I started a series on healing last week, and I want to continue it this week by looking at a passage in John 5 where a crippled man is healed.
I never noticed this passage until recently. About a month ago, I felt drawn to read the accounts of healing in John, and I was astounded to see similarities in the John 5 and John 9 passages — similarities that closely correspond with my own healing experience.
I want to share a few of my observations on both passages in the next few weeks, and perhaps some of what I am saying can illuminate some things for you in your own situation.
The Lame Man by the Pool
In John 5, Jesus approaches a man lying by a healing pool. Apparently, the pool was one where the sick (including the blind, lame, and paralyzed) would come for healing. As legend had it, in a particular season, an angel would descend and stir the waters. Once the angel had stirred the waters, the angel would leave, and it was up to the diseased to get in. The first one in the pool would get the benefit of the medicinal qualities in the water. The man whom Jesus approaches has had no such luck; his friends have all had the benefit of getting in the water, but he has been left behind.
When Jesus comes up to him, Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed. The man complains that no one has helped him in the waters, but Jesus doesn’t need the water to heal him. He tells the man to “get up” and carry his mat. The man does so and is able to walk after thirty-eight years of being paralyzed. He then goes out into the streets and is questioned by Jews as to the man who healed him.
Several important things should be noted about this passage.
1. The man was most likely crippled because of sin.
This may be a highly unpopular way to start this discussion, but one thing that we can learn and observe by reading the account of the cripple’s healing is that it shows us that there can be a connection between sin and illness. This idea is implied because after the healing, Jesus finds the man at the temple and says, “See you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14).
Sin is not always the reason for infirmity, and we must be cautious to assume that our every illness is caused by sin — but, in some cases, our malady can be invited in by unconfessed sin or sin we are not willing to part with. (Please note that illness can just be a result of the state of our fallen world or an affliction we are born with that has nothing to do with sin.)
In my own experience, my unforgiveness and unresolved anger in the past has brought on problems of severe depression and other physical issues. The sentiment in most Christian communities is that our sin has no affect us because of Jesus’ work on the cross; however, while it is true that we are under no condemnation as Christians (Romans 8:1), this passage suggests the correlation in certain instances between sin and sickness.
2. The healing begins with a stirring of the waters.
The healing in the passage started with a “stirring of the waters.” It’s not clear whether the angel that came down to stir the waters was legend or truth; however, what is understood is that the angel descended only at a particular season and it was the job of the diseased to “get in” (John 5:7).
What this has felt like for me has been a “stirring” or churning in my heart during a church service, and I have felt the need to get out of my seat and go down to the altar for prayer. As I have received prayer, I have felt a directive about an apology I need to make or a resentment I need to let go of. For whatever reason, the stirring initiated the process.
On a larger scope, I have recently very much been on a journey these past few years to allow God to reach some of the broken places in me that haven’t been touched in previous experiences. And the stirring has been more of an outside force — a violent storm taking place in my life with me at the bottom of it. I’ve been confused and scared. But in the midst of the chaos, God has stepped in and chosen to use the undoing — the spinning of elements out of control — to be the starting place for an emotional healing.
3. Jesus may use means that do not make any sense to us in our healing.
For our crippled man in the passage, Jesus came directly to him. The cripple voiced the fact that many of his friends had been healed, and he had never been able to get in the waters. I searched long and hard for an interpretation of this, and I couldn’t find much. But a few things came to mind: Jesus sought him out when he thought his opportunity had passed him by. Jesus did not leave him behind.
And what also very much stands out to me is that the man had a very narrow idea of the method in which he would be healed. He fixated on the one way he thought that it would happen for him: He believed that he had to be the first to get in the healing pools (John 5:7).
You and I are very much the same way. We have an idea in mind about how a healing or promise will come to pass for us. We may think that it has to come through a doctor, or a certain series of steps to get to our goal — but Jesus shows us in this particular passage that He can heal us by means that are beyond our understanding of how it should happen. He will ask us to do things or a series of things that don’t seem to have any correlation to what’s wrong with us. Our way to healing is to follow His directive and trust that it may happen differently for us than we originally envisioned. As commentator Matthew Henry notes:
We are all by nature impotent folks in spiritual things, blind, halt and withered — but effectual provision is made for our cure if we will but observe orders.
All we have to do is “observe orders” by reading the Word and putting ourselves in a position to hear from God to do what He says. However, even if we have completely screwed things up, He still comes for us.
Quite frankly, in my journey of inner healing these past few years, I feared that my chances for God using me had passed me by. I knew I had made bad choices earlier in my life, and I didn’t know that God would open any more for me. But even as I had squandered some of my earlier opportunities, God has found me in a similar way that He found the lame man and given me some steps to get free.
4. You may have to participate in the process.
When Jesus approached the man by the pool, he posed the question: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). Obviously, the man wanted healing. He had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. However, Jesus asked the question because he wanted to know the man’s commitment level to the process: Did the man really want to participate in his own healing? According to Henry:
In spiritual cases, people are not willing to be cured of their sins, are loth to part with them. If this point therefore were but gained, if people were willing to be made whole, the work were half done, for Christ is willing to heal, if we be but willing to be healed.”
As Henry notes, “Christ is willing to heal, if we be but willing to be healed.” And again, we see the implied connection between the man’s sin and his infirmity. Jesus is God. He can do anything He wants to. He can heal people in multiple ways through multiple means — with just a snap of his fingers. And often He does.
However, what I have found to be true in my experience is that God has asked something of me. When my infirmity or brokenness is spiritually rooted, I have to repent of the sin to be healed. The way it has happened for me in my most recent journey is that He has presented me with some things to do in digging back in my past — make some contacts. That has been the “getting up” in my process.
As I finish with one, another pops up. I haven’t wanted to do them, and I haven’t even really understood all the reasons why God has given me the directives that He has. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that I didn’t have to do anything because of God’s grace. But what I think can be said about that is that my journey has not been about earning forgiveness or earning God’s favor — it has been about obedience. As I have been obeying God, He has begun to work in me supernaturally to bring about change.
5. He didn’t get up in his own power — He got up in Christ’s power.
A strange thing happens when we obey God. We stir ourselves to act, but it is actually Christ who strengthens and straightens our limbs as we get up. Note what Henry says about this section of the passage:
But if he had not attempted to help himself, he had not been cured, and he must have borne the blame; yet it does not therefore follow that, when he rise and walk, it was by his own strength; no it was by the power of Christ, and he must have all the glory.”
Even in our action, it is still Christ’s power which enables us to walk.
Jesus will not take the steps for you. He will point you the way, show you the step, meet you in the act of faith. But there is a movement on our part that has to happen. We see that just as there is a “getting in” component of the sick into the healing waters, there is a “getting up” component to Jesus’ command.
Jesus can heal people any way He wants to and there is not necessarily a formula that Jesus uses every time He heals in Scripture; however, we can observe some of the steps that occur in His approach to the lame man and recognize how we can allow those to be implemented in our own lives.
It can be really scary to read a post like this because the enemy wants to get into your thoughts and condemn and accuse, but we should notice how compassionate Jesus was in this story. He wasn’t concerned with accusing the man; he was concerned with healing the man. One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:1 because it reminds us that we are forgiven no matter what we’ve done.
If you feel like you have a disease that is spiritually rooted but aren’t sure, ask God and see what He tells you. He promises to give you the wisdom you need (James 1:5). I would also recommend getting prayer at church by your elders or prayer team (James 5:14). In addition, Henry W. Wright’s A More Excellent Way is an excellent resource that gives further insight into spiritually rooted disease.
Related Bible Verses:
John 5:1: “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’ ”
Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The website biblegateway.com is a free online Bible resource. It offers different translations of Scripture as well as notes and commentary (such as Matthew Henry commentary) to better understand the meaning and context of Scripture passages.
Are you interested in the spiritual roots of many diseases? Henry W. Wright’s A More Excellent Way: Be in Health talks about spiritual causes for many illnesses such as depression and his advice about how to look at disease from a spiritual standpoint.