John 5:1 – 11
I’m pretty sure the guy didn’t even know what day it was or that he cared to know. See, all days feel the same when you’re stuck and brother he was stuck. Paralyzed for 38 years, the man was carried each morning out to the pool by some caring soul. But they couldn’t spend all day waiting with him. Because today might not be the day that the waters stirred. But they did leave him as close as possible in hopes he could craw the last few feet. Day after year after decade, this was his life. After the morning pleasantries had passed, he was then left alone with his thoughts. He needed an edge, a champion, a hero that would simply scoop him up and run him into the waters as soon as they began to stir. Legend had it that the first one in received their needed healing. Legend also stated that there was no discernable pattern for the stirring. It could occur today, maybe next week, might be a month or even a year from now. Legend said to just keep watching and beat everyone else in and poof you’re healed. Legends, stories passed down, repeated so many times that they take on the ring of truth even though they aren’t. And we all have these in our lives. Stories that we’ve been told and maybe even told ourselves that simply aren’t true. Yet we believe them as if they are. A careful look through historical records (and the Israelites kept great records) shows not a single person had ever been healed in this manner at the pool. Then one day a shadow came over the man.
Looking up he saw Jesus, unable to seek him out, Jesus came to him. The question Jesus asked is strange “Do you want to get well?” Surely it took our friend by surprise. Thoughts like “Surely you see me here poised for the slightest movement of the water”. “What more can I do to show my desire?” I love the question: it wasn’t do you want to BE well but do you want to GET well. The difference is passive verses active participation. I would love to BE in shape and yet without effort on my part, I will never GET in shape. Jesus asks him are you ready to participate in your healing or do you still want to lay there in misery.
I meet a lot of folks new in recovery. Too many want to BE sober and yet are unwilling to GET sober. They love the concept and can see the benefits of the lifestyle but are unwilling to put in the necessary work to obtain and maintain the lifestyle. It’s a question I believe Jesus asks all of us at one point or another. Do we want to simply BE a certain way or do we want to GET there.
Notice that the man doesn’t answer the question instead, he presents the problem as he sees it. “I have no one to help me!” “I’ve tried my hardest to no avail, every time someone else gets in before me.” I firmly believe that the man is hoping that Jesus will tell him that He will wait and help when the time comes. It comes down to how in my own life I have asked Jesus to do something for me, not through me. I too often want the easy pill or way or legend as does this man. That Jesus will participate in the legend with me. But Jesus isn’t in to legends, myths or lies. Jesus IS the truth!
Bending down, Jesus looks the man in the eye and commands him “Rise, take your mat and walk!” Rise, action required by the man. An action he hadn’t performed in almost 4 decades. The man has a choice, wait for the legend or obey the Truth. Our friend responds to the truth and immediately three miracles occur as the man obeys. Muscle strength, balance and gait were all immediately available. Verse 9 states that “At once he picked up his mat (stooped without falling over) and walked (strength and gait).
Have you ever wondered why Jesus specified that our friend was to pick up his mat? Was Jesus worried about public sanitation? Did He want the man to have it just in case the miracle didn’t “stick”? I believe Jesus told him to rise off the mat that had so defined his life and then reach down and proudly walk with it through town. Did it elicit comment yes, but it also gave his testimony validity. I wear the scars of my past proudly for they give my testimony of Jesus validity. This story always forces me to look at my own life. What areas of my life am I wasting away, waiting for Jesus to come do it for me instead of through me? What areas am I believing in a legend instead of the Truth? And when/where do I try to hide my past when it gives credence to my testimony of His work in my life.
Matthew remembers it well. Jesus had just finished the Sermon on the Mount and was headed into Capernaum. Probably not a long walk but an eventful one all the same. Along that dusty trail sat a man living out a death sentence. This story is recounted in three of the Gospels (Matthew 8, Mark 1, Luke 5), none of them give details about this man except that he was a leper. It was the untreatable condition and thought by most to be a judgement from God on a person. It starts off as a small, harmless looking, rash and slowly spreads over the entire body. Causing open running sores, nerve damage, muscle loss and ultimately death. This was the man’s future; the only possible outcome. But he had heard stories about Jesus.
Read the tail end of Matthew Chapter 4 (verses 23 – 25). Jesus was going all over the region healing everyone and anyone brought to Him. He must be asking himself: “Why doesn’t He come to me?”. “Doesn’t He know the condition I’m in?” “Maybe it is a curse from God.” Perhaps that’s why he phrased the question the way he did. And then the man hears that Jesus is close by, teaching on a nearby mount. Capernaum is surely His next stop and he readies himself to have an audience with Jesus.
Matthew says the encounter happened “suddenly” (NLT) and it must have seemed that way to him and the others. But both Jesus and the man knew well ahead of time that it was going to happen. Matthew makes note that the leper approached Jesus. The law required that the man move well off the path when someone approached. It also specified the warning that must be shouted for all to hear “unclean!, unclean!” Yet the man did neither. He wasn’t letting Jesus pass him by so he hobbled up to him, oozing sores, atrophying muscles and knelt or as some versions say “fell” at Jesus feet. And then comes the question. “If you are willing, you can make me well”
Notice that the question isn’t can Jesus heal; it is “are you willing to”. The man had heard of His ability to heal and believed it to be true and therefore the only question he had for Jesus is not can you help but are you willing to? It’s a common question. I work a lot with addicts and alcoholics. Earthly knowledge is that addiction is an incurable disease. It may have started off small, even hamrless, but for many it grew into a life eating issue that slowly consumed them. And secular reasoning is that this disease is incurable and the best you can do is abstain and go sit in a meeting at least once a day with others who have this disease and complain. This man was living an eerily similar life. He was tired of hanging around with other lepers all day waiting for the inevitable so he asked what so many others have. And his question is one I’ve heard literally 100 times in my seven years. I cannot think of one time that I was asked “Can God heal me?” No every time it has been “Do you think He’s willing to heal me?” The crowd following stopped; the disciples stopped and every eye went to Jesus because we’ve all had the question run through our minds as well. And everyone breathlessly waits for the answer.
Verse 3 is forever etched into my brain and I hope it takes such a place in yours too, “He stretched out His hand and touched him”. God reaching down to comfort a man; being moved with compassion for someone like him; God being love.
Everyone else must have sucked in their breath. Touching a leper made you unclean. Jesus then says “I AM willing!!!” The Bible gives us many I AM statements like I AM the God who heals, I AM the God who saves and now we can add to them I AM the God that is willing. And poof the leprosy is no more. One minute he was incurable, the next he is healed! Can you imagine the relief that flooded him when he first felt “normal” again? It’s a feeling that some of us do know. Because like him, we too have gone from incurable to healed in the blink of an eye. But before we get too far along we need to address Jesus. Did you notice that there was no problem because He made the unclean, clean. And He’ll do it for you and I like He did for this man. Jesus then tells him to “go and show himself to the Priests; bring the correct sacrifice and be a testimony for them”. Jesus immediately puts him to work as an ambassador of His healing power. My Jesus will do the same for you as well. You need no fancy degree or official title to be a testimony. You already have all you need, your story. The story of when Jesus reached out to you.
It is probably apparent by now that I’m not a fan of the “addiction is a disease” concept. If it wasn’t before, let me tell you, I am not! I offer my life as a testimony that what man said was incurable; God healed! When I asked “Are you willing?” My God replied I AM willing! And my life has not been the same since. How could it? God made unclean Thom, clean and I must go and be a testimony for Him. Think I’m a fluke? I can introduce you to hundreds of others who asked and received the same answer. Yes, my God can. Yes, my God heals. And yes, my God is willing!
I often hear someone say, “when I get to heaven I’m asking Jesus about…” And I always think “no… no you won’t”. Every person who met an Angel in the Bible fell to their knees and that’s from meeting a creature who was in the presence of God. If second hand glory does that, you won’t be able to speak in first hand presence! The gospels record numerous times Jesus spoke with large crowds, measuring in the thousands. But the gospels also share several incidents when Jesus spent time alone with someone, one on one. I am especially drawn to those incidents. Just imagine Jesus, knowing full well the limited time He had on earth and choosing to spend some with a single person.
John 4 – The Samaritan Woman - “Who is right?”
John 4:4 records “Now He HAD to go through Samaria”. Although the most direct route between Judea and Galilee, it was through an area considered unclean by the Jews. Their reason for declaring it thus was because of those who lived there. Blood relatives who followed a similar yet different religion made them unclean in the eyes of good Jewish people. I’m sure the Disciples tried to talk Jesus out of going. Surely the longer, more traditional way would be best. But Jesus insisted that He HAD to go; evidently without acceptable explanation. So off they went. Arriving at about the halfway point just before noon the Disciples went into town to purchase lunch. Jesus decided to wait at the well. The Disciples no doubt passed her on their way in. A single lady coming out of town along the only path between it and the well, they must have passed each other. And yet neither spoke, neither acknowledged the other. Then she comes to the well where sits Jesus. The lady didn’t notice anything remarkable about him. She only saw the exterior which was clearly Jewish and then comes his question. “Can I have some water?” Seems simple enough on the surface but the feud and bitterness in this relative dispute has been simmering for years. So instead of kindness she senses weakness and pounces. But Jesus doesn’t return the anger no he offers her “living water”. Her interest in this new substance may be completely worldly but Jesus uses it to reveal just exactly who He is. “Go get your husband.” Those words must have stung. She knows the score. Her lifestyle was tolerated by neither religion. The shame of her past came rushing in. “He won’t know” she thinks and tells Him “I don’t have one”. Then Jesus reveals Himself by telling her what the real truth is. Without judgement or condemnation, Jesus simply states the facts as they are in her life to date. And folks, sometimes facts hurt but they weren’t said accusingly. Jesus told her ALL about herself and then kept on talking with her. It’s at this point that I believe she knows who He is but she hedges her bet by saying that He is a prophet. Now comes her question. Alone with Jesus she asks “which of us is doing it right?” Jews say this mountain and these laws, we say differently. Surely there is only one right answer so which of us got it right. And Jesus replies “neither”. See it doesn’t matter which building style or set of rules you adhere to. If there is no spiritual connection; then you are doing it wrong. End of statement. God wants us to worship in spirit and truth not location and style. I am so glad that I have the ability to freely enter into a close personal relationship with my God. Free of any regulations or man-made restraints. I can simply come as I am and be loved, corrected and encouraged to keep moving forward.
Now both Jewish and Samaritan texts proclaimed that the Messiah was coming. Their interpretation of those scriptures was that He would come and tell the other side that they were doing it wrong and settle things once and for all. Jesus ends His time with her by fully revealing that He is the Messiah. And off she runs to the town. The Disciples return and their question was why Jesus even bothered speaking to one of “them” at all. Out of the village comes the entire town stirred up by the lady’s testimony. “He knew everything about me” and spoke to me anyway. They beg Jesus to stay and a two day revival broke out in a little backwoods town, along a dusty road in Samaria.
Why did God choose this town? I haven’t a clue. Why did Jesus choose her? I believe He knew the impact her, the town hussy’s, testimony would have on the rest. I mean if He would want HER then He’ll surely be OK with ME right? Was Jesus trying to mend the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans? Maybe but probably not. What comes out clear in reading the story is that God desires a close intimate relationship with each of us. Don’t get me wrong, I love church and small groups but I treasure my one on one time with God even more. For it’s in those quiet places that I can be completely transparent and know that I’m loved. Let me urge you to spend some one on one time with Jesus today. Time spent alone with God is never wasted.
Pledge and Prayer – Start your day off right.
Every school day started the same. The bell would ring announcing the start of another day. Shortly after that the PA system would crackle to life and the Principal would ask everyone to stand and face the flag. Then a student would lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Principal would then ask everyone to bow their heads for a moment of prayer. After a bit, the Principal would encourage us to have a “Bulldog” day! Faithfully we started every day this way regardless of whether it was an easy day or one of “those” days. I might be looking at a substitute or multiple tests it didn’t matter, everyday started the same.
For the longest time I forgot this critical piece of my day. I would jump out of bed, having milked the snooze button for all it was worth. I would rush headlong into my day without a pledge; without a prayer. And life became all too quickly unmanageable. Overcome by all the “things” I thought I had to accomplish I was constantly frustrated by my life. It seemed I was always tired but never accomplishing anything of note. I simply dropped into bed exhausted each night but unable to sleep with all the undone things running through my head. Soon it was pills and later them and a “nightcap” to go down; energy drinks and coffee to get up. None of which helped me accomplish more and, in fact, led to life becoming even more unmanageable. Then it all came undone.
Shortly after I became sober, a mentor shared with me this secret and it brought me back to Langham Elementary. Start your day off with prayer and an affirmation. Desperate to not repeat my former life, I gave it a try and the results have been nothing short of miraculous!
I changed up my affirmations until I met Kirk Samuels. Kirk has an incredible pornography recovery ministry and part of his program is having each man recite the below each morning. I haven’t changed affirmations since. Check out the rest of his stuff at www.freeindeed36.com Save and print the below, placing it on the bathroom mirror or fridge. Say them out loud each morning. It helps frame the mind just as the Pledge so long ago did.
Always start your day off with prayer. No matter whether it is an easy or hard day, start it off the same. Have a morning quiet time that includes prayer. Ask for guidance and wisdom for the day ahead. It always reminds me of my prayers back in school “OK Lord we both know I suck at math but help me remember what I studied last night”. Being mindful of God’s presence helps frame your mind around all the “things” that need to get done. I am always amazed at how He works through those tasks, removing the extraneous and adding more meaningful ones. This time of prayer helps me focus on God which helps take the focus off me. It needn’t take long, just a few minutes each day will go a long way toward keeping you in the right frame of mind. Print off the affirmations and plan a time for prayer for the next seven days and see if it doesn’t provide peace and clarity.
Thom Straley - Thom is a certified life coach specializing in addiction recovery and small business growth as Aim Point Coaching. To learn more about Aim Point Coaching, visit Thom's website by clicking the link above!