Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water; whoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatever disease he had.
A certain man was there, who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, He said unto him, "Do you want to be made well?"
The impotent man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."
Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed, and walk." And immediately the man was made well, and took up his bed, and walked."
How long a time had this poor man been afflicted! Thirty-eight years! One would have thought that he must long ago have lost all hope of getting better. But hope is strong in us; and it seems that there was some hope yet remaining in this man, for he still went down to the pool with the rest, thinking that his opportunity might come at length. We know no more about that pool than we read here, but they show the place still at Jerusalem. The porches are gone, and but little remains to show where they were; and there is no water now — but there seems to be no doubt that it is the very place.
It was an astonishing thing that the water, when it had been moved by the angel, should have power to cure the sick. It must surely have been a miracle. God did work miracles in those times, and its being mentioned as done by an angel, seems to show that this was one. Whether the angel was seen or not, we do not know; nor how often he came, nor whether people knew exactly when to expect him. Certain it is, that whoever stepped into the water first after it had been troubled by the angel, was made well — and it seems to have been known about what time he would come.
But the poor cripple, while he was slowly dragging himself to the water — another got in before him, and so the opportunity was lost. There were great numbers there, and not one perhaps so helpless as he, and so he was pushed aside and left behind. Doubtless this had happened many a time. If he had had any to help him, it might have been otherwise — but it seems that he was a poor, friendless creature.
The more helpless and friendless we are — the more does our blessed Savior pity us. Of all the sufferers there — His eye singled out this one, doubtless the longest afflicted of them all. No one had told Jesus his story — but Jesus knew all things, and so, without being told, He knew all about this man. He "knew that he had been now a long time in that case," and He knew too how often he had crawled to that place of healing and been disappointed.
Jesus knew and pitied. How kind were His words, "Do you want to be made well?" The poor man felt the power of kindness (and never was kindness like that of Jesus) and was encouraged to tell Him al. "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool. But while I am coming, another steps down before me." His whole hope was fixed on the coming of the angel — he had no thought of being cured by any other means — he did not know that one greater than an angel was there.
At once the blessing came, the answer and the blessing together. "Jesus said to him, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk.' And immediately the man was made well, and took up his bed, and walked."
The friendless had found a friend at last! The cripple of thirty-eight years was made well in a moment! No angel need come, for the Son of God Himself was there. The angel could do but little — Jesus could do all.
The angel used to be sent by God that one might be cured; Jesus came to help and bless all who would seek Him — nay more, to seek them, to give more than would be asked, to do far beyond all expectation. It may be that a hope arose in this man's mind that the stranger who spoke so kindly might be willing to help him when the angel came — but that He Himself should cure him by a word — of this he had no thought. Yet so it was. Jesus is better to us . . .
than all our fears,
than all our hopes,
than all our prayers,
than all our thoughts.
It is very comforting to read that Jesus knew how long this man had been afflicted. For what He knew in one case — He knows in all cases. There is not a sufferer in the world whose case Jesus does not know.
How long the sickness has lasted,
how many months or years,
how great the pain has been,
what thoughts have been in the heart,
what hopes, fears, disappointments,
Jesus knows it all — knows it and cares for it and feels compassion accordingly. Ah, what comfort — to be known and cared for and pitied by Him!
Can He help now — as He did then? And is He still as kind as He was then? Yes! His power and His love are the same as ever. He did for this man — what He saw to be best for him. He will do for each sufferer, in answer to prayer — just what is best.
He has more blessings than one to give. Health is one — but not the only one. He will give what is best for each case. Let us pray to Him in all our trouble. Let us be encouraged by His kindness to tell Him our case — our needs of the body, and our needs of the soul. He knows them all — yet He loves for us to tell Him of them. He knows them, and He can supply them. All power is His, all wisdom, all love.
He is always at hand to hear and help — not "at a certain season" only, like the angel — but at every season, and in every place. And He will help, not the first comer only, but all who come — for He says, "Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" (Matthew 11:28).