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But the man who’d been healed didn’t know who it was. Jesus had gone away, and the place was crowded. After this Jesus found the man in the Temple. ‘Look!’ he said. ‘You’re better again! Don’t sin any more, or something worse might happen to you!’

Here are some helpful Bible verses. When God shows up in powerful ways, it may just go unnoticed. The healed man doesn’t know who Jesus is and he doesn’t even try to follow him. He doesn’t try to thank him. And Jesus doesn’t wait around until he does. Why is this helpful? 

We follow Jesus and do things we think he would do if he were us, as a way of life. Not to get people to notice us. Not to have someone thank us. After all, when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you are able to be used for works of power, and the same Holy Spirit also makes sure you realize it is him not you. 

What happens next?

The man who is healed has the chance to go to the Temple for the first time in 38 years. If you are disabled you can’t go in the Temple, but there he is! I guess he dropped his mattress off somewhere! Jesus sees him and gives a biblical lesson in paradox. The Bible is filled with paradox. One thing is true and so is another thing that is extremely different. Jesus is God and Jesus is a man, for instance. Our works are a sign of our faith, and we are not saved by our works. The paradox we see here is about healing.

Here, Jesus connects the man’s disability with sin.

At other times, Jesus says disease and disability has nothing to do with personal sin. John 9.

As Jesus passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…”

Here we see the paradox. Jesus is implying the disabled man was in his crippling condition because of his own sin. But, later, Jesus says the condition of the man born blind has nothing to do with anyone’s sin. 

It seems some sicknesses may be related to some sins but you can’t and shouldn’t deduce the one from the other. Even when we say it is a lifestyle choice with unhealthy habits, there are plenty of  people who have those same habits who are doing fine. 

ME

Have you ever thought of any challenges, any setbacks, in your own life as having a connection to not following God’s ways?

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‘Well,’ he replied, ‘the man who cured me told me to pick up my mattress and walk!’ ‘Oh, really?’ they said. ‘And who is this man, who told you to pick it up and walk?’ 

“The man who cured me…” This is a big deal in ancient Jewish teaching. 

You see, according to Isaiah 36:6, when the Messiah comes, 

“Then the lame man shall leap as a deer…” 

I guess these guys ought to be mildly interested. They are witnessing a miracle only the Messiah is capable of performing, according to their prophecy.  

Instead, they are more interested in their power. It is being able to show how they are right and this man is wrong. They don’t see this having to do with the power of God, they see it as about their own power, the power of their interpretation of God’s word.

Sabbath is good for us. It is the way God shows us the importance of rest and abiding with him and with the people we are closest with. God is in charge of 100% of our lives, and, on purpose, he wants us to delve deeply into why 14%, a sabbath day, is a gift from him. And also a commandment. God says, “I rest, so you rest.”

This is radically different compared to other ancient cultures. The sabbath is for everyone, servants and all, and the sabbath is even for their animals. No other religion had this rest in mind. 

But, the Judaean’s aren’t looking at this as a gift. They are trying to use this commandment as a threat. 

‘Oh, really?’ they said. ‘And who is this man, who told you to pick it up and walk?’ 

Don’t they know where the healing comes from? It looks to us that these guys are thick as bricks. I mean, if you are waiting for a Messiah since the time of Moses, about 1200 years, and then a guy comes along and tells a paralyzed guy to get up and walk…Well, who could it be, but…

ME

Do you celebrate a sabbath? A day of rest and refreshment? A day to go deeper with the Lord?

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The day all this happened was a sabbath. So the Judaeans confronted the man who had been healed. ‘It’s the sabbath!’ they said. ‘You shouldn’t be carrying your mattress!’

Who are the Judaeans?

These were Jews who live in the south of Israel, in Judea. Jerusalem is where the most prominent Jewish leaders reside. So, when we read about Judaeans, it is helpful to think of it as the Jews who live in Judaea, not the Jews who live in Galilee. Galileans are considered backwoods rednecks in comparison. 

So, what is the problem?

The problem is the Jerusalem leaders are strict observers of the Jewish law. For instance, the original purpose of the sabbath is to highlight the seventh day as the time when God rested from his work in making the world. The law-observant Jews kept a strict day without work- defining what work includes so there would be no doubt.

The rabbis wrote commentary on the meaning of the biblical laws. These detailed accounts included what is prohibited on the Sabbath. What constitutes, “work.” There are 39 categories which are labeled “work,” connected to ancient life. So, the examples are from farming, weaving, working with leather goods, and construction. 

One of the laws under the category of the sabbath law having to do with construction prohibits transferring an object from domain to domain. Carrying his mattress is a violation by the man who is healed.

So, basically, a guy who is disabled for 38 years is being called on a technicality. Instead of celebrating what happened to him, the Judaean’s are calling foul. 

ME

Are you a stickler for rules? Do you know someone who is? What is this like?

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Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!

Well, it appears the man must have believe because he does obey the command of Jesus. “Be raised!”

There it is! Now, the Jewish crowds see God breaking in through Jesus, again. And now, even the worshipers of Asclepius can see it. These non-Jews have hopes and longings, too. But, they are looking in the wrong places. This man, Jesus, has authority and power.

This will become quite ironic some day soon. Why? Because one of the other titles they give to Asclepius is “Soter,”  which means…“Savior.”

So, when someone is sick we pray for them. Rightfully so.

And they do get better. In one way for another. Spiritually and emotionally when we are encouraged by the presence of God, this affects physical healing. So through prayer things can happen we are not even aware of. Other times there may be full healing. Sometimes this is gradual. Other times, a person may die on earth, but they are fully healed in the heavenly dimension. But there is also a time, on rarer occasions, where healing does happen spontaneously. Boom!

I know this because I have seen this while praying with someone. From a tumor on the top of a man’s head, to sciatica, to migraines, this does happen on rare occasions. Other times, not much response at all.

But, it would not make sense to me to stop praying for healing because I didn’t think it would work in someone’s favor. God does the healing, whether immediate or someday or in eternity, so results are always his problem, not mine..

The new creation is already entering our world. Heaven and Earth are already intersecting with Jesus and Jesus is with us now. And when you are filled by his Spirit, when you pray, expect him to show up.

If he doesn’t show up in the way you think he should, don’t give up. He may be working on a different time schedule than you are. Jesus may be working at a different level you are not even aware of. But, keep at it. Keep praying. Keep expecting him to bring good out of bad. Don’t give in to learned helplessness. Don’t give up, period. Just keep at it.

Healing may be just around the corner and, even if it is not today, healing will come some day. This is God’s promise. We can depend on it.

ME

When have you seen changes when you prayed for healing for yourself or someone else?

Pool of Bethesda

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. He asks the crippled man a rather pointed question.

“Would you like to get well?”

That’s kind of a strange question. If you’re sick, who doesn’t want to get healthy?

Well, don’t answer that question too quickly. The Bible says, Jesus knows this guy. Or at least he knows he has been sick for a long time. If anyone would stop by this particular mikveh at the Pool of Siloam before you go to the Temple, you would probably recognize this guy after a while.

It’s like the same homeless guy you see at the off ramp if you commute on the freeway.

It is fascinating to speculate why Jesus picks this guy to interact with.

It might be like this.

“Would you like to get well?”

Read between the lines.

“Do you really want to be healed or have you given in to the lifestyle of waiting around, being disappointed and then complaining about the fact that you are not healed.”

Indeed, it looks like the man may be experiencing what is called “learned helplessness.” Perhaps you hare familiar with this term. It started with animal studies.

Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.

People get affected by this, too.

Learned helplessness occurs when people feel that they have no control over their situation, and so they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change.

You just give in to certain lots in life and don’t try to change them.

In a warped way, learned helplessness makes sense if we don’t want to really change our lives or if we never want to be disappointed or never take a risk again. If you expect the worst things to happen to you this is a way to be ready for an excuse whenever bad things do happen. And it stops us from doing anything where there is actually a chance for change for the better.

Learned helplessness can get in the way of recovery from addiction. Yes, it can become a factor in homelessness. Learned helplessness can also lead to victimization, where when it appears bad things are happening in your life, it is always someone else’s fault. Problem is, when you think of yourself as a victim, then change is rare. And when you learn helplessness, there appears to be little hope.

The man who is at the pool is ready with an excuse.

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

But, Jesus doesn’t have time for excuses. With Jesus the new creation has begun.

ME

Have you are anyone you know experienced learned helplessness? What happened?

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Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years.

It always fascinates me when biblical texts about places and events are questioned because there is no archeological evidence and then the evidence is discovered! Such is the case for the Pool of Bethesda. I quote an online article. “It’s interesting that until the 19th century, there was no evidence outside of John’s Gospel for the existence of this pool; therefore, scholars argued that the gospel was written later, probably by someone without first-hand knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, and that the “pool” had only a metaphorical, rather than historical, significance. But in the 19th century, archaeologists discovered the remains of a pool matching the description and location of the pool in John’s Gospel!”

My wife and I saw the Pool ruins a few years ago. We learned this archeological evidence pointed to the pool of Bethesda as used as a place for healing for non-Jews who worship Asclepius as well is for the Jews of Jerusalem.  So, when Jesus goes to the Pool, he is witnessing the ancient Greek healing practices of Asclepius, along with Jews who would be there to use the baths for healing. We also know the Pool is used for Jewish ritual cleansing. You see, before the Jewish people would visit the nearby Temple area, they would have a ritual cleansing bath in, what is called, a mikveh. Probably why Jesus is there in the first place. Also, besides mikvehs being used for ritual cleansing, they are also associated with healing. This is explained in a verse that is inserted by later editors of the Gospel, though not included in the earlier manuscripts. The underlined is added to verse three and is an additional verse four.

“Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches waiting for a certain movement of the water, for an angel of the Lord came from time to time and stirred up the water. And the first person to step in after the water was stirred was healed of whatever disease he had.”

So, here we have a site that had both Romans and Jews coming for divine intervention!  But, apparently this place of healing is not all that successful.

The man who is disabled has been suffering 38 years! That is longer than the life expectancy of ancient Israel at the time.  The text doesn’t tell us if the man had been going to the pool that long, but probably so as an adult. What is going on? Here we have Jesus coming to Jerusalem at a Jewish festival where the population of Jews is increased substantially. Festival times are times of strong meaning for the Jewish people. Times of hope and longing for freedom and change. As in other miraculous events in the life of Jesus recorded in the bible, we see these Jerusalem Festival times are just the time Jesus arrives and fulfills the hopes and longing in miraculous ways.

ME

When archeology affirms what is written in the Bible, what does this mean to you?

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Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches.

Asclepius is the Greco-Roman god of medicine and healing. Here he is seen, as always, with a staff with a serpent twisted around it. This is still used today as a symbol for medicine, like on the logo for the American Medical Association.

Pergamum, a city in Turkey, had the main healing center for Asclepius. At the Temple there was a tunnel with a walking path that would lead to the Temple and small rooms to sleep in on the side. Doctors were there to interpret dreams and offer words of encouragement. After the sick would wake up they walk the path in a loop and the doctors would stand above and whisper words of encouragement through the skylights.

But, usually the Temples dedicated to Asclepius in the various cities were known for having mineral springs or baths nearby. This is probably the case with the Pool of Bethesda. It was used by those who worshiped Asclepius, as well as by the Jews.

ME

What have you experienced when it comes to the connection between emotions and physical health?

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Gleaning from Thirty Years That Changed The World, Michael Greene  let’s come to some conclusions.

What can we learn from the first Christians today?

First, expect the Holy Spirit to show up in your life and ask him again and again. Live your life with this expectation and trust that he has work for you to do to spread his influence. Get some skin in the game!

Second, realize the first Christians lived mainly in urban areas. On purpose! The early Christian culture functioned primarily around cities. The early Christians would go to the heart of tough city centers, live there, and plant churches there. The problems we see magnified in cities like ours today- Problems like the breakdown in society, erosion of marriage, and escalation of violent crime, well they were right there in the first century, as well. Actually, even worse! And it is in this setting the early church thrived!

Third, the first Christians lived in a multi-faith context just like ours. In fact the variety of other religions that were around was even greater then today. These early Christians are making ultimate claims for Jesus and meeting the challenge of other faiths head-on. It is interesting they didn’t sit down and dialogue much about religion with non-Christians. They didn’t denounce other faiths. They stuck with simply proclaiming Jesus with power and persuasion, because they had the Holy Spirit,  and they did this within the context of their hearers. They didn’t set up Christianity against other religions, but instead told the good news of a personal relationship with a living, loving God who accepts us though we don’t deserve it, and wants to invite us as his partners. They showed what this family of God looked like in their behavior and they lived it out.

The old camp song is right when it comes to the first Christians, “They will know we are Christians by our love…”

Fourth, they met a wall of rejection. Sometimes hostility, sometimes apathy. They didn’t counter by isolating themselves or by attacking back. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they countered with the difference Jesus made in their lives, showing a Jesus-centered quality of life they shared with each other, and also sharing this same joy and compassion with their non-Christian neighbors. Also, since the early Christians actually trusted in the authority and power given to them by the Holy Spirit, they had strong spiritual potency which was seen in healings and deliverance for people who had evil spirits infecting their lives, all in the name of Jesus.

So, what about it? Think about the younger generations and generations to come. We’ve known for decades that most people are bored with religion and cynical of pious talk. Not so with transformed lives. As each of us grows under the power of the Holy Spirit, and more and more takes on the joy and compassion of Jesus- well transformed lives is what it took to intrigue and attract people in the early church and that’s what it takes today. Love and compassion will do this. A joyful lifestyle will do this. Manifesting the power of God will do this. Expectation of the presence of the Holy Spirit and joyous Christian community and worship will do this.

God is not sweating the future of his Kingdom influencing the world. But he is looking for a few good men, a few good women, a few good children to step up, and open themselves to be filled with fire in their hearts. Welcome the Holy Spirit. Invite him in like never before.

ME

Pray for the congregations you see each day when you drive past them.