Excuses, Excuses

Troubling the waters of your life

John 5:6-9

When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, Do you want to be made well?”

The sick man answered Him, Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Jesus said to him, Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.


In a small town in the heart of the South Carolina Lowcountry, there is a place where people claim miracles can happen. In a quiet roadside park, beneath a grove of tall cypress and tupelo trees, a cool, clear natural spring bubbles out of the ground. Fed by the great limestone aquifer that rises from the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, the water sparkles fresh from three fountains that have been built there and flows freely for anyone who visits. The place is called God’s Acre Healing Springs, for the land there has literally been deeded to God.

From all over America, thousands of visitors come. They drive for miles along the highways and back roads of South Carolina. Most of them bring empty containers—large and small—with the expectation of being filled. They come for cool, clear water that tastes pure, hearkens of legend and mystery, and satisfies body and soul. 

According to legend, Native Americans claimed that this small spring near the Edisto watershed had curative properties. That claim was tested during the Revolutionary War when several British soldiers, wounded and left for dead, were restored to health by its waters. 

My family and I have visited this spring several times over the years. The water may or may not have curative powers, but it is clear, cool, and very sweet to drink. The site has become a gathering place for random strangers, all seeking the same gift of refreshment—or maybe even a miracle. 

Here in chapter five of his gospel, the Apostle John takes us to a place that reminds me of God’s Acre Healing Springs–a place of miracles: the Pool of Bethesda.  

The Pool of Bethesda was located in the heart of the old city of Jerusalem, just north of the Temple Mount. It was a place of refuge and comfort to many, and the name Beth hesda (בית חסדא) can translate to mean “house of mercy” or “house of grace.” Indeed, it attracted many sick and infirm who sought its healing waters or at least the attention of the hospital-like atmosphere of this sheltered, cool place in a city of hot, dry stone.

John looks back through the years, recalling details such as the number of porches or porticoes, and remembers that the sick and lame gathered waiting for the moving of the water. –John 5:3b

What is going on with the water in the pool? Verse 4 makes the claim that “an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” This detail is fascinating but is only found in more recent translations of John’s Gospel and not in the older texts. 

Angel or not, the Pool at Bethesda was an unusual place. Some scholars suggest that currents beneath the spring, maybe issuing from fissures in the rock, would cause bubbles or movement. This stirring of the pool reminds us of the old spiritual, “Wade in the Water.” 

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God's gonna trouble the water.

Here is a link to a wonderful modern rendition of this centuries old tune:

Although this spiritual, an anthem of freedom for African slaves in the American south, refers mostly to the parting of the Red Sea or the first steps of God’s people into the Jordan to enter the promised land, the “troubling” of the water is a plain reference to the miracle Pool of Bethesda.

John tells us that to this pool has come the man of miracles himself: Jesus, the one who will bring the final exodus from bondage to all of God’s people.

The pool is surrounded by a thronging mass of people. The sick and the infirm crowd the water’s edge beneath the porches. Some are propped against columns, some lie on mats or beds underfoot, while others totter and jostle for space. Around the periphery, merchants possibly hawk wares, while above it all, disinterested Roman guards fight boredom. All eyes are on the shimmering surface of the pool that reflects the roofline and the fiery blue Judean sky.

The man of miracles enters the crowd and makes his way among the bedrolls and bystanders. He sees the multitude and doubtless feels the pain of this sinful, broken world in the twisted limbs and racking coughs of the sick around Him. At this point, I have often wondered why Jesus did not just wave His hand and cure them all. He could have done this! What a miracle of miracles it could have been for Him to enter a crowded poolside and walk out of an emptied hall still echoing with the joyous cries of hundreds of healed patients.

Jesus does not do this. He has His own purposes. 

He fixes his eyes on a single lame man:

Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.–John 5:5

Thirty-eight years! Can you imagine suffering for nearly four decades with a crippling disease or poorly healed injury? Maybe you can imagine. Our sin-wracked bodies can carry troubles for a lifetime: war wounds, diseases, disorders, and disabling conditions can plague us despite modern medicine or promising health remedies. John does not reveal details of the man’s affliction, but it is clear that Jesus already knows and understands:

When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, Do you want to be made well?”–John 5:6

Wait, what? “Do you want to be made well?!?” What kind of question is THAT to ask a lame man? Can you imagine going into a cancer ward and asking a patient if she wants to be cancer-free? Would you kick a crutch away from a man with a broken leg to watch him hop? Why would Jesus ask such a callous-sounding question? Of course the man wants to be healed.

Or does he?

Like with the woman at the well, Jesus sees the man’s heart–the timeline of a life laid out in an instant before Him–for he is the Son of God, present at creation and the giver of life.

What Jesus sees does not impress Him. The man responds with excuses:

The sick man answered Him, Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” –John 5:7

The man is beaten down by his condition, by the crowds, and by life. He has accepted defeat–but there may be more going on here as well. 

Perhaps Jesus’s question reveals something about the degree of the man’s acceptance of his situation. He doubtless receives alms and attention. Mothers point him out to their children, “Look at that poor man,” while the rich toss him coins to make themselves feel better.

After thirty-eight years, he has become a fixture at the pool, someone a vender can set his watch by, and it may be likely that he has fellow invalids who have become his companions, much the way a homeless camp will become a society in and of itself. 

At worst, the man is a grifter who works the system; at best, he is awash in self-pity and his pain has become his identity. The crippled man had long ago given up on happiness. What woman will want a crippled man? I will never have children or descendants to carry my name. Who will be friends with me if Im always asking for help? I will never have money.

He has become a man of excuses. 

Jesus hears the excuses; He knows the defeat in this man’s heart but heals him anyway:

Jesus said to him, Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. –John 5:8-9

Jesus did not wait for the man to have a positive attitude, to “believe in himself”, or even to ask Him for healing. Jesus just did it. This healing was a gift and a  blessing, rain in the man’s desert and light in the darkness. 

However, we soon see that though Jesus healed the man’s physical condition, He did not immediately cure his spiritual condition. 

14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”

15 The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.–John 5:14-15

The crippled man had felt the power of healing in his life but he still did not know the Healer. 

You can almost sense some bitterness in John while recounting this scene to you. Jesus would not have found the man again to pass him a warning if there was not a reason. Perhaps the lame man grew in his faith and went on to serve Christ who had healed him. Perhaps he did not and the pangs of betrayal are still felt by the apostle as he remembers the violent reaction of Jesus’s merciful, miraculous act being lost in the legalistic accusations of a Sabbath violation.

The lame man may or may not have missed the point–but it is certain that the Jews saw and understood. Jesus’s act and His words proclaim Himself to be the God of the Sabbath and the Pharisees gleefully pounce upon it.

But that is another story.

Like the lame man, we love our excuses, do we not? We see God at work in our lives but still cling to our bitterness and live by the excuses we believe.

Do you want to be healed?
Do you want to be saved?
Do you want to be saved from the power of sin? 
Do you want to be saved from the grip of addiction? 
Do you want to be saved from self-pity? 
Do you want to be saved from hurting others?  

What excuses do you cling to?
You look at other women because your wife has made your marriage bed cold.
You flirt with men online because your husband has lost interest in you. 
You take things that do not belong to you because others rub success in your face.
You overeat because your job is stressful and you need the comfort that food offers.
You have been hurt by someone. How long will you carry a grudge? Years, decades, generations? 

Sometimes we can make our excuses become such a part of our lives that we can assume the identity within our hearts. Some excuses can trigger actual physiological changes in our minds that drive our desire to pursue them and make it harder to resist: alcohol, food, sex, and even praise from others can be a drug we cannot easily give up.

Do you see what Jesus may have seen in the heart of the lame man? Are you willing to give up the sin that is most dear to you?

American Pastor William Hughes states it well: “Some people want the water of life the Christians are drinking up, but they don’t want to give up what is making them thirsty."

In the Gentle Healer, you find your only cure. You must desire to be healed and not to just experience the healing. You must have faith in the person of Christ, not just in His power. Seek more than just the experience–seek the Man.

This begins with truth. Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to be healed?” The truth was that maybe the man did not. Jesus asks you, “Do you wish to be healed?” Do you? 

The lame man had a lot of excuses. What is your excuse? 


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.