“When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” John 5:6
Are you familiar with the word bilious? The first time I heard it, I wasn’t sure what it meant. Something to do with bile, I supposed. Later I learned from the dictionary that it means “relating to or containing bile,” and “a sickly yellowish color” At least I had the bile part right.
The woman who used the word was an elderly lady in a former church who was describing for me the inadequacies of a color that had been used in her Sunday School classroom. I had gone to visit her during December. She was an eccentric widow, and I thought a visit might cheer her during a sensitive time of the year. Somehow the discussion swerved into paint color and with great theatrical flourish, she pronounced her disdain. “Bilious!” she said. “Absolutely bilious!” She used the word once more during my 15 minute visit. She was nothing if not focused.
I thought of her recently when reading John’s account of Jesus’ healing the crippled man beside the pool (5:2-18). For thirty-eight years he had been there, waiting for the miracle that never came. When Jesus found him, He asked a question that sounds very unusual. “Do you want to be healed?”
Why ask that question? Was He serious? Who wouldn’t want to be healed? To have a chance to walk, to rid yourself of the calluses, the pressure sores, to begin to live a more normal life? Of course he wanted to be healed!
The question does sound ludicrous until you realize that the Gospel of John moves on two levels: physical and spiritual. Physical events signify spiritual realities. This is true of any of the gospels to some extent, but John makes it an overarching theme.
So much is this the case that John actually never uses the word “miracle” in his work. The Greek word for miracle is dunamis, from which we get the English word dynamite. In this understanding the mighty works of Jesus were power displays, which they certainly were, of course.
John wanted a different focus, however. Instead of the word miracle he used the word “sign.” The miraculous event, and John recorded seven of these, were signs that pointed to a spiritual truth. The healing of the man by the pool is the third of the seven signs in John.
So why did Jesus asked the question, do you want to be healed? The word “healed” here has another level of meaning beyond simply physical restoration. In fact, in this story you find three different words for healing. Two of them refer to a physical healing. This word in verse 6, however, refers also to being whole.
So Jesus was not asking merely if the man wanted to be rid of his disease. He was asking if he wanted to be whole, complete, restored, balanced. “Do you want to be well?” See the difference?
What if Jesus asked you that question? Are you ready to be healed?
Many times we can become very comfortable with our infirmities, physical or spiritual. Instead of making the genuine effort to deal with the problem we prefer the attention that comes from having the problem. Or we fail to see a problem at all.
Take my friend with the affinity for the word bilious. She had developed over the years a reputation as a rather prickly person with a superior attitude. Consequently, she had few real friends and was rather awkward in most social settings, though she certainly would not have recognized this. In a kind of etymological karma, a fourth level meaning of the word bilious is “having a peevish disposition, ill-humor.” That’s genuine irony.
Imagine her reaction if I had said the following: “Mrs. Smith (obviously not her real name), you are creating a great many problems for yourself by looking down on other people and having a generally negative outlook on life. Faith gives you the opportunity to have real joy and a divine optimism. God has surrounded you with people who genuinely love you. If you looked at His blessings, instead of all the things that perturb you, then you might not be so fixated on paint color.” She would probably have looked at me like I was an alien, with a bilious skin tone.
Do you want to be healed? We all need to hear and answer this question honestly. Before Jesus can deliver us from the real problems that beset us, we have to acknowledge their presence. True spiritual growth means honestly looking at the spiritual handicaps we use to keep God at bay. Frankly, it’s far easier to accommodate, excuse, and defend our spiritual shortcomings than go through the painful process of saying, “God, I’m sick and I desperately need to be healed.”
Personally, on a physical level I would love to be rid of my occasional sciatic nerve pain, the aches in my right knee, tinnitus in my left ear, and the irritating eye problems associated with aging. If God healed each one of those, would I be whole?
No. Not until I asked for His help in getting past my fears, resentments, anger, and self-pity. These are the spiritual obstacles that are so much more serious than any physical problem I’ve ever had. I need help each day with these. I turn to God and say, “I want to be whole” and He helps those spiritual challenges have a little less hold on me.
So if you are tired of dealing with the same spiritual problems in life, perhaps it’s time to have a talk with Jesus. What is it that holds you back? What is your real problem? What sin regularly breaks you? Is it a habit of thought? Or doubt? Do you struggle with fear, anger, resentment, and self-pity? How about pride, guilt, shame, etc?
The Holy Spirit can illuminate the darkest corners of your life and will do so gently. God can show you what needs to be done. Listen as He asks the question, “do you want to be healed?”
Dr. Terry Ellis
October 22, 2017