Growing in Christ - Meditation
An Invitation to Faith
Meditation 99: An Invitation to Faith: John 5: 1-18.
Presented at New Life Community Church, Burnaby, British Columbia. March 5, 2017.
John 5:1-18 (ESV).
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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?" 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. Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed." But he answered them, "The man who healed me, that man said to me, 'Take up your bed, and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?" Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 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." The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I am working."
Beautiful. This is a beautiful story about a man being healed. It seems fairly easy to understand, doesn't it? There are many thought-provoking things about this passage; important things about who Jesus was, and how we relate to him. In this essay, we won't try to squeeze every nuance of meaning out of every word but we will try to look at this story from three different but harmonious perspectives.
The first perspective is, simply, compassion. How can we not love a story about a man being healed from a 38- year disability? But why does Jesus pick this man?
Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, a ministry that cares for people with disabilities of all kinds. He sees this miracle as a demonstration of love, pure and simple. He comments:
It is as if Jesus cannot contain himself; he loves this man as he is; just as he loved the Samaritan woman. He yearns to liberate him from all the powers of despair within him, that he be fully alive. In this story, Jesus is not responding to a man's cry of faith, "Heal me", but to his cry of despair, the cry of humanity in despair! Jesus is responding also to a pain within his own heart, the pain of seeing the loneliness and despair of this paralyzed man. Nobody wanted to see this man, but Jesus wanted to see him. Nobody loves him, but Jesus loves him.
Vanier sees love as being the miracle:
When people are in despair, they have no hope, they see no meaning to their lives. But then something can happen; they have an experience of love, the love of a new friend; the love of God. Despair seems to disappear, they have discovered a new meaning to their lives.
Jesus is our role model for wanting to help others who are not well. Perhaps we cannot perform miracles; but we can do whatever we can to help. Then again, perhaps the act of summoning up compassion and love in order to do God's work is something of a miracle.
This story of healing a paralyzed man is a short episode in the ministry of Jesus. The whole thing is contained in 18 verses, and the words of Jesus are very brief. Yet we can learn a lot about relationship with Jesus from these verses. This will be our second perspective on the healing.
Relationship-such a key word for Christians. We like to say that Christianity is all about relationship, that indeed, Christianity is relationship, rather than religion. Religion of course is a word with so much baggage- a word suggesting endless rules and regulations, ritual and hierarchy. Religion seems harsh; not friendly and inviting, and full of love and forgiveness, the way we prefer to think of our Christian fellowship. Let's focus on just a few small things on how the relationship between Jesus and the disabled man reflects certain aspects of our relationship with God.
Consider that question in 5:6: "Do you want to be healed?"
Matthew Henry - a 17th century commentator-says: "A strange question to be asked one so long ill. Some indeed would not be made whole because their sores serve them to beg by." Well! That seems a bit harsh. But do we sometimes resist healing in our daily life? Do we refuse our medications, or flatly refuse to go to the doctor? If we are feeling down, do we sometimes steadfastly resist doing things that might cheer us up, hanging on to self-pity or petulance? If we know we have a problem with alcohol, do we nevertheless avoid going to our AA meetings? It seems that there are many examples of humans refusing to be healed. And what about our spiritual illnesses? Are we willing to be cured of our moral transgressions? Are we so afraid of God that we are unwilling to acknowledge and be forgiven for our sins? There is a lot to think about here, but it is certainly understandable why Jesus asked the man-"Do you want to be healed?
Having received an explanation from the man why he cannot even get to the edge of the pool, implying an affirmative answer to the question, we note what Jesus does not say: he does not launch into a sermon. There is no talk of sins here. Jesus does not ask for promises or insist on conditions. He does not say: "I'll heal you if you promise to be good." No. He says "Get up."
He says "Get up, take up your bed and walk."
Imagine you are the crippled man. You were only hoping that this stranger would carry you to the edge of the pool. But no, he says get up. You look at your legs, useless for 38 years. They must be atrophied, as thin as toothpicks. So do you laugh bitterly at this strange man or cry in futility? Or do you try to get up?
There must have been something very compelling in the way Jesus issued his command, for the man was obedient. He was asked to get up and he got up. In this, Jesus provided a perfect cure, but still tested the man's obedience. He also told him to take up his bed. Now, let's pause for a minute-why would this matter? I mean, who cares about the bed? He has just been given a miracle healing-let's dance, let's celebrate. But no, he is asked to take up his bed and walk.
But of course, reading further (5:10) we see that this is what catches the attention of the religious authorities of the day. "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed." And so this taking up of the bed turns out to be an act of obedience to Jesus, but an act of defiance to the religious authorities of the day. Matthew Henry comments that "those who have been healed by Christ's word should be ruled by his word."
So this healed man has passed two tests-first, he wanted to be healed and secondly he was obedient. We discover a third thing-he went to the temple, presumably to give thanks to God. That is where Jesus finds him. Jesus says -"See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you." Why this talk of sin, now? Matthew Henry says: "it is common for people, when they are sick, to promise much; when newly recovered to perform something; but after awhile-to forget all."
Does this resonate with us? Have we ever received a blessing, an answer to prayer; been delighted by it, then more or less forgotten all about it after awhile? We're human. We are very human.
In summary, it is very clear that we can learn a great deal about relationship to God by examining how the paralyzed man relates to the mysterious, powerful and persuasive man called Jesus.
A Thoughtful Invitation to Faith
We have looked firstly at the compassion perspective, and secondly at the relationship perspective. This will be our third perspective-an invitation to faith.
Surely we already have ample reason to have faith in Jesus. But suppose we are real stubborn mules. We have awkward questions about believing in God that just won't go away. Maybe we hate the idea of believing in a miracle-we are proud, we are logical, we will believe it when we see it. Consider that some might argue that human life is itself rather miraculous. Or how about just thinking about a small thing: I have a cut on my arm-a scab forms to stop the bleeding, the skin heals perfectly underneath, then the scab falls off-all this without me doing a thing. Isn't that miraculous? Or would some of us say-no, that took several days-it's not a miracle unless it happens instantly.
When I hear talk about the universe-stars and planets millions of light-years away-that seems grand and incomprehensible and well, miraculous. Those stars are there by a power that has nothing to do with people.
If you pride yourself on logical thinking and you insist the universe came into being out of nothing, I can only wish you good luck with that line of reasoning.
In the end, of course we cannot prove that a miracle is the work of God, or that God exists. We have to have faith. Faith-that is the very relationship that God wants us to have. He does not want seven billion robots for company-he wants free-thinking people to choose to follow him; to choose, indeed, to love him. God wants us to live in faith, through the good times and the bad.
Why are there bad times? That's a big topic. But we see in the book of Genesis that God wanted us to live in paradise from the very beginning. This is not paradise; this is a fallen world, where we continue to act out the story of Adam and Eve. We continue to make choices that are unwise, choices that reflect the human propensity for the desire for knowledge of both good and evil. Why did Eve eat the fruit? Why is there someone this minute, in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, probably experimenting with fentanyl-a horrible, deadly drug? We are human. We are very human, and that is putting it mildly.
The miracles of Jesus-are they really credible, believable, just as they are described? I say yes. Consider that Jesus, nowhere in the gospels, is accused of being a fraud. The Pharisees did not accuse him of doing a fake miracle-only that he did the miracle on the wrong day of the week. So they provide, ironically, the best testimony as to the reality of the miracle. And the credibility of the Scriptures in general-if you are a logical, hard-headed person, how can you dismiss them as historical evidence? You might as well dismiss the existence of the Roman Empire while you are at it.
This type of defense, this type of discussion is called apologetics and it is great fun. In the end, we must circle around and come back to the idea of faith. What do we stand to lose by having faith? Probably nothing but a bit of human pride. What do we stand to gain? The possibilities are staggering.
Timothy Keller, in his great book of apologetics, The Reason for God, states:
Jesus has come to redeem the world where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus's miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.
This leads us finally to the verse which we can never enjoy too often-John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
For this great promise we need faith-but not a great, wild, leap of faith. A half-step will do-- a trembling, tentative half-step, the kind of half-step that a man who has been disabled for 38 years might make.
In faith and fellowship,
Outreach Canada Ministries - more...
 Jean Vanier, Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John (Ottawa: Novalis) 2004, p.105.
 Vanier, p.109.
 Matthew Henry's Commentary, ed. Leslie F. Church (Zondervan: Grand Rapids Michigan) 1961, p.1530.
 Henry, p.1530.
 Henry, p.1530.
 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Penguin) 2008, p.99.