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. 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. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 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. 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. 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. 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 execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” John 5:19-29
This is not going to be a practical how-to sermon, because what Jesus says here isn’t practical and how-to. What he says here will not give you any direct insight about how to manage your stress or structure your budget. But what he says here can change how you see everything, and that makes a huge difference. What every one of us needs this morning is a paradigm shift so big we start feeling freed.
We sometimes think in terms of “applying the truth to my life.” That’s good, as far as it goes. But applying the truth to our lives still leaves us in control. We decide how far we will go with Jesus, we decide where he will fit in, which is why he inevitably ends up crowded out to the margins of our already overcrowded lives, alongside our New Years resolutions, which are quickly fading, and the shopping list for Kroger, which won’t matter for long, and that new book lying on our nightstand, which we may or may not finish. Don’t we all tend to live our lives in short bursts of resolve that don’t stick? It doesn’t help simply to add Jesus to our mess of complication. What he is saying here in John 5 is so big, so grand, so out-of-control, it might wreck our whole lives in a wonderful way. What he says here cannot be reduced to so small a category as application. Later in John’s Gospel, when doubting Thomas sees the risen Jesus, all he can blurt out is, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Thomas didn’t apply anything to his life. He was thunderstruck. He was wrecked. He was freed.
In verse 20 Jesus tells us what he wants for us: “. . . that you may marvel.” Whatever kind of Christianity Jesus is presenting here, it isn’t tame and boring. He wants to lead us all into worship. But we’re not always comfortable with worship. We’re so self-concerned, and worship isn’t always comfortable. But when we start praising Jesus with all our hearts, we start to live! In my mom’s book, Up With Worship, she starts out like this on the very first page:
Lord, these are the first words a casual reader’s eyes will light upon. In this moment, grab him, God. Spin him around, knock him off his feet, flatten him, pin him. Hold him there for 160 pages, on his back. Then there’s no place to look but up, Father. One hundred sixty pages: that may be the longest time he’s thought about worship, ever. Pin him good, Lord. Pin him until he feels desperately powerless. . . . That’s how we start getting free. The long-standing blockages inside that have held us back for years start loosening and shifting and breaking open, and we come alive. But we must give ourselves permission to marvel. Let’s join with doubting Thomas, who became marveling Thomas when his heart exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”
You see the context, in verse 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.” Keeping the Sabbath was a big deal. The Old Testament said it was the sign of the covenant (Exodus 31:12-17). In other words, keeping the Sabbath was putting the engagement ring on their finger. It was how they said to the world, “We belong to God.” And all of that was right. But what they didn’t realize was that that sacred day of rest was not an end in itself. As a sign, it pointed forward to Jesus. He is our true rest forever. So when the One to whom the sign pointed showed up, the people were too blind to see. “He came to his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). In fact, verse 18 says they were plotting to kill Jesus, he seemed such a threat to their religion. And he was. Whatever we today feel we must protect from his influence – whatever that sacred thing is, it is the true religion of our hearts, and Jesus is an extreme threat to our religions. He aims to take over. And we know that the real Jesus is getting through to us when we stop fighting, as he sweetly breaks our hearts and softens us and relaxes us, and we start resting in him as our only true Sabbath.
The people were also offended that Jesus made himself equal with God. And he did make himself equal with God. But not the way they thought. Jesus did not present himself as another God. He did not make himself equal with God in the sense that he rivaled God or competed with God or diminished God. When Jesus says that he, as the Son, is equal with God, as the Father, he means something very particular. So, in what sense is Jesus equal with God? How are we to understand the equality of Jesus with God? That’s what he himself now explains, in verses 19-29.
Three times here Jesus introduces a statement with “Truly truly I say to you” – in verses 19, 24 and 25. That’s like saying, “Cross my heart and hope to die.” He is not joking. He means what he says. Three insights, then, into the real Jesus. One, deity without apology. Two, forgiveness without delay. Three, finality without aloofness. Jesus is correcting our small thoughts of who he is and replacing them with staggering insights.
Deity without apology (verses 19-23)
Truly truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord [or, on his own initiative], but only what he sees the Father doing.
What’s striking about Jesus here is how calm and matter-of-fact he is. There’s no swagger, no exaggerating, no saber-rattling. He looks us square in the eye and speaks to us in a plain, blunt manner. And here’s why I love that. It means I don’t have to have an overwhelming emotional experience to come to Jesus. I might go into meltdown. It would probably do me some good. But I don’t have to. His simple manner of speaking is not fishing for an emotional response. He just wants us to believe him.
What then is he saying? You can see that Jesus is locating himself inside the secret counsels of God. Verse 19: The Son does what he sees the Father doing. Verse 20: The Father shows the Son all that he himself is doing. Verse 22: The Father has given all judgment over to the Son. We’ve all heard people say, “God has told me thus and so.” Maybe. But that isn’t what Jesus is talking about here. He is saying that he sees what we don’t see, that he is allowed into the secrets of God we aren’t privy to, that he has been shown the deepest interiority of God in a way that we haven’t. Jesus is saying that he is the Son of the Father in a unique sense that we aren’t a part of. That is his whole point. He is explaining how he is equal with God. And he adds that what we saw him do in his earthly life, like healing the lame man earlier in chapter 5 – that was just for starters. Verse 20: “And greater works than these he will show him.” Like healing this lame universe. Healing lame you and me. Forever. In fact, in verse 21, Jesus says that he is the one who gives us life, if he wills: “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” Other great thinkers and leaders have called us to a better life, if we will. Only Jesus tells us we’re dead already; but he can make us alive, if he wills. We are absolutely dependent on him. What’s more, the Father has given all judgment to him. So, do not think of the Father as the big mean God who might judge you and the Son as the little nice God who will cuddle with you. Jesus himself says it is his judgment we face. So we cannot bypass Jesus in getting to God. We cannot think, “I have a positive relationship with God, but it doesn’t involve Jesus.” Jesus didn’t think so. He is saying, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (verse 23). If you don’t honor Jesus in all of his claims, you are not honoring God.
So there goes Islam. Islam says that it honors God, but it rejects the deity of Jesus and positions him in history as a forerunner to Muhammad. The Quran says, in Surah 61, “Jesus, son of Mary, said, ‘Children of Israel, I am sent to you by God, confirming the Torah that came before me and bringing good news of a messenger to follow me whose name will be Ahmad,’” that is, Muhammad. So the Quran sees Jesus as a prophet and teacher, like other prophets and teachers, bringing the good news that Muhammad will someday come to bring God’s final word to us. According to the Quran, we honor God not primarily through Jesus but primarily through Muhammad. But what did Jesus himself say? He said that we honor God through him, period. If we really want to honor God, then we must accept Jesus for all he claims to be. That’s what Jesus thought. I wonder what you think.
Verse 23 is a problem for Marxism too. Friday night Dr. Butterfield reminded us that, in Marxist thought, historical processes account for all of human reality. Whatever is emerges from below, from within the conflict and turbulence of history. So the class struggle is simply the painful rising of a better world, as a classless society surges up from within the strife of economic forces. According to Marxism, Jesus too, along with everyone else, must be understood from inside historical dynamics only. But what did Jesus himself say? He spoke of the Father who sent him, verse 23. Do you see the word “sent” in verse 23? Many times Jesus spoke as one who had been sent into this world from far beyond. According to Jesus, not only is ultimate reality the Father out there, but the Father is also involved in this world down here, there is no roof on the house of history, this world is open to God, and the Father sent the Son. He didn’t emerge from below. He came down from above. Jesus must be accepted as unique. We should not limit Jesus to the categories we understand; we should honor him as we honor God himself. That’s what he thought. I wonder what you think.
And look how all these striking assertions come out of his mouth with a gentle, frank bluntness. Deity without apology. For us, it comes down to one thing – we must accept Jesus as all that he claims to be, or we must reject him completely as a liar. If Jesus is not God the Son, then neither was he a prophet and teacher. He was an evil man, claiming way too much for himself. What do you believe? Do you acknowledge Jesus as equal with God? We know what he thought, because he told us bluntly. And the wonderful thing is, you can accept him bluntly. You can be in a bad mood or in a good mood. You can be in any emotional condition or personal orientation. Who you are and what you’re feeling and what you’ve done come second. The primary issue for you is who Jesus is. If you will accept what he claims here in John 5, you’re in, because what matters most is who he is and what he does for you. He shows the Father to you.
What are we seeing? We’re seeing how, without hoopla or grandiosity, Jesus locates himself comfortably up next to the Father. And here is how wonderful that is. It means that ultimate reality is not cold, dark, blank space. It means that ultimate reality is personal and relational. It means that at the highest apex of all things, above which there is nothing greater or higher – there is the Father, radiant with joy, sharing his deepest mind and heart with the Son. And Jesus is saying that the Father sent him down to us, to reveal God to us, as only an insider can do. In Jesus, we see God, we have God, and on terms of grace.
Forgiveness without delay (verse 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.
How does it actually happen that fed-up, bored, drifting people come alive? Jesus says, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.” When you hear what Jesus says and recognize in it the loving authority of the Father, when you acknowledge Jesus as the big truth up above all the little truths, something happens. Eternal life enters into you by his grace. You pass from the living death you’ve always been stuck with to a new life from him that will last forever. The instant you confess Jesus as equal with God and put your trust in him, the moment you move all your chips over onto his square, for you personally, that final Day of Judgment has already passed by, and you sailed right through, forgiven, because Jesus went to the cross for your sins. You are forgiven without delay. There is no condemnation out there you must dread. Your ultimate crisis is past. That doesn’t mean you no longer have crises, including crises of faith, but now they are only the painful deepening of his life into more and more of your interiority. The new life he gives includes struggle and failure and setbacks and embarrassments. But Jesus wants you to know that, if you are listening to him as the Son of God, not deserving him but just open and receiving his Word, then your history has flipped because his cross 2000 years ago was your Judgment Day. Your future mega-crisis is already in your past. Your sins were judged in him. He forgives you now. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). There is now refuge in Christ. So we can navigate the lesser crises without freaking out.
Finality without aloofness (verses 25-29)
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 he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
The title “Son of Man” in verse 27 comes from the Old Testament. In the book of Daniel, “the Son of Man” is appointed by the Father to judge the brutalities of human history and bring in a kingdom of humaneness that will stand forever. And Jesus wants us to know, in verse 27, that the One who will finally judge this world is a human being, the Son of Man. The One who will judge knows what it’s like to be brutalized, he knows what it’s like to be tempted, he knows what it’s like to suffer and die. He will not judge with aloof detachment but with vivid personal awareness of our humanity. In other words, Jesus will be fully qualified, even in our own eyes, to judge this world with finality.
In verse 25 he calls himself the Son of God. In verse 27 he calls himself the Son of Man. It’s a both/and, not an either/or. As the Son of God, he is just. As the Son of Man, he is sympathetic. He alone deserves to bring justice and mercy to the nations. And he will.
Jesus is saying here, “On that great and final Day, everyone will rise from their graves and give an account of their lives to me. Muhammad will answer to me. Karl Marx will answer to me. You will answer to me.” Do not think you can be cool with God while defining Jesus to suit yourself. There are only two final human destinies – the resurrection of life, and the resurrection of damnation. Every one of us will go one way or the other, depending on whether we accepted Jesus for all that he claims to be. That is what it means, in verse 29, to do good. The root of all good is accepting Jesus, and the root of all evil is rejecting Jesus. Later in John’s Gospel people ask him what it means to obey God. He gives a surprising answer: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). Everything else will flow from there.
Jesus made himself equal with God. But his greatest glory was that he did not consider equality with God something to cling to, but he made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, humbling himself all the way to death on the cross. God left heaven to rescue us who deserve hell. At the heart of the universe is a love too great to be limited to what we deserve. That mercy came down to us in Jesus, and in him uniquely.
Will you accept him for all that he claims to be?