The Man Who Went to the Mat! — John 5:1-15
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 14, 2014
To “go to the mat” may come from the Old English matte, from Late Latin matta “mat made of rushes”, probably from Punic or Phoenician matta (Hebrew mittah “bed, couch”). Meaning “tangled mass”. That of “piece of padded flooring used in gymnastics or wrestling” is attested from 1892; hence figurative phrase go to the mat “do battle”. The Latin word also is the source of German Matte, matze ; Dutch mat, Italian matta. French natte “mat, matting” is from Late Latin. Interestingly, it was also a phrase from chess in the Arabic that meant to checkmate someone.
When we go to the mat for someone it means we are willing to stand up and support that person. Paul writes about this wonderful truth by telling us, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will…. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:27, 33-34 NIV)” We have Jesus who is willing to “go to the mat” for us! We see this wonderful truth displayed here in John’s gospel…
We discover that…
I. God goes to the mat for us where we are! (Vv. 1-5)
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 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 [–and they waited for the moving of the waters.] [From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.] One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.
1. We are not told nor are we sure but “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.” It could have been the feast of Pentecost, as some think; or as others, the feast of tabernacles; or rather, the feast of the Passover. We do not know. However John describes that “there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda (house of mercy) and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.” Superstition is nothing new. It occurred before Jesus’ time and occurs right now as well. There are those who think that by breaking a mirror you give yourself seven years of bad luck. Some actually think that dead folks become angels, who are, according to the Bible, the created servants, heralds, and messengers of God who do not have any freewill at all! And, do not get me started on the veneration of dead folks, relics, or spiritual sites that people make homage or pilgrimages to. John explains, “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed [–and they waited for the moving of the waters.] [From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.]” John does not tell us that he believed an actual angel did this but there were those who thought so! And sadly things have not changed much in our day and age. What I see John trying to teach us is not so much about the superstition but rather that Jesus was willing to go where folks were who needed him! Jesus went to this pool of mercy not for healing hmself, but rather to display the power of God! We discover he had a divine meeting scheduled there because “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” For thirty-eight years he had suffered and could not walk, for thirty-eight years he had come to this pool to receive mercy and soon he would meet the one who was willing to go to the mat for him! God goes to the mat where we are!
EXAMPLE: I am so glad I did not have to journey to some far distant land in search of some esoteric truism in order to find my god within. It is truly sad when people actually think that we can make God into their own image. How delightful and wonderful to realize that the Bible contains all we need to know concerning God and it is not some veiled or hidden message that only certain chosen ones can decipher! What is even more fantastic is the realization that God is everywhere we are! Daniel related, “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. (Daniel 2:22 NIV)” Paul writes that it is “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (Colossians 1:26 NIV)” And, God has told us to “be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ (Hebrews 13:5 NIV)” God goes to the mat where we are!
We learn that…
II. We must be willing to pick up our mat! (Vv. 6-9a)
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?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “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.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
1. Since Jesus has entered into the history of the world as our redeemer, the grace of God has been applied to us and within his preordained plan he has given us the freewill to choose. While he knows, in his omniscience, who will or who will not choose to follow him, he gives us the choice! In that choosing, we must be willing to pick up our mat! This is why “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?’” It was the man’s choice. But more than this it was his choice to continue in his spiritual condition as well! Jesus desired to know if he was there simply to beg, garner sympathy, or to be truly healed. There are those who would rather use their condition in life to gain some convoluted advantage in order to benefit them in some manner. However, did this man truly “want to get well”? And here we discover that the man addresses Jesus in the same way as did the royal official whose son lay dying. He replies, “Sir,” meaning Lord or master, “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.” He simply and succinctly states his predicament to Jesus. When he is willing to see Jesus as Lord, as the Master of his life then and only then can he be cured. We know Jesus never healed all those who came to him nor did he cure all those he came into contact with. His main purpose was not to do away with human suffering but rather to elevate folks to a higher calling, the kingdom of God! As the old spiritual states, “This world is not our home; we’re just a passin’ through!” We should not get comfortable here in this life. And so here we see that the invalid had a choice to make; he could stay where he was and complain about not being able to get in the pool or he could trust Jesus and do what he asked, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” Notice what occurs instantly when he decides to trust the Lord, “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” At some point we must be willing to pick up our mat!
EXAMPLE: The theme of a lot of game shows has not changed much; the contestant must decide what is the correct answer, the correct door, or the best prize to take. And if he chooses incorrectly, well, he loses! (Wah, wah, wah!) Trusting Jesus is not some game we play in life trying to guess which door to choose. God is not some game show host trying to get us to choose the correct door or to trick us into choosing the wrong one. Yet, sadly, there are those who actually think this way. Trusting God is absolutely knowing that he is with us and we can walk with him no matter where or which “door” we choose in life. When we trust God through faith in his Son, Jesus, we then must trust him as we walk with him. Therefore, we must be willing to pick up our mat!
We should not be surprised that…
III. Going to the mat may mean going to battle for the Lord! (Vv. 9b-16)
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.
1. Whenever we find God at work, we often find Satan involved in trying gain a foothold as well. He often simply uses the resources already available to him. Things like our pride, arrogance, vanity, or selfishness. And here in John’s gospel we find Satan using God’s own day of rest because on “The day on which this took place was a Sabbath.” Can you hear the spooky music in the background? (Dun, dun, dun!) God intended there be a day of rest for his people to enjoy, worship, and give God glory for all that he had done in their lives during the previous week. However, the Jews had taken this noble and wonderful command of God and turned it into a duty, a requirement, and a means of trying to garner more favor from God. When God stated that his people were to keep the Sabbath Day holy and consider it a day of rest he never meant it to be a means whereby the Hebrews would sit around and concoct a myriad of methods in not breaking the rules! God just desired his people remember him on one day of the week and to rest from their usual labor! “And so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’” No it did not. It never did, what had occurred is that the Jews had convoluted God’s command into their own myopic rendition and requirement. So instead of focusing on what God had just miraculously done through his Messiah, they strained for the gnat, or in this case, the mat! The invalid is not concerned with their arguments; he is only excited that he was cured from 38 years of being an invalid! He replies, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ So they asked him, ‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’” John relates, “The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.” In fact Jesus was concerned for him and “Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’” Jesus knew the man and his family would become the focus of the Jews. And either the man was unconcerned or he did not want to get on their bad side, so he “went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.” Jesus’ words begin to come true for himself and later the man as well, “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.” Going to the mat may mean going to battle for the Lord!
EXAMPLE: We live in a society where we think bad things should never happen to us. We tacitly believe that we should be destined for only a good and wonderful life free of any care, concern, or worry. This rather odd notion has crept into Christianity as well. God never promised us a life without harshness, evil, or ugly things happening. What he promised was to bless us through the trials and tribulations of life. No matter what occurs we can rest assured that God is with us. The Jews had so focused on their predicament they had lost touch with the reality of who God is and how he works. Instead of praising God for the man’s miraculous cure, they are angry and look to harm either the man or the one who cured him! John teaches us that going to the mat may mean going to battle for the Lord!
God goes to the mat for us where we are! At some point we must be willing to pick up our mat! Going to the mat may mean going to battle for the Lord!
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.