This passage begins with Jesus healing an “invalid” who apparently had some problem with movement. He had been so for thirty-eight years and waited by the pool of Bethesda to be healed by the pool’s waters. Even today people gather at bodies of water that are thought to have healing properties because of some element in the water. Jesus heals the man who had not even asked for it. He takes up his bed and walks as Jesus commanded. The Jews (meaning the religious leaders) then ask the man why he is carrying his bed which was not lawful on the Sabbath. Bear in mind that the Old Testament says nothing about carrying one’s bed on the Sabbath, but the Jews had developed traditions to “fence in” the law so that one would be sure not to break it. Indeed, it was the whole matter of rules about Sabbath observance that initially got Jesus into trouble. At any rate, the man reports Jesus to the authorities, though not out of spite, of course, but because they had asked him who told him to take up his bed and walk.
The part of the passage I wish to comment on today is of much trouble to people. Jesus said to the man later when he found him: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The question is then asked, “Do bad things happen to people because of sin?” The answer must be nuanced. In general, yes. We all suffer in this world because of sin – ours and others. God said to Adam, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). It is our sin that fouled the waters of our nature and that broke the world (Genesis 3:17-19). Does that mean that one is diagnosed with cancer because he said a curse word the day before? No. But sometimes we can draw that line: immorality leads to disease, cigarettes harm the lungs, gossip destroys friendships. So how are we to understand this? Christians of centuries past viewed sickness as a time to examine their lives to see if there were any sin they needed to confess and repent of; after all, death was an ever-present reality. We have marvelous healthcare and so have become “clinically-minded.” We think we can cheat death. But the truth is that we carry death about us because we carry sin about us. It is far too late to wait until one’s deathbed to examine one’s life. So make good use of your illnesses and your good health today. The one should humble us; the other should make us thankful. Either way, we have God to deal with. If you have cherished a sin in your life, know that he came to heal you and set you free from it. Jesus is the Great Physician. Do not despair. Forgiveness is healing, and healing is forgiveness. Experience both today.