeless, crippled condition, still waiting for help--help that could never come apart from their Messiah, who had already come!

The above interpretation is certainly in line with the theological purpose of John--to magnify the deity of the Messiah. Although the spiritualization of the 5 porches for the Law and the paralleling of the 38 years to the wilderness wanderings may be somewhat "forced," it appears that the overall picture of Israel's condition was definitely intended in this sign miracle. This is especially obvious when one follows the polemic of John against "the Jews" throughout his Gospel.

There may be even more features about this particular miracle that emphasize the deity of the Messiah. Archaeological excavations of the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem have unearthed evidence indicating that there was a pagan healing shrine located near the pool. Whether the functionings of the shrine and its healing cult were in some way connected with the Pool of Bethesda or just located in the same vicinity is hard to determine for certain. The evidence does indicate, however, that the shrine was in operation during the time of Christ and that both the pool and the shrine were located outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem at that time.

If there was some type of syncretic connection between the Pool of Bethesda and this pagan healing shrine, the deity of Christ is further emphasized by the selection of this miracle. Jesus of Nazareth was not just an itinerant Jewish healer operating within the religious traditions of the Jews. He was Almighty God, who could enter any earthly shrine, confront the demonic power of any Greek, Roman or Canaanite "deity" and prove at any time His overwhelming superiority. Any syncretic connections which may have existed between the Pool of Bethesda and the pagan shrine would help to explain the unusual text in John 5:3­4. Many Christians have been bothered by the idea of God using the means of "angel-stirred" water for healing. In view of the background just discussed, perhaps the "angel" was not from God, but may have been a fallen angel. Certainly the "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14) is not opposed to using "healing" in his master plan of deception.

Questions about the text itself also enter the discussion at this point. You will notice that most Bibles give an explanatory note saying that the end of verse 3 and all of verse 4 are either not found at all (or found with variations) in some ancient manuscripts. So whether or not an "angel" (or "angel of the Lord" as some manuscripts read) actually stirred the water is difficult to ascertain. It could be that the "angel stirring the water" was only popular opinion at that time, or a tradition devised by Jewish people to excuse their attendance at a pagan shrine. If verses 3b-4 are not part of the original text, they were probably added by some well-meaning scribe as a note to explain the lame man's response to the Lord in verse 7. The textual question is complex and certainly beyond the scope of this paper.

In any case, the possible pagan connections to the Pool of Bethesda may help explain this unusual and questionable bit of text. And such connections do not take away from the picture of Israel's hopeless condition. If anything, they enhance it! After all, Judaism's additions and distortions of God's Law were certainly of human and demonic origin. Any way you look at it, the deity of the Great Physician is loudly proclaimed in the miraculous healing of this lame man.

What can we learn about Christian faith from this sign miracle? Certainly the truth that saving faith is subject to the sovereign selection of the Lord emerges quite clearly. John 20:31 states "...and that by believing you may have life in His name." In this miracle we see that our "believing" does not originate with us and our initiative, but rather with God. If the Lord hadn't chosen us for salvation we would still be in our hopeless, sin-sick condition, looking for help from the wrong source.

This miracle also teaches us something about the Christian walk of faith. The Lord Jesus not only told the lame man to "get up," but also to "walk." When the Lord saves us, He not only gives us the power to standbut also to walk. The "salvation package" that we receive upon conversion contains much more than forgiveness of our sins and a ticket to heaven. We also receive new "life in His name," which enables us to walk--to move forward--as Christians throughout this life.

Notice that the healed man was also told to carry his bed--the mat or pad on which he had lain, incapacitated, for so long. Surely it would have been easier for the man to leave the bed behind and not carry a load which would bring back unpleasant memories of the past! But the Lord commanded him to pick up his bed and carry it with him.

In the same way, the Christian is commanded to "carry his bed." Our new life is new, but it is not completely severed from our past. The fact that "the old is gone, and the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17) does not mean that all our problems and responsibilities are removed when we become Christians. However, whatever "bed" we were unable to carry before--or feel unable to carry now--can be picked up and shouldered in the strength of the new life.

 Many growing Christians still have to learn this lesson. They have the healing of salvation but they are not walking by faith. They continue to lie as emotional or psychological cripples on their beds of self-pity, or they limp along not realizing that all the strength they need is available to carry whatever loads need to be carried. So let's not just use the study of this miracle as an intellectual exercise in magnifying the deity of the Great Physician. Let's also hear and obey the command of the Son of God to each one of us who has been healed: "Get up! Pick up your bed and walk!"
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