DO YOU WANT TO GET WELL -John 5:1-18 - August 20, 2023
MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG FROM
BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC.
This morning I want to consider the subject of ‘questions’. Questions of curiosity and questions over things that astound. Questions that provoke and questions that distract.
The nature of the question determines whether we are informed or exposed. For example, a curious questioner asks, ‘How does this work?’ which leads to discovery and a teacher’s reprimand, Johnny, are you listening?, which is sadly often used to expose and humiliate.
This morning I want to look at a question that in some measure is also intended to expose but its purpose isn’t to humiliate or condemn but to transform. It’s a question that calls a man to decide – and is a question that’s asked of all us today, “Do you want to get well?”
The setting for this encounter takes place during one of Israel’s 3 Festivals - the Feast of Passover, the Feast of First Fruits and the Feast of Tabernacles. Which one, we aren’t told
though I’m quite certain this isn’t Passover because the Pharisees would have torn their robes over Jesus doing anything supernatural on that occasion. Doing what He did on the Sabbath was bad enough. I hunch this is the Feast of Tabernacles when ironically, the supposed ‘chief’ of the worshippers featured in this account, celebrated a time when God dwelled among them.
The worshippers came to Jerusalem to look back, commemorating a time when God literally tabernacled among his people – when Israel assembled in tents, all looking in at the Tabernacle, centred in their midst. It was also intended as a look forward - when, once again, God’s Chosen One, Messiah would live among them - their oppressors removed, their enemies defeated.
Looking back, they were to remember what WAS. Looking ahead, they were to think of a TIME TO BE. But looking around, they missed THE ONE PRESENT AMONG THEM - who tabernacled with them in flesh.
In addition to noting when this takes place, John also notes where – the Pool of Bethesda.
Though details are slight, what we’re told suggests this was a large, beautiful place. Structurally impressive - 5 colonnades. And the inscription over the portal, Bethesda - House of Mercy - a place of open arms invitation. On the outside – impressive and on the inside, anything but. Step inside these walls and we are met with overwhelming hopelessness. :3 tells us, “In these lay a multitude of invalids— the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.”
No bantering here. No laughter. No political analysis. No debate. Just ‘get-through-life’ existence. Despair – yes, hope – zilch.
Except on one day of the year when, for some, life would change. Though earliest versions omit :4 which tells of an angel stirring the water, the man’s response: earlycomers7 seems to indicate something supernatural happened for those first entering stirred-up waters - healing. Just stories? Perhaps but I’d guess not. And anybody’s guess why only a few early comers were healed. What isn’t a guess, is that our man in question was never going to get close enough to the front of the line.
And then into that hopelessness, Jesus arrives, asking, “Do you want to get well?”
This question at first could have been heard as absurd - the obvious thing to ask, “Do you really need to ask? What do you think?” Except with Jesus asking, nothing is absurd.
But in His question, the man understood what was asked was far more than legs that couldn’t walk and arms that couldn’t move. With His question, Jesus was speaking of a miracle far greater than revitalized limbs. He was inviting him into faith for the spiritual not faith for the physical; the eternal not the temporal. Jesus invites him to a life without spiritual and emotional paralysis. When physical paralysis first started to creep in, I doubt he contemplated where this would lead - muscles definitely sore, a little stiff but before long, not moving at all. How had something so small, turned into something so great? The small turning into the great - captivity’s chains tightening, just like it does for:
As she runs from one relationship to another, hoping something different will provide what others haven’t. If only she’d known she was running from the life she had made for herself
OR for Him as the chains began to close down with his first experiment with fentanyl. If only he’d known where that curiosity would take him
OR for Them, whose website’s attraction was and continues to be too compelling to pass by. If only they had known that attraction would become an unquenchable desire that would destroy everything they valued, everything they knew to be important
OR for her who made the decision to just go along and do what everyone else was doing. If only she had known, it would plant deep roots of shame that would threaten to never let go.
Heh – but’s that them, not us? No bondage here, denying the chains that so easily wrap around us. Like the chains of offence still carried from when we were wronged a long time ago. That offence is no longer a point-in-time event, but a ‘here and now’, still breathing choice. That choice is killing us as it robs us of joy. The Bible actually goes further than calling it a choice; it calls it a sin. And the chains of our sin, give death-rattle reminders – just another helpless captive
And then there are the chains that deceive with their lies that there’s better somewhere out there. Something more attractive out there. Something that’ll add more lustre out there. Not admitting that the emptiness we want to fill with our ‘out there’s’ is actually closer to home. Not ‘there’ but HERE - in us! But that’s a much harder thing to admit.
That’s where the man went with his first response to Jesus’ question: That the solution to his captivity was just 1 person or 1 circumstance away. He had spent a lifetime blaming circumstances and others for the situation he was in. If only someone would get me there. If only the waters kept being stirred. If only others didn’t get in my way. If they – if he – if she ….
For 38 years he had been telling himself the same thing and then Jesus came and with a question that changed the accusations and the blame, “Do you want to get well?” Right here. Right now. I’m not talking about them, I’m talking about you. In the mess you are in. In the captivity you find yourself. So get honest with yourself - “Do you want to get well?”
We don’t have to be captive 38 years to come face to face with the question Jesus was putting before him, “Do you want a life that is new? Do you want a life that is different?”
If so, “Get up. Pick up your mat and walk” Jn 5:8
Summed up in getting up, was a multitude of declarations, ‘I want to be free.’ ‘I want to experience life.’ ‘I want to come alive.’ ‘I want the chains to fall off’
The man responded because he understood he had no answer for his need. But Jesus did. Truth is, this man despite his condition was actually in a better place than many of us often are – he forced to acknowledge what we often won’t, that in ourselves we have no answer for our need
We don’t know the interlude of time that took place between Jesus’ question and the man’s response but I know that in those crucial moments, he had a decision to make.
He could stay with the familiar of where he was and he could make a case for that. After all, why should today be any different than before? In the familiar, he had the people he knew, the routines he followed, the spaces he occupied; the storage he required - his now useless crutches propped up against a nearby column. Let’s face it, life would always be this way. And even if legs were suddenly given life, his muscles long shriveled up and gone. So, the familiarity of a 3 by 8 mat and his comrades in misery – were his life.
A familiar he was now being asked to let go of. For what? Another hope that would disappoint? The truth is, the familiar was all he had, all that made sense to him. To give that up was risky. Space given up, is space taken by another. And what guarantee was there that anyone would make room for him? People weren’t about to move aside so someone else could be healed instead of them.
And here was Jesus asking him to give away the little he had.
You know, it’s not uncommon for Jesus to come and ask us to do the same. To release our hold on the things we think are important. What He asks seems so risky until we understand that what we hold onto is of such small value compared to what He has for us. But not understanding this, we lie paralyzed holding onto the familiar.
Missing what Jesus tells us, I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly. Jn 10:10 and, From our innermost being will flow rivers of living water. Jn 7:38
Life abundant when we respond to God’s call to, ‘Get up!’ Listen, I don’t know what getting up might mean for you this morning, but I do know God always responds to a humble and seeking heart. Oh, I’m not saying that God will break the chain of every circumstance you are facing. Or that every prison door will swing wide open. Or that every pain and disease will suddenly be swept away.
What I can say is that God acts in ways that are best. That while He may not always stop the storm, He has said that He will give His peace beyond understanding IN our storm. In similar fashion that He will provide the joy of His strength IN our circumstances and that He will provide His power for us to find freedom over those things which have held us captive. God’s provision when we bow to His Lordship.
And in ways God knows are best, doing His miraculous in and through our lives. Could this be a healing from disease or a repaired limb? It could - because God still does the miraculous. But understand, Jesus never intends the miraculous as the end point. The miraculous of bringing people to new life in Jesus is. What He asks of me is to go to Him and pray, in faith believing that God does all things well Mk 7:37. Hebrews tells us, Without faith it is impossible to please God for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him 11:6. That means, I ask - He determines.
Here’s the thing – whatever form the miraculous is to take – the dramatic of an event or the quiet assurance of His presence; the something done in us or the something done through us, it requires that we “GET UP!” and leave our mat and crutches behind. Because there is no miraculous without hearts that are willing to go to Him.
Our response to where the miraculous takes us is critical. For some, the miraculous are accounts of great things once done. For others, they are outlandish fables propping up misguided beliefs. Yet John tells us they were “signs” confirming Jesus' identity as God. In them, Jesus bringing healing to release from captivity. Jesus acting in power to demonstrate His love. Miracles often done to one in order to bring redemption to many. Jesus putting before the Pharisees and in front of us, the challenge, ‘Will you look in the direction they point or will you turn away from what they have to say?’
Sadly, the Pharisees turned away, refusing to look where they pointed. Despite the evidence standing before them, the Pharisees disregarded what they saw. It’s not surprising - they had no answer for what they saw, not without coming to conclusions they didn’t want to come to. So, they looked elsewhere, focusing on rules and things that could be measured and assessed. Things they could control. Things that didn’t require the risk of faith.
And the miracle standing before them didn’t fit with any of those things.
So holding onto their god of control, they attacked. The scene is actually incredibly cruel. Rather than celebrating the amazing, they set out to sentence this man to more years of captivity. They were much like the building in which this lame man lived – manicured and beautiful on the outside and joyless, hopeless, and dried up within.
Their religious characterized by rules - right living, right behaving, right appearing. Their religious pre-occupied with determining how God should act. Disqualifying this man and this miracle because his healing was done on the Sabbath. So what did they expect him to do - pass on the opportunity to be healed after 38 years as a prisoner?
If it were you, would you have given that opportunity a pass? Heh – I’d love that Jesus, but about this Sabbath thing. Any chance we could re-schedule for a better time when the authorities won’t be so bent out of shape. How about a time when others aren’t around? A time when others won’t see and be upset?
But isn’t this what we do when God’s miraculously calls us to step out from where others are? To believe what others won’t. Will it be uncomfortable? – probably. Will it be hard? - Yep. But discipleship was never meant to be comfortable or easy. It has never been a majority movement. Christ said, “If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” Lk 9:23 Which means risk. Which means getting up and stepping out.
Which is what Jesus was asking, “DO YOU WANT TO WALK?”
To walk means leaving the old behind. To walk, means a new you, a new life. To walk means stepping into a life you’ve never had, a life you never thought possible.
DO YOU WANT TO WALK? meaning being led by God who says He goes with you wherever you go. I wonder, how many miracles do you and I miss out on because we are not willing to get up and walk?
Not walking - because we’ve become immobilized by what others may think, what others may say, like what the healed lame man heard, It’s not permissible for you to be carrying your pallet. And the irony of this scene? - these Pharisees were more paralyzed and blind than all those gathered around the Pool of Bethesda while this man who never thought it possible to carry anything was gloriously free. What a picture, he accused of carrying the mat that once carried him. And they wanted him to see that as wrong? Good luck with that!
He’d experienced TRANSFORMATION and all they can see is VIOLATION.
This morning, ‘What are you prepared to see?’ Could this morning be the time Jesus is inviting you to, ‘GET UP!’ so your life can be made new? For some, this morning will be an invitation to take a bold step and respond to the question, Jesus asks, ‘Do you want to get well?’ Most of all not physically but spiritually – getting right with God so you can be different and live different.
As you respond, I give no guarantees about what God might do. I just give you a risen Christ who hears and who loves. Jesus who wants to transform you as He knows best. Could this be a moment of physical healing? Perhaps. I don’t know. What I can tell you is that there no crazy sideshow. No rocking in the aisles or weird manifestations. Just an encounter with Jesus who wants you to walk away with a new life.
One last observation, in :14 it says, After, Jesus found the man in the Temple.
As amazing as the miracle was, this story doesn’t end with multitudes celebrating what Jesus had done. Instead we find one man in the Temple, in a place where he would have gone to praise God. In a place he never imagined he would ever be able to go.
And in that place Jesus met him, revealing Himself in a way the man had previously not seen. In that place Jesus taking him beyond the miracle of new legs and new arms to the far greater miracle of a new life. To a new understanding that without Jesus, he was paralyzed and lost. “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
My question to you this morning is simply this,
‘Do you want to get well?’ Then come!