Christ The King Sunday November 25-26, 2023
“Being Well” John 5:1-15
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Last weekend I shared the awful news of the suicide of Rick Eastridge with this congregation. It was an awful thing for me to have to speak. It was even more painful for you to have to hear. Rick, a man who dedicated his life to the life of many others, was gone. That loss was felt here, and it was felt among many men he sponsored through Alcoholics Anonymous.
I don’t understand all the reasons that he ended his life. And I don’t fully understand why too many people end their own lives. But one thing I do know – I have no idea, none whatsoever, of how pained he was. I have never felt the feeling of the hopelessness or despair that he must have been going through.
Today’s sermon titled, “Being Well”, is intended to speak about God’s work that is for our physical, spiritual and our emotional and mental well-being.
If the diagnosis at our wellness check-up, our annual physical, was that we had COVID we would need to do something about that. Though we hope that this virus is in the rear-view mirror, over a million folks in the United States have died of COVID, including some in this congregation.
Or, when we approached our doctor and the diagnosis was cancer, we would take what she has told us seriously. Every year more than 2 million folks in the States are diagnosed with cancer.
What is the issue was heart disease? Nothing to toy with, right? If the ticker is not working, neither are you. One of every thirteen people in the U.S. will have some sort of coronary artery trouble in their life.
But what if the issue was depression, despair, anxiety or even worse? One of every five Americans live with an illness that troubles their mind. But between 50-60 percent of those who struggle in that way never seek help.
Today I want you to know that God is truly interested in our well-being – spiritually, physically, and mentally. Jesus, speaking about His ministry to all said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12, 13b) I believe our reading from John 5 – the healing of the man at a pool called Bethesda tells us that. Jesus was in Jerusalem and went to that pool, which really was two separate pools, side by side. One pool was to wash the sheep who were going to be sacrificed at the Temple. The other pool next to it was for people.
The pool that was used by people wasn’t an ordinary pool. The people believed that this pool was a pool of miracles. When the water bubbled the people believed that an angel from heaven was dipping his wings into the water and the first person into the water would be healed of whatever infirmity that they had. But only the first. You can see why lots of people would be there. And I’m sure that when that water stirred it was every man or woman for themselves. It was what a Black Friday Doorbuster used to look like when the Big Screen TV’s went for 99 bucks!!
Jesus came to the pool and there was a man who had been lying by the pool for 38 years. That amounts to 13,879 days. Day in and day out, he came there. He waited. He hoped. He asked for help. But so far, nothing. He was still in the same place, physically, 38 years later. When Jesus asks him, “Do you want to get well?”, he can only say, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when it is stirred. When I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (John 5:6-7) Jesus shows this man both compassion and might, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:8)
The man was well. Some what. But not all the way. Sometime later the man was in the temple in Jerusalem and Jesus found him and came to him and spoke, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14) Now, what did Jesus mean by that? “Something worse”?
I believe to understand what Jesus meant is first of all to know what He didn’t mean. Jesus did not mean that this man’s physical condition was due to a particular sin that he had done. His paralysis was not given to him due to a divine punishment from God. In John 9 this very question was raised by the disciples of Jesus. There was a man who was blind from birth and they asked Jesus, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ response was, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (See John 9:1-3)
I believe that Jesus is saying that there is something worse than living with a physical ailment for 38 years of your life. It is worse to have no hope for your salvation. What could be worse than not knowing the deep, deep love that God has for you? What could be worse than being eternally separated from the God who made you and died for you and has wonderful plans for you? To be spiritually alive is to know that our sins have been dealt with, that we are a new creation in Jesus and we have the fullness of God’s redemption in Jesus now and we will have it forever.
In this account Jesus addresses the physical needs of this man and He addresses his deep spiritual needs, but that is not all.
Look back at this story. Do you remember when Jesus comes to this man and asks the simple question – “Do you want to be healed?” What did he say? How about – “Sure!!” How about – “You Betcha!!” No, he doesn’t say that. For 38 years he never had anyone to help him into the water. How disappointing. How discouraging. How depressing.
“Do you want to be healed?” The answer he gave was only an excuse, “Sir, I have no one to help me when the water is stirred.” “It’s no use. It won’t happen. This is how things will be.”
Is there anything worse than losing hope? If you have no hope all you see is darkness. If you have no hope all you can be consumed with are questions that never find an answer.
So, where should we go when we have lost hope? I think we should go to Jesus. Have you seen the ads, “He Gets Us”? A Christian group has spent millions of dollars to tell us that Jesus understands us. He understands suffering. He understands when people are ready to condemn you and reject you. “Jesus – He Gets Us.” And He does. When for 40 days the devil tempted Him over and over again, never letting up, Jesus didn’t give up hope. When in the Garden of Gethsemane the weight of the world was upon Him and He was in anguish, Jesus turned all things over to the will of His Father. When on the cross His cry was, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He would later speak, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
The words of Scripture should be on our lips and imprinted in our mind, especially on those days when depression and discouragement and despair or anxiety seem to be what we eat at every meal. The Scripture says, “Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is at light to you.” (Psalm 139:12) How about this word from God? “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” (Psalm 27:1-3) Hope is persistent.
“Do you want to get well?” That is what Jesus wanted to know. Jesus, on that day, and on every day, does great things. Physically He makes us stronger. Spiritually He makes us bold and confident in His love and victory. Mentally and emotionally He holds us together and brings us a living hope.
Rick Eastridge called me on the Friday before he died. He told me that he needed to see me. And, my, he did. He was carrying some burdens that were too heavy. And by Tuesday evening they must have been even heavier. I grieve his choice of dealing with his burdens in the way he did. But I know his God and so do you. He comes in the darkest hour. Our God comes to make people well – in body, in soul and in mind. Amen!!
(Many of the thoughts for this message come from a sermon presented by Rev. Dr. Dennis Goff, Director of Ministry Programs at The Lutheran Foundation in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You can find his complete sermon in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 33, Part 4, Series A, Pages 63-65)