Jerry Bunte gave a really great sermon at Twenty4/7 last night, and the text he used was from John 5, verses 1 through 15. I woke up thinking about it this morning. I feel really lucky to be part of a church that always preaches the whole Word, and really gets people thinking, and praying. This morning, I turned directly to John when I woke up, and began my reading with that passage. My NIV translation refers to the passage as “The Healing at the Pool.” One of the earlier miracles of Jesus, and in my opinion, it was right after this when the Pharisees and chief priests of the temple really began to see Jesus as an active threat to their way of life.
“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
The story goes that every once in a while, an angel would stir the waters of this pool, near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. If you were fortunate enough to be the first person in the water after it was stirred, you would be healed. John does not specifically mention other instances of healing, but considering how many people would hang out around the pool waiting for the water to stir—having no idea when that might be—suggests it had to have happened at least a few times.
On the other hand, the word also could have spread through a sort of middle-eastern grapevine, and not actually ever have happened. Maybe it was some sort of mineral spring, and the stirring of the water was brought about through some sort of underground venting of air, or water of a different temperature that would cause the water to be disturbed. In any case, John only relates the point of view of the invalid.
I just love how Jesus asks him “Do you want to get well?”
The invalid doesn’t know who Jesus is at this point, and as far as John relates, Jesus does not identify himself–he probably just stepped carefully over and around the other sick and injured people and made his way this particular man. Think about what that must have been like for a minute. Here is a pool, surrounded by men, women and children in varying stages of illness, and probably dying in many cases. There would have been a lot of people, on a lot of mats. There would have probably been moaning, and crying. Praying, too—probably lots of that.
And all these sick, diseased, and dying people waiting for something to maybe happen. Waiting for just a chance to be healed.
I would imagine no one—no healthy person—would want to be anywhere near this place. It had to have been something like a leper colony (and I would hazard a guess there would have been a few lepers waiting to jump in the pool as well). Yet here comes Jesus, walking right into this place of sickness, right to this particular man. And asking him if he wants to get well.
I think that we can be so much like the invalid. We lie on our mats and wait for the water to be stirred. We wait for the possibility of a miracle, which we know we have a pretty good chance of never experiencing.
We wait for the miracle to come to us, instead of actively seeking it.
Of course I can only speak for myself, but in thinking about it, of course I’ve done that. I’ve certainly felt like an invalid for a large portion of my life—at least, a spiritual invalid of sorts. I’ve sat back and watched as things happened in other people’s lives and wondered why they hadn’t happened in mine. Wondered why every time things got stirred up, I was always the last one into the water.
I guess the question is: Did I want to be well?
The answer is that sometimes I didn’t. I was comfortable in my sickness, because I knew it, and knew what to expect of it. I knew all too well what life was like as an invalid, and was truthfully not that interested in the alternative. What would happen if the water was stirred and I got into the pool? How would my life change? What would healing feel like? What would be required of me after I was healed? And how would I stir the water? Somehow I always knew it was wrong to simply sit there and wait for it to happen. Yet that is what I did.
People say that God helps those who help themselves. I’m not really even sure how true that is, but I think it’s true that Jesus wants us to be active participants in our own healings. He will not arbitrarily step in and just go “Bam!,” like Emeril, scattering Holy essence over us as we simmer. And while he will kick things up a notch, he won’t do it unless we ask him to.
I think of the healing I began to experience once I answered that question from Jesus and was able to get off my mat and walk. It’s extraordinary, and not something I ever expected. I thought I’d be paralyzed for the rest of my life—paralyzed by fear, and complacency, and unforgiveness.
Paralyzed by addiction.
But when I took His hand and let Him help me off my mat, I was able to begin the process of healing (and make no mistake, it is a process, though I believe healing can and does happen instantly). I didn’t just skip off my mat like the paralytic in John 5.
I took a step.
Then another step. And another. I began to depend more on Jesus than on my mat. I was able to forgive the people in my life that I had nothing but bitterness for prior to Jesus. I didn’t fear death anymore, and I didn’t fear life, either. Complacency was no longer my crutch. And though I am not always as well as I’d like to be, when I am not, I usually only have myself to blame.
I think one of the greatest gifts we receive from Jesus is the opportunity to choose Him over ourselves, to “lean not on our own understanding,” as Proverbs says. And he desperately wants us to lean on His. So odd that it’s difficult to realize this, even as a person of faith. So every time I wonder if that’s true, I try and think about Calvary.
Who would do that for anyone? I wouldn’t. And whose water would I stir? The truth of that is I’m too concerned with watching the damn pool for myself. I suppose the question of the day is how do I get around that?
But even more than that; what will I do with the healing I received? Will I simply be grateful, and hold onto the truth of it for myself? Or will I act as the paralytic did in the last verse?
The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
To me, that’s the key to the whole passage. After he was healed, he told people it was Jesus who had made him well.
My old pastor in San Diego said something once along the lines of “Everyone has a story, a story about their experience with Jesus. And even if it does not seem like as dramatic an experience as some, there’s another person out there who is waiting to hear it.”
Someone is waiting to hear my story—and your story. They need to hear it. They need to hear who made you well, so they can seek the same healing for themselves. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve been paralyzed for 38 years, or addicted, or abused, or if you’ve stolen, or lied, or cheated. These are all things that have kept us from stepping off our mats, and I suppose in a sense have paralyzed us.
Here’s my question to you, and it’s the same as Jesus to the paralytic:
Do you want to be well?
Jesus rewards perseverance. You find that everywhere in the bible.
So, comfortable as we might be on our mats, waiting for waters to stir, we can’t spend the rest of our lives there–I don’t want to. I’ve already been doing that for most of my life.
So do I want to get well?
How about you?
Here’s a Youtube video of a really great song that pretty well spells it out: