Taking up Your Mat
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Jesus encounters the man near a large pool north of the temple in Jerusalem. … It’s called Bethesda. It could be called Central Park, Metropolitan Hospital, or even Joe’s Bar and Grill. It could be the homeless huddled beneath a downtown overpass. It could be any collection of hurting people.
An underwater spring caused the pool to bubble occasionally. The people believed the bubbles were caused by the dipping of angels’ wings. They also believed that the first person to touch the water after the angel did would be healed. Did healing occur? I don’t know. But I do know crowds of invalids came to give it a try.
I want you to look at the brief but revealing dialogue between the paralytic and the Savior. Before Jesus heals him, he asks him a question: “Do you want to be well?”
“Sir, there is no one to help me get into the pool when the water starts moving. While I am coming to the water, someone else always gets in before me.”
Is the fellow complaining? Is he feeling sorry for himself? Or is he just stating the facts? Who knows? But before thinking about it too much, look what happens next.
“Stand up. Pick up your mat and walk.”
“And immediately the man was well; he picked up his mat and began to walk.”1
I wish we would do that; I wish we would just take Jesus at his word. I wish, like heaven, that we would learn that when he says something, it happens. What is this peculiar paralysis that confines us? What is this stubborn unwillingness to be healed?
When Jesus tells us to stand, let’s stand.
When he says we’re forgiven, let’s unload the guilt.
When he says we’re valuable, let’s believe him.
When he says we’re eternal, let’s bury our fear.
When he says we’re provided for, let’s stop worrying.
When he says, “Stand up,” let’s do it.
I love the story of the private who ran after and caught the runaway horse of Napoleon. When he brought the animal back to the emperor, Napoleon thanked him by saying, “Thank you, Captain.”
With one word, the private was promoted. When the emperor said it, the private believed it. He went to the quartermaster, selected a new uniform, and put it on. He went to the officers’ quarters and selected a bunk. He went to the officers’ mess and had a meal.
Because the emperor said it, he believed it. Would that we would do the same. Is this your story? It can be. All the elements are the same. A gentle stranger has stepped into your hurting world and offered you a hand. Now it’s up to you to take it.—Max Lucado2
Get up and walk
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”3
In order to appreciate the value of Jesus’ command, you need to consider the culture of the day. Today, although some may feel we don’t do enough, there are limited opportunities for the physically handicapped to work and lead productive lives. In Christ’s time on earth, the handicapped were outcast. They lived off handouts they could obtain from begging.
In the above instance, the man had been crippled for a long time. Probably the only possessions he had were the clothes on his back and the mat on which he lay. The mat was almost a symbol of the only hope in his life. His existence was one to be pitied. There was no known cure for what ailed him (except Jesus), and even if there had been, he certainly couldn’t have afforded it.
Jesus had sympathy for the man, and with the spoken word, the man was healed. Jesus told him to “Get up!” Take his mat and walk. Obviously, this was a gift greater than anything money could have bought…
This man was holding on to his mat. It had surely become a treasured possession to him. He slept on it, rested on it, and watched the world pass by on it. He couldn’t have imagined facing the day without it. Jesus tells him to pick it up and walk. When Jesus was finished with the man, he didn’t need the mat anymore. … I think Jesus was telling the man to pick up his mat because he wouldn’t need it anymore. He wouldn’t need a place to beg, to worry, to suffer. He needed no more dependence on a mat. He had found the Healer!
And, I think even today—whatever you are holding on to tighter than your faith, I believe Jesus would say, “Pick up your mat and walk!” If we aren’t careful, our mats can become our hope rather than our hope being in Christ... Jesus wants to help you—and, the best way He can do this is to lead you to trust Him more. Listen for His command to pick up your mat and walk!—Ron Edmondson4
Great is Thy faithfulness
Real faith is not a passive thing; it acts out what it believes. It is a practical thing; it does not expect God to do the thing that we alone can do. A believing person puts faith into action.
When he has asked God for something, he proceeds to believe God and takes God at His Word. He actually believes that God really meant what He said, though the natural senses may deny every step of the way that which his faith has claimed. Yet he knows that God’s Word is true and that God cannot fail that Word. Great is His faithfulness!
Many times that is called “the stand of faith.” A splendid illustration of that is the part of the Scripture where the lepers were told by Jesus to go show themselves to the priests for cleansing. The Scripture says, “As they went, they were healed.”5 They put their faith into action, and God met them. And if we put forth the effort of a believing will, God honors that step and meets us, as in the case of the man with the withered arm. Jesus said, “Stretch forth thy hand.” It was impossible for him to stretch forth his hand. But when Christ commanded, he made the effort and his hand was made perfectly whole.6
The seat of faith is in the will, and I’ve found that God certainly expects us to put our faith into action. Someone has said, “When faith goes to market, it always takes a basket along.” You know, faith isn’t some glorious feeling, some wonderful sensation, as many think. It’s simply taking God at His Word.
It is utter dependence upon the veracity of another. So faith is utter dependence on the truthfulness, the faithfulness of God. How great, how great, His faithfulness! I wonder, can you say “Amen” to everything God says? God is saying to the discouraged one at this very time, “I am thy God, I will help thee, I will strengthen thee.”7 He is saying to the one who is in deep need, “I will supply your every need according to My riches in glory.”8 Are you saying amen to that? Are you truly saying amen to the Word of God, just taking God at His Word? “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, nor his ear heavy, that it cannot hear.”9 That’s God’s Word too. Look up to Him right this very moment and say, “Great is Thy faithfulness.”—Virginia Brandt Berg
Published on Anchor October 2017. Read by Reuben Ruchevsky.
Music by John Listen.
1 See John 5:1–9.
2 Max Lucado, Cast of Characters: Common People in the Hands of an Uncommon God (Thomas Nelson, 2010).
3 John 5:8 NIV.
5 Luke 17:12–14.
6 Mark 3:1–5.
7 Isaiah 41:10.
8 Philippians 4:19.
9 Isaiah 59:1.