GRACE IN THE HOUSE OF MERCY – PAUL DAKIN – MAY 26, 2019

GRACE IN THE HOUSE OF MERCY

A sermon based on John 5:1-9

First Baptist Church of Lynchburg

May 26, 2019

By Paul Dakin

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

 

For many of us who have been in the faith for a long time, especially for those of us who have taken seriously the task of Bible study, I think that we can sometimes become inoculated by aspects of the Scriptures. That is, we have read all of the stories recorded in the Bible. Those stories were written down in at a certain time and place—a time and place that is very different than ours. As they were writing, the biblical writers made some assumptions about their readers. One of those assumptions has to do with the names of the places where the stories take place. When the biblical writers mention locations in their stories, they naturally assume that their readers will automatically know where those places are. When they mention social practices, they make the presumption that their readers will have the necessary background to understand what they are describing. And why shouldn’t they? After all, they were writing for their contemporaries—people who were living in the same area, at the same time and had the same cultural background. But the truth of the matter is that we, who are removed from their context by some 2000 years and an ocean, do not always easily make those connections.

 

As an example of what I am talking about, consider place names in the Bible. The New Testament is full of places whose names doubtlessly held special significance for 1st Century Jews and Christians alike. Today as we read through the Scriptures, I think that we have a tendency to read through the names of places—stumbling over them if they are particularly hard to pronounce—and then hurry on to what we think that the writer is trying to teach us. And in the process, we may sometimes miss something of what the writer intended to communicate to us through the names of the locations that are mentioned…

 

An example of what I am talking about can be found in the arrangement of the hymn that the choir sang just a few minutes ago. The hymn is “Footsteps of Jesus,” one that I am sure that it is a song that most of you have sung many times before.[1] Do you remember the words of the second stanza? They go like this: “Though they lead o’er the cold, dark mountains, /Seeking his sheep, / Or along by Siloam’s fountains helping the weak…” The alert Bible scholar will recognize that the reference to Siloam is an allusion to John 9. In that passage, we are told that Jesus healed a man who had been born blind by telling him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. But have you ever stopped to consider what that word “Siloam” actually means? In the text, John actually tells us. The word “Siloam” means “sent.” So John tells us that Jesus sent the man to wash in the pool named “Sent.” And when he obeyed as Jesus had commanded him, he received his sight. Do you think that the name Siloam then is a coincidence for where Jesus sent the man to wash? Probably not…

 

Consider a few other names of New Testament places that you have heard plenty of times before. Have you ever considered what the names of those places signify?

  • For example, every year during the Advent/ Christmas season, we sing about and talk about the birthplace of our Lord—you know, “the little town of Bethlehem.” As we read the gospel accounts, we have a tendency to race ahead as we read the story to get to the part about the angels, and shepherds and “Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger.” But here is something worth noting. The word “Bethlehem” translates into English as “House of Bread.” Surely that is an apt name for the birthplace of the One who would declare himself to be “The Bread of Life… [and] the true Bread from Heaven.” (John 6:32, 35) And it is also appropriate to be the birthplace of One whose life we celebrate with bread at every Lord’s Supper…The name “Bethlehem” as the birthplace of Jesus is certainly fitting…
  • Or how about the name “Jerusalem?” It is a name that figures prominently in both the Old and New Testaments. As you probably recall, the city of Jerusalem was built by King David to be the capital of the nation of Israel. Jerusalem would also be the location of the Temple, the magnificent building that was the center of the worship of Israel’s God. Interestingly, the name “Jerusalem” literally means “Teaching of Peace.” Hmmmmm…Don’t you think it to be an ironic name for a city associated with Israel’s greatest warrior—the king in Israel’s history who fought more wars and shed more blood than any other? Hardly the place for the “Teaching of Peace.” It is doubly ironic when one considers that David was a man who knew little of personal peace in his own life, particularly in his later years after his sins of adultery and murder. The last part of his reign was characterized by civil war and a rebellious family…Nowadays, the name “Jerusalem”—“Teaching of Peace”—is no less a paradox than it was back then. As anyone who follows the international news knows, Jerusalem continues to be a magnet for violence and terrorism right up to the present day…
  • Today’s text contains another instance where we may be tempted to read through the name without stopping to consider what it may be intended to say to us. The passage begins by telling us that Jesus was in Jerusalem for a festival of the Jews. Verse two tells us that, by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, there was a pool. John tells us that the name of the pool is “Beth-zatha in Hebrew.” Other ancient manuscripts call it “Bethsaida” or “Bethesda.” Whatever the exact pronunciation and spelling, the word “Bethesda” translates into English as “House of Mercy.” No one knows how or when it was first called “House of Mercy.” But it certainly proved to be so for the man Jesus encountered in the text…And Jesus showed him grace in the House of Mercy…

 

Around the sides of the pool of Bethesda, we are told that many invalids were laid. There was a belief that, at certain times, an angel of the Lord would stir the waters of the pool. When that happened, it was said that the first person who entered to pool would be healed of his or her malady—whatever it was.

 

Jesus sees the man lying by the side of the pool. We are told that the man has been lame for thirty-eight years. Jesus walks up to the man and asks him a straightforward question. He asks the cripple, “Do you want to be made well?”

 

It’s an obvious question, isn’t it?…And one would think that the answer would be equally obvious. After all, the man had been crippled for thirty-eight years. And he was lying beside the pool in hopes of being healed. What else could be on his mind? Certainly he wanted to be healed…

 

But incredibly, the crippled man does not respond the way we would think that he would. He does not answer, “YES—I want to be healed more than anything else in the whole world!” That’s what I would have expected him to say—wouldn’t you? But the cripple did not do that. Instead, he began to explain to our Lord why he could not catch a break. He told Jesus that, whenever the waters in the pool were stirred, someone always beat him into it.

 

I wonder how many times the man had watched the waters stirred and someone else manage to get into the pool before him. Were those people really healed of their diseases? Were crooked limbs truly made straight, was eyesight restored to the blind, or were other diseases cured? Was the Pool of Bethseda really a place of supernatural healing? Or was it just a place where superstition created false hope for people who had nowhere else to turn? We really do not know. The Scriptures do not tell us, and as far as I have been able to determine, there are no extant stories of anyone actually being healed from the waters of the pool due to any angelic activity. I do not think it really mattered to these folks. These desperate people continued to come and to pray for a miracle…for they were clinging on to any shred of hope that they might be healed…

 

Instead of responding to Jesus’ question in a positive manner, the crippled man really did not answer Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be healed?” Instead, he started complaining to Jesus. He made excuses for why he had not been healed before. Notice our Lord’s response. Jesus was gentle—but firm–with the cripple. He did not scold him by saying “O ye of little faith” as the gospels record that he did on other occasions.[2] NO—there was grace in the House of Mercy. Our Lord simply told him to stand up, take up his mat and walk. The crippled man did what Jesus commanded him and, for the first time in 38 years, he was able to do just that…

 

Lutheran pastor, seminary professor and missionary Elisabeth Johnson has suggested that “The man healed in this story is perhaps the least willing and the least grateful of all the people healed in John’s gospel.”[3] With all due respect to Dr. Johnson, I do not think that the cripple in this passage was unwilling to be healed. When Jesus told him to take up his mat and walk, he did exactly that. He did not hesitate—he did not ask any questions. He just did it. Nor do I think that the cripple was ungrateful for Jesus’ gift of healing. We are told later on in verse 15 of this chapter that the man went away and told everybody that it was Jesus who had healed him. So no—I do not think that either of those things were true. The cripple’s problem was not that he was unwilling or ungrateful for the healing he received. Instead, I think the cripple’s problem was a lack of perception of how God could work in his life

 

The man thought that the only way that healing was going to occur in his life was by dipping himself in the pool after the angel had stirred the water. He was convinced that that was the way God worked. He had lots of company. Everybody in Jerusalem seemed to know and believe that too. After all, that is why there were so many invalids lying beside the pool. My guess is that the cripple had tried most everything else to be healed of his condition and had come up short. He thought that if he could only get in the water at the right time, then divine healing could take place. That is, after all, how God worked…

 

But our Lord had other plans. Jesus did not need the cripple to dip himself in the water. All he needed for the man to do was to listen to his voice and do what he said. And when he did that, then the man got up and walked. He experienced healing in his life…

 

I think that this is a danger for those of us who have walked with the Lord for a long time. We get comfortable with the ways in which God works in our lives. And we have grown accustomed to how we have seen how God has worked in the lives of others. We have read and heard and considered the ways that the Scriptures tell us that God has worked in the lives of his people in the past. And those things are wonderful. We should be grateful for how has worked in our lives and celebrate his goodness to us. That is one of the reasons that we gather in the place every Sunday morning—to do just that.

 

But it is important for us to recognize that God is not limited to how we think he can work in our lives. God can do as he wishes. God can change the rules as it suits him. God can do the unexpected and work his will in our lives in unexpected ways and through unexpected people and through unexpected circumstances. The minute that you think that you have God all figured out is the moment that God is likely to change the game plan. God is free to do and work his will through us in whatever way he so chooses to accomplish his will in us.

 

The crippled man in today’s story was healed because he heard and listened to the voice of Jesus. And then he did what Jesus wanted him to do. It is the same for us. If we want to experience the healing of God in our hearts and lives, we will not be able to do it by assuming that we already know what God wants us to do. We will not do it by following our own thoughts and instincts and what experience may have taught us—as good as those things may be. NO—the only way that we will find the healing for our lives that we crave is by listening for the voice of Jesus and then obeying what we hear him say to us. That is what the cripple did in today’s text. He did those things—maybe even against his better judgment—and received healing. He received grace in the House of Mercy. And so can we…and so can you…

 

To God alone be the glory! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] “Footsteps of Jesus” by Mary B. C. Slade, 1871.

[2] See Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 16:8; Luke 12:28.

[3] www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2839 (Accessed May 19, 2019)

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