The Waiting Man

Scripture Focus: John 5.2-11 (HCSB)
2 By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. 3 Within these lay a large number of the sick—blind, lame, and paralyzed [—waiting for the moving of the water, 4 because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had].

5 One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 “Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”

8 “Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” 9 Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk.

Now that day was the Sabbath, 10 so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “This is the Sabbath! It’s illegal for you to pick up your mat.”

11 He replied, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”

From John on textual additions: The earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel do not have verse four and the last part of verse three. Those like me, who grew up with the KJV or NKJV, might wonder what happened to it. Using passages like this as “evidence,” some spread panic, claiming that mysterious forces are cutting verses from the Bible, but there’s no mystery about it, and nothing is cut or missing.

You’ll find verse four in the NIV, NASB, and ESV footnotes. The Holman Christian Standard Version puts it in brackets […]. (See the NIV and HCSV side-by-side here: John 5.3-6) The footnotes clarify that the oldest manuscripts don’t have these words. Modern scholars haven’t deleted words from scripture—ancient scholars added them. Modern scholars have only noted the changes.

The scribes who made this addition must have realized that John’s original audience already knew about the purported healing properties of the pool, but others would not. Neither the inserted background info nor modern scholars’ decision to note the change is nefarious. The Bible is proven more reliable and trustworthy when scholarship advances in this way, especially in the New Testament documents. Instead of being panicked, we can be more secure in the translations we have today than ever.

Reflection: The Waiting Man
By John Tillman

The scribes’ textual addition in verses three and four tells us that an angel stirred the waters, imbuing them with temporary and limited healing power. Only one person quick enough to react in a competitive race for healing could access this power. For 38 years, over and over, the waiting man lost this race.

Some, including myself, have questioned or doubted the man’s commitment or faith. When he said no one helped him and others beat him into the pool, was he making excuses or just facing facts? Was he lazy? Was he complacent? Even Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?”

This man saw others healed. He saw them walk away on strengthened legs, seeing with formerly blind eyes, and praising God with formerly mute mouths. Of course, he believed. Of course he had faith. Imagine the faith a person with paralyzed legs needed to throw one’s body into a pool. If healing did not instantly occur, one risked drowning. Perhaps the man experienced a scare like this during his 38-year wait. Perhaps he was tired of trying, but he kept showing up—waiting and watching for 38 years.

What have you waited for and watched for? What blessings have you prayed for that landed in others’ laps? Can’t we relate to how bitterness and doubt would creep into this man’s heart? Jesus is patient with the man, healing him even though he doesn’t seem to know how to ask and barely seemed grateful.

What pools have you been waiting around that never seem to be stirred? Are you growing complacent or bitter? Are you ready to give up? Is your heart paralyzed instead of your legs?

Instead of throwing ourselves into pitiless pools that may or may not heal us, we can throw ourselves into the willing and waiting arms of Jesus. Jesus is also a man who waits and he is ready and waiting for us to turn to him.

Instead of stirring the water, Jesus stirred up the man himself and the ripples and waves spread through the city. I pray that Jesus will stir up your heart and mine, un-paralyze us and send us into our cities.

This year, I pray that Jesus would come to you and me and whisper, “Do you want to get well?” 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 5 (Listen 2:29
John 5 (Listen 5:42)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 6 (Listen 2:56)  John 6 (Listen 8:27)
Job 7 (Listen 2:23)  John 7 (Listen 5:53)

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Take Up Your Mat

Scripture Focus: John 5.14
Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

From John: In this repost from 2019, we see Jesus find a man of weak faith who is fearful, hesitant, and paralyzed by more than his physical condition. No matter what has paralyzed you in this past year, no matter how scared you are, no matter how weak your faith, Jesus is reaching out to you. Take up your mat and walk.

Reflection: Take Up Your Mat
By John Tillman

The paralytic at the pool is one of the more unusual miracles of Jesus. In most miracles of healing, someone comes to Jesus with a request.

The Centurion sent to Jesus on behalf of his servant and the leaders of the Jewish community supported the Centurion’s request due to his kindness to them.

Bartimaeus called out to Jesus over the noise of the crowd, “Son of David, have mercy on me,” and asked directly, “Lord I want to see.”

Jairus, a synagogue leader, humbled himself to come to Jesus openly, begging for his daughter to be healed.

Along the way to Jairus’s daughter, the woman with the issue of blood braved the crushing crowd, to touch Jesus.

But in the case of the paralytic, Jesus seems to initiate everything. Jesus sees the man. He discovers how long he has been there. He singles him out. He questions him. He heals him.

Another common element of other miracles is a moment in which Jesus comments on the person’s faith. That is absent in this account as well. The paralyzed man’s faith is questionable—perhaps so weak that only Jesus could see it.

Sometimes, a miracle is the beginning of a journey of faith instead of the end. Perhaps the reason Jesus told the man to pick up his mat and walk, was so that he would not be able to come back to the same spot in which he had been lying for years.

In the case of the paralyzed man, Jesus wasn’t done with him after being healed. Jesus once more sought him out. Jesus found him in the Temple—a place the man was forbidden to go before being healed. There Jesus called him to repentance and warned him that there were worse things than being paralyzed by a pool for 38 years. Jesus had more for this man than simply taking up his mat and walking. He has more for us too.

Jesus sought us out when we were paralyzed and deformed by sin. Though our faith might have been so small only he could detect it, he healed us, granting us access to God at the Temple. But he isn’t done with us after this miracle. He still seeks us out. To warn us, to call us to continued repentance, to transform our lives.

Jesus isn’t done with us after the miracle of our salvation. When we take up our mat and walk, we are just beginning to follow him in faith.

Pick up your mat and walk. Then take up your cross and follow him.

Divine Hours Prayer:
Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck. — Psalm 69.1

Today’s Readings
Genesis 5 (Listen 3:18
John 5 (Listen 5:42)

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No Sign Big Enough

Scripture Focus: John 5.28
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.

John 4.48
48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” 

Reflection: No Sign Big Enough
By John Tillman

John’s gospel makes some of the most extraordinary and direct claims about the divinity of Jesus. However, in addition to the resurrection, John chose only seven miraculous signs to support these claims:
     Changing Water Into Wine (John 2.1-11)
     Healing the Royal Official’s Son (John 4.46-54)
     Healing the paralytic at the pool (John 5.1-18)
     Feeding over 5,000 with fish and loaves (John 6.1-14)
     Walking on the water (John 6.15-25)
     Healing a man born blind (John 9.1-41)
     Raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11.1-46)

Jesus performed most of these signs in ways that limited rather than maximized the number of direct witnesses. Jesus seemed aware that “signs” don’t make for great faith.

If you read the Old Testament closely, this is obvious. In one of the more egregious examples, Israel miraculously escapes Egypt, including walking through the sea on dry ground, then a few pages later they make a calf idol and bow down to it saying, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32.4)

Signs don’t mean someone will commit to Jesus. Judas witnessed all seven signs in John’s gospel and still betrayed Christ. The man healed at the pool doesn’t seem to quite believe in Jesus and quickly turns over information about him to Jesus’ enemies.

One rebel on the cross next to Jesus asked him to prove he was the Messiah by saving them both. The other rebel trusted that Jesus was the Messiah and would honor a humble request.

Faith may lead to signs but signs rarely lead to anything that can be called faith. Perhaps this is why Jesus often may not give us “signs” we might expect. There’s no sign big enough to ensure faith.

Are we demanding God prove himself to us or are we trusting in who he is? The Resurrection is our guarantee that God’s promises to us are eternally secure.

John later tells us that there were many other signs he witnessed. He even says that if all that Jesus did were written down the world could not contain the books. Out of all Jesus did, why choose these seven? 

John answers, “that you may believe.” (John 20.30-31; 21.25) These and resurrection are enough. What more do we need?

Do we believe who God reveals himself to be in Jesus? Or do we demand what we want?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O God, be not far from me; come quickly to help me, O my God. — Psalm 71.12

Today’s Readings
Amos 3 (Listen – 2:11)
John 5 (Listen – 5:42)

Read more about He Is Faithful When We Are Not
It is not only true that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.8) It is also true that before we had even sinned, God determined he would provide salvation for us.

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I long to be filled with faith, but I’m often filled with other things… doubt…fear…shame…pride…inadequacy…

The Church’s One Foundation — Lenten Hymns

Scripture Focus: John 5:24-27
24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

1 Corinthians 3:11
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Reflection: The Church’s One Foundation — Lenten Hymns
By Jon Polk

Controversy! Accusations! Divisive leaders!

No, not a reference to today’s headlines, but to a schism in the Church of England in the 1860s. Popular Bishop John William Colenso of Natal, South Africa raised the ire of many of his colleagues with controversial theological stances.

Colenso faced criticism shortly after his appointment, when he allowed polygamists to be baptized by the church without requiring them to divorce their multiple wives. Later, his writings and views on the authorship and historicity of some Old Testament books elicited protest from his more orthodox contemporaries.

The most vocal opposition came from another South African Bishop, Robert Gray of Cape Town. Gray went so far as to appeal to have Colenso removed from his post and even excommunicated. Colenso was removed but later reinstated by a judicial committee, which lead to a split in the South African church.

Meanwhile, in Oxford, England, Samuel John Stone was a young minister serving in a poor parish. Concerned by the division in the church in South Africa, Stone also recognized that his own congregants did not possess a full understanding of the basic tenets of their faith.

Inspired by a desire to bring clarity and unity, Stone wrote Lyra Fidelium: Twelve Hymns on the Twelve Articles of the Apostles’ Creed. Included in this collection was the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” which references the church in South Africa.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed.

“The Church’s One Foundation” is Stone’s attempt to expound upon article nine of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in the Holy Catholic (i.e. universal) Church, the communion of saints.” 

As the hymn proclaims, the Church is founded upon Jesus Christ and him alone. The Church was inaugurated by the blood sacrifice and ultimate resurrection of Jesus. The Church is of Christ, for Christ, and belongs to Christ.

The season of Lent is an opportunity for the Church and for all Christians to examine our allegiances. To whom do we owe our existence? To whom do we give our loyalty?

The Church’s witness has been compromised by our misguided devotion to personalities, politics, and pariahs. To be a faithful voice of truth and love in the world, we must recover our singular dedication to Jesus Christ. We must return to our one true foundation.

The church’s one Foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord.
She is His new creation,
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride.
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.

Music: The Church’s One Foundation by Indelible Grace Music
Lyrics: “The Church’s One Foundation” lyrics from

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 26 (Listen – 4:18)
John 5 (Listen – 5:42)

Read more about Solus Christus
For nothing can ever replace Jesus, nothing can ever exceed Jesus, and nothing is ever needed in addition to Jesus.

Read more about There is a Fountain Filled with Blood
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though as vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Good Christian Men, Rejoice — Carols of Advent Joy

Scripture Focus: John 5.24-26
24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.

Luke 1.31-33
31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.

Reflection: Good Christian Men, Rejoice — Carols of Advent Joy
By Jon Polk

There is a fascinating story behind the origins of the nearly seven-hundred year-old Christmas carol, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”

The original text of this hymn, “In Dulci Jubilo,” was written by German mystic and Dominican monk, Heinrich Seuse, sometime in the early 1300s. Folklore relates that Seuse had a vision in which he heard angels singing the words of the hymn and upon hearing them, he joined with the angels in a dance of joy.

Good Christian men rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Give ye heed to what we say
Jesus Christ is born today!
Ox and ass before Him bow
And He is in the manger now
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!

Seuse’s biography states:

Now this same angel came up to [Seuse] brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew [Seuse] by the hand into the dance, and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus.

Who wouldn’t want to sluff off their sufferings and sorrows and dance with an angel choir in reckless abandonment and joy?

While Advent marks the beginning of the church’s liturgical year, it is also providential that this season falls at the end of the calendar year. For it is this period in which we are often most reflective and contemplative about life and the experiences of the previous twelve months. In some years, such as this one, the exercise of remembering can be disheartening.

Therefore, we need joy.

We need to dance.

We need to be reminded of the one who has borne our suffering and sorrow.

We need to choose to embrace true joy, even in the midst of difficulty.

The original version of “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” is one of the oldest examples of a macaronic hymn, a song text in multiple languages, in this case both Latin and German. Because of this, later Reformers would use this hymn and others in congregational singing. Since worship services of the day were conducted in Latin, the German vernacular in hymn texts served to proclaim truth to the largely uneducated common folk.

What truths does this carol proclaim? Wherein is found our joy?

Jesus Christ was born today!

Jesus Christ was born for this!

Jesus Christ was born to save!

In light of this good news, let us all rejoice with heart and soul and voice!

Listen: Good Christian Men, Rejoice by Smalltown Poets
Read: Lyrics from

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed. — Psalm 71.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 2 (Listen – 1:41)
John 5 (Listen – 5:42)

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Read more about He Rejoices Over Us — Love of Advent
Zephaniah looks forward with joy to when Israel’s purpose would be fulfilled in God.