John 5:1-9 Arise!
(Preached at the special New Year service at the Akabane Church, Church Of Christ, Japan by Rev. Takao Kiyohiro.)
1. Jesus went up again to Jerusalem. There was a Jewish festival. At festival time Jerusalem is busting with Jews who have come to gather from all directions. The focus of the festival was, of course, the temple in Jerusalem. The turnout was tremendous. But, there was one place, a few hundred meters from the temple, right under their eyes and noses, which demonstrated features directly in contrast to the splendor of the festival. There was a pool called "Bethesda" in Hebrew. Four corridors surrounded the area of the squared pool, and there was another corridor right by the center of the pool, but there was a multitude of "sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed people" lying down there. During the festival and the bustling at the capital, there were many people spending many lonely days who never turned the heads of anyone and there were people cursing their lives in the lowest depths of distress.
2. Why were they there? Actually, the reason is not given in the text. Verse four was probably missing [originally]. This verse was added on to this gospel much later. When you look there, it is written like this, "They were waiting for the water to stir; for, an angel of the Lord sometimes came down to the pool and there would be a stirring of the water, and whenever the water stirred, the first person into the water, regardless of what disease he or she had, was healed," (verses three and a half to four).
3. This is an explanatory note added on in the Gospel Of John in a later period. We know that clearly. It was a superstition back in that day. So, there they were all of them trying to be the very first one to plunge in. But, that was really sad, too. We say, "Misery loves company (fellow sufferers pity each other). But, the real situation here did not go exactly like that. There's a world where the miserable are not able to love each other with any greater intensity. There's human sin in it. There's competition among peers even in bearing their burdens. There's a rivalry. Everyone is all out for himself or herself. So, even though there is a crowd of people there, they are even more alone. They're even more alone because of the fact there is a crowd of people. They could not feel for each other even though they were bearing the same burdens there. That's the kind of world there was around that pool. And it's that way around us today.
4. But, Jesus went there. The place where Jesus' feet went was not at the bustling of the gorgeous Jewish festival. That's not where he went. It was the pool of Bethesda, the place of suffering and worry, he went where the lonely people bore their heavy loads.
He Saw, He Knew, He Said
5. Then the Bible records the following,
"Then, there was a man who had been suffering with an illness for thirty-eight years. Jesus saw that a man was lying down, and knew that he had been sick for a long time already, and said to him, 'Do you want to be well?,'" (verses five and six).
6. I feel deeply impressed at the three words lined up in this short message which is casually written, "[he] saw," "[he] knew," and "[he] said." Before Jesus lifted his voice to speak, he "saw" him and not just saw him, but he "knew" him, and then he spoke to him.
7. How different he is from us! For the most part we don't clearly see the other guy. I don't even think we try to know [others.] We easily encourage people or blame them for their sins without even seeing them clearly or even trying to know and understand them well. "Why are you doing that?" "Try a little harder." "One way or another it ought to work out." Words, something like this, are the first to appear. But, if they are meant well, they aren't harmful in as much as it's encouragement from someone lacking in insight.
8. Jesus is so much different from the way we are. Jesus looked at the situation and first of all knew deeply regarding the very real world which they bore on themselves. He understood. It says, "he knew that he had been sick for a long time already." How he could have known that we don't know. But the love of the Lord understood his extended suffering. He did. "Love" understands others. Really, and that's not all. The Lord even knew were his current misery had come from.
9. Please look at verse fourteen. Later Jesus spoke to this man as follows, "You became well. Do not sin anymore. Otherwise, a more evil thing may come up." In other words, the Lord knew that this sickness came from some particular sin. Of course, we must take note of these particular words. Not all sicknesses come from sin. We shouldn't think there is some sin behind every person with an illness. But, there are some cases when it is true. Indeed, it is not especially limited to disease, but isn't it often that we suffer as a consequence of our sins?
10. However, Jesus did not accuse him with a single word of his sin. Perhaps he thought that [the man] understood what his problem was. Later, when [Jesus] said "Don't sin anymore," when [Jesus] saw that he did not answer back with "What sin is that?," it could be that Jesus thought the man knew which sin was his problem. But, Jesus does not rebuke his sin. Jesus often harshly rebuked the Pharisees. He scolded anyone harshly for looking upon themselves as righteous and for looking down on others. But, did Jesus ever once harshly rebuke the ill for when their sicknesses had come from their sins? The Lord "saw" and "knew" and more than that he cared deeply for [him] and would not abandon [him].
11. Jesus said to him, "Do you want to be well?" Naturally, these words would have somewhat of a cold ring to them if they belonged to an unsympathetic person. He must have gotten mad and maybe said, "You're asking me something cruel. Of course, I want to be well. Need you ask?" But this has meaning because it is the words of Jesus. It is the words of him who asked after having thoroughly understood all the man's extended sufferings, sorrows, and solitude. "Do you want to be well?" It is hope that Jesus is trying to give him. These are "words that give hope."
12. Humanity needs hope. I mean this because we live with an attitude of giving up without even knowing that we do. We lose our hope. The real word seems to be a place where we can't do a thing for ourselves. And since it's the result of our sins, we feel all the more like we can't help but give up. This man must have been that way, too. He had suffered for thirty-eight years. It was thirty-eight years. That is not short at all. And during that long period he probably kept blaming himself over and over. I don't suppose he cursed his own life. But, there came another person. At first, perhaps at first, the one who had thoroughly understood his long hardships had appeared to him. Then, he said to him, "Do you want to be well?" He gave him hope. Jesus "sees" and "knows" our realities in the same way. And because he has understood us, he says to us, "Do you want to be well?" Since Jesus is saying that to us, we can have hope. We need hope. Jesus himself is our hope.
13. He said to the Jesus described in the story above, "O Lord, when the water stirs, there is no one to put me into the pool. While I get ready to go, someone else gets in first," (verse seven).
14. In short, he says, I keep losing the race. He says that in such a competitive society, every person is all out for himself or herself, and there is no one who really cares for me. Of course, the fact that he was alive there meant that he had help from somebody. But, besides that he was miserable and alone. His words tell us his thoughts. If the truth be told, anybody could probably make this claim. We'd rather not. But, he began to pour out to Jesus the misery that he had saved up in his heart so far till then. Touched by the words, "Do you want to be well?," words of the one who when he knew all forgave, accepted, and cared for him, he first opened his heart. Then right there he had a true encounter and relationship with Jesus.
15. The strong are respected and the weak are despised. People in the lead are admired even though they have pushed others aside and those pushed aside taste misery. The fact that there is such a competitive world has hardly changed from the times of Jesus or our own. Each person is all out for himself or herself. Amidst this [mess] there may be times when we too have the feeling that there is no one who really cares for me the way [I am all out for myself]. But, even though reality is like that, there is no need to worry one bit. A person meets Christ there. We meet him who sees us, knows us, speaks to us, and accepts our thoughts.
16. Furthermore, please look at verse eight. "Jesus said, 'Arise! Carry your bed and walk,'" (verse eight).
17. He slept because he couldn't get up. If he could have walked and carried his bed, he wouldn't have been there [in the first place]. If this came from someone else, these words would have been nothing but meaningless encouragement. Normally we would only have a sense of repulsion. But, these words have meaning because they were said by Jesus. Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been sick for a long time. Jesus knew that he had been lying there sick because of some sin in his life and accepted him as he was. However, Jesus did not wish for him to stay there for good. Jesus wanted him to get back on his feet.
18. The Lord's thoughts came to this man. So, he believed Jesus and accepted the words of Jesus. He tried to stand. "Whereupon, he immediatedly became well, carried his bed and walked," says the scripture. It was the man himself who got up, but it was Jesus who made him get up. It was the man who carried his bed and walked, but it was Christ who decided to enable him to walk. The power of God worked through Christ. The power of God worked on the man's weakest point. He did not stand when he was there by himself in the vicinity of the Bethesdan pool. He couldn't get up by himself. But, with Christ he arose [to his feet] and with Christ he walked. The life of God through Christ flowed into the man who believed Christ and he was made to stand up and walk.
19. His long lonely days of hardship at the pool of Bethesda were over. No one needs any longer to keep fighting a lonesome battle inside yourself by yourself, a battle over the sin you carry by yourself or over the hardships of the consequences of your sin; for, the one who knows our realities just as they really are and who accepts us says to us, "Do you want to be well?" First, we have to meet him. The important thing is to open our hearts to Christ, and expose to him all our sins, weaknesses, shames, and misery, and pour them out before him. In this way, we will experience a deep relationship with Christ, and experience his love and forgiveness. When we believe in Christ and first begin to live, the life of God pours into us abundantly, and we get up again and can begin to walk.