BY JEFF BRAWNER
Do you know someone who’s hurting? It could be physically or financially. It could be emotionally, relationally or even spiritually. Maybe it’s a friend or family member. Maybe it’s you.
People who are suffering tend to ask questions: Why me? Why this’? Why now? Where is God? Does He care? Can He help? If He can, why doesn’t He? Do miracles still happen? If they do, why don’t we see
more of them? How can I experience one for myself.? How can I experience them for one I love? If someone I prayed for dies, how do I handle it? What happens when a sick person does God’s will and gets
worse? Did they fall? Have we failed? How do I handle feeling like God has let me down? What must I do to be healed or set free?
I don’t know if you’ve ever asked those questions. I have. Sometimes I think we’re afraid to voice them because just maybe those aren’t questions you’re supposed to ask. But there is a common thread running
through each one that I would like us to consider together: the search for wholeness.
A JOURNEY BACK
Use your imagination for just a moment to travel back with me to first-century Jerusalem. Picture a large pool. divided in half There are five porches or pavilions around this pool, all covered to protect bathers from the hot, dry Palestinian sun. A closer examination of the pool reveals this is not a health club, but more like an outdoor hospital. Most of those lying around the pool are invalids … suffering a mass of mangled, disabled humanity.
What has caused them all to gather around this pool? “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” (John 5:4, NKJV).
Can you imagine how the needy crowds flocked to that place? Have you ever seen someone so desperate for something they’ll do almost anything to make it happen? That’s why hurting people came from near and far to the pool at Bethesda.
The fifth chapter of the Gospel of John records how Jesus visited this scene of suffering and superstition:
“Sometime later Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the sheep gate a pool which in Aramaic is called ‘Bethesda’ which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.
Here a great number of disabled people used to lie, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. A man was there who had been an invalid for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in
this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ‘Sir, ‘the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me. ‘Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up. Pick up your mat and walk’ At once the man was cured and he picked up his mat and he walked The day on which this took place was the Sabbath. And so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, the law forbids you to carry your mat. ‘ But he replied, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “pick your mat and walk. “‘ So they asked him,
‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick up and walk?’ The man who was healed had no idea who it was for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you. ‘ And the man went away and told the Jews it was Jesus who had made him well” (John 5:1-16).
There are three principles illustrated within this passage that will set us off on our walk toward wholeness.
The Crippled Crowd
In verse 3, John offers a sweeping survey of the people surrounding the pool, and he describes them with four comprehensive terms: disabled, blind, lame and paralyzed. Each one of these terms characterizes
shattered humanity. The people lying around that pool had impossible needs for which there appeared to be no hope.
But John was doing more than simply describing that scene. He was also describing society apart from Christ. Scripture is replete with accounts of those who have eyes, but cannot see spiritually … people
who have two good legs, but aren’t walking with God. We all know people like that-paralyzed by their problems, full of fear, stuck in impossible situations.
The Crucial Choice
The Gospel narrative focuses on a particular man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. As this man lies on a mat, a shadow falls across him. He looks up to see a stranger gazing at him with a look that pierced
his very soul. A lot of people had looked at him and walked right past. No one had seen through him as this stranger apparently did Imagine the disabled man’s reaction when Jesus asked him so strange a question: “Do you want to get well?”
Talk about insensitive! Such a thing would be unheard of in our politically-correct society. But Jesus was penetrating to the man’s core. In reality. the question might be more accurately translated, “Do you choose to be healed?” In other words, are you actively committed to the process of your own healing? Are you ready to have something happen to you?
Jesus recognized that not only was the man trapped within a paralyzed body, he was the captive of a paralyzed perspective, from a paralyzed inner life.
The man didn’t offer an answer. Instead, he gave an excuse. “You don’t understand,” he said. “When the waters move there’s no one to help me get M. While I’m trying to get in someone else goes ahead of me.”
Some Points about Paralysis
There are three things we need to understand about this man’s physical condition.
First, he judged the present by the past. Nothing will paralyze you more in your marriage, your relationships, your spiritual life, or your physical life than to come to the faulty conclusion nothing can ever
change. Your attitude will determine your altitude.
Second, he saw the problems and not the possibilities. He said, “I have no one to help me.” Do you think obstacles look bigger than opportunities’? It takes only eyesight to see problems-it takes real vision to discern the possibilities. There are always more reasons why we can’t than reasons why we can. This man didn’t know that standing over him at that moment was the God of the impossible. What irony!
The very Son of the most high God-Creator of heaven and earth, who spoke the universe into being-was standing over him, and the man says, “I don’t have anyone to help me.” He missed it-and so do we, because we see the problems and not the possibilities.
Third, he offered Jesus his pain and not his partnership. He moved into what we call “The Blame Game.” He blamed others. He blamed God. He blamed life. There are times when it’s easier to blame others than
to pay the cost of choosing to be well. Why? Because it’s risky to make that choice. It’s risky to put yourself on the line. It’s risky to try something different after 38 long years. Walking toward wholeness isn’t pain-free or easy. It is risky. But the reward is well worth it.
The Caring Command
The third conclusion we can draw from this passage appears in verse 8. Jesus brushes aside all the excuses, ignores any attempts to fix blame, and cuts directly to the chase. “Get up!” He commands. “Pick up your
mat and walk.”
That caring command of Jesus speaks to us on several levels as well.
Nothing is Impossible with God
First, the command affirms that God’s power can overcome man’s paralysis. Nothing is impossible for God.
Now, I know you know that. You’ve probably said those very words yourself. But do you believe it? Do you really believe the God who created it all, who knows it all, who controls it all, who loves it all can put it all back together and make it completely right? Do you believe He can put you on your feet again physically, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually?
It’s a powerful point, one shared by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:20-21: “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to
Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and forever, Amen. ”
Do you believe the God who is at work in you can do more than you can imagine, more than you can think or comprehend? I am convinced the crippled man had long since stopped imagining he would ever walk again. Jesus wanted him to act on the reality that there were possibilities beyond his imagination.
We need to start saying “God can do more than I can imagine.” I can imagine walking, but He can do more than simply make me walk. I can imagine a healed marriage, but He can do more than simply prevent a
divorce. God can blow the lid off our expectations. He can sail past our wildest dreams. He is completely at home in the territory of what we consider impossible.
Part of God’s Program
Why did Jesus instruct the crippled man to pick up his mat? Why didn’t He just say, “Leave it. Good riddance!”?
Two reasons. First, it was a test. Jesus didn’t want him to make provision for a setback. He didn’t offer the man a chance to keep his place in line Just in case die healing didn’t “stick.” For some people, the choice of being whole is a difficult one to make. Giving up their pain means losing their feelings of the familiar, their
control. They’ve lived within their limitations for so long, it’s the only territory they can navigate comfortably. Oh, they may complain about it and hurt in it and say they want help, but there’s a certain
part of them that says, “I don’t know any other life. If I’m healed, I won’t get any sympathy or care. I won’t know what else to do.” Deep within, there is an unspoken reluctance to rise, pick up their mat and
walk face-first in the unknown.
Second, carrying the mat was a testimony. In fact, Jesus engineered circumstances that would compel this guy to share his story.
Jewish law is filled with all kinds of regulations, many of which border on the ridiculous. One of those rules is you can’t carry anything on the Sabbath, when no work was permitted. Jesus knew that, and He still told the man to carry his mat. Jesus might as well have hung a sign around the man’s neck that read, “Ask me about my healing.”
Do you believe God can use the pain in your past to point others toward a healing in their future? God needs people to carry healed bodies and minds and marriages so that others will see that bodies and minds and marriages can be healed!
God Wants Us Whole
We must not overlook what is perhaps the most compelling aspect of Jesus’ command to the paralytic: God wants us whole more than we do.
Remember, this man had no idea who Jesus was. He did not come to Jesus in faith. He did not come to Jesus at all. Jesus came to him. Jesus initiated the man’s healing.
We don’t go to God unless He first draws us.
We only respond to a call we didn’t know we heard He is the initiator, and it is His will that we walk in wholeness. If you don’t believe that, you’ll never ask with assurance or boldness. God’s goal for our lives is wholeness.
THE MEANING OF WHOLENESS
Too often, our definition of wholeness is far too narrow.
Wholeness cannot simply mean physical health because it’s very possible to be physically fit and spiritually dead. While wholeness may include a sound body, it is more than good health.
Being whole means far more than simply living an easy life. The Bible shows us numerous examples of faithful saints whose lives were far from pain-free.
So, what is wholeness?
Verse 14 gives us an insight: “Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are whole again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you. “‘
Jesus was getting beneath the symptoms and dealing with the source of suffering-sin and the separation it brings. Jesus wanted this man to be liberated not only from a paralyzed body but from a paralyzed mind
Jesus cares about your body, about your mind, about your emotions and about your spirit. He wants you to be whole.
MISSING THE MARK
If we desire wholeness, and God desires to give it to us, why do so few of us seem to have it’? Our cities and suburbs are crowded with broken. hurting people. Even those who appear poised and proper on the
outside are often carrying painful hidden wounds-both new and old-which flood their spirits with a tearing pain they dare not share with anyone.
Just beyond the end of our driveway is a world saturated in suffering. Each edition of the evening news brings us images of war-ravaged refugees crowded into inadequate makeshift shelters, starving African
children staring at us with their vacant eyes, frantic parents whose children became victims of gang violence, and other examples of human tragedy that make us wonder how much longer the world can survive.
So, where is the wholeness? Where is the healing? How can we say “rise up and walk” to a world in such desperate pain?
The answer lies in a proper understanding of what suffering is all about.
THE “WHYS” OF SUFFERING
A while back, I ran across the following poem written by a pastor that chronicles the questions asked by suffering saints:
I’ve sat beside a tiny crib,
and watched a baby die.
His parents slowly turned toward me
to ask-, “Oh Pastor, why?
I’ve held the youthful husband’s hands
and felt death’s heave inside,
A widow looked through tears and said
“Dear Pastor, tell me, why?”
I’ve heard the white tipped tapping cane which
leads a blinded eye,
And then a dark- and lonely voice cries,
“Preacher, show me why. ”
I’ve caught a fianc�e�s burning tears
and heard her lonely cry,
As she held an unused wedding gown
and shouted, “Pastor, why?”
I’ve heard the cancer patient say,
“‘Tis gain for me to die; ”
Then looked into his daughter’s face
and mutely whisper, “Why?”
I’ve seen a father take his life,
a widow stand nearby,
A little child said, “Dear mom,
the preacher will tell us why- “,
I’ve heard an orphan faintly say,
who gazed into the sky,
“Though mom and dad have gone away,
my preacher will know why. ”
I tiptoed to my Fathers throne,
so timid and so shy,
To say, “Dear God, some of your own
are wanting to know why. ”
What a powerful statement! “O God, why?”‘ If you’ve ever asked why, then I have a word of comfort and challenge for you. We’re not alone. In John chapter 9 we are given a very special story that answers that
question-the story of a man born blind:
“As he went along he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked hint, ‘Rabbi who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?’ Neither this man nor his parents sinned, ‘said Jesus, ‘but this
has happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his lift. As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I’m in the world, I am the light of
the world.’ And having said this He spit on the ground and made some mud with the saliva and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ He told him, ‘wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means ‘sent). So the man went and
washed and came home seeing” (John 9:1- 7).
THE REALITY OF SUFFERING
“As he went along, he saw a blind man… (v. 1) Don’t read that phrase too quickly because there’s much there. Jesus always had an entourage of his disciples with Him. There was a purpose to His walk. But
suddenly, the disciples noticed that Jesus saw something. It was His look that caused them to look. What did Jesus notice? Handicapped humanity. A man blind from birth, a victim of a congenital or hereditary condition
If you think about it, every one of us was born with a congenital problem-not physical, but spiritual. The condition is terminal, apart from a cure that only Jesus can administer. Apparently, we share a bond with this blind man we should keep in mind as we study further.
THE REASONS FOR SUFFERING
One of my favorite aspects of this story is that the disciples ask such a fundamental question: “God, why? I don’t understand. Who is to blame? Whose fault is this?”
The disciples’ question raises two crucial issues about the reasons for suffering.
The Causes of Suffering
The disciples identified two possible causes for the blind man’s suffering: the man’s own sin, or the sins of his parents. During this time, Jews believed there was a direct cause-and-effect relationship between sill and suffering. It was even possible for the effect to show up a generation or more after the cause. As one writer put it, it’s like ringing up a sale on a cash register: if you punch in sin, suffering is your change. So the disciples naturally jumped to the conclusion that someone was being punished for something.
But Jesus, as usual, wasn’t content with the conventional wisdom of His day. “Neither,” He responded. Apparently, the disciples needed to consider some additional possibilities.
Before we go further, we should point out that the disciples were partly right. Sin, in general, is a key cause of suffering. The Bible tells us that because of sin death entered the world. The soul that sills will die. (Ezekiel 18 A) Sickness and suffering are simply “preliminary death” because sin entered the world.
Second, personal acts of rebellion can cost us hi Galatians 6:7, the Apostle Paul writes, “God cannot be mocked. What a man sows he will reap. ” Now that’s both positive and negative. You sow good things,
you’ll reap good things. You sow bad things, you’ll reap bad things. There’s a personal consequence to our sins.
The third cause of suffering is man’s free will. The independence God grants you can also become a source of the suffering you face.
If you have teenagers in your home, you have probably dealt with the dilemma of whether or not to hand over your car keys. You know they could demolish that car. They could injure themselves or others. You
know you are taking a risk. Yet, the option is to lock them up in the house and never let them go out. Letting children grow up is about letting go,
Well, God knew when He handed us our free will that there was a possibility of a tragic wreck. However, without free will we would be incapable of genuine love. That would defeat the purpose of our creation.
Many of us wish we could enjoy the benefits of free will without the risk. We want to be free, but we want to be safe. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
A fourth cause for suffering is spiritual discipline. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us to “endure hardship as discipline. God corrects those he loves ” (Hebrews 12:5).
Now, it goes against some people’s theology to believe God would use suffering as a corrective tool. However, it is God’s theology that matters, not our own. I Corinthians 11:30 tells us that some in the
Corinthian church were sick and even dying because they had not properly discerned the body of Christ. The judgement of suffering can even happen to believers.
The fifth cause for suffering is one we need to understand most carefully: the person and presence of Satan.
Jesus said. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they might have life and have it to the full ” (John 10:10).
Consider the story of Job. Nowhere in Scripture do we get a better look at the nature of Satan. Chapter 1, verses 1-6 tell us that in the land of Uz, there lived a blameless and upright man named Job. We are
told about his family and about his devotion to God. Then one day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord and Satan also came with them:
“And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming through the whole earth going back and forth in it’. Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job? There’s no one on earth like him. He’s blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. ‘ ‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied ‘Have You not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You’ve also blessed the work of his hands so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out Your hand and strike everything he has and he’ll surely curse You to Your face.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well then, everything he has is in your hands but on the man himself, do not lay a finger’. Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord” (Job 1:8-12).
What can we deduce about Satan from these verses? First, we see Satan as a cynical accuser. In the first few verses, God speaks of Job’s finer qualities. Satan sought out the defects-and not just in Job. He also attacked the very character of God.
He said, “God, you need Job to love you, so you protect him. You buy his love with your favor because that’s the only way You could have it. Remove Your hand of blessing, and you can kiss his devotion good-bye.”
The next time you feel like bailing out on God because He didn’t serve up life the way you ordered it, consider the possibility that a battle is raging in heaven over the direction you might choose. God says, “He
loves me because I’m God.” Satan retorts, “No, he’s in it for the comfort, the prosperity, the good feelings. Take the blessings away and you’ll see there was never any substance to the relationship.” How do you feel about being Satan’s pawn in such a hateful game? As for me, I prefer to play by God’s rules, no matter what moves He might make along the way.
Second, we see that Satan is a limited adversary. He can only do what God allows him to do. Satan is not just an evil version of God. He is a created being with limitations. Still, he is not without considerable resources.
Notice his tactics in attacking Job. He used storms and winds. He used thieves and murderers. He used an unexplainable fire.
No doubt an insurance company would probably have classified several of these tragedies as “acts of God.” Talk about missing the point! Yet, when you and I can’t find satisfactory explanations for the painful
circumstances we face, we often jump to the same erroneous conclusion
Finally, Satan is pictured as being relentless and persistent. When Job didn’t curse God, Satan went back and said, “Let me touch his body” (Job 2:4-6).
Satan is a patient adversary. He is a terrorist who modifies his attack until he finds a weakness he can exploit. That’s why we must faithfully put on the armor of God each and every day. Yesterday’s
victory is no guarantee of tomorrow’s survival. Our enemy is crafty… and committed.
The Character of God
When Jesus surprised the disciples by declaring that no one’s sin was the cause of this man’s suffering, He actually raised a question about the very character of God.
How can God allow so much unjustified suffering in our world’? How can He allow innocent children to starve? Why do the evil seem to prosper? Simple reasoning demands that we believe either that God is good but not all-powerful, or that He is all-powerful, but not all good.
What we often fall to keep in mind is that human reasoning is ‘inadequate in the face of divine wisdom. There are choices made in the counsel of the Godhead that, even if explained, we wouldn’t understand. That’s why God tells Job, “Were you there when I hung the stars? Do you know why I created the animals?” God says, Job if you don’t know the A-B-C’s, what makes you think you’d understand the rest?
Faith lives with the unanswerable because it clings to the unchanging God. The issue is not why but who.
And the voice of faith comes out of Job when he says. “Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).
We become upset with God when He falls to fit within our theology, when He refuses to answer as we would answer, or when His plan falls to follow our outline. But faith says, though I don’t understand what’s
going on around me, I will cling to the character of God He is good and powerful and what I don’t understand, He does. That kind of faith is unshakable.
God’s character is holy. He desires Holiness for and from us. Instead of trying to find out why something bad happens, seek out the who-the holy character of God. For if you know who God is, you can cling to
Him in the face of suffering and pain and discouragement, and learn to say along with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
GOD’S RESPONSE TO SUFFERING
Referring to the blind man, Jesus told His disciples, “Neither this man or his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life ” (John 9:3).
What is Jesus saying here? That this man was merely a stage prop? That the man spent his whole life blind so that someday the Messiah could appear on the scene and cast him as a bit player in a story on healing?
No question, this is a difficult passage. After wrestling with it and praying through it and talking with others about it, I have come to a conclusion. I believe Jesus is basically saying, “I haven’t come to
explain all the mysteries of suffering. I have come to do away with suffering. The work of God is to destroy the destroyer. I’m not here to solve the riddles; I’m here to do the work of God.”
The work Jesus did that day is a riddle all by itself He put the man through an unusual treatment program. He spat on the ground and made mud, then applied it to the man’s eyes. The man had to find his way
down the road to a specific pool where he was to wash off the mud. As in our last story, all this was done on the Sabbath.
Why did Jesus go through all of that? No one knows for sure, but there is much speculation. Saliva was thought to have medicinal properties. Perhaps by spitting and making mud, Jesus was saying to all around,
“Don’t miss what’s about to happen.” Some suggest that by putting mud into the man’s eyes, Jesus may have presented a sign of the incarnation-using the dust of the earth to create sight where there was none.
Whatever the reason, we know the result-the blind eyes of a lonely beggar were opened. And in the process, Jesus healed the spiritual blindness of those who had no idea how blind they really were.
Outward Sight and Inward Sight
“Jesus … found him and said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Who is He, sir?’ the man said. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in Him. ‘ Jesus said to him, ‘You have now seen Him. He is the One speaking to you. ‘ The man said, ‘Lord, I believe. ‘And he worshiped him ” (John 9:35-38).
The conclusion of this scriptural story reveals two stages of healing. Obviously, the man’s physical sight was restored. But that was only half the task Jesus set out to accomplish.
Physical healing is, by nature, a temporal thing. In the end, we all die. In light of that fact, it seems short sighted to seek renewal for our bodies when our souls are terminally Ill. It was precisely this lack of vision that Jesus sought to remedy. Consequently, he healed the blind man twice. When he knelt to worship Jesus, the man demonstrated that he not only saw with his physical eyes, but his spiritual eyes.
So many of us are in need of spiritual white canes. We walk aimlessly into the walls of God’s power and presence, never recognizing the glory around us. We perceive the misty shadow of the Holy Spirit as He moves through our lives, but fall to catch a glimpse of His handiwork
The term John uses for miracle literally means “sign.” Every miracle Jesus did was intended as a sign. Consequently, if you missed the sign, you missed the miracle. Have we the vision to see beyond the
miracle to the Master?
SEEING THE ROAD TO WHOLENESS
On a spiritual level, you can experience the same miracles the paralytic and the blind man experienced. Despite your physical and emotional circumstances, you can be made whole-if you are willing.
Isn’t it time you picked tip your mat and walked? Aren’t you ready to have your spiritual sight restored? If so, that life of wholeness lies Just ahead of you.
Once you make that life your own, will you have the answers to that laundry list of questions we presented at the beginning of this booklet?
But wholeness has never been about answers. It’s about trust. It’s about coming to the place where you can echo the words of Paul: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I
have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
If you’re ready to approach God with that kind of faith, He stands ready to do a work in your life that will transform you in ways beyond your understanding or comprehension. He longs to make you His child.
He’s eager to make you whole.
All you have to do is ask … and walk.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE GENERAL COUNCIL OF THE ASSEMBLIES OF GOD AND REVIVALTIME MEDIA MINISTRIES, 1995, PAGES 1-19. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.