Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Easter 6

"Mercy and Healing at Bethesda"

John 5:1-9

May 1, 2016

Here's the question: what is divine mercy? Why do we need to understand what divine mercy is? It is the source of God's interaction with us. Divine mercy is the underlying theme in today's Gospel reading about the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda.

John 5:1-9 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids--blind, lame, and paralyzed.

One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.

We should note that the pool area is filled with invalids. Jesus focuses only on one of them, a man paralyzed for 38 years. When our Lord approaches the man, He asks what seems to be an obvious question: do you want to be healed? Well, duh, what do you think? Yet, the man doesn't say Yes! Instead, the poor guy gives a detailed explanation of why he hasn't been healed. His complaints seem to border on whining. But then, it's also understandable if you would put yourself in his place. 38 years is a long time to deal with affliction and paralysis.

Since this guy seems clueless about the identity of Jesus, he doesn't look to the Lord as others would later on as the miracle working rabbi. Jesus is an unknown stranger to this man. His best hope was that He was some kind benefactor who would help him into the pool the next time the waters were stirred.

We know very little about this man. We're told his name or how he came to be paralyzed. Was it an accident or illness? Was he a pious Jew? Had he been praying for the Lord to heal him? We're not told. These are not important details to the story. When our Lord engages him, He has something bigger in mind.

The man is focusing on the pool as the source of hope and healing. Jesus completely ignores the pool. It is He, not the pool, who is the source all healing. For that reason, He changes the focus of the man from the pool to Him. Without any other questioning or fanfare, He simply tells the man to pick up his mat and walk. It's just that simple. It's just that fast. In that moment the healing strength and vigor of our Lord's healing power flows through the man's legs. He is so energized that he leaps up and walks. There is no need to rehabilitation or therapy. The healing is that instantaneous and complete.

Now, for the questions. Why did Jesus choose this man and not others? What place did faith play in this miracle? What's the point of this story for us?

The popular TV preachers and traveling revivalists like to link faith and healing as direct cause and effect. If you believe, then you will be healed. There are times when Jesus does state: your faith has made you well. Is this one of those cases? No. Jesus says nothing either about the man's faith or lack thereof. In fact, faith doesn't seem to come into play at all. If the man doesn't have a strong faith, why is he healed? Why is anyone healed . . . or not?

Is your healing dependent on your faith? If we're receive healing, we're tempted to say "YES!" But, if we don't receive the healing we want, does mean our faith is lacking? This causes us to ask why some are healed and others are not. Is faith the key factor in healing? No. Healing comes from the mercy of God. This man was not healed and restored on the basis of his faith but on the mercy of Christ.

The Lord wants to shift the focus on our faith. How many times do we look to doctors and medications as the source of healing? These are the usual means through which God brings us healing and restoration. God had given us knowledge, talents, skills and abilities. We certainly thank Him for that knowledge. We thank Him for the skills of surgeons, the care of nurses, the medications and therapies. All of these are means through which He brings us relief, release, healing and restoration.

As often as we witness healing, we are often more confused and conflicted by the lack of healing. Why is it some are not healed? When healing doesn't occur, we become like the paralyzed guy at the pool of Bethesda. Why? When my grandmother was dying of cancer, I remember my aunt saying, "but, we prayed and prayed, why didn't God make her well." The underlying question was: Is our faith lacking? Didn't we believe strongly enough? Didn't pray hard enough?

These are the wrong questions. Did you believe? Who is anyone to judge the sincerity or depth of another person's faith? Often, in times of affliction, we believe with every ounce of faith we can muster. Our prayer is fervent. Yet, there is no healing. Was there something wrong with our prayer? Was something lacking? No. For reasons unknown to us, the Lord chose not to answer our prayers the way we wanted.

What does this tell us about the mercy of God? When someone is healed, we rejoice that God in His mercy has given them restoration to health and wellness. But, when there is no healing, is the mercy of God withheld? No. As we watch and wait for relief and release, the Lord works His mercy in our lives. The purpose is to focus our eyes of faith on Him. He helps us trust and believe His love and care for us as we must patiently wait to see how He will act. As we wait, we are invited to pray boldly for the miracle all the while also yielding to His will.

All of the Lord's interactions with us flow out of His divine mercy. The prayer of the church at the time of death is prefaced by saying, "God in His mercy has called from this life the soul of _____." In the end, it is the mercy of God that brings us from death to eternal life. The journey through life is always a mixed bag of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, ease and suffering. Christ, our Lord, underwent the pain and suffering of the cross, to bring us healing from sin and death. Through this great act of divine mercy, we are lifted from despair to hope, from antagonistic stranger to beloved child, from sinner to saint.

In times of suffering and affliction the Lord doesn't tell us why. He doesn't always answer our prayers the way we want. It has nothing to do with our conviction or persuasiveness but on His will. In the end, we are recipients of His divine mercy. When there is healing, we rejoice with thanksgiving. When the time of affliction continues, we pray for strength to persevere in faith. Like the man by the pool of Bethesda, the Lord shifts our focus. The lifts our eyes to His face and assures us that in His love, everything is well with and for us. Amen.


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