Near the sheep market in Jerusalem, not far from the Temple, was a large, spring-fed pool named Bethesda. It was the scene of much human misery. Men, women and children who were sick, blind, crippled or had other afflictions gathered on the pool’s five wide porches.
As Jesus came upon this scene of dust, rags and illness, He saw a man lying on a mat, his head and shoulders propped up. A cripple, this man was the picture of hopelessness. Stepping over and around the human obstacles until He was at the man’s side, Jesus leaned down. “Would you like to be healed?” Jesus asked.
The man’s eyes moved to Jesus’ face. ‘It’s no use,” he replied. “Everybody else climbs over me and I never get to the water in time to be healed.” He referred to a belief concerning the pool: Whenever the water became agitated, the first person to step in would be healed (John 5:7).
Jesus commanded the cripple: “Stand up. Take up your bed and walk.”
The man hesitated. Then he reached up to grasp the hand that Jesus extended to him. His deformed limbs straightened and he rose to his feet, astounded to find that he could stand erect. Bending down, he wound his mat into a tight roll and carried it out, stepping over and around the bodies on the crowded porch.
Moving on to the Temple, Jesus joined His disciples in an outer court. They chatted with Zebedee and other relatives who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover and Spring Holy Days.
Jesus noticed that the man He had just healed was in the crowd. Jesus detained him. “Just a moment. Be sure that you stop sinning or you’ll be in a worse condition than you were before I healed you” (v. 4).
“Yes sir,” the man answered. “Will you tell me your name?”
“I am Jesus of Nazareth.”
“Thank you.” He turned away, hurrying back the way he had come. He reported to the Jews the name of the One who had told him to carry his small, rolled bed. Carrying a mat, according to a Jewish tradition, was work on a Sabbath day and the Jews sought out Jesus to confront Him with the infraction.
“Why do you teach this ignorant man that it is permissible to work on the Sabbath?” demanded the group’s leader.
“My Father works and I work,” Jesus replied.
One of the Jews angrily raised a hand. “He not only told this man to carry his bed, He just called God His Father! Do you hear Him? He makes Himself equal with God!”
Overlooking the interruption, Jesus continued: “The Son can do nothing of Himself. He will do what the Father does and the Father will show Him greater works than this to amaze you. Whoever hears my words and believes in Him who sent me is on his way to eternal life.”
Jesus went on to discuss the resurrections and talked about the work of His cousin John, who had been imprisoned by King Herod. Jesus reminded them of Moses’ works and writings, which they had studied but had not obeyed. “I won’t accuse you,” He told them. “There is another who will accuse you – Moses. He wrote of me and you don’t believe him. Neither will you believe me” (vs. 45-47).
During this confrontation with the Jews, the disciples watched and listened with dread, realizing that Jesus was making enemies of men who would take great offense and seek to have Him killed. When He finished speaking, Jesus turned and walked through the crowd. The people made a pathway as he and the disciples left the area.
Later, on a weekly Sabbath day, Jesus and His disciples were walking along a rural road by a field of grain. The disciples wandered leisurely into the field and began to pick off kernels to eat (Matt. 12:1, Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1).
Among the travelers on the road were Pharisees, and one of them thought he saw an opportunity to censure Jesus. “Your disciples are breaking the law,” he said, pointing to them in the field. “They’re picking grain on the Sabbath!”
Jesus turned to the Pharisees. “Surely you’re acquainted with the scriptures that tells us what King David did when he was hungry. He went into the Tabernacle of God and ate the bread offered to God, even though it was intended for the priests’ use.” Turning to the crowd who had stopped to observe, He added: “The Sabbath was made for man’s benefit, not man for the Sabbath. The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28.
On yet another Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples were in a synagogue, and Jesus was teaching the people.
A man with a shrunken right hand sat in a prominent place on an aisle where everyone could see him. Jesus knew that the religious leaders would watch to see if he would heal the man’s hand on the Sabbath. When He had finished His discourse, he motioned to the man. “Come up here, please.”
One of the rulers challenged Him. “Is it right to heal on the Sabbath day” (Matt. 12:10)?
Jesus answered the question with a question. “Tell me, if you had a sheep and it fell into a ditch early on a Sabbath morning, would you wait until sunset to lift it out? Of course not. A human being is much more valuable than a sheep. It’s not wrong to do good on the Sabbath.” Turning to the man with the deformed hand, Jesus said again, “Please come here.”
The man walked to the platform where Jesus sat. Jesus looked round at the people watching and saw hatred in their eyes. A deep silence had fallen over the synagogue. “Straighten your hand out to me,” He said.
The man painfully moved the deformed hand toward Him. The hand took shape. In an instant it was restored and as perfect as his other hand. With a grateful cry, the man fell at Christ’s feet, thanking Him and praising God.
Because of the hostility and resistance He encountered, Jesus withdrew from that area. He had many followers from a distance now – men and women from the Jerusalem area, from across the Jordan River and from Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean Sea. Some came to see the miracles of healing and the casting out of demons. Often the demons cried out, “You are the Son of God!” Jesus stopped them from speaking and ordered them to leave their victims. They obeyed Him and the crowds were profoundly impressed (Mark 3:7-12).
When Jesus and His disciples withdrew to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, a large crowd followed them. Reports of all the miraculous healings caused the throngs to increase to thousands. Jesus instructed His disciples to have a boat ready while He taught the multitudes, lest the crowd should crush Him (v. 9).
After spending a full night in prayer, Jesus selected 12 men to be His closest disciples and apostles. The word apostle means “one sent with authority.” These men would begin to take the Gospel message to the world.
In addition to the four fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James and John) and Matthew (Levi), Jesus asked Bartholomew and Philip to join the work full time. To these He added Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus (Lebbaeus), Simon the Canaanite and Judas Iscariot (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16).
The disciples were being trained for a work vastly different from what they imagined it to be. They expected Jesus the Christ to establish a political world empire in their time.
Peter was a natural leader, but the others did not concede that he had any authority over them, and they had frequent arguments about who was the greatest. Gradually a special relationship developed between Jesus and Peter, James and John as Jesus took them into His closet confidence.
These were the 12 men who would begin to prepare the way for the Kingdom of God to come to earth.
Be watching as we continue the series, Stories from the New Testament.