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2CH sermons

The Bethesda Pool (sermon by Graham Agnew)

Are you old enough to remember when they used to have Arbour Day at school?  It was the day when we planted trees and generally remembered their importance in our world.  Today it’s called World Environment Day. I’m no Arborist (or tree expert) but I do know that the rings of a tree shown in a cross section tell that tree’s life story – year by year.

A thin ring is an indication that in that year it hardly grew – perhaps the area was hit by drought. A couple of thick rings show healthy years when the tree grew in leaps and bounds. Damaged rings can tell us about the tree being struck by lightning, while others can indicate the years when the tree was sick.

When you think about it, that’s the way it is with most of us. Beneath the protective bark, the concealing mask we wrap around ourselves, are the recorded rings of our lives.  They reveal much about who we are and what we’ve been through.  Perhaps very few people know the details… but God knows and He cares very deeply.

Just as the rings of a tree tell its story, so the rings of our lives reveal what we’ve been through and how life has treated us: There are scars of ancient, painful hurt (like a divorce, a problem child). There are the wounds that have never properly healed, like the ravages of a huge family argument that may have happened years ago, or the pain relating to a more recent injury – something someone said; something someone did; something someone neglected to do.  Some of these wounds may go very deep and they have shaped who we are today. 

Well, there were some very sad and desperate cases when Jesus entered the area of Jerusalem, known as the Bethesda Pool.  It’s an incident revealed in John Chapter 5.  If a cross section of the life rings of some of these people could have been viewed, many tragic events would doubtless have been revealed.

John, in his Gospel, says there was “a large crowd,” consisting of the blind, the lame, and the paralysed. Among these people were stories of extreme disappointment and discouragement … stories of rejection, frustration and anger.  It was all there…

Into this scene of anguish and desperation steps Jesus Christ – the One with the power and ability to start some of these people on the road toward wholeness and healing – and given that’s a road we all want to be on, what happened at the Pool setting all those years ago is of crucial importance to us. You see when it comes to this incident we discover that the journey towards wholeness and healing involves an understanding of, firstly, what Jesus saw…

There were possibly hundreds of suffering people sprawled out on porches surrounding that pool on this particular day, but Jesus saw this man and dealt with him in an intensely personal way.  I’m so glad that at the heart of the Christian faith is the belief that God, through Jesus, is vitally interested in us as individuals.

The great theologian Karl Barth said the supreme truth he knew was “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

Jesus doesn’t see us merely as a part of some seething mass of humanity – He sees us as individuals – each one of us is vitally important to Him. In fact that’s one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Christian Faith – the fact that God, the Creator of the Universe, has an intense and personal interest in each one of us.  He is eager to express His love and concern for us…  He wants to provide the help and healing we need to live life to the full.

His ultimate expression of love for us all was demonstrated in no uncertain manner when He sent Jesus Christ to the Saviour of the world. The Bible says: “Greater love has no more than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”

So, on this day, at the Bethesda Pool, God through Jesus showed his desire to help this struggling individual.  Jesus saw the man, noticed him in the crowd… and reached out to meet his need – and He continues that ministry to you and me today.

I love the saying: “God has invested in you, are you showing any interest?”

In the story of the Man at the Bethesda Pool, there’s great significance in what Jesus saw and also, in what He asked…

On the surface of it, it looks to be the most absurd question in the Bible.  A man, paralysed for 38 years, unable to get into the pool in time for when the waters are bubbling (to be healed) – a man whose physical condition would have deprived him of many of life’s joys and blessings and Jesus asks: “Do you want to get well?”

But it’s not such a silly question – in fact it’s a VITAL question in the process of achieving emotional and spiritual wellness… William Barclay said: “In the ancient world, to be an invalid meant that others did all the working and worrying…  Sometimes a beggar lost a steady income by being cured.” His point is that some of those at the Pool may not have chosen healing over hurt, as healing meant:

  • Losing their income
  • Losing their support system
  • Losing the ability to lean on others

Some people today would rather hang on their hurts because:

  • They prefer to complain, then compliment
  • They prefer to be angry, rather than amicable
  • They would rather receive sympathy than simply claim the strength to move on, in Jesus’ Name
  • They would prefer to maintain a martyr complex than start managing the complex problems they face

Jesus asks the same question today:  “Do you want to get well?”

It’s a very probing question in today’s world, because there’s a sense in which we have tended to glorify problems and dysfunctionality.  It’s become “cool” to be a little weird, to have more than a few hang-ups, to be dealing with a range of serious issues – at any one time.  This trend is reflected in TV Sitcoms – Seinfeld, Malcolm in the Middle, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Simpsons – all very different to Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, & The Andy Griffith Show; whereas these older shows are too far the other way, and give an unrealistic portrayal of the “too good to be true” world.

Yes, it’s cool to have problems, even though deep down we may want to get on top of our problems.  People say:

  • “I want to be better”
  • “Want my marriage to improve”
  • “Want to get on better with my kids”
  • “Don’t want to be so critical”
  • “Want to get on top of my anger”
  • “Want to increase my confidence”
  • “Revise my sense of self esteem…

But our complacency and lack of initiative to get help can be an indication that we are not ready to answer positively to the question: “Do you want to get well?”  Of course all of us are also capable of the excuses and rationalisations that generally follow – to explain our complacency and lack of initiative to get help.

Our friend at the Bethesda Pool had his reasons for not getting help.  Verse 7 – “I don’t have anyone here to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up.  While I am trying to get in somebody else gets in first.”

Jesus could have said:

  • “I’ll do it all for you”
  • “Let’s get a roster going for people to stand by to assist you to get into the pool”
  • “Let’s move you closer to the edge.

No, He didn’t say any of these things, but there is GREAT significance in what He did say – It was a strong command: Jesus said – “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.”

As we look closely at the incident involving the man at the Bethesda Pool (recorded in John 5), we’ve discovered that there is a great significance in what Jesus saw, what Jesus asked, and what Jesus said.

Having seen the man in the midst of the vast crowd and having asked the question “Do you want to get well?” Now Jesus makes a startling statement – “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.”  The man responds and he is healed.

Now there are two aspects to this miracle that are worth noting: This man, who previously couldn’t drag himself to the Bethesda Pool, all of a sudden believes that he can find the strength to get up and do what Jesus is asking. Sometimes as part of our healing from past hurts and grievances, we need to believe that in God’s strength, we can do something about our situation… we can exercise faith and believe that wholeness is possible.

Jesus had no physical contact with this man. There was no helping hand to get him up on his feet; no gesture of any kind is recorded.  It was all in what Jesus said – a strong command – a compelling word that moved this man to action.

A huge factor in our journey towards wholeness and healing lies in our willingness to believe the words of Jesus – His promises, His reassuring reminders like “I will never leave you or forsake you”, and “Come to me all who labour and are heavily laden and I will give you rest.” When Jesus told this man to get on his feet, take up his bed and walk, he was really saying: “It’s time for you to leave your hurt behind… time to move on.” That’s never an easy step to take; it requires a decision on our part to take action.

I spoke to a man recently who was filled with anger, bitterness, and a desire for revenge – all in relation to his very messy divorce that had taken place nearly eight years previously.  At one point I asked the question:  “When will you reach a point where you will be able to stamp this problem ‘PAID IN FULL?’”

“What do you mean?” he asked.  I reminded him of the pain, stress, anguish, and hurt that this problem had caused him over many years and I asked again – “For how much longer will you enable this to dominate your life and shape your destiny?”

Stamp the problem with the words – ‘PAID IN FULL’ – make the decision to stop the cycle of bitterness and revenge.

He was puzzled, momentarily, but then as we talked for a bit longer it became clear to him that he had the ability, with God’s help, to make the decision to get up and walk, just like the guy at the Bethesda Pool.  It was not going to be easy and the memories may linger, but at least he could respond positively to the question:  “Do you want to get well?”

Someone has said –     “We can’t always choose our circumstances in life, but we can choose how we react to those circumstances.”

The man at the Bethesda Pool received a challenge – to get up a start walking again.  He made a choice… he was never the same again!

Just as the rings visible in the cross section of a tree tell the story of that tree’s life, so the different layers of our lives reveal much about our journey.  The reality is that most of us have passed through periods of considerable pain and loss, like the man at the Bethesda Pool, recorded in John 5.  But, just as he received a fresh start, so we can we experience wholeness and healing – because Jesus is interested in us as individuals…

He asks probing questions like – “Do you really want to get well?” – and He challenges us to take action.  “Get up” he says… “Take up your mat and walk.  Believe that you can do it… believe that I can empower you to do it – but be ready to play your part also.”

Father God, give us the faith and courage to respond to your voice today.  We need your special touch in our lives.  Help us to choose healing over hurt… peace over pain… love over loss.  We’ll need the power of Your Spirit to make this possible and we claim that right now.  Amen.

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