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April 28, 2013 - John 5.1-15

“Do You Want to Be Healed?”

John 5:1-15

April 28, 2013

 

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4For an angel went down to the pool, and troubled the water: whoever then stepped in first was made whole of whatever disease he had. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, pick up your mat and walk.”9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.10So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”11But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’”12They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”13Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there.14Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

 

 “While it is true that the Gospel comforts the afflicted, is it not also true that the Gospel afflicts the comfortable?”[1]  Oh, we know that for people who are hurting, Jesus comes and gives them the peace that passes all understanding, but what about those of us who like things just like they are?  What about those of us who are comfortable?

 

We often put God in a box.  We assume God will act a certain way.  We figure that God is somewhat predictable.  Now you would think that if Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, for an important celebration like he was doing, that he would probably head straight to the Temple.  After all, that is where all the important people were.  It IS God’s house after all.  But where does he go?  Church?  Town Hall?  No, Jesus goes to the sick. He goes to this place in Bethesda, where the sickest people have gathered under these porticos and they wait to be healed.

 

They gathered there because, well, it tells you in verse four.  Apparently, there was an angel of the Lord that would come and make a little splash, and the first one into the water after the angel made the splash would be healed!  So, every sick person from within walking distance had come to the pool and set up camp.  Wow.  Can you imagine the smell?  Imagine the stench of a hospital, with no nurses or custodians, no air conditioning and no indoor plumbing, and then you have an idea of this place.

 

What would Jesus do if he came to Bismarck/Mandan for a festival?  Would he go to this Church?  Or the City Hall?  State Capital? Or would he go to a tavern somewhere?  Or the ER, or the Nursing Home?  He would go were people need him - hope for healing - bits of Grace.

 

Can you see Jesus, entering into this place?  Looking around, and then finding this guy?  SO what does Jesus do with this man lame for 38 years, and Jesus says to him, “Do you want to be healed?”  Now, that is a strange question.  The answer ought to be obvious. But remember, this is Jesus.  Let’s give Jesus the benefit of the doubt.  Is it possible that some people don’t want to be healed?  Might it be appropriate to think of this in terms of our spiritual, physical, and psychological conditions?  Does Christ ask of us, “Do you really want to be healed?”  Most of us know what is wrong with us; we know what needs to be done.

 

I have found in my ministry experience that most of my pastoral counseling cases, the problem is already pretty well diagnosed. What people are really after is a less threatening diagnosis; an easy remedy.  Some of us have problems we do nothing about.  We have sick marriages.  We have harmful personal habits.  We exist in dysfunctional families.  We have unhealthy relationships with people at work or at church.  Yet we do nothing about any of it.  We often won’t even face the problem, let alone fix it.  We cling to the security of the known - even if it is sick.

 

There are reasons we don’t turn loose of our illnesses.  Look at the man at the pool.  His illness had become his life.  Sickness can become a way of life.  People manipulate their illnesses.  Parents and children can become so used to the illness in their relationship that they just act out their own dysfunction instead of listening to each other.  Illness can become a hiding place from reality and having a real relationship.  We get so used to our illness that we forget there is another way to live, and that Jesus offers us the grace and love to break free.

 

James Whitmore played a character named Brooks in the movie “Shawshank Redemption.”  Brooks was the Librarian in the prison and loved his job.  He even made lots of friends in prison.  In fact, he had totally adjusted to being IN PRISON.  But then, he gets paroled. He is given freedom from his imprisonment, but is unable to adjust to his freedom, and he takes his own life.   Are there those of us that prefer our own ignorance, the security of our own prison walls, the convenience of unexamined values and unexamined theology to the challenge of change and independent choice?  Do you want to be free?

 

Back to the pool: Did you know that this man actually had as good a way to make a living as possible?  Pilgrims were always coming to the Temple in Jerusalem and the pool at Bethesda was on the way.  A major tenet of the Jewish faith, as well as our own, is to care for the poor and sick.  He was both.  People expected nothing of him.  He just held out his cup or bowl, and people gave him money.  If he were healed, then something entirely different would be expected of him.  He would have to contribute.  His entire life style would be changed.  The same is true for us.  There is always some threat, some change called for on our part when we accept healing.

 

Illness may be something as seemingly petty as self-indulgence.  But self-indulgence can get you killed. I was in the fifth grade when I read the book, Where the Red Fern Grows.   In it a boy and his dogs spend time trapping raccoons.  The way he traps this raccoon is to set up a metal cage with a shiny ball of tin foil inside the cage.  The raccoon reaches in for the ball of tin foil, because the raccoon likes shiny things, but then he can’t get his paw out of the cage because he has the ball of tin foil and now his paw won’t fit through the cage.  All the raccoon has to do is LET GO.  But he won’t.  The problem is that the raccoon places greater value on the shiny object than he does his own freedom.  Some of us place a greater value on our indulgences, weaknesses, habits, and our own immorality than we do the freedom we can have in Christ if we simply make the choice to let go of a certain lifestyle, or a habit, or of a sickness that binds us.  That self-indulgence can get you killed.

 

How many great artists and musicians have we lost because of their self-indulgence in drugs and alcohol?  But it is not just drugs.  Remember Bob Crane from Hogan’s Heroes?  He became addicted to what he thought was a harmless hobby – amateur pornography.  It destroyed his first marriage, his TV career, his second marriage, his film career, and then someone in Scottsdale, Arizona broke into his hotel room and killed him – by beating him to death with his camera tripod.  Self-indulgence CAN be lethal in many ways.

 


 

The problem is, we just love our sin too much.  Remember Hamlet?  King Claudius has murdered Hamlet’s father, his brother, taken his brother’s wife as his own, the Queen, Hamlet’s mother, and then covered it up.  There is one scene in which Claudius is trying to pray in the chapel.  But he cannot pray because he knows that he will not change of his own free will.  He says, “Pray can I not, though inclination be as sharp as will, my stronger guilt defeats my strong intent.”  He knows that he clings to the rewards, the pleasures of his sin, so he cannot be forgiven because he will not repent. How often is that true of us?  Are we unwilling, like the raccoon, and like King Claudius, to let go of those things that trap us?  Are we letting our self-indulgences kill us?  Are we trapped in our own prison and just gotten used to it? Our choices leave us in a state of separation from God, and it is our fault.  Many of us have gotten hold of something shiny, and we are trapped by the choices we have made.

 

The truly ironic thing is that like the man at the pool of Bethesda, the cure for everything that ails us is right next to us, a pool of living water, readily available, and has always been there.

 

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asks the man.  Notice what the man says.  He doesn’t give Jesus a straight answer.  What he gives Jesus is excuses. “I don’t have anyone to put me into the water when it is stirred.” In 38 years, you never made to the water first? Notice that Jesus does not take time to be sympathetic to the man, he just puts it in front of him.  “Get up.  Pick up your mat.  And walk.”  Healing is right here, right now, God sent Jesus for this.  If you want to be healed, then get up now.  Nothing is different today in this regard.  Jesus offers us healing now.

 

Please understand something.  I am not speaking of illnesses that we have no control over.  Cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and other illnesses do not afflict us because of sin.  And I am not saying that people who live with those illnesses choose to stay that way.  In fact, I am saying just the opposite.  When you see a person who has an illness, which they have no control over, and yet you see them living their lives and not letting the illness get the best of them, you see a person living as a healed person already.  Even though they may not be free of their illness until they get to heaven, they are living like they aren’t sick at all.  That is living like a healed person.

 

But there are many things which we do have control over.  Sometimes, it is so easy to get bogged down in the search for excuses that we don’t any energy left to solve our problems.  Christ calls for action.  When we are set free from sin, we are set free to a responsibility to act upon the Holy Spirit within us.

 

God wants to work in us and through us! I often have the same debate over and over again with skeptics and atheists when we talk about the suffering in the world. They ask me, “Why won’t God solve all these problems?”  I always say that God could ask us the same question. Especially when God has given us what we need in order to fix them. Why won’t we when God gave us the ability to do it?

 

Jesus said “Pick up your mat and walk.”  Take some responsibility in your life.  Being free in Christ means being responsible for our lives.  Look at our man - He doesn’t get very far before he gets arrested by the church police.  He has broken a rule.  It’s the Sabbath and he’s carrying his bed.  You can’t do that.  His excuse?  “Um, I was just doing what Jesus told me to do.”   Being healed is risky - especially when you keep your attention focused on Jesus.  That is the challenge for every Christian - to remain focused on our healer and the one who said - “Rise and Walk!”  When you live like someone who has actually been healed, been changed and made new, chances are some people are going to have a problem with you and treat you differently.

 

In Sean O’Casey’s play, Within the Gates, a Priest fathers a daughter in his youth.  He follows her life from afar over the years.  He eventually becomes a Bishop. But his daughter finds herself in real trouble.  The Bishop chooses to intercede.  His sister cautions him. “What will people say?  It will be a scandal.  You will be embarrassed.  It could ruin your reputation!”  The Bishop says, “Why should I care what people think?  I only care about what God thinks of me.  What does it matter what men think of a man if God thinks him to be a saint?”

 

Often, it is our concern for what others think that keeps us from accepting healing.  We simply don’t admit those kinds of things in public.  “I’m respected,” we tell ourselves.  What is best?  Being respected for what others think we are and being imprisoned by our own choices, or being accepted by God as who we really are and being set free?  Being healed means putting aside the concern for what others think and only concerning ourselves with what God thinks.

 

We have to admit that we need to be healed if we want to live as a healed person.  The last thing we can do is allow the concerns of others to keep us from stepping up.  If we live in denial about it, then we will never be able to walk.  Some of us have trouble admitting that we are lame, even though we spend our lives on the mat!  What remains hidden can never be healed.  If you want to be healed, you have to admit that you are sick.  And it’s O.K. to admit you are sick.  In fact, if you don’t admit it, it will kill you.

 

Jesus encounters the man at the Temple.  He challenges him by saying “Sin no more.”  Kyle Matthew’s is a Christian songwriter.  He wrote a great song called, “Been Through the Water.”

 

Preacher pulled the boy up from the water, Alleluias arose from bank

There was a loose suit of clothes from his father and a prayer of thanks

The boy walked barefoot all the way home for dinner,

when they laughed at his muddy feet, He said,

“I’ve been through the water, and I come out clean, I got new clothes to cover me,

and you don’t wear your old shoes on your brand new feet.

When you’ve been through the water; been through the water.[2]

 

You don’t wear your old shoes on your brand new feet.  When you have been healed, you don’t live like a sick person.  Christian behavior is not a payment to God but health for those who have been healed.  It is a benefit for the believer.

 

Jesus asks us the same question.  “Do you want to be healed?”  Do you? Are you worried about your marriage?  Well, have you talked to a counselor or your pastor about counseling?  Do you have issues with your children or parents?  Well, have you tried listening and loving more than just talking? Do you have problems with other Church members?  Or former church members?  Are there issues with your neighbors or coworkers?  Have you done what you can to love them and listen to them? Are you willing to let go of your desire for revenge and to forgive? Do you have certain secrets, bad habits, addictions? Have you been to AA, or NA or some other 12 step organization.  If you have a secret, you have to tell someone – only then will you be set free.

 

How many of us are like that man at the pool, living all that time with a sickness, when a pool of living water is right there with us.  Jesus is always right here with us, with his grace and love and healing hands.  Turn loose of the shiny stuff in the trap!  Respond to God.  Respond now.  Do you want to be healed?  Get up.  Pick up your mat.  And walk!

 

[1] Raymond Bailey, Do You Want to Be Healed? From Best Sermons 3, San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1990, p. 3.

[2] Matthews, Kyle; Been Through the Water, from the album See for Yourself.