Text: John 5:1-15
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
Title: Conversations: Jesus and the Man at the Pool
Text: John 5:1-15; Isaiah 61:1-3
We are continuing in a series of sermons called, “Conversations With Jesus.” We are looking together at a whole variety of conversations Jesus had with different people all through the gospels; seeing how Jesus spoke to them, and the way he imparted truth and grace to them. But we’re also inviting Jesus to speak to us. We want to learn to hear his voice, and to receive the grace and truth He wants to impart to us.
Turn with me today to the Gospel of John 5:1-15, and listen as I read the conversation Jesus has with a man who had been an invalid for 38 years.
First, I want you to picture the scene in your mind’s eye. We are at a sort of pool or fountain near the Sheep’s Gate in Jerusalem. For the people of Jesus’ day, this is like a hot springs sanatorium, where the lame and paralyzed would gather to seek healing. In fact, there was a belief among the people that periodically at this pool, an angel of the Lord would come down and stir the waters, and the first one into the water after the stirring of the waters would be healed of whatever disease or ailment afflicted him or her.
So as you can imagine, all sorts of people would be hanging out around this pool every day hoping to be the one. Bind people, lame, paralyzed, ill, you name it, they would all gather near the edge to be the first one in.
Now the poor man Jesus approached on this particular day had been an invalid for 38 years. We are not told exactly what was wrong with him, but he tells Jesus that he has been hanging around this pool for a long time. The trouble is, his infirmity prevents him from being fast enough to get in the water first when the waters get stirred up. Someone else always beats him to it.
So there he is, trying again and again, in bondage to his crippling ailments, frustrated in his attempts to help himself; hoping that somehow tomorrow will be different from today; trusting in a miracle cure at the pool of Bethesda.
To tell you the truth, that sounds like a lot of people I know, including myself quite often. Stuck in one kind of bondage or another; frustrated in our attempts to help ourselves; trying the same old things again and again; looking for a miracle cure from somewhere, anywhere; hoping tomorrow will be different from today.
Well, v. 6 tells us that when Jesus saw this man lying there, and learned he had been in this condition for a long time, he started this conversation with the man. And he starts by asking him a simple question, “Do you want to get well?”
Now it seems like kind of a silly question, doesn’t it? We think, “Of course the man wants to get well, Jesus! Why do you think he is coming to the pool every day?”
But Jesus begins this conversation by asking the question anyway. And I believe he has a very good reason for doing so. It’s because the answer to that simple question might not be as obvious as we might think. There might be reasons why some of us, or perhaps all of us at different times in our lives don’t really want to “get well.”
Perhaps we’re actually kind of afraid of the change that “getting well” would cause in our lives. Think about this man and what it would mean for him to actually be “made well” after 38 years of living as an invalid. If he were healed now, he would be faced with an entirely different life than the one he has become accustomed to. He might have to look for a job to support himself. And after 38 years he might have no skills for employment. He might no longer find the sympathy and compassion and attention of others that his condition has brought him. He might be thrust into the world around him in such a whole new way at a late age in life, that he will not know what to do with himself. There may be parts of being an invalid that he has grown to love as a part of who he is.
How many times in our lives are we given the opportunity for change, and we say, “No, I don’t think so.” And we do so because we are afraid of the change this new opportunity will cause in our life.
If you haven’t heard by now, it’s time you knew, that I have been asked by the CCCC’s, our Conference of Churches, to become the new Regional Minister for New England. Terry Shanahan, the current person serving in that capacity, came to me a few months ago and said,
“Paul, I am going to be retiring as the Regional Minister next summer, and I believe you are the person who should replace me. I wanted to talk to you first, but I would like to recommend you to Ron Hamilton, the Conference Minister of the whole USA to replace me.”
Well, Terry and I talked for quite a while and I sensed even then that there was a “rightness” to what Terry was saying. That for a whole number of reasons I am the right person for this calling; and for a whole number of other reasons it is the right time for our church to be stepping into a new future with new leadership. But if Jesus had actually said to me that day, “Paul, do you want to step into this new calling?” I would have said, “No.”
You see, I wasn’t actually ready to have my life get all changed around. I love what I do now. I wasn’t ready to let go of this ministry at Forestdale that has been my life for my whole career. I wasn’t ready to put all of you through the pain of change and transition. It has taken me a few months to process this, and to pray about the answer, and to discern whether this is really a calling from God. And I finally did come to the place where I can say, “Yes, this is a calling from God, I want the new life He is calling me into. But it took a while.
And now, it’s just in the past two weeks I have been letting all of you know . I have talked personally to all of our leaders, and many of you who have been with us for a long time. And on Tuesday evening I told all those who were at the quarterly congregational meeting. And then I sent out a letter to all of you this past Friday morning: Letting you all know that I will be stepping down as the pastor here at the end of April, and taking the month of May off in order to rest and grieve the loss that this entails for me, and then prepare for beginning this new ministry in June.
But change is not easy, is it? When Jesus asks any of us, “Do you want to let go of your old life and walk with me into a new life?” It’s a serious question. And we’re not always ready to say yes.
Now the man in our story here, he answers Jesus’ question with a kind of affirmative response.
He says, “Sir, I have no one to help me get into the pool. Someone else always gets in ahead of me.” You see, he tells Jesus it is not a lack of desire for the healing, and for the new life Jesus is offering him. In his case it is a lack of opportunity. And so Jesus heals him. He sets him free.
But again, Jesus does so in this conversation in what appears to be rather upside down kind of way. He doesn’t say, “Be healed.” He says to the man, “Get up. Pick up your mat and walk!” My friends, that is precisely the thing that this man has not been able to do for 38 years. He is at this pool waiting for someone to help him into it because he can’t get up himself. He can’t pick up his own mat. He can’t walk.
But oddly enough, in response to Jesus’ command, he does set about trying to do what Jesus asked him to do! He actually sets about trying to get up, pick up his mat, and walk! And John says, “At once the man was cured. He picked up his mat and walked.” And off he went
Now in many cases in the Gospels, that is the end of the story. A person gets healed and they go their way, and that is the last we hear of them. But in this case, the plot thickens throughout the rest of that day, and this conversation isn’t over yet.
It just so happens that this particular day was a Sabbath day. And as this healed man goes skipping off with his mat in his hands to tell his family and friends what has happened, some Jewish authorities stop him to inform him that he is not allowed to be carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Carrying a mat constitutes work, and work is forbidden on the Sabbath.
So they order him to stop carrying the mat. And the man innocently says, “But the man who healed me told me to pick up my mat and walk! And look at me, I am walking!” And the authorities can obviously see that something remarkable has happened here; but rather than join the man in delight at his healing, they want to know who did this. Who was it that also broke the Sabbath laws by the act of healing on the Sabbath, and then told this healed man to break the Sabbath laws again by carrying a mat?
Well, the healed man is taken back by their response, and tells them quite honestly that he actually has no idea who it was that healed him. You see, he really didn’t know anything about Jesus at this point in his life. Jesus, was just some amazing guy who came up to him at the Pool of Bethesda and started a conversation with him, and then healed him. But now Jesus has moved on and is nowhere in sight. The healed man can’t even point him out to the authorities.
But later in the day, it says v. 14, Jesus runs into this same man at the Temple. And Jesus continues the conversation. He says to the man, “Hey look, you are well again aren’t you?” And he affirms the healing that has gone on in the man’s body. But then Jesus addresses the man’s soul, and says, “But stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
And my friends, Jesus isn’t making a causal connection between human sins and physical disabilities or ailments we may be subject to. You don’t get cancer because you were a bad person. You aren’t born with a disability because your parents were bad people. Jesus says elsewhere in this same Gospel that that is not how it works.
But what He is saying here is that sin can have effects in our lives that are far worse than the physical ills we may suffer. Sin can have eternal consequences in our lives. Sin can separate us from God and from others. Sin can lead us into hell on earth and hell after death.
So Jesus is calling this man to something greater than the physical healing has just experienced and is rejoicing in. Jesus is calling him to a whole new kind of life: A life of letting go of sin, and of pursuing a love for God and a love for others. That’s what will make his physical healing become the first step of a whole new way that leads to eternal life.
And Jesus tells the man his own name, who he is. We know this because the man goes away and later tells the Jewish authorities that it was Jesus who had made him well. And you might think he was betraying Jesus by doing this, but I don’t think the Gospel writer John intends it that way. I think the man was truly grateful for what Jesus had done, and didn’t see any harm at all in telling everyone about this amazing man Jesus. I don’t think he had any idea that the authorities were plotting against Jesus or would come after Jesus for doing such a great thing for him.
My question is, why did Jesus go to him of all people that day? So many were gathered around the pool that day looking for healing, why did Jesus initiate a conversation with this man? And why did this man simply obey when Jesus commanded him to get up and do what he had not been able to do for 38 years. It’s a remarkable little story about a short, but effective, conversation which changed a man’s life.
Is it a story that resonates in your life? When was the first time Jesus initiated a conversation with you? Where were you in your life? And why out of all the people in the world around you, did He come and start a dialogue with you? And what happened as a result of that conversation? Was healing a part of what initiated your relationship with God? Or was it the gift of freedom from some bondage, to alcohol or drugs, or something else? Was it the gift of forgiveness He came offering you? Or was it the pain of a broken marriage, or broken relationship of some other kind that He came alongside you to mend?
My friends, we may never know the answer to “why me, Lord?” But did you responded at the time by saying, “Yes, Lord, I want to be healed”? And have you responded since that time by setting about to follow Jesus into a new way of life? Not just being grateful for the initial grace He imparted to you then, but seeking since then to walk with him, and talk with him, and carry on the conversation for the rest of your life?
That’s what Jesus wants when He comes to us and picks us out of the crowd to engage with. And saying, “Yes, Lord, I want to be healed, means we’re inviting Jesus to continue to confront us, and convert us, and console us again and again and again as we learn over the course of our lives to delight in his will, and walk in His ways, and live for the glory of His Name.