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Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Troubling of the Waters: Jesus Heals at Bethesda


One of the most well known stories in the New Covenant is the telling of the healing of the man, infirm for 38 years, at the Pool of Bethesda. Jesus has just a few days before been at a feast day, and following, he heals a Nobleman's son after rebuking him a little for wanting to see only signs and wonders. The healings begun, and two miracles of healing into the Gospel of John, Jesus arrives at Bethesda.

There was at Bethesda a pool, surrounded by five porches, and the sick of all kinds waited at the pool for what was said to be an angel 'troubling the waters'. We have in our cultures today, similar places, such as Lourdes and Medagorje in the Catholic religion, or the portion of the Ganges for several religions in India, in which pilgrims from all over the world go to bathe in the waters believing they have a divine element which heals diseases. The Pool of Bethesda, known in Israel for the same, attracted the infirm and impotent from all over who sat among the columns, with stairs going down into the pool, and it was reported that whoever was first to the water, was healed of whatever infirmity ailed them. John 5:2 remarks that there were 'a great multitude', and lists the types who waited the stirred waters:

1. Blind
2. Impotent ( a variety of illness)
3. Halt (motor dysfunction and lameness)
4. Withered.

Angels were not at all unknown in Israel: they had a strict Scriptural interpretation of Angels as the emissaries of God advantaging the Children of Israel in many ways in their history, such as the visitation of Abraham and Sarah announcing Isaac, or the 'dragging' of Lot's family from Sodom, bound for destruction, or the angel guarding the way back into the Garden of Eden, the paradise of God. So the saying of an angel troubling the waters, was based no doubt upon some divine observation.

For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool , and troubled the water:
Whosoever then first after the troubling of the water, stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.5:4

At least one other 'troubling of the water' is mentioned in Scripture although in an inverse way: in Ezekiel 32:2 in a lamentation for Pharaoh, Pharaoh is described as troubling the waters for contention:

...and troublest the waters with thy feet, and foulest their rivers. (Ez 32:2)

Both words, Old and New, for troubling, mean what one would naturally assume: the Greek tarache, meaning disturbance or troubling, and the 'dalah' [daleph, lamed he]
means to churn, stir up, or trouble. An amusing side note is that a related and very similar word, delaya or delayhu, is the name for 'Delilah' in Hebrew, who troubled Samson's waters to no end!.

So whatever the mechanism or reason or etiology, the waters stirred by the angel at Bethesda was certainly convincing enough, that a multitude, including this man waited even for years to make their way down into the pool, although one had to be first. If one looks at photographs of the pools, of the remnants left, one can see why a man unable to walk well or at all would have a very difficult time ever being first to the waters: it was impossible to get down the stairs in time amidst the many rushing into the waters.

The Man with the Infirmity

the man with an infirmity was said to have had it for 38 years. John 5:5. Jesus, as it is mentioned elsewhere, knowing what was in a man, encounters the man, and and immediately knew how long he had been in that condition.

Jesus ....knew that he had now been a long time in that case.. Jn 5:6

and said to him

Wilt thou be made whole?

Now, these remarks seem minor, but they contain a lot of information: the first verse points to one characteristic of our Lord and Savior that often gets 'read-over', that he knew people based upon their spirit: one verse puts it 'he knew what was in a man'. Jesus was already conversing in his Kingdom, living in the ways of Heaven- a person was 'known' to him without asking, and this can be seen as the 'conversation' or citizenship of heaven, when it is noted in .... that we will be 'known as we are known.'.

1Cr 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

So Jesus encounters the man in utter truth, because he can see all about him, with the loving eyes of Heaven.

There is more though, in the statement 'Wilt thou be made whole'. I have discussed a sort of 'model' of the person which is central to the Mind of Christ, in the concept of 'wholeness' vs 'dissension'. When a person is whole and right, he is everything that God meant him to be, although most of us never get near to this. Since sin entered the world at the Fall of Adam and Eve, most of what is in the world conspires to make us anything but 'whole'. It is well within the description God gives of the Potter and the clay: the fresh lump of clay begins whole and without imperfections but with air bubbles, too much slip, dirt and particles, hits, uneven pressure etc, the clay can become either a vessel which can be used, or so 'dissensioned' that it can be ruined forever.

Our lives are very much that way: though we may have differing 'temperaments' or a few other characteristics, those things rudimentarily given at birth are meant in God's plan for our lives to contribute to the 'wholeness' of what we are to be and do in his loving care. Most however, do not find God young, and the world hits hard, and blow after blow, hurt after hurt, sorrow after sorrow, depending on the degree, a person becomes 'dissensioned' from what he or she was to have been, and the healing process, whether it is mental, emotional, spiritual or physical, involves 'making whole' or bringing the dissensioned state, back into the 'shape' or state(not always literal) that it was supposed to be. This places in divine context Jesus' words: 'Wilt thou be made whole', referring to physical wholeness, but the later events show that Jesus is concerned uttermost with the man's spiritual wholeness.

The Willingness to be made Whole

There is also here a fascinating note of the 'willingness' to be made whole!. I have been around many deeply troubled people in my career and in life: some were overcome by grief and mourning, some by depression, some by deeply distorted states of imaginations and even hallucinations, what the world refers to as psychosis, and while they will participate sometimes for years in therapy, they do not want to change. It is hard to believe, that those who are hurting and in horrible circumstances would not want to be whole and well, but they feel a certain amount of 'comfort' in their circumstance: they know it and though it is painful, they prefer it to the unknown, even healing. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once remarked after abandoning psychotherapy, that he was afraid that 'if his demons left, his angels would leave also'. Like Rilke some feel safe in self-destruction, a premier oxymoron, rather than accepting what a healing might bring. John 5:7 though implies it is not only his willingness but the inteference of events and others that encumber him:

Jhn 5:7 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 steppeth down before me.

This passage also speaks to the nature of man, even in divine things, and more so in this day and time: pushing and shoving others out of the way in order to get even a healing from the Lord. This selfishness on the part of others kept this man in suffering for 38 years, and yet of all on the porch that day, he was the one appointed to healing and later defending and declaring the Gospel!!! However, the wait was worth it, for Jesus himself, not a mere emissary came to him, and well, life just wasn't the same later. At that point he did not need the Angel nor the healing waters, for the Living Water confronted him directly and healed him.

The Command of Healing

In this healing, Jesus does not mix a substance, nor lay on hands, but as in many healings, only speaks the healing, even 'commands' the man to be whole. He starts interestingly, with a command, that was not possible before--to

1. Rise
2. Take up thy bed and
3. Walk Jn 5:8

Most would expect, that Jesus instead would have just said 'be healed', or something similar, but He was giving also the frame of faith. When God intends and speaks, the thing is already done. It is a foregone conclusion. That bed, and that bent condition had imprisoned the poor fellow for 38 years! Now, in a moment, in front of the living Messiah, he is instructed to pick up that prison and take it with him. It no longer binds him: he binds it!

What was the result?

And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the Sabbath 5:9.

The man obviously immediately BELIEVED and OBEYED and wholeness and healing followed in an amazing way.

The Legalists and the Healing Messiah

Now legalists in any religion attend to every word of doctrine hoping to catch error almost always in everyone but themselves, and this healing was no exception. And as the healed man, goes immediately to show his healing as is commanded in the Old Testament, (Lev 13:2-59) to the priests in Israel to declare the healing, but is met with the legalisms so many meet with today in the House of God: they do not attend at all to the healing, except for the way it was done, by whom, and why on the Sabbath day. They do not give thanks and glory to the LORD for such a miraculous healing, or rejoice that the LORD is among them, but instead look to 'get the guy who did it'.

John 5:12

What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed and walk?

1. They turn to accuse the Healer (the Messiah)
2. They accuse Him of a crime that doesn't exist
3. They seek strife on the Sabbath [Shabbat]

So really, they are the ones sinning against God: the crime doesn't exist!. It is wrong to work on the Sabbath in such a way that defiles the rest and quiet God gives to be alone with Him and rest from labor in joy and health, but it is nothing but the work of God to heal on the Sabbath, and it is 'ok' with God! Jesus points out later that it is not wrong to do good on Shabbat!

Mk 3:4
And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life or to kill?

They want to know who did this thing? but the healed man did not know, he just knew he believed.
And he that was healed wist not who it was; for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place John 5:13.

Note that Jesus did not stay for the accolades, Healing is to make whole not for reward, which is always rightfully his.

These men would have reversed the healing of 38 years of misery, just to win an argument. Don't we have them in the church today?

Sin No More: Can the Healing Be Undone?

There is though a small codicil of faith necessary for the healing to continue, direct from the Savior's mouth. Jesus finds the man later in the Temple, for it was of essence that the man come to know the Messiah:

Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. Jn 5:14

Jesus notes that there is a relationship between healing and sin. It was commonly known and believed that sin and healing were related: remember when the blind man was healed in the Temple, and the question Israel had for Jesus was 'who did sin, this man or his parents ?' (Jn 9:2) When the disaster of the tower of Siloam occurred, again the same question came up. Jesus there also noted that they did not sin more than others. Another time, Jesus notes that the reason for an infirmity was to show the Glory of God, so that illness and hardship and even disaster can be:

A. For no reason at all, other than natural occurrences
B. As a judgment from God
C. Because of Sin
D. To show the Glory of God

and that these things can occasionally overlap. Job, the perfect and upright man, finds all gone in a moment, including his health, for no sin. Daniel, dedicated to the LORD in the last days of Jerusalem before the exile, finds himself torn from his parents, and alone in captivity for most of the rest of his life, and so did Joseph at 17, but it was for the glory of God.

But sin and disease and healing CAN be related and must not be overlooked. We do not like as a society or even as a world today to receive such notions as the 'judgment of God', we somehow feel that a God of Love is just generally o.k. with our destroying his world and everything and everyone in it. Therefore we never repent, and the world is seldom healed. The Church at the end of the holocaust, millions of deaths later, looking the other way at best, debated whether Germany should really have to repent at Stuttgart. Here, however, Jesus is warning the healed man, to sin no more lest a worse thing come unto thee' Jn 5:14.

The healing can be equated with Jesus' description of the casting out of devils or demons as in Luke 12:44-45

Then he said, I will return to my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty , swept and garnished. 45 Then goeth he and taketh with himself 7 other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

Devils and the Healed Person

This is not a popular teaching in a day when men consider themselves so sophisticated they can make it alone without God. Devils? We have 'psychology' whatever that is, and mental illness with diagnostic categories, not 'devils'. C.S. Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, mentions that the greatest demonic strategy of Satan is for modern man not to believe he exists. So, professing to become wise, they become fools, and the foolishness of God surpasses the wisdom of man in a slight paraphrase.

In Luke 11:25, the process of 'casting out' a spirit or devil or demon is spoken of by the Messiah himself:

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places, seeking rest and finding one he saith, I will return unto my house when I came out. 24 And when he come he findeth it swept and garnished.25, Then goeth he and taketh to him 7 other spirits more wicked than himself and he entered in and dwell thee and the last state of that man is worse than the first. John 24-26.

This passage also refers to the healing of the man at Bethesda and Jesus' warning. The nature of it is
1. The Spirit (causing the possession or infirmity) is cast out.
2. The spirit or devil 'walketh thru dry places
3 The devil 'seeketh rest'
4. Finding none (no rest for the wicked)
5 Seeks to return and
6. Finds the original host 'clean'.

The 7 plus 1 devils, overthrow the original host, and it is sin which has made it possible: returning to the practice or sin which caused the first possession to occur. The healing can be undone, and the last state worse than the first.

This also points to the process of devils and disease as well: the dissensioned state is one of 'overthrow'--whether in a person, a family, a city state or nation. Even the unbelieving existential psychologist Rollo May wrote about the phenomena psychological. He called the demonic anything which overpowered a person. When a person is then healed by God himself, if he chooses to go back to the state of distress, the result is seven fold worse, and that can be readily seen in persons who for example come to the LORD, live life in the LORD for a little while, sobering up, giving up drugs, adultery, gambling, or any of the thousands of things people are delivered of, and then, deciding it is easier (?) to live in the flesh they just quit and go back. Often, the latter state is worse than before they walked with the Lord.

It is just a small note, but the fact that devils find NO REST apart from a host person, shows a little of the nature of the demonic: restlessness, agitation, ill-ease, anxiety etc. In Hell, there are not 'hosts' to attach to so all live in a state of unrest. Nothing swept clean there. In short, the process of demonization is overthrow.

The healing of disease follows a similar patter when sin is antecedent, which we must assume in the case of the man at Bethesda, since he is told to 'sin no more'. Again though, sin is not always but often antecedent: sin can lead to natural causes of disease such as in smoking, drinking, etc, unclean habits can lead to septicemia, sin can lead to demonic activity as can be the case with stress and psychological disease, or sin can lead to disease as a chastisement.

Those who snub and ridicule the notion of all this also go without healing, and often lead chaotic, stressed , rushed painful lives without rest. Jesus, Yshua, Messiah is our rest and our peace, he is our healing, but we have to believe and receive. Until next time: many blessings, and no 'troubled waters'. ekbest
2. 84.