Prayer: Where Are You Looking?


Text – John 4:43 – 5:1-15;  Reader:  Karen Cline

As you recall, the Gospel of John is a book about “signs”. It is sometimes called, “The Book of Signs”. The first “miraculous sign” according to John happened at a wedding feast in the town of Cana when Jesus performed a miracle of changing water into wine. Whenever Jesus did a miracle, the apostle John would state that what just happened was a “miraculous sign” or, simply, a “sign” pointing at Jesus, instructing people to look at the claims made about him. Throughout his Gospel, John pressed his readers to look at those signs and he hoped, that, by doing so they would become followers of Jesus.

These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

Well, so far in our sermon series, we have preached through the first 4 chapters of his book and have read that John recorded people’s claims about Jesus: John the Baptist: Jesus is “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

Andrew the apostle: Jesus is “The Messiah (the Christ)”.

Nathanael Bartholomew the apostle: Jesus is “The Son of God”, and “The King of Israel”.

Nicodemus the Pharisee: Jesus is “A teacher who has come from God” (“for no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him”).

The Samaritan woman at the well: Jesus is “The Messiah (the Christ”), an insight that Jesus verbally confirmed to her.

The other Samaritans who believed because of the woman at the well’s testimony: Jesus “Really is the Savior of the world”.

So, unlike the claims of many today who would say that Jesus was a good man and a gifted teacher, those who met him wouldn’t make such tepid statements about him but said he was (and, is) the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, the King of Israel, a teacher who had come from God, the Savior of the world.

After his miraculous changing of water into wine – a miracle that happened in the town of Cana in Galilee, northern Israel – Jesus journeyed south to Jerusalem. There, at the Passover Feast in the Temple courts, he saw moneychangers and religious leaders ripping off innocent pilgrims who had gone there to simply worship Jesus’ heavenly father, YHWH God. Jesus responded in righteous anger at what he was seeing, and he responded by overturning the tables of the moneychangers, and driving them out from the Temple courts.

We read though, that after cleansing the Temple courts, Jesus did miracles in Jerusalem. All that happened in chapter 2 but the fact that there were onlookers seeing him performing those miracles will be revisited today in the chapter 4 passage we will read. In any case, concerning those chapter 2 miracles, John wrote this: Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. (John 2:23)

In chapter 3, we then read about a Pharisee named Nicodemus who secretly came to Jesus one night. He came at that time so that the other religious leaders wouldn’t know what he was doing (for they would have strongly disapproved). That meeting resulted in two very famous verses. First, to Nicodemus’ claim that he knew Jesus was sent by God in that Jesus was doing miracles that only one sent by God could do, Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)

Secondly, and in response to that revelation by Jesus, the Gospel writer John added this comment: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Leaving chapter 3, we then read in chapter 4 that Jesus left Jerusalem to return to his home base in Galilee, but that he had to go through the province of Samaria. In Sychar, a town in Samaria, he met a woman at a place to draw water, a place known as Jacob’s Well. Jesus told her that he could give her eternal life if she believed in him, plus “eternal water” by which she would never thirst again. She was unconvinced but when Jesus next told her things about her life that she wouldn’t have wanted others to know, and he did so without condemning her, the woman realized that Jesus was the Messiah. She then went and told her fellow Samaritans and, as a result, they went out to Jacob’s Well and met Jesus where they also placed their faith in him. Jesus and his disciples, including John the Gospel book writer, then spent two days discipling those new believers and ministering to them. So, having reviewed all that, now, in today’s passage, we read, After the two days he left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) (John 4:43,44)

Jesus may have been referring to the country of Judea where the religious leaders neither welcomed him or honoured him, or he may have been referring to his own family who also rejected him and didn’t “welcome” him as the Messiah until a much later time, however, concerning the Galileans reception of him, we read: When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there. (John 4:45)

The Galileans “welcomed” him, but only because they wanted to see him do miracles, just like the ones they had already seen him do at the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. They didn’t “welcome” him to believe in him or to follow him but to entertain them. John wrote: Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. (John 4:46).

So, let’s get some geographical understanding of all these movements. Project map of the land…Galilee is where Jesus grew up, in Nazareth. 16 kms north of Nazareth is Cana, where Jesus turned water to wine. 27 kms east of Cana is Capernaum where lived the “certain royal official whose son lay sick”.

When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. (John 4:47)

That royal official was possibly a Gentile, not a Jew. But, when he heard that Jesus had come from Jerusalem, through Samaria, and had stopped in Cana, the man left his home in Capernaum to walk the 27 kilometers to Cana to beg Jesus for his help. To all the Galileans gathered around who would have heard the royal official’s request of Jesus and thus would have loved to see Jesus doing a miracle with that royal official’s son – like the ones they had already seen him do in Jerusalem – Jesus had a sharp retort: “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48)

These Galileans were so different from John the Baptist, Andrew and Nathaniel Bartholomew the apostles, Nicodemus the Pharisee, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the other Samaritans who looked at the signs and came to believe in and follow Jesus. These Galileans just wanted to see a magician at work, a miracle-worker doing his thing, entertaining the crowds. They were also so different from the royal official. In prayer, he had searched for Jesus, having tracked him down in Cana. That royal official truly trusted Jesus and believed. The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” (John 4:49-53a)

What is remarkable about this was that the man had asked Jesus to come with him but when Jesus simply spoke the words, “Go; your son will live,” the man obeyed without hesitation. He believed and went. He did not insist on seeing the miracle. He did not complain that Jesus would not be going with him. He simply left, John says, “believing”. The next day, the royal official got confirmation of the healing of his son and when he asked when his son had been healed, he realized that the healing had occurred at the very hour Jesus had told him the day before that his son would be healed. To that revelation, John wrote, So, he and his whole household believed. This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:53b-54).

Looking at Jesus and the signs pointing to who he is – that is what the Lord wants of us. When we come to him with that kind of seeking heart, He responds. Look at what happened with the Samaritan woman at the well: she believed, and others believed because of her testimony. Here, the royal official believed, his son was healed, and everyone else in his household (family members, servants – he was an important man in Capernaum) also came to believe.

Miraculous signs are designed to lead us to faith. As far as we know, sadly, those Galileans who were wanting to see miracles but who were not willing to look at the signs and then believe in Jesus, never did turn their lives over to following Jesus, much to their loss. Demanding that the Lord do miracles for us, as the Galileans did, is reprehensible for that would make him our slave, rather than our Lord, and that is of no long-time benefit.

In any case, going now to chapter 5, we will find the next “miraculous sign”. Jesus had decided to return to Jerusalem for one of the three great festivals of Judaism: Passover, Pentecost, or the Feast of Tabernacles. Because each of the other times Jesus went to Jerusalem for Passover and it is mentioned that he did so, we can assume that this time, Jesus went either a few weeks later the springtime Festival of Pentecost, or a few months later for the fall Feast of Tabernacles. We read, Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. (John 5:1,2)

The Pool of Bethesda had been built as a source of water for the washing of sacrifices coming into the temple area from the sheep gate. The pool was connected to a deep underground spring. Whenever the water level would drop to a certain level, the spring would build up enough pressure to refill the pool and its water would suddenly bubble and stir. An example that might be familiar to us would be geysers like Old Faithful in the USA’s Yellowstone National Park. Old Faithful has a regular eruption of water when the pressure from underneath gets high enough. It erupts approximately once every hour for 1 ½ to 5 minutes. The ground shakes beforehand and, the water stirs, and then the geyser erupts.

One time, our family was there – and this was in the day before cell phone cameras. We were in a crowd patiently waiting through the hour of anticipating Old Faithful erupting. A family was beside us. The 12-year old (or, some such age) son kept on bugging his father to let him be the one to hold the family camera and snap the photo of Old Faithful as it erupted. The dad didn’t want to turn over that responsibility to the son but after much haranguing, the father finally gave in and handed the son the camera. The ground shook and Old Faithful erupted. It was a great show! As the geyser was starting to finish its eruption and the water was coming down, I heard the son ask, “Dad, when should I take the photo?” “What?” the father exploded. “You didn’t take the photo?”

Well, that same geyser-like principle applied to the Pool of Bethesda. In the first century, people didn’t understand a lot about geology or fluid dynamics so a legend had formed saying that God sent an angel down periodically to stir the water. Accompanying that legend, was the belief that the first person sitting by the pool who could scramble into the pool would be healed of whatever disease they had. John wrote: Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed – and they waited for the moving of the waters. 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. 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 5:3-6)

Show video… From The Chosen, Season 2, Episode 4, 44:57 – 49:51

Obviously, anyone who was lame – like the man we saw in the film adaptation of this event – could never beat a person quicker than they, so the truly sick were perpetually disappointed in that they would never get into the water first and thus could never receive their miracle. A mindset of hopelessness would have filled their minds. In this case, Jesus approached a man who had been at the pool for a long time, maybe for the entire 38 years of him being an invalid. That man may have heard about Jesus from the miraculous signs he had already done in Jerusalem, but his gaze was fully on the waters of the Pool of Bethesda. Unlike the royal official who looked for Jesus, who actively sought out Jesus after looking at the signs and realizing who Jesus was, and, as a result, having come to fully believe in Jesus’ power to heal his son, the man at the Pool of Bethesda only looked at the waters. Jesus healed him, anyway, as a demonstration of his power, yes, but also as proof of who he was, possibly for the onlookers (including religious leaders) looking on, as much as for the man.

We will return to this story next Sunday, but it is worth asking ourselves, “Who or what are we looking to for the miracle in our lives or in the lives or our loved ones?” Unlike other episodes, where sick people or their believing family members or friends approached Jesus asking for his help, the man at the Pool of Bethesda didn’t look to Jesus or at the signs pointing to who he was. Jesus went to him and healed him. The man didn’t even know who Jesus was, as we will read next Sunday. He only knew that Jesus had asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The man was, rightly so, confused. “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.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:7-9a)

The man did have a part in his healing, after all. He may not have looked to Jesus initially or at the signs pointing to who Jesus was, but when Jesus said to him, “You get up—You rise, take up your bed and walk. You do something”, he did as Jesus said. Had the man replied, “Thank you, but no thanks”, or, “Oh, it won’t do any good” and refused to stand, he may well have died sitting by that pool.

We will conclude this story next Sunday, but let me ask a very personal question, do you have a Bethesda Pool situation in your life, a situation in which you have given up hope? I understand if you do, but how long have you been sitting there? Let’s state that we know Jesus healed only that one man sitting by the Pool of Bethesda. About the others there, it does not seem that he healed them. So, we are aware that there are times when Jesus will not intervene, but the apostle Paul came to understand that his own affliction, a “thorn in the side” that caused him much grief, was not taken away by the Lord but used by the Lord for his greater glory as he gave Paul grace to survive. God sees the bigger picture and understands more than we do about what is going on or His purposes in every situation, but still I need to ask you, “Who or what are you looking at for healing?”

Be more like the royal official than the man sitting by the Pool of Bethesda. If you are looking at Jesus after a long time of little or no change, there is still hope. I don’t want to give you false hope but I do believe that Jesus can heal you or your loved one, just he did in the events we read about today. Remember, this is because of who he is – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Messiah, the Christ, a teacher sent by God, the Son of God, and the Saviour of the World. Because of who he is, he can heal. Don’t look elsewhere. Look only at him and to him. Amen.

Leave a Comment

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