While reading the Gospel of John chapter five today, I was reminded of the most famous line from ABC’s “The Wide World of Sports”, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. Each Saturday afternoon, while watching a series of clips of athletic triumph, we would hear the narrator declare “The thrill of victory”. Next, as a ski jumper barrels down a ramp and flops into a horrific crash just before takeoff, the narrator declares “and the agony of defeat”. Why this came to mind will become clear in a moment.
John 5:1-9 (NKJV) After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.
In this remarkable account we see a man who has been lame for 38 years. For much of that time, if not all of it, the man had been lying at the Pool of Bethesda. This pool had become a place of hope and hopelessness, for at some point (a certain season), when the watered was stirred supernaturally, some people had gotten healed. This poor man had for years been living in “agony of defeat”, while a few others were encountering the “thrill of victory” in some form or fashion. This poor man reported to Jesus that when the water was stirred others would get in ahead of him, because he had no one to help him other beat him to the water. Although he had tasted the agony of defeat, he still had some hope for help. It was for this reason he answered Jesus as he did when our Lord asked him if he wanted to be well.
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool, when the water is stirred up; but another comes and steps down before me”. His answer could be restated , “Of course I want to be well, but I can’t without the help of another, so I am stuck”. In spite of his complaint, we understand this man was about to experience the thrill of Jesus victory, even though he could not see it. Before lose our focus on the great miracle, let’s consider one more key verse in this passage.
John 5:6 (NKJV) When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
When considering this verse we often jump to the conclusion, that the reason Jesus knew he had been in that condition for a long time, is because as He (as God) had perfect knowledge of this man’s life. Although that kind of thinking may be easiest for us to grasp, it simply is not how Jesus described Himself. We must agree that in Jesus perfect humanity there were things He did not know. This did not make Him less God, but reveals let go of His prerogative, to express the fullness of who He was unless the Father, directed Him to do so. This is how Jesus made Himself of no reputation, or to make Himself empty (Philippians 2:7). Once more this did not make Him less God, since He laid that right aside for a time by choice. Jesus reiterates this truth in John 5:19-20.
Because this is true, we can assess that Jesus was given a word of knowledge by the Holy Spirit, similar to what happened in John 4 :1-26 with the Samaritan woman’s at the well. Yet I want to offer something a bit more practical. Is it possible and more likely probable that Jesus had seen this man before at this particular place? The answer is yes, and based on Jesus patterns it will become clearer as we explore further.
We understand that for the Messiah to be the Messiah, He had to fulfill the law perfectly. One of the provisions of the law was that three times of year every male had to appear before the Lord. Those times were Passover, the Feast of Weeks and the Feat of Booths (Pentecost). This stipulation of the law is found in Exodus 23:17, Exodus 34:23 and Deuteronomy 16:16. In order for this to be the case Jesus had to be at the Passover every year of His life, which He was. In light of that truth, and understanding that the lame man was in his condition for thirty-eight years (longer than Jesus had been in the flesh at this point), it is more than likely he was at the pool for every one of those 38 years at Passover waiting for his miracle. Jesus had assuredly seen Him before.
If we think back to Jesus time in Jerusalem when He was twelve, it is not a stretch to assume in Jesus three days, as He lingered in Jerusalem, that He had encountered this lame man. In fact I believe it is why the man was singled out, because Jesus knew of His condition, and was moved by compassion at what He saw, not just in John 5, but prior to that moment, “for He knew that he had already been in condition a long time”. In light of this lets dive a bit further into the “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”.
NO THRILL OF VICTORY WITHOUT SUFFERING AGONY
In Proverbs 13:12 we read that “hope deferred makes the heart-sick, but when the desire comes it is a tree of life”. The reason the desire being realized is “a tree of life” is for the delay. Delays in what we want will tend towards increasing the burden, hunger, compassion and resolve to walk in faith. Jesus had to suffer through delays as we do. Even though He had seen this man before and knew what His Father could do through Him and knew the time would come to heal, He had to wait until released. He did not sweat it, but waited for Hi instructionthat. We on the other hand tend to sweat in the midst of delays, as we are being conformed to His image.
We often see the broken, the lame and those in bondage all around us, yet have not the burden, hunger, compassion or resolve in faith to be a conduit for his will as we ought to be. It is not that we don’t want His kingdom and power and glory, but that we need to grow. For Jesus when he saw the multitude weary and scattered, if it was time, He moved without hesitation. For us, being transformed from glory to glory, we need a catalyst, and delay is often that catalyst. God often times ordains or allows delay, that as we fail and get back up, we would grow in burden, hunger, resolve and compassion. In the delay, which is “the agony of defeat”, if we hold to our faith, those elements will expand, until the time the Spirit of God calls us to move in faith.
ARE WE MORE LIKE THE LAME MAN THAN JESUS?
As I have considered this truth, I can’t help admitting that more often than not, instead of being like Jesus, I am like the lame man. Like the man, I have this fainting hope that if I hang on God may come through and do what I believe He has willed to do. Yet in the delay, I am more apt to declare the reasons why it’s not happening, making man-made circumstances and barriers bigger than the God I love. In that state, there is real faith, but that faith is not the operating principle of my life. At those moments, doubt or even worse unbelief, is threatening to choke out my faith. In spite of this battle raging in the man Jesus did come through. He often does for us, but warns us, as He did the lame man, to stop sinning lest something worse happen. The sin is unbelief.
HOW CAN WE ENDURE THE AGONY TO THE THRILL OF VICTORY?
Perhaps the best teaching on how to overcome this sin of unbelief is found in Luke 18…
Luke 18:1-8 (NKJV) Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ ”Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
I have no doubt that the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda prayed for God to heal him, but was that prayer a reciting of why he could not get healed (for no help from men) or a declaration of God’s will to do it all by Himself? That is a key question, because as an Israelite he should have known, that the LORD would “forgive all their iniquities and heal all their diseases” (Psalm 103:1-3). He should have known that God is “The LORD that Healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26). In spite of what He should have known, his being entangled in unbelief inhibited him from recognizing the LORD that heals him, in the person of Jesus. For this reason we must pray like the woman in the scripture above, in faith not failing, not like the man at the pool.
My dear friends whether it is a needed healing, the restoration of a broken relationship, overcoming a fleshly pattern, walking in greater faith, holding on for an outpouring for ministry, a needed deliverance or even waiting on the blessed Hope and glorious appearing of our Savior Jesus, we must hold to God’s faithfulness in the delay. We must reject a doubtful and wavering prayer that plays pitiful because of all the mountains that are inhibiting the thrill of Christ’s victory. If what we seek is God’s will, let us hold to it confidently and profess it boldly till it comes to our life and world. In the prayer closet let us remind God that we believe He is faithful to perform these things He promised.
We give up way to easily. We forget way to easily. We complain in unbelief way to easily. There are a world of situations, like that of the lame man, for which God has called us into His kingdom for. He has not called us to give up on taking Him at His word, so we can try some other method. He has called us to exercise real faith in our delay, building burden, hunger, compassion and resolve in our faith. When Jesus returns will he find real faith in you?