New Beginnings: Breaking Destructive Cycles
It is amazing how we do things over and over that do not work out well and the entire time we are thinking they will work out. Thursday morning it was a cool, rainy, dreary morning and on the way into work I stopped by Starbucks for a cup of coffee. My car has an excellent cup holder that is made for SB coffee. However, when I was holding the cup by the top to put it back into the cup holder, the lid came off and coffee began to go everywhere. I was wearing a white shirt and fortunately most of the coffee spilled on my car seat beside my right leg. The warm sensation running down across my check was not one I want to experience again. I know, those things happen. Here’s the kicker, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. It isn’t the second or third time. It is like the 50th time, JK, but it is happened often enough for me to know better!! After cleaning the seat, the console, my hands and steering wheel I begin to consider the irony of it all. I’m headed into my office to pull together my studies on a passage about breaking destructive cycles and it suddenly came to me, I am in a destructive cycle.
Here’s the thing: I continue to get SB coffee and have it in my car and even drink it in my car after having the top pop off and hot coffee spilling all over me knowing that it could very well not only ruin my cloths but more significantly cause me to have a car wreck. But, I always think, I’m going to be very careful this time. It will be different this time. I’m not going to let it happen again! That is the logic behind a destructive cycle.
We think we can handle it. We can change the cycle. That somehow, someway, what has happened so many times before won’t happen again. It is craziness! Unfortunately, no one is immune.
There are destructive family cycles in the family of Abraham as he lied and deceived others and that pattern is repeated generationally with Isaac and Jacob, then most all of Jacob’s sons which lead to heartbreak and division. We see the sexual addiction in the life of King David and his decedents that ultimately lead to the division of the kingdom of Israel. The High Priest Eli had a spirit of rebellion that his sons repeated and reinforced it with devastating consequences for the family.
No family is immune and no person is free from destructive family cycles. Today it is addictions of all sorts. But destructive cycles can be broken and you can create new healthy patterns for your children and your children’s children.
In our scripture reading today from John 5:1-18, we see a man in a very difficult and destructive cycle.
Destructive cycles can last a lifetime!
For 38 years this man has sought a cure for his problem. He has a very real problem – he is lame or crippled and evidently for some time he has sought a solution at the pool of Bethesda. The passage does not tell us how long he put his hopes in this means of delivery but we know several things for a fact:
It wasn’t working. The longer he tried this solution, the more invested he became in it. The more difficult it became to give up on the solution. Even though he knew that his chances were slim to none, he keep on trying what he thought was going to work. Maybe it was the only thing he had considered.
Wonder how many people sought to encourage him by saying, “Don’t give up… Keep the faith… stay with it… it’s not your fault… eventually it will work out…”
All of that sounds really good but it is like encouraging a person in quicksand that everything is going to be ok as long as they keep their “chin up”. J So, let’s look at this passage and ask God to teach us His truth so that we can break destructive cycles in our own lives and share these truths with others.
Good intentions don’t deliver.
1- Religious trappings can be a trap.
The pool called Bethesda which means “House of Mercy” was strategically located by the “sheep gate.” We first read about the Sheep Gate in the wall around Jerusalem in the OT book of Nehemiah. It was through this gate that those bringing their sacrifice to the altar would pass through. It was a place of HOPE and so the pool was called the “house of mercy.”
But the “house of mercy” became the home of misery.
There is nothing worse than false hope. False mercy. I have stood by people who were told things will get better when they didn’t get better. I have observed religious hucksters pronounce very convincingly and authoritatively a “Word of Hope” only to see people buy into it and then become disillusioned. Much like the prophets in Jeremiah’s day who kept telling the people that everything was going to be fine – Jeremiah’s message was totally different.
I think the symbolism in verse 2 is very real. Here is the pool called, the house of hope by the sheep gate where people would enter that lead to the altar of sacrifice and it is noted that the area had “five porticoes.”
Remember that Jesus is ushering in a new beginning, a new covenant. We learned from the first miracle at the marriage where Jesus turned water to wine that the miracle foreshadowed the new covenant inaugurated by the blood of Messiah. Judaism is founded and rooted in the Torah. The Torah is the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture, what we call the OT. It is the Five books of Moses. It is basically the Law. Moses was the Law giver.
Here’s what I believe we learn from this: The Law does not offer hope! The Law only reveals the Holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.
Rom 3:20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. NASB
Three verses later we read:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.”
What is the Glory of God? His perfection! His Holiness. We all fall short of God’s standard which is revealed in the Law.
Gal 2:16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. NASB
The former Pharisee, who memorized the Torah and sought to strictly keep the law wrote:
Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.
The point here is that we depend on religious trappings that will actually enslave us even more! The Law of Moses never saved one person! The Law only points out our deficiencies…. Our inability to keep the law. The Big 10 reveal the rebellious nature of our hearts. The Law points us to the Lamb of God who fulfilled the Law and became the perfect sacrifice for our sin so that our hope is NOT in our ability to keep the law or perform good enough deeds to get into heaven, but our hope is in Christ who makes all things new.
Here is man who represents all who seek to become well by trusting in their ability to keep the Law of God. it is false hope, misplaced hope. Misplaced hope FUELS destructive cycles.
2- Our problem is normally not our problem.
Jesus sees the man. Our Lord cares about you! Even when you think that no one really cares about you and no one notices you and you are just another number in the system, another person caught up in a destructive pattern, Christ cares. He sees you.
He not only sees you and cares for you but He Knows YOUR CONDITION. Often the greatest challenge we face it knowing our condition.
Illustration) I saw them Easter Sunday morning. A beautiful couple with two beautiful little girls. They had great jobs. My phone rang and it was him. He asked me to come over to his house and talk. I could tell by his voice something was wrong. I sat in his kitchen and he cried as his wife busied herself packing her bags and gathering the two, frightened little girls up. She left before I left. He sobbed as he sat there at his kitchen table and said over and over again, “I didn’t know anything was wrong.” The last time she walked by us sitting there she said, “I’ve been telling you but you didn’t want to listen.” That was almost 30 years ago at my first pastorate. Since then I’ve learned something about US, that is all of us:
The biggest lie we ever tell is to ourselves! We believe what we want to believe and think what we want to think and feel how we want to feel and God knows the truth! He sees our condition even when we don’t see it.
This crippled man thought his condition was different from what it really was.
That is why it appears strange that Jesus asked, “Do you wish to get well?”
Seriously???? This man had been crippled for 38 years! Of course he wanted to get well. The Holy Spirit will cut to the core of our hearts and ask us: Do you wish to stop this cycle? Do you wish to get well? Do you really want healing in your life? I fell on my face before God as I prepared this Word and asked God to probe our hearts with this question: Do you wish to get well?
Do YOU wish to get well? The question is personal.
Do you WISH – that word means to PURPOSE or to desire, to love, to take delight in…
Do you purpose in your heart to be well?
Do you take delight in being well?
Do you wish to GET WELL? To Become WHOLE.
By the way, the verb “GET WELL” is in the middle voice. That means the subject is acting upon itself. “John bought himself a new car.” Is an example of a middle voice verb form in Greek. Jesus is asking this man: Do YOU really desire to make yourself whole? See the significance of this: The question is twofold! Not only is God asking this man if he wants to be whole; He is asking this man if he wants to make himself whole? Do you want to cure yourself?
That is why the man responds like he does. Which leads us to the third truth in this passage on breaking destructive cycles:
Remember, first, religious trappings is a trap.
Second, the means is more important than the method.
3- Everyone has a good excuse.
Verse 7 “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.”
Here’s our excuse: “I’m stuck in the mud!!” We aren’t “stuck in the mud” but the mud is stuck in us. “I have no one to carry me and when I try to get there on my own, which takes a while, someone else gets there first.
“I am doing the best I can with what I have to work with…..People around me are not very helpful and then others just make matters worse…. I am fighting a losing battle!!… You see, my mate just makes matters worse!…. My parents won’t help!… My friends encourage me to continue unhealthy patterns…I can’t seem to do it! I don’t have the will power! I am trying but every time I start to make progress, someone knocks me backwards.”
All of those things this man had thought and said for as long as he sought help by the House of Hope. He didn’t seem to get what he was looking for because his friends weren’t there when he needed them and then when he tried he came up short. Why? Because this lame man depended on himself and others.
You can do the same in your destructive patterns. You can keep trying and trying and crawling but the chains are too heavy! The obstacles are too great! Too much has happened…. But you have the trappings of religious hope and you believe you have the means to get it done with the help of your religion or whatever you depend on.
4- Walking with chains isn’t progress!
Jesus said to him, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.” Vs 8
“Immediately the man became well, and took up his pallet and began to walk.” Vs 9
The man became physically whole. He was instantaneously healed, totally and completely. Now, you’d think that everything is wonderful. This man was set free from the chains of his physical problem. He was set free or so it seems. You begin to notice something about this man’s attitude in verse 15.
Vs 15 “the man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.” There is no hint of gratitude or authentic appreciation or admiration! He was very grateful that he could WALK. But he didn’t move beyond his newfound ability. He was stuck in his heart. His heart was still bound while his legs worked.
That is too often the problem. We think we break out of a destructive pattern because we make some changes that are dramatic and obviously celebrated by others. Others saw this man walk, they were glad for him but all others could see was the outward progression not the inward deprivation.
Jeremiah 17:9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
While this man had cured legs he still had a crushed spirit.
Psalm 34:18 “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
5- Chains are only broken by Christ.
John 5:14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you.”
A new beginning is only possible with a repentant heart.
This man was warned – sin no more…. We think it very sentimental and godly to say, “well at least they are trying.” That is so silly. Without a repentant heart, a person can actually make matters WORSE after they get better!!!!!!!!!
Not all problems are a result of our own personal sin as is revealed in the book of Job. Paul had a physical problem that was not a result of sin but would keep him from sin. The Lord Jesus puts his finger on the heart of the problem with this man – he thought his problems were cured because of all the apparent progress he had made, but unless there is a change of heart, our problems can become worse.
We can get cleaned up for a while but unless there is a heart change, we will not break the destructive patterns, we will actually develop more destructive patters.
A change of heart begins with admitting you have a problem.
Then realizing you can’t solve the problem.
Excuses for your destructive cycle is only keeping you in it.
You turn to Jesus to heal the root of your destructive pattern, your heart!!
You repent of your sin and cast yourself on Jesus.
Matt 12:43-45 “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places, seeking rest, and does not find it. 44 “Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 45 “Then it goes, and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” NASB
Do you wish to get well? That wellness may not be the restoration of a relationship or something that you want but the root of all the issues we face in life – the wholeness of heart….