Don’t Leave Your Mat by the Sin Pool

Jesus healed a man who’d been crippled for decades, a man who had apparently run out of options for getting himself well.

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. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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. (John 5:2-9.)

The man found the cure he’d been hoping for. Now he could walk as well as anyone else. He must have been amazed to be able to do as Jesus bid him: “Get up!”

Jesus also told him to take his mat in hand and walk, and he did. Wouldn’t you? The person who healed you tells you to do something, you might be in a frame of mind to do whatever they say.

Why did Jesus point out the mat, though? The man knew it was there. He’d been resting on it for years. Perhaps Jesus thought the man was so preoccupied in his excitement that he might forget it. Perhaps Jesus wanted the man to see he was now able not only to walk but to carry loads.

Regardless of the reason Jesus told him to pick up the mat, there’s a lesson here for everyone healed by Jesus.

Staying away from the sin pool

I practically swam in the sin pool and, until Jesus came along and told me to get up and showed me he had made it possible for me to live otherwise, I liked it. I was just like this, and then Jesus came along:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world … . All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. … But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus … . (Ephesians 2:1-6.)

I had my mat–or beach towel, or pool chair, or whatever you want to envision–right there at the sin pool. If this metaphor were literally true, Jesus might have told me to pick it up and take a walk away from the sin pool, too. As it is, the Bible lays out for me what the next steps are.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14.)

If you’re not under the law, how will you know how to live your life? Won’t you need rules? The simple answer is no you won’t. It’s not laws and rules that lead you to staying away from the sin pool. It’s God’s grace in you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age … . (Titus 2:11-12.)

But you’re thinking it might be nice to have a couple of pointers for staying away from the sin pool. You’re right, and here they are:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7.)

… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2.)

Satan flees from you at the sign of your resistance. How can you find the strength to resist? In God’s grace. Don’t leave your mat by the sin pool where you’ll return to lie on it. Sin entangles, but Jesus frees us not only to get up and walk, but to run in a race free from any and all entanglements.

Submit to God and keep your eyes on Jesus. Take up your mat, leave the sin pool behind, and get ready to run.

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4 Responses to Don’t Leave Your Mat by the Sin Pool

  1. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    I really like how you’ve unpacked this story, Tim. So often when I read Scripture I miss the little details, but it makes so much sense: “Don’t leave behind anything that might tempt you to come back here.”

  2. Anu Riley says:

    I’m not a very nice person, so keep that in mind when I say this: why in the heck has this not gotten any comments? This is one of the best posts, ever. Plenty of room for rich discussion.

    I remember being curious about the angel that stirred the water. Many persons were probably fixated on watching the water, alert to any movement so they could jump in and be healed—-often at the expense of others around them, as this paralyzed man testified to. I imagined his eyes filling with tears every time the water stirred. No one would help him, others pushed ahead of him, and he remained in a hopeless state.

    “Don’t leave your mat by the sin pool where you’ll return to lie on it. ”

    I often failed at this. I left many belongings, and I still feel the pull to return. I read Exodus and related to these former slaves who wanted to be free, but also wanted to go back to their bondage. I read Hebrews 11:15: “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.” I read Luke 9:62 about putting your hand on the plow and not looking back.

    A mat can be useful, but if it has no place or space for your life anymore, get rid of it. Hence the drudgery of spring cleaning—-emptying out those dark corners and tight spaces, and determining what does or doesn’t belong, what is or isn’t needed,and what needs to go or stay. Be brutally honest and don’t get “sentimental” over things that you once loved but now you do not (aka sin)

    “It’s not laws and rules that lead you to staying away from the sin pool.”

    I used to be on both sides of the coin. Struggled with the sinful instinct to rebel against rules, then the so-called Biblical instinct to obey those rules. Both were wrong, and neither of them worked. You cannot escape the need for His grace in order to live as He intends. There is no other way.

    You can try to argue with that, but you will lose the debate. Why? Because God didn’t ask what you thought. He asked you to obey Him, not editorialize Him. If you don’t like His ways, start your own religion and make up as many rules as you’d like—-and good luck with that.

    No one will help you at the “sin pool” because it’s not set up for that. Sin does not encourage love for others. It encourages you to think of them as objects or obstacles—-and this helpless man was treated as such. But if He leads you to, don’t return to that pool to return to sin, but to help those still stuck there. A sinning person is a hurting person. A sinning person is hurting others.

    I wonder why Jesus picked Him out—-weren’t the others just as worthy of healing, or suffering just as bad, if not worse than him? Don’t try to answer. You’ll never quite understand how and why He works as He does. Just be grateful that He knows what He is doing, and He never stops working.

    How many people have drowned in that sin pool instead of being healed and made whole as expected? That is what sin does. It lies to you. It promises freedom, but it only produces bondage.

    We don’t know for sure, but I wonder if that angel that stirred the water was not from Heaven. Satan often masquerades as an angel of light. It’s worth considering, hence my next observation:

    Let’s say you ARE healed at that sin pool. The devil CAN produce “miracles” in his attempt to deceive, by mimicking the Lord’s works. Anything that cleanses your body of pain but only adds more dirt to your soul—-may be joyous for the moment but will likely end in sorrow.

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