It was for the Feast of Tabernacles that Jesus went again to Jerusalem (John 5:1). He came to the pool called Bethesda and healed a man who had been impotent for 38 years. For 38 years he couldn’t move from one place to another. He claimed that at a certain season (probably during this particular feast of the Jews) an angel stirred the water of the pool and the first to enter its waters would be healed (John 5:4), but he had no one to put him into the pool (John 5:7), for while he was crawling there someone else always entered first.
I often wondered why he never thought to lay next to the pool and fall in immediately when the waters were stirred. For 38 years he dwelt just far enough from the pool that he never was able to be the first to enter. Why was this so? If I truly wanted to be healed and knew healing would definitely occur, if certain circumstances were met, I would bear any other discomfort in order to be healed. It seems to me that his man was more interested in his present comforts than he was in the freedom and new personal responsibility that healing would bring.
John implies in verse-14 that the man’s condition was the result of sin. What kind of sin would do this to a man? What kind of sin would lead a man to be more interested in present comforts than in the good he could have later, if he would cease to be so self-involved? I believe there is an implication of this sin in the number of years the man was impotent.
A close study of ancient Israel’s travels in the wilderness, which the Feast of Tabernacles commemorates, shows us that they kept moving toward the Promised Land throughout their first year after leaving Egypt, and then also in their 40th year. However, for 38 years they were stalled in Kadesh. Immediately after the numbering of Israel (cp. Numbers 1:1-2), the Israelites kept their first Passover, one year after leaving Egypt (Numbers 9:1-2). Afterward, they journeyed to the wilderness of Paran (Numbers 10:11) which is Kadesh (Numbers 13:26). This is the place to which the 12 spies returned after observing the Promised Land and brought back the bad report. The whole camp wanted to rebel, kill Moses and appoint a new leader to bring them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:1-4).
At first glance one would think after reading the record of all the wanderings of Israel in Numbers 33 that Israel did most of their wandering after the rebellion at Kadesh, but this is not so. After breaking and setting up camp several times, Israel camped at Hazeroth (Numbers 11:35). This was where Miriam sinned against Moses and was made a leper for 7 days (Numbers 12:1, 10, 14-15). Afterward, the text says they journeyed to the Wilderness of Paran or Kadesh (Numbers 12:16), but according to Numbers 33:18 their immediate journey took them to Rithmah. They didn’t arrive at Kadesh until Numbers 33:36, and it was from there that the 12 spies were sent out to the Promised Land and brought back the bad report (Numbers 12:16; 13:21-26). In Numbers 33:36 the Wilderness of Zin is called Kadesh. So, for 38 years all Israel was immobile—stalled—in one place, unable to move forward into the Promised Land of freedom and new responsibility.
They were a lot like this man at the pool. They were more interested in their present status than in what God wanted to give them and the responsibilities that this implied.
When the man found out it was Jesus who healed him (John 5:14-15), he made a point of revealing his identity to the Jewish authorities, and they vented their anger upon Jesus (John 5:16) for breaking the Sabbath law of rest. What a contrast between this man and the man born blind in John 9, who, after being healed by Jesus, rather than say anything against him was thrown out of the synagogue!
I think that, when we are faced with opposition after we have been spiritually healed by Christ, we have a choice and must decide which stand we will take. The name of Jesus will be persecuted (defamed, made light of, cruelly treated) no matter what we do. We can either stand with Jesus and feel his pain, as the man born blind did in John 9, or we can escape the pain by standing with the opposition (those having a bad report), as the man healed of his impotency did in John 5. The choice is ours, and the benefits of our choice are found either in this present world or in the age to come—the believer’s Promised Land.