Christ in a world of religions - John 5:16-30
The story is told of a salesman who was travelling along a lonely road in the middle of a very dark and rainy night, when he got a flat tyre. To his dismay when he looked in the boot he found he had no wrench to get the wheel off. So seeing a farmhouse in the distance, he set out on foot to get help. As he was walking along, he began to reason to himself and think through what the farmer might say: 'Surely the farmer would have a wrench. He's bound to help me. He'll offer me a phone and a warm cup of tea. But what happens if he's worried. He might not even come to the door! And if he did, he'd probably be furious at being bothered. He'd probably say, 'What's the big idea getting me out of bed in the middle of the night?' The salesman turned these thoughts over in mind and he ended up in a complete stew about this farmer who he'd never even met. 'Why, I bet that that farmer is a selfish old clod who will certainly refuse to help me.' Well these thoughts went round and round the man's head making him angrier and angrier until he finally reached the house. Frustrated and drenched, he banged on the door. 'Who's there?' a voice called out from a window overhead. 'You know full well who it is,' yelled the salesman, his face red with anger. 'It's me! And you can keep your stupid wrench! I wouldn't borrow one from you if you were the last person on earth.' And he stormed off!
I guess all of us at one time or another have formed preconceptions about someone which have been totally wrong. But perhaps the person where the most preconceptions are made and with whom there is the most misunderstanding is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. If we were to take a poll outside Princess Quay and ask passers by the question: 'In your opinion, who is Jesus?', you would get many different answers. Some would say he was a good man, some a moral teacher, some the Son of God. And not a few would probably have swallowed the lie that the Bible is unreliable anyway, so we can never find out who Jesus really was. One writer and broadcaster famous for debunking the truth of the Bible is A N Wilson. In interview a few years ago he said this: 'Jesus' rage at the activities of the money changers in the Temple would have been as nothing compared to his rage at the activities of the Christians who have made him into a god.' And if the diet from the popular media is one of rubbishing the claims of the Bible about Jesus, then it's no surprise to see that Christianity and Christian values are being pushed to the fringes of society. Sometimes it's in ridiculous ways. For instance, one major city in America has renamed Christmas the 'sparkle season' for fear of offending their religious minorities; in Birmingham it has been renamed 'Winterval'. And one school in America even renamed Easter eggs 'spring ovals' for the same reason. But at other times it is far more serious. This week a senior leader in the Church of England likened those who take a stand for Jesus' teaching on sex and marriage to members of the Taliban for their so called fundamentalist beliefs. It takes real courage and conviction to stand for Jesus in a world where pluralism rules, the idea that there are many ways to God, and in a society where there are many preconceptions about Jesus and much misunderstanding about him.
And that's why coming to a chapter in the Bible like John 5 is so refreshing and encouraging. For here John is teaching us that Jesus is not just unique, rather Jesus claims exclusivity. You see, all of us are unique. We all have individual characters and personalities and gifts. But Jesus is exclusive in the sense that he alone is God in the flesh and he is the only one before whom every knee will bow one day. Only he is the way and the truth and the life. And that is what John is teaching us in John chapter 5. And understanding this is not just some academic exercise designed to help us argue against our sceptical friends. Rather knowing who Jesus is will enable us to stand firm for him. For once we have truly grasped who he is, then we will do anything for him. Whereas if our view of Jesus is of a tin pot Jesus, one guru among many, then we'll have a tin pot faith, and we won't be bothered to stand for him. And if you are not a Christian, then I can assure you that if you have any misconceptions or preconceived ideas about this Jesus, then they will be seriously challenged when you look at the evidence. So wherever we stand with Christ this morning, let's come to John 5, and we'll discover four things about Jesus and his exclusive claims:
1) Jesus' Exclusive Identity (Vv 16-19)
2) Jesus' Exclusive Power (Vv 20-21; 24-26; 28-29)
3) Jesus' Exclusive Authority (Vv 22, 27& 30)
4) Jesus' Exclusive Honour (V 23)
1) Jesus' Exclusive Identity (Vv 16-19)
So first then, we see Jesus' exclusive identity in verses 16-19. Now in order to understand what Jesus is saying here we need to remember what has happened earlier in the chapter. At the beginning of chapter five, Jesus has healed a man who has been an invalid for 38 years. It was a staggering feat to heal a man instantaneously just like that. And you would have thought that the religious officials would have been amazed and awestruck. But no. They were far more concerned that their laws were followed. And when Jesus healed the man, he told him to take up his mat and walk home. But the trouble was it was a Sabbath, a day of rest, and Jewish law forbade the carrying of mats between one place and another. So for this breach of Jewish law, and because Jesus was causing a bit of a stir, John tells us in verse 16 that the Jews persecuted him. And it's that incident that brings about Jesus words in verses 16-30.
But Jesus doesn't answer the charge in the way we might expect. He could easily have said that the Sabbath law was meant to allow people rest from their normal job. So if you were a milkman from Sunday to Friday, then you could have Saturday off, the Jewish Sabbath. But this invalid was hardly doing something normal. It was probably the first time in his life that he'd carried his mat home. And nor did the Sabbath prevent acts of kindness from being carried out. But Jesus said none of this. Instead he replies in the most staggering way in verse 17: 'My Father is always at work till this very day, and I too am working.' What he's saying is this: God the Father does not have days off. If he did the universe would collapse. He is always working. So the same exemptions which allow God to keep working, Jesus is applying to himself. Because my Father works, I can too, he's saying. And in doing so he putting himself on the same level as God. It's a bit like me saying to you: 'Because the Queen lives in Buckingham Palace, so can I.' I'm putting myself on the same level as the Queen. And here Jesus is putting himself on the same level as God. And the Jews understand the implications in verse 18: 'For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.' Jesus was making himself equal with God.
And if we are in any doubt about what Jesus is saying then he repeats the claim in a different way in verse 19: 'Jesus gave them this answer: '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.'' Jesus is saying that he depends utterly on the Father and that he does exactly what the Father does. Like Father like Son. Years ago, this was true in our own country. If your Dad was a baker, then you'd be a baker after him and you'd do your apprenticeship with him. What the Father does, the son does. And that is the relationship between me and God, says Jesus. What my Father does, I do too. It's not that no-one had ever called God Father before. Rather Jesus is giving himself the title Son in an exclusive way. No-one else has called the cosmos into being as Jesus did. No-one else can raise the dead or pass judgement on the human race as Jesus does. But he can because he does what his Father does. He claiming an exclusive relationship with God himself, to such an extent that he is equal with God. And nor is it that there are two God's here. Rather as the rest of the NT makes clear, Jesus is fully God as the Father is fully God as the Spirit is fully God. It's a mystery that our frail and fallen human minds cannot get around, that God is three in one. But it's what the NT teaches us, and it's what Jesus claimed for himself. That his identity is God himself.
Now it's worth us pausing to think about the profound implications that this teaching has. For one it means that we can know God personally. It was Noel Coward who, in reply to the question, 'What do you think about God?' said, 'I don't know. We've never been introduced!' But when we look at Jesus through the pages of the NT, the staggering fact is that we are seeing God in the flesh. Because the Son does what the Father does, so the Son can reveal the Father to us in the deepest way possible. It is possible to know God through Jesus Christ. And that is what makes Christianity an exclusive religion. There aren't lots of ways to get to the top of the mountain. There is only one way. Jesus only. And that is the truth we need to accept, defend and preach. Malcolm Muggeridge was a journalist who was at first opposed to Jesus Christ, but then he became a Christian after having studied the NT himself. He wrote in his autobiography: 'I understood that Jesus could not be turned into just a great man without diminishing him to the point that Christianity became too trivial to be taken seriously. He was [either] God or he was nothing.' You see at the end of the day it is Jesus or nothing. And where else can we turn? Jesus' exclusive identity.
2) Jesus' Exclusive Power (Vv 20-21; 24-26)
But secondly in this passage we see Jesus' exclusive power. Verse 20: 'For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.' The Father shows the Son what he does and it springs from his love for the Son. And then Jesus says that the Father will show the Son even greater things, even greater things than healing an invalid. So what are these greater things? Well one of them is Jesus' power over death, which Jesus explains in verse 21: '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.' When we read the OT we find that it is God who has the power over life and death. Sometimes he allows someone like Elijah or Elisha to raise the dead, but it is always clear it is through God's power. And now Jesus is standing on the earth saying that God has conferred on him the power to give life to whomever he pleases. And it's clear that this is not God just giving a human the ability to raise the dead on God's authority. Rather Jesus himself has the power and authority as God on earth to raise the dead and give life. For he says in verse 26: 'For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.' Jesus has life in himself. He is life, as he'll saying later in the gospel. And when he raises Lazarus from the dead in John 11, he'll say: 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he die; and whoever lives and believes in me, will never die.' Jesus has exclusive power over life and death because he is the Son of God, God in the flesh on the earth. So how is this power seen? In two ways.
a) Power to give spiritual new life- First it is seen in Jesus' power to give spiritual new life. Verse 24: 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.' Jesus is talking here about spiritual new life. That is clear because Jesus says 'a time is coming and is now here', whereas when he speaks of the future resurrection of the dead he simply says that 'a time is coming'. That time is not here yet, but this time of spiritual life giving is here. Jesus is saying that there is a way to move from spiritual death, which is the natural status of each and every one of us in this building, to spiritual life. There is a way of moving from being an enemy of God to a friend of God, and that is through Jesus. Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me will have new life. And it's not enough simply to believe in God, like many of the population of this country. Rather it is hearing and obeying the words of Jesus. It means trusting in Jesus the Son who gives life. Once again, we're struck by the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can bring us to God. There's only one route up the mountain. Everything else is spiritual death. But Jesus doesn't just give us spiritual new life. It is far more than that.
b) Power to give physical new life- The wonderful truth of the Christian message is that through Jesus death itself is defeated, and for the person who trusts in him, there is a physical life beyond the grave. Verse 28: '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 good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.' Now we shouldn't be worried by the talk of doing good and doing evil. John isn't teaching us that salvation is by works. Rather as he makes clear throughout his gospel, doing the good work of God is trusting in Jesus. For instance in John 6 v 29 Jesus says: 'The work of God is this: To believe in the one he has sent.' Doing evil is rejecting the Son. What we make of Jesus affects our eternal destiny. And Jesus says here that for those who trust in him, there is life, life beyond the grave.
And in a world which tries so desperately to stave off death by all sorts of measures, what a wonderful consolation it is that death is not the end of the Christian. There is for us who trust in Christ a sure a certain hope of heaven with God forever, a physical existence with our Saviour and King. It means that the Christian can look death in the eye and say you will not hold me. This life is a mere cover page on the vast book that is yet to be written in heaven. And that hope is ours through Jesus' own resurrection from the dead. I wonder, do you have that hope. Can you say that you are able to face death knowing where you're heading? Yes the process may be painful, but we need not fear death itself. For we have the resurrection and the life in Christ. And many Christians down the ages have gone to their deaths in the true and certain hope that they will rise again with Christ forever. I think of a man called Mark Ruston. Mark was vicar of the church I grew up in in my home town of Cambridge. He was a very godly Christian and had a profound impact on many lives over may years. His last few years were ones of struggle against cancer of the pancreas. And yet he faced his certain death with the humble confidence of a man who knew death would not hold him. It was just the beginning. In his dying days he wrote this to a friend: 'I cannot honestly say I am looking forward to the last bit of the journey, but beyond that I know that I shall see Christ, and what could compare with that?' Is that your hope? Can you honestly say that you know for sure where you are heading? When you are staring death in the face, that's when your true beliefs come out, or when your lack of belief is shown up for what it is. Only the person who trusts in Jesus the life giver can be sure. And it is only Jesus that has the power to give life beyond the grave- not Krishna, not Allah, not Gotama the Buddha, not us. Only Jesus. Christian, take comfort from this wonderful hope that we can have in Christ this morning. For he holds the exclusive power to give life over death.
3) Jesus' Exclusive Authority (Vv 22, 27& 30)
But Jesus' exclusive claims do not end at death. For he teaches us thirdly about his exclusive authority. And it's his authority to judge that Jesus explains to us in verse 22. This is another of those 'greater things' that Jesus told us about in verse 20: 'Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.' Jesus has been entrusted by his heavenly Father with the judgement of the world. It is him we will stand before at the end of time and give an account. Sometimes people complain that we will have to face judgement before God. What does he know, they say? He's up there in heaven, all cocooned in the safety of the clouds. How can he possibly judge us? Well the answer to that question comes in verse 27: '[God] has given [Jesus] authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.' So what does Jesus mean? Well this phrase the 'Son of Man' takes us back to a prophecy in the OT book of Daniel. There we are told in chapter 7 that one like a son of man was given authority by God and an everlasting kingdom. It's clear that this figure has all of God's characteristics, and yet he is also a son of man, a phrase used of human beings in the Bible. So Daniel is looking forward to one who is God but who is also a man being given authority over the whole world and an everlasting kingdom. And the NT shows us the identity of this figure, none other than Jesus himself. He is the God-man, the one who took on human flesh. There is nothing he has not been tempted by, since we're told he was tempted in every way. He knows what it's like to wrestle with evil and temptation. He knows what it's like to be betrayed and killed. And so none of us can turn round to him on judgement day and say: 'What do you know, what do you care?' For he can say: 'I know- I walked your road, I've stepped into your shoes. And I care this much.' And he'll show us his hands and feet where the nails pierced him. For the Jesus who came to this sin wrecked planet and who died at the hands of evil men for our sakes, is the same one who sits on the throne and who will judge the world. And the very one who passes judgement is the same one who gives us the chance to have our names cleared. We're guilty. No doubt. But his death gives us the chance to be acquitted. And when we stand before that bar, there is no doubt that justice will be done. There'll be no mistakes and no second chances. So before it's too late, come to the judge and bow the knee and put your hand in his and he will say to you: 'Go, you are forgiven.' And only Jesus can pass a judgement like that.
4) Jesus' Exclusive Honour (V 23)
So what is all this for? What is the point of Jesus' exclusive identity and power and authority? Well the point comes right in the middle of the passage. And this is our final point from this passage. Jesus' exclusive honour. Verse 22: 'Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 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.' That's the point. That all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. And the way to honour God according to Jesus is to honour Jesus. Jesus' point is simple- he's saying that the only way you can know God, the only way you can come to God is by first coming to me. For if you dishonour me, if you reject me and push me aside, then in effect you are pushing the Father aside. Ignore Jesus and you're ignoring the God who made you. Bow the knee to Jesus and accept him as Lord and you're honouring and glorifying the God who made you. And the question Jesus asks all of us here is this: What do you make of me? Have you bowed the knee to me? There's no point in saying: Yes but I believe in God, I try my best, I even come to church- I'm very religious! Surely God will let me into heaven won't he! Not unless you come to Christ. For he who does not honour the Son, does not honour the Father. That's why all evangelism should unashamedly point to Jesus. That's why we should avoid inter faith worship. For it dishonours the Father when we give the glory to any one other than Jesus. So again let me ask. What do you make of Jesus. Have you honoured him? Have you bowed the knee? If not, then I urge you to do it today. For today is the day of salvation. The one who is God in the flesh, the one who can give you new life the one who will judge you, will forgive you if you come to him today. But reject him in this life, and he will turn you away at judgement day forever.
Listen to how CS Lewis puts in his book 'Mere Christianity': 'People often say 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.' But that is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunaticor else the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God. Or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up as a fool, you can spit on him and kill him as a demon. Or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about his being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us.'
You see Jesus is not just another religious leader in a world of religions. He is your and my Lord and God whether we like it or not. And one day we will meet him face to face. John has swept away for us the preconceptions and misunderstanding to make it clear who this Jesus is. For this Jesus is no tin pot deity. For this Jesus is the one who has an exclusive identity as God in the flesh. He holds exclusive power as the one to give life. He has exclusive authority as the one before whom all human beings must stand. And he is the only one to whom exclusive honour must be given. And like everyone who has ever lived, we must answer this question because upon our answer depends our very eternal destiny: Do you honour the Son?
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