Johnny Lechner is finally moving on. Actually, the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater forced Johnny Lechner to move on. You probably know someone who extended a 4-year college program into 7 or 8 years, but Johnny went beyond that. Johnny had been working on a 4-year degree for 12 years. Yes, you heard me right. He was in school for 12 years. At the age of 30, he dressed like a college student, attended college parties. He enjoyed sleeping in late, listening to music, going to a class or two, and then going and hanging out with friends.
While it sounds ridiculous on a college level, 12 years to get a 4-year degree … don’t we all struggle with this on a personal level? Don’t we all get comfortable and settle in? Don’t we all need help to get up and get going at times? Don’t we all have some area in our lives which is marked with … apathy?
Apathy … it’s an English compound noun made up of two Greek Words … A = No and pathy = passion. Apathy means I have no passion, no enthusiasm, no vim, no vigor. Apathy means that my get up and go has got up and went. Apathy’s favorite word is … whatever! Apathy is what Jesus goes up against today as we look at the third miracle in John’s Gospel found in chapter 5.
“Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” (John 5:2-3). Bethesda means “house of mercy.”
Two thousand years ago, an underwater spring occasionally caused the pool to bubble and some people believed that it indicated an angel was dipping his wing into the water. People also believed that the first person to touch the water after the angelic presence would be totally healed. Did healing actually happen? I don’t know, but I do know that a crowd of invalids were willing to give it a try.
I mean really, what did they have to lose? Just picture it, you have all these people gathered in this area, waiting for the pool to start bubble. They are pushing and shoving each other out of the way so that they can get to the water first. And they call this Bethesda, a house of mercy. Most people walked by, as quickly as possible to avoid being asked to help. But not Jesus … not Jesus. Bethesda, this house of chaos was about to become a real house of mercy.
“One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight 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?’” (John 5:5-6). Thirty-eight years! Let’s be honest shall we? Sometimes we don’t want to get well. Sometimes we don’t want to change. Sometimes we’re like this invalid … year after year we do nothing. “Do you want to get well?”
There’s a story of a pastor showing a neighboring pastor around his new church, and referring to the sound system he said, “We still have a number of dead spots.” His pastor friend turned and said, “Brother, every church has a number of dead spots!” Every church, that would include us. Oh, we get by, don’t we? I know I’m preaching to the choir, but we show up when we feel like it and yawn our way through. Like the muddy Mississippi, we roll along. We shrug our shoulders, make excuses and keep on living half-baked, half-hearted Christian lives. Do you know why it is that spouses stop being faithful? Why it is that employees stop being faithful? Why it is the children stop being faithful? Do you know why it is that Christians stop being faithful? … It’s called apathy. Apathy is killing us!
Remember how once the water at the Bethesda began to move, some believed that invalids were healed on a first come, first-served basis? The invalid replied to Jesus, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me” (John 5:7). For 38 years this has happened? For 38 years he couldn’t have been the first one into the water? Bad dad joke alert but this guy’s favorite word is rationalize. Rationalize means “rational” “lies.” Get it?
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:8). Healing comes through Christ’s decree, Christ’s pronouncement. Christ’s powerful Word is the thread that ties all seven signs together. The first sign, “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” At Christ’s word, water was turned into win. Second sign, “The man took Jesus at his word.” At Christ’s word, the son was healed. The third sign, “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At Christ’s Word, the man got up and walked. The fourth sign, “Jesus then took the loaves and gave thanks.” At Christ’s word 5 loaves of bread and two fish fed over 5,000 people. The fifth sign, “Jesus said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.” At Christ’s Word, the storm subsided. The sixth sign, “‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam.” At Christ’s word the man born blind could see! The seventh sign, “Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” At Christ’s word, Lazarus walked out of the tomb.
John starts out the gospel, “In the beginning was the Word.” Christ is the Word. Christ has the Word. Christ gives the Word. Christ speaks the Word. Christ changes everything with his almighty and powerful Word.
This reminds me of a story about a private who one day caught Napoleon’s runaway horse. When he brought the horse back, Napoleon said, “Thank you, captain.” With one word, the private was promoted to captain. So the soldier went to the quartermaster and asked for a captain’s uniform. He went to the officer’s quarters and chose a captain bunk. He went to the officer’s hall and ate a meal with all of the captains. Napoleon said it and so that settled it and the solider believed it. He went from a private to a captain with just a word!
At Jesus’ word, the man “picked up his mat and walked” (John 5:9). Bethesda is now a house full of mercy! That’s because when Christ speaks, there is a difference, a big difference. The same God who says in Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light,” and there was light is the same one who says, “Pick up your mat and walk.” And the man, after 38 years, picks up his mat and walks.
What’s it all mean? It means that when Christ says you’re valuable, you’re valuable, beyond your imagination. It means that when Christ says you’re loved, you’re loved beyond words. It means that when Christ says, “I’m present for you in my body and blood,” he’s present for you in his body and blood, beyond your wildest dreams. And it means that when Christ says from the cross in John 19, “It is finished,” … your salvation is complete, done, accomplished … it’s finished. Jesus said it and that settles it. Jesus said it and by faith we believe it.
It was one of those high school classes where you arrived early to get a back row seat. One day, two students got there late, so they had to sit in the front row. Let’s just say that they were less than enthused when it came to Trigonometry. The teacher finally got fed up. He grabbed his piece of chalk, turned around to the chalkboard and began to slash away in big letters – A-P-A-T-H-Y. He underlined it twice and then slammed an exclamation point that broke the chalk. One of the students in the front row struggled to read the word. He slowly said, “A-pay-thee.” He then leaned over to his friend and asked, “What is a-pay-thee?” His friend said, “Who cares?”
What is a-pay-thee – apathy – doing in your life? How is it eroding your marriage? Hurting your health? Damaging your work? Harming your children? How long have you had that bad attitude, bad habit, bad excuse, bad addiction, that rational lie? Has it been 38 years? Jesus is here today. With his word he’s turning this place, this place into Bethesda, a house full of mercy. “Pick up your mat and walk.” And we will, we will pick up our mat and walk … walk in joy and thanksgiving all the days of our lives. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.