Meditations in John’s Gospel
Tony Renshaw, Heald Green, Cheshire
Bethesda and Siloam, Chapters 5 and 9
These are the names of two pools in Jerusalem, which are linked with the miracles described in chapters 5 and 9. The first involved an impotent man and the second a blind man. The first man had been impotent for thirty-eight years. The second had never seen at all. When the first man met the Lord, he had a slight hope of recovery from the pool. When the second man met the Lord, he had no hope of recovery at all.
The first man could see but not walk. The second could walk but not see. The first man's condition was due to sin in his life, for after healing him the Lord warned him, 'sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee', 5. 14. The second man's condition was not directly due to sin in his life, for the Lord said of him'. . . neither hath this man sinned nor his parents'.
Before the first man was healed he was looking to men for help, hoping that someone would assist him into the pool at the right time. Before the second man was healed he too was looking to men for help as he sat and begged for alms. The pool of Bethesda loomed large in the first man's thoughts, but the Lord ignored it. The pool of Siloam had never occurred to the second man as a source of healing, but the Lord used it.
The first man was healed and then walked. The second man walked and then was healed. The first man's cure required him to exercise faith with an element of obedience, 'Rise, take up thy bed and walk', 5. 11. The second man's cure required him to exercise obedience with a measure of faith, 'Go, wash in the pool of Siloam', 9. 7. After an interval, the Lord found the first man inside the temple, 5. 14. After an interval He found the second man outside the synagogue, 9. 34-35.
As the first story closes, the healed man is seen still within the fold of Judaism and co-operating with the Lord's enemies. As the second story closes the healed man is seen outside the fold of Judaism and in conflict with the Lord's enemies. The first miracle resulted in persecution for the Lord. The second resulted in persecution for the man born blind. We can now gather up the practical lessons arising from these comparisons.
The men will be considered in relation to: (i) their condition before being healed, (ii) their cure, and (iii) their conduct after being healed.
(i) Their condition
The fact that the first man's condition resulted from sin in his life whilst the second man's did not, means that it is never safe to assume that anyone's illness is caused by sin. The Lord reserves the right to use illness either to discipline His people, or to enrich them. 1 Corinthians 11. 30 illustrates the first case and 2 Corinthians 12. 7-9 illustrates the second.
The condition of the man born blind reminds us that each of us could say, 'I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me', Psa. 51. 5. The condition of the man who became impotent reminds us that we all produce the fruits of sin in our lives.
The man who could see but not walk illustrates the dilemma of fallen man, who can learn from the scriptures how he should live but is utterly incapable of doing it. The man who could walk but not see depicts fallen man groping helplessly in the darkness which sin has caused.
The fact that both men were looking to other men for help reflects the universal tendency to rely on human resources to solve human problems.
(ii) Their cure
As we see, the Lord unexpectedly dispensed with the pool of Bethesda, and equally unexpectedly used the pool of Siloam, we remember that He is never predictable in His dealings with men; see Isa. 55. 8. The fact that the first man was healed without any sustained effort on his part reminds us that salvation is 'not of works, lest any man should boast', Eph. 2. 9. But the second man had to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, which depicts the sinner's need to obey the gospel and to seek the blessings which the Saviour offers.
The Lord's three commands to the impotent man were accompanied by the power to obey. They illustrate what God does for the believing sinner.
(a) Rise - and the man arose from the defilement of the earth and stood upright. Every sinner who responds to the gospel receives new life and a new standing before God.
(b) Take up thy bed - and he carried away that on which he had been carried. Thus the sinner masters things which previously mastered him.
(c) And walk - and he found new power to walk among men, 'Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord', Psa. 119. 1.
The Lord smeared mud across the second man's eyes, as though to make him feel his blindness, for this man had long since adapted to it. He had never seen his loved ones, his home, or his street. He never expected to. Then he felt Someone smearing mud on his eyes and he heard an authoritative voice telling him what to do. And he did it. Who can imagine his joy at the pool? But he had been made to feel his blindness before he could lose it. This illustrates conversion, in which conviction of sin must precede the joy of forgiveness and new life in Christ.
(iii) Their Conduct
It would over-state matters to insist that the first man deliberately caused trouble for the Lord with the Jewish leaders. He may well have gone to the temple to thank God for his healing. But nothing in the narrative suggests that he exercised faith in Christ and became His follower. The Lord's final words to him contain a warning note, 'sin no more lest a worse thing come unto thee'. He was still in danger of lapsing into his earlier misconduct.
The man born blind was questioned by his neighbours, vv. 8-12, and by the Pharisees, vv. 13-17. His parents were questioned by the Pharisees, vv. 18-23. A final encounter with the Pharisees resulted in his being put out of the synagogue, vv. 24-34. The cross-questioning evidently set the man thinking. He would not accept the Pharisees' strictures against his healer. His understanding of the person of Christ developed as the interviews continued, 'A man that is called Jesus . . . He is a prophet . . . a worshipper of God, and doeth his will . . . Lord, I believe . . .', vv. 11, 17, 31, 38. His final response to the abuse of the Pharisees was fearless and full of spiritual insight, vv. 30-33. Indeed, as R.V.G. Tasker points out in The Tyndale Commentary on John's Gospel, his words strongly imply some knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures, see Isa. 1. 15, Psa. 66. 18; and he knew that scripture recorded no examples of the healing of anyone born blind. As the narrative closed he was at the feet of Christ, bowing in adoration. Such was his unreserved allegiance to his Healer and Saviour.