Jesus the Son - John 5:16-30
The essence of Christianity is summed up in one mind boggling sentence: Jesus Christ is God. Not just part of God.. or sent by God.. or related to God. He is God. The more I grappled with those words, the more they exploded a lot of comfortable old notions I had floated with. C. S. Lewis put it bluntly: For Christ to have talked as he talked, lived as he lived, died as he died, he was either God or a raving lunatic. There was my choice, as simple, stark and frightening as that. No one had ever thrust this truth at me in such a direct way. Id been content to think of Christ as an inspired prophet and teacher who had walked the sands of the Holy land. If one thinks of Christ as no more than that, I reasoned, then Christianity is like taking a sugar coated placebo once a week on a Sunday morning. But even atheists concede that Christs coming changed the course of history. He was a man without power in any worldly sense, no money, no armies no weapons, yet his coming altered political alignments of nations. Millions have followed his promises and words. Could all this be the result of a lunatics work, or even the result of one mans work? No. The weight of evidence became more and more overwhelming to me. So writes one former cynical lawyer who is now an active advocate of the Christian faith.
But we have to admit that that is one mighty belief to swallow - Jesus is God. You see, if he is not merely sent by God, or a part of God or merely related to God, then does this mean there are at least two gods? The God Jesus prayed to and called his Father and himself? That is certainly what some groups charge Christians with believing - like the JWs or Muslims. Well, this morning we come to an episode in Johns Gospel which sheds the most wonderful light on how we are to understand the relationship between God and Jesus - John chapter 5. But lets begin by painting in some of the background.
Jesus has just healed a man who for 38 years has been paralysed - that is enough to grab anyones attention isn't it? But in the course of this healing John notes that it took place on the Sabbath day. So when Jesus told the man to roll up his mat, and take it home, the man was carrying on object on the Sabbath and that was bound to bring some frowns of disapproval from the religious establishment, which is precisely what happened - v16 So, because Jesus was doing these things - not simply healing, but telling people to carry mats - on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Now what Jesus does is not to defend his actions by questioning the sanctity of the Sabbath day - the special day of rest - or even criticising the Jewish application of this principle. He uses it as an opportunity to explain five things about himself. And I can assure you that when we grasp these five sublime truths about the Lord Jesus, it will cause us to wonder and worship him afresh.
But Jesus begins by justifying his actions in a most amazing way: v17: Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too, am working. What does he mean by that? Well, we must understand that in the OT, the law of Moses made it clear that you were not to do any work on the seventh day you would normally do on the other six days. So if your job was delivering milk, that was fine so long as you didn't do that on the seventh day - the was the Lords day - the sabbath. But this fellow who had just been healed didnt carry mats for a living. Now by the time of Jesus, the Jews had categorised work which was prohibited on the Sabbath into 39 groups. One of which was You shall not carry an object from one domicile - house - to another. So they got him on that one. But Jesus doesnt tackle the matter at that level. He is more concerned to get people to see who he is and what he is about. And implicitly he draws on a debate which the Jewish theologians were having at that time - namely does God obey the law? And it was generally agreed, yes he does. But then what about the sabbath? Does God work on the seventh day? Some reasoned that he must do, because if he didnt keep everything going by his divine say so, then the whole universe would fly apart. Ah, others replied, it is true that God exercises his providential care on the Sabbath day, but since the whole universe is his, we can think of all of it as being his home, so he can move pieces around within his home and so he doesnt break sabbath law! So whichever side you came down on, it was agreed that God must do something on the Sabbath. Now can you see what Jesus is saying here? God works - my Father, I too must work. He is claiming for himself the same exemption from the law as God. And the Jews see the point - v18 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.
Now no ordinary Jew would have put forward this sort of argument. It is true some Jews in the first century called God Father, but not to the extent that they would claim for themselves the prerogatives reserved for God. But that is exactly what Jesus is doing. Like the Father this Son, works on the Sabbath. Now who does Jesus think he is? The Jews think he is claiming equality with God. They believed there was only one God, so this is the height of blasphemy - for 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 denying he is in some sense God, but pointing them in the right direction for a deeper understanding how God is to be understood.. And he does so with four 'fors - thats not 16, but four reasons for his action which explain more subtly just how he is to be understood as God.
First he is the apprentice Son - v19 (read). You see, Jesus though equal with God in terms of his deity or godness if you like, nonetheless does not act independently of God the Father. In fact as the Son he subordinates himself, humbles himself if you will to his Father. He works in perfect harmony with God the Father. And how this works itself out is illustrated by the picture which lies behind this saying that the Son only does what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. In this sort of society, trades where passed on from generation to generation. Sons did what their fathers 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. That hardly applies today, if it did I wouldn't be up here in the pulpit would be down a coal mine, if there were any left. But 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 by bit until he could do exactly what the father did. Now some would say, but are we not all sons of God? In one sense yes. But not in the sense Jesus is speaking of here. I have never spoken a universe into being. I have not created light and darkness, I have not raised the dead. But God has and Jesus is claiming that is what he does too, like father like son. He does whatever the Father does, he is the supreme apprentice son.
Now let this sink in and then tell me that Christianity is like all the other religions. This 30 year old Jewish artisan 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 Fathers deeds and words, such that the deeds and words of Jesus are nothing less than the deeds and words of God. That is why we cannot pick and choose which bits of Jesus teaching we like - because you cannot pick and choose with God. That is why you cannot dismiss Jesus as a man of his own time, because God is not confined to time, though he speaks into it. God is not some vague abstraction, he became flesh and blood and spoke in terms we can understand and so we have no excuse. Now we can know God in all his love, in all his beauty, and in all of holiness, because Jesus has come.
Which brings us to the first for - v20 - the loved Son For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he does. . Now it may or may not be the case that my sons will follow me into the ministry. But even at the level of making airfix models with them when they were younger, I was teaching them what I used to do when I was a boy. Why? Well, there may be some self interest involved, and it can be annoying when the dad walks in with the new train set and the kids cant get a look in. But there is also an element of love involved, a major element may I add, as the Father lovingly and tenderly gets on his knees with his child and they work away together - slapping glue all over the place. So it is here but on a much higher plane. For the eternal Father loves his Son so exhaustively, so intensely, he shows him everything he does.
But there is even more to it than this. We tend to think of our salvation solely in terms of Gods love for us. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. And that is true. But in the first instance our salvation turns not on his love for us, but his love for his Son. As we shall see in a moment it is because of the Fathers love for the Son that he wants everyone to honour the Son. And in turn, Jesus is determined to be obedient to the Father because he loves him - even to the point of going to a cross - hence John 14 The world must learn that I love the Father. It may come as something of a surprise to realise that we are Gods love gift to his Son. Isn't that a thought? The church, bride of Christ when it is perfected will be presented to the Son by the Father and we shall be introduced to the Father by the Son. That is our future.
Which brings us the second for in v21 - the life imparting Son, end of v 20 to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 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 Gods gift alone. In the OT the prophet Elijah could only raise the dead by Gods power, he never claimed it for himself - but here that is exactly what the Son is claiming. Not working independently of his Father, but one with his Father - the royal Son is walking his earth. The future resurrection has been entrusted to the Son and the third for - v 24 - 26 (read). From all eternity the Father has had life - in - himself, that is he is self existent, no one stands behind him, no one made him. So it is with the Son. The Son has been given life - in - himself, not at some moment in time, otherwise it would be rendered that the Father has given the Son life. No, this is an eternal giving, if I can put it like that. Before the first supernova exploded, before the first planet spun on its axis, before the first angel sung his song, the glorious Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was pulsating with life in themselves - eternal life, on fire 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? No ifs or maybes, he can give life because he has life in himself. Here then lies the confidence Christians can have of a certain future after death. So in September 1542, Martin Luthers 13 year old daughter Magdelena lay dying. Her father knelt by her bed weeping and asked: Magdelena, my little girl, would you like to stay with your father here or gladly go to be with your father in heaven? She answered, darling father, as God wills. Luther wept and holding her in his arms she died. As he laid her in her coffin and conducted her funeral, Luther said My darling Lenchen, you will rise and shine like the stars and the sun. I am happy in spirit, but the flesh is sorrowful and weak and will not be content, the parting grieves me beyond measure.. I have sent a saint to heaven. You could not find a humanist saying that or a Buddhist? Only a Christian - why? because of the promise of the one who has life - in himself - who says in v 24 I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned. Do not say being a Christian makes no difference. It makes all the difference in the world especially at the point when the world remains silent - the point of death.
And so we come to the fourth for - the judging Son, v22, For - that is what the original says, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son and this is further amplified later in v 27f (read to 30). One of the objections people raise against Gods judgement is this: How can God know? It is all right for him to make judgements cocooned as he is in the bliss of heaven. But how can he understand and so make right judgements about what it is like to live a life on earth? That is why Jesus says what he says in v 27 and he - God the Father - has given him - Jesus - authority to judge because he is Son of Man. the original does not have a the in front of Son of man, so emphasising the humanity of Jesus. He is one of us. In other words Jesus is perfectly qualified to be our judge. First, because as we have seen he is God and so our rightful ruler, he has made us, and therefore can exercise owners rights over us. What is more as God his judgements will be impeccably fair, because he is all knowing he will take into account whatever mitigating circumstances there may be which affects the way we are and shapes the things we do. But as Son of Man, he has, as it were, inside knowledge too. He has felt the pull of temptation, been repulsed by the hypocrisy of man - made religion, torn by the betrayal of family and friends, experienced the anguish of bereavement and the agony of death. There will not be a single person on that day who will be able to stand before his throne and say What do you know? What do you care? For he will point to his nail scarred hands and his pierced feet and say I know and I care - this much.
But what is the point of all of this? Why this long, sustained argument of Jesus? Well, the point 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. - the honoured Son. Literally everything turns on this - our response to Jesus. In a previous incarnation, I used to be a biology teacher and one of the things I would endeavour to impress upon the minds of my students when it came to exams was Answer the question. And when we die and are ushered into the awesome presence of God - there is only one question which will matter and decide our fate and it is this: What did you make of Gods 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 as we honour the Father - that is worship him as God, then we do not honour the Father and so do not know God. If on the judgement day we say we do not know Jesus, then he will pronounce that he does not know us. And there is no contradiction between this and v 29 those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. For in v 24 we have already been told that it is those who believe in Jesus and his words - that is the good we are to do - has eternal life and will not be condemned. The flip side of that is not to believe in Jesus - that is the evil, refusing to come to the light, choosing instead to remain in the darkness and engaging in all of those works associated with darkness, even works dressed up in religious guise. yes many an evil has been committed in the name of religion.
The Father so loves the Son, is so totally devoted to him in whom there is life - that his one goal is that he is honoured and blessed. That it is he, not we, who is to be the centre of our existence, the one for whom we live, not self. From one point of view it is his right to be so honoured by virtue of who he is - the eternal Son of God, but more than that it is his due by virtue of what he has done - going to a cross as the Son of man and shedding blood so that guilty people like you and me might know eternal life.
So let me ask: Do you honour the Son? Not simply with your lips or an occasional acknowledgement once and a while by popping into church. But have you embraced him with your heart. For that is what he calls you to do - even now as we pray.
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