Three characters set forth the dramatic plot of this miracle. As a sign, the physical miracles signify deeper spiritual truths. The cast of characters provide insight into the spiritual message. What spiritual truths do the characters in this narrative reveal?
First, the main character Jesus portrays the beauty of compassion. The compassion of Jesus overflowed from his religious devotion. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus loyally observed the rituals of religious devotion. He attended an unnamed Jewish festival—perhaps Passover or Tabernacles. Jesus’ faithful religious observance is more important than the identification of the exact festival. Second, Jesus was willing to “get dirty” in his religious observance. Jesus passed through the Sheep Gate, a gate through which the sacrificial sheep passed. Priests washed the sheep in the pool before bringing the animals to the temple for sacrifice. The upper crust of society and religious people wishing to remain ritually pure avoided the Sheep Gate. Jesus entered the gate and went to the place of uncleanness—a pool surrounded by sick people. The location named “House of Mercy” (Bethesda) was a place of pitifulness surrounded by the blind, lame, and paralyzed. The threefold physical description serves well as a spiritual description of humanity separated from Christ—blind and unable to see the kingdom (Jhn. 3:3), lame or powerless to do anything about spiritual condition (Rom. 5:5), and paralyzed with inactivity. Third, Jesus took the initiative and reached out to one of the worst cases.
Second, the paralyzed man depicts the pitifulness of one separated from Christ. First, the ugliness of sin is long lasting. Forty years was the average lifespan of a man in first century Palestine; he had been sick for thirty-eight years. Sin does not cause all physical maladies. Jesus’ command in verse 14 implies a connection between the man’s physical condition and a continual lifestyle of sin. Second, the man was religiously superstitious believing that the power of God was limited to a special religious shrine. Third, the man was hopeless. He lacked the strength to do anything about his condition. Fourth, he apparently lacked the desire to change as indicated by the question Jesus asked—“Do you want to get well?” The Jews prized almsgiving and others provided for his basic needs. The man knew the depth and seriousness of his condition but he may not have fully desired to accept the implications of change.
His healing came in response to the command of Christ. Likewise, spiritual healing occurs as a sinner obeys the commands to believe in Christ and repent.
Third, the religious leaders (the Jews) expose the shallowness of an institutional form of religion. First, rather than responding with joy to the man’s healing, the leaders interrogated the man (vv. 10,12). God commanded people to withdraw from normal work routines to celebrate Him. Institutional religious leaders added to God’s command to forbid even the carrying of a weight equal to two figs. The leaders conceived of obedience as a means of receiving God’s approval; Jesus viewed the Sabbath as a gift. In the name of religion, the leaders persecuted and sought a way to kill the Jesus the ultimate gift of God.a
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