Jesus asked him, “Would you like to get well?” “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” (John 5:5-8, NLT)
John chapter 5 opens with a curious story about a man who had been been disabled for 38 years lying by a pool of water. Evidently there was a phenomenon of miraculous healing power associated with the pool, for randomly an angel would come and “trouble” the water, and whoever could get into the pool first would be healed of their physical malady. There was a crowd of people there around the pool, waiting for that opportune time. Suffering has lots of company. Apparently there was no numbering system like we have at the DMV that would order the crowd into a “now serving number 231” kind of system. If you could be first, you would reap the benefits.
Of all the people who were crowded around the pool, Jesus took note of this particular man. Jesus directed a very important question to him and him alone. “Would you like to get well?” Now that question required a simple yes or no response. One would assume that the man’s response would have been a no brainer. But instead of saying “yes,” the man began to do what many often do. He made excuses and affixed blame. He blamed others for not attending to his needs, and he blamed a system that was put in place that made the playing field not level. In today’s culture he might have said, “It’s not fair,” or “I’m not lucky.”
Jesus, patiently listened to the excuses, and then told him to stand up, pick up his mat, and walk. I imagine that the thought must have flashed in the disabled man’s mind, “I can’t do that.” The thing about Jesus is that he will always ask us to do something we cannot accomplish on our own. But this flash of doubt was erased as the man experienced total healing. It wasn’t gradual, it was immediate. He dutifully rolled up his mat and began walking, when he is then confronted by the religious leaders for violating the Sabbath by carrying his mat. He defended his action, explaining that a man had healed him and told him to pick up his mat and walk. The religious leaders inquired who would do such a thing. And, “the man didn’t know” (John 5:13).
Legalism and religion will always find something wrong with the miraculous work that God is doing in your life. It’ll be the wrong day, like the Sabbath, or the wrong way, like not getting into the pool, or achieve the wrong outcome, like carrying your mat. That principle was true over and over in the ministry of Jesus, and one would think that 2,000 years later it would change. But it has not.
The story concludes with the man in the Temple. Jesus, who found him at the pool now finds him in the Temple. Wholeness will take you places your brokenness will never take you. And in that moment you can be open to the deeper work of God in your life. “Now you are well, stop sinning” (John 5:14). Many times our obvious problems are merely symptoms of more significant internal issues within our lives. To the naked eye, the man was disabled. In this instance, the divine eyes of Jesus saw something internal that no one else could see. The man thought his problem was his disability that confined him to a mat for nearly four decades. But without the internal healing of forgiveness and wholeness, nothing that really mattered would have changed. It’s the internal disability that either keeps us on the mat, or causes us to return to the mat time and time again. You may not be able to change how you got on the mat, but you don’t have to stay on it.