Waiting For the Moving of theWater
May 17th, 1987 @ 8:15 AM
WAITING FOR THE MOVING OF THE WATER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-17-87 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now for this moment apart of the worshipping family of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Waiting for the Moving of the Water.
It is a message based upon this miraculous story in the fifth chapter of the Book of John. And I have three things to speak of it – mostly unrelated but very much in the heart of the passage. It begins with a word concerning the pool at Bethesda. In the city of Jerusalem – and that’s the reason it was there – in a dry and high and desert country, to have a fountain in the height of the hills was nothing short of a miraculous gift of God. And around that pool, around that water, grew the city of Jerusalem.
What you find in that phenomenon in the Holy Land, you find all over the world. Wherever there is an abounding abundance of flowing water, there you will see people congregating, particularly if it is a hot spring. For example, in the Roman Empire, the ancient Romans built a tremendously beautiful city at Bath in England. There is a flowing fountain there, and the Romans built beautiful colonnades and a city where the people throng around that abundance of water. You’ll find that all over the world: in Colorado, Pagosa Springs, and in Arkansas, Hot Springs.
And so often where you find those multitudes congregating, you will also find many of the things pertaining to worldly pleasures. And one of them is the racetrack. While I was reading and preparing for this message, I found an eloquent pericope out of T. De Witt Talmage. I don’t think there’s any doubt but that Talmage was the most eloquent preacher who ever lived. He’s the only pastor in the world, when he delivered his sermon on Sunday, it was published in all the newspapers of the nation the following day.
As I was reading Talmage, that gifted minister from Brooklyn, New York, I read this passage:
Around nearly all our watering places is the horse racing business. Horse racing in olden times was under the ban of Christian people. Today, there are the same cheating, betting, drunkenness, vagabondness, and abominations that were to be found under the old horse racing system. It doesn’t change. What it was yesterday, it is today. It will continue tomorrow.
The great day at all the watering places is the day of the races. The hotels are thronged. Every kind of equipage is taken up in an almost fabulous price. And there are respectable people mingling with jockeys, and gamblers, and libertines, and foul-mouthed men, and flashy women. The bartender stirs up the brandy mash. The bets run high; the green-horn, supposing all is fair, put in their money soon enough to lose it.
Men, looking on the race, see only two horses with two riders flying around the ring. Neck and neck they go in that moral Epsom – white horse of honor, black horse of ruin.
Death says, "I’ll bet on the black horse!"
Spectator says, "I’ll bet on the white horse!"
The white horse of honor a little way ahead, the black horse of ruin, Satan, mounted all the time – gaining on it.
Spectator, breathless, put on the last, digs in the spurs. There – there past the stands. Sure – just as I expected! The black horse of ruin has won the race and the devils come in to pick up the wages!
Thomas Hughes, member of parliament, author known all over the world, hearing that a new turf enterprise was being started in this country, such as Texas, wrote a letter in which he said, "Heaven help you! For, of all the cankers of our old civilization, there is nothing in this country approaching in unblushing meanness, in rascality, to this institution of the British turf."
Another famous sportsman writes, "How many fine domains have been ruined by these hosts of rapacious sharks? And how many more are doomed to fall into the same gulf? With the bull fights in Spain and the bear-baitings of the pit, may the Lord God annihilate the infamous and accursed horse racing of England and America!"
What you think about that? I’d call him a real preacher, goodness, and eloquent. That’s what we face today in our state. And, as Katy Welmedge says, "May heaven help us!" That’s number one: the watering place.
Number two: the most amazing and strange of all the questions that could ever be asked to an impotent man; our Lord finds this man, there at the pool of Bethesda, waiting for the moving of the water. And He says to him, "Wilt thou be made whole? Will you be healed?" [John 5:6]. Why, Lord, he’s been there thirty-eight years! His heart is faint with waiting and hoping. He’s impotent; he’s paralyzed; he can’t move! And You ask him, "Do you want to be healed? Do you want to be made whole?" Certainly, the man wants to be healed! Certainly, the man wants to be made whole! He’s been there these years and years hoping and praying and waiting that a miraculous cure would be brought to him.
But there’s more to that question than just what its strange and amazing character at first might suggest. There’s something over and beyond. You see, it’s a question that is involving an answer and a consequence and a result. And I can present it better if I change it from the healing of our physical frame to the saving and the healing of our souls.
If I ask, "Do you want to go to hell?"
"No, sir. I don’t want to go to hell."
"Do you want to go to heaven?"
"Yes, sir. I want to go to heaven."
But those are the results and the consequences of this first primary fundamental question: "Will you be healed? Will you be saved? Will you be changed? Will you be made whole?"
May I make it specific? Here is a man incarcerated in the penitentiary, and I ask him, "Would you like your sentence commuted? Would you like to be liberated from this cell?"
And he says, "Indeed; oh, yes!"
Then, I ask him, "Will you be made whole? Will you be healed? Will you be a new man in your heart, honest and upright and live a godly life?"
Or, again, here is a thief, and I ask him, "Would you be saved from your punishment?"
And he says, "Indeed. Indeed!"
"But," I ask him, "Will you be made whole? Will you be made well? Will you be honest and upright and a God-serving and a God-fearing man?"
Here is a murderer. And I ask him, "Would you escape the electric chair?"
And he says, "Oh, by all means!"
Then I ask, "Would you be made whole? Would you be healed? Would you be a Christ-honoring, God-serving, honest, devout man? Would you?"
It’s like the Pharisee and the sinner as they prayed together, and the Pharisee says in pride, "Thank God I am not like other men. Thank God I am not like that degraded, desperate sinner crying, ‘God, be merciful to me, down there’" [Luke 18:9-14]. And I ask the Pharisee, "Would you change places with him? Would you bow and ask God to forgive your sins and to make you whole and well?" And he says, "I would be insulted thus to bow before God and confess myself a sinner," for he thinks he is whole and well already.
The question fundamentally is always this: will you be a holy man? Will you be a God-serving man? Will you be a Christ-following man? Will you be a heaven-honoring man? And the answer is, "I don’t want to go to hell; I want to go to heaven. But I don’t want to go there if it involves my being a holy and a righteous man. I want to live the life of this world. I want to join my interest with sinners. And I don’t seek the happiness and the joys of heaven. I want to live in this life. And I want to be a part of this world. And I want to enjoy the things of this existence." In other words, "I want a reward and not run in the race, and I want to be crowned but not be in the conflict." And it won’t work.
If I’m going to heaven, I have to be healed. I have to be made whole. I have to be born again. I have to give my life to God. I have to be a holy and a righteous man. That’s the meaning of that question to this impotent for thirty-eight years: "Would you be made whole?" It’s a consequence, it’s a result of having given your heart to God that we are made whole and strong and well in our lives.
Number three: Bethesda, described as a place in Jerusalem where there was an intermittent spring. The water would build up under the earth and then pour out, finally running down to the pool of Siloam. It’s there today. At this pool, this watering place, there were five porches in which were multitudes of people waiting for the moving of the water. Five porches built around Bethesda, each one of which, filled with a multitude of people, were waiting, waiting, waiting for the moving of the water.
As in that day of our Lord at Bethesda, so there are multitudes and multitudes and throngs of people in those five porches waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting for the healing, waiting for the saving, waiting for the cleansing, waiting for all that God ultimately could do for us in those five porches.
Number one: in this porch are these throngs and these multitudes waiting, waiting, waiting for a more convenient season; sometime, someday, but not now. "I don’t want to go to hell; I want to go to heaven. But I’m waiting for a more convenient season for my healing and my being made whole." So many young people respond to the gospel like that. To them, religion is dull and sterile and joyless. And they want to have a good time: "And after I’ve had a good and a worldly time, then, at the end of the way, at a convenient season, I may accept the Lord as my Savior. But not now, not now; some other time."
A businessman will say that. "I don’t want to take time with this religion. My mind is engrossed in building and in a financial empire and all the things that go with aggrandizement and affluence and success. I have no time for God and no time for religion. I don’t want to go to hell; I want to go to heaven, but at a convenient time. I may sup and I may dine with the devil now, but at the end of the way, I want to sit down with the saints. I don’t want to go to hell; I want to go to heaven, but at a convenient season; maybe at the end of the way."
How many would say, "You know, I’m waiting for a great evangelist and for a mighty revival. And if we had a great evangelist here and we were in a great revival, I might come down that aisle for healing and for health, but I’m waiting for that more convenient and interesting time for me." What a tragedy! Jesus is here now. He is always close by. Only the man that stepped in that troubled water could be saved [John 5:4-7]. Jesus saves anywhere, anytime, any day, even now.
At no time in the Bible does God ever say, "Wait for some other day or some other time." God always says, "Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart" [Hebrews 3:15]. God always says, "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2]. This is the moment to be healed. This is the moment to be saved. This is the moment to come to Christ. It is now. O God, that we might reply:
I am resolved no longer to linger,
Charmed by the world’s delight.
Things that are higher,
Things that are nobler,
These have allured my sight.
I will hasten unto Jesus.
[from "I Am Resolved," Palmer Hartsough]
Waiting for a convenient season; that waiting is done! "This day, I’m coming now. I want to be saved now. I want to be healed. I want to know God in my heart and life. I want Him now."
A second porch, a second porch: waiting there for a sign or a wonder. How many do that? "I’m waiting for a miraculous something from heaven." They have heard about a man who heard a voice from heaven or saw a vision of an angel or was introduced in a miraculous apparition and a dream. "And I want to have some kind of an experience like that; an angel speak to me, or a voice from heaven address me, or some marvelous intervention that will bring me to a faith in God."
What a strange and unusual response to the Lord! To believe in God is not enough, but to believe in a voice from heaven; to doubt the Word of God, but to accept the apparition of an angel. What an inexplicable response to the grace and might and glory of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus!
You know what? One of the most amazing of all of the passages in the Bible is in the first chapter of 2 Peter, [verses 16-18]. Second Peter, first chapter, that apostle is describing the most marvelous, miraculous incident, experience that human soul could ever see or feel. He’s on the top of the Mount of Transfiguration, and while he, James, and John are there, the Lord Himself suddenly is transfigured. His face shines above the brightness of the sun. His garments are like pure unadulterated light. And while they look upon the glorious transfiguration of the Lord, Elijah [and] Moses, saints of the Old Testament, are talking to them. And as though that were not miraculous enough, they hear the voice of God from heaven, saying, "This is My Son; hear Him" [Matthew 17:1-5].
Now that is the description you’ll read in the first chapter of 2 Peter. And do you remember the next verse? After he describes the marvel of the transfiguration, and the glory of listening to the conservation of Moses and Elijah, and finally the voice of God Himself, after he describes that, do you remember the next verse? "But we have a more sure word of prophecy" [2 Peter 1:19-21], God’s Book. Beyond the glory of the transfiguration, and the voices of Moses and Elijah, and the affirmation from God Himself," the more sure word of the deity and ableness and saviorhood of Jesus Christ is found in this Holy Book. It’s an amazing, astonishing thing!
A third porch, a third porch: we’re waiting – multitudes waiting, multitudes in the third porch waiting – waiting for something other than the simple testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ; something other, something over, something beside. For example, there are multitudes who put the Bible on this side, on this side, and got to have the Book of Mormon here, got to put the Book of Mormon there. The Bible is not enough. "I must have the Book of Mormon here."
Or, other multitudes put the Bible on one side: "And, over here, I must have Mary Baker Eddy’s Book of Science and Scriptures, and all the things that pertain to healing. The Bible is not enough. I must have this other volume. I must have this other book. It must be added to; it’s not enough." O God, could it be, that in all of Thy marvelous wisdom and goodness and grace, there is yet not enough revealed to us of the way of healing and the way of health and the way of salvation in this Holy Book that I need some other volume, some other addition, something else to be added? Could it be? Could it be?
Do you remember that phenomenal, unbelievable, amazing conversation between Dives in hell and Abraham in heaven? Dives, in torment, says to Abraham, Father Abraham, "I have five brethren. Send Lazarus from the dead that he go to my father’s house and warn them, lest they come to this awful place of torment and damnation."
And Abraham says, "They have Moses and the prophets. They have the Bible. Let them hear them."
And Dives cries from the depths of damnation, "But, Father Abraham, they would believe! They would believe if one went to them raised from the dead!"
And Father Abraham replies, "If they believe not Moses and the prophets – if they do not believe the Book, if they do not listen to the Word of God – neither would they believe, though one rose from the dead" [Luke 16:19-31]. This is the way of health, and of healing, and of salvation, and there is none other. Nothing needs to be added; nothing over and beyond and beside, just the plain simple gospel of Jesus, our Lord.
A fourth porch: where multitudes are waiting, throngs are waiting, waiting for a feeling. "I don’t feel like it, preacher," waiting for a feeling. That’s a remarkable thing in itself, waiting for a feeling. "When I feel like it, I’ll do it. And until I feel like it, I’m not going to do it."
With my hand on this Bible, I swear to you before God; and with my hand raised to high heaven, I swear to you before God; if you come down this aisle and give your heart to the healing hand of Christ, and you open your soul God-ward and heavenward, and you take Him for as much as your heart will believe, I swear to you before God in heaven, you will have a feeling. You can’t do it without a feeling. And when you go home and you tell your family, "I’ve stood before the people of God, and I have confessed my faith and given my life to Christ," you’ll have a feeling! And when Monday morning comes, and you go to your office to work, and you testify to the people with whom you work, "I have given my heart to Christ, I’ve been saved, I’ve been healed," you’ll have a feeling! And when you walk with the Lord in the pilgrim way, every step of the way, you’ll have a feeling. You can’t obviate it. You can’t escape it. It’s a part of how human life is made in the image and likeness of Almighty God.
At last, a fifth porch: on this porch again, a multitude and a multitude and a multitude waiting, waiting, waiting for the coercive dragging of the Holy Spirit of God. "I’m waiting until, coercively, God thrusts me into the kingdom. And until that day comes that He coercively drags me and forces me into the kingdom and into heaven, I’m going to walk the way of the world." The tragedy of all tragedies of that is this: there is never, ever any coercive power exhibited by the Holy Spirit of God; never, ever. Always, the Holy Spirit of God is one of pleading and of invitation and of wooing; never an exception, never by force; always by appeal, taking the things of Jesus and presenting them unto you. And the decision lies in your will, always. No one ever is forced into the kingdom of God. And no one is ever driven through those pearly gates of heaven. If you’re there, it’s because you choose to be. And if you respond, it’s because of the willingness of your heart.
Always the role and the office of the Spirit is one of appeal, one of invitation, one of wooing, always. And how wonderful, how miraculously blessed when a man listens to the voice of the Spirit, and the Lord God says unto him, "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk" [John 5:8].
"But, Lord, You don’t understand. This man has been impotent and paralyzed for eight and thirty years; and You say to him, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and walk.’ Lord, how could he?" That is God’s part. The miracle belongs to God. The Lord says, "Stand up." And, his part is to stand up.
It’s exactly as that famous story in the Book of Exodus. Moses has led his people out of Egypt, and they stand on the shore of the Red Sea; on either side of them is the barren desert, and back of them is the army of Pharaoh, pressing. And Moses cries unto God, "Lord God, how shall we live? How shall we do? How shall we be saved?" And do you remember the famous verse? "And the Lord God said unto Moses, "Why criest thou unto Me? Bid the children of Israel to go forward" [Exodus 14:15].
"Great God, to go forward into the depths of the sea and to drown?"
"Bid the children of Israel to go forward!" Their part was to march. It was to move. It was to step. It was God’s part to do the miraculous, to open the waters, to divide the sea, to spare and to save the people.
That is exactly the case with us, always. God says, "Confess, openly confess your faith in the Lord Jesus." God says, unashamedly, to commit your life to the blessed Lord Jesus. My part is to stand; my part is to respond; my part is to come; my part is to trust and to obey. And God’s part is to do the miracle, that’s in His prerogative.
Lord, if it I am healed, You must heal me. If I am saved, You must save me. If I am delivered, You must deliver me. If I have strength for this pilgrimage, You must give it to me. And when I stand at the portals of glory, it is You that must open the gates. I depend upon You for the miracle. That’s what it is to be healed. That’s what it is to be given health. That’s what it is to be saved. That’s what it is to have before you open the doors of heaven, to trust God for it, to believe Him for a miracle and leave the miraculous in His hands.
Do you think God will let us down? Do you think God will forsake His promise? Do you think God will forget His Word? As surely as God lives, He lives in His Book, in His Word, in His revelation, in His promise, in His invitation. God is in it. And my part is to stand, to obey, to accept, to believe. And He is responsible for the miracle.
How do I know that I’ll hold out to the end? Trusting God for it. How do I know that I’ll be in His grace and love in the hour of my death? Trusting God for it. How do I know I’ll be among the saints that enter into glory? Trusting God for it. That’s His assignment, that’s His prerogative, the miracle. My part is to trust, and to commit, and to stand, and to obey.
And that is God’s appeal to your heart this morning. "Pastor, today I’m trusting God for the miracle, and here I come." Maybe to bring your whole family into the circle of the sweet fellowship of the church, "We’re coming, all of us, pastor. This is God’s day for us." Or believing God that He will see you through in a call that He has made to your heart, "I’m answering with my life." Make that decision now. Do it now, and in a moment when we stand to sing that hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, "Pastor, here I come. Here I stand. God help me, and do for me this marvelous and wonderful thing of health and healing and salvation."
Now let’s ask God for it in prayer. "Our Lord in heaven, You are the same yesterday, and today and forever [Hebrews 13:8]. What You did in power with this impotent man, You can do with us who have no power to save ourselves. Lord God in heaven, when I come to the end of the way, how can I save myself? I am dead. How can I raise myself? I’m buried in the dirt of the ground. How can I breathe life into a decaying body? O God, who is able to resurrect from the dead, who is able to give life to him who doesn’t live? You can. You can. Lord, You can save us in this life. You can raise us from the dead in the life to come. You can open the doors of heaven, the miracle is Yours. My part, Lord, is to trust, to believe, to commit, and I so do, so help me, blessed Jesus."
In this moment, when we stand to sing, in that balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the throng and press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand." Make it now; this moment, this day. Please God, bless as only God is able to woo and to draw and to save; in Thy wonderful name, amen, while we stand and while we sing.