Text: John 5:1-17
My wife and I just moved here a few months ago to Charlotte. We’re originally from Atlanta, GA. This is the first time we’ve ever moved to a new state. We’ve been learning all of the many things you have to update and change when you move. The government requires you to change your driver’s license and car registration within 60 days of when you move. So back in August I drove to the DMV to get a North Carolina Driver’s license. Now, I’ve had bad experiences at the DMV before, but this was by far the worst one.
I had it all planned out: I was gonna get there a few minutes before it opened, be one of the first people in line, and make this a quick trip. I even waited until the Friday of Labor Day Weekend to go. Thinking, “Everyone will be out of town on vacation! No one will be there.” On Friday, August 31, I arrived at the DMV at 7:55 AM to this. I have a few pictures to show how many people were there that morning.
This (1) is the DMV. This (2) is the store next to the DMV. This (3) is one entrance to the grocery store next to the Family Dollar Store. And this (4) is the other entrance to the grocery store.
I later learned that apparently everyone goes to the DMV on Labor Day Weekend. That’s their busiest time of the year. At the time, I had no job. I was in the process of interviewing here at Good Shepherd. In this moment, I had a big decision to make. Do I stay and get this done now? Or leave and try again another time or try a different DMV? Regrettably, I chose to get in line. Part of me knew that I had nothing to do. Most of me held onto one single hope: That the line would move quickly. There’s no way it could take that long! I put all of my hope and trust in our government, believing they could fix my problem. They’ll get us in and out of here in no time.
Never have I been more wrong in my entire life. Our government is the slowest moving, most inefficient system on the planet. All at our expense!
Let’s look through some pictures together as we enjoy my miserable experience! After two hours of waiting, I was close to the entrance of the DMV.
Finally, after 3 hours of waiting, I made it inside. Only to discover there was another line of people inside! I had to wait in line to get a ticket and wait for my ticket to be called.
3 hours later they finally called my ticket number. After 6 dreadfully long hours of waiting at the DMV, I earned my driver’s license and my freedom to enjoy the rest of my day.
This is the longest I have ever had to wait for something at one time and it was definitely not worth the time I had to sacrifice to get my license.
The good news in all of this is that I was reminded of an important lesson in God’s kingdom: This world will inevitably let you down. I was hoping that the government would transform my reality but was sorely disappointed. If you place all of your hopes, dreams, and faith in this world, you are eventually going to be disappointed. Nothing lasts forever. No one lives forever. Everything in this world eventually fades.
What about you? Where do you place your hopes, dreams, and faith? What’s the one thing you’re hoping for in life? That one thing you’d like to change most about your life? What’s that one thing that you believe will solve all of your problems? Transform your reality and make them all go away? Because we may not realize it at the time, but all of us place our hope and trust in this world and in ourselves at many different points in our lives.
We place our hope in these things: We hope to pass Middle or High School. Then get into a good college. Make friends. Have a boyfriend or girlfriend. And graduate from college. After college we hope to get a good job. Get paid well. Eventually get a raise. One day we hope to get married. Have kids. Get a nice house. Get a nice car. Collect nice stuff. Way down the road, we hope to retire from a good job. Have grandkids. The world teaches us that these things will transform our lives, fix all our problems, and give us everlasting happiness. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In our scripture for today, we read about a man that is just like us. He believes the world can fix his greatest problem. You see, he has been disabled for 38 years. I want you to imagine with me what this man’s life was like. He is unable to take care of himself, so he has to rely on others for help. He is unable walk, so in order to get anywhere other people have to carry him. Other people have to provide for him. Someone has to go to the grocery store for him. Someone has to cook for him. Someone has to clean for him. He is unable to work, so he begs for his needs: Money, food, water, clothes, etc.
In the morning, someone has to carry him to a good place in the city to beg. At night, someone has to bring him home. If he has no family to provide for him, then he has to get by on whatever he makes from begging. He has been doing this for 38 years. Doesn’t this sound exhausting? How do you think other people see him? Disabled. Sick. Needy. Helpless. Useless. Weak. Broken. This is how they identify and label him.
But good news: this man has actually found a cure to his disability, or so he thinks. Every day, he visits the Pool of Bethesda. Of course, someone has to carry him to the pool. In modern times, this is basically an indoor pool. But why would he visit a pool every single day? Legend says that once a day an angel would come down from heaven into the pool and stir the water. Legend also says that whoever gets into the pool first after the angel stirred the water was immediately healed from his or her disease.
This legend made the pool very popular. All of the blind, lame, and paralyzed came from miles away to the pool to be healed. They laid around the pool all day in hopes of being healed. This disabled man places all of his hopes and dreams in this pool, this legend. If I can just be first to get in the water, I will be healed. He sacrifices time he could be begging to be at this pool. Which means he is sacrificing money he could be making. But he believes that this pool can solve all of his problems.
Doesn’t this sound just like us? We have a problem or issue in our lives and we think, if I can just get this, or if I can just do this, then I’ll finally be happy. When I finally reach this place in life, I won’t have anymore problems. If I can just try harder or be stronger than I’ll finally be free. The trouble with this kind of thinking is that we aren’t dealing with the root of our issue. This disabled man might be physically sick, but all of us are spiritually sick. All of us have a heart problem. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Everyone has sinned against God.
And our sin is the root of our sickness and all of our issues in life: selfishness, pride, idolatry, lust, greed, gluttony, laziness, wrath, envy. These sins cause all of our problems in life. They rob us of life, literally and spiritually. Just like the disabled man, we think this world can save us. We place our hope and trust in something in this world to fix us. Often times we even think we can fix ourselves. But the truth is that our sin makes us spiritually sick, needy, helpless, useless, weak, and broken. We can’t fix ourselves and neither can this world.
But the beautiful thing is, that’s when Jesus enters the scene, in the midst of our brokenness, while we are still sinning. Jesus loves helping those in need, so naturally he visited the Pool of Bethesda, where all the sick people are. That’s where Jesus sees and learns about the man who has been disabled for 38 years. But Jesus doesn’t immediately heal the man. First, he asks him a question: Do you want to get well? Wait what? Jesus are you serious? Did you really just ask that? This man is disabled! He comes to the pool every day to seek healing! Of course he wants to get well!
We have to stop and remember: Jesus is fully God. He knows everything. He knows this man’s heart. So he already knows the answer to this question. Then why would Jesus ask the question, do you want to get well? Jesus always asks questions for our benefit. Since he already knows the answer, he is trying to reveal something to us with his question. Does this man actually want to get well? Now that I’m thinking about it, is it that hard to be the first in the pool? My strategy – Just lay right next to the pool. As soon as you see movement, roll over. I’m sure that at some point if you keep trying this tactic you will be the first one in the pool. If you really want it that bad won’t you do whatever it takes to be healed?
Look at how this man answers Jesus’ question. He blames others for his problems. There’s no one to help me into the pool. Someone always beats me to it. It sounds like he has given up. It sounds like after years of waiting and trying to find the cure, he’s tired. He placed all of his hope in the pool only to be disappointed over and over again. It sounds like his identity, how he sees himself, is wrapped up in his disability. I’ll always be disabled. I’ll never be well. I might as well accept it. Jesus asks the question so this man will search deep in his heart and see if he actually wants to be healed. To see if he still believes that he can be healed.
Jesus poses this same question to all of us: Do you want to get well? Do you want to be free of all your problems and pain? Do you actually want the cure to your sickness? Or have you given up too? Maybe you’ve been stuck in your sin or struggle for so long that you have accepted it in your life. You don’t think you can ever change. And you’ve tried to stop or overcome this a million times, but nothing has worked. You’re tired of fighting Maybe part of you doesn’t want to change. It’s your source of comfort or escape from this world. It’s all you’ve ever known – You are comfortable in it. It’s a part of who you are now, and you live with this sin or struggle. You identify and label yourself with this sin or struggle.
How does Jesus respond in the story? With mercy and compassion. Jesus heals the man with mere words. He tells the man to pick up his mat and walk. And this man, who has been disabled for 38 long years, is finally healed! What this man has been unable to do his entire life with the pool, Jesus does in an instant. It’s a miracle! Now imagine the possibilities and the potential for this man. He can walk – No need for people to carry him. He can work and provide for himself – No need to beg. He can go grocery shopping, cook, and clean – No need for other people to do that for him. He doesn’t really need anyone anymore. He can take care of himself.
Jesus has given him a whole new identity. Healed. Capable. Helpful. Useful. Strong. People will see him on an entirely different level. This man now has a choice. He can live in his new identity and create a new way of life for himself, or he can go back to his old identity and old way of life. Which do you think would be easier and more comfortable for him? Probably to go back to begging. Think about all the work he would have to do to start his new life. Find a job, work for a living, go grocery shopping, cook, and clean for himself. That sounds much harder than just begging for money every day. He may be fully healed but maybe he doesn’t want his life to change. His whole life he’s been a beggar. That’s what he’s comfortable with. That’s all he’s ever known. It’s his identity.
This is the very reason Jesus shows back up in our story. Jesus finds the man again, after he healed him, and says, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Jesus says, I gave you everything you ever wanted! I gave you a fresh start, a clean slate, a new beginning. How could you possibly think about going back to your old way of life? You were miserable. Pick up your mat, leave your old way of life, and don’t look back. I promise that will be better.
I have good news for all of you today! Jesus offers YOU freedom, healing, and a new start! Jesus is the cure to all your problems! He is the only one that can save you from your sin and free you from your struggles. The only one who can give you that inward transformation you are so desperately seeking. He lived a perfect, sinless life here on earth and died on the cross. On the third day, he rose from the dead! He defeated sin and death for all of us! When we put our faith in Jesus, our hopes, dreams, and trust, Jesus completely transforms our lives. The old you dies and God gives you a new heart and fills you with his Spirit. He gives you a brand new identity. Healed. Capable. Helpful. Useful. Strong.
In Christ, you have the power and authority to overcome sin and death in your own life. In Christ, you become selfless, humble, generous, content, at peace, satisfied, joyful, and hopeful. No more shame, guilt, or judgment for the things you’ve done. Only forgiveness, acceptance, and love. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He will never let you down or disappoint you. He will always be exactly what you need.
So what are you going to do with Jesus’ challenge today? Jesus speaks to all of us in this story: Get up! Take up your bed and walk! Stop sinning! Leave your old way of life behind. Don’t return to your old sinful, self-centered ways. Nothing in this world can save you, not even yourself. Only I can save you. Put your faith in me: Walk in the new life I give you. Jesus offers us a fresh start, but we have a responsibility to walk in it. You have to let your old, sinful way of life die by no longer living the way that you did. You begin to live like Jesus, moving toward righteousness, purity, and holy living.
This doesn’t mean we are going to live perfectly and never sin again. Our goal should be to sin no more, but the truth is that we will stumble and fall for the rest of our lives. Because we’re not perfect. Jesus is the means through which we overcome our sin, but we have to choose him. The point is that we are trying to change. We are continually repenting for our sin, asking for forgiveness, and choosing Jesus and holy living instead of our sin. But you have to choose for yourself. Will you put your faith, trust, hopes, and dreams in Jesus? Will you choose the unknown, more difficult, uncomfortable way that leads to life? Or will you continue to hope in the world and in yourself? And choose the easier, more comfortable way that leads to death? Do you want to be a beggar for the rest of your life, or do you want to walk again?
As we choose Christ and holy living, we invite others along our journey. Come and see the one who saved me! The one who freed me from my sin and my struggles! The one who gave me a new start and changed my life forever. This is not something we can keep to ourselves, but need to share with the whole world.