It’s Tuesday, March 24, the 28th day of our 40-day Lent Journey. My name is Gina. Let’s spend some time focused on God and His word, and praying for each other.
Theme: God wants us to live in His love, not in fear
Scripture: John 5:1–18 (ESV)
In the time of this story, people believed that diseases and physical disabilities, like blindness, deafness and lameness, were curses from God. They thought that if you were sick or disabled, it was because you had sinned or your parents had sinned, and so you were being punished.
The Jews also knew that God had commanded them to take one day of rest per week, a day to physically and mentally rest from work and spend it worshiping God, which brings spiritual rest. It was a day set aside for holistic self-care once a week.
One wonders if the people observed Sabbath out of fear, instead of love. They may have been so terrified of being punished if they even accidentally broke Sabbath law that the religious leaders took this relatively simple command – rest from your work one day a week – and made it impossibly complicated. They added hundreds of extra laws, divided into 39 categories, to ensure no one accidentally worked on the Sabbath. In fact, their countless rules, which were designed to hedge people in from accidentally breaking the law, just gave them hundreds more opportunities to mistakenly break the law.
In this story, we get a picture of people who lived in fear of a distant God, doing everything they could to avoid His punishment.
It was on Sabbath that Jesus approached this physically disabled man who had laid for years next to a pool of water that was believed to have divine healing qualities. People believed that occasionally an angel would stir up the waters, and the first person who could get into the waters would be healed. The man had repeatedly tried to access its power, but it was a competition for healing, and someone else always got there first.
It seems odd that Jesus would ask him a seemingly obvious question: “Do you want to be healed?”
The man probably thought, “Of course I want to be healed. Why else would I have laid here for years, trying and trying to get in the water first?” Here is a man who was persistent. He had spent his life trying to get healing.
But, the man was polite in his response to Jesus, if a bit defensive. Instead of replying directly, “Yes, I want to be healed,” he explained why he hadn’t been healed yet. He had tried, hard, over and over. But his efforts to save himself had not been enough.
Perhaps the man misunderstood Jesus’ question. He thought Jesus was wondering why the man hadn’t tried harder. In fact, Jesus was asking permission. In the gospels, Jesus didn’t force healing on people who didn’t want to be healed. He let people choose whether to accept his gift or not.
Jesus took the man’s answer as a yes, that he wanted to be healed. So, Jesus responded, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
Jesus offered the gift of healing, and the man’s responsibility was to participate by getting up and walking. He was obligated to step into his own healing by faith: the kind of faith that follows through with obedient action what is believed in the heart.
The man’s physical disability would not have allowed him the strength or mobility to pick up a mattress, let alone walk with it. Now that he was fully restored, he was obligated to do the work of carrying his mat to make room for someone else beside the pool.
Remember, this was Sabbath. By carrying his mat through the streets – one of the forbidden activities of work – the man was being asked by Jesus to break Sabbath law. And he did so, because his Savior asked him to. We see the man undergo a transformation from fear and self-protectiveness to the vulnerability of love and obedience. The man might have been afraid, like everyone else, that God would punish him again—this time for breaking Sabbath. He could have been afraid, but he wasn’t. He had lost his fear. Even greater than his physical healing, the man was spiritually transformed in the light of Jesus’ lavish love. He obeyed Jesus without fear. He trusted that if Jesus said he should carry his mat, then he could do that without punishment from God. He had a brand new relationship with God.
Interestingly, the religious leaders were not filled with praise and worship to the good God who had lovingly healed a sick man. They were furious that the man and Jesus had broken one of their traditions by “doing work” on Sabbath. Jesus had worked by healing the man (if you think that took any effort from Jesus). And the man had worked by removing his mat from beside the pool to make room for more sick people to take his place.
A wise friend once told me that sometimes there are people who may not have a healthy reaction to the good work God is doing in us.
When we begin to change, when we start to show God’s transformation in our lives, sometimes the people around us don’t get it. They don’t understand what God is doing in us. Maybe they are even threatened or convicted by how we are changing, because it shows them that they could experience change too, and they’re not ready. Or they don’t like how they have to change as they are forced to relate to us differently.
We can’t let other people’s unhealthy responses stop us from obeying Jesus, from participating in His healing work in us, and from celebrating our transformation or telling others about what God is doing in us. We can keep our eyes focused on Jesus and stand firm in our journey of healing and transformation.
We can choose to live in love, not in fear.
- Do I live in a restricting fear of God? Or do I live in the freedom of His love for me?
- Do I sense that God is trying to work healing in some area of my life – emotionally, physically, or spiritually? What step of courage could I take this week to step in to what He wants to do?
- How can I celebrate with and encourage someone else who is on a journey of transformation in Christ?
Our kind and loving God,
Thank You that You long for us to live in the freedom and joy of Your love, and not in fear of Your punishment. Thank You also that You give us the gift of healing, at different times and in different ways.
Reveal to us where You want to heal and restore us, and show us how we can cooperate with You in that.
Where people around us don’t celebrate what You are doing in our lives, please maintain our joy, and give us the courage to keep our eyes focused on You and not on what others think or how they react to our transformation. Help us to be a witness and testify to Your wonderful work in us, so that others will choose to participate in Your healing in their lives, as well.
We trust You, we obey You, and we love You.
In the name of our healing Lord Jesus, Amen.
The additional scripture readings for today are from: