The Question that Delivers Us
"Do you want to get well ? "
Scripture: John 5:1-15
Old Testament: Exodus 15:1-13
Psalter: Psalm 103
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 1:3-11
The pool of Bethesda is significant as the setting for this timeless question of our Lord: a place of eye-catching splendor crowded with people so sick and broken you want to avert your eyes. This telling contrast of a beautiful exterior filled with wall-to-wall misery is an all-too-true picture of many a life, marriage, home and (in a way) church.
At best the question appears silly and superfluous; at worst, insulting. On deeper reflection, however, it is incisive and accurate. It is the question critical to the release of healing power in our lives. Jesus' question sets off a six-step process of full recovery from a long-term illness, a six-step process through which he brings healing to those who love him.
Step 1: He determines the desire.
Strangely there's a sense in which sickness can become preferable to health. Sometimes it pays well (in disability benefits and attention), it kills hope, it spares us from responsibility (Don't want to go to work? Call in sick!), it blinds us (sickness becomes such a way of life we've become numb to its abnormality), and it hardens us (we're too proud to dial that counselor and admit we've got a problem).
The man at the Bethesda pool claims he wants healing. His "but" reveals that the desire is weak, flattened by comparison ("someone else") and competition ("gets there first"). But his desire is not dead. So Jesus acts.
Step 2: He calls for the impossible.
Instead of offering assistance, mere encouragement, or consolation, Jesus calls the man to do something. His purpose in this is to evoke faith—faith that moves us past paralysis into appropriate action. The action is beyond human ability. He calls us to do something that demands that we trust him totally, yet without presumption (see Luke 4:12).
Step 3: He closes the back door.
Jesus eliminates any possibility of a relapse. He tells the man to pick up his mat, lest he flop back down on it after the first faltering step. He makes sure that the bridges are burned right off the bat.
Step 4: He opens the front door.
The next command takes the once-and-for-all ("Get up!") and makes it continuous ("Walk!"). It's an invitation to live out the health that has been graciously given.
Step 5: He shepherds us.
Jesus knows aftercare. The man almost immediately experiences difficulty (v. 10), and Jesus is promptly there. He follows up, for health has its hardships too.
Step 6: He establishes us.
His final admonition (v. 14) reveals much. Hinting at a connection between the man's sickness and his sin, Jesus warns his patient about the reality of relapses by focusing his eyes on what's right ("See, you are well again") and alerting him to what could go very very wrong ("Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you"). He offers a sharp warning to get at the roots that created susceptibility to sickness (the bitter spirit that pushes up the blood pressure, the worry that drives us to drink, the fast pace that feeds the ulcers, etc.).
There is no possibility of deliverance without desire, healing without humility, recovery without a desire for health. Full healing must begin with some faith, feeble as it may be. Still today one must knock for the door to be opened. But God's awesome grace stoops all the way down—he even helps us knock!
Call to Worship
God invites us into his healing presence with these words, "I am the LORD who heals you" (Ex. 15:26).
Diseased, depressed, dysfunctional, defeated, we come hungering for health only God can provide.
God calls us to bring open eyes, hearing ears, and tender hearts turned toward him, the Great Physician (Isa. 6:10).
We bow before him in faith and expectancy!
Prayer of Confession
You have told us plainly, O God, that healing requires humility, and that to be cured people must pray seek your face, and turn from their wicked ways. We confess that we're obsessed with health, yet indifferent about holiness. We confess that we crave slim, sleek bodies while casually condoning sin in our hearts. We're driven to be physically fit, yet barely raise a finger to fight the filth in our hearts and conduct. Forgive us, and move us to train ourselves in godliness. Amen.
Psalms and Hymns
Psalm 6: "Lord, Chasten Not in Anger"
(especially st. 1,2)
Psalm 23: "The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life"
Psalm 103: "O Come, My Soul"
[PsH 297, TH 6]
"Come, You Disconsolate"
"Holy Spirit, Mighty God" (especially st. 3)
"How Blest Are They Whose Trespass"
[PsH 32, PH 184, RL 97, TH 551 ]
"Praise to the Lord, the Almighty"
(Opening of Worship)
[PsH 253, PH 482, RL 145, TH 53]
"Precious Lord, Take My Hand"
[PsH 493, PH 404]
"Your Hand, O Lord, in Days of Old"