Text: John 5:1-15 Theme: With the disabled man Jesus shows grace which seeks and heals.
The man was disabled. We don’t know his exact disability. He may have been paralyzed or lame or withered by some disease. We do know that his disability wasn’t anything new. He had it for 38 years.
The man lay by the pool of Bethesda. Back in 1888 archeologists uncovered the pool. The pool was near the Sheep Gate, which was about 200 yards north of the temple. This was probably the gate used to bring sheep to serve as sacrifices in the temple.
In Jesus’ day, a great number of disabled people gathered by the pool of Bethesda. There were two reasons why they hung out there. First, the pool was surrounded by five covered colonnades. That covering provided them protection from sun and rain.
Second and more importantly, they hoped to be healed there. Some manuscripts of John’s gospel include another verse: From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had. Today we have Olympic races in the pool. Then they had races to the pool.
One day Jesus came to this pool. Jesus saw him lying there. Here again we see that Jesus notices people. Jesus takes an interest in people. He inquired about the man. Jesus learned that he had been in this condition a long time.
Then Jesus posed a question: Do you want to get well? Do you want to get well? Now, that question might appear silly, because the answer seems so obvious. The man has a serious disability. Of course he wants to get well!
But sometimes a disability can be like a vine intertwining with a fence. Over time a disability becomes part of one’s identity. It shapes activities and lifestyle. A disability may even attract attention and special sympathy. Is that why the man never gets in the pool first? So, rather than presume, Jesus probes: he asks if healing is what the man truly wants.
The disabled man proves eager to explain his situation; he’s eager to tell his story. Sir, 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. I have no one to help me. Here is a cry from the heart. In these few words are wrapped a lifetime of loneliness + disappointed hopes + misery.
For a long time this man has been disabled. For a long time he’s had no one to help him- no wife, no family, no friends. No one. For a long time he’s laid by the pool and it’s hope of healing, but never quite makes it. For a long time he’s finished runner up in every race to the pool. He feels like a loser.
Here is a picture of loneliness + despair. The disabled man isn’t the only one to feel that. There are lonely children: parents preoccupied or divorced; lonely; without a close friend. There are lonely adults: living far from family; neighbors busy with their own lives; no friend to have a heart to heart talk with; going to a bar for desperate friendship. There are lonely seniors: many friends have died; unable to get out much; long days to fill.
One growing alarm in our society is the high rate of suicides among teenagers. In recent years suicide has become one of the leading causes of teen death. Suicide is the ultimate sign of emotional loneliness and despair.
Despair over a lousy home situation. Despair over how you look. Despair over not having many friends. Despair over not feeling understood or liked. When the man cried: I have no one to help me, he speaks for millions of people.
But here’s good news: Jesus is a friend to the lonely. He is the one who can help. Jesus said to the man: Get up! Pick up your mat and walk. At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
John says nothing about the man’s reaction. But you can imagine his astonishment + joy! After 38 years of dealing with his disability, he could walk!
In our generation there has been a growing sensitivity to people with disabilities. Joni Earickson was a teen when a diving accident left her a quadriplegic. She became a great advocate for people, like her, with disabilities. The CRC has been a pioneer in establishing an office of Disability Concerns. Churches have been urged to make their space receptive to those with disabilities.
All of this flows from the ministry of Jesus. The disabled man had no one to help him. Then Jesus came and helped him. Do you have some limitation- a disability of any kind? Here is a sparkling reminder: Jesus is able and willing to help.
Now, if John’s account ended there, there would be plenty to ponder- plenty to marvel at. But it turns out there’s an Act II. Vs 9: The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, so the Jews said to the man: It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.
Wow! Talk about being a killjoy. After 38 years this man could walk! But all they could think about was a Sabbath technicality. This is the epitome of legalism. Legalism: an excessive concern for the letter of the law while neglecting the purpose of the law: to love our neighbor and promote their wellbeing.
Take this example: speed limits are set to protect and save life. It’s not good to have people driving through neighborhoods at 50 miles per hour. It’s dangerous.
But suppose at midnight, with little warning, a woman is about to give birth. Her husband is hustling her to the hospital and hits 45 mph in their neighborhood. A police officer pulls them over for speeding. The husband explains the emergency. For the mother and baby’s well-being they must get to the hospital as soon as possible!
But the officer pays no attention. They have exceeded the limit. It’s against the law. They will wait while he writes out a ticket. That’s legalism: an excessive concern for the letter of the law, while neglecting the purpose of the law: to promote our well-being.
Now think about the sabbath. God designed the sabbath to promote our well-being. God didn’t intend us to become mere beasts of burden. The sabbath limits endless work that might snuff out time with God, time for rest, time for play, time to be fully human. Healing the disabled man fit the spirit of the Sabbath- restoring his well-being.
But the Jews showed no interest in the man’s healing. They were too hung up on the law. It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat. That’s so sad!
I hope we will take a lesson from this. Let’s respect the law. But let’s always remember its true purpose-to protect + promote the well-being of people. Let’s avoid legalism: as parents, as teachers, as a church community.
Now, when the Jews rebuked the healed man, he pleads innocent. He passes the buck. The man who made me well said to me: Pick up your mat and walk. So now the Jews want to track down the man who would ignore the Sabbath law. Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up + walk? Their legalism is almost comical!
And now this key detail: The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd. The man had no idea who it was. Notice the contrast between the encounter with the royal official and the disabled man. The official knew who Jesus was; the disabled man didn’t. The official came to Jesus; Jesus came to the disabled man. The official asked Jesus to heal his son; the disabled man made no request for healing.
Here we see God’s grace isn’t limited by our knowledge or our initiative or our faith. The man didn’t know it was Jesus; he didn’t come to Jesus; he didn’t ask for help. Yet in his goodness and mercy, Jesus healed him.
Faith is a channel through which God’s power and grace flows to us. No question. Faith is like a big irrigation ditch through which God’s living water flows to us. But the point here is: God’s grace isn’t limited to our faith!
That’s a great relief, isn’t it? I think of times in my life when I’ve been discouraged. I think of times when I’ve gone through some rejection or failure or disappointment. In moments like that it can be hard to trust God for what lies ahead.
Can you relate? Just when we need God’s help the most, our faith may be at its lowest ebb. If God’s grace solely depended on our faith, we’d be in bad shape. What a comfort that God’s grace isn’t limited by our puny faith!
We find this same dynamic at work in our salvation. Romans 5 says: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It’s not faith first, then God helps us. It’s God’s saving help first; then faith follows. Praise God that his grace transcends our knowledge and initiative and faith.
Finally our text includes an Act III. Later Jesus found the man at the temple and said: See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you. Here Jesus shows a tender concern not just for him physically, but also spiritually- not just for the body but also for the soul.
Jesus’ point is this: living with a disability is rough. But not nearly as rough as facing the wrath of God at the Judgment Day. Stop sinning. Jesus’ words are valid for you and me: stop sinning. The consequence of sin are worse than any physical disability. Let’s never forget that!
What an encounter with Jesus! It changed the man’s life. He found that Jesus seeks out disabled people. Jesus takes an interest in disabled people. Jesus heals disabled people with a power that isn’t limited to our faith. Jesus is amazing! I hope that you will admire him and believe in him and receive his help- for body + soul.