True rest - John 5:1-30
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
There is a story about the 19th century artist Paul Dore who was travelling in a foreign country and having lost his passport found himself confronted by a very suspicious immigration official at the border. ‘I’m sorry’ he said, ‘But I have lost my identification papers, but I can tell you that I am Paul Dore’, the painter. ‘Ah’ said the sceptical guard, ‘We shall soon see about that.’ So he gave him a pencil and some paper and said, ‘Go on then - prove it!’ So Dore made a lightening sketch of some nearby travellers with such inimitable skill that the border official could only reply, ‘There is no question about it- you must be Paul Dore’.
Some folk are so distinct and unique that in their person they carry their own credentials. They don’t need some certification saying who they are; it is so patently obvious by what they do. It is like that with Jesus. Just like Dore’s sketches and paintings testified to who he was, so Jesus’ deeds bear testimony to who he is. That is what John 5 is all about- the divine artist in action.
Let me begin by setting the scene: Jesus has just healed a man who for 38 years has been completely paralysed. Was that a cause for great rejoicing? You would have thought so. But the man himself proved to be a bit of a thankless grump and the religious leaders used it as an occasion for a further attack on Jesus. This was because not only did Jesus heal this man on the Sabbath- the Jewish day of rest when no work was permitted- including healing, but he got the man to carry his mat, which was considered to be work. The result -v16 ‘So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.’ However, Jesus uses this confrontation as an opportunity to deliver some of the most sublime teaching about himself which was to give his opponents apoplexy.
Jesus begins by justifying his actions in a most startling way, v 17: ‘In his defence Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” What’s that all about? Well in the OT Law of Moses, it is made quite clear that a Jew was not to do any work on the seventh day he would normally do on the other six days. So if your job was, say, delivering milk, that was fine so long as you didn't do that on the seventh day, you were meant to a break from your regular job. But this fellow who had just been healed didn’t carry mats for a living. So why are they getting so upset? It is because by the time of Jesus the Jews had categorised work which was forbidden on the Sabbath into 39 groups, one of which was, ‘You shall not carry an object from one domicile [house] to another.’ And it was this regulation, not found in Scripture, that this poor fellow was breaking. But Jesus doesn’t tackle the matter at that level; instead he implicitly draws on a debate which the Jewish theologians were having in order to point to his own divinity. And the debate centred on the question: Does God obey the Sabbath law? Or is it the case that God works on the seventh day? Some reasoned that he must do, because if he didn’t work at sustaining the universe everything would simply fall apart. But others said, while it is true that God exercises his providential care on the Sabbath day, since the whole creation is his, we can think of it as being his ‘home’, so he can move pieces around his world like a man might move pieces of furniture around his house and so not break the Sabbath law- do you see? The point is this: whichever side of the debate you came down on, it was agreed that God must be doing something on the Sabbath. Now Jesus is saying something like this: ‘Yes, we are all agreed that God is working all the time- even on a Sabbath Day- but since God is at work, and God is uniquely my Father, I too as his unique Son must also be at work-even on the Sabbath.’ In other words, he is claiming for himself the same exemption from the law as God! And the Jews see the point-v18, ‘For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.’
Now no ordinary Jew would have put forward this sort of argument. It is true some Jews in the first century did call God ‘Father’, but not to the extent that they would claim for themselves the prerogatives reserved for God alone. But that is exactly what Jesus is doing. Just who does he think he is? Well, the Jews think he is claiming equality with God in that they interpret it as Jesus arguing he is some second god alongside the one they worship. And it is this misunderstanding which Jesus goes on to correct-not by denying that he is in some sense God, but leading them to a deeper understanding of how God is to be thought of.
What Jesus does is to show us in what sense he is God. He isn’t God in that he is another deity alongside the one true God of Israel- so there are two gods. But he is God in that he carries out the functions of God in a way no mere man could. Jesus way of being God as the incarnate Son, is different from the way the Father is being God and the difference revolves around the notion of loving obedience. As we shall see, although there is equality between Father and Son in terms of deity (they share the divine name Yahweh- LORD) and so is the source of all life for God alone has ‘life in himself’- v23, nonetheless it is God the Father who gives God the Son ‘life-in-himself’. It is an eternal giving. This is not that easy to get our heads around, but just go with how the argument develops and see how Jesus preserves both the unity of God (there is only one God whose name is Yahweh) and the distinctions within the Godhead- the Father is distinct from the Son.
First, Jesus says he is the apprentice Son -v19 " I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’
To fill out the relationship between himself and the Father, Jesus draws on a picture which would have been familiar to his hearers. In this agrarian society trades where passed on from generation to generation. Sons, by and large, did what their father’s did. So if your father was a carpenter, chances are that is what you would be and what your son would be and his son after him and on and on down the line. So what the father craftsman would do would be to pass on the secrets of the trade by showing the son all that he does, and the son would carefully watch how his father works and imitate him, so bit by bit over time he could do exactly what the father did. The result? The Father Master craftsman produces a son Master craftsman.
Now can you begin to appreciate the outrageous claim Jesus is making? He does what God does- and by definition only God can do what God does- QED- Jesus is God.
Now let us try and allow this to sink in. This 30 year old, callous handed Jewish maker of tables and chairs is claiming and substantiating by what he does-the healings- that whatever God does, he does; whatever God says, he says. There is a perfect mirroring of the Father’s deeds and words, such that the deeds and words of Jesus are nothing less than the deeds and words of God. What is more, if Jesus does all that the Father does, it means that this person was involved in bringing the universe into being at the dawn of time. This person was responsible for the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy of which we are a part. This person while lying in a feeding trough as a baby which could only gurgle and cry nonetheless, as the eternal Logos, the Word, was holding the other 200 billion other galaxies in the universe in being for, ‘whatever the Father does the Son also does.’ How are you meant to respond to that? The answer: in worship.
Why does he have the same power and prerogatives as God the Father? Jesus tells us in a series of ‘fors’
The first ‘for’ is in v20 as we consider the beloved Son, ‘For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.’ Now it may or may not be the case someone’s children will follow their parents into their profession but even at the level of say, making model ships and planes with my boys when they were younger, I was teaching them what I used to do when I was a boy. Why? Well, because I loved them and wanted them to share in the same experience and excitement I had when I was young. You see it in the park- the Dad kicking a ball with his son, you see it in the playroom- the Dad and son playing with the train set and the Dads are doing it because they love their children. That is the picture here but on a much higher plane. The eternal Father loves his eternal Son so exhaustively, so intensely, so deeply that he shows him everything he does and withholds nothing from him because he loves him.
This brings us to the second ‘for’ in v21- the life-imparting Son. ‘For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.’ Giving life is within God’s gift alone- whether it is physical life (bios) or spiritual life- zoe). Jesus has exactly the same power today. Where there is spiritual darkness, Jesus brings light. Where there is spiritual unresponsiveness Jesus animates- he did it with me as a teenager and he has done it with most of you here this morning. Why? Because he is God and has ‘life-in-himself’.
And so we come to the third ‘for’- the judging Son, v22, ‘For (in the original), the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.’ One of the objections people raise against the idea of God judging us goes something like this: ‘How can God know? It’s all right for him to pronounce judgments cocooned in the bliss of heaven. But how can he make right judgments about what it is like to live a life on earth? He hasn’t a clue.’ The answer to that objection lies in what Jesus says in v 27 ‘And he (God the Father) has given him (Jesus) authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.’ The original does not have a ‘the’ in front of ‘Son of man’, it is just ‘Son of man’ and so is a way of speaking about Jesus’ humanity. So we can translate it- ‘God the Father has given his Son Jesus authority to judge because he is human.’ Jesus is fully divine but also fully human. In other words, Jesus is one of us. It makes sense that artists should judge fellow artists. Teachers assess pupils. Who, then, should judge human beings? Ideally the answer is -a fellow human being. What is needed is someone who has experienced life in this broken world, experiencing its troughs as well as its peaks, and wrestled with all the struggles common to humanity and triumphed, for only then would they be in a position to say ‘I understand exactly your situation, for I have been there too’. However, a human judge, no matter how virtuous, is not sufficient as mankind’s judge. Not only is experimental knowledge required whereby the person can fully identify with us, but divine knowledge is also needed so that he can fully assess us. This, too, we have in Jesus-for he shares divine omniscience. He knows everything about us. If we have any mitigating circumstances he is fully aware of them and will take them into account on the judgement day. Therefore, can you think of anyone better qualified to judge you and me than a person like that? And here he is, someone who, in one person, combines fully the divine and human natures – all-knowing, all-wise, all-just.
But in order for people to be judged at the end of time they must be raised from the dead. Hence the fourth ‘for’, the resurrecting Son-v 26, ‘For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.’
From all eternity the Father has had life-in-himself, he is self-existent. That is why it is a non-question to ask: ‘Who made God?’ So it is with the Son. The Son has been given life- in- himself, not at some moment in time, otherwise it would simply be rendered that the Father has given the Son life. No, this is an eternal generation of the Son by the Father. Before the first angel sung his song, before the first supernova exploded, before the first planet spun on its axis , the glorious Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was pulsating with life-in-themselves- ablaze with inexhaustible love-for ever burning but never consuming. Did you notice the certainty of v 25? The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God?’ Herein lies the confidence that Christians have of a certain future after death. Jesus will give it to them.
But why this long, sustained argument of Jesus? The point of it all lies right in the middle of the passage in v 23- ‘that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.’ Literally everything turns on this-our response to Jesus. When we die and are ushered into the holy presence of God there is only one question which will matter and will decide our eternal destiny, God will ask: ‘What did you make of God’s Son?’ ‘I used to go to church’-no, what did you make of the Son? ‘I never did any one any harm-’What did you make of the Son?’ ‘I tried to be a good parent’- ‘What did you make of the Son?’ You see, to believe in God is not enough-for if we do not honour Jesus-that is worship him as God, then we do not honour the Father and so show that we simply do not know God.
So let me tell you about my friend Vijay Menon. He was brought up in India as a practising Hindu. In coming to England he was to discover the falseness and emptiness of the religion of his youth and the reality of God in Jesus Christ. This is the way he puts it: ‘Jesus came into my life; he touched every part of it; he turned it upside down. For 35 years I had tried to lead a good Hindu life- I did not smoke, I did not drink and I prayed to god every day. When I got up in the morning I would ask God to help me, before I fell asleep at night I would say a short prayer and in major decisions I always sought guidance. Yet I never knew him until Jesus found me. I had an excellent job in the City, a house in suburbia, wife, sons, enough money in the bank to meet my needs but, although I was not the worrying type, never enjoyed life until Jesus found me. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” I have proved those words to be gloriously true.’
Now it may be that you need to do just that- prove these words to be true and you do by doing what Vijay did-asking Jesus into your life. And in a moment I am going to pray a prayer and invite you to say it with me in your heart if that is what you want to do. Perhaps your love for Jesus needs to be revived; well I will pray for that too, because, if the truth be known, your view of Jesus has been too small for far too long and he is calling you this morning to rededicate yourself to him who alone has the power to raise the dead.
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