Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralysed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 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?” 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.” Jesus said to him, “ Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. John 5.2-9 NKJV
Last night, as we were about to go to bed, my wife’s legs lost their strength as they sometimes do when she is over-tired. (It’s one of the consequences of having multiple sclerosis.) She just sat on the edge of the bed, helpless, incapable of lifting herself in, until I went round to where she was, scooped up her legs, swivelled her round, and placed her where she wanted to be. Fortunately for her, you see, she had a man.
The person lying helpless by the pool of Bethesda was not so fortunate. He had no man – no one who could do for him what he could not do for himself. Until, that is, Jesus walked through one of the five porches and saw him lying there; and then everything changed.
As I read this story again this morning, it struck me quite forcibly just how often I let my own capabilities and the human resources at my disposal dictate the limits to what I can and cannot do. If I “have a man” – if, in other words, I can see that the necessary resources are in place and that they are adequate – I’ll tackle this or have a go at that; but if they’re not then I’ll simply drop whatever it was I was thinking of doing and move on to something else. But is that right? Am I not overlooking something of major significance? Has not Jesus walked through the porches into my life and shouldn’t that be changing everything?
In his brilliant commentary on John’s Gospel, F F Bruce calls the words that Jesus spoke to the man in this story, “the enabling command of Christ” and he says of it: “Thus he received power to do what a moment earlier had been quite beyond his capacity.” So the question I’m asking myself this morning is this: How often have I failed to listen for or hear “the enabling command of Christ” and thus failed to receive the power to do what I thought was quite beyond my capacity?
Only last week, I wanted to travel to the funeral of the husband of a dear friend of ours at the other side of the country, but the weather turned nasty overnight and I decided that driving to the funeral in snow and high winds on icy roads was something I just couldn’t do. It was a sound decision based on common sense, but was it the decision that God wanted me to make? Perhaps if I’d been listening properly I would have heard Jesus saying, “It’s OK. Get in your car and go,” and had that been so, then the truth that God wants me to take from this passage is that the command of Jesus would have carried within it the power I needed to do what I felt in myself I simply could not do.
Pilate told the crowds: “Behold the Man” (John 19:5) and that is surely what I need to do whenever I am feeling called to some task or course of action that seems beyond my capabilities and resources. Unlike the paralytic, lying by the Pool of Bethesda for thirty-eight years, I do “have a man” – “the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2.5) who has promised to be with me always (Matthew 28.20) – and this passage in John 5 assures me that that Man can and will empower me to do whatever it is that he calls me to do.