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  • Writer's pictureTawanda Masango

Beyond Superstition

Expository thoughts on John 5:1-18

Photo by James Coleman from Unsplash

Craving for the tangible

I grew up in the rural village and one thing I know is that we Africans take the medal when it comes to superstitions. If you go to the traditional healer, no matter what the issue maybe, they normally prescribe something tangible.  A bit of oil, water from a waterfall, a string to tie on your waist or a piece of cloth to put under your pillow. It is believed then, that these objects will protect you from the evil spirits, bring an end to misfortune and open a season of blessings.


Sadly, the same way of thinking has made its way into the African church. It may be done with a bit of prayer and sometimes fasting, but many Christians still put their hope in objects whether it’s anointing water, anointing oil, wrist bands, and even car stickers. In our text from John 5: 1-18, we see that God works through the powerful Word of his Son, to bring healing, not the superstitious means by which the man expected to be healed. My hope and prayer is that as we look at the remarkable story of healing, our view of Jesus will be enlarged and our faith in him will be strengthened. That is why John wrote the book (John 20:31).


At the beginning of  John Chapter 5, Jesus is back in Jerusalem for an unnamed feast of the Jews. He goes to the pool by the Sheep Gate, the name of the pool was Bethesda, different to Bethsaida, a town which was in Galilee. While at the pool, Jesus meets a man who had not walked for thirty-eight years! He was either paralysed or lame, we are not given the details.


What we are told is, how Jesus encounters this man and heals him from this condition. This is the fourth miracle in John’s gospel. In John’s gospel these miracles are called signs, that is different from the other gospel writers. John intentionally and carefully selected specific signs to help us understand Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, the giver of life.


So, the question we need to ask is, of all the miracles, why did John think the healing of this man should make the list? How does it serve as a sign? Well, signs are there to point to something else. So, we are then led to ask, what does this healing teach us about Jesus and the salvation he brings?  We will look at the story in 3 sections by considering what happened before, during and after the healing.

Before the healing: Salvation from Jesus is available, no matter how hopeless the situation

The situation by the pool of Bethesda was so hopeless. It is heartbreaking to imagine yourself standing there, let alone being one of the many sick people sitting or lying down by the pool, waiting for the water to be stirred up and then jostling towards the pool. They believed that the first one to get into the water would be healed.


Now this man in our story, who remained unnamed, had it tough, maybe more than most of the people there: We read in verse John 5:5-6:


 "One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time."


The man had been in this condition for 38 years! That is a long time. We are told that he had no one to help him get into the water when the pool was stirred. No family. No friends. That is one hopeless situation right there. Maybe as the weeks turned into months, the months turned into years and the years turned into decades, this man might have now come to accept that this was his lot for the rest of his life. He would never walk again.


But when Jesus the Son of God came, this history does not matter. All he asked the man is “Do you want to be healed?”  Remember in John 1, we are told that all creation came into being through Jesus (John 1:1-4).


"All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life and the life was the light of men"


Is anything too hard for Jesus? Sometimes we tend to limit God.  We look at how dire some situations are, and we think they are too difficult for God. I confess that sometimes, even as I pray, I also tend to doubt God too. When we face a really difficult situation, do we first turn to God in prayer, trusting that our good and all-powerful God is able to do what no man can do? Have we lost our trust in God?


Friends the story we have here is that of physical healing. But remember it is a sign, pointing us to something more important than physical healing, Jesus brings spiritual healing! And he does so even when all hope has been lost. This doesn’t mean he does not care about our physical needs, our sickness, poverty you name it. He does care, but if we see Jesus only as a physical healer, we are failing to see him for who he really is.  Because he has something better than physical healing. He is the giver of perpetually flowing living water (John 4:13-14), which symbolises eternal life. Whether you are facing physical sickness or spiritual sickness, will you come to Jesus in faith? You will meet people who are in hopeless situations in life, will you point them to Jesus?

During the healing: Salvation comes only through Jesus’ Word, not our superstitions

Listen to the man’s words in response to Jesus’ question. The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going, another steps down before me.” Jesus is asking – Do you want to be healed? The man’s answer is “I have no one to take me into the water”. How is that for an answer?


You see, for this man and many others who were with him, the healing powers were only available in the water, and only for a temporary moment, when the water was stirred up. Just like we Africans would trust in a healer if he gives something physical, the man’s hope was in the water. There is nothing evil about water itself, but when we restrict God and think He can only operate through physical means or objects, then we don’t know how mighty and powerful he is.


You see, this man did not know who was standing in front of him. If he knew this was Jesus, the divine Son of God, the one thorough whom all things were created, the giver of life. If he knew that, he would not talk about getting into the water. So, what did Jesus do? As always, he spoke his powerful Word!  Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked (John 5:8). No helper needed. No water needed. Just his word – and the man was healed.


Remember this is a sign. John is pointing us again to the power of Jesus’ words in bringing life. The power of Jesus’ words in restoring life. No superstition is needed. Do you trust God’s word to be the most powerful way he is working today? As you read your Bible, do you trust God can change your life through his powerful and written Word? Are you watching and listening to hear what God is saying to you through his Word all the time?

After the healing: Salvation that Jesus brings will attract opposition and even suffering. 

John only tells us in verse nine, that it was a Sabbath when the healing occurred. The Jewish leaders were not happy, not because of the healing, but because the healed man had carried his mat on sabbath. The man had not broken any biblical Sabbath regulations. But the Jewish Rabbis wrote their own book called the Mishnah, which explained further the laws of the OT. It is said that they had 39 classes of work prohibited on the sabbath. One of them was carrying an object on the sabbath.


From first glance, it appears like they took issue because they so much wanted to obey the Scriptures. But no, they would rather ignore the command to love and have compassion and hold on to their own words, the tradition of the elders, which was only an interpretation of scripture not the authoritative word of God.


We read in verse 18: This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:18). They were happy to plan to kill someone on the Sabbath but had problems with someone picking up a mat. This forms part of the escalating tension in the book of John, between Jesus and the religious leaders. Friends as we come to know Jesus, to take heed of his word, do not expect everyone to agree with you. Do not expect everyone to be happy. Sometimes our faith in Jesus will attract conflict and tensions. We need to know that this is to be expected if we are following Jesus.


As we wrap up, I hope you can see that just receiving healing or a miracle from Jesus is not enough. We see that in the way this man is portrayed. He did not recognise Jesus even when he stood in front of him (John 5:13) Though he had been healed physically, it seems he was still spiritually sick. Maybe that is why we hear Jesus charging him to change his life, to stop sinning (John 5: 14).


What can be worse than spending 38 years sick and unable to walk, with no family, no friends, and no hope? Well, if he continued to live in sin, he was going to miss out on the living water that Jesus gives. He was going to miss out on eternal life with God, in the new heavens and new earth, where there is no sickness (Rev 21 : 1-5). I hope and pray we all grow in our knowledge of Jesus as we maintain the discipline of listening to his powerful Word daily.

This article features as a chapter in the book : The Class of Chappo, which was published in Australia in 2023. You can get a copy here

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