Whether you believe or not. Part 4 of 3

You can tell by the title that I had not planned on writing one more section on this part of my ongoing study through John’s gospel. But in leaving part 3 behind, a nagging question kept coming back to me: How many people were there gathered around the pool of Bethesda? The passage clearly implies there was a crowd there because Jesus disappeared into that crowd after healing the infirm man. Which means there were a lot of people left unhealed that day.

Last time, I pointed out that the infirm man by the pool of Bethesda did not ask Jesus to heal him. He was just there. He did not notice Jesus standing by him; and even if he did, he didn’t recognize him as someone that could help him. You see, Jesus was, at this time, an itinerant preacher, traveling from village to village. To meet him, to see him, you had to notice the crowd gathering and go follow it; and keep going until He came to a place to stop. And then Jesus would teach, and then He would heal.

We see this in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 12. After Jesus healed the man with the withered hand in the synagogue, He gets into an argument with the religious leaders because they didn’t like it that He did that healing on the Sabbath…

Matthew 12:14-15 …the Pharisees, having gone out, took counsel against him, how they might destroy him. But Jesus knowing [it], withdrew thence, and great crowds followed him; and he healed them all

And this must have been a common occurrence. No wonder huge crowds followed Him. He healed anyone and everyone that came to Him and asked.

Which explains why the infirm man never met Him. The man was stuck with limited mobility. Maybe he lived his life near that pool of Bethesda, going there every day that someone could take him and leave him in one of the porticoes by the edge; all, so he could wait for a chance at his miracle.

The irony should not escape us: He continued his routine of 38 years, unchanged, hoping for a one-in-a-thousand or maybe a one-in-a-million miracle (remember, he was just one of a multitude surrounding that pool, hoping that that day would be the one day in who-knows-how-often that the waters would get stirred, hoping that that stirring would happen at the moment of that day when he saw it before anyone else, with time enough to jump in before anybody else.) And yet, walking about the countryside was a man who could by the word of his mouth, or the touch of his hand, heal instantly anyone who asked.

We know how the infirm man’s story ended.

But what about everyone else?

If the reconstruction shown as part of the Second Temple Model in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is correct, that crowd indeed was enormous. It was a double pool, outside the walls of the city, just north of the Antonia Fortress. The five porticoes comprised about 210 yards of perimeter surrounding each of the two pools. Assuming one person to every square yard, maybe staggered two deep across the middle portico, we are talking almost 500 people.

And that Sabbath day in Jerusalem – by divine appointment – Jesus chose to stroll about those colonnades… All around him: ailing humanity.

And no one recognized Him?

If we follow John’s narrative, the very words of the infirm man tell us that those were not just sick people waiting there. Many had friends or family with them ready to help them into the water at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, this was at one of the calendar feasts. That means many of those people must have come from other towns, possibly from all over Israel.

And no one recognized Him?

Jesus stops in one of those porticoes, evidently within a few steps of the water (for, how else could the infirm man have hoped to make an attempt to jump in?) There must have been people to his right and to his left. Jesus stops there, bends down, and asks this man, who has been in that state for 38 years, “Do you want to be made well?”

And no one else heard Him?

He tells the man, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” And the man, who surely must have been a fixture of that place for years, gets up, picks up the mat and walks away, leaving the pool behind.

And no one noticed?

How is that possible? He had to step up and walk around those other people, maybe over some of them, just to get out of that crowd. What about the people who had been right next to him, who therefore had also been laying or sitting there next to Jesus. Did they miss this whole transaction?

Why did Jesus heal no one else?

Who has the power to prevent a miracle?

In part 2 of this series, I talked about the first time Jesus went back to Nazareth after the beginning of His public ministry. If you remember: It was the day he went to His town’s synagogue and read from the Book of Isaiah, the passage that begins: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has appointed me to preach the good news unto the poor…” And He told them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your ears.”

The people ended up being offended at the preposterous idea that God would choose a simple carpenter as the Messiah. They got so riled up that they even tried to kill Him. Well, Jesus went back there again.

Matthew 13:53-58 And it came to pass when Jesus had finished these parables he withdrew thence. And having come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, Whence has this [man] this wisdom and these works of power? Is not this the son of the carpenter? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then has this [man] all these things?

And they were offended in him. And Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honour, unless in his country and in his house. And he did not there many works of power, because of their unbelief.

The reaction was the same as last time. They are offended in Him. But really, they are offended at God:

“How dare God pick a man like this: a poor, simple laborer, born of sin (yes, we heard the story about Mary being pregnant before she married Joseph), uneducated… and all, to save us from our sins? US? Are you kidding? Our problem is not our sins, our problem is Rome. No, no, no! God promised us the Son of King David; He promised us a warrior, an undefeatable Messiah that would tear all our enemies apart. And God had better keep His side of the bargain, because we, we have been keeping ours.”

Maybe I am taking liberties here; maybe they wouldn’t dare to say those things out loud. Maybe all wouldn’t go that far… But this is the bottom line of their unbelief: God’s plan for bringing His Kingdom crashing into the kingdom of the world was nothing like they had imagined. And their natural reaction is to balk at God.

Have I ever balked at God?

That last verse, Matthew 13:58, haunts me: And he did not there many works of power, because of their unbelief. I have read it many times. I have heard sermons preached about it. And as far as I can recall, every time, the interpretation is that the people’s lack of faith prevented Jesus from performing works of power.

This interpretation seems sensible, especially when we look at the same passage in Mark’s gospel.

Mark 6:5-6 And he could not do any work of power there, save that laying his hands on a few infirm persons he healed [them]. And he wondered because of their unbelief. And he went round the villages in a circuit, teaching.

So, is that the answer? Because the people had such weak faith, Jesus couldn’t do more miracles? Are we implying that Jesus’ power was somehow derived from their faith, limited by their faith? Are we saying that their lack of faith somehow hamstrung the Son of the Living God? That these people had the power to prevent miracles?

Oh, may it never be so!

Can lack of faith block God’s power?

If all the faith it takes to move a mountain is faith the size of a mustard seed (1 mm), this has to be the wrong conclusion. Even more so, when we acknowledge that the infirm man at the pool of Bethesda had no faith in Jesus.

And yet, he was healed.

I think we make a mistake when we think of faith as a power (maybe even a superpower), or an ability, or a quantity of something that we can increase, amass, or accumulate. Yes, I know we speak that way many times… But maybe, all faith is, is Trust.

Either you have it or you don’t.

I think it is like Love, real Love. In the world, we talk about love as if it were a something that we can “fall in” or “fall out” of; we talk about loving someone more than someone else; we imagine that love can be strengthened or weakened or even turned into its opposite by circumstances or betrayal. But that cannot be love; not true, real love. That may be love in the world but in God’s Kingdom there is only one kind of love: Eternal Love, the Love demonstrated by God the Father and God the Son:

John 3:16 For God loved the world in this manner: that He gave His One and only Son that whosoever Trusts in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.

Romans 5:8 But God commends his Love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

This is Love. It is above and beyond any human love. This is why Jesus told His disciples:

John 15:12-13 This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have Loved you. No one has greater Love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends.

That is the only love that counts. It is true Love. Anything else is its opposite. And anything else is infinitely inferior to it.

Remember, in this universe, there is no such thing as duality. Light is the reality, it is where energy resides. Darkness is the absence of light. You want to do work? Use energy, use light… Darkness has no such power. It is senseless to even imagine extracting work from the absence of work because Work=Energy.

In the same sense, Life is the reality. Death is the absence of Life. You want to see growth, movement, volition, purpose, intelligence, imagination, creativity? Then you want to see Life at work. It is utter nonsense to imagine that death could produce any of those or anything at all.

Truth is the reality. The lie is the denial of Truth. Logic, our fundamental ability to reason, all depends on our ability to know that Truth is the reality.

If this is so, then Faith is the reality. Trust in God is the reality. And being offended in Him, in His plan, in His choices, in His will, is unbelief: it is the denial of Faith.

And as such, unbelief has no power.

Therefore, the answer is No: Lack of faith cannot possibly block the power of God. Just like you could not possibly burn through steel with a shadow… but with a laser, with pure light, yes, absolutely!

Then why could Jesus do no more works of power in Nazareth? The answer is simple: No one asked Him to. That was the effect of their unbelief: it shut heir hearts and their mouths to their own plights!

Why didn’t Jesus heal anybody else at the pool of Bethesda that day?

No one asked Him.

And yet, can’t we read in between the lines? Jesus went to Jerusalem at the feast, on purpose. In all likelihood, as He did everywhere else and every other time, He taught the people… and possibly healed many. And then, one of those days, he steps outside the city walls and walks over to the pool of Bethesda. Surely someone must have followed Him. Surely some of the people in that crowd among the porticoes had seen Him in the city, maybe even heard Him preach.

All it would have taken would have been one request: “Jesus, help me.”

How hard can that be?

I wonder what they were thinking… people just like you and me: “No, I don’t need any help. I can do it on my own: here is the healing pool everyone has told me about. Here is the place where I can heal myself. Look at them all; they are all here… They believe it too. They are ready to do it. I am just as good as any of them. All I need to do is wait, watch, and then beat everybody else to the water…”

Why do we do that?

Is the alternative so hard? Is it really easier to be offended in Him than to Trust in Him?

I know the answer. You know the answer. We’ve all been there:

I’m not alone… Look at them all, all around me; they are all here, with me, just like me. They all want to have their lives and keep it. That’s what we all want: To live our lives according to our rules. And yet we know (maybe because we have heard the voice of God in our conscience) that some of those things we want to keep in our lives are not part of His plan for us. And we don’t like that. Why can’t His plan agree with my plan? Who does God think He is, to tell me this is bad for me?

So, we sit around that pool waiting for the stirring of the waters that promise to magically heal all the hurts that have accumulated in our lives from living in the world.  But the waters never stir… and the pain never goes away. And, yes, we think about asking for help… but we don’t want to pay the price: I don’t want to change my life.

And then the enemy whispers in my ears: “God is unfair, it’s all blackmail… You want him to heal you? Then you have to change… you have to prove yourself and then, maybe then, if you prove you are worthy, then maybe he will heal you.”

But that is a lie. Just ask the infirm man at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus simply asked him: “Do you want to be healed? Ok… get up, pick up your mat and walk.” And he took Him at His word and walked.

But don’t I have to change?

Not for Him to heal you and to prove to you that He Loves you. But once you have that healing, once you have seen what trusting Him does, once you have seen that He is more powerful than anything else in this world… Then, because He Loves you, He will come back and say, “My child… there is so much more healing to be done.

“Do you want to be healed?”

Share this on:


Sign up to receive new stories in your email as they’re published.

Your privacy is important. We won’t send spam or share your email address. Privacy Policy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *