Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. John 5:14
The man who lay at the Pool of Bethesda was healed after 38 years, a lifetime of undefined infirmity. It is to me the strangest healing story in all of the gospels. Jesus asks, “do you want to be well?” The man doesn’t really answer directly. He knows nothing about Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t tell him who He is, even after healing him. He heals him and leaves. I have heard many sermons about this strange story, which I suppose explains my fascination with Jesus’ final response—“go and sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee.” That command strikes terror in the heart of a child. Perhaps it would have been better to leave the man infirm! Did Jesus really mean it? Of course, He had to mean what He said. But surely He was not saying that a man who knew nothing about Him should move forward with a sinless life—or else! I’ve heard it preached that way, and I’ve heard preachers dance all around it–which makes it all the more intriguing.
This morning, I didn’t hear it in a sermon. I wasn’t part of the congregation. It was just me and God, and I knew the instant I read it that the Holy Spirit was going to explain this mystery verse for me personally—no wiggle room. I have been made whole by the great forgiveness of God through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ to atone for my sin. “Behold, thou art made whole,” He says. Yes, I understand the majesty of the first part because I have experienced it deeply over decades of living in His presence. But the second part….
The second part is understood in the same way as the first. It becomes clear in the living out over decades. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Behold, I am a new creation; old things are passed away and all things are become new (II Corinthians 5:17). Jesus explained condemnation so clearly in John 3 when he said, “This is the condemnation—men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” Condemnation disappears when we love the beauty, the holiness, the glory of God alone.
Second, there is blessing in obedience. I want to understand the will of God and I ask myself every day how I can be part of bringing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. I am dead to sin, and alive to God! (Romans 6:11) God requires a life of obedience to His authority and I am a servant as well as a son.
It is easier to understand God’s command in terms of nations rather than individuals, because we as individuals can be judged both here and after death, but nations are always judged here and now—the judgment of nations is more visible. I spent the decade of the 70’s immersed in University life in a big city, and I witnessed the church become like the rest of society. Marriage was the first to be destroyed. People lived together and drifted from relationship to relationship. Contraception and abortion took over a self-centered generation who no longer believed that God meant it when he said, “be fruitful and multiply.” I can’t afford it, they said. It was suddenly unacceptable to have more than 1.8 children. Nobody really trusted God anymore. We were the generation of the birth of technology and global commerce. I bought my first microwave, and sold my IBM typewriter; and agreed to a disastrous marriage of convenience that furthered my plans for success.
Our generation became like the man at the Pool of Bethesda. We were made whole by the forgiveness of Christ. But we ignored the second part. “Go and sin no more.” Change every aspect of your life. Transform your mind. Bring love and truth to a broken and rebellious society. Become leaders. Run a business that is honest enough and fair enough for God to bless. Honor marriage the way Christ has faithfully loved His church. Be blessed with a household full of children. Teach them truth every day. Protect them from lies and deceit.
What was Jesus really saying to the man who had been made whole? He was saying that the wholeness was only a starting line in a life of radical restoration and deliverance from the sin that destroys life, and destroys nations. There are grave consequences to ignoring the rest. But the Christians of my generation only embraced the miracle of the moment—“Thou art made whole.” The work of a Jesus-centered life was swallowed up in a culture gone mad with diseases of secularism, evolution, sexual liberation, and an education in nihilism.
Jesus words were for Jerusalem as He sat above the city and wept over their rejection of His truth. And His words are for us today, as he weeps for the judgment of a worse thing that has come upon us as individuals and upon our nation who could not hear that the abundant life is not in the miracle of wholeness, but in the living out of the restoration.
“Go and sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee.” It is a message of hope, and a desperate warning to the people and nations who have lost their way. It is Isaiah’s message to a broken nation and to the nation I love–
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isaiah 55:7