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?” – John 5:6
“Do you want to be made well?” That is a question asked of a lame man by Jesus. The man had been lame for thirty eight years. Such a question seems rhetorical at best, cruel at worst. Yet we know Jesus was anything but cruel so there must be some other reason for Him asking the lame man such a question.
In John 5 we are provided the third of seven “signs” or miracles of Jesus that tell us something about who He is in the Gospel of John. The context is that Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem during one of the feasts of the Jews (John 5:1). Jesus passes through the Sheep Gate. And just adjacent to this gate was the Pool of Bethesda. “Bethesda” means house of mercy (John 5:2).
At the Pool of Bethesda, “lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 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” (John 5:3-4). The word “blind” (Greek typhlos) means physically or mentally blind. The word “lame” (Greek cholos) means limping, deprived of a foot, maimed. The word “paralyzed” (Greek xeros) means shrunken, withered, dried out. This was a place where hurting people in need of healing gathered. Did angels actually stir the water so that whoever stepped in first would be healed of whatever disease they had? This was the thinking of the day. But isn’t that what human tradition or the law speaks of, being “first,” or earning your healing? “Try harder. Fight your way out of it. Fight to the top. God helps those who help themselves” are all expressions of human tradition, self-reliant work and legalism. That’s an inaccurate portrayal of how God works.
God blesses by grace to lead us and draw us to Himself (e.g. Rom. 2:4). Grace is undeserved or unmerited favor of God. God sent Jesus “while we were yet sinners” (Rom. 5:8). God loves the world (John 3:16). The truth of the matter is you can’t make God love you more than He already does. You can’t do something to make God love you more so that He will do something you want Him to do. All you can do is receive that love as a gift of His grace through faith in Christ.
“Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years” (John 5:5). The word “infirmity” (Greek astheneia) means sick, frail, diseased, feebleness, weakness, without strength, physically or mentally wanting. This man was hurt and hurting. Think of it, thirty-eight years trying his best to position himself to be the first to step in the pool and be healed. Thirty-eight years and still lame! What must this man have thought about the mercy and grace of God? He probably had lost sight of God’s mercy. He at least must have questioned it. Thirty eight years is a long time. But time does not change the mercy of God.
Jesus looked at “a certain man.” Jesus focused on one man; one individual. That’s the way Jesus looks at us; as though we were the only person in the world. Think about that. If you were the only human being on planet earth and had a need, Jesus would still have come, just for you, just to heal you, and just to die on the cross for you! Incredible!
Think too of the situation this “certain man” was in. He was never, not even in thirty-eight years, able to maneuver himself close to the pool side to step in. He was always last. He was always just not strong enough, just not quick enough, and just out of sync. He wasn’t mobile, agile, or powerful. He was far away; removed. He was in a hopeless situation. When Jesus looked at him He could see and “knew that he already had been in that condition a long time.” The marks of futility, frustration, depression, discouragement, despair, and being in a dead end were written all over his face. Jesus saw that. He sees that in us when we are in a similar state of being.
“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?” (John 5:6). “Do you want to be made well?” This question flew like an arrow to the bulls-eye center of this man’s heart. But wasn’t it obvious that this man did want to be healed? Jesus could see he “had been in that condition a long time.” He had been like this for thirty-eight years! So why would Jesus ask him, “Do you want to be made well?” I think Jesus asked the man this question because sometimes people get used to their condition of lameness in whatever form; it becomes a way of life. They may use their condition to manipulate others in order to survive. For most who are in such a condition for such a prolonged period of time, such a thought would be offensive. But for others, it is something to consider.
There are some with limiting conditions who learn to survive through fostering pity in others through their condition. Maybe they lose all hope of repair and feel forced to rely on such “survival” tactics. Maybe they become so adept at using their condition it really does become a situation where they need to ask, “Do I really want to be made well?” Jesus simply asks the question. He gives the infirm man a choice; a decision to make. The psychology of physical pain and brokenness is complicated. Jesus is the answer to those limitations and complications. He comes and offers healing.
“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.” (John 5:7). How sad it is when people go round and around in a circle of circumstances that only move them deeper and deeper down in darkness. This man could only respond to Jesus with a hopeless explanation of his plight. Think of how alone and lonely this man was. “I have no man to put me into the pool.” This man had NO ONE. He was alone. Loneliness is a place of hurt and pain. Ever feel alone? Ever feel like no one cares for you? Jesus had a word for this man. Jesus has a word for you.
Feel hopeless? Feel like nothing is working; like nothing is meeting your need? Feel like you’re in a dead end; like you’re fruitlessly doing the same ineffective and failing things over and over again? Feel locked in with no way out with no one to help you? Jesus has a word for you; the same word He had for this man. “Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked” (John 5:8-9). “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” A simple word; not even a raised voice worthy of an exclamation mark. A simple word from Jesus solved this man’s life problem and answered every doubt he ever had. God had heard him. And God was now answering him. It was worth the wait. Think of what these words describe. Think of the incredible liberation. Think of the stupendous eye-opening powerful effect of the simple words of Jesus. Isn’t Jesus wonderful? Yes He is!
But what might this man have thought at these words? Maybe he thought what? But I can’t walk! We too might think “What? But I can’t . . .” when Jesus tells us to “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” But in Jesus words there was an empowerment. Jesus does the heavy lifting. Someone has said, “God’s commandments are God’s enablements.” That’s what we see here. Jesus spoke to the infirm man telling him to “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And that word was infused with power to do what was asked to do. God will never ask you to do something He doesn’t enable you to do. Remember that. If you think you hear something and then you can’t do it, listen closer, either you’re not listening deep enough, or it may not be the Lord speaking. Pray and go to God’s word and He will clarify.
Notice too that Jesus in saying to the man, “take up your bed” was asking him to make no provision for failure. Jesus didn’t want him to leave his bed where it was so he could return to it “if it didn’t work out.” This was a “Rise, take up your bed and walk” and you will never go back, never be the same again call of Jesus to this man. Some bridges need to be burned. Some things need to be left behind. Sometimes we need to move on; move forward to God’s higher calling in Jesus Christ.
When we struggle with an addiction or bad habit and turn it over to Jesus, then that means throwing away everything related to it and burning the bridges that would tempt us to return to the sin. Burn the dirty books; the little black books or your phone contacts with phone numbers of past loves. Block the filthy websites from your computor. Throw the computor away if you need to. Don’t hide the Oreos or candy where you can find them later when you might crave them. Clean the house. Make a clean and total break. Pick up your bed and walk on!
Jesus said to this infirm man, “Walk.” The man had to take action. He had to take a step in faith. He had to trust Jesus. You have to take action. You have to walk by faith. No one is going to do the work for you. There is a time when you have to take a step of faith. We can’t always lean on others, unless it is Jesus. But Jesus isn’t here, you might say or think. Wait a minute. Jesus is the word made flesh. The entire Bible is all about Jesus (Heb. 10:7). Jesus speaks through His word. Prayerfully seek Him in His word and you will hear His encouraging and comforting voice. His word is powerful and contains what you need to “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (cf. Heb. 4:12).
Circumstances of despair serve a purpose. “Despair” means no hope; hopelessness. Corrie ten Boom the woman of God and holocaust survivor used to say, “You will never discover Christ is all you need until Christ is all you have.” The man in this story was in his hurting condition for thirty eight years. Another woman in the gospel spent “all her livelihood” on physicians without getting a cure for her ailment (Luke 8:43). Both had no alternatives when Jesus came their way. The medicines of man don’t always measure up to meet our need. There are always limitations when we rely on humanity.
Modern medical science is wonderful. We can do a lot more today medically than in Gospel times. Some look to modern medicine as though it makes God obsolete and unnecessary. Yes, modern medicine can do great things. Just because a medical treatment brings healing doesn’t mean the healing isn’t from God. Who do you think gave humanity the capability to learn such incredible healing techniques? Who made the surgeon’s hands? God did. He created the minds that make the medical advances that meet our medical needs.
Humanity is confused and at a loss. Abortions of convenience don’t make you well, they make you worse; they emotionally scar you forever and they kill a life; a baby. Surgery may help to bring physical healing but it doesn’t go deep enough to heal emotions. A therapist may be a good listener but going around and around recounting your problem does not always have the desired effect. You may be able to identify the problem but what about solving it? A pill? Today there’s a pill for just about everything we think we need fixed. But we aren’t being made well. Have you noticed the side effects of the plethora medications for various conditions and ailments advertised on TV? For example, there seems to be something drastically wrong with an anti-depressant medication that makes a person suicidal. Isn’t that what an anti-depressant is trying to avoid? Is being “happy” or blind, calm or cancerous, thin but ready to explode or have heart failure really choices that make people well? Just wondering. Sometimes medicine, therapists, social workers and all humanity just don’t measure up. Sometimes, many times, people are not the answer. That’s when we usually finally come to Jesus. But we should come to Jesus first, not last!
God provides precious promises in His word and that would include the keys to healing (2 Peter 1:3-4). I like what Bible teacher Jon Courson says, “Everything we need to escape the sickness and sadness of this world is found in the exceedingly great and precious promises of the Bible. Yet people don’t read their Bibles. They’ll drive fifty minutes to go to a thirty-minute counseling appointment but won’t spend fifteen minutes in the Word. It’s a tragedy.”  Jesus is able. He is able to make you completely whole. Do you want to be made well? Go to Jesus. No one loves you like He does. And no one has what you need like Jesus does. Jesus can make you well.
Peter and John once told a beggar who was lame from birth, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). Then Peter took the man by the hand and lifted him up and, “Immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked, leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:7-8). Later when Peter explained what happened to the crowd of witnesses he stated, “And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:16). The word “strong” (Greek stereoo) means to receive strength, make strong, confirm, and solidify. This man was given strength in the name of Jesus. He also received “perfect soundness” (Greek holokleria) which means physical wholeness, good health, soundness or wholeness in all parts. This is an all-encompassing word. It means whatever needed healing in this man was healed. That included physical healing and healing for emotional scars associated with his physically lame condition. And it also included spiritual healing or the healing of his soul; salvation. That is really what led to the jumping praise of God by the man. In one fell swoop when Peter in the name of Jesus told him to rise and then took him and lifted him up this man was physically, emotionally and spiritually healed. No wonder he jumped for joy! Glory! How about you, do you want to be made well like that?
That is what Jesus wants to do for you. He wants to heal you. And Acts 3:16 tells us Jesus provides “faith that comes through Him [Jesus]” for what He wants to do in you. There are times when Jesus prioritizes what is healed in us. His prime concern is our eternal healing with salvation and eternal life. There are times when he allows our physical ailment or condition to continue. We don’t always know why this is the case. But we know God is good and therefore we need to trust Him. He knows what He’s doing. His plan is best.
But why doesn’t Jesus always heal? It’s true; sometimes God’s will is not for healing. Word of faith teachers may claim otherwise. They put the onus on people and their faith. They say, “If you have enough faith, you will always be healed.” Sound familiar? Sounds a bit like the infirm man who couldn’t get close enough to dip into the pool when the angels stirred the healing waters. It’s just not true that God always heals. He can always heal. But He doesn’t always heal. When the focus is on our faith to be healed and not on what Jesus wants to do, it compounds people’s pain. Not only are they physically hurting, but added to their predicament is a lack of faith according to the false doctrine of “faith” healers. Such a view is out of touch with reality. It’s out of touch with God. It is actually offensive to God because “faith” is used to make God answer our beck and call. That’s offensive to God.
Jesus is able to heal us completely in all areas of our life. Eternal life salvation healing is always available for, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). If Jesus chooses to have you remain in a physically ill or hurting condition He promises to provide sufficient grace to get you through. No temptation or trial is exceptional. All humanity experiences temptations and trials. But God is able. Our focus needs to be on God and His ability not our inability. God’s promise is to not allow us to be tested beyond what He enables us to be tested with. He provides what we need to be victorious in whatever He allows in our life. He is faithful to do this. He will help us come through our trials. He will bring us through standing strong. That’s His promise. He is faithful. Trust Him (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
No matter our circumstance when we hear Jesus say, “Do you want to be made well?” we need to see with eternal priority. We can be eternally healed right now! And God can use us in our trials to work eternal healing in others around us. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” That is true all the time. That is definite. Of that there is no doubt.
This life is short. It does not compare with eternity. If God has a greater eternal plan that includes using your physically hurting condition, if He can use that for His glory, then praise Him for it! God can use healing and non-healing to glorify Himself. Healing can come through medicine. Healing can come without medicine. But don’t’ sell God short. Go to Jesus first. Healing shows the presence and power of God. Non-healing shows the presence and powerful sufficiency of His grace to get us through. The saint that has a physical challenge or terminal illness and is still joyful is a testimony to the power and presence of God. That glorifies Him. Be content even in this (Phil. 4). In both instances God works His will for His glory. To that we must surrender. So when Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?” Our answer should be, “Thy will be done.” Lord, by your grace this will be our answer. “Do you want to be made well?” Go to Jesus. Go to Him first!