John 5:1–15

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John 5:1–15

‘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?”’

John 5:1–15

John 5

The Healing at the Pool
 1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.* 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When 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?"

 7"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."

 8Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
      The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat."

 11But he replied, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.' "

 12So they asked him, "Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?"

 13The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

 14Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

* John 5:4 Some manuscripts include here, wholly or in part, "paralysed – and they waited for the moving of the waters. 4 From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had."

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society


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Main point

The challenge of change

‘Do you want to get well?’ (v 6). It seems a strange question to ask. People believed that the water in this pool was sometimes stirred by an angel, and the first person to get into it would be healed.

What could be worse than lying day by day beside the pool, unable to do anything except beg for money and hope against hope that someone would help him get down to the water when it was stirred? And yet being healed is in itself a challenge.

Change is always hard, even change for the better. To be well will mean changing the habits of a lifetime for this invalid. He will have to find work, and make a place for himself in the society from which he has so long been excluded. It would be a great blessing, but also a real challenge.

Following Jesus is just as challenging. Certainly we want the life he is offering, a place in God’s kingdom: it is the greatest blessing possible. But we should not underestimate the challenge.

Elsewhere Jesus spoke about counting the cost of following him (see Luke 14:27–33). If we fail to do so, Jesus’ warning applies to us as well: without real change we are, if anything, worse off than before (see Matthew 12:43–45).

Jane Cornish (adapted from Daily Bread JM09)

Speak Lord

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What’s God saying to me about my life and my relationship with him? Are any changes needed?

• What excuses are you making for not letting God work in your life?

• Are you quick to blame God when things go wrong?

• Do you take time to give thanks for the blessings you receive from God?

Elaine Langford

Missing the miracle

Some years ago I visited a steaming hot pool not far from Jerusalem where arthritic and infirm people soothed their joints joyfully under the warm, bubbling, sulphur spring. So I can picture the people at Bethesda, with all kinds of ailments and disabilities, hoping that the curative waters might bring them healing (even if verse 4, which attributes the stirring of the waters to an angel, was added later).

But there was frustration there as well as joy. The man paralysed for 38 years was both isolated and defeated by his infirmity. So the question from Jesus, ‘Do you want to get well?’ must have sounded odd to him.

God often challenges us about what we really want. Do we want to live differently? Do we want to move forward in faith? Staying as we are, even when dissatisfied with life, suggests we don’t know what we want, or we’re not prepared to face the challenge of change.

Sometimes, like this man, we do know what we want, but we are looking for it in the wrong place. He found, as we find also, that it is only when we act in faith and obedience to Christ that miracles happen and new life opens up.  

In this passage, there were also those who wanted things to stay just the same. They were the religious leaders. Ironically they were furthest of all from faith and obedience and so absorbed in legalism and the trappings of religion that they couldn’t even see what had happened.

The crowds saw someone healed after 38 years. The legalists saw someone carrying a mat on the Sabbath. How tragic to be so concerned to defend religion that they missed the miracle!

God is doing small miracles every day in people around us. With each miracle comes the challenge of verse 14: to let go of the sins that hold us back, and enjoy freedom.

Elaine Storkey (adapted from Encounter with God JM09)

History or imagination?

Is it historical?
John’s Gospel is different from the other three. It is so different that many people have questioned whether his account was really historical. John’s aim was, after all, to try to convince the reader that Jesus was the Son of God (see John 20:31). 

So would it matter much if the stories he told were just illustrations of his main argument, rather than things that actually happened in history?

Does it matter?
It matters because John’s claims about Jesus depend on the truth of what he tells us. So how do we settle the issue? We can’t go back and find out.

After all these centuries the old places have gone, landmarks have changed. So when we read the story of the pool at Bethesda, how can we be sure that there really was such a pool near Jerusalem where invalids used to sit and wait to be healed? 

Can we be sure?
More than 1800 years after the events in this story, a discovery was found. Archaeologists in the nineteenth century uncovered a site which so accurately fits the description of the pool in John’s Gospel that it removes all doubt.

The sheep gate and the five porticos are all there at the site. It shows that John was not making this up, but sharing true and detailed knowledge about Jerusalem.

Faith is still essential!
Being able to rely on the Bible for historical details is very important. And each new piece of evidence shows we can. But it doesn’t take away our need to believe.

John can describe a real place and tell us that Jesus works miracles. But we have to accept for ourselves that Jesus is indeed the Son of God

Elaine Storkey

You can lead a man to water…

Wouldn’t you welcome Jesus’ offer of healing with ecstatic keenness? On the surface that’s what we’d assume everyone would do. Reflect on the importance of approaching Jesus with the right attitude as you listen to this monologue, written by Helen Paynter.

Series overview: ‘The challenge of Jesus’

This week we take a look at Jesus from the perspective of John’s Gospel. The theme for the week is ‘The challenge of Jesus’, both in our perception of him and how we live our lives following him. At the weekend we visit Numbers 11 and Psalm 111.

Our contributors to WordLive this week:

Ben Askew lives with his wife Helen and their young son. He works at St Thomas’ Church Philadelphia in Sheffield where he leads Form – a year of training for young adults. He is fascinated by God, people and culture and loves to explore the places where they mix. He occasionally blogs at

Jon Birch is a freelance animator, designer, illustrator and music producer. He describes himself as ‘someone who makes a living out of what he used to do in the margins of his school books’. Jon is a co-founder and contributor of, a site dedicated to providing creative resources for the Church.

Cornerhouse Productions are made up of husband and wife team, Andy and Wendy Green, who take our podcasts from words on a page to what they end up as, including writing the music that goes behind them. They live in Manchester with their four children and attend Bury Christian Fellowship where they lead worship. As well as working on independent projects they also produce a large and diverse range of albums for clients such as Kingsway, Authentic and others around the world.

Jane Cornish is a Reader in the Church of England, a director of the Fair Trade Shop in Ipswich and a part-time financial assistant. She is married with four grown-up sons.

David Dewey is minister of Chester Road Baptist Church in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands. He has a special interest in discovering how the Bible can be read in creative ways that sustain spiritual growth. He is married to Sarah.

Andrew Gray illustrates regularly for Scripture Union, as well as occasionally for other people. He enjoys illustrating WordLive materials because it gives him the opportunity to help people think more creatively about the Bible, and explain details or ideas that cannot be communicated in text alone. More of his artwork can be seen at

Elaine Langford

Helen Paynter lives with her husband and three daughters in Bristol and they worship at Cairns Road Baptist Church. She is a freelance writer and storyteller, with a passion for telling God's truth in unexpected ways.

Elaine Storkey is President of Tearfund. She has written many books, including The Search for Intimacy (Hodder & Stoughton).

Steve Warner works for Christchurch Harpenden as a Youth and Children's minister, and in his spare time likes watching Spurs.

Group discussion

Want to talk about today’s passage? Share some thoughts about what you’ve read, seen or heard? Has it left you with further questions? Or do you disagree with what has been said?

Head to the WordLive forums to join the discussion online, or check out the small group programme.



Looking for God

You could be forgiven for missing it, but the race is on to find the so-called ‘God particle’, the Higgs boson. And with CERN’s Large Hadron Collider out of action, the Americans believe they will beat the Europeans. (See the BBC article for more details.) Missing the recent celebration of Darwin would have been harder.

Any attempt to discover the wonders of the universe is welcome. Christians need not fear scientific investigation or discovery. We live in a glorious world which induces a sense of wonder.

But while so much scientific research in previous generations was undertaken in a sense of humility before an awe-inspiring creation and a great creator, much today seems to be undertaken in a spirit of human independence or even arrogance. We can find the answers. We will solve the ultimate questions.

God is, in the words of one of the new breed of atheists, Richard Dawkins, a delusion.

There are others who cannot believe in God but seem to wish they could. Check out the Daily Mail interview with David Attenborough or the Times article by Matthew Parris. 

John’s Gospel is structured round a series of signs. For those who will come, either to the created world or to the Gospel records, with open minds and humility there is much to be discovered of the ways of God. Let’s cultivate such an attitude for ourselves and encourage it in others.

John Grayston
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Where are you dry, weary or hurting in your life today? What do you need from God to live for his glory? Come before him now with an open heart as you listen to this song.

  • Song: Will You hide me (Healing streams)
  • Composer: John Hartley / Stuart Townend / Kelly Minter
  • Artist(s): Kelly Minter
  • Album: Finerday
  • Publisher: Survivor Music
  • Copyright: © 2007 Thankyou Music
  • Buy: Kingsway shop

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