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John 5:1-14 – Jesus Giving God Good Rep

July 17, 2012

What if the whole universe is controlled by a bunch of pink werewolves who live on the dark side of our moon and worship a marble bust of Bette Midler? Somewhere, somebody believes this. If not, give it time. People believe weird things and Jesus doesn’t get left out. Reports place His face on barn walls, rocking chairs, a Kit Kat bar, a tumor (gross!), a sock, a dead stingray, a telephone pole, a piece of toast and a pierogi. Jesus shows up strangely and worse in the minds of people bending Him into what they want Him to be. That brings us to a pool of water in Jerusalem named Bethesda where some shabby stuff’s been going on for some time and God shows up in flesh and blood to clear His name. 

John nails it in detail. “There is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.” While this might be interesting trivia for us, the Bible fastens itself to history. Here is the detail of an eyewitness and something which would make an early reader of John’s gospel snap his fingers and say, “Been there. My whole family saw that on our last visit to family in Jerusalem.” This Jesus stuff happened and anybody living then would resonate with details like this that permeates the Scriptures. But here many Bibles leave out what was once part of verse 3 and all of verse 4. The left out part says this: “…and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.”

One reason this part gets left out has to do with manuscripts and the way that translators wade through them to figure out what’s a legitimate part of the story and what’s not. A lot of the major old copies of the Bible don’t include this and so scholars view it as dicey and leave it in a footnote somewhere. But somewhere in the second or third century, did some scribe in North Africa read this and think, “Are you kidding me? Am I supposed to think God is really like this?” If so, I’m with him. Can we picture God hanging out on a slow day in heaven turning to an angel and saying, “Go down there and stir up the water so we can watch the cripples run for it. That always breaks up the day.” Even with this excluded, the man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years clearly believed it as evidenced by verse 7. First guy into water gets the healing. Nobody to carry you to the edge when the water ripples? Sorry, Charlie. How often have we seen a pool, pond or small lake where the water stayed calm as glass all the time? Every time a particle of wind-blown dirt, a leaf or anything caused the slightest ripple, desperate people clawed over each other to be first only to have to be fished out soaking wet and disappointed one more time. Once they sat down again sopping wet, another breeze, another ripple and they were diving for it again…and again. You never know. This might be the time. That might really be Jesus on that Kit Kat bar.

Enter Jesus to represent, to clear up His name. He’s still doing that, you know. The big words for this are “incarnation” and “revelation”. Christianity alone tells the amazing story of how the Universe Maker went to huge trouble and effort to tell us plainly Who He was, even as He became one of us to do it. And if He had not taken the initiative to do this, we’d have never stumbled across Him on our own. And this story about how God plays with cripples needed to be put away for keeps.

“Do you want to get well?” Excuse me? An invalid for thirty-eight years. An utter nothing for a life. Do you like this cancer or would you like to get rid of it? Let me pray about this. Who wouldn’t want to get well? Is Jesus channeling Homer Simpson? For anyone else this question seems so stupid that language pales in describing the insensitivity of it. But look Who’s asking the question. Jesus, being God, knows everything and therefore doesn’t need to ask questions for which He already has the answer. Jesus asks questions because the one asked needs the answer and didn’t know how to raise the right question. In Scripture or in our hearts, when God asks us a question it might be the most important moment of our lives.

Being well means change. Before we could traffic in other people’s pity, could wallow in emotional codependence on other people, live irresponsibly even excusing dissipation (drunkenness), feeling no need of being productive as a person or a citizen. Maybe now we will walk. But we will need to learn a trade to support ourselves long after others have been plying theirs. We must begin repaying debts of gratitude to those who supported us. And when that healing came directly from God, He owns us; we walk on new legs in the gracious light of severe accountability to Him. He’s pushed aside the veil of time and space and crushed that “ripple on the pond” thing to powder. We can no longer live like He hasn’t spoken directly to us. Over my forty plus years of knowing the Lord, I’ve met so many people who have been healed by the Lord but live in complete numbness toward Him today. Do we want to be well, healed, forgiven, cleansed, transformed? A better question than we first thought. Not always.

Jesus still has a couple of things to say. “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” A simple declarative sentence without a hint of “preacherizing”. Pure authority in complete control. Ahh…Jesus. But it was the Sabbath (sigh…here we go. It’s “Pharisee Time” again.). The rulers got a pumpkin up their nose because the guy carried his bed on the Sabbath. He never caught Jesus name but later ran into Him again in the Temple. And once again, Jesus pops him with a beauty: “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” At face value, if you were to say to me, “Stop sinning”, I wouldn’t know where to start. It seems so random since my sin runs so deep that hearing something like that seems like telling me to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.

Again, look Who says this. Jesus demonstrates incredible touch in dealing with sin. An oncologist (cancer specialist) must talk about cancer; there are ways to do it and ways to not do it. If Jesus says, “Stop sinning”, He knows exactly what He’s talking about…and so does the person He speaks to. In this public place, Jesus feels no need no broadcast the blackness of one man’s soul to the masses. In John 4, He tells the Samaritan woman that she has had five husband and the one she has now is not her husband. Although they were alone, Jesus never used words like “adultery”, “fornication” or “sin”. He didn’t need to; she got the point. In John 8, Jesus saves a woman from a Pharisee trap. After He says He doesn’t condemn her, He says to her”…Go and sin no more” “What you’re doing is sin. Stop. Tonight.” Somebody had to move out. Zaccheus climbed a tree to see Jesus and all the Lord said to him was that Jesus would be coming to Zaccheus’ house for lunch that day. Zaccheus slid down the tree gibbering and babbling out his corruption and repentance with Jesus saying nothing about it. (Luke 19) Jesus’ hand along the contours of my soul is like falling back into my own bed after being away from home; there’s a fit hard to describe. He knows how and when to speak to the delicate, private, even shameful things in us. Jesus has touch, sometimes firm and sometimes a velvet glove. But He means to be listened to and can go to extreme measures to represent when our ideas of Him get sloppy, goofy or self-indulgent.

A little puzzle before we go. Why only one healing? Surely this place called Bethesda crawled with desperate, needy, pain racked people. Maybe this guy was the only one present but that’s not the impression the text gives. Why not a healing crusade? Jesus could have (accidental bad pun alert!) made a huge splash. We just don’t know. Jesus seems to be under no obligation to explain, justify or defend his actions to anyone including John, me or you. We put a huge piece of following Jesus in our pocket when we get this. He doesn’t care about polls and is not auditioning to be our Saviour. Many become disillusioned with Christianity when Jesus doesn’t measure up to what they expect or believe. One day Jesus freaked out a bunch of his followers and they left Him. It must have been that thing about eating His flesh and drinking His blood (john 6:56-71). He turned to the twelve, who were as grossed out as those who just cut out, and said in effect,”What about you? Are you leaving too? (More questions from Jesus.)” No explanations or defending His words. Even if they didn’t get it, Peter said,” Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal lfe. We belive and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68). Can we trust the Jesus we know in the face of the One we do not and sometimes cannot understand

He’s bigger than our minds, hearts or Kit Kat bars can hold. There’s no one like Jesus even when we can’t figure Him out.

If anything here smells like Jesus and might help a student hang in there during the hot summer, then please share, like, tweet, Facebook and all that social network stuff.

Pleas return your set to the upright position and return your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.

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