Presentation on theme: "Presentation 13. Introduction In situations of extreme hardship, people will often quote a popular maxim, “God helps those who help themselves”. Human."— Presentation transcript:
Introduction In situations of extreme hardship, people will often quote a popular maxim, “God helps those who help themselves”. Human resourcefulness and dependency are applauded. And so deeply engrained is this thinking that many are convinced that the words of this maxim are to be found in the Bible! They are not! Indeed, a contrary truth is taught! One of the great theological truths of scripture is that ‘God helps the helpless’. And it is truth that John would appear to be highlighting as he records this third sign in his gospel.
Presentation 13 Humanity’s Need in Microcosm Entering Jerusalem, Jesus discovered a large number of ill people gathered around the pool of Bethesda. They superstitiously believed that the first one to enter the pool, when the waters were disturbed, would be healed. The fittest and fastest believed that they had the best chance of a cure. They clearly had adopted the motto, ‘God helps those who help themselves’. And some had enlisted friends to make sure that, when the waters were Disturbed, then they would be pushed in before anyone else beat them it.
Presentation 13 Humanity’s Need in Microcosm Now there was a helpless man there, who had captured Jesus’ attention. He was paralysed and had no family or friends to rely on. Jesus discovered he’d been ill for 38 years and he asked a strange question, ‘Do you want to get well?’ Imagine visiting a doctor and the first question he asks you is, ‘Do you want to get well?’ We read in 2v24 that Jesus ‘knew all men’. He knows what people think and what they want. He often asks questions that he already knows the answer to, in order to help us verbalise our own needs. Questions that cause us to face up to the feelings and the secret thoughts of our hearts. And as this man formulates his reply, we may ask, “Has he lost even the will to get better?”
Presentation 13 Humanity’s Need in Microcosm How does he reply? He doesn’t say, ‘Oh, Yes more than anything else in the whole world’. Instead, he gives what he thinks is the reason for his prolonged illness. No one offered to lower him into the pool! Others were helped but not him! So engulfed and overwhelmed is he in his own helplessness and self-pity that his thinking is warped. He seems intent on blaming others for his chronic condition. He sees no worthwhile future. He has thrown in the towel! Amazingly, and despite this less than enthusiastic response, Jesus healed the man and told him to pick up his mattress and walk. Help was given to the totally helpless!
Presentation 13 Humanity’s Need in Microcosm Does John intend us to see in this scene a picture of the whole of humanity and its need? In relation to God we are all helpless, we are all spiritually blind, lame and paralysed. Some, instead of accepting the hopelessness of their situation put their trust in a whole variety of beliefs and superstitions. They think that they can contribute to their cure. They tell themselves that all they need to do is to follow a particular set of rules, work at being a good neighbour, use their money and resources in a particular way, make a pilgrimage to a noted ‘holy’ shrine and they will in these ways heal their relationship with God.
Presentation 13 Humanity’s Need in Microcosm The Bible makes it abundantly clear that it is impossible for man to restore himself. Now the word impossible is regularly used in two ways. The first points to situations that are ‘conditionally impossible’, i.e. where something is impossible unless something else should happen. A man says, ‘It is impossible for me to pay this month’s bills’. That is a conditional impossibility for he may receive an unexpected cheque! Or, someone might say, it is impossible to hear clearly in church unless we get a new sound system. We can think of many things that are impossible unless circumstances should change.
Presentation 13 Humanity’s Need in Microcosm A second category of impossibilities are the ‘absolute impossibles’, these are not affected by circumstances. It is impossible for black to be white. It is impossible for a square to be a circle. Now this is the category of the impossible that God has in mind when he says, “It is impossible for men to contribute anything towards their salvation”. That is a depressing picture, until we recognise that Jesus does for man what he cannot do for himself. Jesus does not wait for us to come to him. How can we if we are spiritually lame? How can we see spiritual truth if we are spiritually blind? Jesus, instead of waiting to ‘help those who help themselves’, comes to us and speaks words of life asking, ‘do you want to be made spiritually whole’.
Presentation 13 Humanity’s Need in Microcosm Now there are some people, like the man in this story, who are so overwhelmed by their helplessness that they have given up on ever being made well. They hear of others, whose lives have been changed by God’s grace and they are envious. They read a Christian biography of someone whose life God has changed and they think, ‘that kind of thing could never happen to me’. They see their life in a spiritual rut, they are unable to get out and there is no one to help them. Is that is a description of you? Then you are precisely the sort of person whom Jesus can help. Human extremity is often God’s opportunity.
Presentation 13 Failure to Capitalise on God’s Grace Men’s memories of God’s grace are often short-lived and man’s gratitude can soon evaporate. Jesus had healed on the Sabbath and when the healed man was challenged by the religious leaders for carrying his bed on the Sabbath [i.e. he was working], he quickly placed the blame on Jesus. Cf. v11 ‘the man who made me well said to me, ‘pick up your mat and walk’. Take issue with him!’ However, at that stage, he could not identify his benefactor and the religious leaders in turn were unable to pursue the mysterious ‘lawbreaker’ any further. The petty legalism of the religious leaders and their growing antagonism towards anyone who broke their rules is something we will return to in a later study.
Presentation 13 Failure to Capitalise on God’s Grace We read that Jesus went out of his way to track down the healed man and he found him in the temple. After dropping his bed off at home, did the healed man decide to go to the temple to thank God for his cure? Note what Jesus had to say. He told the man to ‘stop sinning’ in case something worse happened to him. Jesus is not implying that all illness is the consequence of sin. He makes it clear in other places that this is not the case. But clearly some illnesses are sin-related. We know that some sexually transmitted diseases are related to immoral behaviour and some psychiatric illnesses are the product of guilt…
Presentation 13 Failure to Capitalise on God’s Grace What then is Jesus saying? He is not implying that unless this man lived ‘a sinless life’ a greater consequence would befall him. Rather, Jesus is pointing back to a particular event - we are not told what it was - and saying, ‘don’t be foolish enough to do that again’. And the man knew exactly what Jesus was taking about. How many times had he drawn the line from the cause, his sin, to the effect, his illness and thought, ‘I have brought this upon myself’. The domino effect of his sin came back to haunt him. Jesus encourages the man to embrace his new found freedom and express his gratitude to God by rejecting the temptation to return to his former sin.
Presentation 13 Failure to Capitalise on God’s Grace How did this man react to Jesus’ admonition? Was he humbled and subdued? Or, was he resentful at the depth of intrusion by Jesus into his life? Was he angry that he had been reminded of his sinful past? Some people will permit Jesus to have only limited access to their lives. They are happy to receive any blessing and benefit that he might bring or have him sort out their lives when they get into a mess. They want an ‘emergency button Jesus’ that they can press when in trouble. But let him try and tell them how to run their lives and order their behaviour and the welcome mat is removed from the door and all his previous blessings are forgotten.
Presentation 13 Failure to Capitalise on God’s Grace Is this what is happening in v15? ‘The healed man told the religious leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.’ Was this the act of an informer? He surely knew that the Jewish religious leaders would give Jesus a difficult time because of their warped and blinkered view, of the Sabbath. This beautiful work of grace, this mercy healing, clearly scandalised them – it was work on the Sabbath day? And that was against their law!
Presentation 13 Conclusion I hope that the healed man was not an ungrateful informer. A quite different construction can be put on his behaviour. These religious leaders were looking for a lawbreaker, someone who had broken one of their petty regulations. But this man sets Jesus in a different category. Jesus was the man who had healed him. He had begun to experience freedom from the consequences of his past. He has tasted real forgiveness and he wanted others to know it.
Presentation 13 Conclusion He had discovered that God’s mercy was far wider than the petty limitations of these religious leader’s minds. He had experienced God’s grace at work in his life and he just couldn’t keep that knowledge to himself! Has God’s mercy swept you off your feet? There is no reason why it can’t do that today as Jesus visits you in the prison of your helplessness, enquiring after your spiritual health and asking, ‘Do you want to get well?’