Opening prayer: Father, we're very aware of our needs. Please make us more aware of Your will and Your willingness to help us. This lesson is really basic. Nothing fancy. Just the Bible and some straight talk.
Let's start in the Gospel of John, Chapter 5, verses 1-4: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, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.
Verse 4 is omitted from some texts, because it troubles some theologians to see it here. The best explanation I can give you is that the waters in that area bubbled. People whom I respect tell me the waters still bubble at unpredictable intervals, even today. If you mentally insert the phrase "People believed that..." at the beginning of verse 4, the problem goes away.
Can any of you think of a modern term for a place where people hang out in hopes of getting healthy? [A health club.] So why were all those people hanging around the spa? Waiting for the aerobics instructor? [Waiting for an angel.]
Can you think of any Old Testament Scripture that would make people think they could be healed at this place?
Nope. Nor can I imagine God ever telling people to sit around and wait for several years in hopes of being healed by the unpredictable return of a water-stirring angel.
Let's look at the next verses, 5 and 6:Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"
Now let's be really clear about this: What was this crippled fellow waiting for and for how long?
He had been waiting for healing and had been ill 38 years. Doctors had not been able to help.
So by hanging out at that spa area, what was he putting his trust in?
The religious traditions of men.
What did Jesus ask him?The King James translation says "Wilt thou be made whole?" The modern translation would be, "Do you want to be healed?"
Why did Jesus ask this?
One possibility: checking this man's attitude. Another possibility: to give us food for thought, 2000 years later. Jesus could have walked up to the side of the pool and announced to the whole group: "OK, folks, this is IT! This time I'm gonna stir the water, and this time, all of you are going to get healed and baptized in one dunk. Just form a single line over here on the right, and after you finish, make sure to speak to Simon Peter over here on the western deck to get on our mailing list."
So did Jesus use this as a Kodak moment or a sound bite or a chance to build up His mailing list?
No. In fact, He had the power and authority to say, "Arise and walk" to the whole bunch of them without so much as clearing His throat.
Why didn't He just heal the whole bunch at once?
The pattern in Scripture is that God loves us, but is not aimlessly benevolent. He does not practice random acts of kindness. He has specific goals for our long-term benefit, even if we don't understand His plans with our limited understanding. In fact, since some of God's blessings initially appear to be setbacks or grievous events, we need to daily seek God's wisdom in our prayer times.
Let's be more blunt: Life is filled with setbacks and grievous events. There are some grievous events that I might never wrap my arms around and accept as blessings. But as we read the Psalms and Proverbs and pray for wisdom, God somehow gives us healing and peace along with the wisdom.
Keep this in mind when you discuss healing with someone who (a) doesn't believe the Bible, and (b) surely doesn't believe that YOU can pray and help someone receive a gift of healing. Try to avoid intellectual closed-loop conversations that go something like:
- Well, God is supposed to be all knowing and all loving.
- And if that's true, and if He knows all about all the suffering people in the world, He could heal them all right now and be done with it.
- But God doesn't heal all the sick people, not even all the sick people who pray.
- Maybe God DOESN'T know it all.
- Maybe God isn't so loving.
- Maybe God isn't.
- Or maybe He doesn't give a rooty-toot-toot.
Granted, most folks will have more sugar coating on their arguments than I've allowed. But surely you recognize the logic pattern.
What's wrong with the above arguments?
They're based on wrong assumptions:
- That God thinks like they do.
- That they can logically eliminate God by circular arguments.
- That the God you and I believe in is the same god described in their circular arguments.
But someone I dearly love is hurting and confused and speaking bad things about God. How can I help him/her?
The wrong way to respond is to get aboard the circular argument. The right way to answer is with Scripture. In Scripture, we see what God really puts down as the ground rules.
At first, the rules were very simple. Genesis 2:15-17 says:Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
God says that if you do what He says, you'll live and prosper; if you ignore Him and do what YOU want to do anyway, you'll die.
Did Adam do as God said?
Not for long.
Did Adam die?
Have any philosophers since Adam been able to extend their lives and avoid death by arguing with God philosophically?
Not so you'd notice.
All the way thru the Bible, God says, "Trust Me, act as if what I say is more real than what you see or feel, and I will keep My promises."
Does God keep His promises?
The record of Scripture and history is that He does. But you will never find a Scripture where God promises to be an errand boy for the human race, hanging around and protecting us from ourselves and our needs. He says: trust Me, believe My promises, and you will have eternal life and eternal reward with Me.
While we're waiting for Jesus to return and for Eternity to begin, we have two choices: We can trust the promises of God, or we can choose NOT to trust them. And straddling the fence doesn't get you half the benefits of trusting God. Straddling the fence only interferes with your digestion.
The real question is NOT whether God should be blamed for letting innocent children die in famines. The question is not whether God can break out of the circular arguments of philosophers. The question is not whether I can perfectly keep all the commandments of the Law of Moses or the perfection described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, because I already know that I can't. The question is whether I will believe the promises of God recorded in this book and act upon them as truth. I know I can't be perfect, but I CAN trust God's promises. And so can you. It's do-able.
God has promised profound rewards to those who believe in His promises. If I believe in the promises, I might or might not get a specific healing, but I will surely get the rewards of faith talked about in the book of Hebrews. Either way, I can't lose. [For exercise, research the heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11.]
By contrast, if I don't believe in divine healing, I might get well. But then again, I might not get well, in which case I go into Eternity earlier than I'd hoped. Either way, I won't get any eternal reward.
Back to the Gospel of John: The people at the pool were not exercising faith in a promise of Scripture. They were exercising faith in a local superstition.
Did anyone ever get healed?
Maybe. Bible doesn't say. And the Bible doesn't promise healing to folks who exercise faith in superstition.
So Jesus was under no obligation to heal everybody there, since they weren't exercising faith in Scripture. He didn't even need to talk to that one guy. For reasons only God fully appreciates, Jesus did choose to speak to the one lame man.
So what did Jesus ask the crippled man? Read verse 6:When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"
Let's see what the guy answered, in verse 7:The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."
This fellow was externalizing his problems, blaming his circumstances on others. Has this behavior defect been eliminated by modern psychology and religion?
Not so you'd notice. Adam did it first. And people have been doing it ever since.
Now let's read verses 8 and 9:Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk." And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.
What did Jesus ask this man to do?
Take up his bed and walk.
Did the man do it? Was he healed?
Yes and yes.
Why did Jesus ask him to carry away the bed? Couldn't he have left it there a few hours or even days? Why didn't Jesus just say, "Rise and walk!" and let the man figure out the housekeeping stuff later?The bed symbolized his whole sorry state of dependence on religious/superstitious tradition. Jesus didn't want him to be healed and then keep hanging out with his old buddies at the pool. If his bed stays at the pool, he's going to be tempted to return to the old ways. Jesus wanted him to be healed, to STAY healed, and to walk in spiritual victory as well.
Does that have any relevance to the way the Lord answers our prayers for healing today?
The same thing is true today: God wants us to be saved, healed, and delivered from oppression. But He doesn't just want us to receive one victory and return to our old fallen habits: He wants us to WALK in victory, in faith, as a way of life.
This story has a strange ending, as we see in verses 10-16:The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed." He answered them, "He who made me well said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk.'" Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?" But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you." The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.
This passage sounds unbelievable: instead of praising God for the healing, the religious hypocrites criticized Jesus and the healed man for working on Sunday! They did not worship a loving God who could heal people whenever He wanted to. They worshipped a religious system -- under their selfish control -- that obscured the simplicity of Scripture by untold layers of religious rules.
I wish I could tell you that religious bondage died out 2000 years ago. But it hasn't. The telephone directories are filled listings for churches, and many are populated with the spiritual descendants of the Pharisees. The word "Christian" may be in their names, but the Lord is not living in their hearts.
Remember Jesus's admonition in verse 14, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you." Jesus did NOT set this man free so that other men could enslave him. We sin by NOT acting in faith. We sin by falling into religious habits and traditions. We sin when we elevate the traditions of our denomination above the freedom that Jesus died to purchase for us. Paul wrote: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." (1 Corinthians 6:12)
Back to the central point: Jesus asked the man at the pool, "Wilt thou be made whole?" And He's still asking that question to us today.
What healing are we praying for today? And what bed of bondage does Jesus want us to roll up and carry away in victory?
Remember the words of our Lord in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 11:Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
Closing Prayer: Lord, we do need rest for our souls. Let Your Holy Spirit touch our bodies and hearts with Your own rest and healing. Amen.