Jesus promised us abundant life (John 10:10) and, as believers, we are supposed to be new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). Have you ever wondered, “where is this positive life change i’m supposed to have as a follower of Christ?” Personally, I struggled with that for much of my early life. There is a particular interaction between Jesus and a paralyzed man that offers insight into the change we desire:
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 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 paralyzed. 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 Jewish leaders 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.” (John 5:1-14)
First, a little background information. The reason people in need of healing were congregating at this pool is that Jewish tradition said at random intervals an angel of God would stir the pool, it would bubble, and the first person to enter the water would be healed of whatever illness or infirmity they suffered. So, many people gathered there and if the water began to move they would all race to be the first to enter and receive healing.
Now, the man in this interaction had been an invalid for 38 years when Jesus came to the pool. Jesus asked him, “do you want to get well?”
What? Duh, Jesus!
Despite the obvious yes, notice how the man answers, “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.”
He could have said, “Yes! I want that more than anything! Can you please help me into the water when it is stirred?”
Instead, he blames everyone else for his condition and does not take any responsibility for his own healing. He doesn’t say he wants to be well. He only tells Jesus why he can’t be well and how it’s not his fault.
Jesus, in his mercy, miraculously heals the man of his infirmity and apparently leaves the area by the pool. The man runs into the Jewish leaders on his way out. They remind him of the Sabbath laws, and tell him carrying his mat is breaking one. Again, the man passes the buck and refuses to take responsibility for himself. “The man who healed me told me to.”
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
“[Adam] said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen. 3:12-13)
Back to our, former, invalid and Jesus. The Jewish leaders ask the man to point Jesus out to them, but he can’t. Later, in the Temple, Jesus sneaks up behind him and delivers this very severe sounding warning, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
Now that sounds very mean, but let’s remove any condescending, shaming, threatening, guilt or fear inducing tones out of the voice your mind reads things in. We know that is how the Enemy operates, not how Jesus operates. Jesus is honest and compassionate, just and merciful, boldly calling people to change without using any of the manipulative or controlling tactics we are used to experiencing in our sin-tainted human interactions.
What sin did Jesus call out in this man? His refusal to take responsibility for himself. His habit of blaming everyone else for the state of his life.
What consequence did Jesus warn him of? His healing would be worthless because his life would be worse than when he had been laying by that pool.
Here is my paraphrase of Jesus’ confrontation, “The physical barrier to the life you want is gone. I removed it as a gift. Now change your patterns of thinking and acting: take responsibility for yourself. Otherwise, your life will be worse than if I had never healed you.”
It is possible to receive salvation from Jesus, and refuse to change our patterns of thinking and behaving. The result is our lives lack the abundance and positive change we desire and we live miserable and confused.
This man was sick for 38 years. Probably had been since childhood, or even birth. It was likely the result of an accident or birth defect. It could have been the result of someone attacking or abusing him. His life of mere survival, dependent on the, often absent, goodwill of others conditioned his mind to blame. His helplessness had become his identity. His condition became the entirety of who he was.
Sometimes the patterns we have are learned, and the struggle is not our fault. When we make the trauma, the depression, the poverty, the anxiety, the disease, the loss, whatever it is into our identity we set ourselves up for lives of pain and lack. I know that usually happens without our conscious knowledge or decision. Which is one reason why Jesus has compassion and empathy for our suffering, even if it’s self-induced.
Healing is a choice, and that choice is our responsibility. Jesus makes us his own, gives us identity as his. His strength, his energy, his love, his forgiveness, his truth, his joy, his protection, his provision; we choose to change our old identity for all this beautiful new. That choice is daily, sometimes moment by moment. It’s scary because it’s different than all we have known.
And it is absolutely necessary for life.
What in your life is Jesus asking you, “do you want to get well?” Don’t waste any more time telling him why you can’t be free from it, or pointing out your lack of responsibility. Invest in your emotional, physical and spiritual growth. Perhaps you find a professional, Christian counselor to help you walk the road of emotional healing. Choose to participate in worship, Bible study, and service with renewed intention. Treat your body to extra veggies, water, movement and sleep today. These are tangible ways you can say, “yes, please” and begin the abundant, new life he has offered you.