John 5:1-9 (6th Sunday of Easter—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 5, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson from John 5:
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4 5One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.
No one to help. The Early Church Father St. John Chrysostom wrote, “What can be more pitiable than these words? What more sad than these circumstances? Do you see a heart crushed through an extended illness?”
He had been an invalid for 38 years. He lay on his mat at the Pool of Bethesda, which means “house of grace” or “house of mercy.” He sought the therapeutic waters in this pool. There was a popular belief that this pool had healing powers. Angels, it was said, would go down into the water “troubling the waters,” stirring them up. The first person to go down into the pool at the water’s first stirring hoped to be healed. This paralyzed man saw no other possibility for healing in his life than the therapeutic power of the water. But there was no one to help.
Repeatedly he had tried to get into the pool when the waters were troubled and was, time and again, beaten to it. He wanted to get into the pool first, but so did the others, the blind and the lame. Over and over again he attempted this feat, but it was not to be. He could not do it on his own. In his words, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is troubled.” No one to help.
With no one to help and without cure, this man was steeped in the hopelessness of his situation. He had been sick a long time. He had no one to help him get into the pool and so he always arrived too late for healing. There was no solution, or was there?
Like this man, you and I are steeped in the hopelessness of our situation. We, too, have been sick for a long time. We, too, have no one to help us, for everyone around us is just as sick as we are. Our disease is not paralysis. It is not blindness, heart disease, or even cancer. The disease with which we live is sin.
Sin is a hopeless disease. No matter what we do, we cannot get rid of sin. No matter how hard we try, we can’t stop doing sin. Even someone like the Apostle Paul couldn’t take care of his own sin. Listen to what he writes by the power of the Holy Spirit in Romans 7, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:15-24) It’s a question of hopelessness, isn’t it? We can’t help ourselves out of sin or away from sin. Other people cannot help us since we all suffer from the same disease. There seems to be no help, no solution. Who will rescue us from this body of sin and death, indeed?
No help. No solution. Yet, there stands Jesus. He saw the man lying there by the pool at Bethesda. He knew the man had been sick for a long time. He saw the man in the depth of his misery. And Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus’ question is full of power and promise. It is Jesus way of saying to this man, “You think your situation is hopeless. Left to yourself and the way things have been going for you, it is hopeless. But standing before you now is truly One who can help you, indeed, the One who can cure and heal you.” Then Jesus said to the man, “Arise. Take up your mat. Walk.”
Do you want to be healed? Jesus knew that humanity had been sick with sin since Adam and Eve had disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. From that very moment on Jesus has seen humanity in the depth of misery. He has seen the misery that results from sin in the world and its effects on us like disease and natural disasters. Jesus has seen the misery in our lives, the results of our own sinful words, actions, desires, and their consequences. Jesus is witness to our total separation from God, witness to the fact that we are all by nature God’s enemies, Jesus’ enemies. And Jesus is witness to the punishment of sin—death and everlasting condemnation.
Do you want to be healed? Jesus’ question confirms our hopelessness in seeking to take care of sin on our own, or trying to overcome it by ourselves and our “good” behavior, which never even comes close to good enough. There is no step-program or self-help book that we can use to heal us from the corruption and brokenness of sin. Yet, again, Jesus’ question is full of power and promise. To you and me Jesus is saying, “Your situation of sin is indeed hopeless to overcome by yourself or with the help of any other sinner. But standing before you with grace and love is the only One who can help, who can heal and cure.”
Jesus Christ is the Great Physician of soul and body. We read in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” The word “weak” here is the same word John used in our text to describe the man at the pool—the man who was sick and weak with disease. We confess that we are weak and sick with the disease of sin. And while we were still ailing, steeped in the hopelessness of sin and death, at the right time Jesus Christ died for us ungodly people. “God [showed] his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6, 8) He couldn’t have waiting until we were a little bit better. He couldn’t have waited for us to be just a little good. That was not possible. So while we were still sickly and weak, His own enemies, out of His pure love and grace, the heavenly Father sent Christ to be our healer.
That healing comes to us as the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness means that our sins were sent away from us and were charged to Jesus Christ as He suffered on the cross. Jesus bled and died for our sins as the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. His suffering, His shed blood, His death in our place is the healing medicine that cures us from our sins. We read in Isaiah 53, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:1) “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1John 1:7)
Through Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead, Christ has completely destroyed the punishment of death and brought life and immortality to us! Because our sins are forgiven, we have received eternal life. These are the Lord’s gifts to us out of His love and grace. As forgiven sinners, or saints, we look forward to Christ’s coming again. On the Last Day, our bodies that have died will be raised from the grave just as Christ rose. We, then, will be given a glorious body just like Christ’s resurrection body. As the Lord tells us in Philippians 3, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20)
Christ is the Great Physician of soul and body. And we look forward to that Last Day as He comes again when our healing in body and soul is brought to its culmination, its completeness. So in Revelation 21 we read, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:4-5) That’s healing. That’s hope. That’s what we have to look forward to because we have been healed through the forgiveness of our sins and given eternal life.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) Through the Gospel—the good news that Jesus suffered, died, and rose again to heal us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil—we freely receive the Lord’s gift of forgiveness. The healing of Christ’s forgiveness is received in Holy Baptism. Forgiveness is received through the Gospel Word that we read in Scripture and that is proclaimed from this pulpit and in the words of absolution, where, as your pastor I have the joy of declaring to you, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.” The healing of Christ’s forgiveness also comes to you in the eating and drinking of His very Body and Blood with the bread and wine at His Holy Table. Christ’s Body given into death and Christ’s Blood shed for you on the tree of the cross are given to you in this Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. That’s healing in body and soul.
In John 5, Christ brought a paralytic from hopelessness to healing. He took the man from a serious ailment and a hopeless condition and healed him. Through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ brings us from the hopelessness of sin and death to the healing of forgiveness and everlasting life. Sin is a very serious ailment. It is a very hopeless condition. But Jesus has healed us in soul and body through the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, we look forward to our day of resurrection in body and soul, when we will realize completely the fullness of this wondrous health and life the Lord Jesus has freely given to us. Amen.