Sermon, February 21, 2021 | Grace Reformed Church
We come again to the gospel of John this morning, here on our third Sunday in February. You know we started this series already back in early September, but this is such a glorious book full of so many truths that it will take us until the end of February to get through chapter 5! I remember when I was a kid, and we had a new pastor, and one of our primary goals was church growth, so he did what many pastors do in that situation, and he started preaching through the book of Acts, since there are so many lessons about how the church grows when you watch how the church actually grew. Anyway, I was still in high school, so my sermon-listening was definitely a capacity that I was still developing, and all I remember is that it took years to get through that book, all 28 chapters. He may have taken breaks, I don’t remember. And of course it’s not important to get through any of these books as fast as we’re able, or as slow as we can for that matter!
So here we are in John 5, and I hope that you are enjoying hearing this series of messages as much as I am enjoying writing them, because it’s not me, it’s this treasure trove that we have in front of us, a treasure trove of truth, of promises, of doctrine, and most importantly, a glorious picture of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, our Savior. All of these stories, as we remind ourselves that John told us, all are here to point directly to the deity of Christ, and the fact that he is our Savior, the only one with the power to save us.
In the story today, we will pick up with the story of the man by the pool of Bethesda, the man that Jesus healed of being lame for 38 years. We talked at length about the power of Jesus to create, to make things what they are, in his healing of the man. And we also talked about how not to respond to the miracles of God, the big and the small, taking the man as a negative example. So last week we dealt mainly with the healed man’s story, and as promised, today we will deal mainly with the story of that other character in the story, the Jews. And in this passage, stretching down to verse 30, we have a confrontation between these angry Jews and Jesus, and the bulk of the passage is actually Jesus answering their charge, and in doing so, he reveals great truths about who he actually was and is, and also what is to come. So let’s see how that works out—we’re actually going to back up a little and start in the middle of verse 9, to capture the whole backdrop of these Jews that Jesus addresses, and then continue to verse 30. John, chapter 5, starting in the middle of verse 9. Read with me now, this is God’s Holy Word.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
The Word of the Lord.
So in broad strokes, this begins as a dispute about the Sabbath, and then turns into something much, much, more weighty than that. I said last week that this was a quick trip to Jerusalem for Jesus—after this episode, we will read that he goes right back to Galilee—but in this quick trip, Jesus does something very important on this stage, in Jerusalem. It was not his time yet to challenge the Jerusalem Jews in such a way that was going to lead to his crucifixion, but it was time to assert a pivotal point, and that point was that he actually was God. He was not really enlightened, not a great prophet, not just wise, he is here in Jerusalem on this quick trip for a feast, and it is at this point that he is going to make the claim that he is God. And he uses this healing of the lame man as a pretext for that. I know the lame man probably thought it was all about him, and from his perspective it was, but the healing of that man was really an opportunity for Jesus to assert who he really is to these religious elites, these Jews. And it all starts with a question about the Sabbath.
We saw last week how ridiculous this is, the Jews only being concerned about the Sabbath and not on the mind-blowing fact that there is a lame man walking toward them, carrying anything. That should have been their goal, to figure out who had this power of healing. But what do they see instead? They see a man carrying a mat. And when they finally receive from the man, eventually, the identity of the man who told the healed man to carry the mat, they waste no time in confronting him.
And they sure did want to confront Jesus. There were 39 laws that the Pharisees had devised over the years that decreed what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. And though we always use the Pharisees as a sort of whipping post, talking about how they had added “extra” laws that God did not declare or demand when he gave the law of Moses, though they always get a bad rap, there is at least some scriptural reasoning behind why they established certain regulations about the Sabbath. The last law in the list of 39 is the one they accused Jesus of making that man break—that no man may bear a burden on the Sabbath. And that regulation was based likely on two Old Testament passages, one of which we read earlier from Nehemiah 13:
In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food.
The prophet Nehemiah sees the people carrying all of these things on the Sabbath—grain, wine, figs, and all manner of things—and he rebukes them for it. And such a rule was probably also based on a passage from Jeremiah 17:
Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. 22 And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers.
This starts to sound like pretty compelling evidence. Did the Jews have a point? Was Jesus breaking the Sabbath. Well, of course they didn’t, because if they did, then Jesus would be guilty of the sin of breaking the Sabbath, and we know that can’t be. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that if we look at the greater context of both Nehemiah and Jeremiah, we will see that the “bear no burden” Sabbath regulation was in fact beyond what those scriptures require.
First, in Nehemiah, the prophet is incredulous at all of these people carrying things into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. He’s outraged and actually has them shut the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath so that no one can even enter the city carrying these burdens. But is what he is angry about the people actually performing the act of carrying anything? Is that why he’s worked up? No! He’s angry because of what they are doing when they carry things. They are carrying things into the city to sell them, on the Sabbath. They are engaging in commerce on the Sabbath. They are not resting of the labors that they engage in the entire rest of the week, they are carrying in produce to sell, on the Sabbath. And even that passage in Jeremiah mentions the same thing, when it says “do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem.” Same thing, carrying things into Jerusalem, engaging in commerce.
And so Jesus knows this. He knows that the rule to which they refer is a rabbit-hole. Well, how big is a burden? Can I not move a cup from one counter to another? Can I pick up my child? If my neighbor is about to trip on a stick, can I pick that up out of the way? There’s no end to it.
Even so, the Jews confront Jesus about this egregious trespass, as they saw it. Verse 16: “And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.” Persecution implies continued hostile activity. They weren’t just grumpy with him, they were actively hostile toward him. So at this point Jesus responds to them, but he does so with an unexpected argument, one that doesn’t defuse the situation at all, it actually makes things “worse” in a human sense.
17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
Hold the phone—what did he just say? We wanted him to justify his behavior, rationalize it or something. We wanted him to say something like, “I know it was the Sabbath, but look, I healed a man, wasn’t it more important that he be freed from misery today than to wait until tomorrow?” Maybe that’s what they were hoping, or maybe an outright apology or something. But instead, Jesus raises the stakes, and he says—I am working, even on the Sabbath, because my Father is working. He literally said, to their faces, “I am the Son of God,” and because of that, not “I can do what I want,”—though in a sense that’s true—but “this is what my Father is doing, working, so that is what I am doing.”
Telling Jesus that he must observe this rule, as they wrote it, is ridiculous, because God is always working. In forcing everyone to go beyond simply being restful, but to actually be idle, motionless, by demanding that the Jews completely miss the point of the Sabbath. And Jesus shows them that. He admits, that though the Sabbath is made for rest, there is much work being done on that Sabbath and every Sabbath. What would happen if God the Father actually took a complete Sabbath rest, a rest from upholding the universe? Or even if he still kept everything spinning, what if he took a rest from showing us grace and mercy, even for one second? Chaos, utter chaos. So with this statement, Jesus is recognizing that there is always work being done, and the Father is working, so Jesus is as well.
So what about the Sabbath, what are we commanded to do, or not to do on it? Well, I would say that those passages from the prophets that we read would suggest that it is a day to rest from commerce, from our labor, which actually fits into the way it’s actually worded in the ten commandments:
Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
And at both the beginning and the end of the commandment, God uses the word “holy.” At the beginning it says you “keep it holy,” and at the end it says that God himself has “made it holy.” And “holy” means “set apart.” The Sabbath is not a normal day, and it shouldn’t look like one. We don’t have time this morning to go into all the applications for the Sabbath in modern American life—probably a topic for another time—but to get us started, we are definitely to rest from our labors and keep it holy, that’s for sure.
But within this story, that is another topic entirely, because the big reveal here is that Jesus has just referred to himself as literally the Son of God. And that doesn’t go over well. Before Jesus’s response, the text tells us that they were persecuting him, they were actively hostile to him, but now it says in verse 18, immediately after he claims God the Father as his literal Father, it says:
18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more (not to persecute him, but) to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Now this is the big picture, and what the rest of the passage talks about, this relationship between the Father and the Son. Jesus doesn’t stop there, he continues on, defining more and more this relationship between himself and the Father.
19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.
Another pivotal truth here, and it gets to the heart of this thing that we have such a difficult time describing accurately, even though we know what it is—the Trinity. The truth is that there is nothing that God does that he does not do as a Trinity. The Father and the Son do not have wills that differ from each other. There is no disagreement in the Godhead—whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. And that means, to go back to the first point, it is impossible for Jesus to break the Sabbath, that’s what he’s telling them. I can’t break the Sabbath, because there is not one thing in which my Father and I are out of sync. He says I understand completely and fully what is understood by the Sabbath, because I and the Father are one, and he made the Sabbath. So I have authority over the Sabbath. I wonder how well that went over. But Jesus doesn’t stop there, he goes on to proclaim his dominion over life and death:
21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.
And in this also, they are in total agreement. They are inextricably linked in that way. Everything they do, they do as a Trinity. So, Jesus claims authority over the Sabbath, over life and death, and then he claims authority over all judgement:
22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
God has given all judgement into the hands of Jesus. Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is God incarnate. It is always difficult to fit the Trinity into our heads, because there is no other being like God. How can a single being exist in three persons? How can they be one yet distinct? They are one, but each person has a distinct role in the story of creation and redemption. We read about that sort of thing here. God has given judgement to the Son, but because they are the same Godhead, the judgement of the Son is the same judgement of the Father. Different roles, same being.
Jesus describes here in succeeding verses more relationships between he and God the Father, and if Jesus makes the distinctions than the distinction is true:
26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
But do you notice, that in every one of these cases where Jesus draws a distinction between the work of himself and the Father, it is a distinction in task, not a distinction in will. Jesus may perform other tasks—to execute judgement, for instance—but his executing that task is never out of accord with what the Father wills. Which is why at the end of this discourse, an admittedly difficult one to comprehend, in verse 30, Jesus summarizes the whole thing, in case your mind started to see Jesus and the Father as two things apart from each other:
30 “I can do nothing on my own. (Not because he is weak or needs help!) As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
That summarizes the entire discourse to that point. That Jesus and the Father are one.
So that leaves us with a big, monumental question that we all need to ask ourselves: “Who was Jesus?” In a way, the Jews have an incorrect, but a more honest reaction to Jesus than most Americans do in this country, mainly among people who view religion as kind of a cultural phenomenon, where we can just glean the best things from religions all over the globe. The Jews’ reaction? They were searching for ways to kill Jesus, because they knew what he was saying. Jesus is not a great prophet, Jesus cannot be just a wise man, if there’s anything that this text tells us, in such unequivocal terms, is that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed to be God. And he was (or is) either that, or he’s a liar that should have been crucified for his blasphemy.
The Jews, with their hardened hearts and confidence in the flesh would not accept him – he came to his own and they did not receive him – so they had only one choice. Like I said, a more honest response in many ways. They couldn’t ignore him, and he claimed to be God, so they sought to kill him.
Jesus is only one of two things, to every human being on this planet that has ever lived. He is either your Savior, or he is your Judge. He talks about his judicial authority quite a lot in this particular passage. Your Savior or your Judge, two paths, as we see so often in this Gospel specifically. He talks about that time in verses 28 and 29, right to the Pharisees standing in front of him.
28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
That is the work of the Son, in accord with the Father, to judge. But don’t worry, he didn’t leave it there! He already told them, and us the way of salvation! He’s been saying it throughout the Gospel of John – for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes might not perish. He says it again in so many words in verse 24 here:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
Notice that – all who hear, they’ve already passed from death to life. Again, this is not a future thing, this is now. That is the comfort you have, Christian, to hear his voice, to fall down on your knees, beg his forgiveness, take Jesus as your Savior, and then know, that you are saved—you have (not you will) you have passed from death to life. We have received our spiritual resurrection, we’ve been born again, of the spirit, and that is now. We wait for the bodily resurrection also mentioned here, but we can live our lives without any fear, or doubt, or trembling, because not only has the end of the big story been written, the end of your story has been written. Amen for that.
So, we ask the question again, “who is Jesus to you?” We don’t claim ourselves—Jesus himself claims—that he is the only way, and there are only two things that you can actually believe about him, that he is God, or he isn’t. We come to this place each and every Sabbath morning to proclaim that he is. If there is anyone here this morning or reading these words and that is not your story, this is good news about Jesus but it has never been your good news, today is the day, Jesus is God, he is your Savior and he waits with open arms to receive you and pass you, as he says, from death to life. The world is but a shadow of life, real life is in Jesus. Amen. Let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you again for allowing us to revel in your truth, to marvel at the glory that is this great story of salvation in our lives. We repent of the many sins that made the giving of your Son necessary for our sake, and we humbly receive the great promise that on that great day, our salvation will be made complete, to your everlasting glory. In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, our only hope, amen.