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    Aug 20, 2017

    7: Perfect Perspective

    Passage: John 5:1-18

    Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

    Series: Numbers Series

    Category: Numbers

    Today is week three of our sermon series called “Numbers Matter.”  Each week we’re focusing on a different number prominent in scripture and talking about how it can help shape our faith today.  Our focus week one was the #3 – which represents balance and stability.  Week two’s number was 4 – which helps us (symbolically) discern God’s “right” time to act.  Last week was 6, reminding us of our imperfection and need for God’s grace.  And today’s number is 7!  Seven is the number of perfection and completion.  4 + 3, the most foundational, biblical numbers, = 7.  Since 4 represents the 4 corners of the earth and 3 signifies the father, son and holy spirit, we can say that everything in heaven and on earth is perfectly completed in the number 7.

    Seven days completes the perfect week, as creation wasn’t finished until the sabbath – the 7th day – was established.  Joshua and his people marched around Jericho 7 times before the walls fell, meaning that 7 was their number of perfect preparation.  One of the first acts of true worship was displayed by Moses who anointed the altar of God with oil 7 times.  The army commander Namaan was perfectly healed of his leprosy only when he bathed in the Jordan River 7 times.  Jesus said that the number of perfect forgiveness was to have forgiven someone 77 times.  Seven deacons were chosen to lead the early church because this ensured that all the people were completely cared for.

    Of all those references to 7 in scripture, our focus today will be the fact that 7 times Jesus healed people on the Sabbath – the 7th day of the week.  For some religious leaders this was a problem.  There was a law that prohibited “working” on the sabbath.  And some interpreted Jesus’ healing as “work.”  This was a serious problem.  In Mark, for example, the first mention of people wanting Jesus killed is right after they see him healing a man with a “withered hand” (arthritis?) on the sabbath.  But in our reading today from John 5 (one of the 7 times Jesus healed on the Sabbath), we see him completing and perfecting our perspective on ourselves – God’s word – and our purpose as Christians.  Read John 5:1-18. 

    Jesus healed a man at a placed called Beth Zatha (or Bethesda).  Though it is clearly mentioned in the bible, it wasn’t discovered by archaeologists until the 19th century.  It was a man-made pool of water, created by damming up a stream and harvesting rain water, and then transporting that by way of a viaduct to a large tank.  The pool sat at the edge of the temple complex in Jerusalem and had patios surrounding the water.  The name Beth Zatha could mean either “house of healing” or “house of shame.”  Both were relevant terms, because the pool of water would “bubble” from time to time.  People believed that the water had magical power to heal, if you got in the water while it was bubbling.  So the pool of Beth Zatha attracted many who were sick – and thus was called a house of mercy (for those seeking healing) but also a house of shame (as people with infirmities were often looked down on).

    One of the people at the pool was a man who probably had some kind of paralysis, because he doesn’t appear able to move himself.  And his problem is that no one seems to help him.  He can’t get himself into the water when it bubbles and other people are cutting in front of him when it does, so day after day – for 38 years – he sits on his mat by the water.  And he complains to Jesus that he has no one to advocate for him.  Jesus heals him and – we are told – it was the Sabbath.  But it is the way Jesus healed him that is noteworthy.

    First, he changed the man’s perspective of himself.  He showed him that he had agency!  The man saw himself as a victim who was helpless unless others did something for him.  He blamed others for his inability to get ahead.  But Jesus showed him there was something he could do, even though he was greatly compromised by paralysis.  He said, “Do you want to be made well?” meaning that the man was always in control of his hopes, dreams, desires and will.  Paralysis couldn’t take that away from him.  Jesus showed him that we are – all of us – worth more than we think we are at our worst moment.  The man’s real problem was not that he suffered from paralysis, but that he didn’t believe there was anything he could do.  And so the miracle Jesus performed was showing us that while we may not always be responsible for the places we are in life right now, we areresponsible for where we will go; who we will be and what we will do.

    A member of our men’s bible study group is also a Harley rider and recently told us about a friend of his – another Harley rider – who was in a devastating accident on the road and hit by a car.  For a week doctors struggled to save his leg.  Alas, they could not.  But within a month this man was back at the Harley store – among his Harley friends, making plans for getting a new bike, and – as he is a farmer – is setting a goal to get back up on his combine for the Fall Harvest this year.  We have – all of us – more power than we think we do at our weakest moment.

     Jesus also changed people’s perspective on the Sabbath.  The sabbath – a day of rest as decreed by God – was made for people (Jesus stated in his ministry) and not the other way around.  We were not created to serve its purpose.  It was created to serve ours.   Jesus emphasized the spirit of the law over the letter of the law and said, “Fulfilling the higher calling of God is more important than anything, and cannot be contained in or confined by anything – not a rule, a schedule or a calendar.  The spirit of the law said, what good is it to protect the sanctity of a sabbath day if the sanctity of human life is compromised on that day?  What mattered to Jesus was reading all of the Laws of God through this one – Loving your neighbor as yourself.  Expressing love and grace and dignity to our neighbors in need always takes precedent over everything else.

    When I was in Israel and Palestine in 2009, there were – as there are now – so many debates and arguments over land ownership and boundaries and who has the right to be where, with violence and bloodshed coming as a result of it.  Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Christian in Bethlehem spoke to our group and said, “We have too much concern about politics of the state, and not enough concern about the people in the state.”  In other words, for every political decision that is made, we can’t lose sight of the fact that there are people on the ground who are affected by it.  I believe that’s what Jesus meant when he said that the sabbath was made for us, not us for the sabbath.  Laws are made to promote and build up life – not harm it and compromise it.

    And so having changed the man’s perspective on himself – and having changed our perspective on the Laws of God – he gave us proper perspective on our purpose.  In v. 14 he says to the man, “You have been made well.  Go and sin no more.”  I do not believe this means that his sin caused his illness in the first place.  Rather Jesus wants the man to live a changed life.  “Live for me, because of me” he says to the man.  And he did.  He testified to Jesus and told others what Jesus had done for him.  In his words and actions, he glorified God.  I believe Jesus is challenging us in the process as well.  If we’ve been blessed, it is to glorify God.  That is our ultimate purpose as it relates to everything we do in life.  Are we glorifying God in our words and actions?

    There’s a great line from Psalm 30 that speaks to this.  The Psalm is written by someone who is suffering and near death.  In v. 9 the Psalmist says, “What good can I do for you (God) if I die? Can I praise you if my body is turned to dust?”  The implication is: “Save me from death and I will glorify you with my life.”  That is what the man did at the pool of Beth Zatha that day.  And it is our purpose as those changed by Christ – just as he was.  And so, since our number for the day is 7, we close today by offering 7 ways that we can glorify God in the coming week.

    Seven Ways to Glorify God

    1. Be just and honest in all your dealings with money
    1. Refrain from gossiping, passing along hearsay, and using negative language about others
    1. Display patience in your interactions with others
    1. Share with someone (as the situation presents itself) why your faith matters to you
    1. Confess your sinfulness to God and ask for the grace to cover your faults and flaws
    1. Spend 7 minutes writing down all the things in your life for which you have reason to be thankful
    1. When making decisions, ask “Will this bring glory to God?” and refrain from doing it, if it won’t.