Pick up your mat and walk
The morning was going like every other morning had gone for the past 38 years of this mans life. Laying on a mat he was being carried through the streets of Jerusalem to the pool of Bethesda near the Sheep Gate. Sometimes he would be carried by friends but most of the time he was carried by family members. He would be brought to this pool because there was a legend that angels would come down into the pool and stir the waters and if you were in the pool when they did so you would be healed. So his friends or his family or a combination of both would carry him and leave him by the pool as they went about their day. After they had finished their tasks for the day they would come back to retrieve him and carry him back home. This was his life for 38 years.
When he first became invalid he would be so embarrassed to be carried through the city as people would look at him lying helpless on his mat. However, he would endure the glances because he had hope that this would be the day the angels would come and stir the water and he would be healed as a result. Over time however friends stopped coming to carry him as they grew up and moved on with their lives and he grew accustomed to the looks and glances. He also grew accustomed as the years went on to being invalid, this became his identity. He really had no hope anymore of being healed he was just trapped in the routine of his daily being carried on his mat to be laid by the pool to lay there by himself until he was retrieved and carried back home.
Those who would bring him never expected to find him in any other condition than the one they left him in day after day for the past 38 years. One day however those who had brought him and laid him down by the pool had come back after they had conducted their business for the day but he was not where they had left him. Where could he be? Had he crawled away to some other area of the pool? Had he gotten someone else to carry him to the Sheep gate perhaps to beg for money? Had he become sicker than he had been and someone carried him home? The questions swirled throughout their minds of where this man could be and what could have happened to him. The truth however was far more amazing than anything they could have dreamed or imagined. As they started to inquire about their friend they came across a Jewish leader who spoke indignantly about a man who fit the description of their friend to a T except for the fact no one was carrying this man nor was he crawling but in fact he was walking! Walking, and carrying his mat…on the Sabbath no less which was a clear violation of the law! Asking the religious leader what had happened he recounted how the man did not know who the man was that had healed him but that a man had come to him and told him to “pick up his mat and walk”.
As they were talking to the Jewish leader here he came, here came the man they had carried earlier in the morning, the man they had carried many mornings and if it wasn’t for his face, clothes, his build and that mat he had been laying on for 38 years he now carried they wouldn’t have believe it. After all this man coming towards them was walking! This man was healthy, this man was healed! Before they could rejoice, before they could say anything as they looked in complete astonishment the man reported to the Jewish leader that the same man who had healed him had just come up to him in the Temple area and told him “Now you are well, stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you” and that the man that had healed him and told him this was none other than the one all the people were talking about, Jesus of Nazareth!
Can you imagine the scene that had transpired that day when this man encountered Jesus laying there by that pool? Can you imagine the scene when Jesus told the man to “pick up his mat and walk”? Can you imagine those first few steps the man took after not having taking them for 38 years? Can you imagine the scene as this man and those who had carried him on the very mat he was now carrying walked through the streets of Jerusalem as they walked home. Can you imagine the look of astonishment the crowds of individuals must have had as they did a double take when they recognized the man walking was none other than the invalid? How awesome it truly is when we encounter Jesus Christ! What transformation comes from that encounter! What a ripple effect that has on all those around us!
When I read of this event in the 5th chapter of John I am amazed and encouraged. I am in awe and a deeper sense of reverence comes over me for my Savior. What a beautiful event this was and what a great physical illustration of what God can do for us spiritually. There are so many facets to this story and every detail just captures my imagination and heart. There is one detail though that has always stuck out to me in this story and that is when Jesus told the man to “pick up his mat and walk”. It wasn’t that he was walking on the sabbath day that brought out the indignation of the religious leaders but it was his mat that he was carrying that caused it. I think there is something deeper for us to look at here in regards to the mat, I mean why didn’t Jesus tell him to throw that mat away? After all he wouldn’t need that mat anymore he had been healed, he had been made new!
When I was in the Army I was stationed with the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. I was a grunt who served as a grenadier. When we would do our training a lot of the times we would do so in the Kahuku’s which is a training area situated on the the slopes of the northern end of the Koolau Mountain Range, there on Oahu. Sometimes we would be in the field for a week to two weeks training. At night when we would lay down to sleep on the ground I would utilize a type of very thin mat (I won’t write what it is referred to by those in the Army). After sleeping on this mat for just a week or two after having sweated all day or being out in the rain all day, having rolled it up and secured it to the top of my ruck sack and marching through the Kahuku’s needless to say it would get pretty nasty, ok that is an understatement it was extremely nasty.
Now imaging with me you live in first century Jerusalem. Bathing is not something done very often and hygiene is not nearly what it is today. There is no deodorant, there are no washers and dryers for your clothes, nothing of the sort. The average person did not have many changes of clothes at all so you wore the same clothes frequently. With that in mind think about this man who laid on this mat in the hot sun for 38 years and imagine the condition that mat must have been in. Imagine what that mat must have looked like, what that mat must have smelt like. It doesn’t produce a very pretty image in your mind does it?
Religion hates mats. That is why the religious leaders of the Jews were so indignant towards the man who had been healed. Their law had no room for mats being carried on the day set aside in obedience to God Almighty. But think about what that mat represented. That mat represented that mans brokenness, that man’s helplessness, that man’s hopelessness. For 38 years that was his identity that is what he rested on, that is what he slept on, that is what he ate on that is what he did everything on. Now as he carried it think about what it now represented, his healing, his new identity and his hope. We are told by Jesus that to follow Him we must carry a cross. The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing and those trapped in religion have no use or room for the cross because the cross has no room for self-righteousness or pride of any kind. But just as much as religion and those who adhere to it’s dead ways despise the cross so too do they despise the mat.
You see in religion it’s all about moral adherence and appearance. The gospel on the other hand is about life transformation. Religion says you got to clean yourself up, learn to walk yourself and get everything together before you can came to God. The Gospel says you can never clean yourself up, or learn to walk or get anything together in your life until you come in humility and repentance to Jesus Christ. Religion is all about being shiny where the Gospel is about being a servant. Religion today doesn’t want anyone to carry their mat Jesus freed them from because it shows the world that only by the power of Jesus can we be healed. Just as that man couldn’t get over his physical sickness by following the law neither can we get over our spiritual sickness by it. We must have a true encounter with Jesus Christ for we are save by grace alone.
You see for 16 years I was a invalid as well. Through out that time I used drugs and alcohol, stole, robbed people, sold drugs, lived in sexual immorality, spoke vulgar and blasphemed the name of God constantly. But one day, May 16th of 2010 I encountered Jesus Christ as I lay on my mat of brokenness, helplessness and hopelessness. Through His death on the cross He called me to Himself and told me to “pick up my mat and walk”! Christ made me a new creation and now I no longer walk in the darkness of this world but in the light of Christ. And I hope you notice two things about me as I do so. The first is I hope you notice my cross because by it I was saved and through it I die to self more and more each day. The second thing I hope you notice is my mat because that is my testimony. Apart from Jesus Christ that is where I still would be; on that mat broken, helpless and hopeless. You see the only good you see in me is Jesus and the only reason I can walk today in the light is because of Jesus Christ. Never be ashamed to carry your mat no matter how nasty, filthy and disgusting it is because it speaks to the power, the love, the grace, the mercy and the awesomeness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I carry my mat not because I need it anymore for I have been delivered from it by the life transforming blood of Jesus Christ! No I carry it because others who are still laying on their’s need to see that there is hope – and His name is Jesus. Jesus asked that man as he lay there by that pool if he wanted to be well. As you read this let me ask you the same, do you really want to be well? Would you really like to be well? Would you like to be freed from your mat? If so just cry out to Jesus, place your faith in Him…And pick up your mat and walk!