“Do you want to be healed?”

For several weeks now, I have been meditating frequently on these six exceedingly simple words of Jesus as He encounters an invalid man laying by the pool of Bethesda. As recorded by the Apostle John in chapter 5, verses 1-17 of his gospel account, the man who encountered Christ by the Sheep Gate “had been an invalid for thirty-eight years” (verse 5) and Jesus Himself was very well aware of this fact (verse 6).

“Why,” I have often found myself wondering, “if Jesus already knew that this man had been laying by the pool in search of healing for thirty-eight years, did He begin his conversation with such an obvious question?” Isn’t it somewhat cruel to ask a lifelong cripple whether or not they want to receive healing? Surely Jesus was not making light of the seriousness of this man’s condition, right?

Or, maybe, the truthful answer to Christ’s question is not that obvious after all. Perhaps His question was a little more enigmatic than it appears at first blush. It certainly seems as though Jesus intended a deeper meaning that was (initially, at least) hidden from the invalid by the Sheep Gate. Perhaps, even more so, there is a deeper meaning in this simple question that remains hidden from most of us? Isn’t this the same question that Jesus asks each individual? Unlike the invalid at Bethesda, though, most of us probably perceive little to no immediate need for miraculous healing as we go about our day-to-day lives. I wonder if that invalid man had something of an advantage over most of us in that he was desperately aware of his need to be healed.

If you read the surrounding text, and the ESV study notes attached to this particular account, you already know that at the time of this encounter between Christ and the invalid, a local legend held that whenever an angel of God stirred the waters in this particular pool, the first one into the water would be miraculously healed. In fact, the invalid himself is so deeply convinced of the truth of this legend that he has waited by the pool for thirty-eight years, hoping against hope to be the first one in, even though he readily acknowledges that he has “no one to put me into the pool” (verse 7). It’s also worth noting, I think, that this man’s “routine of poolside suffering” had been going on for longer than many people in antiquity lived out a normal lifespan.

And yet, knowing all this, as He surely did, Jesus nevertheless confronts the man and asks him, very simply, “Do you want to be healed?” You or I, somehow invested with the miraculous ability to heal, might have been tempted to tack on something along the lines of “You know, a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ will do quite nicely!” Jesus, however – after patiently listening to the invalid’s non-answer – simply tells him to “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And the man is instantly healed, right then and there…no stirred-up waters or invalid-dunking required! Apparently, the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God has a schedule all its own, not relying on the willingness or ability of mortal man to respond appropriately when confronted by the living Christ.

Last week I listened once again to David Wells speaking on the topic of “The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World.” Originally delivered at the Desiring God 2006 National Conference in Minneapolis, Wells’ address brought back a deep conviction that much of what plagues me personally – and, I think, much of our American society at large – is a debilitating blindness, an almost-total inability to perceive the magnificence of Jesus Christ and/or to celebrate the inbreaking of His Kingdom in the modern age. In his opening remarks, Wells takes pains to demonstrate that our own inability to perceive God is, in fact, God’s righteous judgment on our culture. “Postmodern, Western secularism is God’s judgment,” Wells maintains. If interested, I strongly urge you to watch or listen to the entire address to get a better sense of how we moderns are able to so casually disregard the obvious, plain truths of God. (Also, if interested, John Piper and Justin Taylor edited all of the 2006 conference messages together in an inexpensive paperback available from Crossway.)

Like many other Christians I know, I very often have to struggle to see God’s truthfulness faithfully recorded for us within the pages of the Bible. I routinely fail to discern the brilliance and amazing clarity of God’s character because I, too, am slow of heart (Luke 24:25-26) and part of a larger faithless generation (Matthew 12:38-42). About the only thing I have to grasp onto at all is that I very much want to see God’s revelation as something supremely relevant and important, not just for me, but for all people everywhere. And yet…as of today, I can be quite easily entertained by an hour of television, and yet struggle to stay conscious through 15 minutes of Bible study! If Christ really is as glorious and transcendent as the Bible tells me He is (and I believe that to be so), then why do I, much like the invalid at the Sheep Gate, answer Christ’s call to healing with excuses and equivocations? Why don’t I immediately answer “Yes” to His very simple question?

As difficult as this may be to believe, the biblical truth undergirding this entire dilemma is that, at core, there is a very real portion of me that still wants to hang on to my blindness. I still want to believe that modern man will one day create a utopia here on Earth (the appalling body count of this past, “enlightened” 20th century notwithstanding). Having never once witnessed a bodily resurrection in this life, I am prone to believing the lie that the enduring image of Christ’s mastery over sin and death “may or may not be” a historical event, our current culture being so much more clever than those foolish early church fathers, some of whom actually witnessed the events in question. And there is something in every single one of us that does not want to receive the unspeakable gift of Christ’s healing. We, too, would much prefer to gauge our nonexistent chances of being “the first one in the pool” against the offer that Jesus extends to us. “Thanks for the offer of full, immediate, and effectual healing, Jesus…but you know, I’ll take my chances waiting by this pool for another 38 years.”

In His encounter with the invalid at Bethesda, Jesus never once denies the desirability of physical healing, nor does He in any way indicate that the man’s earthly needs are not worthy of consideration. Quite the opposite! In healing the man’s body, Jesus again demonstrates that the Kingdom of God is here among us, right now, and that his physical healing will be only one of many signs offered to those who believe. Simultaneously, Christ also encourages us to look deeper and see our more pressing need – peace with God and the forgiveness of sin. If we are to trust the faith and daunting biblical scholarship of a man like David Wells, we will necessarily arrive at the conclusion that we, too, are in desperate need for our vision to be restored, for the scales to fall from our collective eyes. We are, spiritually speaking, in even worse shape than the invalid at the pool. So how will each of us respond to the healing call of Christ?

For whatever this is worth, my own personal life of prayer has shifted subtly since I began to meditate on this encounter between Jesus and the invalid, morphing ever-so-slightly from a self-focused “shopping list” of things that I want God to help me deal with, to more consistent (and increasingly desperate) pleas for God to remove the blinders and be my vision in all things.

John 5:1-17 (ESV)
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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?” 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.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

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