- Main Text: John 4:46-54 (5:1-18)
- Accompanying text: Psalm 40:1-5
The first two signs of Jesus’ ministry took place in Cana. The first sign involved his physical presence at a marriage celebration whereas, at the second, Jesus was not physically present. While in Cana did Jesus stay with some of those from the wedding party or at Nathaniel’s house? Perhaps Jesus left for Galilee to be less conspicuous but in the event “the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast” (John 4:45 ESV), and, therefore, they would have been aware of the Cleansing of the Temple.
In Cana Jesus is approached by either a relative or an officer of King Herod Agrippa. The man had a dying son, and he asked Jesus to intervene by healing the boy. Jesus’ reply was not just for him to hear but also for all those who were listening: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (4:48). This might sound harsh to our ears, but it “must be recognised that whenever signs and wonders are performed there is always the danger that people will see the signs as an end in themselves rather than as a pointer to God…In the ministry of Jesus it was evident that the working of mighty deeds was a stumbling block for some rather than a stepping-stone to faith. For this reason it is not unreasonably asserted that Jesus’ own attitude to the working of miracles is one of some reticence (Mt.11:21-22; 16:4; Mk.1:32-38; Jn. 4:48; 12:37)”. 
Jesus travels to Jerusalem again where there is another feast taking place, perhaps Pentecost or, as some suggest, Purim. “The pool at Bethesda was a familiar locale among the Jews of Jerusalem…The connection between the pool and the healing process is attested not only by the fourth Gospel but also by archaeological remains indicating that the Romans also sought healing there after taking over Jerusalem in approximately AD 135”. 
Thoughts re application today
The healing of the nobleman’s son illustrates many ideas. For example, the nobleman, having believed Jesus’ words, obeys Jesus without seeing the outcome of his request; he believed, “and all his household” (4:53), which would have included the child who was healed; the effects of faith go further than the person who has the faith; healing and intervention can happen from a distance without the need for physical presence, etc.
When you compare the stories of the nobleman and of the invalid who was healed by the pool, there is a contrast between faith and superstition. The nobleman recognised Jesus as the source of life and healing whereas the invalid placed his hope on entering “the pool when the water is stirred” (5:7). It wasn’t that the pool was like a spa where tired muscles could be soothed, but the movement of the water currents had acquired a supernatural quality in popular thought. Perhaps the invalid wondered whether Jesus would be kind enough to help him into the pool. After Jesus healed him, Jesus said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (5:14). Had the invalid’s previous sinful lifestyle contributed to his helpless condition? We don’t know the details, but it appears that in some way he had been at least partly responsible for his own situation. Jesus, however, “is not tackling the psychology of the chronically sick. He is simply taking the initiative. He goes the pool. He picks the man out from all the sick people there. He does not heal anyone else. He’s looking for someone to do something for him. The man seems to be the sort of person Jesus is looking for. He opens the conversation with a question. Jesus is also being respectful. He is thinking ahead. As we are going to discover, Jesus plans to enlist the man in his project to challenge the authorities. He is just making sure that the man is happy with being enlisted by being healed. The man’s answer is most revealing. He doesn’t mention Jesus or faith or God or prayer. It’s a bit of a sad superstitious answer: ‘Sir…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’ (5:7). The man does not ask Jesus to heal him…Jesus is doing something dramatic, something prophetic. This is the same as going into the temple and making a whip. Something is about to happen”. 
What was about to happen was Jesus’ challenge to Jewish assumptions about the Sabbath. Just as there were superstitions surrounding the Bethesda pool, so too were there many superstitions and man-made rules about the Sabbath. It would have been acceptable for others to carry the man lying on his bed into the pool, but it seemed questionable for anyone to carry a bed mat and walk more than a short distance! The problem was, of course, not so much to do with the invalid, but that Jesus had performed a work on the Sabbath day. Jesus’ actions so far in John had revealed how inclusive God’s restorative, redemptive healing is. The great court of the Gentiles had been cleansed, thus heralding the inclusion of everyone, whether Jew and Gentile, into Jesus, the new Temple. Religious leaders, such as Nicodemus, are invited as are the Samaritans, whom the Jews despised. John 5 continues to expound our understanding of who Jesus is and what this means for us. The Sabbath, the post-creation rest of Genesis 1, is not a matter of deliberate inactivity but rather it involves activity in doing good. Jesus not only embodies the Temple, but he also fleshes out the true meaning of Sabbath. “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’ For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5:16-18).
- Matthew 12:1-8
- Luke 13:10-17
Footnotes and references
- Derek Tidball, Skilful Shepherds: Explorations in Pastoral Theology, published by APOLLO, UK, 1986 & 1997:288
- The Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture, Published by Zondervan in the USA, 2005:1728.
- Ian Galloway, Called to be Friends: Unlocking the heart of John’s Gospel, published by Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2021:111.