Sermon 05-29-2022: “From Grumbling to Glory”

Scripture: John 5:1-18

Today’s sermon is about healing, both spiritual and physical healing—and about how all healing comes from God. And I want to make three important points about healing that emerge from today’s scripture. Point Number One: grace… all healing is a gift God’s grace. Point Number Two: grumbling… what does a grumbling or complaining spirit have to do with true healing? And Point Number Three: glory… true and complete healing leads to God’s glory; that’s the goal of healing in the first place… So… Grace, grumbling, and glory

But first, let’s talk about grace… 

Several years ago, the Christian publisher Lifeway posted an article called, “11 Things You Think Are in the Bible, but Really Aren’t.” I’d like to share a few of them… 

First, what kind of fruit did Adam and Eve eat when they committed the world’s fist sin? If you said an “apple,” you’re wrong! What we call an “apple” is only called “fruit” in Genesis 3. I’ve read one argument that says it was actually figs—but how could figs tempt anyone, since figs are disgusting?

Just kidding, all you fig-lovers out there. What about “God works in mysterious ways”? Not in the Bible. Or how about, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Not in the Bible.

Or how about this? “God helps those who help themselves.” Not in the Bible. According to this article, some English politician first said it, and Benjamin Franklin later included the quote in Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Still, let’s talk about this last one: “God helps those who help themselves.” Because I think we have a hard time believingthat it’s not true. 

But if it were true, how do we explain this paralyzed man in today’s scripture. This man often gets a bad rap from preachers like me—and Bible scholars in general—because he doesn’t seem to do anything to help himself… and yet God, in the Person of his Son Jesus, helps him!

For example, this paralyzed man doesn’t do anything to seek out a healingfrom Jesus. After all, it’s often the case in the gospels that needy people want Jesus to heal them so badly that they’ll hardly take “no” for an answer—they’ll climb on a roof and break a hole in the ceiling; or consider the case of a woman with a hemorrhaging disease: she’s so afraid that Jesus will refuse to heal her that she secretly touches Jesus’ clothing; or think of Blind Bartimaeus, who keeps on shouting in a large crowd, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus’ own disciples are like, “Knock it off! You’re driving us crazy!” But he won’t shut up. The Bible says he just shouts out all the more, until he gets Jesus’ attention!1

My point is, we like people who at least work hard to put themselves in a position for Jesus to heal them. We like people who do at least a little bit first… and then Jesus do the rest. In other words, we like, “God helps those who help themselves.” And this paralyzed man doesn’t do anything… and we suspect he may not even want to be healed. We think, “After 38 years, has literally no one helped him climb into this pool?” And it almost sounds like Jesus is skeptical of the man’s story, too, when he asks him, “Do you want to be healed?” 

And we think, “Yeah! Good question! If he wanted to be healed, then surely after 38 years he would have been!”

But I don’t think that’s quite fair to this man. First, as commentator Frederick Dale Bruner points out, Jesus’ question may just as easily have been a way to start a conversation with him. Like… Jesus knows the man wants to be healed; otherwise why would he be at this pool? So it’s as if Jesus were saying, “So you wanna be healed? Well, have I got good news for you!” 

Besides, unlike some of the other people whom Jesus heals in the gospels, this man clearly doesn’t know who Jesus is—John tells us so in verse 13. So when Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed, he has no reason to believe that this man standing in front of him is God in the flesh, the Son of God, and that he has the power to heal him physically—or that he’s even offering to heal him! I’m sure that if this paralyzed man had been an eyewitness to Jesus’ other miracles—or even had heard about them—his response to Jesus would have been more enthusiastic. 

We say, “Oh, this man doesn’t even have faith in Jesus,” but why would he? He doesn’t yet know who Jesus is, so let’s give him a break!

So maybe one reason God the Holy Spirit saw fit to include this healing miracle in God’s Word is to tell us something about the nature of grace: If we’re tempted to think, “This man doesn’t deserve the healing that Jesus offers him,” we need to remember that we don’t either! Because none of us deserves grace! God can’t “help those who help themselves” because apart from grace, every single one of us is utterly, completely, 100 percent powerless to help ourselves! We need God’s grace first.

In our 8:30 contemporary service, we often sing about “the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God,” as the song says. It includes these words: “There’s no shadow You won’t light up/ Mountain You won’t climb up/ Coming after me/ There’s no wall You won’t kick down/ Lie You won’t tear down/ Coming after me.” We sing about how this love “chases [us] down, fights ’til [we’re] found, leaves the ninety-nine.” And the “ninety-nine” there refers, of course, to the Parable of the Good Shepherd. And that parable, remember, describes a lost sheep that is helpless and will surely die apart from the efforts of the Good Shepherd to rescue him.

And surely one reason that the song “Reckless Love” has become one of the most popular praise and worship anthems is because it describes with vivid imagery the great lengths to which Christ our Good Shepherd will go to rescue us us lost and helpless sheep!

That’s grace!

And no matter how long we’ve been Christians, we never ever start earning it or deserving it!

Listen… at this very moment, I am talking to some people who feel powerless over some serious problem in your life. Maybe it’s some health problem. Maybe it’s a problem in your marriage, in your work, in your finances, in your family—a problem with your children—or if you are one of those children, it’s a problem with your parents! Regardless, you feel powerless… you feel at the end of your rope. Despite your best efforts, you can’t solve it. 

And I’m likely talking to some people who are in the throes of drug or alcohol addiction… or some other harmful compulsive behavior… I’m talking to some people, especially men, who can’t seem to control certain websites they visit. And you know it’s wrong, but you can’t stop! I’m likely talking to some people—especially young women—who feel powerless over eating disorders or unhealthy body image issues… and maybe you’re harming yourself in some way. Regardless, you don’t want to be like this, but you just can’t help it.

It’s safe to say that in one way or another we all feel powerless over something in our lives… helpless over something that’s harming us. We’d love to do something to “help ourselves” first. But we can’t. We’ve tried. 

So are we really so different from this paralyzed man?

Listen: if you are in Christ—I’m speaking to those of you who received Christ as Savior—if you are in Christ, you are a beloved son or daughter of your heavenly Father. God couldn’t love you more than he already does—and nothing you do—no sin, no sickness, no harmful habit or addiction, no self-destructive behavior or crisis, nothing you do will prevent him from loving you with an infinitely great kind of love! You haven’t done anything to make him love you any less, and you will do nothing in the future to make him love you less, I promise. And nothing you do will prevent him from always working in your best interest.

But I need you to know this: Jesus has the power to heal you; Jesus wants to heal you; and sooner or later he will. Often, of course complete healing only happens once we’re in eternity. But Jesus wants to start healing you now. Do you believe it?

And as Jesus heals you, he won’t do so because you’ve done something to “deserve it” or “earn it” or make yourself “worthy of it.” Your healing won’t be because you’ve “met Jesus halfway,” and he’ll take it from there. It won’t be because you’ve first done something to “help yourself,” as the old saying goes. Your healing will come only by grace

So tell Jesus that you need this grace. Tell him that you’re powerless over your problem. Tell him that you need him to be strong for you… because you’re weak. And Jesus promises that when we’re weak, that’s exactly when he’s strong!

So that’s Point Number One… Healing comes by grace alone; you don’t have to qualify for it. Just believe him. And just ask him for it.

And you may say, “But maybe I don’t have enough faith! Maybe that’s why I’m struggling like this.” But doesn’t today’s scripture tell us that you don’t need a lot of faith? This paralyzed man had only the tiniest amount… just enough to obey Jesus when Jesus told him to “get up, take up your bed, and walk.”2 That’s not much faith.

It reminds me of something pastor Tim Keller said one time… He asked us to imagine a tiger chasing us through some snowy woods… until we reach a steep embankment… there’s a frozen lake below us. If we jump onto the lake—and we don’t fall through he ice—we’ll be saved. But will the icy surface be strong enough to support our weight—or will we crash through the ice and drown? Who knows? But what choice do we have—we will otherwise be eaten by a hungry tiger! So we jump. It doesn’t take a lot of faith to do so… because taking a risk that the ice will support our weight is easier than being eaten. 

My point is, if the ice holds and we’re saved, it won’t be because of the strength of our faith; it will be because of the strength of the ice. The same goes for faith: If we’re healed, it won’t because of the power of our faith; it will be because of the power of our Lord Jesus!

And that’s grace! And that’s Point Number One.

Point Number Two: grumbling… or complaining. How do these things relate to healing?

Well, let me begin by pointing out something strange. If you have a modern Bible translation, I want you to notice that your Bible skips from verse 3 to verse 5. There is no verse 4! That’s not a typo. Verse 4 in your Bible is likely included in a footnote. Since the time of the King James Version, we have discovered earlier and more reliable manuscripts of John’s gospel, and these earlier manuscripts don’t include verse 4—which says that periodically an angel stirred the water and imparted to it healing properties. Someone later on—not the apostle John—added that verse to explain why this paralyzed man and others tried so hard to get in this pool.

So this was a popular and likely superstitious belief at the time—a belief that is not endorsed by scripture… but it does help explain why this paralyzed man, and others, wanted to get in this pool. It could even be that this Pool of Bethesda, with its underground spring, had natural healing properties similar to Warm Springs, Georgia, which brought relief to Franklin Roosevelt, for example, when he was president.

But notice what the man says in verse 7, after Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 

I don’t like this answer, to be honest. I would like his answer much better if he said something like this: “Sir, I have prayed for healing these past 38 years, but for whatever reason, God has chosen not to heal me so far. Would you please pray for me, too.” 

Why would I prefer that answer? Because that kind of answer demonstrates faith in the One who is the source of all healing in the first place! All healing comes from God. Whether or when or in what way God chooses to heal us, that’s up to God. He knows what’s best. He’s responsible for the healing. 

But the paralyzed man doesn’t believe that. He believes that the reason he hasn’t been healed is because of these really bad circumstances… or because of dumb luck…or because of what other people have done to him, or because of what they refuse to do for him now—“They won’t let me get to the water. No one will help me get in the water! These other people are responsible for this mess I’m in! And that’s why I’m not healed.”

Regardless, for the paralyzed man, it’s not God who will heal him; it’s this pool, it’s these waters. In other words, he’s trusting in this thing or these circumstances or these people to help him!

Do we ever fall victim to that way of thinking?

English comedian Ricky Gervais has a new comedy special on Netflix. I haven’t watched it. I’m sure it’s tasteless, and I’m not recommending it. But I did see a clip from it on social media. Gervais is an outspoken atheist. But in this clip he’s happy when Christian believers offer to pray for him when he’s sick. “It’s a kind gesture,” he says. “They mean well.” And he receives their prayers graciously, which is nice. “Now, I would feel differently,” he said, “if they said because we’re praying for you, we’re going to stop giving you chemotherapy! No, no, no! Keep doing the chemotherapy! Pray for me all you want. But keep giving me chemotherapy!”

But do you see the hidden assumption with that kind of thinking? It says we’re either healed because of something that God does… or because of something that modern medicine does—as if God himself hasn’t given us modern medicine! But it’s either one or the other, not both. And many of us Christians, I’m afraid, buy into this assumption!

But that’s not the biblical perspective on healing. The biblical perspective is that all healing ultimately comes from God… and the usual way that God heals us is through non-miraculous means—like modern medicine. So even if this paralyzed man had gotten into this pool and been healed, it would only be because God was using that water to heal him. And even if it’s true, and not superstition, that an angel “stirred up the water” to impart healing properties, it would only be because God was allowing that angel to do so.

God is in control, and when and how or whether God chooses to heal us is up to him. And the difficult truth is, sometimes, on this side of heaven, God may choose not to heal us.

But the good news is, if you know that God is ultimately responsible for the circumstances in which you find yourself, then you know who to go to to get the help you need. And you even know who to blame if you don’t get the specific kind of help you think you need need! I’m serious! King David and the other psalmists have no problem, at times, blaming God… or being angry at God. One example is Psalm 44:23: “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!” 

It’s far better to direct your anger at God, if necessary, than to be angry at other people. Give it a try… The next time you get angry at someone, use that as an opportunity to drop to your knees and pray for that person, because Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for them! But also, if you’re angry, take it out on God! Express your anger to God. Tell God that you’re angry at him. He can take it, I promise! It’s good for your soul to turn all of your anger, all of your complaining, all of your grumbling… into a prayer. 

Every time you feel like complaining or grumbling, take that as a sign that you need to do what? You need to pray!

And when we learn to turn grumbling and complaining into prayer… as the psalms themselves bear witness… God has a way of transforming our anger and grumbling into a deeper, abiding trust in God… and into peace… and into joy.

And this brings us to Point Number Three: Genuine healing results in the praise of our Lord Jesus… In other words, it results in God’s glory… it results in our experiencing this glory… In fact, the very reason Jesus heals us in the first place is in order for us to glorify our Lord!

If healing doesn’t lead to this glory, then that means we’re not fully healed. And for this reason, I believe that this paralyzed man is only half-healed—physically healed, sure, but not healed in the most important way. Not spiritually. Notice in verse 13 that when the religious opponents of Jesus question the man about his healing, he doesn’t even know the name of the person who did it! Why not? Well, Jesus slipped away. But why did this healed man let Jesus slip away? He doesn’t even seem curious about who healed him. He doesn’t even seem interested in finding out who healed him! He seems indifferent about this person, Jesus, who performed this amazing miracle! Why?

Consider, by contrast, another healing… this one in Mark 5.3 There’s a man who’s being tormented by evil spirits who call themselves “Legion”—remember? And when Jesus heals the man, what does the man do? Mark said that before Jesus could slip away by boat, the healed man begs Jesus to let him go with him. Why? Because he now loves Jesus more than anyone or anything else… and he wants to be with Jesus more than he wants anything else.

This healed man was, in other words, had experienced the glory of Jesus Christ, and he wanted nothing more than to glorify Christ in return! And Jesus tells him that instead of going with him in the boat, to go back and tell his family and friends what God had done for him. So he goes back praising God and praising Jesus. And he goes back to town and tells family and friends what happens, and they start praising God and praising Jesus!

That’s glory! And that’s what living this Christian life is all about!

When Jesus heals us, he doesn’t do so in order that we can “get on with the rest of our life.” Why? Because Jesus becomes our life! Jesus doesn’t heal us, so that we can avoid dying, because dying is really scary. Why? Because the Bible tells us that if we’re Christians, death itself is a transition to an even better kind of life… a life in which Jesus will be glorified even more than he can be now! 

Jesus doesn’t heal us, in other words, as a means to some other end: Like, “Jesus, please heal me so I can resume the career that I had before.” Or “Please heal me so I can enjoy playing these sports again.” Or “Please heal me so I can go back to enjoying the same life I had before I got sick… before I had this accident… or before I experienced this crisis!”

True healing is not a means to any other end than Jesus Christ himself… and his glory!

Sometimes—and I know this is a difficult truth, and I want to say it very carefully—but sometimes, not always, but sometimes… Jesus may choose not to heal us because that “life that we had before”—that life that we used to enjoy, that life that we miss so much, that life we want back… that life didn’t leave much room for Jesus. 

And when that’s the case, God knows the healing we need isn’t a physical healing. God knows—and this is a difficult truth; this is advanced Christianity, okay… but God knows it’s better for us to be sick and have Jesus than to be physically well without him!

My point is, when Jesus doesn’t heal us, that will be for his glory; and when he does heal us, that will also be for his glory; and when Jesus heals us completely on the other side of death and heaven—and we can be confident that he will heal us—that will especially be for his glory.

Brothers and sisters, we’re seeing Christ’s glory in the life of Harry Joiner right now. I know many of us are praying for him. Harry contracted a rare disease called Guillain-Barré Syndrome. My only knowledge of Guillain-Barré is that it’s a question on the form you fill out before giving blood. If you’ve had it, I guess you can’t give blood anymore. It’s deadly serious but it’s treatable in many cases. So we’ve been praying for Harry. In fact, we had a beautiful, impromptu prayer service last Wednesday night for Harry. And I shared the following story with the friends and family gathered there…

I visited Harry at the hospital last week. I had seen him two weeks earlier—and he was having a rough time then. And frankly, I didn’t know what to expect this time. Before I opened the door, I took a deep breath and said a quick prayer. And I entered the room… and I’m not exaggerating… Harry’s face lit up when he saw me, and he summoned me over to his bed.

And this is the first thing he said to me… It was urgent to him that he tell me this… And first of all, he could barely speak two weeks ago, and he could speak much more clearly now… But he said, “Pastor Brent, I need you to know that while these past several weeks have been very difficult for me, I haven’t been discouraged for a single moment! I know the Lord has been right here with me! I know he’s been taking care of me! I can feel his power, and I can feel the power of the prayers that our church family has been praying for me!” And he even told me he’s been holding fast to the promises of God’s Word, which I shared in a recent sermon.

And there were tears in his eyes, and he said, “Don’t worry! These are tears of joy!”

That’s glory! That’s a sign of true healing! That’s what it’s all about!

So Harry is doing more than okay right now. Which is not to say he’s out of the woods and doesn’t continue to need our prayers… of course he does! But he’s doing well under some incredibly difficult circumstances.

And I said on Wednesday night, “Some day we’re all going to be seriously ill or seriously injured. And chances are, most of us are going to be in a hospital, or be back in a hospital. And we may be physically healed or not… But here’s the truth: when I am in the hospital, I want to be like Harry!”

I want to experience Jesus like Harry is experiencing Jesus! I want to experience the glory of Jesus Christ the way Harry is experiencing that glory! I praise God for that!

Amen? Amen.

[Invitation… “If you’re a Christian, ultimately our Lord answers every prayer for physical healing with a yes—because the resurrection of Jesus Christ foreshadows our own resurrection… Illness and disability is only temporary. We will all be healed…”]

  1.  Mark 2:1-12; Mark 5:25-34; Mark 10:47-48
  2. John 5:8
  3. See Mark 5:1-20.

One thought on “Sermon 05-29-2022: “From Grumbling to Glory””

  1. I know God loves all his children dearly. And obviously far more than we “deserve.” However, I don’t know that I concur with the idea that nothing we do or don’t do has any effect on the level of God’s love for us. In John 14:21, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” This certainly sounds as though Jesus is saying something to the effect that the degree of his love for us has some relationship to the degree of our love for him (demonstrated by our obedience).

    Also, there is the question of rewards. Paul says: “12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.

    Some say, “Well, that is only a question of rewards–it has nothing to do with God’s love.” But 1 John twice tells us that “God is love.” What does that entail? It means that whatever God does demonstrates his nature, which is love. So what God does shows us what love is and does. God rewards those who diligently seek him, Hebrews 11:6 tells us. That is an expression of his love nature. I realize this sounds somewhat heretical to modern evangelical ears, but I don’t think the Bible allows for any other conclusion than that God rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior. So that is how love behaves and manifests itself.

    In my opinion, love is a “conditional” thing by its very nature. It is freely and without merit offered to all. But whether we get to keep it or not, or to what degree, depends on our response to it. In the parable of the talents, the one who did nothing with what he received was cast out, and “even what he did receive was taken from him.”

    I think we intuitively realize “love relationships” are affected by how we respond to love offers, Consider two marriages. In the one, the husband works hard and makes a living, helps with the kids, helps around the house, gives his wife flowers. In the other, he won’t keep a job, gets drunk, beats the wife and kids. Are you telling me that the two wives are supposed to love the two different husbands the same? I won’t ask that of the second wife. But we don’t want to apply that to God. But we are “made in God’s image” in that regard, in my opinion. Again, loved far beyond any “merit,” but not unaffected by anything we do regarding our obedience, which is how we “love God back.” That’s my view.

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