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Encounters With Christ: The Man Locked In A Prison Without Bars

John 5:1-9

Wish to read for you these verses from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to John. This is the Word of God:

Sometime later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 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 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he’d 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.
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.

Pray with me, please.
Lord, nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling. Amen.

Here is the story of a man locked in a prison with no bars. It was holiday time in the city of Jerusalem, and Jesus decided to pay a visit to that city which He so dearly loved. The Gospel of John records for us an amazing encounter which occurred during that visit. It happened at a place called the Pool of Bethesda, a pool of water which is located near the Sheep Gate on the northern edge of the Old City of Jerusalem. Now, that pool was fed by deep-earth-centered springs, and when the water would bubble from down under, the water possessed a strange kind of curative energy, rather, I suppose, like those hot springs we sometimes find in our country today.

In any case, some forgotten benefactor had constructed five shelters or porches or colonnades around the Pool of Bethesda. And there in the shade of those porches lay a multitude of the diseased and the despairing. Their faces were drawn in sorrow. Their lips were tight with pain. Their eyes were dulled by sleeplessness. It was an assembly of the afflicted, a congregation of the stricken, a reservoir of physical wrecks, a backwater for human derelicts waiting and waiting and waiting and hoping against hope. Now, John tells us that, in that crowd at the Pool of Bethesda, there was one man who had been sick and paralyzed for 38 years. Think of that! 38 years, never knowing the joy of travel, 38 years never seeing the beauty of wildflowers blooming in an open field in spring, 38 years having no idea what it means to be a contributing member of society, 38 years without being able to enjoy the attention and the affection of a human companion.

You see, the Bible makes it absolutely plain that this fellow was alone, absolutely alone. There was no one, no one, there to help him. 38 years locked in a prison without bars. 38 years condemned to a purgatory of pain. 38 years caught in a living nightmare. Little did he know, after all those torturous years, what a difference would be made in his life when he happened to encounter the Lord of life and glory. For that matter, little do we know what a difference could be made in our lives if we truly encounter Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and glory.

Ah, but notice, first of all, that this man locked in a prison without bars encountered Christ’s compassion.

It’s quite clear when you read the story that the very moment that Jesus learned about this man’s long-term condition, He immediately reached out to this fellow in compassion. Ah, but then compassion was a permanent distinguishing mark of Jesus’ whole life. I mean, He never got absorbed in His own pains, never became preoccupied with His own problems.

We see that countless times throughout the Gospels, but I think, especially, we see it in the last days and hours of His life. He wept for the City of Jerusalem. He did not weep for Himself. He took care of the mothers of Jerusalem. He took care of His own mother, but He did nothing whatever for Himself. He warned Pilate. He cared for John. He prayed for His murderers. He gave grace to a thief. He looked to His Heavenly Father. He bore a whole world’s sin on His shoulders, but He did absolutely nothing for Himself. He was always totally involved in the concerns of other people.

By the same token, I would strongly suggest that those of us who bear His name also ought to have our lives marked by that same spirit of compassion. I want to say something to you here that I firmly believe, and I want you to tuck it away in your heart. Callousness and Christianity cannot coexist in the same person. It’s impossible. If you have the one, you cannot have the other. If you have Christ in your heart, you simply cannot turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the seething, crying needs that exist in this great, wide world of ours. You cannot do it. And it is that sense of profound compassion that led the great missionary Frank Laubach to write these words. He said, “We would do well to throw out 99% of our sophisticated learning and our tangled philosophy and instead cling to one simple truth for our everyday living; asking over and over again, ‘Father, who needs me next?'” Just think what a difference it would make in our lives if we went through every day asking God over and over again, “Father, who needs me next?” Think what a difference we would make in other people’s lives if we were to ask, “Father, who needs me next?”

Ah, but I want you to notice also that this man locked in a prison without bars encountered Christ’s cure.

Jesus said to the man, “Do you want to be healed?” And the man immediately responded, “Yes, Lord. I’m desperate to be healed. For 38 years, I’ve been trying to be healed. But others who are not so crippled as I manage to get into the stirred-up water before I can. I get pushed aside. Try as I might, I cannot get there in time. Yes, Lord, I want to be healed.” And Jesus immediately said to him, “Get up, pick up your bed, and walk.”

Can you imagine what happened next? Suddenly, there began to flow into this man’s pale and twisted body the rich, red glow of health. Suddenly, his nerves began to tingle and his muscles began to twitch and his tendons began to stretch and his joints began to flex and his limbs began to move and his heart began to pound. And then, almost before he realized it, he was sitting up. And then, like some ungainly colt struggling to its feet in order to learn how to walk, this man who had been paralyzed for 38 years slowly gets up to his feet, so unsteady at first, and then, with a great force of will, he lifts up one foot and puts it down, and then lifts up the other, and then, dear God, another and another, and suddenly, his face is fierce with joy, and his eyes are flooded with tears of relief, and he cries out a shout of triumph that echoed all through the porches at the pool of Bethesda.

And in that moment, Jesus said to him, “For 38 years, that bed has carried you. Now, you carry it.” And with that, he picked up his cot and swung it over his shoulder and he walked with a spring in his step and a song in his heart. What an incredible moment. I do so love this story, and I want to tell you why I love it so much. It’s because, well, let me come at it this way. Not so long ago, I was in an ice cream place. I love ice cream. I was in an ice cream place, and I saw a kid’s T-shirt. And on the T-shirt, these words were written, “Quitting is just a shortcut to losing.” Stick that on your refrigerator door. Quitting is just a shortcut to losing. What’s so amazing about this man at the Pool of Bethesda; for 38 years, he wouldn’t quit. He wouldn’t give up. 38 years and he tries day after day after day to get to the healing water. He wouldn’t quit. He wouldn’t give up. He understood that quitting is a shortcut to losing. And sure enough, because he wouldn’t give up, one day, he encountered the Lord of life and glory, and the miracle came. That’s why I love that story.

Let me ask you something straight out. Do you believe, really believe, that Jesus Christ has the power to heal? Do you really truly believe that Jesus can exercise a healing, redeeming, transforming effect in your life? Do you believe that He possesses that power? Do you believe that Jesus can work miracles through doctors and nurses and sometimes, even beyond them? Do you believe that Jesus can restore a once-beautiful relationship now broken by jealously and selfishness? Can He repair the rift in your marriage or bridge the gap between you and your children or between you and your parents? Can Jesus put your life back together again after it’s been shattered by sin? Do you believe that? Do you believe that He can heal the sores of hatred and anger and bitterness and resentment and prejudice which sometimes infect your heart? Do you believe that He can overcome the loneliness which may be yours because you never married or now, you’re widowed or divorced? Do you believe that Jesus can bind up the wounds of the advancing years which now are festering with despair? Do you believe that Jesus Christ has the power to heal?

If you believe that, if you truly believe that, then you’re going to discover what I’ve discovered in my own life, that yes, Jesus is the Lord of life and glory, and yes, Jesus has the power to heal, the power to transform our lives, to overcome our weaknesses, to heal out illnesses, to give us a reason for living and a hope beyond dying. I believe that. And so no matter how bleak the future may sometimes seem, no matter how dark the present circumstances may be, no matter how pressing the pains and the problems around us, I can not ever give up. I can not ever quit. Like a man at the Pool of Bethesda, I don’t care how many years it takes. I can never quit because I believe in Jesus Christ, and I have chosen to stake my entire life upon Him and upon Him alone.

Today, I come to this pulpit and I come to this table to invite you to do the same.

Pray with me, please. God on high, hear my prayer. Enable us to remember that quitting is just a shortcut to losing, that if we never quit, if we never give up, then we shall be the winners because we belong to Jesus Christ. We are His, and He is ours forever. Amen.


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