By David Faust
Crowds have personalities, just as individuals do. Excited crowds cheer at ballgames. Jovial crowds laugh at the jokes of after-dinner speakers. Angry crowds give elected officials a piece of their mind at town meetings.
John chapter 5 tells about another kind of crowd, brought together by common pain. At the pool of Bethesda “a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” (John 5:3). Their faces reflected years of frustration, isolation, and desperation.
Sufferers Who Need Hope
The Gospel writer focuses on one man who may have been the most hopeless in the crowd at Bethesda, for he “had been an invalid for thirty-eight years” (v. 5). To put that into perspective in 2013, it’s as if the man had lost his ability to walk in 1975. Imagine lying on a mat for 38 years—nearly 14,000 very long days.
Consider the well-known example of Joni Eareckson Tada. A quadriplegic paralyzed from the shoulders down in a 1967 diving accident, she has written more than 40 books, recorded musical albums, learned to paint by holding a brush between her teeth, and started an international ministry called Joni and Friends that provides resources and advocacy for people with disabilities. Her story reminds us that people with long-term disabilities have significant abilities too, and that they, like everyone else, can find hope in Jesus.
The Savior Who Offers Hope
Where would you expect to find Jesus? At the governor’s mansion talking politics? Doing business in the marketplace? At the temple, talking with the religious leaders? On this day he went to the pool of Bethesda, because from the Lord’s point of view, VIPs reside in places like hospitals and nursing homes.
There by the pool Jesus found the man who couldn’t walk. “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” (v. 6). Isn’t that a strange question? After 38 years of weakness, of course the man wanted to get well! That’s like asking someone who has spent most of his life training for the Olympics, “Do you want to win a gold medal?”
But it isn’t a silly question. In fact, it’s a question we all need to face. Do we really want to get well? Anyone can grumble about your marriage; but do you want to improve it enough to work at it and seek the Lord’s help? Anyone can complain about the church he attends or the negative environment at work, but are you willing to be part of the solution? From minor habits to major addictions, the first step toward healing is to acknowledge, “I want to get well. I am ready to change.”
Jesus injected hope into a hopeless looking situation. He said, “‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (vv. 8, 9).
Critics Who Steal Hope
The joy of healing quickly gave way to the heat of controversy. Some religious leaders told the man, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat” (v. 10). He was walking for the first time in 38 years, and all they could do was criticize him for violating a religious technicality.
Where do we see ourselves in this story? Are we hope-seekers like the disabled man, hope-stealers like the religious leaders, or hope-givers like Jesus?
1. What increases your hope? What decreases it?
2. How will you be a hope-giver to someone else this week?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for October 20, 2013
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
1 Peter 1:1–9
1 Peter 1:10–16
1 Peter 1:17–25
1 Peter 2:1–8
Song of Solomon 1
1 Peter 2:9–17
Song of Solomon 2
Jeremiah 47, 48
1 Peter 2:18–25
Song of Solomon 3