I wonder if I asked you what/who do you trust how you would answer? We are people who trust thousands of things every day without even realising it – people and things. We trust the bank’s with our money, our phone’s with our data, the chair that we sit on. Our lives are built on assumed trust – that everything will do what it is meant to do (most of the time).
I don’t know if you have ever experienced a breakdown in a trusting relationship, especially one you have built over the years that because of time and reliability you know that they won’t let you down. Then they do! It can be one of the most cataclysmic events in life; knowing where to go after such an experience, you begin to question everything you have every trusted, especially in the context of that relationship. I experienced such a breakdown in a relationship last summer. It was one of the hardest things to get through; we had known each other for years and then suddenly nothing. It happened at New Horizon 2018, the conference up on the north coast, everything was normal up until the Tuesday of the week. I was on my way over to the morning meeting, parked up and then made my way to the Tent. I think one of the things we trust most in the world – if we own one – is our car. We believe them to run well, be cost-effective, get us to our destination and then in the worst-case scenario keep us safe. Thus, it was after when I got back to my car that things broke down, and I lost all trust as I approached from a distance and held out my key to open it – nothing. Every step closer brought another click, and every click received no response. The doors would not open, and with that, our relationship broke down beyond repair. The damage was done.
Over the next few hours – as friends drove past and laughed and strangers offered me lifts – I tried everything I could think of; nothing. My car would not open for me. In short – It took me another three days before I was able to get into my car and drive it off from that spot on the road. Betty – my purple Fiesta – was keyless, when I had left her on that fateful morning, the engine was still running (which it often did, to cool down), to the point where it ran out of steam. A flat engine meant no signal to the keyless receiver; now this problem is usually overcome by the key inside the key. As I soon discovered, my key was lacking that little metal bit that would have been my saviour. I had to get one cut and sent, which took two days. To add to the damage, when the engineer was finally at Betty because the lock on the door had not been used for nine years, he ended up using the wrench attached to the key to open it! The damage was done, every time I got into my ascar I doubted it would start, and I was determined to change as soon as I could. I had trusted in the wrong thing.
Trusting the wrong things
I know that the story is humorous, but I hope you see what I am highlighting – the danger of misplaced trust. How often is that our story, we trust things that let us down? We believe things to deliver, what they cannot. We give ourselves to earthly idols that promise us satisfaction, joy, worth, value – even though, time and time again when we submit to them, they fail us. It is not just people, it is things. We make the good things in our lives god-things and expect them to function in a way beyond their means. Whether it is a fable of culture, Earthly wisdom, a guide to success, or a proven path to meaning. We give ourselves to these trivial pursuits because off what they promise and claim, we build our lives and hopes on them, in the desire that just one day they might do what they said they would. Sin, culture and the world we lived in has taught us to trust the wrong things.
WHAT DO YOU TRUST (JOHN 5:1-5)
Isolated by a Problematic Worldview
We know that some time has passed since the end of Chapter Four. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, which focused on the ministry of Jesus outside the city early on. John has him in Jerusalem for an unnamed Jewish feast (probably the Passover). Then John expands the scene by drawing us to the geography of the city. Jesus is walking, not far from the sheep gate, by a pool of water (The site was excavated in the 19th Century) north of the temple. The pool had a name of which there are different variants in some of the early manuscripts most likely they come to form the Hebrew בית-חסדא (Beth Khisda or Beth Khasda), which translated into English roughly means “House of Mercy.” It is a literary masterpiece from John, in the place known as Mercy none is to be found. Amidst the five colonnades of mercy, those who knew nothing of the concept made their home. The Shadows of the colonnades were the only mercy these people knew.
Understanding the cultural contexts and its pastoral implications
Our cultural background makes it hard to understand the fullness of what is going on here. It is not just that these people are suffering various ailments, wanting some relief. The bible is not here saying that disability, sickness, or limiting physical conditions are negative things. There is no inference of causality: these people are this way because of sin, or they have been bad. The issue is not the physical state of those lying between the five pillars, but the fruit of that state in a society that had developed a dangerous view of those who were differently abled. The problem was that dominant Jewish culture had developed a poor theology of disability and sickness; a theology that inferred such things where as a result of personal or generational sin. Thus, not only where these people unwell, but within their cultural context, they have been removed from participation. They lacked personhood. Their realities meant they were unable to participate in Temple Worship – the pinnacle of Jewish Personhood, they could not work, and no legal status or protection. They where literal outcasts – the voiceless of society. It is here we see Jesus walking amongst those who could not be included within the social, religious and legal structures of their culture.
The Desire for Inclusion: Trusting the Wrong things
Thus, this crowd of outsiders lay not just wanting to heal, but inclusion. Their hope was to be restored to full participation in their culture, to personhood. The pool represents perhaps one of the only means they will attain that. So they sit waiting, trusting, and hoping that the pool waters contain the healing properties said of them. You can understand their desire and frustration. However, when it boils down to it, it becomes no simpler than these people trusting an earthly solution to a human problem. It is a bit of a side note, but in light of this passage, it is essential for us to know and remember the fullness of the Christian worldview and how it speaks to such realities. We are people who believe in the inherent worth of all people. The Gospel reminds us of our sin, but that is not a statement of worthlessness, it is an eternal reality. God wants to save us precisely because we have value, and we have value by a biblical world view because we have been made by the hand of the Almighty. Thus, God held those who lay between the five colonnades to be worthwhile regardless of their ability or appearance. Every human who has ever walked this earth stands before God equal: Equal in their sin and need of a saviour; Equal in the worth and inherent dignity because he made them and bore his image. This is the fundamental nature of a proper Christian Worldview. Hence, in this case of the passage we are looking at whether healed or not, we must be a people who recognise the dignity of all people; regardless of ability, ethnicity, intelligence or lack of – all have worth, because worth is not derived from productivity, tribe or blood, but in the commonality of cause:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
UNDESERVED, UNWANTED, YET RECEIVED (5:6-7)
An Example Figure
John highlights the case of one person, who acts as a representative figure for those lying there, and all of us who for thirty-eight year this man has sought a chance healing wherever he could find it; mistrusting whatever the latest fad. Let down time and time again. Thus, he lies at a pool in the House of Mercy – probably more as a place of last resorts – with his hope battered. Perhaps he was at his wit’s end, or this was where he has always located himself. He seems alone in the world, with no one to help him, no one he could trust; One wonder, and he did not believe the pool to heal him. He had been conditioned by his culture, context and sin to trust all the wrongs things; he needed to learn anew. To live and trust not by the standards of this world, but by a new Standard – Christ. Soon he would encounter the only one in whom we can trust and never know disappointment.
You are a man who has ever only ever known rejection, hate, isolation and abuse. You would think any potential change of circumstance would be a good thing. As the narrative develops, this seems to be a man with no real desire for change: he hates his situation, he hates his ailment. However, regardless of same time seems happy to live within it. He is comfortable in his discomfort. His situation has become his identity; it is who he is. He is the man who can’t be healed, and no matter the desire for change at least it is good to know who you are and to be content in it. He has never known any different, so to know different would almost be dangerous. Imagine you were in the same situation, born in a way that excluded you from the only world you could ever know — taken to exist in the shadows. Imagine being that person; then you are approached by someone as you lie beside what you consider to be your only source of healing, yet, you never be able to seem to get to it. Then, that stranger becomes probably the first person to notice you, address you in a long time:
“Do you want to get well?”
You would think the natural response to such a question, in such a situation: Yes, because that is what you want, and maybe this person might help you toward it – perhaps they will help you into the pool, maybe they have another method by which to bring healing. Whatever the reasoning behind the question, you would think that the response would be Yes! Our friend seems to the most reluctant receiver of Grace. Why? Because change is terrifying. No matter how bad a situation is, at least we know it: we know the boundaries of our existence. Thus, the man wants someone else, yet, he can find comfort in his discomfort. We are often no different, whether as a church; we like what we know, the styles of service and teaching, and we want things to stay like that. Or as people, we love our sin; we convince ourselves that we are not that bad, that we do not need to change. Thankfully God is not one who leaves us where we are, Grace is underserved, and sometimes meets us when it is unwanted. Ninety-Nine per cent of those with whom Jesus interacts with sought him. They Stopped trusting in the things of the world to provide that which only God can: identity, purpose, meaning and salvation. In a moment, they look to Jesus Christ and see the truth. They trust him, all the while knowing that which they receive they do not deserve; thus, they are thankful all the more. Our friend, on the other hand, seems to be the most ungrateful of those who Jesus interacts within John Gospel. Instead of responding positively to Jesus question, he responds almost with an excuse:
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “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.”
It is almost like he is responding to Jesus: “of course I want to get well! I just have not had the break of luck that I need yet, that is why I am here! I need a bit of luck then maybe. “Regardless of how the man responds, with faith or lack of, it is not about him! It is about the God who became one of us, who chose to leave the glory of heaven and walk among the filth of a broken world. It is about a God who chooses to save those who over and over again would try to protect themselves. It is all about Jesus.
All Glory to Him who Walks among us
Do you see the Christocentric nature of this passage? If not go back to verse one and reread it verse by verse. Notice the little details, notice how Jesus knew the man’s condition before the man identified himself (v6) because he was God! Notice, how it was Jesus who chose him, and not he who sought out Jesus. This passage is solely about the one we need to know, the one we need to trust. It is all about Jesus. Hence the whole narrative centres around him as it expands on his ability and wisdom. He is the God of Grace, who does not out of need or want, but because he can! Hence Christ responds to an excuse, not with further enquiry, or a sermon on the mans poor theology, that he would rather seemingly trust in the superstitious healing powers of water in front of him that recognise the Son of God who stood before him, but with Grace and power in the form of an imperative.
Grace: Receiving what we do not Deserve (5:8-9)
“Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”
Imagine hearing those words spoken after thirty-eight years of impossibility. Imagine hearing those words spoken when at some level, you never wanted them said. Imagine hearing a command to do something which you had no idea how too. This is the power of God. He speaks, and things happen. Thus, for 38 years, a man lay, without command of his body, never able to stand vertical without the support of friends. Now he is commanded to do something that he has never done before. An imperative not just to get well, but an invitation to rejoin the world that has cast him out. What power must have accompanied those words, as Jesus gave the man what he lacked and needed: Grace, unmerited favour in the form of a command that restored battered limbs and wore down muscles, that planted the knowledge and ability to walk in the mind, and destroyed cultural barriers. When Jesus speaks, he speaks with authority. Hence, the man responds as John describes it in the most tranquil of ways: “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” It must have been as Charles Swindoll describes it:
“I’m sure that after nearly four decades of atrophied limbs and withered hope, the man skipped, ran, leaped, and did cartwheels around that wretched pool. He must have been a sight!”
– Excerpt From: Charles R. Swindoll. “Insights on John.
The narrative develops further and leads to a confrontation between Jesus and the religious authorities, but that is for another time, as our passage finishes here. So what doe these nine verses teach us? A lot! So let’s consider how this passage speaks to those of us who are disciples today.
Conclusion: A Better Way, A Higher Trust
A King Worth Trusting
The first thing we see here is the importance of trust, explicitly trusting in the right things. The man is representative of every human: we are all him in that we have lived with a condition to which there is only one solution. Time and time again, we look to the wrong things to restore us. We are people who have been conditioned by a sinful world to trust everything but God. Jesus came into the world, to show us a better a way, that through trust in him (faith) we would receive all – and more than – we have ever needed. We would be healed of our most significant ailment – sin. Then equipped to live the life we were made to live – The dwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. That is the ultimate healing that God is concerned with: This was Calvary, and that is why he is the only one we can trust. Jesus did what he set out to do, not for himself but others. He has proved his trustworthiness regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. I can say confidently He will never let you down. So do you trust him?
A Practical consideration: Mercy
This passage also speaks practically to the disciple today. We are reminded of the inherent need in this world because 2000 years on we are not in a much better place. As Jesus moved towards those the outcasts and voiceless of society, so too are we called in the same direction. The Motto of Christian Discipleship must be: “Like Christ, so must we!” This is how Jesus defines discipleship: not as merely hearing his teachings and then applying them to our lives. But as listening to his words, looking to his actions and then modelling our lives on all of it. Discipleship is a full embodiment. All that Christ taught, did, and sought is all that we are called to teach, do, and seek. Since Christ sought out the disenfranchised, downtrodden, and outcasts of his world. The church today must find those same groups and people and by our actions, restore them, by showing them, Christ. As a people who have received and recognise that what we accept as underserved, so we live and give. Let’s get on with it.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands; yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth, but yours.”
A Theological Consider: Healing?
As I read this passage, I did find myself wondering: “Why did Jesus seemingly ignore all of the others lying within eyesight?” Maybe, you had the same thoughts: “Why did he only have compassion on the one who seemed most unwanting of it?” The answer: we don’t know why? The lesson: God is sovereign, and in charge, his ways are higher, his knowledge better even when it comes to healing. He will do as he pleases to do because that is best — the lesson for us.
“God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfils it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”
― A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
Within certain Christians theological schools of thought, you will hear that healing or providence is dependant on faith. Specifically the strength of individual faith: that if we believe enough, then God will heal or prove the thing we are looking for, then we will get it! The inference being that a lack of providence in terms of healing or material possession is as a result of a lack of faith. It is the fruit of being a “Bad Christian.” This passage, in short, should reduce any such notion or understanding to the outright heresy it is. This Scripture rebukes any such thought and enforces the truth that it is only God who heals. This is not a discussion about Spiritual Gifts, or whether some people have the gift of healing. It is an inditment to the source fo healing – God. In the case that some people may have a gift of healing, it is still up to God when that gift bears fruit according to his sovereign will. In this passage, the man receiving shows no signs of faith in Jesus, no response to what he has received, nor even gratitude. He is still healed. In the rest of the passage, he seems more fearful of Human powers that of the one who has done the impossible, as he informs on Jesus and places the blame on Christ for him “breaking the Sabbath.” Thus, we see here that Christ’s compassion and God’s healing are nor only reserves for the deserving. Simply it is God who heals, and God who chooses to treat.
We do not look at it, but as the passage develops, it becomes clear that while the man is somewhat grateful to be able to walk after thirty-eight years, he still does not trust Jesus. No sooner is he up and carrying his bed, is he confronted by the religious authorities of his day. It is a confrontation that (without him realising) asks him to consider who he trusts more: the power of man or the authority of the one who healed him. He has received fully from God all that his heart desires, and now the world challenges him anew to either stand firm for Christ – trust him, or bow again to the world that rejected him. He makes the wrong choice, as he hears the false accusations of breaking the Sabbath and instead of standing firm in his healing and what Christ has done for him, he passes the blame onto Jesus: “I am only doing what he told me to do!” He was forced to make a choice: trust in the one who healed him or seeks the affirmation of those who had caused him so much hard. He made the wrong one. The challenge then to us is to be a people, who regardless of the pressures of the world, chose to trust Jesus. Broadly, the healed made faced cultural pressure to deny Jesus, to give a higher trust to human authority, and that is what he did. It is the most dangerous thing disciples can do, when we come to Christ, we are his, and his alone, he demands our loyalty not became he is vain, but because he is the ultimate source of authority, wisdom and power. Regardless then of the pressures of the world, let us keep trusting him; irrespective of the forces we might face let us stand firm. Through him, we have received our all, so let us keep trusting him for all.
Today, may we be a people who trust in the only one who will never let us down. May we trust Jesus to know our needs better than us and then to meet them. May we trust Jesus for our identity, purpose, worth and salvation. May we trust him above all things. Then may we be a people who see the world as he did and by the power of Gods Spirit in us, bringing hope to the hopeless and ministering practically where we can. And may the dream we offer always been in line with how Jesus teaches us to provide.
Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God.
– John R. Stott