HE WENT ABOUT DOING GOOD
--JOHN 5:1-9.--FEBRUARY 23--
Golden Text:--"Himself took our infirmities,
and bare our sicknesses."--Matt. 8:17.
THE records show that our Lord during his ministry wrought thirty-six miracles, separately described, and beside these many others not individually reported, but in groups. The Apostle Peter testifies of this, that he "went about doing good." (Acts 10:38.) Some, however, gain the erroneous view that our Lord's chief work amongst men was to heal their sicknesses. Many who hold this view argue that the chief work of the Church, as his footstep followers, should be the healing of diseases through prayer, etc. This is a serious mistake and betokens a thorough misunderstanding of the Divine Plan of the Ages. Our Lord's mission was primarily to make the great sacrifice for sin, which was the redemption price, and to secure ultimately the release of mankind from the sentence of original sin. As an incidental feature connected with the world's salvation through his sacrifice, he preached the good tidings and called for followers to walk in his steps and to be joint-sacrificers with him, and thus ultimately to be joint-heirs with him in the work of distributing the blessings and favor of God, secured through his death. The miracles of healing which our Lord performed were incidental to his preaching --as a means of convincing those whom he would invite that he was indeed the Son of God, the Messenger of the Covenant, the Messiah, that they might hear his message, believe it, and become his followers.
Did he heal all the sick? Did he cast out demons from all who were possessed? Did he awaken all the dead? Assuredly not. He merely gave illustrations of the divine power which he possessed, and which he declared would be manifested more fully, more completely, later on--at his second coming. Hearken to his words: "Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming in the which all that are in their graves shall hear his [the Son of man's] voice, and shall come forth." Again it is written respecting our Lord's miracles: "This beginning of miracles did Jesus...and manifested forth [in advance] his glory"--the glory and power which he will possess and exercise to the full in the time appointed of the Father. (John 5:28; 2:11.) Of that future time, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, St. Peter speaks, saying, "Times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord [Jehovah]; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heavens must receive [retain] until the times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began."-- Acts 3:19-21.
A GREAT MULTITUDE OF IMPOTENT FOLK
These suggestions are amply confirmed by the records of our present lesson. Jesus had returned to Jerusalem on a festival occasion, when, by reason of the multitudes gathered from every part, the Jewish leaders who sought his life would think it unwise to make any demonstration against him for fear of a riotous disturbance. Near the city was a pool of water possessed of certain peculiarities, and bathing in this was reputed to be curative for some ailments. Our common version declares that an angel troubled the waters at certain times, and that it was immediately thereafter that the sick bathed to advantage. This portion, however, is not accurate, is not found in the oldest manuscripts, and is appropriately omitted from the Revised Version. It is presumed that the spring which supplied the pool was connected with a reservoir of gas, which really imparted to the water some curative property. Or possibly it was connected with a siphoning spring which overflowed at times. And the mental impressions upon the bather may have been helpful in many cases. At all events, the record is clear that a great multitude of impotent folk crowded the five porches of this pool. Their infirmities are indicated to have been something akin to rheumatism, paralysis and other muscular or nervous ailments, causing lack of vital power, withering or wasting of the muscles.
It is worthy of note that our Lord did not hunt up and cure all the diseased of Palestine, and that even when he came across them in his journeyings, as in this case, he made no effort to heal all of them. He singled out one individual who had in vain waited for an opportunity to test the virtue of the pool, and who had been ailing for thirty-eight years. Of him alone he inquired, "Wilt thou be made whole?"--Is it your desire to be healed? The answer was that he had the desire, but had not the ability to take the further steps, nor had he assistance. By these words the Lord awakened in the mind of the poor man desires, aspirations, which had almost died out. He was almost heartsick from deferred hope. Here was a stranger manifesting some interest in his case--a thoroughly new experience. We can imagine the brightening of his eyes, the [R4137 : page 56] general alertness in connection with his conversation. Thus he was prepared for our Lord's words, "Rise, take up thy bed and walk." Immediately he realized in his muscles and nerves the surging of strength and vitality, and forthwith, almost mechanically, he obeyed and went his way--too much dazed, astounded, to think of inquiring the name of his benefactor, or to offer him his thanks.
We may be inclined to think of his cure as accidental --to suppose that he was thus blessed merely because our Lord happened to pass that way and happened to see him and happened to take compassion upon him. Or we might surmise an arbitrary election in his case. However, we may assume that a still more reasonable view presents itself, viz., that this man in his affliction had been led to a repentance of sin and to a desire for harmony with God, and that as a consequence of this attitude of his heart he was specially favored of God. As corroborating this view, we find it recorded that, shortly after, Jesus found him in the Temple, praying, thanking God for his recovery-- [R4138 : page 56] probably also offering a gift to the Lord as an evidence of his confession and devotion and thankfulness.
"GO AND SIN NO MORE"
We do well to take note of the broad kindness and generosity of the Master, as exemplified in this case. He did not first discuss the man's sins and inquire respecting his repentance and his turning over of a new leaf. He did not give him the blessing of healing on condition that he would become a servant of God. He healed him and permitted him to go his way, to take his own course. It was when he had gone voluntarily to the Temple to prayer or to sacrifice, that the Lord came to him, and without chiding for the past, counselled him for the future, saying, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." (v. 14). Would that all of those who are "followers of the Lamb" might learn of the great Teacher how to forgive nobly, with generosity, and when and how to inculcate lessons of reform and admonition for the future.
"HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES"
In these words, the prophet foretold a part of our Lord's mission. We believe that we are justified in supposing that all of our Lord's miracles caused him a measure of self-sacrifice, loss of vitality--that he thus daily, little by little, laid down his life. We could suppose divine power granted to him in such measure that by the mere speaking of the word, at no cost to himself, any miracle could have been performed; but our Lord came not into the world merely to exhibit the divine power amongst men, it was also a part of his mission to taste of human sorrows, to learn to sympathize with the afflicted, and to lay down his life on man's behalf. Our supposition is well borne out by the above prophecy--that he would bear our infirmities. (Matt. 8:17; Isa. 53:4.) Additionally, it is confirmed by St. Luke's statement that "Virtue [vitality, strength] went out of him and healed them all."-- Luke 6:19.
Our Lord's miracles are much more precious to us from this standpoint than from any other. The gift which costs nothing cannot be so highly esteemed as that which costs much; and since life is our most valuable possession, the giving of it in any sense of the word is the giving of the greatest of gifts. That the three and a half years of our Lord's ministry did impoverish his strength is abundantly testified to: for instance, when at Jacob's well he was wearied, but his disciples were not; and again at the close of his ministry, on the way to Calvary, when he was unable to bear his own cross, while the two thieves apparently were able to bear theirs. (John 4:6; Luke 23:26.) His weakness was not the result of inherited blemish or sin, nor the weakness of imperfection, but of sacrifice. From the beginning of his ministry he kept pouring out his life in the interest of those who had an ear to hear, and taking upon himself of the infirmities, the weaknesses, of those he healed.
HIMSELF BARE OUR SICKNESSES
We do not know that our Lord was sick with any of the ordinary maladies. His perfect organism would apparently be proof against the intrusions of special diseases. Rather it would appear that his healing of diseases merely exhausted his vitality, and thus left upon him the weight of our sicknesses. All of the sick, the afflicted of the Lord's followers, can look up to him with a realization of his sympathy, for it is written, "In all their affliction he was afflicted." (Isa. 63:9.) "Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows"; but we are not to receive the mistaken view entertained by some that our Lord bore the sicknesses of all those who would ever be his disciples, so that it would never be necessary for them to be sick or feel any pain. Quite to the contrary of this, the sicknesses which our Lord bore were those of the world, and not those of his special friends and disciples. We have no record that he healed any of his followers. The lesson therefore is to the contrary, that as he bore the infirmities and cares and griefs of others, his followers are to emulate his example and his Spirit, and from similar motives of generosity and kindness are to be burden-bearers, helpers, self-sacrificers. As the Apostle suggests, "We ought [also] to lay down our lives for the brethren."--I John 3:16.
The Scriptures clearly show that, so far from the followers of Christ being exempted from persecution, affliction, sorrows, trials, difficulties, they are to know indeed that the Father "scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Heb. 12:6.) We are to understand that as it was expedient that the Master should pass through such experiences of self-denial and self-sacrifice, it is expedient also that all who would be acceptable to God as members of the Bride should be similarly touched with a feeling of the world's infirmities, and have sufficient sympathy to voluntarily bear some of the sorrows and griefs of those about them. (Heb. 4:15.) Thus it is written, "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." (2 Tim. 2:12.) Those who anticipate that the followers of the Lamb are to be borne to Paradise [R4138 : page 57] on flowery beds of ease, and not a wave of trouble roll across their peaceful breasts, are surely mistaken. Generally they have not read aright the Master's description of the experiences of those who would be his footstep followers, who are enjoined to take up their cross and follow him.--Mark 10:21.
SPIRITUAL INFIRMITIES AND SICKNESSES
But while we may properly enough apply the prophetic testimony to the infirmities and sicknesses of those whom Jesus healed at his first advent, we should not think of these as having the full import of the prophecy, but rather indeed as a small part thereof. What were all the sicknesses and infirmities that Jesus healed at his first advent in comparison to all the sicknesses of the twenty thousand millions of the world's population? What was the awakening of the three from the dead in comparison to that of the mighty host which shall be brought forth from the prison-house of death, the grave? Surely there is a deeper, a wider significance to this prophecy. The infirmities and sicknesses of the whole world are part and parcel of the penalty of original sin. That penalty is death, and it rests upon the whole human family; and the infirmities with which we are born and the sicknesses acquired are merely so much of death working in our race. Our Lord bore all of this for the whole world in the sense that he by the grace of God tasted death for every man. (Heb. 2:9.) As the Apostle Paul explains, death passed upon our race as the result of sin; and hence, all being sinners, all have infirmities, sicknesses and dying conditions.--Rom. 5:12.
It is when we get this broad Scriptural view of the Divine Plan of the Ages that we find satisfaction for head and for heart, and a harmony which touches and explains every feature of the divine revelation. Through the first Adam sin, condemnation, was precipitated upon the entire human family--and his bride, mother Eve, was a participant with him in the entire matter. So in due time God provided Jesus, the Redeemer, who paid Adam's penalty with the sacrifice of his own life. He in consequence was highly exalted to be a Prince and a Savior, a King and Restorer, a Priest upon his throne, to grant forgiveness and uplifting influences to Adam and all involved through him. And now, preparatory to that general blessing of the world in harmony with the divine plan, a Bride for Christ is being selected from amongst mankind; but before she can share with her Lord the glories of the spiritual plane, the divine nature--glory, honor and immortality--she must be tested, and the test is that she must manifest the same spirit that actuated, that controlled her Lord, the Redeemer. For this reason it is that her call is during this present evil age-- that the trials, the difficulties, the sorrows, the pains attendant upon sin shall serve to test her loyalty to righteousness and her spirit of devotion and of love. Under her Redeemer's guidance she is being taught the necessary lessons to fit and prepare her for the glorious joint-heirship. Yet nothing connected with her call is compulsory--and hence, many have been called in comparison with the few that will be chosen. Therefore, all who would make their calling and election sure must be faithful in following in the footsteps of the Redeemer, heeding carefully his counsel, and availing themselves of his assistances by the way.--Matt. 22:14; 2 Pet. 1:10.