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?"
This morning in our men’s Bible Study we looked at the story of the invalid at the pool of a Bethesda, as found in John 5. As the story goes, this man had been an invalid for 38 years. It is implied that he spent most of that time at the pool of Bethesda. The reason that he was there was that it was believed that from time to time the angel of the Lord would come down and stir the waters. The first person to get into the water after the stirring would be healed. So this man spend his life trying to be the first into the pool, without success.
Into this man’s story walked Jesus. For some reason, Jesus singled this man out from all of those who were there. Having compassion on this man, Jesus approached him with an odd question, “Do you want to get well?” On the surface, this seems like an insensitive thing to ask this man, but Jesus was probing for something deeper within the man. The man’s initial response was one of self-defense. He quickly explained why he was still in that place after so many years. He had no one to help him get into the water. Someone else always got there first.
Then Jesus did something that the man never expected. Instead of chiding him for his lack of effort, Jesus simply told him to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” This must have been said with such a commanding and compelling voice that the man did exactly what Jesus told him to do. When he did, he was instantly healed. This man’s reality was changed in an instant, an instant of faith.
Most of us have things in our lives that we have struggled with for many years. As much as we want to be rid of these “afflictions” they persist. We feel trapped, just like the man at the pool. Over time we resign ourselves to this as the norm, that this is our reality and there is nothing we can do about it. For most of us, this is not a physical affliction but an emotional or spiritual one. It may be a poor self-image, or a deep-seated bitterness, or a critical spirit, or a negative habit. We have tried to break free from its bonds, but our efforts fall short and we find ourselves right back where we started.
Into this situation, Jesus steps. He probes the depths of our soul with His penetrating question, “Do you want to get well?” He is really forcing us to consider the results of being free from whatever it is that binds us. At first blush, to be free sounds wonderful, but on further examination we realize that it means some significant changes in our life.
The man at the pool had been an invalid for 38 years; probably the majority of his life. He had been totally dependent upon others to care for him. To be healed meant that he would have to take full responsibility for his life from now on. His entire world would be changed. Did he really want to embrace this new reality?
The same question is posed to us. To be set free from our affliction means that we will have to change the patterns of our life. We will have to embrace a new reality, with new responsibilities. Do we really want to get well?
Our first response when we hear Jesus’ question is to defend ourselves, just like the man at the pool. We begin to think of all of the reasons why we are the way we are. Maybe we blame our family for not setting the right example. Maybe we blame society for its negative influence in our lives. Maybe we blame God for allowing this thing to enter our life. Our first response is usually an excuse for why we cannot change.
Jesus never argues with us. He never challenges our excuses directly. Instead, Jesus challenges us to trust Him and act in faith. Jesus didn’t address the man’s excuses, He simply told him that it was time to get up and walk. If the man had continued to give excuses for why that was not possible, he would have probably remained an invalid. But he did not. Instead, he took Jesus at His word and discovered that his faith had healed him.
When we lay our excuses aside and act in faith, based on what Jesus has told us, we too can be healed. When we take Jesus at His word and trust Him enough to act in faith, amazing things can happen in our lives. He can and will free us from the things that bind us, if we will do what He commands us to do. He can replace bitterness with thanksgiving. He can replace a critical spirit with a spirit of compassion. He can replace a poor self-image with the amazing reality that we are loved by God. He can free us from a negative habit that controls our life with a positive habit that transforms our life.
Jesus has the power to free us from whatever binds us, but He will not do this unilaterally. Instead, He invites us to participate in our healing by putting feet to our faith. The measure of our faith is the extent to which we are willing to pick up our mat and walk. We can make excuses and remain trapped by the pool, or we can act in faith and walk out into a new life.
You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.