Take Up Your Bed and Walk
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 2 April 2005
"After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Yah'shua (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, paralysed, 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. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Yah'shua (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?" 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." Yah'shua (Jesus) said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk." And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked" (John 5:1-9, NKJV).
I welcome you back in the Name of Yah'shua (Jesus) our Messiah after what I hope has been a memorable Passover and Chag haMatzah for you all. Today we are considering a passage from the Gospel of John about a sick man who had been waiting for healing for 38 years. That's a long time. Many of us here have been suffering from one ailment or another for probably just as long. We know what it is like to suffer for a long time. And then suddenly, on one very ordinary pain-filled day in which we are expecting our misery to just go on and on, Yah'shua (Jesus) appears and asks us something astonishing: "Do you want to be made well?" I know two of you here have had broken hips that have been playing you up for years. Some of us have other debilitating conditions. Most have perfect health physically but are fighting with spiritual illness. No matter what your problem is - mental, emotional, spiritual or physical - Yah'shua (Jesus) is here right and now asking: "Do you want to be made well?"
I can think of no ill person who doesn't want to be made well unless, of course, he has a death wish. We all want to cling onto life, if not for ourselves, then at least for our loved ones' sakes When the sick man in our narrative was asked if he wanted to be made well, he said something which is typical of all of us. What he said is not so important as the sense of desperation he felt.
This is a most unusual narrative that to some sounds far-fetched. It says that at certain times an angel stirred up the waters of the Pool of Bethesda and the first person in was healed. It sounds, at first glance, so out of the character of God that healing should be ordained as a function of the speed at which a person could get into the water. This man had been trying for 38 years but someone else always beat him to the water's edge. But if you think that God is some practical joker who plays around with people you would be mistaken.
At the beginning of the chapter we learn that this miracle took place during a "feast of the Jews". No one knows which it was but it is most likely Pesach or Sukkot. Large numbers of people were in Jerusalem and this pool in particular would have been crowded by people hoping to get healed. It would have been easier for the man if it had been 'out-of-season' but as it was he had to compete with not only the local sick people but with the many visitors from outside the city and indeed from outside the country. The odds must have seemed hopelessly weighted against him. We, in our turn, often get frustrated learning how others with the same illnesses as ourselves seem to make much better progress in healing. I know I felt rather 'left out' when I read of the healing properties of a tropical fruit juice. A very high percentage of those with this illness get cured. It just didn't happen to work for me.
So the pool of Bethesda was crammed full of infirm people - invalids, blind, lame, paralysed to name but a few types. When Yah'shua (Jesus) saw our man, He knew He had been lying there for some time. Many have wondered if indeed the 38 years has a correspondence with the 40 years of Israel's wanderings in the desert. For them, as for this sick man, it must have seemed as though their suffering would never end.
We can actually learn more about this man, and in particular his attitude, by a careful examination of the text. Yah'shua (Jesus) asks: "Do you want to want to be made well?" An odd question given that everyone who had gathered to that pool clearly did not want to be ill! And yet you would be surprised at some of the reasons why people don't get well when they have the opportunity. "Do you want to be made well?" could equally well be written: "Do you have the will to become a healthy man?" You see, becoming well after such a long period of time would have meant that suddenly this man would have the responsibility of living once again. He was probably a beggar, existing off the charity of passers-by. 38 years is a long time to get into habits - to get set in your ways. For sure that man wanted to get well again but was he prepared to accept the responsibility of being a bread-earner again after so long a period of time? His answer is revealing, reminding me a bit of what Adam said after Yahweh questioned him following the Fall: "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". So we have to ask ourselves: was the sick man's answer genuine or was he perhaps making an excuse?
Yah'shua (Jesus) knows the motives of all our hearts. He knows also the deviousness of our minds. Many who are sick and enjoying state welfare might well consider twice getting well if they realised they would have to take responsibility for their life again and start working hard! Then there are others who may want to remain sick because they crave the sympathy and attention they get from those who are well.
You will remember that after Yahweh questioned Adam as to why he ate the fruit, he blamed the woman for his choice. The fact that Yah'shua (Jesus) asks this ill man if he has the will to be healed does suggest to some that he was making excuses. But I am not so sure about that. He might well have said: "Lord, I can't get up. That's precisely what I've not been able to do for 38 years! Take up my bed? Why, I couldn't even lift a feather; and as for walking, I could just as easily fly. I cannot do these things until I am cured." The fact that Yah'shua (Jesus) straight away went and healed him suggests to me that not only did this man have the faith but that he was a genuine invalid and incapable of getting onto the water to receive Yahweh's act of healing grace proffered on the festival by the angel.
People offer all kinds of excuses for refusing the salvation of Yah'shua (Jesus) and it's mostly, I think, because they are afraid of the responsibility of living as Yahweh wants us to live. I can understand that fear. But mostly, as we have been discussing in Chag haMatzah, it's because they are afraid of being set apart and looking 'different' from friends and acquaintances in the world. But it is not only those postponing their salvation, but people who genuinely feel unable to do anything Yahweh asks of us. We plead our helplessness and try to curry sympathy. What would have happened if this invalid man had not exercised his willpower to really want to be healed? Would Yah'shua (Jesus) have asked him? I suspect not. Yah'shua (Jesus) never wasted words, never pursued those who did not want His free gift of salvation. He asks only those willing to respond.
This sick man - the moment he heard the command to pick up his bed and walk - made the effort to rise, and as he made the effort, the strength was given to him. New life came with his simple obedience. You see, Yah'shua (Jesus) never commands an impossibility. When He bids us rise out of our sin and helplessness and begin the Christian walk, He gives grace and strength to enable us to do it, no matter how insurmountable the problem may seem.
The same is true of all that Yah'shua (Jesus) requires of us in His service. People think it 'humility' to be timid about duty and about accepting responsibility at Christ's call. But it isn't humility at all - it is unbelief and sin. We lie on our poor rugs and say: "I have no strength for this, no wisdom for that," while if we simply arose to obey every call of Yah'shua (Jesus), He would use us for noble service.
I am indebted to a friend of mine in Canada who sent me this rather funny picture yesterday. It's called, Waiting for the Perfect Man and shows a woman and a dog who have evidently been waiting on a park bench for so long that they have been reduced to skeletons. Now I am sure you could extract your own humorous twists out of this but for me it illustrated an important truth: if we keep on postponing doing what is right in life we will end up wasting it altogether.
This sick man, who is the subject of our study today, showed his faith by immediately exerting himself to do what Yah'shua (Jesus) had bidden him to do. Had he not done this, he would not have been healed. There are many who lie spiritually paralysed, year after year, just because they are waiting to be healed before they try to rise and walk. There are many who never do any worthy service for Christ, and lie in a condition of uselessness throughout the years, because they think themselves unequal to the duties to which they have been called. It is time that we learned to step forth instantly, to stop procrastinating, and to do whatever the Master bids us do. It is only when we begin to do this that we shall find ourselves strong.
I know there are many people who think I am unsympathetic or unfair when I make such suggestions. They usually say I don't understand, and that if I were in their situation, I would probably do as they have done. I can't, of course, answer that question since I am in my own unique set of circumstances. I do know, however, what Yah'shua (Jesus) wanted us to understand in passages of Scripture such as this and I also know that I have done things that would never have happened had I not stood up in faith and taken the first step towards the tasks I was bidden to complete. I can therefore truly join hands with the author of this saying and claim that I know exactly what he means:
We, the willing,
Led by the Unknowing,
Are doing the impossible
For the ungrateful.
We have done so much
For so long
With so little;
We are now qualified
To do anything
Or as our Priesthood motto says:
The hard things we do first,
The impossible takes a little longer.
Now your average person does not believe in divine healing of any sort. He trusts in common sense and his physician. Not that I by any means decry these things - we need both. But in the spiritual life in particular, we do need two other essential ingredients: faith and a willingness to step out when Yah'shua (Jesus) calls us forth. You know, Lazarus could have remained in his tomb if he wanted to - the Master didn't force him out. And the same is true with the spiritually dead - Yah'shua (Jesus) has already issued His call, personally, though the Bible, and through preachers like myself - but not all respond. Yet people are convinced that that they don't need to be called out - they believe they can call themselves out and do what they're supposed to do when they feel like it. In my experience it never works like that because salvation is a call to service within a team. Pastors and preachers like myself therefore have the unenviable and frequently thankless task of making the members of a local assembly such as this one do what they do not want to do so that they can become what they always wanted to be.
Judging by the nicknamess that people use in Internet chat rooms - for the women, Princess seems to be a common one, and for the men, King, tough, or something like that - you soon realise that people don't want to be led by anyone but themselves and that they demonstrate by their behaviour that they are anything but like the nicknames they choose. And they most certainly have not become what in their heart of hearts they really want to be.
What do we want to be? We want to be well, like that invalid man. We don't want to be sick. We don't want to feel depressed and lonely. We don't want to fight with violent impulses like anger and be led by the nose by uncontrollable sexual urges. We don't want to make enemies but friends. But sadly almost nobody wants to obey the only Person who can ever help them accomplish what they want, namely, Yah'shua (Jesus) the Messiah (Christ). And even less, sadly, those who have taken that important step to trust in the Saviour of Mankind, want to place themselves under the authority of His servants because they have been programmed now for two generations to "do their own thing" and to "do it their way".
The Good News is that we don't have to rely on our own resourcefulness and power to accomplish the noble goals that all decent souls want, because they are worse than inadequate: they are useless. Our part is simply to surrender, trust, and respond when we are told to go. Having first got the self healed and made whole, we are then to forget self and serve others.
Yah'shua (Jesus) healed that man in an instant. After 38 years of sorrow and despair, it was all over. You can enjoy that blessing too, no matter how long you have waited, by simply trusting in the Redeemer of the world and getting up to do His bidding. And once your heart is right, so will other miracles follow in the wake of the first one - the miracle of salvation. Amen.
This page was created on 5 June 2005
Last updated on 5 June 2005
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