Explore The Bible: Pick Up Your Mat

1:12 PM


According to an ESPN article, “The media world was stunned Monday night (January 9, 2023) when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field, suffering a cardiac arrest in one of the most terrifying scenes in modern sports history.” This young man's injury drove millions to prayer for recovery. The Explore the Bible Study: Pick Up Your Mat, tells the story of a much different response to a man's need.

There was a man described in John 5 that had experienced a physical tragedy at some point in his life. He was a man who had lost hope, and in whom most had lost hope for recovery from his disability. We don’t know if his disability was caused by a debilitating injury, an illness, or if he had been disabled since birth. No matter the circumstances, this man had been unable to walk for 38 years. 

However, every day he had been taken to a pool called Bethesda, “house of mercy,” that was located on the eastern part of Jerusalem just north of the temple mount. Bethesda consisted of a pool surrounded by four colonnades with a fifth colonnade dissecting the pool. The pool had developed a reputation as a place noted for healing. The waters of the pool frequently bubbled up. The people, for whatever reason, superstitiously believed the stirring of the waters was an angel and the first person to enter the pool would be healed. Thus, the sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed would gather or would be deposited on the five porches, hoping to be healed.

John 5:1 tells us that, “Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” As intentionally as He went through Samaria to meet the woman at the well, He made a stop at the pool as He entered Jerusalem. John 5:3 describes the situation at the pool: “ Within these lay a large number of the disabled—blind, lame, and paralyzed.”  This man had been waiting his turn, but had never been given an opportunity to enter the pool for 38 years!

John 5:5-16 tells the rest of this man's story.

We must envision the scene John is painting. Even though there were many around the pool Jesus saw this particular man lying there. He went to this specific man who had hoped for healing for 38 years. Jesus asked a curious question to this man, “Do you want to get well?” The obvious answer to this question reveals his greater struggles and needs.

For 38 years this man hoped for healing. He played the blame game by telling Jesus that he depended on the stirring of the water to heal him, but no one would help him get into the water. He even said those who brought him to the pool each day didn’t stay to help him. His theology was confined to the belief that only the first person into the pool could be healed.

But his blame game also exposed the suffering he had experienced. The reality is that he didn’t have much hope. He was just discarded, possibly for days, to beg for food and attempt to get someone to help him into the pool. No one cared, until Jesus approached him.

One must note that Jesus didn’t help him get into the water but offered a different solution. Jesus came to help him see from where healing really comes, and the purpose for healing. Neither did Jesus debate the man’s condition or join in the man’s moaning about his lack of help from others. He simply commanded the man to “Get up.”

Sadly, people today might respond the same way. They fail to seek God’s help with their problems. They offer excuses and depend on other options to fix their infirmities.

What are some actions that might indicate someone is offering excuses or depending on other options to fix their spiritual disabilities? 

With Jesus’ command to “Get up” this man now had to make a choice. Not only did Jesus tell him to get up, but He said, “pick up your mat and walk.” Imagine the severe atrophy this man would have had in his leg muscles after being immobile for 38 years. But now, he gets up, walks, and picks up his mat to leave.

Imagine witnessing this. Imagine watching this man most everyone knew as the man who had been at the pool most days for the past 38 years. Imaging seeing him get up, pick up his mat, and walk through the crowd. Notice the response of the religious leaders.

One would think that those who supposedly represented God would be overjoyed by the healing of a man who had been sick for 38 years. Instead, Sabbath legalism was uppermost in the Jewish leaders’ minds. In essence, their legalism was a direct violation of the Sabbath. This man was not in another city, state, or country. He wasn’t even in another neighborhood across town. He had been under their noses for 38 years; yet they couldn’t rejoice in the fact that he could now walk!

What lessons can we learn from the Jewish leaders' response?

In John 5:14 Jesus found the man again in the temple and told him not to sin anymore. 

If you had been healed after 38 years and someone told you to stop sinning, how would you respond?

The Explore the Bible Leader Commentary provides this explanation: “Jesus warned him that he should not sin anymore. The word "anymore" does not indicate that his disability was the result of sin. While not all sin carries physical consequences, Jesus told him something worse than disability could happen if he didn’t live a life of obedience to God. Too often, people experience God’s grace, only to forget their changed circumstances and return to their old lifestyle. We should remember how God demonstrates His grace in our lives and reflect gratitude for His work going forward.”

Notice what happened after Jesus' instructions to the man in John 5:15-16, “The man went and reported to the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore, the Jews began persecuting Jesus because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.”

Do you think the man was ratting out Jesus to the Jewish leaders?

This man could have avoided the religious leaders, instead he deliberately went to them to tell them it was Jesus who healed him. Although we don’t have any explanation as to why this man did this, he knew they would be angry with Jesus. In essence, He betrayed the man who helped him—the One to whom he owed everything, in order to gain the favor of those who never once demonstrated love to him. The result was escalated persecution of Jesus.

Have you ever extended compassion or invested in helping someone experience spiritual healing, only to see them turn on you? How did it make you feel? What can we learn from Jesus’ experience?

Back to Damar Hamlin

We began by talking about the injury of Damar Hamlin. The response to Damar Hamlin’s need for physical healing was much different than what we just observed in this passage. His injury broke down the barriers in our country in regard to turning to God on behalf of others. People not only prayed but sought to support Damar’s charity work and offered help to the family in multiply ways. Damar was not “ignored at the pool but was being lifted up to God for healing” by those who knew God and those who didn’t. They were all joining together to help this athlete. As the Rev. Carter Conlon, outgoing senior pastor of Times Square Church in New York City, tweeted, “On Monday, ten million people unexpectedly found themselves in a prayer meeting. The focus was on one football player, whose life was in peril. For a moment, we saw a life as God does…of incredible value and worth giving up everything for. That’s what the cross is about. Pray.”

When we see people who, like the man at the pool, are in need of healing do we ignore them, try to get them help, or help them have an encounter with Christ? 

When we someone who we think never has a chance to be spiritually healed by the gospel, suddenly respond to Christ, how should we respond? 

The Explore the Bible QuickSource leaves us with this challenge: “No matter what we’ve been through and no matter what we’ve done in life, Jesus wants to heal us. Jesus does not just love the loveable. He doesn’t just love the rich, good looking, and accomplished people of the world. He loves us all. He wants everyone to come to Him for the spiritual healing that we need. 

Sometimes, He provides physical healing, but the greatest need for each of us is spiritual healing. We all come up short because we all sin (Romans 3:23). Jesus values everyone regardless of our past or present circumstances. We are important to him. What he asks of us is simply this: "Do you want to get well?”

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study, along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. 

Download PDF Version              Download Word Version

LifeWay Explore The Bible Resources

These teaching helps are intended to be used as a supplement to your study of Lifeway's Explore the Bible curriculum resources. Portions of this material are taken directly from content copyrighted to Lifeway Christian Resources Explore the Bible and is used with permission.  This material has not been reviewed by Lifeway Christian Resources. 

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