Sermon notes 07-25-21 “Do You Want to be Healed?”
John 5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The 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 going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
“Do You Want to be Healed?” That is the question Jesus asks in this story of a man who had been an invalid for 38 long years. I hope none of you would say this man’s experience is like your experience, and that you know what it is to live as an invalid for decades. But whether you can relate to this man’s experience or not, I think Jesus’ question to the man, “Do You Want to be Healed?” is a question for each of us as well, and it is about much more than being made well physically. It is clear from this story that Jesus has greater interests and concerns for our lives than that we experience physical healing. So the question I want us to reflect on this morning is, what would it mean for us to experience the kind of healing from Jesus we need in life? What would it mean for you, for me, to allow Jesus to truly and fully heal us?
The story begins by describing a location in Jerusalem, a public pool, where a multitude of invalids were gathered. The man we meet in the story was only one of many who had come there, or had been brought there, because of a belief that healing could take place there. Supposedly, so it was thought, an angel would occasionally disturb the waters, and when that happened, the first person to go into the pool would be healed of whatever ailment that person had.
It is really a pathetic scene to imagine, all these poor people, blind, lame and paralyzed, desperate for healing, camped all around the edge of the pool, watching the water for any sign of movement, and when they or their caretakers thought they saw the water being disturbed, competing with everyone else to get in first.
John, the Gospel writer doesn’t tell us why Jesus singles out this one man among the multitude of invalids around that pool. Perhaps it was because the man had been there beside that pool longer than anyone else. John tells us the man had been an invalid for 38 years. He doesn’t say that the man had been lying there by that pool for 38 years, but he does tell us that Jesus knew the man had been there a long time. We don’t know how Jesus knew this; it seems that it was divinely perceived.
Even in our day and age, 38 years would be a long time to be an invalid, but 38 years in biblical times was a lifetime; it was longer than most people lived. In the time of Christ, long before the advent of modern medicine and technology, the average life expectancy was around 30 to 35 years. So this man’s experience might be the equivalent in our day of being an invalid for closer to 88 years. It was a lifetime.
Jesus notices the man and asks him what seems to be a strange, or even absurd question: “Do you want to be healed?” We can imagine, if the man had had a sarcastic side, he might have responded by saying, “No, I’ve just been lying here by this pool all this time working on my suntan.” But the man does not respond that way; he doesn’t even directly answer Jesus’ question, but instead he gives his sad explanation for why he has not been healed. ‘No one will help me.’ ‘Someone else always gets there first.’
It seems that the man’s explanation is irrelevant to Jesus. Jesus seemingly ignores the man’s reasons for not being healed. He doesn’t comment on whether there is any legitimacy to the belief that an angel stirred up the water. Jesus doesn’t offer to help the man get into the pool; he simply says to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” The man obeys the words of Jesus, and takes up his mat and walks.
The story could have ended there, but it doesn’t. We might think that this man, who had already lived beyond the average life expectancy of people in that time, couldn’t expect any more than to be physically healed at the end of his life. Even with the physical healing he received, the man’s life must surely be very near the end.
But Jesus isn’t done with him yet. Sometime afterward, John informs us, Jesus finds the man in the temple and says to him, ‘Stop sinning, in order that nothing worse happens to you.’ Yikes!
What did Jesus mean by saying ‘stop sinning before something worse happens to you?’ John doesn’t identify what this man’s sin is, nor do we know exactly what the “something worse” is that Jesus is referring to, but it certainly sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Jesus teaches elsewhere in the Gospels that physical ailments are not necessarily punishment for sin. But his words here teach that there is something worse than a lifetime of physical ailments, namely, the consequences of sin.
Many Christians like to think that Jesus, in his love for us, overlooks our sin. This story teaches otherwise. Whatever we might think about Jesus and who he is to us, it would be a grave mistake for us to think that Jesus is indifferent in regard to our sins. Jesus warned this man that his physical healing would be of no value or benefit to him if he persisted in his sin, whatever it was.
I said earlier that I wanted us to reflect on the question, what would it mean for us to experience the kind of healing from Jesus we need in life? What would it mean for you, for me, to allow Jesus to truly and fully heal us? Jesus asks, “Do you want to be healed?” The biblical word translated as “healed” also means to be made whole or sound. I think we all know that we don’t have to be an invalid outwardly to be less than whole or sound inwardly. By all outward appearances we can be physically well, while inwardly, that is, spiritually or emotionally, we might be far from whole or sound. There are many who appear to have it all together on the outside, while on the inside their lives are empty and meaningless.
Jesus makes the claim elsewhere in John’s Gospel that he came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. The question is, do you want to be made well and whole, to have the abundant life Jesus wants you to have? You know, sometimes we can just go through the motions in life, merely existing rather than really living. Maybe we don’t even realize how unsound, how less than whole we are, or maybe we realize it but we have settled for less than the abundant life Christ wants us to have. I wonder how many people live their entire lives that way? Far too many, I’m afraid.
Brothers and sisters, the healing and wholeness Christ offers to all of us goes far beyond meeting our physical needs. He came to offer us a new life, a new way of living. That is the gospel. But we cannot receive the fullness of that healing and the abundance of life Jesus wants us to have, unless we turn from our old ways, from our willful participation with sin.
Friends, if we really want to be made well and whole, and have the abundant life Jesus wants us to have, then we must cooperate with Jesus by obeying his words. Jesus said to the man, “Get up … and walk.” He invites you and me this morning to do the same. His words to each of us are, “Get up … walk away from your sins … and follow me. And I will show you what it means to really live.”
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.