It’s an interesting phenomenon when you stop to think about it. You would think that those who are most vulnerable would draw the biggest crowds and yet most people shy away from visiting hospitals where the sick and dying are in the majority and not the minority. It’s uncomfortable for many to see such large numbers of suffering people. The discomfort rises exponentially for many people when they walk through the doors of Children’s Hospital and see the youngest among us suffering from every ailment known to humanity. Tiny cancer patients, little ones in wheelchairs, teens with failing hearts, toddlers hooked up to life support systems, and brain damaged drug babies rip at our hearts and make many “healthy” people want to rush back to their lives full of work, family, school, little league sports, and worrying about things not quite so unnerving.
I have found that as difficult as it is for many of us to visit hospitals where the sick and dying go to try to find help and healing; it is even more uncomfortable for us to spend time in a psychiatric unit. During the fifteen years that my mother’s health was declining she battled mental as well as physical challenges. During that fifteen year journey there were several stays in psychiatric hospitals. I can remember the times that I went to visit her with my family. There are strict visiting hours at psychiatric hospitals. Families gather in a big room with other families, each huddled up around the one they love who is suffering in a way that isn’t nearly as visible as most of those at the local hospital.
My mom would introduce us to her new friends and then once they left she would tell us their stories. Sad stories. Heartbreaking, gut-wrenching stories. You could see the effects of years of dealing with mental and emotional illness etched into the countenances of the caregivers. Hopelessness is always knocking at the door when a new “med” doesn’t “work” or when another manic episode drains the life out of those who want nothing more than for their loved one to get well. Even during periods of peace there’s always that thought, lingering in the back of your mind, “when will the storm return?”
As we leave hospitals or psychiatric units our thoughts tend to gravitate in one of two directions: First, along with caring for those who are suffering, many people leave the hospital thinking to themselves, “Boy, I’m sure glad I’m not in that situation!” as they let out a sigh of relief. For other people there is a second train of thought as we think about the possibilities for our own lives. We wonder if a hospital bed is in our future? If cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, or mental illness might be lurking around the corner for our own life…and that thought terrifies us.
The truth of the matter is that we are all sick, we are all frail, and we are all needy, needy people. It’s just that the needs of some are much more visible and recognizable than the needs of others. Before we take a look at our lesson for this morning, found in John 5, let me illustrate what I’ve been talking about. Turn with me to Revelation 3:14-19.
In John’s book of Revelation we find Jesus addressing seven churches. One of those churches was the church in Laodicea. The people in Laodicea believed one thing about themselves and yet we find Jesus’ diagnosis of their condition far different than what they believed about themselves. Read along with me.
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. (Revelation 3:14-19 NIV)
The people took inventory, they did a personal check-up if you will, and they passed with flying colors! They said, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” They didn’t make an appointment with Jesus, they didn’t need a doctor, and yet the Master Physician gave them His diagnosis of their condition. Jesus said, “But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and heart rate all checked out. They didn’t have any tumors, abscesses, polyps, or cysts. They had more money than they knew what to do with. They didn’t need a thing! Oh, how deceived they were.
We are not unlike those folks in Laodicea are we? As long as we’re not in the condition of those poor souls that we’ve visited in the hospital and our bills are paid, then we’re good. As long as we don’t battle the darkness of depression, hear voices beating us down and deceiving us, and avoid a mental breakdown—we’re good. Oh how deceived we are.
As we open our study of John 5 we find Jesus arriving in Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Just last week, at the end of John 4, Jesus was in Cana, 66 miles north of Jerusalem. We don’t have any idea how much time had passed between the healing of the royal official’s son and Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. We don’t know when He left Cana, how long it took Him to get to Jerusalem, or what He did along the way. All John tells us, in the opening verse of chapter 5 is, “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.” (John 5:1 NIV) While He was in Jerusalem, Jesus made His way to a man who had been visiting the Pool of Bethesda, looking for a miracle, for 38 years. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and see what we can learn.
1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 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. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 4 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 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?” 7 “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.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” (John 5:1-10 NIV)
I have to share a side note with you. This is important for you and me to know because there are so many skeptics of the Bible. People who have never really taken the time to study God’s Word, as well as the history behind it, make the Bible out to be like Aesop’s Fables or Grimm’s Fairy Tales. For skeptics, the Bible is made up of myths, legends, and magic. They’ll admit that there are some good stories in the Bible, but they’re not really relevant for our day and certainly not authoritative in any sense of the word.
For many years skeptics used the story we are taking a look at this morning as one of their examples of how the Bible is full of myths. They said that the Pool of Bethesda didn’t exist. The story is never mentioned in any of the other Gospels. It could possibly be the “Upper Pool” referred to Isaiah and 2 Kings, but that’s not certain. This led to the conclusion that the author of John’s Gospel couldn’t have been John. For the skeptics, this placed the entire Gospel in doubt.
In the nineteenth century archaeologist excavated a pool which was believed to be a mikveh, or purification bath. John wrote that the pool had “five porches.” John’s description made it sound like the pool was shaped like a pentagon and there had never been any pentagon shaped pools in Jerusalem. Evidence that the Gospel can’t be trusted, right? Hold on a minute. Archaeologists digging in and around Jerusalem found a pool, about 50-75 feet below the present level of Jerusalem. The pool is surrounded by four covered colonnades with a fifth covered wall going down the center of the two pools. The last time I went to Israel we visited the pool of Bethesda. So much for the skeptics. Now, let’s get back to our study.
Jesus made His way just north of the temple, outside of the Sheep Gate where the sheep were led in to be sacrificed at the temple, to the pool where the sick gathered. Now, there weren’t just a few sick folks at the pool. John tells us,
3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. (John 5:3 NIV)
The pool was like a modern-day hospital except there weren’t any doctors present to tend to the needs of the sick. They were there because they believed that periodically an angel of the Lord stirred the waters and the first one in would be healed. You don’t read that in your Bible if you read the NIV, RSV, or ESV. They leave all of verse 4 and the last phrase of verse 3 out. The reason they have left this section out is because it’s not in the oldest and most reliable copies we have of the Bible. Let me read the end of verse 3 and all of verse 4 to you from the NAS version so you can see what has been left out.
waiting for the moving of the waters; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted. (John 5:3-4 NAS)
I don’t know if it should be included or not, but I do know that it helps us understand what the man meant when Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The man answered Jesus in verse 7,
7 “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.” (John 5:7 NIV)
The man said, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.” I have no one to help me. Where were his family members? Where were his friends? Somebody had to have helped him to the pool. He hadn’t been at the pool day and night for 38 straight years. Somebody was carrying him from his house to the pool, but evidently they were just dropping him off and going on their way.
I’ve learned a valuable lesson in being with hurting people during the past 25 years. There is no medicine like having somebody who cares for us while we are suffering. One of the greatest ministries you can commit to is caring for those who are hurting. People are suffering. Just this week you’ve gotten word about two people, Lynn Leedy and Mike Mitchell, who had surgery this week. There is hardly a week go by that we are not given the opportunity to reach out and bless those who are suffering from some kind of physical ailment. The ministry you offer in going to see folks while they are in the hospital, praying with them, and taking food to them once they get home is invaluable.
Along with those who have physical ailments, there are countless folks who are involved here at BCC each week who are suffering from all kinds of ailments that we can’t see. There are parents who have lost a child in a tragic accident, there are marriages that are suffering, there are parents who are losing sleep at night because of decisions their kids are making and kids who are losing sleep over decisions their parents are making, there are folks who have lost jobs and are wondering how they are going to pay their bills, there are people who battle the darkness of depression and wonder if life is worth living, there are people trapped in the bondage of addiction who need someone to help them, pray with them, walk with them into the healing arms of Jesus. I pray that nobody ever leaves Britton Christian Church and says, “There’s nobody to help me.”
Along with the man who had suffered for 38 years with no one to help him, I want us to take a moment and really think about Jesus. I want us to get a mental picture of the pool of Bethesda on the day that Jesus walked through the sea of suffering people who sat around the perimeter of the pool. There was a mass of sick people who needed help as the Master Physician walked among them, yet none recognized Him. We don’t read that anyone called out like the blind beggar sitting beside the road to Jericho, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38 NIV) John doesn’t tell us that there was anyone who reached out to touch Him as Jesus made His way through the crowd of those who were suffering. Nobody like the woman by the Sea of Galilee who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years who said, “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.” (Mark 5:28 NIV) Their eyes were darting back and forth between the waters and those who would try to beat them into the pool. The One who was greater than the healing waters was right next to them, but they missed Him. John explained to us how they missed Him when he told us, in verse 3,
3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. (John 5:3 NIV)
You might have missed this when we were reading it earlier. John says they were “disabled.” They were unable to help themselves. Then John goes on to describe some of the ways they were disabled. They were blind, lame, and paralyzed. The Greek word John used, which is translated, “disabled,” is “???????” (astheneo) and it means, “to be weak, feeble, to be without strength, or powerless.” “Disabled” is a general description of the sea of people who had gathered at the pool. Blind, lame, and paralyzed are some of the specific ways that the people had become weakened and powerless.
When you stop to think about it, the primary predicament of humanity is that we are “disabled.” Those who were at the pool of Bethesda didn’t see who was among them, not because they were physically blind, but because they were spiritually blind. Don’t you remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3? Jesus said,
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3 NIV)
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, he was a member of the Jewish ruling council, and yet Jesus said that Nicodemus in his current state was blind to the things of God. And this is our problem as well before Jesus comes to open our blind eyes. It’s impossible for you and me to see what’s truly important in life, to see God’s hand at work, until Jesus opens our blind eyes.
Our problem is the same as those who gathered around the pool of Bethesda so long ago—we are disabled, but our disability is much more severe than being blind, lame, or paralyzed. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Do you remember the Greek word I showed you earlier? The word translated, “disabled?” Well, there’s another instance of that Greek word that is found in Romans 5:6. Turn there with me and let’s read together.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 NIV)
Did you recognize the word? It’s the word, “powerless,” while we were unable to help ourselves. We are born separated from God because of our sin, but what are we to do about it? What can we do to bridge that great divide? We are powerless and not only are we powerless, but we are oblivious to our predicament. The Master Physician walks right through our midst, but we don’t even recognize Him. What are we to do? The glorious truth is that while we were powerless, our natural state of being from birth, Christ died for you and me. He will breathe life into our lifeless souls, He will open our blind eyes, and He will say to us just as He said to the man at the pool—“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!”
What was it that attracted Jesus to the man who had been at the pool for 38 years? Was it because He was a “good” man? No, there’s no indication of that at all. Was it because he was more needy than the rest of the people who were waiting to get into the waters once they were stirred by the angel of the Lord? No evidence of that either. Could it be that Jesus knew the man would be more grateful than any of the others who were at the pool? That the man would devote the rest of his life to serving the Lord? We’ll find out next week that the man didn’t even take the time to ask Jesus His name? You can search high and low and not come up with any reason the man deserved to have the Lord search him out other than grace.
Grace. There’s that word. The unescapable truth of God’s love for the undeserving. The man didn’t seek Jesus out—Jesus sought him out. And isn’t that your story? It’s certainly mine. Isn’t that still the Lord’s way of saving the undeserving today? If it was up to our good works, our future potential, or our expressions of gratitude who among us would be saved? The answer to that question is quite evident isn’t it? The answer is no one. Not even one. I have to remind you of what John has already told us back in John 3:17. Listen to this. Meditate on this truth. Let it wash over you time and time again. John wrote,
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NIV)
So many people today have a distorted understanding of God. When they think of God they think about judgment and wrath, they have a picture in their minds of Someone who is just waiting to get them, but that’s not the description we find in this verse is it? God sent His Son into the world for the disabled, to enable us to live, to enable us to be forgiven, to enable us to be reconciled to the Father and to one another, and to enable us to take up our mats and walk in a brand new way. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114