The Sinful Invalid

In John chapter 5, we read the story of a man who had been an invalid for 38 years (v. 5). Jesus approaches this man and heals him. Amid the commotion, Jesus slips away into the crowd. Later, after the man has been accosted by religious people that are upset with the fact he is carrying his mat (at Jesus’ direction), it says that Jesus came back and found him again.

And this is what Jesus says to him: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (v. 14)



I’m so curious here about what Jesus is referring to. Did the man become an invalid through sinful action? Or is Jesus indicating his sinfulness while he was apparently unable to do more than lay next to a pool, hoping to be healed?

I have no idea. There’s simply no way to know for sure.

But the fact that Jesus tells him to ‘stop sinning’ tends to indicate (at least to me) an active continuance as opposed to something that happened long in the past.

But without the physical ability to do much more than talk and lay around, it seems that any sin he was committing was internal.

Was the man full of bitter and anger over his condition?  Or perhaps lustful or greedy for what he could not have?

This hammered home to me a point I read in Psalms this week. In Psalm 24, David asks who is able to be in the Lord’s presence.  He then provides an answer to his own question in the next lines of the song:

“Only those whose hands and hearts are pure” (v. 4)

People who are pure, inside (heart) and ouside (hands). What we think/feel (heart) and what we do (hands).

We put a lot of emphasis on whether what we do is sinful. But honestly, I think our actions and words aren’t the issue. Those things come out of who we are.

We spend so much time trying to change our fruit, but we do it in silly ways. You can’t glue oranges on an apple tree and think that the tree has changed.

I think the work the Holy Spirit does within us is about planting new trees. God’s not after lip service. He’s not after us doing stuff to get points from him. He’s about us acting out of the resurrection life he is creating in us. Rather than attaching oranges to an apple tree, he’s taking the time to uproot the apple trees and plant orange trees in their place.

That process takes time. For the first few seasons, my orchard is still going to produce more apples than oranges. But as the work continues, as there are fewer apple trees and the orange trees mature, slowly but surely there will be evidence that this orchard creates oranges, rather than apples.

Just because the invalid may not have been able to act on his sinful nature doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. And Jesus was warning him, not as a threat, but in love. The man had just been given the ability to but action behind his desires. If his desires aren’t corrected, that only gives him the ability to head headlong into his own destruction.

What Jesus did seems dangerous to me. Why heal a guy that may end up being a real jerk?

Clearly, God’s respect for our free will is astounding. He gives chances that may be completely squandered. I make stupid, selfish, shortsighted choices all the time. I wish there was an easy way where I could turn off the part of me that wants to find spiritual shortcuts or loopholes. But instead, God insists that I should have the ability to frustrate or ignore or undo his work.

What an amazing God we serve. That he lets us co-author the story of our life to such a degree. A God that offers us new and abundant life, instead of mandating it.

Sodom and Gomorrah

In reading through Ezekiel right now, I came across an interesting snippet about Sodom. I frequently hear America compared to Sodom and Gomorrah, with the implication that we will be destroyed due to homosexuality and gross debauchery. But in Ezekiel 16:49, I read this: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”


Now let me clarify, I believe (as the bible clearly teaches) that homosexuality is a sin. No doubt about it. But so is heterosexual sex outside of marriage. And adultery. And lying and stealing and pretty much anything else that isn’t loving God and your fellow human beings.

If I was going to hate gay people for their sin, I’d have to hate everyone else, including myself. And that is the exact opposite of what Jesus teaches us.

But in reading this passage, I realized that perhaps all the debauchery in Sodom (like the attempt to rape angels in Genesis 19 - that’s probably not a great idea) resulted due to Sodom’s selfish attitude, which it had cultivated through being completely self-centered and self-serving in all things.

Instead of helping people, they sought to please themselves. And that led them down a path were they ceased to care for anyone other than themselves. Seeking pleasure in any way they could, with no regard for God or fellow man.

This is why they were destroyed.

The wickedness there was a symptom of selfishness, not the disease itself. Maybe the rich were bored and looked for new ways to get off. Or maybe the poor, being oppressed, ended up doing horrible stuff out of despair and a desire to exert some control.

Whether or not God views America as being similar or dissimilar to Sodom, I have no idea. Probably in some ways we’re like them and in other ways we are not.  But what I do know is that in my own life I have discovered a great deal of selfishness. I worry about my petty problems more than I worry about life and death problems in the lives of others.

I have clean drinking water, so why should I worry about the 1 billion who don’t? I have plenty to eat, so why should the huge percentage of underfed people in the world impact me? I have a loving family, so why should I be concerned for those in prison or alone in a nursing home?

God, help me not to turn toward my own comfortable situation when I see need and despair and hurt. I want to be a vessel for your kingdom to overcome the gates of hell on this earth.

The Strongman

Imagine somebody comes into your house with a knife. They brandish it about and threaten to hurt you if you don’t do what they say. You’re in a bad spot. You don’t have much choice but to obey the knife wielding person or else get hurt. But what if an ally of yours comes in and they have a gun?  They walk into the room and point it at the person with the knife and order them to stand down. The person with the knife can no longer hold you hostage. They are in check.

Now, after a little bit of time, you aren’t in fear of the person with the knife anymore. You see that they are under the submission of the person with the gun. They’re not so tough.

So you tell your ally with the gun they can go home. And as soon as they leave, the guy with the knife is in control of you again.

I think this is frequently how we deal with sin and the devil and our own fallen human nature.

We struggle under the oppression of sin and our flesh and the devil, but at some point we cry out to God and he comes to our rescue and puts hell on lockdown within our lives.

But after a while, we’re like, “Okay God, it’s all good now. You can leave. I got this.”

God, who chooses to be involved in our lives only to the degree we permit him - rather than forcing himself upon us, accepts our foolish request and withdraws.

Here’s the thing about Christian life: Christian maturity does not involve becoming independent from God…it’s just the opposite.

You will never outgrow your need for God.

The devil isn’t afraid of you by yourself. Sin is stronger than little old you. You, on your own, aren’t going to knock down the gates of hell.

Samson made the mistake of thinking it was all about him, that God was freeloading off of Samson’s awesomeness. But when he decided he could run the show on his own, it led to his destruction. (see Judges 13-16)

No matter how spiritually mature or awesome you become, you need to remember that it’s still not about you.

My toaster does a great job making toast, but not when it’s unplugged. The most beautiful flower starts to die the moment it’s cut.

The goal of Christian life isn’t to get to a point where you can do it all without God’s help. It’s that you don’t do anything apart from what he does in you and through you.

God is the elephant, you are the flea. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you shook the bridge.

The Way of the Cross

When God came to strip away my sin, I was glad. Sin only ended up making me miserable, and in the end, I was a slave to it. He freed me. When God came to strip away my selfishness, I reluctantly agreed. I knew it wasn’t a good thing. Focusing on other people is what I’m supposed to do. But this wasn’t fun. It wasn’t as enjoyable as being freed from sin.

When God came to strip away the plans I had made for my own future, I wanted nothing to do with it. I had cobbled together my own hopes and dreams. I had looked at all my possible paths and decided on the ones that would be most fulfilling to me.

God was no longer taking bad things away from me, but good things. Things I wanted, not things I wanted to be rid of.

But this is the way of the cross. God is not a cosmic garbage can, where we only toss the things that we don’t want.

We have been called to surrender everything to him. So that he may remove from us whatever he deems necessary for reasons that may often remain his own (at least initially).

The way of the cross is the opposite of ‘what’s in it for me?’ Rather, it’s ‘what is asked of me?’

This is where I’m trying to incorporate ‘The Path Proverbs’

Proverbs 14:12 There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

If I set out to navigate this life based on what I can see, it’s not going to end up where I want. Remember those puzzles in kids books where you have to trace a line as it twists and turns among other lines, almost like a pile of spaghetti? I think life is a lot like that. But this one is so complex and convoluted, only God actually knows which start point gets to which finish.

As I feel like God has been sending me in a different direction that what I would have chosen for myself, I am choosing to trust in him. I trust that if he has me on my current path, it is to keep me away from ending in disaster or disappointment.

I don’t think hopes and dreams and a vision are inherently bad things; I only think they are if they get placed above trusting the Lord and following his lead.

God is the potter I am the clay. How can I get upset about how he is molding me when I don’t know how he will use me? If I think I’m going to be a planter, a handle would be silly. But perhaps God knows I will be a pitcher, and he therefore knows I need a handle.

The way of the cross doesn’t stop at God removing the bad stuff from our life. It only begins there. The way of the cross comes in accepting that God’s will for our life is going to encompass all of who we are. Not just our ‘spiritual life’, but our whole life. Mind, body, spirit, soul, finances, time, focus, etc.

Jesus gives us this example in the garden of Gethsemane - “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39)

He was giving up his life then and there so that he could lay down his life in the hours to follow. It was an extraordinary life, lived in complete and total service to God. Jesus deserved accolades and adoration, not torture and murder. But God’s path led him through Golgotha.

But it didn’t end at Golgotha. It ended in eternal life. Not just for him; but also for you and me. It led to the defeat of sin and death.

From his human perspective, Jesus wanted nothing to do with the path God was leading him on. But in his obedience to God, he followed it and in the end God had led him on the path of life.

Jesus followed the way of the cross. The way of humility. The way of downward mobility.

He calls us to do the same.