There’s a place near Bangor in North Wales, called Bethesda. As a North Walian, or Gog, I’ve known about it from childhood. Bethesda sounds so typically Welsh, so I was amazed to discover it’s taken from the Bible, and isn’t a Welsh name at all. There’s a place in Jerusalem known as Bethesda, although some versions translate it as Bethsaida.
Bethesda was a pool, quite a big one I suspect, because it was covered by five covered colonnades, or columns. In the time of Jesus it sounds like it could be the most wretched place on earth, because it was at Bethesda that the disabled came to lie, the blind, the lame, the paralysed. There was a belief among them that when the water in the pool stirred, which it did from time to time, the first one into the water would be healed.
Can you imagine the scene when the water did stir? In my mind I imagine the daily wait. Some people may have families prepared to wait with them. Others may have had enough money to pay for their services. Everyone would just be waiting, and watching for that moment when the first ripples appeared, and then mayhem would break loose. The blind would rush madly forward just hoping they were heading in the right direction, falling over people in front of them. The lame would struggle to get up, let alone walk, and would fling themselves forward, experiencing excruciating pain. The paralysed would rely on others who would throw them into the pool, but how did they get out again? I suspect many died in the process, and each attempt to be made would bring further misery and despair. Was anyone ever healed? We’re not told, but I doubt it. When you’re desperate though, you’ll try and try again even if you don’t see any results. You’ll convince yourself that someone was once healed. Maybe paid helpers spread a rumour to make sure they earned some money in this futile venture?
One paralysed man had been waiting for 38 years without help of any sort, so he was never going to be first in the pool. He probably did nothing beyond watch and despair, until one day Jesus walked up to him and said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (1) He was cured immediately, stood up and walked. His life was transformed. No more despair, no more watching and waiting. He could enter into life and enjoy a positive future.
Why did Jesus single out this man? Was he special? Was he suffering more than anyone else? I don’t think so. Jesus singled him out because he wanted to. There’s no rhyme nor reason to it beyond the fact that Jesus decided to choose him. The man was no worse, or no better, than anyone else.
Jesus has chosen me too. Is it because I’m special? If you knew me you’d know that wasn’t true. Jesus chose me because he wanted to, not because there’s something amazing about me. I’m just like everyone else, but for some reason I’ll never be able to explain, Jesus chose to die for me. He saw me in my sinful state and decided to give up his life, to set me free from sin.
He’s done the same for you too. Jesus died to take the punishment for your sins, but to avail yourself of his salvation you have to come to him, admit you’re a sinner, accept him as your Saviour and commit to living for him. It’s a very simple act that can be done anywhere, anytime. Find a quiet spot and just pray, asking Jesus to be your Saviour.
The paralysed man discovered that his life was hopeless, no end to his suffering, until Jesus came along, healed and transformed him. Jesus is passing by now. Don’t let him walk past without reaching out to him.
(1) John 5:8