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Faith In The Pool

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" Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well." (John 5:1-15, NIV)

This third miracle demonstrates that salvation is by grace. This man was in a pitiable condition. Because of his past sin (see v. 14 ) he had been afflicted for thirty-eight years. He was surrounded by afflicted people, all of whom illustrate the sad condition of the unsaved; impotent (without power— Rom. 5:6 ), blind, halt (unable to walk correctly— Eph. 2:1–3 ), withered (paralysis), and waiting for something to happen (without hope— Eph. 2:12 ). If these people could get into the water when the angel came, they could be healed; but they lacked the power to get there! How like the sinner today: if he could keep God’s perfect law, he could be saved; but he is unable to do so.

It was not the normal scene at poolside.  The bodies were not bare, bronzed and buffed but broken, bent and blind.  Some believed that it was an angel that stirred the waters of the healing pool.  The blind had never seen anything and by the time they heard the commotion it was too late.  Someone, some lucky soul had been the first to receive a healing.  That was what they said anyway.  In many ways it seemed to be a cruel trick.  A tease to raise the hope of healing so close and yet such an impossible distance.  What sort of mind would force the blind and the lame into a race, stumbling around or over those who were totally paralyzed.  Was it God and was he laughing at the confusion.  It seemd that way because only one person ever received their healing.  In an instant there were hundreds soaking wet in the pool and what man could say he was the first.  I guess it was up to God to tell, . . . if he could stop laughing long enough.  How many times had they pulled the runners up paralyzed and gasping for air, from the pool, just as they were when they rolled or were tipped in.  But they all stayed, day in and day our waiting for the next cruel game to begin.  Someone would win and everyone else would win and that just increased their sense of suffering and despair

The Bethesda beach people were not there by choice but by chance, a terrible twist of fate.  It was not a 5 star resort but a last resort and this was no vacation.  One man in particular above and beyond the others knew this well for he had been here longer than any of the others.  He had seen a few miracles here . .  . and there, amidst a multitude of misery and the disappointment – for every one that was healed the rest remained each time a little less hopeful.

1.  Long Term Disability


Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years

[     The things we learn to live with. 

He was the senior most of the sick.  Thirty-eight years hoping.  Like many others, he’d taken his dive into the pool but obviously not in time.How does a person live with that kind of repeated disappointment.  So close and yet so far.

There are those here today who have suffered for long periods of time with illnesses and maladies, physical, emotional, spiritual.  Like this man you’ve seen others come and go.  They have received their miracles in short order and you’ve begun to wonder what hides you from the sight of God.  Why can’t he see your need ahead of others?  You perhaps experience the pain of the poolside patients who didn’t quite make it in time.  You’ve been sitting in God’s emergency room for years, unnoticed it would seem.  Maybe you forgot to take a number and get in line.

Your life can become your pain if you suffer with it for a long enough time.  You can tend to interpret life through this lens and pain is not a reliable eye piece when we try to make in an instrument of interpretation.

What do you learn in God’s waiting rooms?

[     Sensitivity for one thing.  You learn how to avoid saying stupid things.  Sheila told me this week that in conversation with my ailing grandmother, she told her a story that occurred as she was grieving the loss of her husband, my grandfather.  This person told her, “Well Percy always prayed that if God had no more use for him here on earth, that he would take him.”

[     Endurance for another.  You learn that you can tolerate much more than you ever thought you could.  You learn that no matter how much it hurts, you have to keep going because it doesn’t hurt any less when you stop.  You learn that when you stop too long, you don’t want to start again and there is that insidious voice of despair that makes you want to curse the God that you love or to feel so sorry for yourself that everything turns pitch black.

[     And intimacy or relational authenticity.  Why?  Because no one in this world seeks God more intensely than the one who suffers.  Sometimes you need to yell at God in order to understand Him. 

Many years ago I decided to do that very thing.  I was fed up with empty words and pharisaical phrases.  In my search for new meaning, I came across this brief description of prayer, which I set on my desk and carried in the front of my Bible for years.  I cannot locate the book from which it was taken, but I do know the author, a seventeenth- century Roman Catholic Frenchman named Francois Fenelon. Although written centuries ago, it has an undeniable ring of relevance:

Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one's heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend.  Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them, talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability.  Tell Him how self- love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself and to others.

If you thus pour out all your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say.  You will never exhaust the subject. It is continually being renewed.  People who have no secrets from each other never want for subjects of conversation. They do not weigh their words, for there is nothing to be held back, neither do they seek for something to say.  They talk out of the abundance of the heart, without consideration they say just what they think.  Blessed are they who attain to such familiar, unreserved intercourse with God.

   -- Strengthening Your Grip, Charles Swindoll

You can learn to live in God’s waiting room when the doctor is worth waiting for.

There are others though who conclude that they have to find their own way out and they begin to focus on the tiniest shreds of hope and they chart the course for a lifetime of disappointment.  Some have estimated that there were thousands gathered around the Pool of Bethesda.  They were focused on a mechanism that could bring healing to their lives.  Living graceless in the House of Grace which is what the word Bethesda means.

2.  Long Shot Cure

Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  b[1]

[     The things we pin our hopes on. 

It was either faith in what was insufficient or imaginary

They were believing in the curative powers of a pool that had been touched by an angel.  It was perhaps supernatural, from God.  But it was insufficient to meet the needs of the multitude.  One by one, people standing in line, fastest to slowest to have their needs met.

They were so close and yet so far away.  The picture here is the picture of humanity.  Desperately straining to be the authors of their own salvation but totally helpless.  Incapable of finding the answers to relieve themselves of their own misery.  Politicians do not have answers for us.  We have the government that we deserve and we learn more everyday that if we place our hope in forms of government that reflect the values and morality of the Bible, we will be totally disillusioned.  We do not live in a Christian nation so forget about the hope that we can solve our problems this way.  You can live a lifetime by that pool and die as you have lived.  The same is true of fortune and fame and friends and . . . you name it.

I have to share a story about our recent inquiries to determine whether or not anyone is interested in electronic funds transfer for their weekly tithing.  Bob got a note back for a person who said something like this:

“I feel guilty because I am not able to make it to church very much and I come every once in awhile just to give my tithe.  Now that we have EFT, I won’t have to come at all.”

If there is hope for us today it will be as it was for them, in the personal visitation of Christ.

Let me talk to you this morning for a few minutes about this healing pool and the significance that there is in it’s name and the nature of the miracles that were periodically performed there.

There were 10, some say 11 gates in the walls of the city each bearing a name that was significant.  They were:

[     Sheep Gate - The high priest and his fellow priests were assigned to rebuild the Sheep Gate ( v. 1 ). This was of particular interest to them, because animals were brought through that gate to the temple for sacrifice.[2]

[     Fish Gate - The Fish Gate may have been the gate through which the people of Tyre brought fish they sold ( 13:16 ). [3]

[     Jeshanah Gate (Old Gate)

[     Gate Of Ephraim

[     Valley Gate – Gate through which Nehemiah went out to make his nightly inspection of the progress on the rebuilding project.

[     Dung Gate – The Dung Gate was so named because it led to the Hinnom Valley south of the city where refuse was dumped.[4]

[     Fountain Gate

[     Water Gate

[     Horse Gate.  The Horse Gate ( v. 28 ) on the east wall may have been where horses entered the palace area[5]

[     East Gate

[     Inspection Gate

The Location. 

The pool of Bethesda was located by the Sheep Gate.

This gate is supposed to have immediately communicated with the temple, and to have been called the sheep gate, because the sheep intended for sacrifice passed through it. [6] This was the only gate in the city which did not have doors.

The sacrificial animals were stored there in close proximity to the pool for inspection by the priests prior to their slaughter.  In the shadow of the temple, the means of redemption was there.  And right there as well, in the shadow of the temple.

These people lived in the “House of Grace”, in the shadow of the temple, within reach of the means of redemption but were unable to help themselves.

There are those who believe that Jesus passed through this gate during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem in the days before his crucifixion.

But see the grace of God at work. “Bethesda” (v. 2 ) means “house of grace,” and this is what it became for this one man. What does “grace” mean? It means kindness to those who are undeserving. Jesus saw a multitude of sick people—but He chose only one man and healed him! This man was no more deserving than the others, but God chose him.

There were five porches, and five in the Bible is the number of grace; and the pool was by the sheep gate, which speaks of sacrifice. The Lamb of God had to die before God’s grace could be poured out on sinners.

If these people could get into the water when the angel came, they could be healed; but they lacked the power to get there! How like the sinner today: if he could keep God’s perfect law, he could be saved; but he is unable to do so.

The man complained, “I have no man” (v. 7 ), but had a dozen men been there to help him, they could not do what Jesus did. The lost sinner does not need help; he needs healing.

Here was a man who knew that he had no one to help him and that he was unable to help himself and yet he stayed within a few feet of this pool hoping that something would happen and knowing that it was totally beyond his scope.

3.  Long Lost Desire

Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

[     The long term consequence of misplaced trust is that our hope shifts to the mechanism that we trust in rather than the Master.

This man had so long focused on getting in the troubled water first that he had an inability to recognize his deliverance as coming in any other way.  God may not choose the mechanism of deliverance that you are pinning your hope on today. 

Most of us in a place of need are sure of a mechanism.  You are sure of what it will take to solve your problem or to remove your misery.  You are like my dear father, with his Reader’s Digest condensed medical book   Trusting a book written by doctors but unwilling to trust in the living embodiment of that knowledge.  Staking a life on a condensed representation of something that can give life or bring death.

When you spend a lifetime trusting in something that is unreliable and beyond your scope it kills something within you.  I have watched people sitting at gambling machines and wondered what intense pressures might come to bear on a family that has to do without because.  We develop a dependence on the mechanisms that we trust in that cloud our awareness of the need that has driven us this way in the first place.

Look at the man’s response.  It was a simple straight forward question.  “Yes” or “No” but he laments over his inability to cooperate with the mechanism. 

“I can’t make it to the pool in time.”  It would seem to me that this was the greatest problem that he was able to articulate.  He didn’t need help, he needed healing. 

God would love to help many of you today but you can’t receive it because you’re still focused on getting into the pool.  It is that persisting belief that in order to receive help I have to do it or orchestrate it myself.

You say, “I can’t live the type of life that I imagine that a person must live.  I can’t be as perfect as I imagine some of these folks must be.  I could never be the first one in the pool.  I could not live up to the rules and regulations.”

Jesus says to you today the same thing that he said back then,  “Take up your mat and walk.”  God will help you to walk as you put one foot in front of the other.

The same is true with us today – we don’t need help we need healing.  We don’t need someone to help us with the results of sinful choices and practices – we need spiritual healing that will cause us to make godly choices. 

4.  Last Ditch Development


When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him . . .

[     Hope is looking for you

“This is the way God put it:  They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing.  Israel, out looking for a place to rest met God out looking for them.” Jeremiah 31:2-3a

Jesus picked this man out of the crowd.  He can pick you out of the crowd also.  He knows how long you have been searching and he knows the things that you are putting your trust in and the tragedy of misplaced trust.

No healing in the world is complete without a personal encounter with Christ.  Often there are spill over effects that come to the world in the way of the church.  People put their faith in the spill-overs – the crumbs that fall at their feet.  The purpose of the miraculous is to point the way to Christ – to communicate some greater spiritual lesson.  If we fail to receive this greater teaching then we have missed the point and the miracle is without any supernatural value.  It restores health or vitality to a dying body which continues to die.

5.  A Poolish Perspective

[     Faulty Focus – Christ alone is our firm hope.  Other options fall short.

[     Grace Shortage – Sometimes our pain can rob us of the ability to rejoice in the victories of others.  If grace is God’s grace there is plenty to go around.

[     Shortcuts – When it looks like others are getting ahead of you what will your response be?  Play by God’s rules or play as others are playing?

1. Beside the gospel pool
Appointed for the poor;
From year to year, my helpless soul
Has waited for a cure. 2. How often have I seen
The healing waters move;
And others, round me, stepping in
Their efficacy prove. 3. But my complaints remain,
I feel the very same;
As full of guilt, and fear, and pain.
As when at first I came. 4. O would the Lord appear
My malady to heal;
He knows how long I've languished here;
And what distress I feel. 5. How often have I thought
Why should I longer lie?
Surely the mercy I have sought
Is not for such as I. 6. But whither can I go?
There is no other pool
Where streams of sovereign virtue flow
To make a sinner whole. 7. Here then, from day to day,
I'll wait, and hope, and try;
Can Jesus hear a sinner pray,
Yet suffer him to die? 8. No: he is full of grace;
He never will permit
A soul, that fain would see his face,
To perish at his feet.

Supplemental Material

"And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years" (John 5:5). How this serves to confirm our interpretation of the previous verse, and what an illustration it furnishes us again of the deep significance of every word of Scripture. Why should the Holy Spirit have been careful to tell us the exact length of time this particular sufferer had been afflicted? What is the meaning and message of this "thirty and eight years"? Are we left to guess at the answer? No, indeed. Scripture is its own interpreter if we will but take the trouble to patiently and diligently search its pages and compare spiritual things with spiritual (1 Cor. 2:13). Thirty-eight years was exactly the length of time that Israel spent in the wilderness after they came under law at Sinai (see Deuteronomy 2:14). There it was, in the Wilderness of Sin, that of old Israel manifested their "impotency"—blind, halt, withered—under law.

Another account that has been corroborated by archeology is the story of Jesus healing the lame man in John chapter 5. In this story, John describes a five-sided pool just inside Jerusalem's Sheep Gate, where the sick came to be healed. Since no other document from antiquity—including the rest of the Bible—mentions such a place, it had long been assumed that John invented the locale. But, as Sheler points out, when archeologists decided to dig where John said that the pool was located, they found a five-sided pool. What's more, the pool contained shrines to the Greek gods of healing. John hadn't made up the locale, after all.

There is a definite spiritual lesson in each of these gates.

The sheep gate ( v. 1 ) reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross ( John 10 ). This was the first gate repaired, for without the sacrifice, there is no salvation. Note that the sheep gate had no locks or bars, for the door of salvation is ever open to the sinner. This is the only gate that was sanctified, setting it apart as a special gate.

The fish gate ( v. 3 ) reminds us of soul-winning, being “fishers of men” ( Mark 1:17 ).

The old gate ( v. 6 ) speaks of the old paths and the old truths of the Word of God ( Jer. 6:16 and 18:15). The people of the world are forever looking for “some new thing” ( Acts 17:21 ), and they refuse to go back to the basic truths that really work.

The valley gate ( v. 13 ) reminds us of humility before the Lord. In Phil. 2 we see Christ descending from the glories of heaven into the valley of human limitation and even death. We do not enjoy the valley, but often God must take us there to bring a blessing to our lives.

Verse 14 introduces the dung gate. Apparently this is the gate through which the waste and refuse of the city were taken. Imagine how difficult it would be to repair a gate in such a place! Certainly this speaks to us of the cleansing of our lives ( 2 Cor. 7:1 ; Isa. 1:16–17 ). Later some of the Jews were to complain about the rubbish; see 4:10 .

The gate of the fountain ( v. 15 ) illustrates the ministry of the Holy Spirit; see John 7:37–39 . It is interesting to note the order of these gates: first, there is humility (the valley gate), then cleansing (the dung gate), and then the filling of the Spirit (the fountain gate).

The water gate ( v. 26 ) speaks of the Word of God, which cleanses the believer ( Eph. 5:26 ; Ps. 119:9 ). Note that this is the seventh gate mentioned, and seven is the Bible number for perfection—the perfect Word of God. Note too that this gate needed no repairs! “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven” ( Ps. 119:89 , nkjv ).


The horse gate ( v. 28 ) introduces the idea of warfare. Certainly there are battles in the Christian life, and we must be ready to fight. See 2 Tim. 2:1–4 .

The east gate ( v. 29 ) makes us think of the second coming of Jesus Christ ( Matt. 24:27 ). In Ezek. 10:16–22 , the prophet saw God’s glory depart from the temple by the east gate; see also 11:22–25 . But later ( 43:1–5 ) he saw God’s glory return “from the way of the east.”


The gate Miphkad ( v. 31 ) speaks of God’s judgment. The Hebrew word miphkad means “appointment, account, census, mustering.” It carries the idea of troops showing up for review. Certainly God is going to call all souls up for judgment one day.

As you review these gates and their order, you can see the suggestion of the full picture of the Christian life, from the sheep gate (salvation) to the final judgment. Praise God the Christian shall never face judgment because of his sins! See John 5:24 , Rom. 8:1–2 .[7]

In Jerusalem, on lamb selection day almost 2000 years earlier, a 33-year old man was making his way with his disciples from Bethany, the city for lepers and skin-diseased people. They were going to the temple to celebrate the deliverance God had given to the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Now it was time to choose a lamb by the pool of Bethesda near the sheep gate, the north temple gate. But when Jesus and his disciples came to the Jerusalem city limits after passing through Bethphage, Jesus asked his disciples to get a donkey for him to ride. As he rode, people wildly waved their palm branches and shouted for victorious vengeance on their Roman rulers. They were misunderstanding!

This King was not a Zealot with a knife ready for a coup d’etat so he could ascend an earthly throne. He was the perfect lamb, unblemished, selected by God his Father, born in Bethlehem from where sacrificial lambs came, willing to be sacrificed for the Romans, for the Zealots, for the Pharisees, for the disciples, for his family, for your family, for you, and for me.

His cry for Jerusalem was for the sorrow he felt at their desire for power in weapons and human strength. They didn’t recognize the power that he would give in his sacrificial humility and peace. Their desire for power would result in their destruction by Roman power. Do we desire power over others or do we recognize that joy and peace come only in loving others?

On that lamb selection day, Jesus didn’t enter the temple by the southern gate to worship, he didn’t enter by the eastern gate as King, but he entered by the northern gate as THE lamb who takes away the sins of the world - my dad’s, yours, mine! Jesus’ power was in being the Passover Lamb of Peace.

Because Jesus was willing to walk through the Sheep Gate as the lamb of sacrifice, my dad was able to peacefully enter the “gates of heaven” cleansed by the blood of the Lamb of God.

The Lamb of God brings peace. How do you experience peace? Is it in your own physical or mental strength? Or is it in the sacrifice that the Lamb of God made for you?


 b Some less important manuscripts paralyzed—and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.

[1]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jn 5:3). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

v. verse

[2]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Ne 3:1). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Ne 3:3). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Ne 3:13). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

v. verse

[5]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Ne 3:28). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6]The treasury of scripture knowledge : Five hundred thousand scripture references and parallel passages. 1995. Introduction by R.A. Torrey. (Ne 3:1). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[7]Wiersbe, W. W. (1993). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the Old Testament (Ne 1:1-4:1). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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