Consider for a moment the scene. There is feasting in the city. We are not sure exactly why they are feasting, but it is quite probable that the occasion is both festive and crowded. A casual walk through the streets takes you on a journey through the senses. You pass the enticing smells of roasted lamb, fresh bread, and flavorful herbs. You hear the joyous sounds of voices singing and instruments playing. You see the crowds of people who have come to the city for this special occasion. It is a time to get away from the usual activities of their village and enjoy the celebration.
Now you come upon an area with five colonnades and a pool set among them. A different crowd has gathered here today as they do nearly every day. Here there is no feasting, no celebration, although the sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding city are still present. No, here there is only waiting and a hope that fades with each passing day.
This is the scene into which Jesus walks in the fifth chapter of John’s gospel. With feasting all around him, one man in particular attracts the interest of the Master. He is either crippled or paralyzed; has been so for thirty-eight years. What takes place between this one man and our Lord is a picture that may be all too familiar to your own life right now. If not, consider it carefully anyway, because it will be at some point. It has been for me—more often than I would like to admit.
Do you find yourself a long time waiting for hope to be restored, promises to be fulfilled, unmet expectations to become a reality? This man did…so have I. Maybe you have, too. What can we learn from this one event to help us in our times of doubt, impatience or downcast spirit?
Look at the question Jesus asks the man. He says, "Do you wish to get well?" This seems like an obvious fact given that the man goes to the trouble of getting himself to the pool on a regular basis. For the popular belief of the day was that the waters had healing power whenever they were stirred up by an angel of the Lord. Yet, Jesus is setting the stage to take this man’s eyes off of the present relief of his condition to the superior comfort of a righteous standing before a holy God.
How often do we get so fixated on relieving difficulty or attaining certain desires that we easily fall prey to vain superstitions and unbiblical remedies that promise quick results. How often do we find our words, like this man, seasoned with discontent or self-pity? Our understanding of "wellness" must exceed far beyond our physical bodies, our circumstances or desired blessings. Our wellness starts and ends with the redemption of our hearts from slavery to sin to citizenship in the kingdom of Christ. In other words, do we want to be well in a way that allows us to enjoy the pleasures of this world or do we want to be well in a way that allows us to enjoy the pleasures of a restored kingdom?
Now, look at the man’s response. "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.’" There are times when we will feel like both the one who is stirring up the waters and the one who cannot get himself into them on his own. It is the place of endless frustration as we grow tired of sitting by the pool as others are feasting. We attempt to stir up the waters of our feelings. We stir the waters of our desires. We stir the waters of our circumstances. "If only things were different" is our motto. "If only I could change this…" or "if only I could have that…" And yet, for all our effort, we remain crippled and unable to move.
So what do we do in these times?
1. Seek to understand what desire or expectation has brought you to the waters. What defines "wellness" to you right now? How do you respond when life does not meet that definition? We’re looking for root causes of the downcast spirit, self-pity or bitterness you are experiencing.
3. "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." Stop stirring up your own waters or waiting for someone else to come along that can get you in the pool first. Look to Jesus to make you well and live in such a way as to show how sweet and sufficient is His healing touch.
4. Don’t think for a moment that you deserve anything good! Anything that you get in this life short of immediate judgment and eternity in hell apart from God is more than you deserve. Learn to see all of life through the lens of sovereign grace. There were many sick people around the pool that day. Only one was told to get up and walk. Crippled because of his own sinfulness (see v.14) and now walking and feasting because of the kindness and mercy of God.