38 years is a long time for some things.
It’s hardly long enough to share life with those you love. It’s not at all long enough to invest in your life’s passion. It’s just a beginning when it comes to walking with God.
But… it’s a long, long time to be dependent upon someone else just to get to the bathroom. It’s a very long time to be unable to use your legs. It seems like an eternity when you’re stuck sitting on the ground while the world walks by.
But what if that 38 years was in anticipation of the most amazing moment many people would ever see? What if, at the end of those years of utter dependency, you could stand to your feet at the command of the One who came to bring your only hope of real and genuine life?
It seems that was the case for the man we read about in John 5.1-8.
[Read John 5.1-8]
It was a busy time in the city of Jerusalem as another feast was taking place. Jesus, like most faithful and able-bodied Jews, made his way to Jerusalem. There inside the Sheep Gate into the city, was a pool that was called Bethesda—the very one after which a number of hospitals are named. The tradition has it that, from time to time, there would be a stirring in the waters in this pool that was attributed to angels. It was believed that the first person to step into the pool when the angels stirred the waters would be healed of whatever malady was plaguing them.
So there was quite a crowd of folks gathered around the pool, as you can imagine. As verse 3 indicates, “In these lay a multitude of individuals—blind, lame, and paralyzed.” It was a crowded place and the crowd was an unhealthy, unappealing, unsettling mess.
The text tells us of a man who was there that had been “an invalid” for 38 years. For 38 years he had been unable to get around on his own. But there he was, in the throng of diseased and disabled people hoping to somehow be the one to receive the next dispensation of miraculous healing from the pool of Bethesda.
But let’s consider the conversation that begins with Jesus:
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” (6)
Ok, the sarcasm built up in me from years of parenting teenagers hears the guy responding, “Nah, I’m just here for the snacks” or “no, I figure if I hang out here a while I can pick up a couple of other diseases and hit the beggar’s trifecta.” By God’s infinite grace, there does not seem to be much in the way of sarcasm in the Scriptures (though Elijah’s interactions with the prophets of Baal comes pretty close).
But the man, perhaps sensing the depth of compassion in Jesus’ question, simply gave reason for his hopelessness in this place so close to the possibility of healing, yet so far from a real chance. He explained that he had no one to help him into the pool when the waters were stirred and, on his own, it took so long to get there that someone else would always beat him to it.
But Jesus, the Healer, spoke directly to this man with hope.
Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. (7-8)
And in one moment, his strength is restored. His coordination is put back in order. His body is whole. Because Jesus, the great Physician, stepped into the mess of his disability and brought healing.
So… was it worth it?
Was it worth 38 years to be a part of the story of Jesus, God in the flesh, who came here into our mess?
Was it worth 38 years to experience this miraculous event firsthand?
Was it worth 38 years to experience the wonder of walking into the temple to worship with an entirely different awe and appreciation for this simple privilege that so very many people took for granted?
I don’t know. But that’s what happened.