Speaker: Geoff Murray
Scripture: John 5:1-15
We come to John chapter 5 this morning and are confronted with the reality of sickness, disability, and long-term ill-health. You may be battling a long term illness or disability, or maybe someone you love is in that situation.
The church hasn’t done a great job, by and large, on engaging people with disability, with long-term illnesses and conditions. You have on one end of the church, individuals who view those with disabilities as people needing fixing. You have on the other end of the church some who don’t give it a second thought and by doing so, the church remains a place which some people are unable to access.
We see a man healed of his long term paralysis by Jesus as he brings his grace into the picture. And as we consider this, it isn’t necessarily a look at the main point of this particular passage but at the question of disability and God in general, looking for help and direction from this passage as we go.
1. Jesus’ heart for the sick
So our account starts and we see in verse 3 a ‘multitude of invalids, blind, lame, and paralysed.’ And this is the reality of the fallen world we live in, that we don’t just have one person disabled or a handful, but a multitude. Many. A ton of people. They’re at this pool which reportedly had healing properties when it bubbled up and so people would go in for a dip in the hopes of being healed. Including this one chap that Jesus engages with.
Growing up, I was raised on a sitcom tv show and one character was a shop owner who was a lonely figure and was always desperate to try and tempt her customers to stick around and be her friend. She’d always mump and moan, ‘I’m always stuck in this shop, day after day after day.’
And its a bit like this chap here. He has been paralysed for 38 years. This isn’t short term. It isn’t the case of giving him a round of antibiotics and he’ll be right as rain. This is a disability that has spanned almost four decades. Day after day after day, he has been living with being paralysed. And whether he comes to this pool day after day after day, we know from verse 7 that this isn’t his first time here, but that he has been here before.
The experience of living with this is a cruel reality in a fallen world. In verse 7, he has tried to get into the pool before but people always manage to get there before him. It is the harsh reality of survival of the fittest, of a dog-eat-dog world, that you can’t be assured of being cared for or looked after, but that if there is someone who is more able, who has more means, they’ll get in front. That’s what has happened to this individual.
If we look to the account in Genesis 27 when Isaac gives his blessing to his son, Jacob. Isaac originally intended the blessing to go to his other son, Esau, however Jacob and his mum Rebecca conspired against the whole set-up to trick Isaac. Isaac was blind you see and therefore was unable to see, ‘Is this Esau or Jacob?’ And so Jacob and Rebecca managed to take advantage of Isaac’s blindness in order to steal the blessing from Esau. This is one such example of folks with disability being taken advantage of.
This does not mean however that God’s heart is against the disabled, but rather, his heart is for those with disabilities. We look at Leviticus 19:14 and see God legislated, in his law, for the protection of those with disabilities: ‘You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God for I am the LORD.’
And in fact, in Deuteronomy 27:18, God says: ‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’
So, God’s very heart towards the disabled is one of care and protection. Knowing that in a sinful world, the disabled are likely to be mistreated, He legislates against such abuses. Not only does he actively teach against it, but it matters so much to him that he brings in a specific judgement for this very matter.
Why is the heart of God for the disabled? For the sick? Not because he is a nice guy who is strong on social justice, or because he is signalling what a good guy he is. His heart is genuinely for the disabled because he has given to all human beings, everywhere his image. They, as everyone else is, are endowed with dignity, value, and worth in God’s sight.
Everyone can get on board with the fact that people more broadly are made in God’s image, but we can be unsure when it comes to those with disabilities. Society can view people with disabilities as less important or insignificant. And we would never say that, to say that would be a public and social death sentence for you. Yet, it’s the very heart behind the bill that is going before the Scottish Parliament on assisted dying and that bill has a lot of support in parliament and in society. That bill says if you are terminally ill, you’d be as well to just get it over and done with.
In the UK, 90% of babies who test for Down’s syndrome in the womb are aborted. Whilst most other babies are only legally aborted at 24 weeks pregnancy, those babies with Down’s syndrome can be terminated up until birth in the UK.
You may have seen Heidi Crowter on the news some months ago as she campaigned to get this changed to bring the law for unborn babies with Down’s syndrome in line with babies without it. She lost that case and it remains that babies with Down’s syndrome can be terminated up until birth in the UK.
You may have said these words or heard these words, ‘Once I lose the use of x, y, or z, do away with me.’ or ‘If I’m an invalid, I don’t want to be here anymore.’ or ‘If I am blind, I don’t want to be here.’ I just want to push back quite strongly on that and say, that those with any disability, condition, or long term illness are as precious in the sight of God as people without and therefore people with disabilities, conditions, or long term illnesses ought to be precious in our sight and treated with as much dignity, love, and respect as the next person on the street. I repeat, not because we’re being good people, but because God has given us all his image and endowed us with dignity, respect and value.
Getting back to our text, we see the heart of God for the disabled enacted in Jesus’ encounter here in John chapter 5. ‘When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, he said to him, do you want to be healed?’ (John 5:6)
On one level it’s an obvious question, ‘Why else would I be here Jesus?’ But on another level, we see something very important here. It can be easy to assume we know exactly what people want or need, and especially when it comes to sickness or disability. But even the all-knowing God, Jesus Christ asks, as he asks Bartimaeus, ‘What would you like me to do for you? Do you want to be healed?’
The heart of Jesus for the sick, therefore, is not to patronise and assume, it is to ask, ‘What would you like me to do for you?’ And in Jesus, there is a very clear display of what it would look like for us to care well for those who have a disability or long-term sickness. Not to patronise, but to ask what would be helpful.
Jesus’ healing for the sick
Verse 7, in response, the paralysed man complains, ‘I have no one to lift me into the water.’ So, in essence, he says, ‘Yes please, would you lift me into the water.’ But Jesus heals him without the use of this pool, but by his very word. Just as God at the beginning spoke things into creation, so Jesus’ re-creation here is by word.
Verse 8: ‘Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your mat and walk.’
By his very word this man is healed. And it brings amazement and bewilderment. Who could possibly heal a man who had been paralysed for 38 years? Kind of like when someone does a card trick and people’s faces are like, ‘How on earth did he do that?’ Similarly, you can imagine, as everyone is gathered round this healing pool for healing, Jesus says to one man, paralysed for 38 years, ‘Get up!’ and he gets up!
And that is wonderful for this individual that is healed. We rightly rejoice and are glad that he was healed, but this man would have died. Similarly, Lazarus being raised from the dead, he still died. We have this tension in this life of knowing that some are healed, some aren’t. Even those who are healed will eventually die, there are no two roads about it.
And we notice in our passage this morning, out of the multitudes, verse 3, who were paralysed, who were blind, only one man was healed. And this is life in a fallen world, where sin and suffering exist, that those with long term sickness and disability may be healed, but on the flip side, they may also never be healed in this life.
And as we walk that line, we trace the heart of Jesus because without sight of that, we may grow bitter and hard hearted towards God. If that is you this morning, if you are hard-hearted towards Jesus this morning because you or a loved one remain sick or disabled, though our society would look down on you, our God looks to you with love, compassion, and care.
And we look to what I touched on earlier that even if you are healed in this life, you are still subject to the weaknesses of this life, of sickness, and eventually death, but is true healing possible? What about for those who never get healed in this life? What is their hope of healing?
Well we look to the future and we see that when Jesus comes again, there will be healing. In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul speaks about the body at the resurrection compared to the body now. He says in verses 42-49 that the earthly body is subject to ‘decay, dishonour and weakness’ whilst the heavenly body is raised ‘indestructible, glorious and raised in power.’
And though, as Paul says in verse 52 of 1 Corinthians 15 ‘we will be changed’. What does this mean for those with disabilities and their healing? We look to Jesus himself and his resurrection body and see the nail marks in his hands and his side pierced and we know then that our resurrection bodies will be marked by our earthly weaknesses, yet there will be no illness, pain, no more weakness. We will be made well.
And for whatever that does mean, it doesn’t mean that those with disabilities whose trust is in Jesus, that they lose their identity, that God removes the person by removing their disability because fundamentally, if we love Jesus, our identity is in him. Our healing will be final and complete at the resurrection and we will be glorious!
If we have been healed in this life, our hope remains that final resurrection where we will be with Jesus and all will be made new forever! If we haven’t been healed in this life, your hope remains, not necessarily in a temporary healing here on earth, but in Jesus, the one whose presence you will be in forever free from your disability or illness.
So friends, whether we have a disability or not, that is our hope, let’s push into that hope this morning.
Jesus’ message for the sick
And we enter our final point, what is Jesus’ message for the sick? Even for those who are not sick, it is a message for you this morning.
Verse 14: ‘Sin no more that nothing worse may happen.’
Now you may be thinking, ‘Jeezo, what has happened to the nice, light, fluffy version of Jesus?’ Well, actually in this statement Jesus is being incredibly loving. If Jesus’ goal was just to heal people of their disabilities, Jesus would just be a good guy, but he came to save us from the wrath of God.
We read this ‘Sin no more that nothing worse may happen.’ and we want to be really clear here that Jesus isn’t saying ‘If you sin again, I’m going to make you blind as well as paralysed.’ Like some sort of deranged lunatic. Jesus’ message to this man, and to you and me today is ‘Do you think being paralysed is bad? What’s worse is an eternity in hell. Therefore, leave your life of sin so that you may be free from an eternity in hell.’
And for us, what does this look like? It looks like repenting of sin and turning to Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. The phrase ‘sin no more’ if read literally can make for some scary reading, because we are all vulnerable to sinning. So what is Jesus meaning? It can’t be that we must never sin again or that’s it. But rather, it is this idea of not making a practice or a habit of sinning, but rather, making a habit and practice of following Jesus and as the Apostle John states, ‘If we claim we are without sin, we deceive ourselves.’ (1 John 1:8)
Of course we will still sin, that is inevitable, but that we don’t make a habit out of it and walk away from God. Instead of walking towards an eternity without God, Jesus is calling us to move towards him and find forgiveness, eternal life, healing. How do we go about receiving this eternal life? Do good? Try harder? Try really hard not to sin?
‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9)
It is through turning to Jesus, confessing our sins and trusting in his salvation. And the result is sins forgiven, eternal life with Jesus and a life marked by moving towards him in holiness of life and character so that nothing worse might happen to us.
Whether disabled or not, remember Jesus came not to call the healthy but the sick, Jesus is calling us away from sin this morning and calling us to find eternal life in him. So, what direction are you travelling in this morning? Are you travelling away from God? Without a care for him? Continuing on in a habit of sin? Jesus’ message to you is this: your earthly weaknesses, sickness, and disability is the least of your worries. Turn therefore to me and find forgiveness, restoration and eternal life.
Are you a Christian this morning who is weighed down by your own weakness? By a long term illness or disability? Remember where our hope lies, our hope is not in this life, but in the life to come where sickness, suffering, pain, and disability will be no more. Lift your weary heads this morning and see the hope he has laid up for you in heaven.