Unanswered Prayers: John 5:1-15

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As we continue in the gospels looking at Jesus’ miracles, we now jump over into John’s gospel, and a miracle that only John chose to include. In this miracle, we discover something amazing about Jesus, about God, and we discover one possible reason why we may not see God’s help in our lives in a more visible way. In this unassuming but powerful passage, we can discover a clue to why we might not see many answered prayers in our lives.

Let’s read this miracle and focus in on what we can learn from what John tells us happened. Our passage is found in the gospel of John, chapter 5, and we will be reading from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Starting in verse 1, John tells us that:

After this, a Jewish festival took place, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. Within these lay a large number of the sick—blind, lame, and paralyzed. [It is here that some translations add the last phrase of verse 3 and verse 4, which tells us that they were: —waiting for the moving of the water, because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had].

After setting the stage in these first four verses, verse 5 begins sharing the details of our miracle:

One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”

“Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” 9a Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk.

Let’s stop reading here to focus on what we can learn from what has just happened. While we don’t know how many people were sick around the pool that day, from a simple reading of this event, we see Jesus enter this place where there was a high concentration of sick people, He heals one man, and then He leaves. We might even conclude that Jesus left every other sick person present without healing them since John doesn’t tell us Jesus healed anyone else.

When reading this event, and concluding that Jesus likely left everyone else in their sick, diseased, or disabled state, we don’t see a very “Christ-like” character. We expect Jesus and God to be loving, and isn’t the most loving thing Jesus could do in this situation was heal everyone present? Healing everyone is loving, but healing everyone does not show us an accurate picture of God.

While we don’t like to think about it, there are some times when God chooses not to heal someone instead of healing them. We cannot know all the answers to why this is, but we can trust that when we are able to see the big picture from God’s perspective, we will understand. Some people choose to discount God’s love or His existence because of this dilemma, but this dilemma only is unsolvable when we see this life as all there is to live.

As soon as we frame our world today as infected with sin, and God’s ultimate goal as saving as many people as possible from this sin while also clearly exposing sin for what it truly is so it will never reappear throughout eternity, we can begin to see why sin might be allowed to persist a little longer. God’s ultimate goal and long-term plan is to end this world that includes pain, disease, death, and sin in order to recreate it as perfect and sinless where it will be this way throughout eternity – and God wants to fill this newly recreated world with His redeemed people. If God ends history too soon, then sin may reappear later, which would be bad. Also, if God ends history too soon, then He may lose one or more people who could have been in heaven with Him. God wants as many people as possible in the new heaven and new earth, and He wants sin gone forever, never to reappear.

However, while this answers why God may not always answer our prayers, this event hints at another reason we never actually see answers to our prayers. This hint comes in the additional details setting the stage for this event, and from the formerly disabled man’s reply. In this event, we learned that periodically, and perhaps even somewhat randomly, an angel would stir the waters of this pool and the first sick person into this pool would be healed.

With how John describes this event, we can conclude that everyone at this pool was focused on getting in the water when it had been stirred. The focus of their hope was not on Jesus but on being healed by the pool. Only the man who had given up hope of ever reaching the pool experienced a visit from Jesus who came to heal him. This detail helps explain why Jesus didn’t heal everyone at this pool, and this detail also tells us why we might not see as many answers to our prayers as we would like.

If we choose to pray as a last resort, or if we choose to pray and then look for resolution for our prayers from sources other than God, we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t see God answer our prayers. If we constantly look for help from places other than God, it’s only logical that we won’t see God helping much in our lives. However, if we pray and we know that God oftentimes works behind the scenes through the lives of other people and through what we might call coincidences, then we are able to see His hand moving in many more places than we first are able to realize. This is why it is easier to look back on our lives and see how God has lead us in the past than it is to recognize how He is leading us in the present.

God wants to answer our prayers, but He also wants us to give Him gratitude, thanks, and love for being our Provider. When we are grateful to God for everything He has done for us, and when we open our eyes to how He often works, we will begin to see answered prayers, blessings, and evidence for His existence everywhere.

While there’s more we could talk about in this event, let’s wait until our next episode to focus in on it. Until then, as we come to the end of this podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and decide today to live a life that is grateful towards God for everything that He is doing. If you struggle with how God could let evil persist in the world today, take this question to Him and let Him lead you to an answer. While I’ve shared some of what I’ve learned in this episode, I’m sure there is more to this answer than what we would have time to cover.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to personally grow closer to God each and every day. The closer you grow towards God, the more His character will rub off on your life and the better you will be at reflecting His love to the world around you. When we are reflecting God’s love in our world, we are living the best lives we can live in spite of the pain, sin, hurt, and hate that rages around us.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 24: When Jesus heals one man in a place full of sick people, discover what this event teaches us about God, and why we might experience unanswered prayers.

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