When Jesus saw him lie there, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? John 5:6
This morning I would like us to spend a little time considering one of the miracles of Christ, this incident described in the Gospel we have just read together. The miracles of Christ are often used as a means of confirming our faith in his divinity, and his being truly the incarnate Son and Word of God. But this morning I would like us to look at one of those who were the subject of miracles, to see what lessons we can learn for ourselves, as we seek to be faithful and obedient to the will of God.
In this passage from St John’s Gospel we see this man who had been ill for thirty-eight years, sitting by the side of the pool of Bethesda with a crowd of other desperately sick people. They were waiting for the waters to be stirred by the visit of an Angel, and hoping that being the first into the water they would be granted healing. Now this man was acting in faith. He was in a situation where he had a great need and he was acting according to what he understood of God’s will. Sitting at the side of the pool, waiting for an angel, was the most faithful thing he could think of doing. He believed that God would send a healing messenger, but he had seen others receive healing before him, and must have had to often deal with a sense of confusion and disappointment. There was nothing else he could do but sit and wait for God, and yet it seemed that sitting and waiting never brought the solution to his problems that he longed for.
Then he encounters Christ. He is standing before him on a day just like any other. He asks him what he wants, and he shares his hope and his disappointment. ‘I want to be made well, but someone else always gets in the water before me’.
Jesus doesn’t address the problem which the sick man identifies. The man wants someone to help him into the water when the angel next appears. But Jesus does address his real problem, and says to him,
‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’.
The sick man is concerned with how he might be healed. ‘I need to get into the water first’. But Jesus ignores the solution which he had been concentrating on and asks the man simply to believe and be obedient. ‘Rise up and walk’. He asks him to put faith into obedient practice. And the man, exercising faith, stands up and walks.
He could have concentrated on his own expectations of how he might be healed. He could have said, I am sorry Master, I can’t get up and walk, I have already explained, I need someone to get me into the water first when the angel next comes. He could have said, I’m sorry Master, that’s impossible, wait until I have been healed by the angel and then I’ll obey you.
Instead, the man simply heard the word of the Lord with faith, put it into obedient practice, and found that God had done all that he had dreamt of and more. He rose up and found that he was healed. He did what was impossible and found that it was entirely possible.
Surely this lesson resonates with us all. Perhaps we have been living with some difficult situation for many years, and we have been constant in prayer that it might be removed. Often we have a very clear idea of how such difficulties and obstacles should be dealt with and we pray – Lord, please resolve this situation, and this is how I would like it done.
Perhaps we have been praying for guidance. Perhaps we have been looking for employment. Perhaps we have been trying to cope with problems in our relationships with others. The Lord knows all of the situations we find ourselves in.
But very often we are looking for a solution in one way, thinking that the Lord will take the situation away, while we remain rather passive as the objects of his love, when sometimes he requires of us a more heroic exercise of our faith. Sometimes he puts an opportunity in front of us and asks us to ‘rise up and walk’.
In my own life I have had many such situations where I have been required to put my faith into practice. Indeed much of my experience here at St Alban’s has been a struggle between wanting God to do some work on my behalf, and God requiring that I ‘rise up and walk’ before he will act. Here in this place we have prayed, Lord, we want to do this and that, but we want to do it this way, so please make it possible. And yet here we are, seeking to serve God in our humility, without great resources or crowds, because we have believed that the Lord is before us saying, ‘rise up and walk’. But we have had to put our faith into practice, and it is not always easy or comfortable to do so.
To have faith is not to know a great many things about Christianity. It is to trust in God, and to be be known by God, and to know God. It is to experience a relationship with God which allows us to trust him whatever the circumstances of our lives.
There are always countless reasons why we should not take some sort of action when we hear the voice of the Lord. The man sitting at the poolside had thirty-eight years of reasons why he could not just stand up and walk. But he found within himself the grace to have faith, and hearing the word of the Lord to him, he put his weight on his arms, and then his legs, and found them strengthened in a way he could not understand so that he was able to rise and stand and walk.
When we hear the Lord speak to us, in whatever situation we have waited for his mercy, let us be sure not to miss the opportunity for a miracle. Let us put our faith into practice. Whether at work, or among our family, in Church or in the world, we are often faced with obstacles that dominate our lives, but God knows all about them, and often will not want to simply take them away from us. He will often want to use them as a means of encouraging and strengthening our faith by giving us the opportunity to be obedient to his voice.
Let us listen for that voice in our daily lives, and having faith let us be obedient, that we might also ‘rise up and walk’ at the command of the Lord, to his glory and for our salvation. Amen.