|TEXT: John 5:16-47
SUBJECT: Exposition of John #13: The Son of God
Today brings us to the thirteenth sermon in our study of John's Gospel. He wrote it to identify His Master; John wants us to know that "Jesus is the Christ the Son of God". No passage in his book makes that plainer than this one. May God give us the eyes to see His Son and the hearts to feel His glory. Amen.
Understanding this long passage depends on spotting its implied questions. Because they're implied, they're not in the text. But our Lord is responding to them. Of that we can be sure. Let's look at each in turn.
The first question is addressed in vv.16-30.
The Jews of that time were sticklers for the Sabbath. Breaking it had resulted in exile. Keeping it--they hoped--would guarantee the blessings of God. Thus, they observed it with rigor. And made sure others did too.
But along comes a man--a religious man, it seems--who has no regard for God's holy day. He works on the Sabbath Himself and tells others to do the same.
His actions are deeply offensive; the rulers demand an answer. "Why do you work on the Sabbath"?
The answer is stunning: "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working". Our Lord has identified Himself with God and His work. God works on the Sabbath. Jesus is God's Son. Therefore, He works on the Sabbath too. He is in harmony with the Father's will. And more, He and His Father "are one".
The leaders are taken aback. No Jew has ever made such a claim! They redouble their efforts to kill Him because--they think--He "made Himself equal with God". Are they right? Or are they again twisting His words? They are right. That is precisely what He is doing. Our Lord Jesus is equating Himself with God.
To be sure they don't miss it, He goes on the elaborate. It is not only "working on the Sabbath" that He and His Father have in common, but everything.
Everything He does, He has learned from His Father, v.19: "Most assuredly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does; the Son also does".
The imagery may be lost on us. It was not on the first hearers. In Hebrew culture, every self-respecting father taught his son a trade. The Rabbis had a saying: "The father who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to be a thief". God is no exception; He has taught His Son to work. Thus, whatever our Lord does, He has learned at the side of His Father. Our Lord is the Master Craftsman because He has learned from the Master.
Why has the Father taught Him to perform so brilliantly? V.20 explains: "For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel". There is a special bond between the Father and Son; the Father trusts the Son with everything He knows. And so, He teaches Him everything. Some of the lessons have already been learned; others will be. Those who see the works of Christ will see the works of God and wonder.
Two examples are given. The first lesson is: "Giving life", v.21. God is the source of life. He "breathed it into the nostrils of Adam"; He restored it to men once dead; the one day, He will retrieve all men from the grave. This great work He has taught to His Son, who now "gives life to whom He will". This He proved a bit later by raising Lazarus from the dead.
The second lesson is "Judgment", v.22. As far back as the days of Abraham, God was invoked as "the Judge of the whole earth". But He has turned this work over to Another, the only one worthy to do it--our Lord Jesus. "He has committed all judgment to the Son". This Paul affirmed in his stirring speech on Mars Hill: "He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all, by raising Him from the dead".
What is God's purpose in sharing His Divine prerogatives with His Son? V.23 tells us: "That all should honor the Son, just as they honor the Father".
Our Lord does not seek the praise of man for Himself; He spurns it, escapes it. It is God the Father who urges all men everywhere to honor His Son. Whoever dishonors the Son shames the Father who sent Him.
The themes of giving life and of exercising judgment are further developed in vv.24-30.
It begins with the formula: "Most assuredly I say to you". This is often used to preface a teaching that is important and very hard to believe.
What's so hard to believe is this: The Word of Christ gives life--physical, spiritual and eternal life. He who "hears [His] word" receives life. This means, (1) He does not "come into judgment, i.e., he is not condemned; (2) He "passes from death into life", i.e., comes into union with God and enjoys the life that flows from it; and (3) He has "everlasting life", i.e., the spiritual life he enters now, never ends, but grows richer through all ages.
This "life giving power" is, at the moment, exercised privately. It works in the souls of men. But one day, it will be on display for all eyes. One day, this same Word will raise the dead. Jesus Christ will effect the resurrection. At that time, some will rise "to life"--the fullness of their salvation; others to "condemnation"--the fullness of God's wrath.
How can Christ give life? Because God has "granted the Son to have life in Himself". In other words, His life is original and not derivative or dependent. Being the source of life means He is also the giver of life.
How can Christ execute judgment? Because "He is the Son of Man". What does this mean? It often means "a man". But this makes little sense, for we're men too--but judgment is not committed to us. It seems to me this is a reference to the prophecy of Daniel, 7:13-14. In one of his night visions, Daniel foresaw the future in grim, beastly terms. The kings of the world were monstrous in power and ferocity. They ruled viciously and unchallenged until...
"One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds off heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed".
Our Lord, in other words, is both the promised Savior and Judge. Savior to those who believe, Judge to those who don't. Thus, you have a personal interest in believing in Christ. An eternal interest. If you believe in Him, you have life; if you choose otherwise, you have death, and what's worse: judgment!
V.30 provides a summary: "I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me".
D.A. Carson observes: "It is the very submission of Jesus to His Father, His unqualified commitment not to please Himself but the one who sent Him, that guarantees that all He says and does, even on the last day, is completely in accord with the Father's will".
If I may improve a bit upon Carson, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father".
"Why does our Lord Jesus work on the Sabbath"? Because He is the Son of God Who shares fully in the Divine nature and work.
In the words of the Creed, He is
"Very God of very God".
The second question is taken up in vv.31ff.
If the Jews were shocked by His work on the Sabbath, they were dumbfounded by His claim on Divinity. Here is a man who claims to be Divine. Not "for God" as every good man is; not "with God" as the prophets were, but God Himself! The claim is extraordinary--maybe unique in the history of Israel.
The leaders want to know: "Why should we believe that you are God"?
Our Lord cites two witnesses on His behalf. The first is John the Baptist, vv.32-35. John was "a burning and shining light"; everyone recognized his prophetic voice. And he, the greatest of prophets, bore witness to Christ. Repeatedly. "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". The doubters of that time were without excuse. God had spoken--undeniably spoken--by John, who identified Jesus as Messiah.
The other witness is more reliable than John. God has witnessed to Christ, vv.36-39. In three ways:
1. By His "works". The Father enabled His Son to perform public signs and wonders. Even the Pharisees knew that. "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher sent from God, for no man can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him".
2. By His "voice". At our Lord's baptism, a voice spoke from heaven: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased". The voice spoke audibly, intelligibly, and publicly. Many heard it; everyone should have believed it.
3. By His "Word". The Old Testament Scriptures witness to Jesus Christ in remarkable detail. The witness is neither rare nor obscure; it is everywhere and clearly presented. The circumstances of His birth and early life, His character and works can be pointed to with certainty. Even without a spiritual mind, as Herod's wise men proved.
The evidence for Christ is overwhelming. If it were all put written down, John tells us, "the world itself could not contain the books". But enough is left to us to compel us to believe that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God".
If this is so, then why doesn't everyone flock to the Savior? There is a moral problem, which vv.40ff. remind us of. Men don't come to Christ for three reasons:
1. They don't love God, v.42.
2. They prefer the praise of men to the approval of heaven, v.44.
3. They don't believe God's Word, v.46.
The indictment must have shocked the men who first heard it. Israel fancied themselves as being "a peculiar people". But they were not. Unrenewed by God's grace they were no better than the vilest Pagan. Nor is any other unbeliever. No matter how "respectful" he is of Christianity; no matter how much in favor of "traditional values" he is; no matter how "zealous" he is in promoting his church. No unbeliever in Christ loves God; no unbeliever in Christ believes the Word; no unbeliever in Christ prefers the praise of God to the praise of men.
It is a time for choosing. For Christ or against Him. There is no middle ground. There is no time for delay. If you're not "for Christ" now, you're "against God". No matter how piously you bow your head in prayer or how lustily you sing the hymns.
Do you truly believe "Jesus is the Christ the Son of God"? If not, repent of your unbelief. It is groundless and more dangerous than I can describe.
If you do believe in Christ, it is high time to act like it. By a bold witness to His Name; by a humble obedience to His Word; by a warm love for Him; by an active service for His people.
"Lord, increase our faith".