“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.” ~John 5:1-9
As the day dawned, the man on the cot opened his eyes. He was familiar with the sights and sounds around him because for thirty-eight years he had been in the same place day after day. While one generation grew old and died, while the world changed, the man on the cot found his part of life constant.
He was not sure if anyone still remembered that sin had brought on the paralyses he now endured. He could not use his legs. He could crawl very slowly from place to place and he did that sometimes. For the most part, it was just better to stay put and so he did.
By the Sheep’s Gate, the man on the cot laid all day. From time to time a stranger might give him alms. With that little money he could buy some food and continue to survive. If there was a ray of hope in the dreary existence for the man on the cot it was connected to a pool of water, called in the Hebrew tongue, “Bethesda” which literally means, “House of Mercy”.
The pool was lovely to look at. Many people were attracted to it, especially the sick. The pool was 360 feet long, 130 feet wide and 75 feet deep. The sick came to the waters because a strong belief prevailed that at least once a year an angel from the Lord went down into the pool to stir up the water. Whoever first stepped into the waters after the movement began would be made whole of whatever disease they had.
People of Roman society laughed at such beliefs and called them superstitious but the faith of the Jews taught that angels were real and often helped people. Did not an angel from the Lord bring food to Elijah (1 Kings 19:5)? The man on the cot did not embrace superstitions nor did he lose faith. If only he could reach the waters in time. He had tried so often for so long.
While he waited, the man on the cot could pass the time by observing the activities surrounding the seasons of the year. He knew that preparations were being made for a great Jewish feast. Every male fifteen years of age and older, according to Law, had to attend either Passover, Pentecost or the Feast of Tabernacles.
As the man on the cot watched the excited movements of the masses, a shadow suddenly fell over him. This was unusual. Most of the time, the shadow of a person was fleeting. Sometimes someone would stop to speak briefly or place a coin into his hands but then move on. This Shadow was not moving.
The man on the cot squinted his eyes to look up to try and see who stood in the bright sunlight against the blue sky. The Stranger was talking.
“What was that you said?” asked the man on the cot.
And the Stranger replied, “I asked, ‘Do you want to be made whole?’”
At first, the man on the cot did not know what to make of such a question. Was this Stranger mocking him? Was the Stranger some sort of medical quack? There were many charlatans full of pills and promises preying on the sick. Was this Stranger one of them? He carried no leather pouch with Him and He had no assistants by His side.
It seemed that the Stranger was sincere. He did look kind and so the man on the cot replied.
“Yes,” he said,
“I would like to be made whole. But I have no friend, when the waters are stirring to cast me into the pool. I struggle towards the fountain but someone else is always able to step past me and go in first.”
The Stranger accepted the explanation of the situation and then He spoke a second time to the man on the cot.
“Rise, take up thy bed and walk!”
Seven words. That is all the Stranger spoke but they were words of healing and power. The Bible says that immediately the man was made whole and he took up his bed and he walked.
In this wonderful narrative we have yet another miracle of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not easy for people to believe in miracles. The world is still amazed at what happened during the week of February 12, 1996, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The story begins in January, 1988, when a policeman was shot while responding to a domestic violence call. His head wound placed him in a coma. For almost eight years Gary Dockery did not speak. Then, in February, 1996, he suddenly opened his eyes and began to talk to his sister who was in the room at his bedside.
With great joy she soon called their brother. “I have someone who wants to speak to you,” the sister said. Her brother waited and then he heard a voice saying,
“Hey buddy, how are you?” After seven and a half years Gary Dockery became alert again. It was a miracle.
If God has worked miracles in the past and if the Lord still works miracles today, then our faith can be challenged to ask Him to work miracles of salvation, miracles of sanctification and miracles of physical healing.
The most important miracle we must ask for is that of salvation. Perhaps you have never considered the salvation of a person a miracle but it is. If we believe that the resurrection of Christ was a miracle then we must believe that every soul that is saved is a miracle of the new birth for it is nothing less than the dead heart coming to spiritual and eternal life. And the same Divine power which brought Jesus from the dead must be exerted to resurrect the soul.
As we examine this story of the man on the cot we cannot help noticing the spiritual teaching concerning salvation. The salvation of the soul begins with Divine sovereignty selecting a person to be the object of grace. The text says the man on the cot was selected out of many to be healed. He was not alone at the Sheep’s Gate. He dwelt in a place where a great multitude of sick people had gathered.
Some people were impotent. Their muscles had atrophied. They were emaciated because of a deficiency in the nervous system and because the blood supply to the limbs had been cut off.
Some people were blind. They could not see the light of day or the beauties of life. The Law tried to protect the blind from ridicule. They were not to be mocked (Deut. 27:18). Still, life was hard.
Other people who stayed by the Sheep Gate were “halted” or crippled in their feet. Though the rest of the body was sound, something was wrong with the feet. They were just as desperate as those who were withered or paralyzed in other body parts.
No better picture could be presented of the state of the soul of what the Bible calls the natural man before God prior to regeneration. The natural man is impotent, blinded, crippled and withered up. Like the man on the cot the natural man has no friends able or willing to help him be right before God.
Satan will not bring such a person to the place of cure.
The world will not bring such a person to the place of cure.
The flesh will not bring such a person to the place of cure.
So, the natural man lives year after year in his helpless and desperate condition. Then one day, sovereign grace singles out an individual for salvation. Though others are also sick with sin, grace comes to a particular person. It is a great mystery. It is also great mercy.
Sovereign grace asks a question to the soul that will be saved. It is life’s greatest question and it is this,
“Do you want to be made whole?”
With the asking of the question comes hope, for the implication is that health can be restored. The impossible becomes the possible if the one asking is the Lord God omnipotent.
The person that first hears the gospel may think that salvation is impossible apart from human effort. The natural man will try to save himself through baptism, good works, self esteem, religion, or church membership. But the question was not “Will you keep trying to be good?”
The question was,
“Do you want to be made whole both in body and soul?”
If the answer is, “Yes!” then the next issue is to face sin honestly. According to John 5:14, sin had caused the disease of the man on the cot. Something that he did in his youth produced a crippling disease and left him crippled. Spiritually, our sins will leave us helpless before God. Sin must be forsaken and therein is the problem.
Some people will never think of leaving sin until they are disabled by it. Therefore, the question Jesus asked the man on the cot was not superficial but reached into the very essence of the soul.
Finally, the command was given to the man to rise up and walk. But how is this possible? How does a person who is spiritually crippled rise up and walk? There is only one answer. Sovereign grace must make the soul whole. The healing takes place so that gospel obedience can be implemented. In this way, God get the glory. The eye of omnipotence moves the heart as mercy is shown in proportion to misery. Man does not need the angels of the Lord as much as he needs the Lord of the angels. Then it can be seen that salvation is of the Lord.
As salvation is of the Lord and according to Sovereign grace, so is sanctification. It is possible forthe soul of a person to have a secret sin that is loved and protected.
Again, the gospel question comes to the professing Christian,
“Wilt thou be made whole?” Sometimes, the heart has to pray an honest prayer.
“Lord, you know all things. You know that I do not really want to be made whole. I do not understand my addiction. I do not understand this love/hate cycle that I struggle with but there is a part of me that at times will pay any price to be satisfied.”
“Lord, you know what takes place in the darkness. You know how desperate I become. Lord, I confess, there is a part of me which is out of control. There is a part of me that is dominated by attitudes and actions that displease you. But Lord, at this moment, I do want to be made whole but you alone must speak these healing words. Lord, as you speak and dead men live, so speak now that I might have life and have it more abundantly. Let there be a thunderclap of omnipotence and I shall be made whole.”
The man on the cot was told to sin no more lest a worse thing come to him. So every person who comes to Christ must cease to live in habitual sin.
Zachaeus was a covetous man but he restored what he had received by fraud. He ceased to live in habitual sin.
James and John were the Sons of Thunder but love replaced
their explosive angry spirits. They ceased to live in habitual sin.
Peter was a boastful man until he was broken by the
voice of a maid and the look of the Lord. He ceased to live in habitual sin.
Paul was a prideful man until grace subdued his heart and he learned to call Jesus, Lord. He ceased to live in habitual sin.
Samson was a sensual man until his eyes were punched out by the Philistines and he was forced to crush grain like an animal. Then he called again upon the name of the Lord. He ceased to live in habitual sin.
It is not easy to confess a love for secret sin. The mind plays games to justify behavior. The heart excuses sin by talking about addictions. The soul grows weary with the long struggle to be made whole.
Sin is accepted as an uneasy companion. The only hope for any person is that the Shadow of the Almighty might fall directly or indirectly. Indirectly the Shadow of the Almighty might come when the heart sees the power to heal.
For example, those who were near enough to see what Jesus had done for the man on the cot might have spoken up and cried out,
“Stranger! Have mercy on me too!
What you have done for another, do for me!”
Some might have said such a thing. The Pharisees would not, but they were good according to their own heart. Still, the point was easy to understand. In the Bible we have many examples of the Lord showing mercy to people bringing to them salvation and sanctification. We can ask for such healing of the soul. But we must expect the questions.
“Do we really want to be made whole?”
“Do we really want to be saved?”
“Do we really want to be sanctified?”
Only the heart desperate enough or honest enough will say, “Yes!” and herein lies hope. Perhaps Jesus will say,
“Rise up and walk
Walk in the sphere of salvation.
Walk in the path of sanctification.
Walk on the narrow path that leads to eternal life.
In that hour the heart will be made whole.
The offer has been made of indirect hope by recounting the story of the man on the cot. But there is something better and that is to offer direct hope in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This hope is based for those who stand in the shadow of the Cross.
Since Christ has come into the world to do a great work of grace the heart can boldly say, “Lord, help me directly. I come to you personally by faith. Be my Savior and my Sanctifier. No one else can help me. No one else can work that miracle of healing I need. Come to me, Lord, and make me whole. Amen.”