Read John 5:1-15
To what extent did the man at the Pool of Bethesda experience real hope? That is a good question. The answer is unclear.
This is one of the few biblical accounts where Jesus seemed to have initiated the healing. Most often, sick people came to or were brought to Him in the hope of healing. One woman was bold enough to even seek healing without asking. She just touched Christ’s clothing (Mark 5:25-34). But we don’t read about such initiative with this man. Had he not heard about Jesus, and did he, therefore, not know to ask for healing?
The Lord’s initial question to him seems like a “no brainer.” “Do you want to get well?” Well, clearly, he had positioned himself at the Pool of Bethesda where healings were occasionally expected. But this man never experienced it. In fact, you can hear the hopelessness in his voice in verse 7. He essentially says, “No one is here to help” and “I am too slow.”
But Jesus did what was seemingly impossible. To a man marked by 38 years of handicap, He spoke words of confident healing. The man stood, picked up his mat, and carried it away. His dream of nearly four decades had become a reality.
But experiencing hope in the face of the temporal needs of our lives is only one dimension of hope. Did the man experience lasting hope? Eternal hope? Real hope?
This story in John’s gospel depicts the rising opposition to Jesus. And, interestingly enough, the healed man seems to have contributed to that opposition. Rather than demonstrating a grateful heart that sought to protect the Savior, the man actually took the initiative to rat out his Healer (v. 15).
But that is not the only reason to question whether the man experienced real, eternal hope. Even Christ’s words in verse 14 seem to point to the idea that his former handicap had been the result of his own personal sin. In fact, unless the man repented, he could expect something worse. Was the “something worse” temporal or eternal punishment?
There is, you see, a certain emptiness with experiencing the very thing you have always hoped for in this life, if this life is all you have to hope for. Real hope has an eternal dimension to it that is only found in following Jesus.