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By Chris Temple
The Bible is rich with examples of godly counsel from men and women of God toward others in need and of God Himself counseling His sheep, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is no surprise then that the Lord Jesus Himself shows us some of the greatest examples of godly counsel, as He Himself is the Great Counselor (Isaiah 9:6). One of the greatest examples of healing through the counseling of Jesus is in the story of the healing at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:2-15.
Initially, the scene at the pool may seem a bit odd to the modern viewer. “In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water,” (John 5:3 nkjv). While visions of modern India or Sudan may initially come to mind, it also bears a resemblance to the modern multitudes that suffer many and varied ailments and line the halls, offices, and waiting rooms of doctors, counselors and psychiatrists.
Ray Stedman has said:
We all can see ourselves, in a sense, helpless, weak, crippled and lame, lying at the pool of Bethesda this morning. We all need help. We all find ourselves paralyzed at times, unable to do the thing we want or ought to do. We find we are lame: we do not walk very well spiritually. This story is included in the gospels in order that we might understand how God proposes to help us through the ministry of Jesus.
In America thousands of people are seeking the cure for their ailments, whether physical or emotional, and willing to wait for the best, latest, and most innovative method that has just been deemed successful. Yet the actual number healed is frightfully few. But in this example, the healing process does not appear to be a futile hope but genuine, as people were entering and leaving the pool healed, and evidence of chicanery would have easily been visible to all. So the problem was not with false hope, but with the hopelessness of the patient, the man sick for 38 years.
The text is unclear if the man is 38 years old and has been sick all his life, or is in fact older and has been sick the last thirty-eight years. In either case, it is a long time to be ill. And as evidenced by the text, he is clearly physically sick, and it is not just psychosomatic. Nevertheless, it is also clear that his physical infirmity has left him emotionally and spiritually in poor health as well. It is also clear by his being there, yet being unable to walk, that someone had to have brought him there. Yet he says in verse 7, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me” (nkjv).
He was apparently able to ask for help to get into the pool, yet was sufficiently unwilling to do so. It is as if he was wallowing in self-pity. After thirty-eight years of sickness, one can easily feel that there is nothing that anyone can do for them. Yet this story is in John’s gospel for a reason: To show us not only who Jesus is, but that it is His will to deal with human frailty and weakness.
In verse 5:6, Jesus begins His simple, yet profound counsel of this man. “When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’” (nkjv). This may seem like an impractical question of one who is sick, yet it is profound in its analysis of the situation and of the human condition. Jesus asks the question, not for the sake of knowledge, but rather to force the sick man to examine his own heart. Jesus’ question forced the man to answer (at least to himself), “Do I want to be healed?”
Again, Stedman has said:
I know many people today who do not want to be healed. They do not want to receive divine help in their problems. They do not want to be helped out of their weakness. They love their weakness, their helplessness. They are always craving the attention of others through their helplessness. They sometimes flee assuming responsibility for their own lives. I have even seen people turn their backs on a way of deliverance they knew would work because they did not want to be healed.
Jesus’ question was designed to force the man to decide if he really wanted to be healed, and not wallow in his sorrow for many more years. We cannot know, but it is very likely that no one ever asked this man this question. Many people have given up in similar situations, being told that they can heal themselves through therapy and self-help, but until one listens to the question of God, “Do you want to be made well?” they cannot break the bond of slavery to spiritual suffering.
The man truthfully answers Jesus with the words, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool,” a truthful statement that no other man can help him. Only by trusting in Jesus can the man hope to be fully and finally healed. What does Jesus answer him? Does He tell him to try to do better? To check into the Jerusalem clinic for intensive therapy? To latch on to the latest 12-step recovery program? No. Jesus says, “Rise, take up your bed and walk”, (John 5:8 nkjv).
How could the man get up? He could not do it in his own power, or he would have done it previously. He could not do it depending on others, for that has never worked, for as “he was coming, another steps down before him.” The only way he could rise was by putting his faith in Jesus Christ, Lord of all creation. It was only by faith in the words of the Stranger, who by grace, the man must have sensed the call from divinity that he would be able to rise. Only by reliance on Christ could he even begin to move toward total recovery.
We read in verse 9, “Immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked” (nkjv). There was no long, drawn out therapy sessions, but immediate healing by God. Spiritual healing comes by relying on God and His Word that He has given to us. The promises of Scripture are full of total healing of the believer: not necessarily physical healing, but of total spiritual healing. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 nkjv). And Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (nkjv).
Yet Jesus does not only tell him to “get up” but also to “take up his bed.” The Lord does not want him to relapse, which is always possible in our human condition. While we are freed from our sin of unfaithfulness to Christ by Christ, we are always able, until glorified, to fall back into our safe, sinful ways (Romans 7:14-20; 1 John 2:1). So Jesus tells him to remove the bed of comfort that he has lied upon since his illness. He needs it no more. Rely on Me, He says.
He doesn’t want the man to say, “I’m healed, but I better leave my bed here in case I don’t feel so well tomorrow.” Christ says to not make any provision to go back to where you have been. Push forward, not looking back. There is no repressed memory therapy advocated here, no going back to the pain and suffering, but moving ahead in Christ. “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:12 nkjv).
And thirdly, besides rise and take up your bed, he tells him to walk. While the healing is totally from God, it is man’s responsibility to walk with God, once his spirit has been made whole. He is no longer allowed to wait for someone else to pick him up and carry him and put him in healing waters. He must walk daily with Christ. If Jesus gives us power to rise, it is only in His power that we can walk everyday. It is only by focusing on Jesus that we can finish the race well (Hebrews 12:2; 2 Timothy 4:7). He must walk in faith.
It is interesting that even after this healing, Jesus still sought the man out. “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you’” (John 5:14 nkjv). What is Jesus saying here? That the man was sick due to sin, and if he sinned again that he would return to his illness? No. While he may have been sick due to sin, it is more likely that he was just an ill man, not due to personal sin, but for the works of God to be revealed (John 9:3).
The sin Jesus was referring to is most likely the 38 years of wallowing in self-pity and lack of faith that the man had lain in. He is telling the man, “You are freed from needless emotional and spiritual suffering. I have made you whole. Rely on Me. You will encounter trials and tribulations, but in Me you will find all the strength that you need. Do not return to the useless sin of self-reliance and faithlessness. If you fall away you will give the devil a foothold. Remain in Me and be strong.”
This counsel of Christ is the perfect model of Christian counseling; one that is much needed in a world of unbelieving psychiatry and 12-step programs. Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 nkjv). He tells us to rise, leave our bed of comfort behind, and to walk with Him. And most importantly, He tells us to continue with Him, and do not veer off the path of faith in Him. Only by complete trust in the Wonderful Counselor can we be completely healed.
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Note: All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.
The above article was posted on this Web site March 25, 2001.
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