Several things about today’s Gospel lesson might seem a bit strange to us. It’s definitely not the usual healing scenario that we find in Scripture. And we might have a few unanswered questions. First off, why would God choose to heal in this manner? – one person at a time, only after an angel comes and stirs the water?
On the other hand, can’t God do what He wants? This is the manner in which He chose at that time and place to give the gift of healing.
But furthermore, why is this place called the pool of Bethesda? Bethesda means house of Grace, mercy. Yet, it is obvious that it isn’t a place of mercy for everyone – not for everyone. This man had no one to help him get him in the water. All fine and well for those who had a means to get into the pool, but this man did not.
Why did he have to wait 38 years, and possibly all of those years watching and waiting, while others got healed? How could that possibly have been of any benefit to him? Wouldn’t that just cause him to be jealous and angry and bitter? And just lead him toward wanting to give up on life? Why?
Furthermore, why would Jesus ask him if he wanted to be whole? Isn’t that kind of obvious? He couldn’t walk for 38 years, and Jesus asks, do you want to be healed? Do you want to walk? Do you want to not suffer anymore? Who in their right mind, would say no to that?
Perhaps the ultimate question, that always seems to go unanswered: Why does anyone have to suffer in the first place? Why? Thirty eight years? And sometimes others must live an entire lifetime, with some type of serious disease, even paralysis? Why?
And maybe we should just get this out of the way right now. Can we not be honest that we’ve all been angry with God at times? “God I hate you.” We’ve all either said or felt those words. “I pray and pray and pray, and you don’t seem to care! You don’t seem to hear, you don’t seem to answer! And the minute things start going well in one area, something else goes wrong. You seem to take away my happiness as soon as it gets started, like it’s some kind of game! Some kind of cat and mouse game! The minute I find success here, there is failure, disappointment, suffering elsewhere.” Scripture itself says “man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.”
But maybe now we’re getting somewhere. Because this is the part where He says, gently, “Trust in Me. Believe in Me. No matter how hard the storms of life blow and beat upon you, I’ll be with you. Trust in Me, and you will never, ever, move.”
Never in all of history, has anyone ever been able to point out a promise God has broken. And this is His promise – anyone who believes in Him, in His Son, will not be let down.
Everything in this life changes, but His grace, His mercy toward us sinners, changes not. Christ is the foundation that cannot be moved. Those who believe in Him are anchored safe, and secure.
Do you want to be whole? Body and soul? He says, believe in Me. My grace is sufficient for thee. By grace are ye saved through faith. Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is no rest in getting things, having things, flourishing in earthly things, even in physical health and well being, if the soul has not yet been healed – then there is no peace and rest where it counts the most.
Christ came to make everything right between us and God – to provide everything our soul needs to inherit eternal life. He has the words of eternal life. They bring rest and peace, healing, forgiveness, strength, new life, new hope even to those who seem to have lost all hope, to the greatest of sinners, even to the soul that has all but given up. He shed His blood. He gave His all for us, and now He offers us His true body and blood, given and shed for the remission of all our sins. All things are now ready. “Come, believe, receive,” and we do receive rest unto our souls.
Life isn’t about avoiding everything that might trouble us, or cause us some pain – it’s about knowing, believing, God will be there for us and He will always give us everything we need to get through it. He says, simply believe.
What would faith be without suffering? Would it even be true faith, if it is never challenged to trust during trying circumstances?
What would the Christian life be without suffering when Christ, who already carried the heavier cross of our sins, and provided complete forgiveness for all our sins, says, we too must carry our cross, whatever it may be? To accept the path God has chosen for us, the life and circumstances He gives us, no matter what suffering that includes, is for our ultimate good – and according to His good and gracious will.
We have to admit, sometimes we have the tendency to focus so much on this life, that we fail to ask the more important questions about eternal life. Like, how does all this fit into God’s plan of salvation for us, for this man, for you, for me? Yes, he suffered greatly, but was it without purpose? Or did it not all fit into God’s plan to save his soul?
What is of more value, the healing of the body, or the healing of the soul? “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
More than anything else, Jesus came to heal our eternal souls.
The scribes and Pharisees seemed to have perfect earthly health. Never once do we hear of them suffering in any way. Yet we see how utterly sick their souls are, that they cannot even be happy when a man sick for 38 years, gets healed. Their greatest concern was to condemn Jesus for healing on the Sabbath day. How disgusting and selfish.
Yet what’s so amazing is that God provides forgiveness for their sins too - For every single soul. For those who put His Son on the cross. For those who murdered an innocent man, yet, not just any man, the Son of Man, the Son of God! That is where we find true healing, body and soul, in Christ, and in Him alone.
Do we want to be whole, both body and soul? No matter what circumstances we face, we still have a Savior from sin who freely gives eternal life, and we freely receive it through faith. He gives us the assurance that our sins are forgiven because He went to the cross for us, and His resurrection proves God accepted His sacrifice. Since Jesus already made payment for all our sins, that means that God is already at peace with us, and that our suffering is not punishment from God. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.
There is a definite purpose behind every difficulty we endure. God will always use it for our ultimate good, to strengthen our patience and faith. It is also a gracious reminder that we are only here for a little while, and that therefore, our most pressing need is to have our sins forgiven. Christ has provided for that need by laying down His life for us. "Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."God never promised we wouldn’t have times of difficulty, but He has promised to always get us through them, to always be with us, and He has, and He always will. Amen.