John 5:1-6 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[a] 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.  [b] 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?”
Here we have a man who cannot walk. He is one of a crowd of people who have various needs. I love that even though there was a whole crowd of people, Jesus spoke individually to the man in our story. That pool of Bethesda, which has been uncovered by archaeologists, was an intermittent spring. At different times water would be released in surges from hidden reservoirs in the hills around the city which would cause the springs to rise and fall suddenly. In my mind, I picture a hot tub or whirlpool. Who doesn’t feel better after getting into one of those?
In ancient times, it was believed that an angel would stir up the waters and healings were reported to occur. My husband, Thom, was healed in a hot tub a year and a half ago. We were coming back from vacation and after having an injured shoulder for nine months, one moment in a hotel hot tub finished the healing that was no doubt started with physical therapy and massage therapy. We were close to having an MRI scheduled, but that evening in the hot tub was the end of that issue. So, rushing or running water does and could have healing properties that aren’t due to superstition or angels, but are due to the power of God behind it all. So, it wasn’t completely crazy for ancient people to seek help from such a spring.
What does seem a smidge crazy is Jesus’ question. Do you want to get well? What kind of question is that? Who asks that question to someone who has been an invalid for 38 years? Isn’t the answer obvious? You would think so. For this morning, on Sanctity of Life or Right to Life Sunday, could we allow this question to be posed to each one of us? Wherever we are compromised in our lives, whether spiritually, emotionally, relationally, financially, or physically do we want to be well? Do we want a different quality of life? Do we want to be elevated in the ways Jesus would desire to elevate us?
If this man would become well, how would that change things for him? He would enjoy having use of his legs, no doubt, but would that mean he would be expected to start working? Would the help and compassion he may have received over the years dry up? Would he be expected not only to care for himself but to also begin to care for others? Perhaps he had been living with friends or family that would now expect him to find his own place. Maybe the idea of life on his own was overwhelming and caused great fear. Maybe a better quality of life would require different ways of behaving that he wasn’t interested in adopting. Maybe being the center of attention in some circles was something he didn’t want to give up. There are all kinds of reasons why people who are compromised in some way don’t want to get well.
I saw a program this week in which a 32-year-old woman, a former good student and a once vibrant dancer and beauty pageant winner, had a major eating disorder along with other psychological challenges. She was totally dependent on her mother financially and for all of the basic things of life. The person who was speaking with her was basically asked her the same question Jesus asked this fella. Do you want help? Do you want to be well? Her way of life, in great part, was a life she had chosen, and it led to a poor quality of life that kept her dependent on her mom. She wasn’t living. She was existing.
I believe Jesus would ask each of us today, “What quality of life are you interested in having?” Jesus promised His followers abundant life in John 10:10. Abundant life is the result of dependence on and obedience to Jesus. The guy Jesus spoke to didn’t answer Jesus’ question. Instead, he blamed other people for his poor quality of life. Here is how verse 7 goes: 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.”
Jesus did something next that showed the man it wasn’t about what other people will or won’t do in your life, but it is about your willingness to do what God asks you to do that will ultimately determine your quality of life.
Verse 8:8 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.
Though he hadn’t answered Jesus’ question out loud, his actions answered the question. He wanted to get well. He was willing to exercise faith in the One who was speaking to Him. The man obeyed Jesus even though the religious laws of the day forbid “doing work” on the Sabbath which meant they forbid him from even carrying a mat. In order for the man to be healed, however, he had to place his faith in the One who told him to pick up his mat and walk. He couldn’t let the fear of others stand in his way of abundant life. Following Jesus will invite criticism from other people, but it is the only way to the elevated life Jesus has promised.
The religious leaders came at him with criticism, to which the man replied in verse 11: “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” I don’t know about you, but I’m going with the One who can change my circumstances and give me what I stand in need of. When He speaks to me, His words are the words I am following.
I wonder why Jesus didn’t just tell him to get up and walk. Why did he tell him to pick up his mat as part of the required actions? Could it be that Jesus didn’t want him leaving his mat by the pool, indicating that he would be back to that spot sometime again? Was there a risk of him leaving his mat as a place holder just in case he needed or wanted to revert or retreat to a previous way of life?
Sometimes we find help from Jesus in a moment in time, but then we leave a place holder in our old way of life in case things don’t work out the way we think they should in the new way of life. We are delivered from an addiction, but instead of going home and getting rid of the drugs and alcohol, we keep some hidden just in case a stress arises, and we need some extra help. We are delivered from a pattern of living, but we continue to hang out with the same people who led us into the pit in the first place. We get help with a pornography problem, but we don’t get any controls put on our computer or phone or don’t make ourselves accountable to anyone who can ask us the tough questions because, well, now that we are delivered, we think we can just handle things ourselves. What we don’t realize is that we are leaving our mat behind just in case we decide to go back there once-in-a-while. It doesn’t work that way.
Pick up the mat. Carry the mat to the trash or the burn pile. Make no provision for an old way of life from which Jesus delivers you! Burn every bridge you walked on that took your life into the pits in the first place. You might need to say “goodbye” to some friendships. You might need to cut up a credit card or five of them! You might need to throw the food out of your pantry. You might even have to change jobs because of someone that works there who has been a temptation for some sexual sin. Let’s just be honest. Sometimes God delivers us from things we choose to return to, to our own detriment.
Abundant life, quality of life isn’t the result of a one-time obedience or encounter with Jesus, but it is the consistent and faithful pursuit of Him that will take you where He wants you to be. Jesus had slipped away from the fellow and later caught up with him at the temple. He wasn’t finished talking to the man about his quality of life. There was more to abundant life than being able to walk. Jesus wanted the man to walk with Him. If Jesus had given him the power to rise and walk, Jesus would surely give him the power to walk with and for Him every day.
Look at verse 14:14 Later Jesus found him at the temple (I’m so thankful Jesus knows where to find us, aren’t you?) and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
He had gone to the temple because people who found healing were required to go to the temple and make a thanksgiving offering. Apparently, he was well-versed in the Jewish Law and felt it important to obey this aspect. Jesus said something interesting and direct. He didn’t tell the man to stop sinning or he would take away his healing. He didn’t threaten to cripple him if he didn’t straighten up, but he helped him understand that sin would cripple his quality of life. Sin would demolish his quality of life. It would create more devastation from which he would need to be rescued. Jesus healed him to help him walk, but in this section of our text, Jesus instructed him to help him soar! Can we hear Jesus asking us not only, “Do you want to get well?” but also, “Do you want to soar?” Soaring and sinning aren’t compatible.
A life of sin isn’t abundant life. You can’t say you are pursuing faith if in fact your real pursuit is sin.
Jesus had previously told the man to start walking, and here he tells him to stop sinning. I could make a case this morning that abundant life is the result of starting what Jesus tells us to start and stopping what Jesus tells us to stop.
Whether it was a sinful life that caused the man to have 38 years of physical challenges or not, Jesus was helping him understand that sin would cripple his life in even worse ways than he had experienced physically. There are worse things than a physical challenge, friends, and they result from sinful living. Every adult in this room knows that physical and emotional illnesses can and do result from addictions and promiscuity. What good would it have been if Jesus had given him physical healing and he went and lived in ways that created even worse physical problems than he had endured before? How well do we want to be? Jesus tells us to stop sinning in order to experience the best quality of life.
This past fall when Rev. Jessica Hall was here to speak on prayer on Wednesday night and then led a Prayer Conference on Thursday, the Holy Spirit spoke to me during the conference. He said, “If you give me your idol, I will give you the desires of your heart.” You’re wondering what my idol could be, right? Sugar. Sweets. Love them. Crave them. Every day at 2:30 there is a demand for sugar. Those of you who can eat one cookie and stop, must have a superpower. I can’t. I am also diabetic. I developed diabetes with both pregnancies and a few years after our son was born, it was just something I had to learn to start managing.
Because I love sugar, my plan was two-fold. Medication and exercise. I would keep it at bay through medication and exercise. I would add two things and take away nothing. I would protect my ability to have my idol. The Lord and I talked the rest of the Fall, and I determined in January I would stop eating sweets altogether. January 2 was going to be the day. You remember it was the day I mentioned the failed attempt at my ooey gooey caramel pecan pretzel bars in my message. I was doing so great without sugar, my very first day, and about 5 pm there was a knock on my door. Flo Miller had googled the recipe and made them for me. I had to take one for the team. Okay, I took two for the team. Boy, were they good! But on Monday, January 3rd, I stopped eating sweets. I haven’t had a cookie, a brownie, a donut, an éclair, good ice cream, a candy bar, or even any peanut m and m’s since. Guess what? I’m still standing. I think I’ve been OK to live with. (Thom’s not here so we can’t ask him.)
“If you give me your idol, I will give you the desires of your heart.” The idol was identified and surrendered. That was my part. God said He would give me the desires of my heart. The only desire I identified and prayed for, honestly, was for people to be saved. It has troubled me that during the pandemic the rate of people coming to Christ has slowed down greatly. There are several people I am praying for to surrender their hearts to the Lord, as I am sure you are as well. Well, last Sunday, the very first Sunday after I surrendered my idol, a young boy, Kyle, came forward. WOW. I verified with his mom, Heather, that he was the one to initiate that move. God gave me the desire of my heart, and I am believing for a record number of salvations in 2022.
Some of you know that I have had a problem with my left hip for well over seven years. Just an old exercise injury. It was better at times and was worse last Fall. I have had a bit of chiropractic help, and when I do the prescribed stretches, I get some relief. I started to rely some on Ibuprofen a few nights a week to help me at bedtime, but my liver enzymes were up due to taking it, so my doctor asked me to back off the pain meds. That meant there were nights when sleep was tough. It got to the point where I adjusted how I would take a step when going up stairs, when I had to think about how I would get into my car so that I didn’t put pressure on that part of my hip. I went from a high impact aerobicizer to a low impact one. When I stood up from a seated position, I had to take a minute before taking a step. I was in pain during long card rides. Just watching TV I was constantly shifting my position. I’m 53. Was this something I would have to deal with and how bad would it get?
I signed up for our Christian yoga class that started last Monday night because I thought it could only help. Some of the poses were so painful. I did the aerobics class on Tuesday night and had to take Ibuprofen after that. On Wednesday, at the midweek prayer time, Ruth Ann Moore prayed for my hip. I didn’t request prayer for my hip, but God led her to pray for it. That evening, while sleeping, when I could take no credit for helping God out, I rolled over and heard and felt a pop in my hip. Seven and a half years of pain was gone. I have been pain-free ever since. I haven’t been able to quit rejoicing and thanking God for His goodness!
While I told the Lord the desire of my heart was for souls, He had said, in that prayer conference, He would give me the desire(s), plural! Did I want to be well? YES! I had prayed before, many times. I had a few others praying at times. I was just living with the pain, trying to do the best I could while continuing to live life on the go, but God has given me TWO desires of my heart, and it is only January 16th. I have more desires than salvations and for my pain to be gone. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me next!
I tell you that story first to give God glory, but second to tell you that I needed to do what God asked me to do in order to experience my healing. I truly believe that. Now, God can do whatever He wants to do with or without our cooperation, and we know He does stuff just because He is good and because He can and often He does stuff without us even knowing what He is up to. But I believe in this instance, after I received the direct word to put the sugar down, He moved in response to my obedience. Does God want to withhold sugar from me? No. God didn’t want something from me. He wanted something for me. God doesn’t want me to have more life complications that result from being addicted to sugar. He wants me to have abundant life. God doesn’t ask you to give up anything for His benefit. It’s for yours. When I choose sugar, beyond what my body can handle, I choose the opposite of abundant life for me. Jesus commanded me to take up my mat and walk. I listened and obeyed. (It took a few months, but I did it.)
Do you want to get well? Do whatever Jesus is telling you to do today.