Fear and hope can be equally powerful.
Hope has the power to make us stay longer, and believe stronger. It lets us dream, inspires us to run, and feeds our vision. It is our assurance of what we cannot see.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Fear paralyzes the strong, and confuses the wise. Fear causes us to run and hide (Genesis 3:8). Countless Bible stories serve as cautionary tales and sad examples of fear’s impact on us (Jonah 1:1-17, 2 Samuel 11, Proverbs 22:13).
But sometimes, hope and fear collide, and the impact results in a changed life. The Bible is full of stories where hope prevails, but the example I most love is in chapter five of John verses one through eight.
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.
It’s the story of a man who’s been broken and lame. He’s lived a lifetime on a mat just feet away from freedom. That beautiful Pool of Bethesda whose name means “grace and mercy,” was capable of healing. He’s gone there day after day pinning all his hope on someday’s healing.
He’s been gone to the pool for thirty-eight years looking for a cure. He’s lame, but we really don’t know the details of his brokenness. Still his story is relatable, because like him, we all share a lameness, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. Many of us are are hindered by lameness, and just like this man, we’ve held onto it for years.
For years he’s managed to get himself to the pool every day, but how did he get there? He obviously didn’t live there. Did friends or family carry him? Odd that in all the time he’s been going there, he’s never gone the few additional feet that would have healed him. Maybe there’s a spark of hope that gets him there, but it’s just not enough to get him into the pool.
Over and over he’s gone to the edge of grace and mercy. But the hope of healing, and the possibility of a different life were not enough to get him into the water. He just continues laying on the edge of healing. Year after year. He waits for something to happen to him.
What holds him firmly in place on that mat of brokenness is fear. And that is exactly what keeps a good number of us stuck as well.
Often, just like this man, we are stuck. We lay on mats made of painful, damaging, and traumatic experiences. Each wound and hurt is carefully woven into mats where we can rest our weary victim heads. Sadly, if we lay long enough, we lose our ability to hope. Fear creeps in and keeps us glued to our brokenness.
I know this place. I stayed on my own mat far too long. It had become my badge, my identity, and my place of comfort. I couldn’t see a way out, and waves of fear covered me any time I thought of making a journey to restoration. I was stuck, and it would take something considerable to move me.
But that is what God does. He makes beauty from ashes.
To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.
That guy laying next to The Pool of Bethesda had lost hope. He’s been there so long, brokenness seemed more real than a belief that he could be healed.
But then something happens. Jesus shows up and asks him a question that challenges and shakes his world.
John 5: 6
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?”
It’s strange that Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed. One would think that’s a given considering Jesus knew he’d been there a long time. But I think it’s a question with purpose. In that question, we get a glimpse into what’s holding the man captive on that mat.
“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.”
Without hesitation, the man launches into a litany of excuses as to why he can’t be healed. He is so vested in his brokenness that he believes he’s beyond help. And he’s been waiting for someone else to take responsibility for his healing.
What’s most interesting, is that he’s telling Jesus – the man who’s been healing the crowds around him. He’s surely heard about Jesus. More than likely he knows that Jesus heals. Yet… He’s sure even the Son of God cannot help.
That is the moment, fear and hope collide.
Think about times where fear stopped you; when it clouded your hope to the point you could no longer see a way out, or kept you stuck on your mat.
Fear often makes it easier to focus on all the reasons things can’t, or won’t work. Certainly, it’s easier to belief fear, than to hope for something different. It can be debilitating, and that’s what has happened to this man. He’s lived so long without hope, he no longer trusts it.
But he’s laying right next to the pool of grace and mercy, friends! He’s right there. Grace and mercy… the core of salvation. Clearly this is the story of a man and his need for a Savior. In truth it’s the story of every human being. At some point we all must answer that question, “Do we want to be healed?”
What happens next is interesting, though. Jesus doesn’t seem to pay attention to the guy’s reasoning at all. Take a look.
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.
Jesus doesn’t heal him. He never even touches him. Nope. He just tells the lame man these words, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
The man stood up, and when he did, found himself face to face with Jesus Christ. From that vantage point, his focus was no longer on what was hopeless, it was on the one who offered him hope. When he stopped looking at his circumstance his life changed. And I have to believe it changed in a way he never could have imagined.
He’d been laying by grace and mercy, and he needed to take it. So, he took hold of hope and walked away from the place he’d been stuck.
There’s power in that story, friends!
So often we allow fear to overshadow hope. We stay stuck because we don’t realize hope requires action. It’s right there just waiting for us to take it.
I know this man, because I lived this way for far too long in my own life. For years and years, I lived on a self-imposed mat of lameness, right next to hope, but refusing to fight for it. I knew of God, but just couldn’t make that short leap to grace and mercy.
I lived fearing what it might mean to be healed. I wanted a different life, but until hope won out. Because just like the man on the mat, I too heard the words, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk! So, I stood up and moved away from that place and began to walk.
On that day fear no longer ruled in my life. On that day I walked past fear in to grace and mercy. On that day I saw fear and hope collide.