Sunday, October 16, 2016

House of Mercy

Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days.  Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches.  Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches.  One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”  “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up.  Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”  Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”  Instantly, the man was healed!  He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!  But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, so the Jewish leaders objected.  They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath!  The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!”  But he replied, “The man who healed me told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”  “Who said such a thing as that?” they demanded.  The man didn’t know, for Jesus had disappeared into the crowd.  But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.”   John 5:1-14(NLT)
Come with me as we look over the shoulder of Jesus as He enters the Temple near the sheep gate.  Notice the pools of Bethesda.  There are many columns, supporting the elaborate roof.  They form a colonnade porch leading up to the House of Worship.  The sheep for sacrifice come in this way.  They walk between the pools.  Now Jesus, the Lamb God, walks the way of sacrificial lambs through the gate, and amidst a sea of bodies. 
All the suffering, crippled dregs of humanity are waiting at the pool’s edge for the waters to be stirred.  They believe it is a sign that the angels are waiting – the first person to enter the water will be healed.  Certain televangelist “faith healers” would have made a killing in that environment. 
Watch now, as Jesus suddenly stops and stares at a particularly broken man.  He has been waiting at that pool for 38 years.  (Talk about your long wait in the doctor’s office!).  Jesus was on His way to Sabbath worship, but has singled out this one, crippled, helpless sufferer to prove Who the Lord of Sabbath is; and what Sabbath is for.  The House of God is about to become “Bethesda” the House of Mercy.
Jesus catches the man’s attention and asks, Do you want to be whole?  The man wonders …What a questionI’ve been laying here four decades and this guy wants to know if I’ve had enough?  Can’t he see, I have to lay here and beg; I don’t have anyone in this whole stinkin’ world to help me get in the pool for my miracle.  Everybody else jumps in the pool first.  What can a poor cripple like me hope to do? 
Anticipating the excuses, Jesus says:  Stop your excuses, get up and walk!  And the man, to his own surprise, did just that!
This account of healing is more than a miracle.  It is more than a proof of Jesus’ Lordship over the Sabbath, and the laws of nature.  This is an act of grace, and it is an act of mercy.  The pool, House of Mercy, or Bethesda, was so-named because the sacrificial sheep were herded in that gate.  It is by sacrifice God shows His mercy.  Literally, the name means House of Kindness (Chessedh in Hebrew), which is the covenant mercy God shows to his children.
The radical view of Jesus is so different from most of His followers.  We often say (or at least think) we can’t do much.  But, Jesus said, freely you have received, so go give to others in that same way. 
Our resolve has to change.  What Christ calls us to be and do is to receive from Him freely, and give freely.  We must change from our impotence of We can’t do much, to that which Jesus gave to his disciples on the day he sent them out.  He told them they must do what they saw Him do.  And for us it can be no different – WHAT WE HAVE SEEN CHRIST DO…WE WILL DO!
Now, if this is true that, What we have seen Jesus do, we must also do, then being a House of Mercy is what this church is called to be! 
The next question is fairly evident:  What does a house of mercy look like?  The answer carries several characteristic traits to the front burner.  Before we take a look at the traits, allow me to remind us that the house we’re talking about is not the four walls, roof and carpeting.  The House is God’s tabernacle – you!  What do WE look like when, as children of God, we are a merciful church?  A house of mercy…

#1 Alert to the needs of others

John records that Jesus saw the man and knew the man had been there a long time.  It wasn’t too difficult to figure out who the beggars were.  And, certainly this man was easy to spot – 38 years of begging would make him an obvious fixture at the temple where Jesus often came. 
The difference is that Jesus sensed the timing of this need.  He saw and knew (experienced personally) the need of this man.  That’s how it is in salvation.  Jesus knows our need before we do.  The Scripture declares that Jesus brought God’s love to us by dying for us even before we knew we were in need of a Savior.
If we are to do what Jesus has done, we must understand that we too live within sight of the sheep gate.  Every time you go to a PTA meeting, your workplace, the store, a ball game, mow your lawn, and yes, even on the way to this temple, you pass the crippled, emotionally-bankrupt and hurting of this world. 
Jesus was alert to the needs of one placed in His path.  We must do what the Master did if we are to be the House of Mercy.  We must be alert to the needs of people.

#2 embracing the needy

Many needy people are willing to hide from the embrace.  The man was full of excuses – Jesus embraced him anyway.  The man said, I have no man to help me.  Jesus proceeded to show him that if a hundred others were there, no one could give him more than the One standing in front of him.
However, before you embrace anyone, you had better recognize that there is a cost to this embrace.  Every healing Jesus did, every time He embraced a needy person, it cost something. 
It is true that you cannot help a person who does not want to be helped.  On the other hand everyone has a longing within to know God, and to be introduced to Him.  It’s just that no one has embraced them for so long, they’re afraid. 
Some years ago I buried a 90-year-old man.  Auburn’s wife had died years ago, and he had nobody in the world but his daughter to mourn him.  As a young boy Auburn had traveled with his evangelist-grandfather.  He knew the scriptures better than most.  He heard the plan of salvation hundreds of times.  He rejected Christ and His claims every time. 
As a young man he traveled on business, drank, brawled and caused as much trouble as he could.  In his fifties he married, but soon began to beat every member of his family in his drunken stupors.  His wife divorced him, but she died a few years after.   In time Auburn had alienated everyone he’d known. 
In his mid-70’s he had a stroke that incapacitated him.  No one wanted this pitiful wretch; no one except Pat.  Pat was Auburn’s daughter, the one he’d beaten and driven out of his life.  Pat brought Auburn into her home, quit her job and became his nurse.  For a dozen years she changed his clothes, cleaned and washed him, and gave him backrubs to ward off bedsores.  The only thing Auburn could still do, he did – curse a blue streak!  He was not a blessing!
I met Auburn and Pat in1999.  Pat knew the end was near, and she called me to make arrangements for his funeral.  A few weeks after, I received an urgent message to call Pat.  When she answered the phone, Pat said, Brother Russell, we almost lost him last night.  He died on the emergency room table.  They brought him back twice.  But this morning he’s made a rally.  He’s doing better, but I’m worried about his arrangements.  I said, Pat, we made all the arrangements; the funeral is all set.  Her reply:  I wasn’t talking about the funeral.  I’m concerned about his arrangements with God.  Will you see my father and talk to him?
When I entered the hospital room, I expected a semi-comatose skeleton.  The man was haggard, but very awake.  He looked right through me and demanded, You the Preacher?  I nodded. 
He continued, My daughter Pat said you were coming.  She’s worried about me. 
I asked, Sir, are you comfortable with where you’re heading when the doctors can’t pull you through again? 
Auburn swore and laughed, No!  Man that’s why you’re here.  I need someone to help me.
In a short time Auburn was praying, asking for forgiveness, and receiving Jesus Christ as Savior.  I met a hell-bound, needy sinner in July.  In February I buried a Saint.  The point is, without 15 years of loving care extended to a pigsty Auburn, hell would be one resident fuller today.  Auburn didn’t love his daughter.  He couldn’t; he didn’t even love himself. 
Auburn’s daughter Pat had embraced this cursing, vile, miserable excuse for a man, brought him into her home, and lived the love of Christ for 15 years, before Auburn J. Newsome would ever swallow his pride and surrender his heart to the Lord. 
Beloved, it costs to embrace the needy.  It costs to be part of the House of Mercy!
Alert to other’s needs, Embracing the needy, and…

#3. do it in spite of criticism

When Jesus healed the crippled man, the first reaction we read is criticism by the religious leaders.  It is so today.  Whenever you begin to do what Jesus did, those who oppose Jesus will oppose what you do. 
The creator of the Peanuts cartoon, Charles Shultz, is with Jesus now, but he left us a lot of wisdom about such things as criticism.  Linus asks Lucy, Why are you always so anxious to criticize me?  She answers, I just think I have a knack for seeing other people's faults.  What about your own faults? asks Linus.  Her response is, I have a knack for overlooking them.
One other characteristic trait of those who follow the One who was alert to the needs, embraced the needy, and did so despite criticism:

#4. train those who respond

In the last verse of this story we read that Jesus found the former cripple, and warned him to change his attitude, outlook, and actions in the future.  Jesus had found the man in his filth and helplessness; had empowered him to live a responsible life. 
He then took the time to train him how to live responsibly.  This is the manual for being disciples!  Win the lost, Disciple the Saved, Repeat. 
It’s simple – It just requires work.  Like your shampoo bottle says on the label….lather, rinse, repeat.  You can read the directions all day long – unless you get hands-on with what’s in the bottle, you’re going to have greasy hair!
I had a friend where I served as pastor in Gainesville, Florida who is a former missionary to Ethiopia.  Lynn Groce headed up Southern Baptist’s relief efforts during the worst times of famine during the 70’s and early 80’s.  Having returned to the states because of a son who needs special medical attention, Lynn and his wife founded Christians Concerned for the Community.  They have networked with the local community of believers to find people willing to help those who are willing to help themselves. 
Many times those who are on the bubble, economically and socially are just one embrace shy of succeeding.  Lynn asks social workers from local government agencies to alert him to men and women who are physically able, and desiring to get off welfare.  He then links them with a successful Christian in an appropriate field to be a mentor and friend for a year.  Several years ago the success rate was phenomenal.  Over 90% of the links produced former welfare recipients, who moved into the workforce, and became mentors themselves.
You might ask, Pastor, if that is what the disciples of Jesus Christ did, are we supposed to be doing that too?  If you want to be obedient to the command of Jesus, yes, by all means; freely you received, freely give!
When do we quit, or rest from that?  When the last lost soul in Randolph County is brought into the family!


Commitment is a foreign word today.  People don’t want to commit.  Brides and grooms prefer a commitment until the new wears off instead of ‘til death us do part.  Employees enjoy a commitment of the boss to pay a good salary and benefits, but let’s not talk about a hard day’s work.  Children expect freedom, but prefer not to hear about the commitment of honoring parents.  And some Believers want the victorious life, the benefits of Heaven, without the commitment to discipleship – following (doing) what the Master did, and bids us do.
At the pool of Bethesda that day, a crippled man experienced a transformation in the House of Mercy. 
It cost him his old, irresponsible lifestyle. 
It cost Jesus another step closer to Calvary’s cross. 
The question is, will it cost each of us something? 
Yes….IF the needy of our community are to have a House of Mercy right here, it will cost everything. 
The Master of Mercy is speaking again, to us.  As He said it to the crippled man, He now says to each of our hearts,
You – Stand up….take up your bed and walk!  Amen!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen

[i] Title image:  By Berthold Werner (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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