In John 5:1-9 , we are introduced to a miracle Jesus performed on a man, who the Scripture tells us has “been an invalid for thirty-eight years”. He has been waiting for a miracle that long. There was, then, a popular belief among the Jews, of an event where an angel stirs up a pool and anyone who steps in first receives a miracle. This however is discounted not to be a part of Scripture but a myth people believed:
The material about an angel of the Lord stirring the water and bringing healing appears in some early manuscripts, but not the earliest. Thus v. 4 should not be considered part of Scripture. Still, v. 7 (which is in all manuscripts) shows that people believed something like what v. 4 reports.¹
This invalid, we are told, has been waiting to enter the pool when it is stirred. But there is a challenge. Because of his paralysis, others always step ahead of him. Remember according to the myth, it is the first sick person who steps into the pool that gets healed when the pool is stirred. This miracle, as we will see shortly points us to some truths about how God works in the salvation of sinners.
Firstly, we see the helplessness of sinners to save themselves. The Bible teaches that all human beings are sinners. Naturally, we are dead in sin and separated from God. Because of our spiritual death, we are bereft of the ability to draw close to God by ourselves. We are dead in sin and dead people cannot give themselves life. They can only remain dead (Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:1, Romans 3:10-19, John 6:44). The picture we see clearly points us to the truth of humankind’s inability to save themselves.
Note that the man’s sickness was a result of sin: “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”(v.14). This is true in a general sense: All sicknesses have their root from sin. Sin brought the punishment of death on the human race ( Genesis 3:16-19, Romans 8:18-23 ). It is also true in a particular sense in that some sicknesses are directly related to particular sins and are God’s way of discipline and chastisement of his children (1Corinthians 11:27-32). Not all sicknesses are a result of particular sins (John 9:1-3).
As the story unfolds, the man’s inability emerges clearly. While Jesus extends a hand of healing, the invalid man utters a statement pointing to His inability: “Sir , I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” (v.7). That invalid is like us. Without Christ, we can do nothing. Without Christ, we are dead in sin deprived of eternal life.
Secondly, we come face to face with the reality of God’s sovereignty in salvation. We are told when Jesus saw the invalid man, He knew the man has been at the pool for a protracted length of time (v.6). This speaks of a divine attribute. Christ is Omniscient. He knows all things. He knew the invalid has been there for long. Of great interest also is the “…multitude of invalids— blind, lame, and paralyzed [ lying by the pool] (v.3). In spite of this, Jesus attended particularly to this one man. He didn’t heal everyone though He could have. God saves sinners according to His divine prerogative ( John 1:12-13, Romans 9:11-16).
Finally, the narrative teaches us that God brings sinners to faith through His word. In John 6:63, Jesus said “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”. There is life in Christ’s words. The narrative records that, Jesus commanded the invalid “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” (v.8). There is power in Christ’s word. It has life. The effect of Jesus’ command—His word— is worth noting:
…at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked (v.9).
The invalid by Christ’s word was healed. But more than a need for physical healing; what we need most is spiritual healing—forgiveness of our sin and reconciliation to God. Like the man in this story, Christ asks you: “Do you want to be healed?”(v. 6).
1: The ESV Global Study Bible (Crossways, 2012) study note on John 5:3 [kindle edition]