Sermon 05 - John 5,1-18 - Do You Want To Get Well - feb 8, 04

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1.      This morning I invite you to turn to our Scripture portion and follow along with me.

John 5:1-18 (NLT) (page )

Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. 2 Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. 3 Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. (waiting for a certain movement of the water, 4for an angel of the Lord came from time to time and stirred up the water. And the first person to step down into it afterward was healed.) 5 One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him and knew how long he had been ill, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

7 “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred up. While I am trying to get there, someone else always gets in ahead of me.”

8 Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your sleeping mat, and walk!”

9 Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up the mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath day. 10 So the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! It’s illegal to carry that sleeping mat!”

11 He replied, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Pick up your sleeping mat and walk.’

12 “Who said such a thing as that?” they demanded.

13 The man didn’t know, for Jesus had disappeared into the crowd. 14 But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” 15 Then the man went to find the Jewish leaders and told them it was Jesus who had healed him.

16 So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. 17 But Jesus replied, “My Father never stops working, so why should I?” 18 So the Jewish leaders tried all the more to kill him. In addition to disobeying the Sabbath rules, he had spoken of God as his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

2.      If you followed along with me in the Scripture reading most of you noticed that part of verse 3 and all of verse 4 missing in your text.

a.    The text progresses from verse 3 directly to verse 5.

b.    For most of you the missing verse 4 appears in small print as a footnote at the bottom of the page.

c.    This strange sequencing appears in most translations of the Bible after the King James Version,

d.   and is due to the fact that in the years since the King James was first published, scholars have discovered that the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of the book of John (prior to 400 AD) do not include the words in verse 4.

e.    We'll return to this interesting situation in a minute.

3.      Our Scripture tells the story of Jesus at the pool of Bethesda.

a.    It is from the name of this pool that we get the name of our great naval hospital in Maryland, Bethesda Naval Hospital.

b.    There is some debate over the exact title of this place but generally, it is agreed that Bethesda means “House of Mercy.”

c.    Incidentally, for years skeptics thought that the name "Bethesda" was made up and did not refer to an actual historical location.

d.   Then in the 1940s, archaeologists unearthed some ancient stonework bearing the inscription "Bethesda."

i)        The word was found at what was known in ancient times as the Sheep Gate, which is mentioned here in the text.

ii)      The location is known today as St. Stephen's Gate in Jerusalem.

e.    The archaeologists discovered two pools covering a very large area - 150 by 300 feet.

4.      Imagine the scene described in Verse 3: Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches.

a.    in ancient times this area was, in effect, a hospital without walls.

5.      Why did people with physical ailments come to Bethesda?

a.    Apparently a later Biblical scribe wanted us to know, so he improvised the words that constitute the end of verse 3 and all of verse 4, which scholars today have relegated to a footnote: waiting for a certain movement of the water, 4for an angel of the Lord came from time to time and stirred up the water. And the first person to step down into it afterward was healed.

b.    The scribe apparently supplemented God's Word with his own in order to account for a legend that grew up around these pools and for what is hinted at in verse 7.

i)        According to the legend, from time to time angels would come down and bathe in the water.

ii)      At the precise moment you saw a bubbling in the geothermal water, it was believed that the first diseased person to fall in would be miraculously healed.

iii)    So the waters of Bethesda were considered a healing shrine, like the waters of Lourdes in southern France, and the shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

6.      Hundreds of people were present on the day our Scripture recounts.

a.    But Jesus did not take a SHOWMAN'S APPROACH when he arrived;

b.    he did not stand on a rock and broadcast his intentions, "We're going to be shutting this place down today. I'll be going around and touching each one of you."

c.    Instead, Jesus went directly to one man, the senior beggar who had been visiting the healing waters for 38 years.

d.   This beggar was probably the most helpless creature of them all.


a.    the intimate Jesus


Lord, we are so grateful for the words of John, and for this passage about the healing at Bethesda. As we witness Jesus dealing so simply and directly with a beggar whose helplessness is very visible, we find encouragement that he will lead us to the heart of our own less obvious helplessness, and with simple actions and firm encouragement, teach us to move toward strength and righteousness again. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart present in this room prove acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.


John 5:1-18

1.      ((illus)) Charles Shultz, creator of the Peanuts cartoons, on one occasion had Lucy observing… "Charlie Brown, life is like a deck chair."

a.    "Like a what?"

b.    "Haven't you ever been on a cruise ship, Charlie Brown? Passengers open up these canvas deck chairs so they can sit in the sun. Some people place their chairs facing the rear of the ship so they can see where they've been. Other people face their chairs forward. They want to see where they're going. On the cruise ship of life, Charlie Brown, which way is you your deck chair facing?"

c.    Charlie thinks for a moment and replies: "Gee, I've never been able to get one unfolded."

2.      Do you ever feel that way?

a.    It seems like all the people around you know who they are and where they're headed, while you fumble your life away trying to unfold the deck chair.

b.    Maybe you’re:

i)        Disabled emotionally because of past or present abuse.

ii)      Blind to beauty and hope and purpose or truth.

iii)    Paralyzed and incapacitated by fear or addiction or habits of sin.

iv)    Preoccupied with yourself and your problems

c.    This morning we say hello to a Charlie Brown from the first century,

i)        a man who for 38 years lay by the pool of life

ii)      without so much as unfolding his deck chair.

3.      But one day a stranger picked his way through the crowd at the healing waters and came to stand next to this beggar's mat.

a.    This stranger asked what seems like the most insensitive question you could ever ask a disabled person: (:6) "Do you want to get well?"

b.    We might imagine that the man's first thought was unprintable: "Do I want to get well? Why else would I be lying next to this pool for 38 years waiting for the waters to bubble? Of course I want to get well!"

4.      Yet, I would like to propose this morning that, if we really examine human nature, we might conclude that this was a very relevant question to ask.

a.    It may be a hard fact to believe or admit, but sometimes sick people do not want to get well.

b.    Actually, there are often very good reasons for their reluctance.

i)        When you get well, you lose one set of obvious problems, but sometimes you gain a whole new set that are even more difficult to handle.

ii)      Some people are unwilling to pay the price of wholeness.

¨      This man in John chapter 5 is a prime example of this truth.

¨      The moment he gets up and starts walking, he clashes with the Pharisees.

¨      For 38 years he hasn't had to worry about keeping the law, but now he's walking along with his sleeping bag and he gets busted by the Sabbath cops in verse 10: So the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! It’s illegal to carry that sleeping mat!”

¨      You can tell this man is not used to taking responsibility for his own actions, because he replies in effect, "Hey, don't look at me. It's not my fault. The man who made me well said, 'Pick up your mat and walk.' I'm just doing as I was told."

¨      The Jews immediately demand, "Who is this fellow?'

¨      The beggar is caught in the crossfire of the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees.

¨      He may have found himself scratching his head and reminiscing, "You know, life was easier back by the pool."

¨      Now he has to worry about keeping the law, holding down a job, paying taxes, taking out the garbage, and pulling his weight in society as a normal, healthy functioning adult.

¨      When faced with those demands some people say, "You know, I think I'd rather be sick..."

5.      ((illus)) In the Melchior family, during the years our children were at home, it was wonderful to have a temperature of 102.

a.    You got to lie on the couch and watch unlimited TV.

b.    while your loving family brought you glasses of Sprite and heavy doses of sympathy.

c.    In such a soothing environment, were you motivated to “get well soon”?  No way!

6.      ((illus)) Here at Grace, we have a recovery ministry which from time to time, takes various forms..

a.    Ken and Gladys meet every Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at the church office and lead a 12-Step program called Abundant Life.

b.    It is open to all.

c.    In this ministry and others you are told that you have a problem (it could be alcohol, drugs, co-dependency, hurt, habit, hang-up, etc.) and you must work on identifying it, understanding it, and taking the necessary steps in the healing process.

i)        But some people have noticed that once you begin to heal, let’s say, you stop drinking, then you’re faced with a different problem:


iii)    As William Willimon sums it up: "When I am drinking, I don't have to think about what to do with my life, the bottle tells me every move to make. When I'm free, the ball is in my court…And as wonderful as that is, it can be frightening."

d.   Do you want to get well?

i)        Face it – you’re not alone.

ii)      Go to the Abundant Life

iii)    Let us help you get an appointment with a good Christian Counselor.

7.      ((illus)) It is an interesting fact that 50 years ago almost all of our health problems resulted from diseases, while today 80% of them are related to our lifestyle choices.

a.    We aren't feeling well, so we go to a doctor. When the doctor tells us, "You need to decrease your calorie intake, drink less alcohol, and stop burning the candle at both ends - slow down, relax, and take care of yourself" - what do we do?

b.    We find a new doctor who will simply write us a prescription for what ails us.

8.      Jesus DIDN'T ask the man, "Do you hate your illness?"

a.    Of course he hated his illness.

b.    Jesus asked the more important question: "Do you want to get well?"

c.    In other words, are you willing to pay the price of wholeness?

d.   Jesus may have asked, "Do you want to get well?" because he was aware of a second truth about human nature.

9.      Sometimes not only are we unwilling to pay the price of wholeness, but our illness is actually bringing us some benefits that we may not be prepared to give up.

a.    ((illus)) In first century Jerusalem, a huge segment of the population were beggars like this man John 5.

b.    They subsisted on the alms given by the thousands of pilgrims to Jerusalem.

c.    It was considered exceedingly meritorious for a pilgrim to give charity to the poor while visiting the holy city. So entire colonies of beggars would line the thoroughfares of Jerusalem.

d.   A beggar sometimes lost a good living if he was healed of his diseases.

e.    So Jesus forced the man to face the consequences of being healed: "Do you really want to get well?"


a.    Who would we blame for our shortcomings if we were suddenly whole?

b.    ((illus)) How many of us have blamed a bad golf swing on a sore back?

i)        Or a lost tennis game on a bum knee?

11.  Do you want to be healed?

a.    Are you kidding?

b.    There's no better security blanket in this world than a scar to point to when you really need it.


a.    If someone calls us on our selfish, immature behavior, we're quick to display our scars:

i)        "It's true, I do get moody and clam up for days on end, but what else can you expect with all the pain I've been through?"

b.    We would not be able to hold others as emotional hostages.

c.    There's a payoff in staying angry with an ex, or my parents, or God, or with my lot in life.

i)        As long as I can stay incapacitated by my past, I don't have to take responsibility for my actions in the present.

ii)      And the attention I get as I lay by my pool of Bethesda can be very gratifying.

13.  So it can be the MOST FRIGHTENING THING in the world to look up one day and see a stranger standing beside me with the power to heal.

a.    Friends, Jesus is standing in that place beside us right now.

b.    This morning he is asking: "Do you want to get well?"

i)        If your answer is "maybe someday" or "no," then you might as well stop listening to my message and start making your "to do" lists for the coming week.

ii)      Because not even Jesus can heal someone who doesn't have the will to get well.

14.  The man at Bethesda does want to be well.

a.    His problem is that he has become locked into a single strategy for getting well.

b.    For 38 years he has associated healing with bubbles.

c.    He scans the surface of the pool looking for bubbles.

d.   He imagines himself sinking into bubbles.

i)        His favorite musician would be Lawrence Welk.

ii)      His motto is, "Lose your troubles in the bubbles."

e.    For him, carbonation equals salvation!

15.  It appears he doesn't even look up at Jesus when he speaks the words of verse 7:

a.    " I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred up. While I am trying to get there, someone else always gets in ahead of me.”

b.    This Bethesda must be an unfriendly place.

i)        You have to be the first one into the bubbles, so no one helps anyone else.

ii)      This man hasn't got one friend after 38 years.

iii)    He appears to be recruiting Jesus to help him into the pool the next time the bubbles appear.

16.  But Jesus was not interested in the bubbles.

a.    I imagine that his voice was very loud as he commanded the man to "Rise!" (A word you would use to wake some one up with.)

b.    Earl Palmer says, "Jesus scared this man to his feet."

c.    He didn't have faith in Jesus' healing powers, he was simply startled into obeying and then he found himself on his feet.

d.   This man was probably thinking, "Well, I'm on my feet at the moment, but if things don't work out, I'll still have my mat and my place reserved here next to the pool."

17.  But Jesus wouldn't allow him that safety net:

a.    "No way. Take your mat with you and go throw it in a dumpster somewhere. Detach from your old life."

b.    Friends, if that mat had stayed there, the next day he would have been back lying on it.


d.   Go home and pour out the alcohol! Go home and get rid of the drugs! Sever your ties to those friends who are dragging you down. If you turn and walk away, some of them may even follow you. Burn your bridges behind you. You are not going back.

e.    Rise, take up your mat and walk.

18.  Sometimes after we're healed, we look around and ask, "Now who's going to carry me?"

a.    Nobody is going to carry you.

b.    This church will love you and stand with you.

c.    But the same Jesus who gave you the power to rise up is going to give you the power to walk, and to keep walking beside him every day.


1.      ((illus)) Tom Hansel used to love climbing mountains until his climbing accident.

a.    He’s lived with excruciating pain ever since.

b.    His church family prayed long and hard for his healing. 

c.    Often time would sit in church with glassy eyes from his pain medication. 

d.   But he and his church family kept praying and finally a different kind of miracle took place.

e.    Tim discovered a gift he never knew he had: a gift for writing.

i)        Today he has written a number of best-selling Christian books.

ii)      In one of them called You Gotta Keep Dancin', Tim writes, “I had prayed hundreds, if not thousands, of times for the Lord to heal me - and finally he did heal me. He healed me of the need to be healed, and gave me his peace inside the pain. Joy is mine today - joy mingled with still ever constant pain - joy in the gladness of being alive. Daily challenges often leave me less than the best, but then something new emerges to surprise me: Hope - deeper and more enduring than ever before. Faith - not enough to move mountains, but enough to get me through this moment and the next. And love.”

2.      So sometimes we pray and still the problem doesn't go away.

a.    But that does not mean we can't take up our mat and walk triumphantly with Jesus.

b.    "Do you want to get well?"

c.    Where in your life does that question apply?

d.   If Jesus couldn't help you in your walk, do you think he would have asked the question?

Lord Christ, here you stand big as life next to our mat. You know right where we are. You found us in the crowd. You know that place of utter helplessness in each of our lives. Whether it is some habit or addiction, an inability to forgive or love, or a resentment deeply embedded in our past, you ask us to face ourselves with the words "Do you want to be healed?" Help us to want to be healed. Help us to say “Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord. Yes?” At this very moment, some of us are praying, “I want to want to be healed; I'm willing to be willing. Lord, hear our prayers.” Come in power and walk these aisles, touching our minds and hearts, until we hear your words “Rise - stand on your own two feet, Take up your mat - sever ties with the old life, And walk in a new day with your Savior.”

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