Tim Challies Christian Blog and Commentary

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One in a Sea of Faces

The fifth chapter of John presents us with a pitiful scene. It is the Sabbath day and in Jerusalem, gathered around a pool by the Sheep Gate, is a great multitude of men and women. Some of them are lying on the ground, stricken with sores. Others are paralyzed or have shriveled limbs. Still others are blind or lame. All of these people are waiting by the edge of this little pool, for they believe that every now and again an angel stirs the water and immediately afterward the first person to step into the pool receives instant healing. History does not tell us if there is some foundation to this practice or if it is mere rumor. Either way, many wretched souls wait day after day by the edge of this pool, desperate for healing.

Jesus enters the city on this day and surveys the scene before Him. Moved with compassion, he approaches a certain man—just one man in a sea of faces—a man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight long years. We do not know why he chooses this one person out of the crowd. What we do know is that Jesus asks him a simple question; an obvious question and one which is answered by the man’s mere presence. Jesus asks “Do you want to be made well?” The man, who is sick and nearly immobile, answers that of course he wanted to be made well! He would not be spending his days waiting by the edge of this pool if he were not holding out hope that he could be made well. The problem, of course, is that he is helpless, and whenever the waters stir and he has the opportunity to be healed, another person with greater mobility beats him in. He is unable to help himself; he must be bitter, depressed. While others are claiming their healing, this man lays helplessly, missing chance after chance.

The Lord has pity on Him. To this one man he says “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And in that very instant the man is healed. His legs, useless for thirty-eight years, are suddenly and completely strengthened and healed. He rises up, takes his bed with him and walks away. In this brief instant, Jesus performs one of the thousands of miracles designed to prove that he is the very Son of God.

Is Jesus unjust to heal this man? Is it wrong for Him to do so? Of course not! It is an act of great mercy. Jesus has pity on a poor, helpless man and takes away his infirmity. He turns to a man who has no hope and gives him exactly what he needed. He gives him a new chance at life!

Is Jesus unjust to heal only this man? Is it wrong for him to heal that one person and leave the others still waiting for their miracle? No! Jesus is able to choose the person to whom he will extend an act of such grace. No one can say it is unjust for Jesus to heal just one man. He has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy.

There is a beautiful parallel between this story and the Father’s work in choosing some for eternal life. In the same way that Jesus was able to choose those whom he would heal, God is able to choose the ones whom he will forgive. He is not unjust to choose one and not another. All are equally helpless before him. God tells us “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” And for some reason his mercy extends to me—He has picked my face out of this crowd of sick, desperate people who are looking everywhere but at him and has given me new life. I thank God that his compassion extends even to a sinner like me.