You may have ongoing medical issues or an ongoing problem with overspending, or overeating, or overcommitting. It might be an addiction that just won’t go away or an ongoing challenge in a relationship. This is the context of today’s passage.
John 5:1-9 says, “1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.”
A pool by the Sheep Gate? I don’t know who the master planner was for this community, but I don’t want to swim or drink from a pool by the Sheep Gate.
This isn’t a regular pool, this is a natural body of water, and a gathering place. Verse 3 says, “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, [and] the paralyzed.”
You may think, “What were they doing there? Were they all getting a suntan?” There was a tradition that an angel would stir up the water, and whenever the water bubbled up, they believed that whoever got in the water first would be healed.
They might wait days, or weeks, and then as soon as the water bubbles up, it’s a free-for-all to see who can rush and get in the water first.
Verse 5 says, “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” He’s been there for 38 years!
“6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, He asked him ‘Do you want to get well?’”
That seems like an insulting question, doesn’t it? That’s like asking a broke guy, “Do you want a hundred bucks?” It’s like asking a hungry guy, “Do you want to go to an all-you-can-eat buffet?” It’s like my wife asking me, “Do you want to make out?” This is an obvious question, “Do you want to be made well?” “Yes, I want to be made well!”
The man says: 7 “Sir,” the invalid [replies], “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, [somebody] else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
A moment in the presence of Jesus changed everything for this man.
I want to look at problems that persist. For 38 years, this man was sick. A moment in the presence of Jesus changed everything.
I see at least three significant challenges for problems that persist,
1. The longer a problem persists, the more discouraged we become. Some of us, we’ve had an ongoing problem – it just won’t go away. You’ve prayed about it for a while, but nothing happened, and you tried what you thought might help it, and nothing worked. You become discouraged. You tried to work on your marriage, and you prayed about it, and you were nice, and you maybe went to church together, but your marriage is still bad. And years later, you think, “I don’t believe anything’s going to help.” You prayed about some physical problem you have, and you went to some doctor, and you tried another doctor, and you tried another doctor, and you prayed some more, and nothing got better, and you just get very discouraged, even to the point of thinking, “Maybe this is just what God has for me.”
I cannot even imagine what people I know and love, who have real challenges that last not for few months, but for years … It can be incredibly discouraging.
2. The longer a problem persists, the more excuses we make. Why? Because, ultimately, it’s going to make us feel better if we put the blame somewhere else. And that’s what this guy does. He says, “Jesus, I have no one to help me get into the water. When I try to go in there, I can’t walk, and they all run by me, and I’m just left there, completely helpless and hopeless. No one can help me.”
Now, I don’t want to be hard on this guy, at all, because I’ve never been disabled, and, certainly, it would be difficult. But let’s be honest. There might have been a way for him to get close to the water. He couldn’t walk, but he might have been able to crawl. Or scoot, or do the Inchworm or whatever it takes to get there.
This guy gets to the place that we often get: “No one will help me out. I can’t do anything about this. Oh, my marriage, it is never, ever going to get any better.” “I’ve been to the doctors, and I’ve tried.” “And I can’t ever get a good job, because I don’t have a college degree.” “I went to counseling once, and it didn’t do any good. I even tried church, for two weeks straight, and nothing happened! I’ve tried everything, and I can’t get any better.”
3. The longer a problem persists, the more we compensate for that problem.
Are you compensating for an issue in your life? Perhaps, you are highly functioning alcoholic. Sure, it puts a stress on your marriage. Yes, it’s a challenge for your children. But, professionally, you’re highly functioning. People don’t know, and if they do know, they don’t really care, because you figured out how to manage around it, and you’re highly functioning, even though you have a significant addiction.
Perhaps in your marriage, you’ve just learned to exist in a dead marriage. You don’t like it, but you accept it – just the way it is. You’ve tried everything you know to do, and yet, you have no common vision. There is no intimacy. There’s no spiritual movement. You’re not trying to invest or impart anything significant into your children. It’s more of a business relationship, a partnership: “We’re just going to stay together for the sake of the kids. This is all we have. We don’t really like it, but we know how to manage it. We’re just going to stay in this.”
Perhaps you’ve learned to compensate for a pornography problem. You tell yourself, “It doesn’t really matter that much” and you’ve learned to erase the traps. You’ve learned to stay away from getting caught, and you think it’s not that big of a deal. But you’re just compensating.
Perhaps you’ve learned to compensate for your overspending. People look at you and think, “you’ve got it going on!” They have no idea you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for so long, you don’t even know how you’re going to get out of trouble. And you’re the master at maxing out this credit card, and that credit card. You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and you’ve learned to compensate for it.
Here’s the issue. We cannot change what we are willing to tolerate.
In the next post we will examine, How to get better.