The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
No pun intended, but we’re going to start off by just jumping right into the deep end of the pool. Take a look at your Gospel lesson, particularly verse 4. [Long uncomfortable pause] What’s the matter? There is no verse 4, is there? Do you know why that is? Because roughly two dozen of the earliest manuscripts of John’s Gospel don’t have a verse 4. Verse 4 simply didn’t exist when the first copies of John’s Gospel were being produced and distributed. It didn’t exist because it was never written by John, and certainly not inspired by the Holy Spirit as the infallible Word of God. Unfortunately (as is often the case), someone came along many decades later and decided to “help” by adding an extra verse. [Side-note: The KJV does, indeed, contain verse 4, but that’s because KJV relied on those later manuscripts when they were translating from Greek into the King’s English; later manuscripts which contained the false addition.]
And what does this infamous and uninspired verse say as it tries to pass itself off as the Word of God? Let’s hear it with verse 3. “In these lay a great multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed… [v4]waiting for the moving of the water, for an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and troubled/stirred the water, and whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”
Now, just because this passage isn’t in Scripture doesn’t mean that all those sick and suffering people amassed around the spring pool known as “Bethesda” didn’t believe what the verse says. (This is why the anonymous “helper” felt the need to add/explain.) In fact, based on the poor sap’s response to Jesus when Jesus asked flat-out, “Do you want to be healed?” we know this is exactly what he was thinking when he immediately shoots back, not with a “Yes!” or “Please!” but with a whine/complaint that he can’t get down to the pool first after the water has been stirred. Basically, “Healed? How can I possibly be healed if nobody will help me into the water first? How can I possibly be healed if I’m not the first one to get the magic water that the angel has touched?” I’ll guarantee that this guy wasn’t the only one thinking this! Every one of those blind, lame, paralyzed invalids; every one of those “unclean” folks who were obviously on the wrong side of God wanted to be first into those “angelically-stirred” healing waters. So much suffering, and for such a long time (38 years in the case of this poor soul), and they were willing to try anything; willing to believe anything. “An angel is stirring the water and giving magical healing abilities? Whatever! As long as it works.” This is why John (and the Holy Spirit) didn’t say a word about the common belief that an angel came down and stirred the water and gave it magical healing abilities. Our Lord didn’t want to give anyone the false impression that such desperate superstition was true in any way. He didn’t want them putting their hope/trust in all the wrong things.
And before we go any further, let’s speak briefly about this place called “Bethesda.” As John tells us, it’s an Aramaic word that means “House of Mercy.” Do you notice in verse 2 how John makes a point of telling us that the “House of Mercy” had five roofed colonnades/patios situated around the pool? Many have hypothesized that the reason it was called the “House of Mercy” was because of these roofs, which provided shade (mercy) to all those poor souls laying outside around a pool in the Middle Eastern sun, just waiting for a couple of bubbles to come gurgling up to the top. Perhaps. It certainly makes sense. Others have raised the possibility that “House of Mercy” refers to the fact that all those unclean and impure people—outcasts in their own community—were mercifully permitted to gather in such a place so close to all the “good and healthy” people of Jerusalem, especially in such close proximity to the Temple (the Sheep Gate was the gate on the northern side of the Temple complex). It’s certainly a possibility. It’s not uncommon in today’s world for communities to give their homeless and “outcast” a particular place to assemble and camp and such, all the while patting themselves on the back for how “merciful” they are. “We let them camp by the river.”
That ties into another belief that this place was called “House of Mercy” because that’s what the “generous benefactors” wanted to be known for—their “generous mercy.” The politicians, the Oprahs, the LeBron James’ of first century Jerusalem. “Stop the presses! Make sure you get my good side! Look at how merciful we are! Look at what we built for those pitiful wretches!” They spent the money and donated the construction for the patios and the roofs, and they wanted everyone to know how “merciful” they were with their philanthropy. Again, this certainly would make a lot of sense if true. I’d be more surprised if there wasn’t at least some truth to it. Like I say so often, there’s nothing new under the sun. Even we “humble Christians” can be guilty of such self-serving glory-hounding. It’s sad, but sometimes it seems like “mercy” isn’t really about mercy. I read a couple of different places that some “Healthy Entrepreneurs” took full advantage of the sorrow gathered around that pool by offering their services to people to help lift them in/out the water. They apparently rented themselves out like mules to the highest bidders; bidders who were desperate to try and be first into the water. There’s always money to be made off those who are desperate and feel like they are without hope. There’s always accolades and praise to be had. There’s nothing new under the sun.
You know… Let’s just get right to the point. Do you notice how Jesus doesn’t entertain any of this foolishness? Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed, and the guy whines about not having anyone to carry him down into the magical angel waters. Jesus doesn’t scold him or admonish him in any way. He simply heals him. He shows him true mercy, no strings attached. “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And immediately the guy does just that! He’s healed! He doesn’t stand up and run down to the pool to try and get a better place. Nope. He stands up, completely healed after not being able to walk for over 38 years, picks up his foul little mat, and walks away.
Guess what? That guy didn’t know who had healed him. He didn’t know who Jesus was! How’s that for no-strings attached humility and mercy?! The Pharisees find out that this guy was healed on the Sabbath (and carried his mat); both of which are HUGE no-no’s in their eyes because both were considered to be “work,” and they ask him who dared to do such a terrible sinful thing on the Sabbath. “I don’t know. He left before I could catch His name.” Jesus left before the guy could even say “thank you.” In fact, based on the text, we don’t know that he ever did say “thank you.”
Again, I want you to think on this, because it’s important. *Did you have to have faith in Jesus and “accept Him as your personal Savior” BEFORE He died on His cross and rose again from the dead? Never mind any sort of prerequisite works that you might have to do in order to win Jesus over. Did you have to have faith in Jesus BEFORE He would pay for all your sins? Did you have to have a close personal relationship with Jesus BEFORE He would declare, “It is finished”? *Your Lord showed you His mercy and grace while you were still dead in your sin! Before you were formed in your mother’s womb, He knew you. While still dead in your sin, He called you by name out of the darkness of sin, death, and damnation into His marvelous light, not because you approached Him first and begged for mercy. Nope. He did all this first for you because He is merciful and gracious. That’s just who He is.
My fellow redeemed: You know this Jesus! By the gracious working of the Holy Spirit in/through these means of grace, you know—through faith—this Lord of Life and mercy and grace. You are able to see and hear Him mercifully/graciously at work in the midst of this shadowy valley of brokenness, despair and sorrow. You know the unconditional love that He has for you and for all children of Adam… even those who reject Him, mock Him, and despise Him and His grace. “It is finished” has already been spoken for them too! We pray they come to know and hold fast to this blessed Truth.
I’ll end like this: I know full-well the broken world we live in. It’s scary. It’s depressing, and it seems to be getting worse every day. Consequently, it’s very easy to whine and lament and despair and feel like you’re all alone and without hope. This sort of sorrow and despair, especially if it goes on long enough, can make a person believe and do some very foolish things… even “good Christians.” Consider/Remember what your Lord and Savior has already done for you in the cleansing, life-giving, healing waters of Holy Baptism; right here at this wellspring/pool of Divine mercy and grace. Consider His sure and certain Word/Promise that the guilt/death sentence for all your sins for all time has been drowned and put to death in these blessed healing waters.
Think on that. Let that sink in. In the midst of all this sorrow and despair and sinful brokenness, here is Immanuel, mercifully, graciously, miraculously at work for you. Here is Jesus. Here is His Bethesda; His true House of Mercy, in the very midst of all the sorrow, despair, and sinful brokenness. A true oasis of life and peace; peace that surpasses all human understanding. May you ever be found to be coming here, drawing near to Him and His Bethesda; this Beth-El; this house of the Almighty God. (Notice: I’m not simply inviting you to church, but to Jesus. There’s a difference!) Come to Him. Flee to Him. Hold fast to Him. Come beside these green pastures and cool still waters. Come to Jesus, and know with all baptismal certainty: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age, and where even two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in your midst.” Folks: Here He is, just as He promises, and He’s doing exactly what He has promised to do, from now to the end of the age.
How do you even begin to say “Thank You” for this?! Simple. Resurrected unto new life, we rise and walk in His marvelous light. We rise and walk as His beloved children of Light, letting His light shine before all others. May you—by God’s good grace—do just that. Walk as resurrected children of Light, and let this Light of Christ shine forth in all that you say and do so that everyone who crosses paths with you may see and know Him who has worked salvation for all mankind in His death and resurrection, and who continues to mercifully and graciously work all things for the good of those who love Him.
To Him be all the glory, all the praise, and all the honor… AMEN.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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