There's a magnificent gift that is wonderful to receive; it's a little harder to dispense, and that is mercy. I heard about a poster that was posted on a tree by a convent and the poster read: No Trespassing Violators Will be Prosecuted to the Fullest Extent of the Law. The funny thing about the poster is that it was signed, The Sisters of Mercy. Mercy is not a natural human trait. We typically, at least in the West, we admire strength and courage and we sometimes have problems with those who require our help. I'll never forget growing up my dad said this a lot in my home. He'd always quote, God helps those who? Help themselves. He said it so frequently that it's ingrained in my mind but when my dad said it, what was even funnier, is he used to say this, you know, son, the Bible says God helps those who help themselves. Now there weren't, like, a lot of Bibles in my own, so that was odd to me but I grew up thinking the Bible says God helps those who help themselves. So when I finally started reading a Bible, I expected to have that verse jump out at me and I looked for it and I read it and I thought, huh, it's weird--it's not in here. Like, maybe I don't have a complete Bible. Or maybe it's in some weird version like the New Weird Translation. I don't know where it would be. Well I discovered the Bible doesn't say that at all! In fact, that was a statement made by Benjamin Franklin. It's found in Poor Richard's Almanac, the 1757 edition, not that I read that a lot, I just found that out. In fact, what the Bible says is that God helps helpless people, downtrodden people, and that a characteristic of God is His mercy toward them. For instance, Psalm 110: Lord, You know the hopes of the helpless; surely You will listen to their cries. If you were to go and count up the number of times mercy appears in your Bible, it'd be close to 300. That shows me that it's a priority. Something that appears that many times, that kind of quality, is a priority. Certainly, it is a characteristic of God. Did you know that after the children of Israel sinned with the golden calf in the wilderness and God had a confrontation with them, this is how He introduces Himself: I am the Lord God, merciful and gracious. Isn't that great? That's in the Law; that's in the Old Testament. We come to the New Testament and we find that same theme where, in Ephesians, Paul says, ok, we were once dead in trespasses and sins and we went the wrong way and we sinned and we did this but then he says, but God who is rich in mercy. Again, I love that description of God. In John chapter 5, we see a good picture of mercy. In John chapter 5, Jesus comes to a man at a place called the pool of Bethesda. Now Bethesda is a Hebrew word that means the house of mercy. That's what it meant. The pool of Bethesda--the place of mercy. But as you go through the text, it doesn't really sound like a very merciful place because of the people that are there and what's going on there. It's not really a house of mercy. It had become a hangout of misery as people are wallowing in their longstanding illnesses without any hope at all. Into that scene walks Jesus. Now something you need to know about the ancient world. A couple thousand years ago when the Romans ruled that part of the world, the whole world actually, mercy was not high on their list of characteristics. In fact, the Romans considered mercy to be a weakness. One Roman philosopher said mercy is the disease of the soul. That's because Rome glorified courage, strength, and justice. It was not a merciful world, it was a merciless world. Paul describes it in Romans 1 as filled with maliciousness, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful. Into that world steps merciful Jesus, touching a man, healing a man's body and spirit, and we discover that He commands anyone who follows Him to do the same. Blessed are the merciful, Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount. And those who have been changed by Christ will become merciful people. it will follow that if you are following the One who is merciful, that that characteristic is just gonna show up in a son or a daughter of God. Heard a great story about the American Red Cross. This is years ago. They were collecting supplies for the crisis in Biafra, you may remember way back during that era, and they were collecting money and supplies. Well a box came into the distribution center one day, American Red Cross Collection Center, and on top of the box was a note and it read: We have recently been converted. We want to try to help now. We won't ever need these things again. Can you use them for something? Inside the box were a stack of Ku Klux Klan robes. Those white, hooded robes that the Ku Klux Klan wears. They had been converted, this group, and were sending them to the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross thought it appropriate to cut them into strips and use them as bandages to heal the African nation. Very appropriate. Beautiful act of mercy. Now we're gonna look at chapter 5 verses 1 through verse 16 this morning and we're gonna look at the model of Jesus in showing mercy and we're gonna find there are four steps I've outlined, four steps are in your bulletin, of how to meet misery with mercy. First is to gather frequently. Now that might not make sense to you at first but I think you'll get it as we go through it. Look at verse 1: "After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem." We don't know what feast it was, but it was one of the three feasts that people went to Jerusalem for. We can only guess, our best guess, is that it's Passover. And so people would gather from all over the nation to go to Jerusalem and worship. It was like their church. And Jesus was there as well. Now here's what you need to know. Judaism was far from being a perfect system two thousand years ago. And yet Jesus limited Himself to working through the channel of Judaism. He was dedicated in the Jewish temple. He was Bar Mitzvah-ed in the Jewish temple. He went to synagogue service on the Sabbath, we see frequently in the Gospel stories. And Paul the apostle said in Galatians 4, God sent forth His Son born of a woman, born under the Law. So He's keeping the Law. He's gathering together as the biblical Law required. Gathering with His people. But He will use this gathering to further His Father's agenda, to preach the gospel, to heal a man, to show mercy to someone. My point is simple. The perfect place for us, as believers, to begin a journey of mercy is among other believers. As we gather frequently, we're gonna find that we're in touch with all sorts of needs that has an opportunity for us to share. God's flock needs mercy. Charles Spurgeon said some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect: that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks and so do God's people. now what does that have anything to do with mercy? Simple. When you gather frequently in church, like you're doing now, and then later on, maybe in a home group or in a men's Bible study or women's Bible study, in those groups or in this kind of a setting, when you get to know people you'll find out that some of them need spiritual things. Some of them need emotional things. Some need financial help. And all of those will provide an opportunity for you to show mercy to the body of Christ. Paul writes in Galatians 6 verse 10, therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, but especially to those who belong to the family of believers. So the point is simple. You want to show mercy? You don't have to go anywhere else than your own backyard at first. Just the family of believers that you gather together with. Which brings up a question. Why do people come to church? There's a lot of answers to that question. So let's personalize it. Why do we come to church? And again, there's probably a whole list of answers that could be given. Here's a few suggestions. One reason people come to church is they feel they need to do it. It's their obligation. It's their obligation. It's a duty. I feel like I should do it. It's funny. I'll be in different places around town and somebody will recognize me and one of the first things, so often, out of their mouth is, I haven't been to church in a long time! Well you didn't need to tell me that. That's fine that you did. We can get confessional if you want to. But I know I should--I really should! Now that's how a lot of people go to church: they feel like they should. So they come and when they get here it's like, is it over yet? You know, they can't wait for it to get over or some don't wait for it to get over they just get up and get out in the middle of it. A second reason people come to church is to meet people. it's social. They figure church is a good place to meet good people. not always but generally that would be true. But it makes perfect sense if you're looking for a wife or a husband or friendship. A good place with good people is a good thing to do. A third reason, this is a higher motive now, to come to church would be simply for God and His glory. To render Him praise, to read His Word, to proclaim His worship, to contribute to His work. Very fine motivation. But let me suggest a fourth reason that is almost as noble as the third. And that is we gather so that God can use us in that gathering somehow, that we'll meet one or two people that need something that I can give to them. I can be an agent to be used by God. Hebrews chapter 10 verse 25, let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the day approaching. Not long ago I met a man in our fellowship, a dear man, who lost his wife. He was so broken up. I mean, his world fell apart for good reason. I mean, his life's mate was gone. He didn't know how to handle it and he was in such depression and such despair and I remember talking to him, praying with him, and I felt deeply for him and as weeks went by I didn't see a whole lot of improvement. Weeks went by; I didn't see a whole lot of improvement. One day, I'll never forget where and when, he walked up to me with a smile on his face. I said, what gives? You look happy. He goes well I'm gonna introduce you to a friend I met here. And this other man, this friend, had also lost his wife some time way before that, and had been so tender and compassionate and merciful and encouraging to that guy. Mercy happened as they got together. So gather frequently, Jesus did, gathering for worship in the temple. Here's the second: observe compassionately. Mercy begins by how we see people. look at verse 2: "Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches." Now in about a week, some of you here will be standing at this exact spot. It's been excavated in Jerusalem. "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," a sickness, for "thirty-eight years." That's just a hopeless picture. Thirty-eight year lingering disease that brought him there. "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?" Just a word about the pool of Bethesda because I want you to get the picture in your mind. It was a large, rectangular pool about two feet, maybe three feet, deep, we are told. It was used to wash animals in, especially sheep, before they went up to the temple for sacrifice. Now we don't know how many. It says a great multitude of sick people. One source that I read said probably, on a normal day, there were fewer than 300 people at this huge pool. But on feast days like this, where people would gather from all over in Jerusalem, there probably would've been around 3,000 people. Now it doesn't take much imagination to envision that sight of wasting away humanity and the stench that would come with it from animals, sheep as well as people, gathering around that spot who couldn't do much else than just sit. A very desperate place. If you've ever been into a third world hospital, you have some clue. I was at a hospital, hospital, in Africa. I was shocked to see in one little bed, and there was several beds in one room, but in each bed were two patients. They didn't know each other but they were two patients because they didn't have any room anywhere else. So they shared a small bed, rubbing up next to each other. And their families were sleeping on the floor with stoves and food, cooking food, for their family. Well Jesus steps into this place and if you have a King James Bible, I don't know if you have the old King James, it says a bunch of impotent folk, that's the word used, impotent. Now for obvious reasons, that's been scratched and it just says, in my version, a multitude of sick people. But impotent is actually a very good, accurate description because the word means without strength to help yourself. That's the idea. If Ben Franklin was right that God helps those who help themselves, then this whole group was doomed because nobody could help themselves. They were impotent--without strength to help. Why were they gathered at this pool? Well evidently, there was some subterranean spring underneath that bubbled up, caused movement of the water, and because of that a story circulated around town that it was an angel that would come and move things around and if somebody got there, the first person to get there, would be instantly healed. It says in verse 6, "Jesus saw him lying there". The word for see is the most common New Testament word. It's ido, it's orao in its conjugal form, it's a very common word. It simply means to look at but often it carries with it the idea of perceiving something beyond what you see. That you're seeing something but you're understanding more than what you see. And that's why it says in verse 6, "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?" so can you picture it? Jesus steps down, there's a couple thousand people at least, and His eye surveys this mass of suffering, needy, hopeless humanity, and then His eyes rest on one individual and He looks at him and He knows something about him and then He goes to him. My point is that mercy begins by how we see--how we see people, how we see their condition. Matthew chapter 9, when the multitude came to Jesus at the Sea of Galilee, it says and He saw the multitude and when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion. Same idea--mercy. Because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. And so what He did was based upon how He saw. Two little boys were talking and one of them said, I hate to wear glasses all the time! Something a boy would say. His friend said, I don't know, if those glasses were like my grandma's glasses, I think I'd like to wear glasses all the time because my grandma, he says, is able to see when somebody's hurting or tired and she knows exactly what to say. And I asked her one day, grandma, how is it that you're able to see like that all the time? And she said, it's the way I learned to look at things the older I get. The other little boy was sort of befuddled with that and said, you're right. It must be her glasses. Well may God give me those same glasses. I often find in my prayer life asking God to make me sensitive because we see a lot around here, we see a lot of suffering, we do lots of funerals, but to keep us sensitized to what we see, as Jesus saw this man. And by the way, it's this example that we find in this chapter and other places in the New Testament, the gospel story, of Jesus showing mercy and healing people that has caused Christians ever since this time to engage in what we call mercy ministry. Reaching out to the poor, reaching out to the sick, mission work around the world, orphanages, hospitals. It's sort of ironic, isn't it, that while unbelievers are spouting off their questions to the church like well how can a God of love allow suffering to exist, they're just sort of standing around asking those questions. But the Christian church is the one building the orphanages and the hospitals and the feeding centers and the clinics. An example is Haiti. If you look at Haiti, just what happened a couple months ago and yes, I know that movie stars and everybody started responding, in fact, Richard Dawkins, the very outspoken atheist, decided that he would get an atheist group together to raise money for Haiti to show people that atheists are good people. Ok, fine. Then he wrote a letter boasting that they had collected, get this, $10,000. Ok, listen, you know, a dollar toward something is good, but he raised $10,000 and I thought, if I were Dawkins, I'd never want to admit that because in the same period of time, just one Christian organization that I work with, raised like $100 million dollars for Haiti. And that just shows that Christians, like a groundswell, will raise up when there needs the time to be shown mercy. I love that--I love that about the body of Christ. I was in Iraq years ago when the first Gulf War, after the first Gulf War, I was there carrying some of your presents, 32,000 of those shoeboxes that you pack every year. So we brought in about six semi-trucks, 32,000 shoeboxes, to the children of Baghdad and around Iraq. Well when we got there and we're unpacking these things, I was there. On my team, a Canadian was there, a Lebanese man, a couple others, and they wanted to know who we were, what we had, and why we were there, especially since the U.N. said nothing can go in. so they wanted to know why we were there. Well one of the people we met with was the minister of religious affairs for all of Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein. And we said, sir, we want to make it very clear. We are not here in the name of the American government. We're not representing America. We're not here in the name of the Canadian government or the Lebanese government. We are here in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who told us that we should love people that He created in His image and share that love with your children. And we told him why we were there, told him a little bit about the Lord, his remarks I'll never forget. He looked at us and said, do you know that until now we have always believed that it's the Christians of the world that hate us. Isn't that a statement? Isn't that an amazing statement? Why would he think that it's the Christians of the world who hate him? Hate them? Because he had equated the Western culture with Christianity. He thought, they're all Christians, they're all against us, Christians hate us. He said, now, sir, I realize it's the Christians who love us. That's what we wanted to leave with that man and it was left with him. Here's a third: confront honestly. As you gather frequently and you have the opportunity to show with people mercifully and you observe what's going on in their lives and you have compassion, there may come a time and there probably will, when you have to confront that person who is suffering and in need with something at a deeper level. Look at verse 6 again: "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?" What kind of a question is that to ask a sick dude? Look what he said. "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." So he's been in this condition so long and now he's blaming everybody else. "Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk." And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked." But back to verse 6. What kind of a question is that? I have, I've been doing hospital visitations for 25 years. I have never once asked a patient, would you like to get out of here? Duh! So why would Jesus ask that? Verse 6 is a clue. Notice it says, he "knew that he already had been in that condition a long time". Jesus is honestly confronting a man who had become so used to this lifestyle that Jesus is saying, are you sure you want to change? Here's some insight. J.A. Findlay, a biblical scholar, said in those days, for a man to be instantly healed would mean that he would give up a good living. Been living off the contributions of people around him and he's down here but he's looking up at the streets and he's able to watch people carrying burdens in the hot sun, working for next to nothing, laboring under the slavery of the Romans. Are you sure you want to be made well? Jesus asked him. I was watching television not too long ago about how panhandling has become like an alternate way to bring income in. that some people do it as a profession--not everybody--but some that hold the signs will work for food, I saw one sign that said atheist will convert for food, this special said that some of these people are making $300 a day doing this. Again, I'm not saying everybody does that, but this broadcast said there's a lot of people they found that did. And so the question is appropriate. You sure you want to change? It's gonna change everything. It's gonna bring responsibility with it. Go down to verse 13: "But the one who was healed did not know who it was," that is, who had healed him, because he was in the temple and Jesus left, "for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you." That's striking. What could possibly be worse than a lifelong suffering, a 38-year suffering from a debilitating disease? What could be worse than that? Sin no more, lest something worse come upon you. What could be worse than that? I'll tell you what could be worse than that. Eternal suffering that is the result of unrepentant sin--that could be worse. You get the picture? This disease has robbed you, sir, of the best years of your life but unrepentant sin will rob you of eternity. That's a confrontation. I'm sure no one ever spoke to this man like this, like Jesus did. But Jesus loved him, listen, Jesus loved him enough to not just make him feel good physically and give him a handout, but to also, at some point, deal with something much deeper and that is his soul. That's mercy. That is mercy. Mercy is shown by preaching the gospel. Mercy is shown by caring for souls, not just broken bodies. That'll put you in the hot seat like nothing else when you reach out to a person. At a funeral, St. Augustine once said, if I weep for the body from which the soul is departed, should I not weep for the soul from which God is departed? That's the most merciful thing you could ever do to a person is to get past the physical needs down into the spiritual because there's no other message like the gospel that can bring healing. And people who are dying need to know about eternal life. We had a woman in our church. She used to come up all the time and she'd say, Pastor Skip, would you pray for my son? And we'd always pray for her son. And such a great mom to want prayer like every week. Well one night, I think it was a Saturday night, it might've been a mid-week study, she came and she said, I really need prayer for my son, especially tonight, she said, he's running with the wrong crowd. And he was. That night, we found out later, her son had been shot in the head. The bullet didn't kill him, lodged in his brain, but it didn't kill him. If that bullet would've traveled a few millimeters in either direction, he'd of been dead. But he lived. Two weeks after that, he was in church. He came forward at an altar call and he said to me, I know I'm here because of God's mercy on me. That's why I'm here. Now I want to discover what His plan is for my life. And so that's the whole point. Jesus takes it from this level down to the deepest possible level and it was a confronting sort of a question and a confronting thing to say. Number one, you sure you want this? And then number two, this issue of his soul--sin no more. Ok, so what happens when we do this? Let's just say we're gonna do this, we're gonna keep our eyes open and we're gonna start observing people at a deeper level and how we can help them. We're gonna gather frequently so that we can do that. We're gonna, if need be, confront honestly. What's gonna happen? Well it won't be a piece of cake, you can expect the fourth and that is: expect adversity. Expect adversity. Not everyone is going to understand your love in showing mercy to people, especially if you bring in the spiritual element of bringing the gospel in. You're gonna have some enemies. Look at verse 9: "And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked," that's the first sentence. Here's the second one: "And that day was the Sabbath." You know why John put that there? Because it now marks a change. It marks a change against Jesus because He did this. It's sort of like if this were a movie script, the music would change right about now and go, "And it was Sabbath,"… Now watch. "The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, it's the Sabbath! It's not lawful for you to carry your bed! What a bunch of meatheads! I mean, don't you think they should be so… when was the last time they saw a miracle? When was the last time they did a miracle? Or healed anybody? A guy can walk, he's been paralyzed for 38 years--it's the Sabbath. You can't carry that. "He answered them, "He who made me well said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk.'" They said, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?" But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you." The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath." Oh goodness gracious! Don't you see it's their understanding of the Sabbath that kept them from rejoicing that a man can walk? No wonder Jesus just unleashed at these dudes. He said, woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! He said, for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin but you've neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. What's their deal? Why are they saying this kind of stuff? Why are they, they're so hung up on this? Well they had become a group of list-makers. You know what a list-maker is? He makes a list. You didn't do that right; you didn't do this right. Well, that was ok but I… that's a list-maker. Legalist. They didn't start that way, you need to know that the Pharisees especially started as the most noble, pure-hearted group of people, simply wanting to keep God's Law to the best of their ability. But as time wore on, they started adding man-made regulations to biblical regulations of the Sabbath. For example, according to their law, their law, you couldn't look into a mirror on the Sabbath. You know why? Because they, here's their rationale, if you look into a mirror on the Sabbath and you see a grey hair on your head, you'll be tempted to pluck it out. And that's labor. It's not labor in my book--it's good news. Here's something else: you couldn't wear false teeth on the Sabbath. Now I was blown away to find out 2,000 years ago they even had false teeth! But some of them had them and you couldn't wear them on the Sabbath because if they fell out, you would want to pick them up and to pick them up is to be bearing a burden on the Sabbath. So you had to go around for a whole day… … Give me kiss… And so they tell this man, you can't carry your mat--it's the Sabbath. According to their law, anything that weighed more than the combination of two dried figs was considered a burden to bear. And so they nailed him. It's the Sabbath. Point is this: they turned into a bunch of hard-hearted legalists, list-makers, and they couldn't even rejoice that good had been done. The most vicious people in the body of Christ are those people that make it all about rules. They don't care about showing mercy or doing good. You can do that but I have my rules and you better keep my rules. And they'll find some strange Bible verse pulled out of the hat to justify their behavior. They find no joy in helping others or being merciful unless it's according to their rules. The last few years we've reached out to the AIDS community in New Mexico, helping those people affected by AIDS, either because they have the disease or their family members. Well you'd be surprised at the interesting response we get from both sides, either the AIDS side, why is the church helping us, and people who are Christians, why is the church helping them? We've reached out to inmates over the years. We have a pastor who faithfully goes in and trains inmates, wins them to Christ, disciples them. When they get out of prison, they go to our School of Ministry, many of them, and we hire many of them. That just angers some people. so risky! Yeah it is. I want to take that risk. I've stood up for people and stood next to people and brought people in that I believe are men of God that have something to say but it can be very controversial. It doesn't go according to 'my rules'. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25? He said, and I will say to them, I was hungry and you gave Me to eat, thirsty and you gave Me to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked, you clothed Me, I was in prison and you visited Me. And they will say to Me, when were You ever naked and hungry and all of that stuff? I never remember that. Jesus will say, you know it well, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, you have done it unto Me. But that's not so if you're a list-maker, if you're a legalistic person who hates grace. It would sound more like this: I was hungry and you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger. I was in imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release. I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me. You seem so holy and so close to God but I am still very hungry and lonely and cold. As we close in prayer today, let's ask the Lord to give us new eyes to be able to see those who are hurting around us, to reach out physically as well as spiritually, and also to pay no attention to those among us who are too narrow to care.