5 And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.
6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”
7 The sick man answered Him, “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.”
8 Jesus said to him, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.” (John. 5:5-8 NAS)
I read this account a day or two ago and it has been on my mind since then. I don’t know if you have had that experience, where something that the Lord says grabs you and you mull it through your mind. “Do you wish to get well?”
What a question! He’d been unable to walk his whole life. Why would Jesus ask that question?
“Do you wish to get well?”
One of the tremendous privileges that God gives us as his people is the ability to choose. And yes, I am Reformed. But the question among the Reformed is not “Do you have free will?” The question, properly understood, is “Do you have the ability to choose to do that which is pleasing to God apart from regeneration?”
This we answer, “No. Before the Holy Spirit quickens us, we are dead in trespasses and sins.” We are unable to do that which is pleasing to the Lord – even to seek after him, as Paul teaches in Romans 3.
But this is a different question than “Does a person have the ability to will and to choose, and is that choice free?”
Without free will, a human is not a human. I decide if I want to marry this woman or that woman. I decide to love or to hate and to destroy. I choose to hurt or I choose to heal, choose to smile or choose to frown. No one coerces me.
It is not my nature, nor is it the will of God, that places my will in bondage. It is sin. Luther masterfully discusses this in his classic “The Bondage of the Will” so I will not belabor that point any further.
But it is the devil who hates the image of God in me. Being in God’s image, I have the ability to choose – I am not a horse or a mule that must be led about by bit and bridle. It is the hardness of sin that makes me like that. Regeneration sets me free. (Think about Psalm 32:9).
9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, (Ps. 32:9 NAS)
Jesus did not come to make me a horse and a mule, to drag me like a robot and force me to behave. He came to give life and healing. He came to restore and redeem me as a human being, in the image of God.
A man like this one, unable to walk, has been severely limited in choices. He couldn’t even decide to get into the water, for he had no one to help him. He had no strength, no friends, no resources.
Which means that he had very few choices.
Jesus didn’t come to put him in further bondage. He came to set him free. The curse that is on the world took away his voice – who would care about the opinions of a poor crippled beggar? And it took away his choice. He was at the mercy of forces outside of his control.
Jesus came to restore to this man far more than simply the ability to walk. He came to restore the image of God that the curse had taken away. He came to give him back his voice and give him back his will.
“Do you wish to get well?”
“You don’t understand, Jesus. I’ve been here a long time. I don’t have anyone to put me in the pool. I can’t get to the water fast enough. Whether I want to or not, I don’t have the strength.”
“Get up and pick up your bed.” And he was healed.
After he was healed, his will was set free. He picked up his bed and he walked.
Of course, he immediately got into trouble with the Pharisees. Abusers hate when the “sinner” has the gall to speak, or to choose, or to make decisions. Their power is over when the bed is picked up. When Jesus heals, the Pharisee loses control.
And the devil never gives up his kingdom easily.
From this point on, the Jews sought to kill Jesus – because he healed on the Sabbath day – the very day that the prisoner was to be set free, according to the scripture.
“Do you want to be well?” Do you want your voice back? Do you want to be light and salt in the ugly and dark and hateful world? Do you want to know the Sabbath rest and be at peace with God and with the world?
Do you want to be free of rage and free of the ugliness that has been binding you to the ground for so long? Do you want to get up and walk?
Are you ready to fly? Do you want to soar above the petty kingdoms of this world and see where Christ is, at the right hand of God? Do you want to be free from sin? Do you want to be well, to be free of covetousness and the love of money that keeps our heads in the trough so we can’t see the sky.
Jesus didn’t come to make you a horse or a donkey. He came to set you free.
This world and the devil have assaulted your body long enough. You have been denigrated and rejected, hated and mocked and scorned. You have had your choice taken away like the ground under a plow (Psalm 129). That is the curse on this world.
But Jesus’s question is for you: Do you want to be made well?
Speak to him. Tell him how powerless you are. Speak the truth to him. Tell him about how you have tried to overcome, but cannot. The water is too far away, and you are too weak. You have no resources. Your will is bound. Your strength is gone. You are helpless and without hope.
Tell him how long it has been.
He didn’t come for those who think they see. He didn’t come for those who think they walk. He didn’t come for the rich or the powerful or the entitled. He didn’t come for the ones on the top.
He came for the hungry, the oppressed, the afflicted, the widow, the orphan. Those that don’t have the strength to get to the water.
He came for those who have had their choice and their voice taken away. And he wants to hear you. He wants you to be the beautiful, strong, wise, and righteous one that he created you to be.
So here’s the question for you: “Do you want to be made well?”