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The Miracle of Bethesda

The Miracle of Bethesda

The acoustics in the Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem are out of this world. The sound echoes and plays on the walls, transforming the music of our small group so that it sounds like a much larger group is singing.

Our tour group sang the old hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” although I simply mouthed the words because the last thing this holy site needed was the horror of my singing voice amplified by these walls. My voice is enough to make even a saint faint. But fortunately our group had some beautiful voices…

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed…

The day we visited Saint Anne’s was a gorgeous spring afternoon, with flowers spilling over in the courtyard outside the church. The Church of Saint Anne was built in the 12th Century during the Crusader period, but tradition says it was built over the place where Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born. Anne and Joachim were the parents of Mary, so the church became known as Saint Anne’s.

If this is truly where Mary was born, then it is a fitting location because if you walk only a matter of steps from the Church of Saint Anne, you will reach the famed Pools of Bethesda, where her Son performed one of His most famous miracles. Mary convinced her Son to perform His very first miracle at the wedding in Cana, so I like the notion that one of His Jerusalem miracles was only a stone’s throw from Mary’s possible birth site.

You may recall the Pool of Bethesda story from the account in John 5:1-15. An invalid is lying near the pool waiting to rush into the water for healing. The catch, people believed, was that you had to wait for the water to be “stirred.” The people believed that the first one in the water after the stirring would be healed. But unfortunately, with this man being an invalid, he could never reach the water before others piled in before him.

In the Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels, Gordon Franz says this pool may have been a site dedicated to a pagan god, such as Asclepius (the god of healing), sometimes known by the name Eshmun. Some manuscripts say that an angel was the one stirring the water, and some even say an “angel of the Lord.” But how could that be if this was a pagan healing site? Franz argues that the proper translation is simply “angel,” not “angel of the Lord.” Because this may be the healing site of a pagan god, the angel stirring the water might’ve been a fallen angel.

But back to the miracle…

When the disabled man tells Jesus his predicament—his inability to get into the water quick enough—Jesus tells him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

Hold on, the man must’ve been thinking. You mean I’ve been sitting here all this time, trying to be the first in the water, and you’re saying all I need to do is pick up my mat and walk?

Franz says this was a direct confrontation between Jesus and a pagan healing god. With the pagan god, getting healed was a complicated process. You had to compete for the god’s favor to reach the water first. But with Jesus, healing is not an Olympic competition. It’s about faith in Christ.

As a side note, the man had been disabled for 38 years, says the Gospel of John. Franz points out that the only other time the Bible talks about the number 38 was in Numbers 14:29-30. In this scene, Moses has sent the 12 spies into the Promised Land, but when they came back, 10 of the spies said it would be impossible to take the land. As a result of this lack of faith, God told the Israelites they would have to wander the wilderness for an additional 38 years.

This disabled man had been trapped in a wilderness of a different sort. He was trapped in a wilderness of suffering for 38 years. But when he encountered Jesus, our Lord welcomed him into the Promised Land of healing. The invalid didn’t have to follow the strange dictates of a pagan god that required him to be the first to leap into the water. He just had to trust Jesus, stand up, and pick up His mat.

So, he did.

Sometimes, I feel as if I have to perform some incredible wonder to be healed or have my prayers answered. My prayers become a competition—a performance, a spiritual weight-lifting contest. If I can just muster up enough spiritual strength, I can do it. It becomes all about me and what I can do.

But if this story tells us anything, it’s about what Jesus can do, not what we can do. God does the heavy lifting. And when healings occur, they echo through our lives like the sound of music reverberating in the Church of Saint Anne.

As the hymn we sang in Saint Anne’s says, “How great Thou art.” It doesn’t say anything about, “How great I am.”

That’s very comforting.

History by the Slice Family Activity

Read John 5:1-15. Then discuss these questions:

1.What did the invalid think he needed to do to be healed?

  1. What was Jesus’s answer to his problem?
  2. What was the response of the Jewish leaders to his healing?
  3. Why do you think Jesus later told the man to stop sinning? And why did the man go back and tell the Jewish leaders the name of the person who healed him?
  4. Have you ever prayed for healing? If so, what happened?
  5. Do you know anyone who has been healed through prayer? Describe what happened.
  6. Can you share any other answers to prayer?

By: Doug Peterson has written 42 books for VeggieTales and is the author four historical novels: The Disappearing Man, The Puzzle People, The Vanishing Woman, and The Lincoln League. Visit Doug at

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