In 1871, a wide spot in the road just outside of Washington DC got a new name – “Bethesda, Maryland.” Up to that time, this little rural community was called “Darcy’s Store” because the only store in the “town” was run by (you guessed it) a man named Darcy! In 1871, though, the postmaster changed the name of the town to Bethesda, naming it after a Presbyterian Church in that community by the same name. This community would have stayed small and off the radar were it not for two massive government buildings constructed in its city limits during the 1940’s: The National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Bethesda Naval Hospital. These two places of health and healing are what the town of Bethesda are currently known for … and the name is quite fitting!
The name “Bethesda” actually comes from a location in Jerusalem. In Hebrew, Bethesda means “House of Kindness” and in the first century (while Jesus was walking the streets of Jerusalem) there was a particular pool named Bethesda where sick people would gather and wait for a “supernatural stirring of the waters” believing that the first one to enter the waters after such a stirring would be healed of their infirmity. In John 5:1-18, the account of a particular lame man is told who had been sitting by the waters of the Pool of Bethesda for 38 years waiting for his healing. 38 years!
When Jesus finds this man, He asks him a peculiar question, “Do you want to be healed?” At first glance, this seems like a question only Captain Obvious would ask … OF COURSE he would want to be healed! But look at the situation more closely. For 38 years this man’s plan was to wait for the waters to stir and then be the first one into the pool. However, the man was at the Pool of Bethesda alone … and he was unable to walk. So his plan for 38 years was nothing more than hopeless fantasy. IF the waters stirred, and IF there was supernatural healing in them (two big “ifs”) then the lame man would have to somehow get down into the water himself, while being unable to move. Jesus sees the sad situation and calls it out. It is as if Jesus says, “Your plan is broken. But if you want to be healed, can I offer you an alternative?”
Seeing the look of longing and desperation in the lame man’s eyes, Jesus says to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And guess what … HE DID! The man who had not walked, walked. The man who had the hopeless plan, had a bright future! Jesus was able to do what the broken plan could not – give the lame man his legs back. Jesus was able to produce what was desperately needed – hope and life.
In this account we learn something important. Kindness is not found in a place (remember, Bethesda means “house of kindness.”) Kindness is found in a Person. The Pool of Bethesda had been there for years, but when Jesus showed up, He was able to truly deliver kindness to the lame man.
For a couple of millennia now, the term “Bethesda” has been placed on hospitals and places where care is administered to the sick and wounded. A town in Maryland that houses the NIH and a large military hospital appropriately bears this name. However, may we never forget the One who embodies Kindness, and the One who can deliver in Himself what no place ever could – hope and life and light.
We go to places like pools or churches (appropriately so) to gather and to seek hope and life. However, as we show up in church this Christmas season, don’t just look at the decorations on the wall. Instead look for and learn about the One from whom Kindness flows: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The healing of this lame man is the third miraculous sign John records pointing to Jesus being God.
This devo is a part of the 2022 Wildwood Christmas Daily Devotional, “God with us.” You can find the entire Christmas Devotional here.