Just about everyone who has ever lived has experienced a broken heart to some degree or another. But then there are others who have been affected so adversely by events in their lives that they can be described as broken people. We can respond by questioning why God allows bad things to happen or by loving the broken in His name and thus being part of the solution.
People, like objects, can get broken. Fortunately, Jesus announced that one of the main purposes of His coming was ʺto heal the brokenheartedʺ (Luke 4:18). How did Jesus help the broken? In John 5, we find a man who was broken and could not help himself, and we discover two overarching truths: people can get broken, and Jesus loves broken people. How do we as His children love the broken? How can we help them practically?
Let us first consider that people get broken (see vv. 1- 7). We are all keenly aware that we live in a world of hurting people. People can be broken by experience, abuse, abandonment, words, their own bad choices, disease, and many, many other reasons. Caution: you may not know by looking at someone whether or not they are broken. There might be people around you right now putting on a brave face but feeling desperately helpless and hopeless because they are broken and hurting.
The man in John 5 was broken by a number of things, the first of which was circumstances. We read that he ʺhad an infirmityʺ (v. 5), a debilitating illness. We are not told what his specific disease was, but he was likely either paralyzed or too weak to move freely. Illness can be very isolating, making people feel lonely because of their physical limitations and, over time, the dwindling of friends. Can you relate to this man? If so, how have your circumstances (illness, lack of work, etc.) isolated you?
This man was also broken by people (see v. 3). Ancient cultures were not good at caring for the sick. Many sick people would become beggars and congregate, as they did at this pool. They were often surrounded by people but still felt broken, cast off by a society in which very few people, if any, wanted to be involved in their lives. In your trial, how did folks hurt or help you?
The man was also broken by time. He had been dealing with this infirmity for thirty-eight years (see v. 5). Whatever hope he may have once had was long gone. The more time that goes by in such a state can result in a spiral of depression, causing a person to go from helpless to hopeless. The apostle Paul wrote of suffering ʺbeyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of lifeʺ (2 Corinthians 1:8). The daily pressure of depression adds up over time and can be crushing. As the psalmist said, ʺMy tears have been my food day and nightʺ (Psalm 42:3). When someone is feeling helpless or hopeless, is it better to give advice or to listen and pray? Is there a time for each?
Some respond to their brokenness with depression, anger, or substance abuse. Others will be antisocial or suicidal, and others injure themselves when emotional problems are so overwhelming they feel unable to express their anger, hurt, or shame.
Fortunately, Jesus loves broken people. Here is how: First, He observed compassionately (see v. 6a). In a huge crowd of miserable people, He saw one single human being. Although Jesus could speak to crowds and move them, He zeroed in on the one. Love begins by how we see people and their condition. How is your vision when it comes to seeing people's needs? Does your heart break over what breaks God's heart?
Jesus also interacted honestly (see vv. 6-8). He asked the man if he wanted to be made well, because a radical change in circumstances would mean a radical change in his responsibilities. Furthermore, there was a condition even worse than thirty-eight years of suffering that could befall the man—eternal suffering resulting from unrepentant sin (see v. 14). Jesus loved the broken by preaching the unbroken gospel. What would a former beggar's new responsibilities include, according to Skip? What radical change in this man's spiritual life would also have to happen (see vv. 14-15)?
Finally, Jesus expected adversity (see vv. 9-13). Love has consequences. Another caution: you might find adversity from the very people you are trying to help. An adage in the mental health community says, ʺHurt people hurt people.ʺ They seek to control others because it temporarily numbs their pain. So, pray for discernment as you minister.An artist once noted that when the Japanese mend broken objects, they not only fix the damage, but magnify it by filling in the cracks with gold, believing that when something has been damaged, it has a history and is even more beautiful. We all have that kind of history, and only Jesus’ love can redeem us, filling in our brokenness with spiritual gold.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
God helps those who cannot help themselves.
Figures referenced: Mother Teresa, Benjamin Franklin, Gordon MacDonald, Louise Erdrich, E. Stanley Jones, J.A. Findley, Roger Fredrikson, Augustine
Hebrew words: Bethesda
Cross references: Psalm 42:3; 51:17; Proverbs 18:14; Matthew 9:36; Luke 4:18; John 5:1-16; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 11:27-28
Keywords: broken, brokenness, brokenhearted, love, trials, tribulation, hardship, illness, disease, sickness, depression, anger, compassion, sin, eternity