The following is adapted from a message Billy Graham preached Sept. 2, 1978, during his Mid-America Crusade in Kansas City, Mo.
Jesus Christ had been going up and down the country preaching, and He spoke with authority, simplicity and urgency. The Bible says, “The common people heard him gladly.” The rich and the poor alike came to hear Him. He spoke with great authority, unlike the other preachers of that day.
His fame had spread abroad because He had made the blind to see, the deaf to hear and the lame to walk. He had fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fishes. I wonder, if they had had television in those days, what they would have done with Jesus. How spectacular it would have been! How it would have been written up in the newspapers and what great headlines there would have been.
But after a while, they would have been criticizing Him for all kinds of things. Because people have always criticized Jesus. There’s a hostility toward Jesus in the hearts of millions of people, for no other reason than that He was holy and righteous, and we are so unholy and so unrighteous. And when the light is penetrating the darkness, the darkness does not like the light. Men love darkness, the Bible says, because their deeds are evil. And Jesus is the Light of the world; people don’t want Him to come into their hearts and tear their lives apart, as He does when He comes in. You have to change your way of living when Jesus Christ comes in.
Now Jesus had come to Jerusalem for this great feast. If you had been in Jerusalem at that time, and you heard that Jesus was there, where would you have looked for Him? Where would you think Jesus would be? Well, you’d look for Him in the temple, of course, with all the religious leaders. But that’s not where He went on this occasion. He went to a sheep market, where there was a pool called Bethesda. Sick people came to this pool from all around. John 5:4 says that at a certain time an angel went down and “troubled the water,” and whoever was the first to step into the water was healed.
One man had been there for 38 long years, lying there. And Jesus saw all the misery. There’s misery here, too. In every city and every suburb today, there’s misery. There’s moral misery, there’s spiritual misery, there’s psychological misery and there’s physical misery. And the root cause of the world’s problems is sin. We’ll never get to the root of our problems until we get to the heart.
The Bible tells us the kinds of people who were at the pool.
First, the impotent, or sick, were there. There is such a thing as spiritual impotency. They had the law, but they did not have the power to obey the law. They had the Ten Commandments, but they couldn’t keep them. They had no power.
The blind were there—people who couldn’t see. Many people are spiritually blind. You may have 20/20 vision, but your spiritual eyes are blind. The Bible says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (2 Corinthians 2:14). The Bible says, “The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble” (Proverbs 4:19). The only person who can open your spiritual eyes is the Lord Jesus Christ.
And then the Bible says the lame were there (John 5:3). We can be spiritually lame if our conscience is dead. You can go on committing the same sins over and over till after a while your heart gets harder and harder, and harder and harder, so that when your conscience speaks, you can’t hear it. Your conscience becomes dead. And what a terrible thing it is to have a dead and seared conscience. If you hear the Spirit of God even whisper to you tonight, you’d better receive Christ while you can.
And then the Bible says the withered, or paralyzed, were there. Our wills can become paralyzed by sin—materialism and worldliness, lust, greed and the love of money can take the place of God in our lives and paralyze our wills so that when we really want to serve God, we don’t have the power to do it. Our will has been paralyzed! That’s why you need to come like a little child and say, “Lord Jesus, come into my heart.”
Now this man at the pool of Bethesda had been waiting for 38 years. He’d tried everything else. I don’t know why Jesus skipped all those other people and went straight to this man, but I think it’s because he was in the worst condition of anyone there. For 38 years he’d lain on that pallet and tried to get into the water first. And he failed every time. He must have been a lonesome man, because probably he had no friends to help him like some of these other people had.
Jesus went to him. And Jesus looks at you tonight as He looked at that man—He looks with tenderness and understanding and kindness and love. The Scripture says that He loved this man. And that’s the way He’s looking at you.
And then He asked an incredible question. He said, “Do you want to be made whole?” (Cf. John 5:6).
Here’s what Jesus was saying, “Do you really want to get rid of the sins and the habits that are destroying you, and leading you to destruction?”
You can get to the point that you so love your sins and so love the things of this world that you don’t really want to get rid of them. You don’t want Christ to come in and change your life. And so Jesus said, “Do you really want to be healed? Do you want to be whole?” The man answered and said, “Yes, I want to be whole.”
And that’s all you have to do tonight. Just say, “Yes, I want to be whole.”
Now there are three important things I want you to notice that happened.
First, you must have faith. Jesus said, “Rise” (John 5:8). The man had tried to do that thousands of times and failed. Now Jesus, the Son of the living God, is saying to him, “Get up! Rise!” And by faith in the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ, he got up! Tonight, your sins can be forgiven. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).
The second thing is there must be no looking back, no provision for a relapse. Don’t put your hand to the plow and look back. Jesus said, “Rise, take up your bed, take up that old dirty pallet that you’ve been on and take it with you” (Cf. John 5:8).
Imagine all the joy and jumping and leaping and excitement and emotion, and the bewilderment of the crowd! They had seen this man year after year, and now he’s up and he’s walking, and he’s strong. Jesus said, Turn your back on that filthy mat! That’s repentance. Rise and follow Christ.
Third, there has to be the acceptance of responsibility. Jesus said, “Walk” (John 5:8). Walk a new road, walk the narrow road with Christ, walk in discipleship. One of the greatest needs we have is discipleship. We need to study the Word of God and we need to pray, and we need to walk with Christ in discipleship. He’s calling disciples.
Now I want you to listen to this very, very carefully. Jesus saw this same man later in the temple and said, “Sin no more” (John 5:14).
And then Jesus added, “Lest a worse thing come upon you” (Cf. John 5:14). In other words, there is something worse—something worse than lying for 38 years on a mat. He was talking about hell. He was talking about the judgment.
Yes, Jesus told this man to do something. He told him to rise, take up his pallet and walk.
I’m going to ask you to do the same thing. I’m going to ask you to rise and receive Christ as your Lord and Savior. You may be a good person who goes to church every Sunday, or you may not be a good person at all. I’m asking you to come.
You say, “What do I have to do?” You have to be willing to repent of your sins. That means to change your mind, to change your heart, to change your attitude. It means that instead of loving yourself first, you love God first. It means that you come to the cross and acknowledge that you have sinned and ask Christ to forgive you of your sins. It means that by simple childlike faith you turn and receive Christ into your heart. You say, “I will serve Him, I will follow Him, I will walk with Him, I will let Him have His way in my life.”
And you accept Him not only as Savior, but you accept Him as Lord. He’s to be Lord of your life from now on. Burn your bridges behind you. It’s Christ, and Christ alone, from tonight on.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version.