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By Stephen Green. (First published in Christian Voice: October 2004)
John 5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.
11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.
12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?
13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.
14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
TROUBLING THE WATER
Some have suggested that the troubling of the water by an angel which is mentioned was actually a natural occurrence of bubbling in the spring water. There are always people like that. It hardly matters. A man does not wait there for as long as he did if he never sees anyone healed. Healing took place. One lesson from the account, born out by the man's answer to some of the Judeans when they criticised him for carrying a burden on the Sabbath, is that Jesus, the Son of Man, has authority over the Sabbath. Someone who is capable of such healing is God Himself, John the evangelist is saying. But that point, although important, is not what I want to consider.
I thought to look at the healing, especially in the light of some recent email correspondence and encounters with homosexuals. The ex-gay movement and those agencies which minister the healing power of Christ to homosexuals come in for a lot of trouble. There are constantly being sneered at by career homosexuals. Either it does not work, they say, or the people weren't really homosexual before, or the techniques employed make people feel guilty of being how they are, or whatever can be dragged up to discredit them. Of course for those who are not healed, or who give up half-way through, the feeling of failure - their failure, God's failure - is acute. But that people are healed and made psychologically whole cannot be denied, except by the most passionate homosexual activist.
THE POOL CAN’T DO IT!
The Lord's question to the man, "Wilt thou be made whole" did not get a direct reply. The man was probably still thinking in terms of the pool. But the pool couldn't do it. How long had he been there? Was it for the whole of those 38 years, or just the last one or two? However long it was, it was long enough to start blaming the fact that others always got there first for his lack of healing. "While I am coming, another steppeth down before me." Every time he was too late. How crushingly disappointing for him, time after time. And now that was all he could think of.
But Jesus must have seen through that anguished reply, and heard that his heart was crying out "Yes, Lord, I do want to be made whole." And our gracious Lord healed him. He had no need of the pool and the angel and the troubling of the water in the end. He just needed Jesus.
MIRACLES HAPPEN TODAY
What we have in the account is the physical healing of a man with a bodily infirmity, a lameness of a disabling kind. I want to say that I believe Jesus heals physical infirmity today just as He did then. Miracles happen. I do not care for preachers who demand to see healing there and then, and who will blame a person for lack of faith or sin in their life if they are not healed. That is wickedness to my mind. The preacher never considers the possibility that it might be sin in his own life that is keeping that person in the wheelchair. But I would not wish to deny that such miracles happen. It is just a pity we do not see them much in Britain. They are always in other parts of the world. Perhaps that is the Mark 6:5 effect.
On the other hand, as in the case of my own youngest son, miracles can be disguised as particularly blessed surgery and accelerated natural healing. David had an operation to put right a heart condition when he was two weeks old. No-one knew what was wrong with him, but he was ebbing away. Then a diagnosis came out of the blue in answer to prayer. The surgeons did their job in emergency on the Lord's Day, under covering of much prayer, and although we were told he would be in hospital for 15 weeks and would need heart support drugs, he came home after 13 days of intensive nursing care, needing nothing. It was a chain of events that could possibly be described as just one of those things, or 'luck', but not in the mind of the nurses. They kept referring to the 'miracle baby.'
A pastor whose church is part of a charismatic group and who believes strongly in miracles of healing right there and then was praying for his wife to be healed miraculously. It did not happen. "Why, Lord?" they prayed, and received no answer. The doctors could do nothing. Then he had a call to take an evangelistic mission in Argentina. He suggested his wife travel with him. Out there, they were talking to someone, and mentioned her condition. The man just happened to know a doctor and he just happened to know what was wrong with her and to be able to cure it. That too was a miracle, but not at all the one they were expecting.
EMOTIONAL AND SPIRITUAL HEALING
What about emotional and spiritual healing? "Wilt thou be made whole?" Most people, If they had a physical disability or illness, would yell out "Yes, please Lord," in answer to that question. Or would they? Maybe they would react as the man at the pool did, and say, "I've been on these pills for twelve years, and I'm no better," or "They can't give me an appointment till next April." How many would say "Yes, Lord"? But an overwhelming majority of them would actually want to be healed. Few are they who would prefer the sympathy given to the sick to wholeness and healing.
But with emotional and spiritual healing it is not even that clear-cut. The sadness in the emotional and spiritual sphere is that some people do not want to be made whole. It all becomes more complicated. Can someone who has nurtured a grudge against another for 38 years let it go? Can someone who was wronged all those years ago find it in himself to forgive and be healed of the worm in his spirit? It becomes comfortable having the grudge.
Emotional wounds go very deep. Someone has said that the wound which would have given the Lord Jesus the most pain was the emotional one of betrayal by his friend. To compound it, such wounds are not visible. Yet for those who suffer from them, they are real enough, and can ruin a life. They are not always remembered. There has been much injustice and abuse done seeking out hidden memories, and some have been frankly made up. But they do exist in people, and because they have caused such hurt, they are covered over in the memory. Only the effects are there, years later.
HOMOSEXUAL LIFE STORIES
Running through most homosexual life stories are tales of fractured families, or parents who never affirmed their children, or who put them down ("You'll never be half the man I am") or were emotionally never at home. Perhaps the parents never bothered to hide from their only daughter the fact that they wanted a boy. A host of things can go wrong, and it is in its way a miracle of God's common grace that so many of us grow up as reasonably normal as we do.
Another regular element is physical or sexual abuse by a person in a position of trust. There are men around who take up with divorced and separated women simply to gain access to their children. Other men cannot bear the thought of another man's children being around and freeze the child out. Do we wonder why there is so much homelessness amongst the young? Sexual abuse can come from a scout leader, a music teacher, a church minister, or any man who is able to get close and alone with children. Sadly and inevitably, such men are attracted to jobs with children, and the effect of the abuse is often enough to stop the child's normal development and leave a young girl as a lesbian or a boy as a homosexual man, drawn for ever back to boys of a similar age as he was when he was first abused.
But the memories can submerge to the extent that many homosexuals will say that cannot point to an incident that 'made them gay'. They are telling the truth, most of the time. But it is there, nonetheless, and as we are all different, it could have been an incident so trivial as to leave another, emotionally more resilient, soul completely untouched. There is one story of a little boy who was not allowed by his brother and his friends to play with their model cars. Pushed out of peer-group masculinity, he turned his back on all masculinity. Stories like that are tragic.
A LEAP OF FAITH TO LET GO
"Wilt thou be made whole?" To say yes, it is first necessary to recognise that whatever is wrong with you, and it could be homosexuality, or bitterness, or grievance-bearing, is not the will of God for your life. The grace of God needs to break through the exterior and say that such is sin.
"Wilt thou be made whole?" In 'The Great Divorce' C S Lewis had a parable of a little red lizard on the shoulder, whispering fantasies in a man's ear. The man had to allow the lizard to be taken from his shoulder and crushed. It was a hard decision, because he had become used to the lizard, and quite liked it, but in the end he threw it down. When the lizard was crushed it became a white horse, a symbol of purity. Brokenness and especially sexual brokenness is like that. "What would it be like without the sin?" "I enjoy the sin!" The man did not regret losing the lizard, but it took a leap of faith to allow it to be taken away.
But even when being about to make that leap of faith, the question "Wilt thou be made whole?" may still not get a positive answer. It may not be that the hurt is comfortable like the lizard was, it may be that letting it go is too costly. Forgiveness of one who wronged you, or abused you, or ignored you, or insulted you, or robbed you might be involved. Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things to do, but without forgiving others, we shall not ourselves be forgiven. Forgiveness cost God His only son. He demands no more of us than what He did Himself. Forgiveness is hard, but it is essential to let go of the hurt and move on. As the Lord Himself said: "Forgive and ye shall be forgiven." (Luke 6:37)
NEVER LOOK BACK
Jesus still heals today, and He has the power to heal those who say yes to that question, "Wilt thou be made whole?" I firmly believe that. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, He comes to bind up the broken-hearted, He brings healing in His wings. But in receiving healing, and in having been healed, it is not possible to stay in the same place. "Jesus saith unto him: Rise, take up thy bed, and walk." There is a sense in which the rolling up of the bed was a statement of moving on from the condition of sickness to the state of wholeness.
Someone who is healed must put things behind him. "Never look back" is just as good advice today as it was to Lot's wife 3,800 years ago. After being healed, why would the man want to go back to the pool at Bethesda? It is necessary to walk away, sometimes spiritually, and sometimes physically, from the life of brokenness.
"Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." That is a challenge to us all not to go back to sinning after healing. If you stay there, sin will creep in again. Move on.
"Wilt thou be made whole?" Oh, that more would say "Yes, Lord, I do."