Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralysed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.'” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. John 5:2-15 (NIV)
Imagine the conditions in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. There was no hospital for the sick, no medical clinics, no intensive care units, no nursing homes with palliative care facilities, and no modern day government to blame for the mess. There was just the pool of Bethesda. A shrine with an intermittent spring popularly believed to have healing properties. And alongside this pool, under one of the five porches, a man is lying on a pile of rags. He’s been there for thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years of suffering and misery. Thirty-eight years without someone to help him into the pool when the water was stirred. Thirty-eight years in the stench of urine and sweat. Thirty-eight years surrounded by the sounds of the sick and the dying. Thirty-eight years as an invalid – incapable of doing anything for himself because of some kind of disablement or chronic ill health. It must have been terrible. The man was helpless, hopeless, and friendless. His life as bleak as bleak could be.
You may be feeling helpless and hopeless today. You may be under the circumstances, feeling at the end of your resources, like the whole world is against you, like you’ve struggled for years and not made any progress – alone and without hope. But Jesus is very near. He’s come to be your helper and friend.
Life takes a dramatic turn when Jesus arrives on the scene. When the Saviour comes everything changes; impossible situations get turned around, hope is restored, people are healed. Yes, with Jesus, man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. Light shines in the darkness. Uncertainty becomes certainty. Depression is dissolved. Confidence is restored. The weak are made strong. The poor in spirit made rich. The sad rejoice. The persecuted are comforted. And there’s the courage to believe that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” Romans 8:37.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn testifies to this fact. In recounting his experience as a political prisoner in Russia he tells of a moment when he was on the verge of giving up all hope. He was forced to work twelve hours a day at hard labour while existing on a starvation diet. He became weaker and weaker until it got to the point where the doctors were predicting his death. So one afternoon, while shovelling sand under a blazing sun, he simply stopped working. He did so even though he knew the guards would beat him severely – perhaps to death. But he felt he just couldn’t go on. His resolve had come to an end. Then he saw another prisoner, a Christian, moving toward him cautiously. With his cane the man quickly drew a cross in the sand and erased it. In that brief moment Solzhenitsyn encountered Jesus. All the hope of the Gospel flooded through his soul and gave him the courage to endure that difficult day and the months of imprisonment that followed.
It’s no different today. You may think you don’t count with God, that you’re simply one person among millions, but you’re special in His sight. When you say, “It’s impossible,” Jesus says, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” Luke 18:27. When you say, “I’m too tired,” Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28. When you say, “Nobody really loves me,” Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” John 3:16. When you say, “I can’t go on,” the Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you” 2 Corinthians 12:9. And when you say, “I can’t figure things out,” God says that, “he will make your paths straight” Proverbs 3:6.
That’s what happens when the Saviour draws near. He supplies all your needs (cf. Philippians 4:19), takes all your cares on Himself (cf. 1 Peter 5:7), gives you wisdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30), forgives you (cf. Romans 8:1; 1 John 1:9), and never leaves you nor forsakes you (cf. Hebrews 13:5). For the One who knows when the sparrow falls is always ready to fly to your relief.
So, if you’re down, listen to Jesus, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” John 5:8. For Christianity isn’t a religion of the posterior. We weren’t saved to sit on our rear ends. Our faith isn’t worked out on our seats. Today, as with every other day, we must rise up and walk in compliance to His will, in consecrated commitment to His cause, and with an open confession of what He’s done in our lives. To His honour and glory . . .