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One In A Sea of Faces
September 20, 2004
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 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, paralyzed, 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. And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, “Take up your bed and walk.”’ Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, “Take up your bed and walk’?” But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. 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.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. (John 5:1-15)
In this passage we are presented with a rather pitiful scene. It is the Sabbath day and in Jerusalem, gathered around a pool by the Sheep Gate, is a great multitude of men and women. Some of them are lying on the ground, stricken with sores. Others are paralyzed or have shriveled limbs. Still others are blind or lame. All these people waited by the edge of the pool, for they believed that every now and then an angel stirred the water and immediately after that happened the first person to step into the pool would instantly be healed. We do not know if this was true and if there really was a supernatural activity happening or if it was nothing more than rumor. Regardless, many wretched souls waited by the edge of the pool, desperate for healing.
Jesus entered the city that day and saw this scene before Him. Moved with compassion, Jesus approached a certain man – one man in a sea of faces. We do not know why he chose this one man out of the crowd. What we do know is that Jesus asked him a simple question. An obvious question and one which was answered by the man’s mere presence. Jesus asked “Do you want to be made well?” The man, who was sick and nearly immobile, answered that of course he wanted to be made well! He wouldn’t spend his days waiting by the edge of this pool if he didn’t hold out hope that he could be made well. The problem was that he was helpless, for whenever the waters stirred and he had the opportunity to be healed, another person with greater mobility beat him into the water. He was unable to help himself, and must have been bitter, depressed. While others were claiming their healing, this man lay helplessly, missing chance after chance.
The Lord had pity on Him. To this one man He said “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And in that very instant the man was healed. He rose up, took his bed with him and walked away. Jesus performed one of the thousands of miracles which proved His divinity.
Was Jesus unjust to heal that man? Was it wrong for Him to do so? Of course not! It was an act of great mercy. Jesus had pity on a poor, helpless man and took away his infirmity. He turned to a man who had no hope and gave Him exactly what he needed. He gave him a new chance at life!
Was Jesus unjust to heal only that man? Was it wrong for Him to heal that one person and leave the others awaiting their miracle? Of course not! Jesus was able to choose to whom He would extend His grace. No one could say it is unjust for Jesus to heal just one man. He had mercy on whom He chose to have mercy.
There is a beautiful parallel between this story and the Father’s work in choosing some for eternal life. In the same way that Jesus was able to choose those whom He would heal, God is able to choose the ones He will forgive. He is not unjust to choose one and not another. All are equally helpless before Him. God tells us that “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” For some reason His mercy extended to me – He picked my face out of that crowd of sick, desperate people who were looking everywhere but at Him and gave me new life. I thank God that His compassion extended even to a sinner like me.