Healing Of The Cripple At The Pool Of Bethesda
( Originally Published 1895 )
"After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water ; whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool : but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked." —John v. 1—9.
MATTHEW HENRY, the commentator, one of those big-hearted men who are always bubbling over with love themselves and therefore have an eye for it anywhere else, is filled with ecstasy and delight that when Jesus came up to Jerusalem to the feast, instead of visiting the palaces and the many interesting and beautiful works of architecture that might be found in the Jerusalem of that day, he went about among the sick and poor, seeking after the most helpless and troubled souls, where he might bring comfort and good cheer to those who needed it most. But that was characteristic of our Savior, and it is characteristic of genuine Christianity everywhere. You may follow the course of Christianity in any country where it has been introduced, and its path may be marked by its mercy toward the sick and the crippled and the unfortunate, by the kindlier treatment of prisoners, by the almshouses and the hospitals that have been erected. In what blessed contrast does Christianity stand out against all its foes in this respect! As one asked long ago, "Did Voltaire ever endow any almshouses? No; he was too mean. Did Tom Paine ever lay the foundation-stone of a hospital? No; he was too selfish. Did Rousseau ever sympathize with sorrow? No; he was too suspicious and frenzied. Did Hume ever relieve poverty? No; he was too miserly. Did Gibbon ever wipe the hot tear from the eye of suffering—did he ever drop a word from his lips, or more eloquent pen, which has proved a balm to pain? No; he was too fickle and revengeful." And if this questioner had lived in our time, he might have asked whether the Theosophists, like Mrs. Besant, have ever wiped away tears of suffering, fed hungry children, or sought to lift up the fallen. Has anybody ever heard of Robert Ingersoll giving out of his great wealth to build up hospitals? I have never heard of it; but on the other hand he has used his eloquence to drive poor, discouraged, disheartened men to suicide as a relief from their sorrows.
You may depend upon it that where you find great heroism, and brotherly kindness, and loving generosity to the suffering, behind it some-where there is a Christian heart. It was the spirit of Jesus Christ which made John Howard the messenger of mercy he was in the prisons of Europe. It was the brotherly spirit absorbed from devotion to Jesus Christ which made Wilberforce, and Garrison, and Wendell Phillips the evangelists of human freedom and the mighty forces they were against slavery. It was her tender, loving fellowship with the Savior that made Florence Nightingale the angel of the Crimea. Thank God, wherever it goes, Christianity is sweetening the cup of human sorrow, healing disease-physical and mental and moral—binding up the broken-hearted, establishing and purifying home life, and making the world a better and holier place in which to live.
What a pathetic picture this is which we are studying to-night! Here is the old pool, famous all around the city and the land, no doubt, as a place of healing. There were certain seasons in the year when the waters were troubled, at which time the mineral qualities in it or the medicinal properties were more apparent than at others; and so gracious were the cures that were wrought by bathing in these waters at such sea-sons that they thought an angel came and troubled the waters. t was the angel of God's providential mercy and care, which is always seeking to bless and comfort his children. No doubt some of the people who came were rich and had a retinue of servants to look after them and care for them, and when there was the slightest indication of the troubling of the waters they were able to take immediate advantage of it and went away healed. But those that were poor and friendless and unable to walk, had to lie there and depend upon somebody's charity, waiting for some kind hand to give them help; and often it occurred that before such help came the waters had ceased to be medicinal.
The man we are studying especially is an exceedingly interesting case, and one likely to arouse our sympathy. He had been sick for thirty-eight years. If he had been a young man, say twenty-two, when he began to be troubled with his disease, he was now sixty years old; and as one grows old fast when sick, he probably had the appearance of being an old man. It does not say that he had been lying here for thirty-eight years, but that he had been here a long time. He had watched many go into the waters crippled and frail and sick, and go away recovered, and this of course had been very discouraging and disheartening to him. His answer to Jesus is just like a sick person who has been discouraged, " I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me."
Now this man—with his long illness, in his help-less condition, the remedy within reach and yet he somehow shut away from it, and others stepping in before him and finding recovery; with his own life wasting away, and he discouraged and settling down to hopelessness—is a fair picture of a man who is sick with sin and who has yielded to his sin until he is no longer master of himself. The ravages of moral disease are not always so open and apparent before the world as in this case. Many a man is entirely destroyed by sin and ready for his overthrow before the world generally knows anything about it. A secret sin works insidiously, but with none the less fatal power. Its hidden ravages are so terrible that the man comes down at last with a crash that is an astonishment to every one in the community who knows him. Out in the great forests along the Pacific coast, I have often seen a large fungous growth start from the side of a tree. One who was not acquainted with such things would not suspect that there was any-thing suggestive about it as to the condition of the tree; but an experienced lumberman would at once know that that fungus in some mysterious manner would sap the life-power of the tree in that particular spot. When the fungus falls off in the autumn it leaves scarcely a trace of its presence, the tree being apparently as healthy as before the advent of the parasite; but the whole character of the wood has been changed by the strange power of the fungus, and is now soft and cork-like to the touch. For a while the tree may show no symptoms of decay, but at the first tempest it encounters the huge trunk snaps off at the spot where the fungus has been, and the tree comes crashing down in ruin. How many times is the overthrow of sin like that. The newspapers of every day are full of such cases : Men who look fair enough to the ordinary observer, but the deadly fungus of sin was at work sapping the moral stamina of their nature, until at last the will power of the man was gone, the vitality of the conscience was destroyed, and he came down in the tempest with a crash that spread shame and ruin everywhere.
What sorrowful meditations this man must have had as he lay there day after day and thought of his nearly forty years of helplessness, of all the broken plans and purposes of his young manhood. But, alas! sin works far more desolate meditations for its victim. Jean Paul Richter paints a picture which has been often quoted, but is full of the clearest revelation of the danger that besets a young life, and also reveals its possibilities for salvation. He tells the story of an old man who stood on New Year's night in the window and looked with deep despair up to the motionless, ever beautiful sky, and around on the still, pure, white earth, whereupon there was no one so perturbed and comfortless as he. For he was near his grave; it was covered by the snow of age, and not by the verdure of youth; and he had brought nothing out of a long, rich life—nothing with him but errors, sins, and misery, a wasted body, a ruined Soul, the breast full of poison, and an old age of remorse.
His fair youth-time returned like a vision to him, and took him back to the time when he had stood with his father upon the branching road of life. The right-hand path led into the sunny land of virtue, full of light, good fruits, and angels—a wide, still country. To the left was the under-ground path of vice, leading to a black hell, full of dripping poison, writhing serpents, and dark, stifling steam. Oh, how the serpents clung to his breast! Oh, the poison on his tongue! He knew well where he was.
Mindless and in inexpressible agony, he called to heaven : "Oh, give me back my youth again, O father; stand me on the branching path of life again that I may live my life over."
But his father and his youth were gone long ago. He saw fireflies dancing over the swamp, and extinguished in the church-yard, and he said, " They are my foolish days." He saw a star fall from the sky, shining as it fell, and then vanish in the earth. "That is I," said his bleeding heart, and the serpents of remorse made still larger their wounds.
The flickering fantasms drew the somnambulist out on the roof and the windmill raised its arms threateningly as if to dash him to pieces, and as his last hours approached, the spirits of the dead came from their empty tombs.
In the midst of these terrors, suddenly from the tower came the New Year's chimes like distant church music. He was deeply moved, and as he looked around the horizon and over the wide landscape he thought of his youthful friends that now, better and happier than he, were teachers of the world, the fathers of happy children, and blessings to mankind ; and he said : " Oh, could I also on this first night of the year sleep with dry eyes, as once I could ! Alas, I should now be happy if I had only followed my parents' teachings, and fulfilled their wishes for me !"
The vision of his lost opportunities came with fearful clearness before him. He could see no more; a thousand hot tears streamed into the hiding snow. He moaned in despair : " 0 youth, only come back, come back again !"—and it came back; for he had on the New Year's night only been dreaming. He was still a young man ; only his errors were not a dream. But he thanked God that while he was still young he could turn from the path of vice into the sunny way of the pure land of virtue. Thank God, I may bring you the same blessed hope of salvation, the same invitation to choose to be made every whit whole to-night.
This poor man who had been so long in his sickness found all that he needed when he found Christ. What new hope must have bounded along his veins and throbbed in his heart when Christ with those tender, strong eyes looked into his and said, " Wilt thou be made whole?" And Jesus sent him away, carrying his bed with him. Jesus of Nazareth is still passing by. He is still seeking after those who are crippled by sin and sorrow. He is here to-night. He is knocking at the door of your heart as you are thinking to-night about your sins, and how they have enslaved you and held you in bondage, and oftentimes crippled you, so that when you desired to do the good you did the bad. The Savior is here in this message, and he is looking deep down into your heart, and making the same tender and loving inquiry of you, " Wilt thou be made whole?"
Notice some of these words for a moment. "Whole"—that means completely healthy; it means to be free from the bondage of your sins; it means that he will cure this disease of sin in your heart, and give you a new heart which will love the good and despise the evil—a heart which will abhor that which is evil and cleave to that which is good.
"Be made whole"—put the emphasis on the word "made." You cannot do it yourself. You never can change your own heart. There is no earthly physician skilful enough to accomplish a cure. This deadly disease will destroy you unless you come to Jesus and, yielding yourself up completely in obedience to him, are through his power and love " made whole."
" Thou." How personal that is !—not your neighbor or your friend; not your wife or husband; not your brother or your sister. They. may all be made whole, and yet you die and be lost eternally in your sins. Wilt thou be made whole?
"Wilt." Ah, brother, it is right there in your will. "Whosoever will may come." You must make up your mind. You must determine in your very soul. You must make a decision, absolute and conclusive. You must break with everything that stands in the way, and by the honest exercise of your will settle this matter for time and eternity. Brother, sister, I bring you the Savior's message, "Wilt thou be made whole?" If you will obey the Lord Jesus, you may be made every whit whole from this very hour.