In August, our oldest son, Ben, flew the nest called home and entered the beauty of God’s next for him on Indiana soil at Taylor University. He flew far from home entering into a life of newness; new opportunity, new friends, new location, new classes, new football team, new guys to share a room with, new everything. It has been two months of transition for our boy, as it is for most college students. But being far from home, brings a whole different element to the college transition.
Home isn’t within reach beyond a phone call, FaceTime or text. As Ben has found, it can, at times be lonely especially when the majority of students come from Indiana or the states that border it. Given the opportunity in their schedule and feeling the tug of home, those who live close by are able to leave for the weekend entering back into the familiar. It isn’t the case for Ben and a handful of others on the Taylor campus.
A few weeks ago, the football team had their first away game. Many of the freshman football players don’t travel with the football team to away games unless they are 2nd string or play special teams. Ben’s two roommates were given the opportunity to travel with the team which meant Ben had his dorm room all to himself. With four siblings at home, his own room was never a possibility and Ben was ok with that. He likes to be surrounded by people. He takes after his mother in that area. Given the choice, I’d choose people over no people. I’d choose conversation over silence. Ben is cut from my cloth. As the reality of a weekend alone began setting in, Ben struggled. The majority of his other freshman football friends decided to go home for the weekend. His friends down the hall were busy with their team sports. And when he called over to friends in another dorm, they said they were hanging out with their floor.
No invitation was given to Ben. No one invited him in. Silence began to set in and with the silence came doubt, a little pity, and general loneliness….all unbeknownst to me until I called Sunday afternoon to check in. As Ben shared his weekend struggle and I dug a little deeper with questions, I saw something held him back. You see, Ben is a gatherer. He is so good at it. I saw it in high school with his friends. I saw it with the football team. I saw it with the little children he taught in Sunday School. I saw it with his siblings and in our relationship.
He reaches out and draws you in.
He gives the invite. This time though, he didn’t do that. He waited for the invite to come to him and it never did. We all want the invite, don’t we?
In John 5, we see Jesus as the greatest invitation giver there is. The chapter opens with Jesus entering Jerusalem during feast time. As Jesus passed by the Sheep’s Gate, there He saw the pool of Bethesda, in Greek known as the “house of mercy.” There were two pools and five porches and multitudes of people; sick people. Scripture tells us that at certain times the water in the pool was stirred and the first person to enter the water was healed of their infirmity. Can you imagine the groans and pushing that must have taken place when someone hinted that the water was stirring, each person trying as hard as they could to get to the water first desperately desiring healing.
Jesus saw a certain man that day lying by the pool. He knew this man. As the God of the universe, He knew everything about this man from the inside out. He knew he had been in his helpless condition for 38 years. 38 years is a long time to have an illness especially one that restricts movement. Jesus saw him. Jesus knew him and Jesus gives him the invitation that surpasses every invitation he probably had ever received.
“Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)
You would think this man would have been overjoyed with this invitation. Here was his opportunity. He didn’t have to try to get to the water. He didn’t have to wait for someone to help him as no had in the past. This man, Jesus, standing in front of him was offering him what he couldn’t do for himself. The chance to be made well.
And the man hesitates. His response is one of excuses. His response shows his helplessness and his despair. It shows his unbelief; no man will put me in that water.
What Jesus had was so much better. Jesus was the God-Man whose invitation held the very tentacles of life, healing and freedom.
Jesus invites again.
“Rise, take up your bed and walk.” (John 5:8)
Immediately, we are told, the man was made well. He took up his mat and walked out of Bethesda a new man. Can you picture the scene? The invitation of all invitations offered. A hand extended to one in great need. And faith that received the invitation and responded. Faith that believed that in fact, what this man offered, was desired, was needed, was real. In that belief, legs that for 38 years didn’t work, now were healed.
This man will leave those pools and go to the temple. On his way, the Jewish leaders stopped him. It was the Sabbath and this man was carrying his mat. According to man-made Jewish rules, this Jewish man was not to be carrying anything on the Sabbath. The Jewish rulers called it a burden. This man was carrying a burden on the day set aside for rest. I would imagine this man was so confused thinking, “A burden, you have no idea the burden I carried for 38 years. This mat is nothing. In fact, this mat represents freedom!” But the Jews couldn’t look at the man and rejoice in his healing, they were more concerned with the matters of the law.
Jesus will enter the scene and offer a harsh rebuke to the Jewish leaders. He will make this a teachable moment as He does with most everything in our lives, if we let Him. In that rebuke, He will tell the Jews exactly who He is giving proof to His deity and then offer them an invitation.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come int judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24)
He gives them the same invitation He gave the lame man. “Rise, take your mat, and walk.” The difference is, they didn’t see their need. Their body wasn’t lame, but their spiritual condition was as paralyzed and decrepit as the man was in his physical condition. In their eyes, they were good. Their Jewish rules and traditions, their knowledge of God, their own righteousness, their birthright made them good enough.
But it wasn’t.
It isn’t for any of us.
We are all like that man laying next to the pool of water. We need Jesus.
We need the invitation. The invitation is there. You just have to see it and then believe it.
As Jesus knew that man laying next to the pool, He knows you.
As Jesus looked upon that man; that certain man on that certain day, He looks upon you and says, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”
The invitation is received when faith is the response.
This past weekend, my son Ben had another weekend alone. The team had another away game. This time, I knew it going into the weekend. On top of it, it was also fall break. The campus was even quieter than before. I called Ben early in the weekend to check in on him. Again, no invitation from those around him. Even three of his close friends down the hall were all going home to one of the boy’s houses. Even if he was invited, he couldn’t go because of Friday football practice. But there wasn’t even that invitation. He was even more alone this time. I encouraged him to reach out to others; be the inviter. He assured me he was ok.
You see, he did have an invitation. I just didn’t see it. Ben saw it though.
The invitation that weekend came from Jesus.
When we talked on Sunday night and I asked him how his weekend went and did anyone ever invite him to hang out? His reply was, “No mom, it was a quiet weekend. But I’m good with it all. I feel that God is making me rely on him when most of the people around me are gone. So I feel good about it.”
You see, Jesus had an invitation for Ben. An invitation for Ben to look to Him, rely on Him and rest in Him. That is what my boy did. Here I was encouraging him to look with his eyes. Jesus was encouraging him to look with his heart toward Him.
That invitation, my friends, is one that Jesus has for each of us.
I don’t know your circumstances? Maybe you’ve been dealing with something for 38 years and you are weary? Maybe you are lonely? Maybe you are tired? Maybe your eyes tell you it will never get better?
But here’s Jesus who is “the way, the Truth and the Life” and His invitation is one that opens the door to spiritual healing, everlasting life and a relationship with God through Jesus. (John 14:6).
He says to you, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”
Will you do it?