When God Asks You to Do Something You Can’t Do

A man was there who had been crippled for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and usually while I’m going in someone else steps down in front me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up. Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was cured and he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:5-9)

Has anyone ever asked you to do something you knew you could not do?

Not something you doubted that you could do, but something you absolutely knew for certain that you couldn’t do? My little boy once asked me to lift him up high enough so that he could touch the moon. It felt like the kind of thing that would have locked up “Greatest Father In History” for me if I could have pulled it off. I lifted him up as high as I could and stretched my arms as far as they would go, and he thought it was a lot of fun and thought I was pretty awesome for trying. But of course I knew before I picked him up that I (probably) wasn’t quite going to be able to reach.

Jesus asked a man to do something like that once.

During one of his trips to Jerusalem he saw a disabled man sitting near a shallow pool called Bethesda that was thought to have healing power. (Ever wondered why so many hospitals are called “Bethesda Something or Other Hospital”? There you have it.) The problem for the man was that he was so crippled that he couldn’t even get himself into the pool to try to heal his broken body.

Jesus, who had never met the man, asked him if he wanted to be healed. I love that question, by the way. I wonder what kind of look Jesus had on his face when he asked it. When Jesus asked people that, how many do you think said, “Eh. No thanks. I’m good”? But the man indicates that if that were at all possible, sure, he’d be up for getting healed.

What happens next is startling. Jesus says something to the man that must have sounded to those standing nearby like the most unbelievably rude thing anyone could have said to a crippled man: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

Just think about this for a second. If you saw some guy walk up to a guy in a wheelchair and say, “Get up. Put your chair away and walk,” how would you respond? I’d be furious! I think I’d want to shove that guy up against a wall by the neck and give him a little talking-to about what you do and don’t get to say to a disabled person.

Jesus might as well have told the crippled man to touch the moon. He was commanding the impossible. But then, of course, something incredible happened: “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (v. 9). How? How does that happen? How did that guy obey an impossible command?

The answer is that when Jesus commanded the impossible, he also made the man able to obey the impossible. His impossible command came with the power to obey it.

Jesus is always doing stuff like that. He once said to a dead man, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). How can a dead man obey that command?! You ever thought about that? How crazy is it to command a dead man to do something?

But that’s just the point, isn’t it? None of us can obey anything God says unless he heals us. Unless he empowers us. Unless he makes us able to obey him. Sinners like you and me are not capable of doing anything good apart from God’s grace at work in us. So, for example, when God commands us to “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom. 10), we should feel desperate for God because we know it is impossible for us to love others genuinely and to honor them above ourselves unless he pours his grace into our hearts and makes us able to obey his command.

And he does. Every day.

He pours out his grace and moves in us by his Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts, so that we can live for him. And so that he receives all (not part) of the glory when we love and live for him. If I love another person genuinely today, it’s not because I’m good. It’s because God poured good into a sinner. If you honor someone above yourself today, it’s not because you’re inherently other-centered. It’s because God poured other-centeredness into you.

So, Father, pour into us everything we need today to love people well, to heal and restore the world, and to bring fame to your name. Amen.

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