Monday, May 9, 2016

What about the others?!

I'm fascinated by the story of Jesus visiting the pool of Bethesda in John, chapter 5. That's why I wrote a post a couple days ago in which I sought to dramatize the scene, followed by some liberties I took at the end. The reason I took those liberties was to draw attention to the intriguing fact that Jesus appeared to heal just one individual amidst a "multitude" of others who were all in desperate need (v.3), leaving the rest of them untouched and unhealed, somewhat like the way He chooses to save each of us amidst so many others around us who still need saving.

This leaves me with the same question every time I read this story: Why? Why didn't Jesus heal any others there that day? Why heal only one man, and then "withdraw" from the multitude that was there (v.13)? After all, Bethesda does mean "House of Mercy." That just doesn't sound like the Jesus I know. This is the same Jesus who when He tried to withdraw to a secluded place to grieve the loss of John the Baptist, and was followed by a multitude of over 5,000 people, Matthew writes that Jesus "felt compassion for them and healed their sick" – and then He fed them! (Matthew 14:13-14) So why withdraw from a multitude of desperately sick people at the pool called Bethesda after healing only one person?

Well, the answer to that question may point directly to the cross on which Jesus would provide a way of salvation for the healing of the entire human race! Is it possible that Jesus' purpose in healing that one man that day was to set in motion His redemptive plan for the multitude that fills an entire planet?

There's more to this story than the extraordinary healing of a man who had been lame for 38 years (v.5). I'm sure that Jesus knew as He approached the pool that He would find a great many sick people there, and I'm also sure that Jesus knew that He was visiting the pool on the Sabbath day. John points this out to his readers immediately after writing that the newly healed man did as Jesus instructed him to do and picked up his bed and walked. He then wrote, "And that day was the Sabbath" (v.9). Boom! Cue the foreboding music. This was the first time Jesus had openly violated the Sabbath in Jerusalem.

John then immediately explains that some of Jerusalem's Jewish leaders noticed the man carrying his bed on the Sabbath, something expressly forbidden by the 39th of 39 work-categories in the Mishnah, which was the written interpretation of the Mosaic Law. 

So the Jewish leaders who saw the man said to him, "'It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.' He answered them, 'He who made me well said to me, "Take up your bed and walk."' Then they asked him, 'Who is the Man who said to you, "Take up your bed and walk"?'" (vv.10-12). He didn't know, because Jesus had withdrawn. In other words, Jesus didn't go to the pool to heal the many sick who were there, as He would do just before feeding the 5,000, but to heal just one man, and to thereby get the attention of the Jewish authorities.

The Jewish reaction was swift and extreme. Once the Jews found out it had been Jesus, John writes: "For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath." (v.16)

This happened very early in Jesus' ministry. Most place it in the early part of his first year of ministry, and already the Jews in Jerusalem wanted to kill Him. This would not have taken Jesus by surprise. I believe this was a calculated act, in obedience to His Father. It was a miracle designed to get the attention of the Jewish leaders who would eventually be instrumental in God's redemptive plan: they would be key players in ensuring that Jesus was crucified.

And in light of the strategic nature of this particular miracle, I think it's worth noting a few things about the man who was healed. He never asked Jesus to heal him, nor did he even directly answer Jesus (yes or no) when Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed. And then he sought to save his own skin among the Jewish leaders by being the one to eventually report Jesus to them once he realized it was Jesus who had healed him and had told him to break the so-called Sabbath rules (and he was only able to report Jesus because Jesus intentionally revealed Himself to him again and urged him to "sin no more" (v.14-15)). This was not a grateful man. He was a self-preserving man at Jesus' expense, which suited Jesus's purposes just fine, for Jesus wanted to upset the Jewish leaders.

So what are we to think of all this? I believe Jesus saw His own death in the healing of this ungrateful sinner (a man not unlike ourselves, lest we be too hard on him). And I believe Jesus healed this man primarily to begin the process that would result in His death for the salvation of a desperately needy world. Jesus had the world in mind at that House of Mercy, not just the people present.

If we continue reading John 5 and see the many things that Jesus said in response to the Jewish leaders' persecution of Him, we would see how Jesus emphasized His unity and oneness with God the Father and with all the Father's eternal purposes. These purposes surely included His plan of salvation, and perhaps that is what Jesus had in mind when He said that the Father "will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel" (v.20). 

So to return to my original question of what about all those other poor hurting people at the pool called Bethesda – why couldn't they be healed? The answer is that Jesus certainly had them in mind when He healed one man among them so as to set in motion a plan that would take Him to the cross for them all. When Jesus appears to be ignoring our needs, we can be certain that He hasn't forgotten us – He's simply after a higher purpose in our lives!  And Jesus would also want us to know that if He could choose one ungrateful man to be healed as He pursued God's overall plan, we can be sure that we will not be disqualified by our own selfish sinfulness as we look to Him who saves and heals us from all our sins.

© 2016 by Ken Peters

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Do you want to be healed?

Imagine that you're wandering through Jerusalem in the days when Jesus walked the earth, and you come upon an unusual scene. But before you see it, you hear it, and then you can smell it. Nothing can prepare you for this, though for the local people, it's an uncomfortable reality that they're well acquainted with.

You first hear the sound as you approach a row of columns that are parallel to the road you're walking down, but you can't yet see what's on the other side of them. At first you're not sure you heard right, as you can barely make sense of it amidst the competing sounds of the city: a chorus of baa'ing from the nearby sheep market, the haggling among the many sellers nearby, a donkey braying in the distance, a group of men arguing heatedly over some land title over by the Sheep Gate. But as you get closer, the sound becomes more recognizable. It's the sound of moaning; moans mingled with occasional cries that sound like prayers of painful desperation. In fact, it sounds as though many people must be in pain. Curiosity draws you closer until you notice the smell. You wonder what it could be as your senses are assaulted by the awful stench of infection mixed with body odour in the stifling heat. You've now walked close enough to begin seeing between the columns, and as you draw closer, an unforgettable scene opens up before you. On the other side of the columns, you see what appears to be a multitude of beggars in ragged clothes lying on several sizable porches  no, there are five porches, each with a roof overhead, all of them surrounding a pool of water, and each one crowded with sickly, crippled and even paralyzed people! Some are blind, many clearly can't walk, and others have bloodstained bandages that barely cover their broken limbs. Your eyes fill with tears as you wonder who all these people are, and why there are so many of them lingering here by these waters.

The place you have discovered is Bethesda (John 5:2-4), which in the local language of Aramaic means, "House of Mercy." But considering the scene before you, it would be fair for you to wonder why this horrible place of pain would be referred to as a place of mercy. According to local lore, it is said that in certain seasons, an angel of the Lord visits this pool and stirs the waters, and then whoever first steps into the water after the angel has stirred it will be made well from whatever ails him or her. That sounds like mercy. But considering the multitude of suffering people who wait for this precious moment, the sense of desperation and impending disappointment is palpable in this place.

As you gaze over this morbid scene, covering your mouth and nose with your hand and listening to the groans that are now unmistakable, your heart is overcome with sorrow and with hopelessness. But then suddenly you see movement nearby  about a dozen men are approaching the multitude just a few columns away. And then one of the men in that group crouches down to talk to a man on a mat, and you can just make out their brief conversation.

The man crouching down puts his hand gently on the lame man's forehead as He softly asks him, "Are you here because you want to be healed?"

The invalid replies, "Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." (John 5:7)

And then suddenly, and without warning, the man crouching beside this sad, defeated man says, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!" (John 5:8)

You're taken aback at this, and the initial expression of shock you see on that poor crippled man's face reflects your own reaction to this unexpected demand! What could this man be thinking in being so bold?! By the way that crippled man's bony legs look, he hasn't walked in years  even decades! But then as you watch the man on the mat stare into the gentle eyes of this unusual stranger, he begins to stir. A smile begins to spread across the stranger's face as He extends His hands and begins to stand from His crouching position. You watch in awe as the crippled man takes His hands and struggles to kneel. As he does so, you do a double-take as you see his legs thickening with muscles that appear to be forming before your very eyes! Soon the man is tentatively standing, grinning from ear to ear, but unsure where to look! First at this stranger's beaming face, then at his newly strengthened legs, and then back at the joyful face of this man who has done the impossible! Soon the newly healed man is comfortable enough to stoop down and pick up his mat, and with a cheer, excitedly set off, likely for home, you suppose.

One man's life, among a multitude of others, unexpectedly chosen and forever changed. You're left open-mouthed, still staring at the amazing man who worked that great miracle, and suddenly he looks your way and catches your eye with a smile on His face. "Do you want to be healed?" He asks. 

And your heart leaps with a great yes! You imagine what it would mean to be well from all that ails you  not only from an illness that's lingered far too long now, but also from the sin that so easily besets you, the ruts you can't get out of, the weaknesses you've been unable to overcome! Perhaps this House of Mercy is actually a place where we all belong, a place that reflects the realities in all our souls, a place where we can meet this wonderful man who stands before you now, looking gently into your eyes and asking with the conviction of One who can save you, "Do you want to be healed?"

© 2016 by Ken Peters