Monday, October 29, 2012

Like Father, Like Son (John 5:16-24)

Audio (technical difficulty, poor sound quality after 17 minutes)

I will never forget a particular Sunday morning early in my preaching ministry when I had been invited to speak at the church of some friends of ours. One of the only suits I had was a hand-me-down that my father had given me; and the same was true of my inherited necktie collection. I put on the grey, checked suit and the red tie with the grey pattern, and I went to look in the mirror. I was alarmed because it seemed that my father was standing there looking back at me. It was the first time in my life that I had seen the resemblance so vividly. I will also never forget the day that Donia and I went to have an ultrasound while she was pregnant with Solomon. As the technician pointed out the various things we were looking for, the shape of his head and the profile of his face came into focus, and I said, “He looks just like me.” People laughed when I said that, and said there was no way I could see that from a sonogram picture. But, twelve years later, not a day goes by that someone doesn’t say to him, “You look just like your dad.” Aside from our physical resemblances, there are ways in which my dad, my son, and I think alike, act alike, and talk alike. As soon as I could hold a ball, my dad was teaching me how to throw it. I did the same with my son. I have tried to share experiences with my son that were important between me and my dad. We have good reasons for talking about someone being a chip off the old block, or saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Essentially we are saying, “Like father, like son.” And, essentially, that is what Jesus is saying to his critics here in this passage.

The passage that we have read today is contextually tied to the previous passage, which we studied together last Sunday. You recall that Jesus has healed a man who has been lame for 38 years. Rather than rejoicing in the power and grace of God that was revealed in this miracle, the religious officials of Israel opted to indict the man for violating their man-made regulations regarding the Sabbath. The penalty for this was death. In his defense, the man claims that he’s been framed. He was only doing what Jesus told him to do, and so he turned Jesus over to the officials to save his own neck. And so, verse 16 says, “For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.” Now, Jesus could have responded to this situation by arguing with the officials about the validity of their regulations which they have appended onto the Law of God. But He didn’t. Though their Sabbath rules have no footing in the will and Word of God whatsoever, Jesus ups the stakes of the issue and chooses instead to focus on His identity and His nature.

In verse 17, Jesus raises two points. The first of them is that the Sabbath regulations do not apply to God, for He is always at work. Indeed, Genesis tells us plainly that on the seventh day of the creation week, God “rested” from His work of creation, but it was not because He was tired or needed a break. It was because He was finished; all had been created in six days, and there was nothing more to create. But it was universally agreed among the Jews that God did not cease working entirely on the seventh day, because He never stopped His work of upholding, maintaining, and preserving the universe He created. Can you imagine what the world would look like if God took a day off? No, the Sabbath restrictions do not apply to God, and about that there was no disagreement.

But it is His second point that causes the rub. His second point is that the Sabbath rules also do not apply to Him, because God is His Father, and therefore He can work, like Father like Son. Now, notice how they respond to this. Verse 18 tells us that they are no longer content to merely persecute Him; now they are all the more intent on killing Him. Not only is He guilty of breaking the Sabbath, but He has called God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. The meaning of His words was obvious to those who heard Him. And had they been mistaken, then the rest of this Chapter doesn’t make any sense. Jesus never once says, “Oh no, you guys misunderstood Me! That’s not what I meant!” Rather, He begins a lengthy discourse to demonstrate that this is exactly what He meant. He was indeed claiming that God was His Father in a unique way that no one else could. This was an audacious claim, and one that asserted in no uncertain terms that Jesus is indeed “equal with God.” He is claiming to be of the same nature and substance as God. He is not claiming to be a second, or rival God, but to be one and the same with the one true God. The point He is making here in verse 17 is that if you cannot indict God for breaking the Sabbath, neither can you indict Jesus for breaking the Sabbath, for He indeed is God. In their minds, this is a flagrantly blasphemous statement, one that was worthy of death. And so they set out to kill Him, beginning on that day.

So, is Jesus God? He says He is, and in these verses, He defines the nature of His relationship as Son to the Father. In so doing, we have some of the clearest teaching in all of Scripture regarding the mystery of the Trinity. Christians believe that there is one God, and only one God. When the whole of Scripture is examined we find that this one God is revealed in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There are not three gods, but one God in three persons: a Tri-Unity, or Trinity. Calvin warns, “the greatness of the mystery warns us how much reverence and sobriety we ought to use in investigating this.”[1] That’s good advice as we begin to investigate the intertrinitarian relationship of the Father and the Son that is revealed in these verses. Here, that relationship is defined. So, as we look at verses 19-24, we want to consider these all-important words of Jesus that explain to us the nature of His relationship with the Father.

I. The Son is Dependent on the Father (v19)

It is perfectly clear that Jesus has made Himself out to be equal with God by calling God His own Father. But, He is not claiming to be a rival of God, or an additional deity that is separate from the one true God. He clarifies here that He “can do nothing of Himself,” or on His own initiative, as if He was acting independently of God the Father. He only does what He sees the Father doing, and He does it in “like manner” as the Father. His relationship, as God the Son, is one of subordination to and dependence upon the Father. This dependence and subordination does not in any way suggest that the Son is inferior to the Father, but rather that the Father has a specific divine role, as does the Son. The Son and the Father are equal in nature; both are eternal, infinite, and equally divine, but there is a distinction in role. The roles are not interchangeable or reversible, for if the Father subordinates Himself to the Son, then He ceases to be the Father, and if the Son usurps the Father, then He ceases to be the Son.

Because the Father and the Son have existed in unity for eternity, the Son is a witness and a participant in all that the Father has done. Therefore, Jesus can say, “I do what I see Him doing, and I do those things in like manner as He does.” In old days, this is how a person learned a trade. They apprenticed under the supervision of their father, and they watched and learned, and then they began to do the work in like manner. It is true of many of us that we do certain things because we have seen how our parents did them.

In John 6:38, Jesus says, “I came down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” He acts in perfect obedience, perfect submission, and perfect dependence on the will of His Father. He does what the Father shows Him and what the Father sends and commands Him to do. But notice, He is not merely a servant or agent of the Father. Rather, when Jesus does the work that He sees His Father doing, He acts as God Himself, because He is equal in His divine nature with the Father, even if subordinate in His role as the Son. Notice he doesn’t say, “I do some of the things that My Father does.” He says, “Whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does.” And He doesn’t say, “My Father is a little better at it because He’s been at it longer.” He says, “I do whatever He does in like manner.” So, when the Father is acting, the Son is acting. What the Father is doing, the Son is doing. And the Son is doing those things because He glories in His submission and dependence to the Father. So the first thing we notice is that He is equal with God – He is fully divine; but He does not act independently of God the Father. He is submitted and dependent upon the Father.

II. The Son is Loved by the Father (v20)

If you were technologically savvy, you could create a machine – a robot, perhaps – that would do everything you program it to do. It would obey you perfectly. But you did not program that machine because you loved it. Similarly, you can hire a person to do what you instruct them to do. But you do not instruct them because you love them. Love probably doesn’t enter into the picture at all. But that is not the case with the Father and the Son. He is not a robot or an employee. The Father is pleased to show the Son all that He is doing because He loves Him; and because the Son loves the Father and knows the Father’s love for Him, He rejoices to submit Himself to the will of the Father. Their relationship is one of perfect love, and the love that exists between the persons of the Trinity is eternal and infinite.

Some may ask, “What was God doing before He made heaven and earth?” Augustine said that some people asked that in his day, and that the answer had often been given that He was preparing hell for those who pry into mysteries.[2] But that is certainly not the answer! What was God doing before He created humanity? Was he pacing about in loneliness, maybe singing to Himself the words of that Three Dog Night song, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know”? No, God did not create man because He was lonely and needed someone to love. What was He doing before He created the world? He was glorying in the perfect harmony of the love that eternally existed within Himself between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 17:24, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

We often talk about how God does certain things because He loves us. This is true, and it is both comforting and assuring. He really does love us! But we do not often stop to think of the love of the Father for the Son as a basis for how God acts in the world. Calvin says that the “complete love of God” lives in the Son, and this love flows “like an overflowing fountain from him to us.”[3] The love that the Father has demonstrated to us in so many ways, and especially through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, begins first in the love of the Father for the Son. It is the nature of God’s love to give. He so loved the world, John 3:16 says, that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life. But, John 3:35 goes on to say, “the Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.” Out of the infinite love of the Father for the Son, He has given Him all things, and Jesus says here that He has shown Him all things that He Himself is doing. And because the Father loves the Son, Jesus says, “the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.” Now, don’t you think they are already marveling? Among many other things, Jesus just commanded a lifelong paralytic to get up and walk! That’s pretty impressive! But Jesus says that the Father loves Him and will show Him greater works than these, and He will do those greater things, and that will make people marvel! What are these greater things? We see them in the next two verses, as we consider …

III. The Son is Entrusted by the Father (vv21-22)

I remember when I first got a chance to mow the yard. I thought that was awesome! After years of watching my dad mow the lawn, I was finally able to do it myself! Now, I look back on that, and I think, “What was my problem?” I hate mowing the yard! Why did I think it was so great back then? Well, the more I think about it, I really don’t think it was the chore of mowing the yard; it was the sense that my father trusted me, and willing to empower me to do the task, and that was a reflection of his love for me! Now, our human analogies cannot do justice to the infinite and eternal love of God the Father for God the Son, but perhaps in some small way we can see here how the Father’s love for the Son led to an entrusting of responsibility to Him. He was entrusting a task to the Son that was supremely the task of the Father. Namely, this two-fold task that the Son is entrusted with is the power to give life, and the authority to exercise judgment over the world.

In verse 21 Jesus says, “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” Now, the Jews understood that the giving of life and the raising of the dead was a power that belonged to God and God alone. In Deuteronomy 32:39, God proclaims, “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal.” First Samuel 2:6 says, “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up.” In 2 Kings 5:7, Naaman was sent to the King of Israel with a plea that the king might cure him of his leprosy. The king of Israel “tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to kill and make alive?’” Well, if you were to ask Jesus, “Are you God? Can you give life?”, He would say, “Indeed. The Father has entrusted Me with that power.” His power to do this is unlimited and sovereign. The Father has entrusted Him to give life “to whom He wishes.” Just as Jesus sovereignly chose one man of all those gathered by the pool to heal, so the Father has given Him the authority to choose those to whom He will give life and raise up from the dead.[4] Now, it is one thing to claim to be able to give life and raise the dead. Anyone could claim that. But Jesus alone has the power to prove it. He can restore those whose lives have been afflicted by suffering, such as the man whom He healed by the pool just a few verses before this. He will demonstrate on more than one occasion that He even has the power to raise the dead. But these miracles, marvelous and amazing as they are, are merely foreshadowing an even more marvelous thing – a greater work that He will do. On the last day, it is the Son who will call the dead to rise out of their tombs in the resurrection. He has been entrusted with that power and authority by the Father, and that should make us marvel!

But notice also that Jesus says in verse 22, “Not even the Father judges anyone.” Now, have you ever heard someone trying to explain a situation, and they just keep digging a hole, making it worse? I guess some might say that Jesus is doing that here. He’s already claimed to be God, claimed that God is His Father, and claimed to have the power to raise the dead. Now He says that the Father does not judge anyone. One thing that His audience knew for sure was that God most certainly is the final and ultimate judge. In Genesis 18:25, Abraham called upon God as the “Judge of all the earth.” Well, Jesus is not saying that God will not judge anyone. He says that the Father doesn’t judge anyone, because “He has given all judgment to the Son.” God will indeed judge everyone, but it is God the Son who has been entrusted by God the Father with that supreme authority. When every human being who has ever lived stands before the bar of judgment on the last day, they will stand face to face with Jesus Christ.

Now, there is a tension here between this statement and that found in John 3:17, where we read that “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” But there is no contradiction here. What Jesus was saying in John 3 was that judgment was not the purpose of His coming into the world. All the world was already under the condemnation of judgment because of sin. Jesus came to save the world by becoming our sin-bearer, dying for us and bearing the judgment we deserve on our behalf on the cross, and conquering sin and death through His resurrection from the dead. No, judgment was not the purpose of His coming, but in the final day, all will face Him as their judge, and on that day some will be saved because they have received the everlasting life that He alone can give; while others will be justly condemned because they have rejected Him. The Apostle Paul says that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). That Man is the God-Man, God the Son, the Lord Jesus, who Has been entrusted with this authority by the Father, and this should cause us to marvel!

IV. The Son is Honored with the Father (v23)

All that the Father has entrusted to the Son brings us to marvel at His supreme power and authority. It should amaze us! I watch a lot of British television, and I hear a word used a lot on there that we don’t use much here: Gobsmacked. That is what this word marvel means. We should be gobsmacked by the power and authority of Jesus! But, it is not enough to be gobsmacked. Jesus says that all of this should lead us to honor Him with the same honor that is offered to the Father! God declares, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another” (Isaiah 42:8). That was part of the problem here. The Jews understood and believed that God’s glory could not be shared with any other. If the Babylonian Captivity had accomplished anything, it had thoroughly purged Israel of their tendency toward idolatry. They would never give the honor that belonged to God alone to another. But Jesus was not saying that they should not honor God. He was saying that the honor that is due God rightly belongs to God the Father and God the Son in equal measure. They refused to honor Jesus because they thought that they were honoring the Father. In their mind, to honor Jesus would be to dishonor God—to take away or diminish the honor that was due to the Father. But Jesus says here, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” Glorifying the Son is not idolatry. It does not diminish the glory of the Father. Jesus Himself prayed in John 17:5, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” It cannot be wrong for you to glorify the Son, because even the Father glorifies the Son, and always has from eternity past.

All around the world, all across this nation, throughout this city, and maybe even among those of us who are gathered here today, there are multitudes who believe that they honor God, but they have no regard for the person of Jesus. Every Muslim, every Jew, every Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, every person practicing folk religion, or any other form of religion sincerely thinks that they are honoring God. But notice what the Lord Jesus is saying here: If you do not honor Me, you do not honor God, because I am Him! The Father is worthy of honor, and the Son is worthy of equal honor! And if we do not honor the Son, then no matter how sincere we are, we are not honoring the Father. That, my friends is a very bold claim: one that can only be made by a psychopath, unless of course it is true. If it is true, then He must be none other than the Lord of Glory in the flesh, and ultimately worthy of our worship, faith, and total surrender. So which is it? Is He a lunatic, or is He the Lord? There really is no middle ground. If you write Him off as a lunatic, you realize that you are playing a horrible game of chance, knowing that if you are wrong, you will stand before Him as the final judge on the final day. But if He is Lord, then what can we do but honor Him? What can we do but fall on our faces before Him and worship Him and call out to Him for mercy and grace to save us?

Look at verse 24 here. Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” If you want to honor the Son and the Father, you have to hear the word of God the Son, and believe in Him who sent Him – God the Father. He has the authority to give live to whomever He chooses, and He chooses to give it to those who trust in Him as Lord and Savior, believing that He has borne your sins on His cross. He offers you life, and that life is everlasting. Those who believe in Him do not have to wait until the final day to receive that life. Notice the present tense. If you believe in Him, you have it already! And notice that you do not have to wait to be delivered from death and judgment. You will not come into judgment because you have already passed over from death into life! So, you see that the relationship that eternally exists between the Father and the Son is not the subject of dry academic theology. This is the most practical and relevant truth you can know. Because the Father loves the Son, He has given Him a work to do. He has entrusted Him to give life and to judge the living and the dead. And He has exalted Him to receive honor and glory from every living being in all creation, including you and me. Philippians 2:10-11 tells us that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Every knee bowing and every tongue confessing to glorify the Son brings glory to the Father. And this is a promise. Every knee will bow! Every tongue will confess that He is Lord. The question is, will you bow the knee and confess Him as Lord now, or later? Honor Him with your faith and worship now, and receive eternal life. But there is a fixed day in which this offer will expire; it will be too late. Depart this life without Him and you will not escape Him; you will stand face to face before Him in judgment. You will bow the knee before Him, and you will acknowledge Him as Lord, and honor Him, but it will be in an acceptance of your just condemnation because you have not trusted Him to bear your sins in His death, and you have not received the life that He is entrusted to give. So, which will it be for you?

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 141.
[2] Augustine, Confessions (trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin; New York: Penguin, 1961), 262.
[3] John Calvin, John (Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994), 127-128.
[4] Carson, 253.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Do You Wish to Get Well? (John 5:1-16)

Have you ever done something, and later looked back with regret to say, “If I had known how that was going to turn out, I would have done it differently”? Sure, we all have! That’s why we say things like, “Hindsight is 20/20.” But, has it ever occurred to you that Jesus never had this experience? By the time we get to the end of this section of Scripture, we will be tempted to think that Jesus blew it here. From our perspective, it looks like He picked the wrong guy, the wrong day of the week, and got the wrong outcome. But we have to begin from a foundation of faith in Christ as sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful, and in ultimate authority over all things. He never makes a mistake, never second-guesses His words and actions, never gets taken by surprise, and never fails to accomplish His purpose in what He does.

After journeying through Samaria and Galilee, Jesus has returned to Jerusalem for the observance of a Jewish holy day. Though John records Jesus’ attendance at several festivals in Jerusalem, this is the only one that is not identified by name. We don’t know what the occasion was, and it seems unimportant to the meaning of the text. While in Jerusalem, Jesus came to an area known as Bethesda, located near the Sheep Gate, where there is a pool surrounded by five porticoes. Once upon a time, critics of the Bible questioned the authenticity of the Gospel of John because no one had ever been able to locate this pool. However, in the 1890s, archaeologists discovered two large pools in the northern portion of the city, surrounded by four porticoes, with a fifth one spanning between them. Its location and features match the description of the pool here in John 5 perfectly. So, today, there is no doubt about the authenticity of this place.

But what’s important for our purposes today is not the architecture or archaeology of the pool complex at Bethesda, but rather the confrontation that took place there between the Lord Jesus and a man who had been an invalid for most of his life. Unlike so many of the healing miracles we read about in the Gospels, in this one the man does not call out to Jesus for help. Rather, of all of the people surrounding the pool, Jesus chose this man, and He confronted him about his condition. This man had never given a thought to Jesus before that day; he seems to have even been unaware of who He was. But, as is always the case, the Lord Jesus makes the first move in mercy and grace to reach out to this man and He asks him, “Do you wish to get well?”

All across this room, there are people who have had this confrontational encounter with the Lord Jesus. Perhaps we were like this man, having lived a good many years ravaged by the sufferings of sin, with no knowledge and no interest in Him, when suddenly we were confronted with His gracious offer, “Do you want to get well?” Others grew up surrounded by the trappings of empty and impersonal religion, marking off the checklist and going through the motions of church attendance, prayers, Bible reading, and rule-keeping. But there came a day when a gentle Galilean whisper came rushing into our hearts graciously asking, “Do you want to get well?” Or maybe you have never had this experience at all. You have come here today in whatever condition, ravaged or religious, thinking that you have successfully avoided the uncomfortable confrontation of a personal encounter with Jesus. But perhaps the confrontation has already begun in you, though you do not recognize it. Perhaps it is what brought you here today. My prayer is that before this service ends today, you will recognize the One who stands before you with outstretched hands and an overwhelming offer: “Do you want to get well?” If we would be made well, then the confrontation must happen. As we look at just such a confrontation at the pool of Bethesda, let’s notice how Jesus addresses us at our point of deepest need with the gracious offer to make us well and whole in Him.

I. Jesus confronts our hopeless suffering.

Jesus made His followers a promise in John 16:33: “In the world you have tribulation.” You don’t need to waste any time trying to prove Him wrong. You just need to be alive to prove Him right. There is no individual and no realm of existence which is immune to suffering, not even Christians. Psalm 34:19 says that “many are the afflictions of the righteous.” And at the root of all suffering is sin. Romans 5:12 says, “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” That death that sin has brought into the world is at work within us, decaying and corrupting us physically from the moment of conception until our final breath. That is why we get sick, why we hurt, and ultimately why we die – sin is at work within every human being. This is not to say that every instance of suffering in our lives can be traced back to a specific sin we committed. But human suffering is a product of sin’s presence in the world and its power at work within us. This realization can make us pessimistic about our suffering and lead us to hopelessness. But we must remember the promises of God’s Word. Though Jesus says that we will have tribulation in this world, He says that He offers us peace, and that He has overcome the world. Though many are the afflictions of the righteous, it is the Lord who delivers us from them all. It is He alone who can truly make us well in the midst of the otherwise hopeless suffering of the world.

As we meet the man by the pool, we notice several things about him. He is there with many others who are sick, blind, lame, and withered (perhaps, paralyzed). His illness seems to be one that prevented him from being able to walk, as he was apparently lying on a straw mat or pallet. He had suffered from this illness for 38 years! This was longer than many people lived in that day, as the average life expectancy barely exceeded 40 years.[1] The Bible tells us that Jesus saw him lying there, and He knew that he had been a long time in that condition. How did He know? Did He ask him? Did He ask someone else? Well, you never have to wonder how Jesus knows anything. He knows everything about everyone. He doesn’t need information. He knows everything about you and me! He sees us, and He knows us, better than we know ourselves.

We observe here in the text how this man’s suffering seems to have made him very bitter. When Jesus asked him, “Do you wish to get well?” his response is, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming another steps down before me!” This is not a mere explanation of his circumstances. As D. A. Carson writes, his response sounds like “the crotchety grumblings of an old and not very perceptive man who thinks he is answering a stupid question.”[2] He’s allowed his sufferings to define him, and he’s just a bitter, cranky man. He hadn’t found help from any doctor; he hadn’t found help from any bystander. Even in the crowd, he was alone, bitter, and hopeless. But all of that was about to change, because on this day, he was confronted by Jesus. The question is a simple one: “Do you wish to get well?” The man seems put off by the question, and he never gives a straight answer. A simple yes or no would do, but the man is so embittered and hopeless that he seems to lash out at Jesus as if to say, “Well, why on earth do you think I am sitting here by this pool?” But the question is not a stupid one. The fact is that there were many who were in similar conditions who did not really wish to get well. Unable to work, the man had likely resorted to begging, and as J. A. Findlay reminds us, “an eastern beggar often loses a good living by being cured of his disease.”[3] We don’t know if that was the case with this man, but it is possible. Does he want to get well? He never answers. He only makes bitter excuses about his condition. But this does not stop Jesus from intervening in his life. Though the man has offered no faith to Jesus beforehand, and seemingly none afterward, Jesus nonetheless speaks a word of power into his otherwise hopeless suffering and says, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” And v9 tells us that immediately, the man did just that. He became well, picked up his pallet and began to walk.

John 1:3 tells us that Jesus, the divine and living Word of God created all that exists. And the creation accounts tell us that all that exists was brought into being by the creative and powerful Word of God. He spoke, and it happened. He upholds all things by the Word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). And His Word has the ability to give, preserve, and restore life. He speaks, and it is done! Jesus told this hopeless man to rise and walk, and immediately he rose and walked. And apparently he walked right away from the Lord Jesus who had healed him. He didn’t even catch His name. In his ignorance, he had no interest in Jesus before he was healed. In his bitterness, he had no interest in him after the fact either. Take note of this, because there are those who will come along side of you when you are suffering and they will say idiotic things like, “If you only had enough faith, you wouldn’t be suffering,” or “if your faith was strong enough, God would heal you.” Don’t believe that for a moment. Here’s a guy who didn’t have an ounce of faith, and Jesus healed him of his physical sufferings, yet many faithful people suffer severely and ultimately die in their pain. His lack of personal faith did not prevent Jesus from making Him physically well.

But Jesus wasn’t finished with him. Later on, in verse 14, Jesus confronts him again, this time at the Temple. He says to him, “Behold you have become well.” He’s probably heard that a lot from everyone he’s encountered. But then Jesus says something to him that no one else could. He says, “Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” What Jesus is saying is that one’s physical health is not the ultimate need or concern in anyone’s life. Though in His divine and sovereign grace, He had chosen to heal this man, Jesus never promised to heal everyone’s physical ailments in this life. But He did promise to deliver all who come to Him by faith from the bondage of sin. What a tragedy it would be for this man to experience a physical healing after a lifetime of suffering, only to find at the end of his life that there was a greater suffering yet to endure! Therefore Jesus confronts him here at the temple and calls him to repentance from his sins and escape the horrors of eternal torment in hell. This serves as a stark warning to us all. Physical suffering in this life is not the worst thing that can happen to us. The suffering of hell is far more severe than this! Our physical suffering may be healed, or it may endure until life ends; it may even bring our life to an end. But there is a life beyond this one that will never end. For those who know Christ, there will be no more suffering as we spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. But for those who do not know Him as Lord and Savior, there will be no end to the suffering that is endured in hell. He came, not to deliver us from the hardships and inconveniences that we face, but from the horrors of sin and hell by becoming our sin-bearer in His death and resurrection. He conquered sin and death and hell for us. If we allow Him to be our sin-bearer, then no matter what suffering we experience in this life, we have the confident hope of a life beyond in which there will be no suffering. The believer in Jesus can say, with the Apostle Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18), for this life’s “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17). On the other hand, if we refuse to allow Him to bear our sins, we will bear them ourselves before His throne of judgment, and no matter how well we had it here in this life, the life to come will be one of unending suffering and torment.

Of all the hopeless suffering that a person can endure, none is so hopeless as the enslavement to sin. There is no doctor, no medicine, no therapy that can bring healing to this terminal sickness of our souls. Apart from Jesus, all is hopeless! But He confronts us in our misery and offers us, not the temporal joy of a life lived without aches and pains and illness, but the eternal joy of a life delivered from the presence, the power and the penalty of sin. Though we may or may not ever experience a relief of physical suffering in this life, if we have Jesus, we can endure whatever we have to face, knowing that something better awaits us on the other side of this life. In order to know the fullness of this, there is more to this confrontation that must be experienced.

II. Jesus confronts our hollow religion.

In a sense, we all are religious people. There are no exceptions. Religion, rightly defined, refers to a person’s beliefs and opinions about the existence, nature and worship of a divine being or beings, and that being or beings’ involvement in the universe and in human life. And there is no one who has ever lived who has not had beliefs and opinions about those things. There has never been a civilization or culture discovered or unearthed that did not have religious opinions or beliefs. A survey of the world’s religious systems reveals many similarities and overlaps, and also many great differences. But Christianity stands alone in a unique category of belief systems in that it alone promises a personal relationship with the one true God, along with salvation from sin, eternal life, and supernatural empowerment to its adherents based solely on the sovereign grace of God, received and experienced not by works or rituals, but entirely by faith alone. Apart from the Christian faith revealed in the Bible, every belief system in the history of the world could be classified in terms of its regulations (the rules concerning what must be done and what must be avoided in order to appease God or some multitude of gods) and its superstitions (those beliefs or rituals by which humans seek to manipulate forces of nature and circumstances of human experience). There are, even within the broad circle of those who claim to be Christians, unbiblical expressions of the faith that are more accurately categorized as a “folk religion” that blends bits and pieces of Christianity with superstition and legalistic rule-keeping. That is not Christianity; that is not good news. These are two totally different belief systems! But there is good news in knowing that the Lord Jesus confronts us all in our hollow religion with the greatest news of His saving power and grace.

He confronts our superstitions with the truth of His power. We see that taking place with the man beside of the pool in the early verses of this text. Depending on which English version of the Bible you are using, you may notice heavy square brackets around the text from the middle of verse 3 to the end of verse 4, where we read that the infirm people around the pool were “waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.” In some versions, you may notice that half of verse 3 and all of verse 4 are missing entirely from your Bible. It is found in the footnotes of those versions. What is going on here? From the best examination we can make of the ancient New Testament manuscripts, it seems that these words were added later by a scribe who was attempting to explain the words spoken by the man in verse 7. There was apparently some kind of folk belief or superstition among people of that day that led them to believe that when they saw those waters stirring, only the first one would be healed. Maybe they believed it was a healing angel stirring the water. So, likely with misguided good intentions, some copyist of the ancient manuscripts decided to help us out by supplying the information found in the latter part of verse 3 and verse 4. For all we know, it could be an accurate explanation of the superstition surrounding the pool. But, as best we can tell from examining the oldest and most reliable manuscripts of John, it really doesn’t belong there. In addition to the manuscript evidence, there are some doctrinal concerns with the words as well. Nowhere else in the Bible do we God endorsing this kind of superstitious idolatry that affixes special powers to certain places or things. It really flies in the face of what the Bible teaches us about how God operates in the world. It was just a superstition, but still people really believed that when that pool bubbled or rippled, that the healing angel was there, ready to heal the first person to enter the water. It had no basis in the will and word of God whatsoever.

In a sense, this superstition is similar to things that well-meaning Christians of our day often say, like “God helps those who help themselves.” Let’s consider that statement for a moment. Is it in the Bible? No. Are there occasions in the Bible when God helps those who help themselves? Yes. Are there other occasions in the Bible when God helps those who cannot or will not help themselves? Yes, we are studying one of those texts today! So what shall we say? In the final analysis, the only sure thing we can say is that God helps those whom He chooses to help, whether or not they can, will, or do help themselves. The idea of Him helping those who help themselves is nothing more than a superstition that is only true in some, but not all, instances. And when it comes to being saved from our sin, it is never true because there is nothing that a person can do to help themselves whatsoever in that regard. Well, this is just one of many that people have absorbed into their beliefs. Before we incorporate something into our belief system, we have to test it with the plain teachings of Scripture, lest we fall into a hollow religion filled with baseless superstitions.

Now, this man certainly believed that the superstition about the moving of the water and the race to the pool was true. But Jesus confronts that baseless superstition with His ultimate power. When He asks the man if he wants to be well, all the man can think of is this pool as his only hope. His superstition has made an idol out of this pool in his heart and mind. But notice that Jesus doesn’t help the man into the pool; He merely speaks the Word of His power and the man is healed, immediately and completely! The healing is not found in the pool, it is found in the power of Jesus! No longer will this man believe that the pool is necessary for healing; His superstition has been confronted by the power of Jesus! One of the prophecies about the Messiah had promised that when He comes, “the lame will leap like a deer” (Isa 35:6). This miracle adds further testimony to the identity of Jesus Christ. He confronted meaningless superstition with His power.

But notice also how He confronts our regulations with His grace. No sooner does this lame man arise and walk that the religious officials begin to castigate him for breaking the Sabbath by carrying his mat. The Sabbath was prescribed in the Law of God’s Word as a day of rest when work shall cease. But what is “work”? The Jewish people had difficulty knowing what really was and was not acceptable to do on the Sabbath, so the scribes had determined 39 categories of work which were forbidden. For instance, it was agreed that one could not plow on the Sabbath. But, what if a person were to spit, and those droplets of spit made an impression in the dirt? Well, that was forbidden, because the person was making a furrow in the ground, thus they were plowing. But if one spit and it landed on a rock, and made no impression in the dirt, then that was permissible because no work was done. I visited a Jewish hospital in Baltimore one Saturday afternoon, and got on the elevator alone, and pushed the button for the fifth floor. But the elevator proceeded to stop on every floor, even though I hadn’t pushed the buttons. I learned that the elevator was set up to operate this way on the Sabbath; it automatically stops on every floor, so that no one violates the Sabbath by operating machinery. Well, one of the scribal regulations regarding the Sabbath prohibited the carrying of a load. This man had violated that regulation. Ironically, it was permissible to carry a pallet like this, as long as someone who was invalid was lying on it, but it was not permissible for a man who had been lying on that mat for 38 years and who had just been miraculously healed to carry the empty mat! The ridiculous nature of these regulations is obvious! All of those rules had nothing to do with God’s Word. They were man-made embellishments of the Law of God. The intention of the Sabbath was not to regulate every little thing that people could or could not do. It was intended to be a blessing to humanity, not a burden. It was established so that people could reserve one day of every week to focus their attention on the Lord in worship, and rest themselves from their regular labors. This man was not a professional mat-carrier, violating the Sabbath by continuing with business as usual! Here was a man made well by the power of God, who should be going on his way rejoicing! But, the religious officials could not rejoice at the power of God just revealed; they were too busy obsessing about the technicalities of their regulations!

Now, we might wonder if Jesus should have waited a day, or come a day earlier to heal this man. But, Jesus does not make mistakes! This man, this miracle, and this moment had been sovereignly determined by the Lord Jesus for this confrontation. He chose to heal this man on the Sabbath to demonstrate that rule keeping does not bring us into relationship with God. He chose this day, this man, and this miracle to demonstrate that it is not by the doing and not doing of things, but by the sheer grace of Jesus that we are made right with God. Consider the words of Ephesians 2:8-9: “By grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Get that, “so that no one may boast!” No one will stand before God and boast of what they have done and not done. Our salvation rests completely on what Christ, in His grace, has DONE for us; not what we, in our flesh, claim to DO for Him! But oh, how we love our rules! They give us grounds for boasting among others. Do this, don’t do that! We are blinded to the power and grace of God by our focus on regulations! I am not saying that Christians do not have moral obligations. We do! We are called to live in holiness, and that holiness is empowered by the Holy Spirit who indwells us! If we are not progressing in holiness, then we are right to wonder if we’ve truly been saved! But, that moral transformation that God produces within His people is a result of, not a requirement for, salvation! Gospel imperatives (what we are commanded to do as Christians), flow out of Gospel indicatives (what God has declared us to be in Jesus, by grace through faith). He does not command us to be good in order for Him to love us. He calls us to rest in His love and grace by faith, as we trust in Him, He transforms us into the image of Jesus. But the problem with legalistic regulations that have no basis in Scripture is that the Holy Spirit will neither convict or empower us to overcome those things that are not sin! God does not lead us into a life of keeping man-made regulations, but a life that is being transformed to reflect His holiness demonstrated in the glory of Jesus!

There are many who are committed to their lists of “dos and don’ts,” and they cannot know the blessing of life in Christ because they are pressed down under the burden of rule keeping! They are good moral people, just like the scribes and Pharisees of old; but they are lost! They are not saved because they have never been set free by the grace of Christ. All of their doings are just human efforts to impress God with their own deeds. Know this for certain: no one is able to impress God with their own efforts. God is impressed with Jesus; and we are saved as we are found in Him by grace through faith!

As we draw to a close, I want to focus on what is transpiring here between the religious leaders and the healed man. They have indicted him on breaking their man-made regulations, and the penalty for Sabbath violations was death. But rather than reasoning with them about what had happened, rather than following Christ in faith even unto death, what does he do? Remember, that he is a bitter little man, who has allowed his suffering to harden his heart over the years. And notice that he throws Jesus right under the bus! Just like he was accustomed to doing, he resorts to the blame game. “It’s not my fault, it is that man who healed me! He’s the bad guy. He’s the one you want.” But he didn’t even know His name, and Jesus had disappeared from the scene. So the death penalty is hanging over this guy’s head unless he can find the scapegoat. But after the second confrontation, when he found out who Jesus was, rather than repenting of his sin as Jesus had warned him to do, he voluntarily went back to the religious leaders, and turned state’s evidence against the Lord to save his own neck! He disclosed Jesus to the very crowd that would then set their focus on putting Jesus to death. The human plot to kill Jesus begins right here. The innocent Jesus will be pursued to death, and eventually He would die in the place of this stubborn, hard-hearted, bitter little man, who never paid more than a passing notice to Jesus. That seems at first glance like a horrible tragedy, but in fact, it plays right into the eternal purpose of God. This was the very reason that God took human flesh upon Himself in the person of Jesus – so that He might die, the just for the unjust. He became the scapegoat, the substitute, to bear the sin of bitter, hard-hearted unbelievers just like this man. In unbelief, he lets Jesus die for him, but he will never experience the benefits of that glorious exchange. If he would only believe, Jesus would die for him anyway, and he would be made well, not only physically but spiritually; not only temporarily, but eternally. And the same is true for all of us. Christ is our sin-bearing substitute who embraces the suffering and shame of the cross out of His grace and love for you and for me. He bears our sin for us in His death, that He may grant righteousness and life to us by His grace.

The offer stands, for this man, for you, and for me. Jesus asks, “Do you wish to be made well?” Each man has to answer that question for Himself. We don’t know what happened to this man after this day. For all we know, he died in his bitterness and unbelief. Ultimately, it is not really important for us to know what happened to Him. What matters most is what you and I will do in response to that offer. Will we turn to the one who offers to heal us from the sickness of sin and set us free from its bondage, fall on our faces before Him in repentance and faith as we call out to Him as Lord and Savior? Or will we despise His gracious kindness and His glorious power and turn our hard and bitter hearts away from Him in unbelief? He confronts us, in our hopeless suffering and in our hollow religion, and He asks us, “Do you wish to get well?” What is your answer?

[1] Kostenberger, 179.
[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 243.
[3] Quoted in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 303 fn.19. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

True and False Kinds of Faith (John 4:43-54)


The Gospel According to John has been accurately described as the “Gospel of Belief.” The Greek verb that we commonly translate as “believe” occurs nearly 100 times in this Gospel. In John 20:31, the author tells us his reason for writing: “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” It is a Gospel of belief, and of a kind of belief that brings life. It is not surprising therefore that numerous times in this Gospel, the Apostle John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, points out that there are different kinds of faith, and not all of them are the kind that leads to life. Here in this passage, the same subject returns to view as Jesus encounters several kinds of faith on His return to Galilee.

You may not have noticed it, but there are actually a couple of very difficult ideas here in the opening verses of this text. Notice that Jesus went into Galilee in verse 43, but did you notice the reason why? His reason is told to us in verse 44. He went to Galilee because He had testified that a prophet has no honor in His own country. And Galilee was His own country. Not only did He go there knowing He would have no honor there; He went there because He would have no honor there. This is an immediate challenge to us who prefer to stay in our comfort zones. When we discuss traveling to some part of town, some part of the nation, or some part of the world where we know that life is hard and the name of Jesus is not honored, we tend to shrink back and find excuses to not go. But the Lord Jesus went to a place where He knew that He would not be honored, and He went for that reason. I pray that God would stir my heart and our hearts together to begin looking upon those hard places in the world, and in our own city and country, where there is no honor given to the Lord Jesus, and see that very condition as all the more reason why we should take the name of Jesus there and fill the soil with the seed of the Gospel!

There’s another difficulty just after that in the text. Jesus went to Galilee because He knew He would not be honored there, yet verse 45 tells us that when He got there, the Galileans received Him! Was Jesus mistaken? Was He surprised? Never. If your theology has room for Jesus to be mistaken or surprised, then you have a deficient theology. There must be something else going on here. Though we often use the terms “receiving Jesus” and “believing in Jesus” interchangeably, they are not necessarily the same thing. Those words can mean different things at different times. So that means we have to be careful with how we talk about these things: believing, having faith, receiving Jesus, trusting Him. We can mean very different things when we use those words, and it can be very confusing. That is why we have to make sure we understand the difference between true and false kinds of faith. That is what this entire text is about! We’re going to see two kinds of false faith, and two aspects of genuine faith here in these verses.

I. Curious faith is a false kind of faith (v45)

Here we come into a full encounter with the mystery of Jesus’ words about the prophet having no honor in his own country and the reception He received in Galilee. As we said, at first glance, it looks like Jesus might have been mistaken or surprised by the warm welcome extended to Him in Galilee. But, that is not the case. Notice in verse 45 the reason why the people received Him as they did: they had “seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.” This harkens back to Chapter 2, when Jesus was at the Passover in Jerusalem and He cleared the temple. He also performed some other signs while He was there, but we are not told in John what they were. We are simply told that there were many who believed in His name because they had observed the signs which He was doing. But we read there in John 2:24 that Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and knew what was in man. He did not recognize their faith as genuine because it was a faith that was merely interested in the miraculous things that He did, rather than the more important matter of who Jesus is. They had no interest in knowing Him, personally placing their faith in Him as Lord and Savior, worshiping or serving Him. They just wanted to see Him do these spectacular miracles. And we are told here in John 4:45 that some of these Galileans had been among that crowd that Jesus did not entrust Himself to. They had a kind of faith, but it was not really faith at all; it was merely a curiosity. They welcomed Him because they wondered if He might do some more amazing miracles in their midst.

Jesus had said He would not be honored when He came to Galilee, but on the surface it looks like He was being honored when the people received Him. And that is the point of Jesus’ statement. This kind of self-centered curiosity that looks to Jesus as an object of entertainment, a performer of tricks, is not in any way honoring to Him. They had not come out to meet Him because they thought He was the Messiah, not because they understood Him to be God in the flesh who had come to save them from sin, but rather as a kind of sideshow act to deliver them from boredom. You can just hear them telling their neighbors, “Hey, did you hear? Jesus is coming! He’s the guy we were telling you about that did the cool tricks down in Jerusalem. You will want to get out there early so you can get a good seat so you don’t miss anything!” But this kind of curiosity does not honor Jesus as Lord.

There are many today who look at Jesus with this same kind of curiosity. They know there is something interesting and unique about Him. They may like to talk about Him and read about Him, and they may wish they could see the same kind of demonstrations of His power that the people of that day saw. It is not enough to be curious about Jesus, viewing Him as an entertainment figure. The Samaritans in John 4:42 had come to recognize that Jesus was the Savior of the world! The Galileans, and so many who are like them, merely view Him as some kind of phenomenal oddity. That is a curious kind of faith, but it is not true faith.

II. Crisis faith is a false kind of faith (vv46-47)

The inescapable fact of life is that we all endure suffering and hardship. We live in a fallen world, with sin and evil all around us. Our bodies are radically corrupted by sin’s presence, and we are subject to an ever expanding catalog of sicknesses, injuries, and other sources of suffering. And none of us are immune. You may think that if you were rich and powerful, you could avoid some of life’s hardships. Jesus met a man in this text who would tell you that this is simply not the case. In verse 46 we find this man. He is powerful – a royal official, likely an important member of Herod Agrippa’s court. He is obviously wealthy – verse 51 tells us that he owns slaves. But all of his money and influence cannot insulate him from the realities of life in a fallen world. His son (the Greek wording of verse 49 is affectionate – it is his “little boy”) is sick and drawing closer to death’s door with every passing minute. Some of you know that there is no greater or more unnatural grief than the death of your child, no matter what age it happens. This man is living in the fear and horror of that dark valley even at that very moment. As a royal official, he has undoubtedly had access to the finest health care around, but to no avail. He would have given up all hope, except that he has heard that Jesus was in Cana, and that this Jesus can do miracles. He did the right thing – he came to Jesus. But as he speaks to Jesus he indicates that he has a false kind of faith. It is a crisis faith. He is not interested in Jesus for who Jesus is. He is interested in Jesus’ ability to fix the problem with his little boy.

Notice that this father makes three incorrect assumptions about Jesus. First, he assumes that simply because Jesus can heal, that He always will. He is imploring Him to come and heal the boy. As a royal official, this man is used to commanding people to obey him immediately. Jesus doesn’t operate that way. Some of us have had to learn the hard way that Jesus does not always heal when we ask Him to. Our loved ones have slipped into eternity even as we prayed for them to be well. We’re carrying around pain and sickness in our bodies that we’ve asked the Lord to take away repeatedly. We know He can; we have come to learn that He doesn’t have to, and He doesn’t always. This man also assumes that Jesus has to be present to heal his son. He is insisting that Jesus go with him to Capernaum, some 15 miles or so from Cana, so that He can heal his son. He has not considered that if Jesus is the Lord of Glory, He could heal the boy from anywhere. He doesn’t have some kind of special elixir or magical implement that He has to apply to the boy. The mere exercise of His divine will and Word would raise the boy up from any distance. And the royal official has also assumed that Jesus has a deadline. He has to come before the child dies. He doesn’t understand that it is no harder for Jesus to raise the dead than it is for Him to heal sickness. It has been said that Jesus ruined every funeral He ever attended. But this man hasn’t come to realize that about Jesus yet. In his mind, there are some things that are too hard for even Jesus. Note this well, there is no problem too big for Jesus! But in crisis faith, we panic and we begin to insist that if God were good, if He was really loving, if Jesus really cared for me at all, then He would do what I want Him to do, right here and right now. That is not true faith.

I remember when I was an unbeliever, a Christian asked me one day, “Why will you not believe in Jesus?” I said, “Who does He think He is anyway, demanding that I believe in Him without even proving to me that He is there?” I will never forget her response: “Who do you think you are, demanding that He do what you think He must do to prove Himself to you?” That question haunted me for a long time! Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are that you should be exempt from the sufferings of this fallen world? Who do you think you are to insist that Jesus give in to your demands? Who do you think you are to put deadlines and boundaries on Him? This kind of crisis faith is a false faith because it is not submitted to Him for who He is. This is not a faith that looks to Jesus and says, “Thy will be done.” This faith says, “My will be done, now, or else!”

Am I being too hard on this poor father? After all, I’m a father. My little boy is not so little anymore, but he’s still my little boy! And if he were in the same throes of death that this man’s son was in, you better believe I would be bombarding heaven with petitions for him to be made well. Adrian Rogers says, “But here’s the problem: this man has yet to bow at the feet of Jesus Christ and worship Him. So many of us are concerned only about our health, our welfare, our children, our families, and our future—but not about the will and kingdom of Jesus. … Could it be wrong to plead for the health of a child? In itself, of course not. But strong faith is interested primarily in the glory of God and a right relationship with Him.”[1]

So now Jesus pronounces a verdict on all this false faith He is presented with here in Galilee. He is speaking to the royal official, but not about him solely. He is using plurals to indict the entire population: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” Jesus renounces all the false and shallow sign-seeking faith that has been brought before Him. His rebuke is a challenge to us all! We often say, “Seeing is believing,” but Jesus is saying that is not accurate. He is pressing us to see Him as more than just a sideshow magician, more than a cosmic errand-boy who exists to do our bidding, more than a spiritual lifeguard to rescue us from the waves of this world. He is challenging us to seek Him for who He is as the Lord of Glory and the Savior of the World. And amazingly, the royal official finds his crisis faith transformed by that challenge. He alone, of all these Galileans, finds that his false faith has become true faith. That is evidenced in the remaining verses, as we see two aspects of true faith in him. Rather than being a curious faith or a crisis faith, …

III. True faith is a committed faith (vv49-50)

Notice how, after Jesus pronounces this indictment on the false and shallow faith of the Galileans, this man tries one more time. He says in verse 49, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” And Jesus responds rather simply, “Go, your son lives.” Now the man has a choice to make. Jesus isn’t coming, He’s made that clear. So the man can walk away dejected and hopeless, and go home to bury his little boy, or he can walk away believing that the words Jesus spoke are true. He had wanted to see before he would believe. Jesus tells him to believe, and then to go see. And praise the Lord, this man “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off.” 

In his crisis faith, he had come to Jesus because he had heard about him from others. In his committed faith, he went away believing what Jesus Himself had spoken. He had the kind of true faith now that the Samaritans demonstrated when they said to the woman who had told them about Jesus, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world!” This man from Capernaum could say “Amen” to that as well, for he no longer believed simply because of what others had told him; he had come to Jesus, heard Him speak, and put His faith in the word that was spoken. And we know that faith was genuine, because he acted on it. He believed the word and started off toward home.

It is one thing to hear the word of Christ, another to say you believe it, and still something more to act in faith on it. In reality, if you do not act upon His word, you really do not believe it. Has the Gospel begun to shape your worldview, your behavior, your relationships, your opinions? Will the Gospel influence your vote in November? Does it influence how you treat difficult people? Has it begun to change the way you live? Does it compel you to act in a decidedly different way than every other influence in your life? Genuine faith does that, because it is committed to Christ on the basis of His Word. It believes upon Christ for who He is; it believes upon Christ for what He has promised; it believes upon Christ in an active and visible way.

When we have that kind of faith, we begin to see the things we believe take shape in our lives. This man went home believing. He had stopped for the night somewhere, and set out the next day to finish the journey. But before he could get back home, his slaves met him and reported to him that his son was living, and that the fever had broken. He inquired, “What time did that happen?” They told him that it was the seventh hour (1 pm) on the preceding day, precisely the moment that Jesus had spoken the word of healing. He didn’t see, and then believe. He believed, and then he saw.

Now, lest anyone be misled here, we are not saying that belief in Jesus will mean that all your sicknesses and all of your loved ones will always be healed and all of your prayers always answered in the way you want them to. But we are saying that committed faith finds no promise of Jesus ever going unfulfilled. You cannot necessarily take the specific promise that He made to this man and apply it to your life; but there are plenty of universal promises in His Word that apply to your life and everyone else’s life as well. You will find that if you are born again, you will have eternal life. You will find that though this world is filled with hardships, He will never leave you nor forsake you. You will find that His peace passes all understanding. You will find that He does work all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. You will find that nothing can ever separate you from Him. You will find that He is able to cleanse you from sin, and empower you to live in a way you’ve never imagined. And you will find a host of other comforting assurances coming to fruition in your life as you commit yourself to Him in this kind of genuine faith. It all starts by believing who He is and what He has promised to do. He is God-incarnate, the sovereign Lord of the universe, who has become a man so that He could live and die for you and conquer death for you through His resurrection, so that you can have life abundant and life eternal. He hasn’t come to make you healthy, wealthy, and wise in the things of this world. He has come to deliver you from this world of suffering and offer you a life that is infinitely better. That life begins here and now, but comes into full bloom in His glorious presence in eternity. Have you trusted in Him in this committed way, and begun to see the transformation the He desires to produce in you?


IV. True faith is a contagious faith (v53b)

What this man had discovered about Jesus was too good to keep to himself. When he got back home, he shared with everyone in his house about the Christ he had met, and they all joined him in his newfound faith. “He himself believed and his whole household.” He was one more example of the promise Jesus made to His disciples when He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” If you follow Him by faith, your faith will be contagious. You will want to share it with others! The Samaritan woman couldn’t wait to tell her whole village about Jesus after she met Him. This royal official couldn’t wait to share the good news with his family. One of the marks of genuine faith is that we desire to give it away. We believe that this good news is not just for ourselves! We believe it is for the whole world! If you are following, then you are fishing. So, if you aren’t fishing, you have to ask yourself if you are really following? I don’t know how many times I have shared the good news of Jesus throughout my life – surely not enough – but there’s one thing I have discovered: I have never shared the Gospel by accident. There is an intentionality in every offer of the good news. There is a desire to make the Christ who has transformed our lives known to another person. We may not all be rich and powerful like this royal official, but we are all like him in that we live in a world surrounded by grief, suffering, and hardship. No one is immune. Where is the hope that can help us through this life and secure us a better life beyond this one? That hope is found in Jesus alone! We have to know that there is no sin He cannot forgive, no sorrow He cannot comfort, no suffering He cannot soothe. He’s done it for me; he’s done it for so many of you! He can do it for your family—your children, your spouse, your parents, your siblings; He can do it for your friends; He can do it for your neighbors; He can do it for the stranger you encounter this afternoon; He can do it for anyone in the world. But they have to know about Him if they are going to believe in Him, and that is where you and I come in. We have to tell them. Will they believe? That is where God comes in. But if they see genuine faith in us, the kind that is committed to Christ on the basis of who He is and what He has promised, the kind that transforms us and changes our lives, the kind that can’t stop talking about Him, then they will never be able to plead ignorance when they stand before Him on the final day.

There is no greater joy than knowing Jesus. I hope you do. I hope you have committed yourself to Him as Lord and Savior in a genuine and true way that goes beyond curious faith and crisis faith. For those who have experienced the joy of knowing Him, you know that there is no other joy that comes so close to that as knowing that your loved ones know Him too. This man shared the good news of Jesus with his entire family, and they believed! His son was raised to life from death, and his entire household was given new life that would extend beyond death. His faith was contagious.

So, what kind of faith do you have? Is it merely a religious curiosity that has you interested in Jesus as a means of entertainment? Is it a crisis faith that looks to Him to help you out of life’s jams? Or is it true faith, anchored to Jesus for who He is and what He promises? That kind of faith is committed and contagious. If you didn’t come in with that kind of faith today, you can leave with it, just like this royal official from Capernaum did.

[1] Adrian Rogers, Believe in Miracles, but Trust in Jesus (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1997), 66. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Food that Jesus Has (John 4:27-42)

When I am discouraged and in need of an uplifting and encouraging word, I often turn to the accounts of King David in the historical books of the Old Testament. One of my favorite stories about David is found in 2 Samuel 23. Seemingly homesick for the town of Bethlehem, David had said, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem which is by the gate.” This cry was overheard by three of his closest companions, those men that the Bible calls David’s “mighty men,” who took it upon themselves to fulfill his longing. Bethlehem was at that time occupied by the Philistines, and these three men risked their lives to break through the Philistine camp and draw water from that well and bring it back to David. When they returned to him and presented him with the water, David refused to drink it and poured it out on the ground as an offering to the Lord. Now, had you or I been one of those mighty men, we might have punched David right in the teeth and said in angry disgust, “Do you know what I just went through to get you that water! And now you are going to dump it out on the ground?” But David said, “Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” In other words, David recognized that he was unworthy of such faithful devotion on the part of his mighty men. David considered only the Lord worthy of that kind of devoted sacrifice, so he poured out the water as an offering to the Lord. 

Now, David had a son, and he had a son, and he had a son. So on and so on we go for 1,000 years until we come to his ultimate descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ. When we find Him here in our text, He’s been walking for two solid days with His disciples, and they’ve come into the town of Sychar in Samaria. Since they had no food, the disciples left Jesus by the famed well of the patriarch Jacob and went into a nearby town to buy some food. Though they had not risked their lives like David’s mighty men had, they had risked public scrutiny buying food from Samaritans that Jews would ordinarily consider unfit to eat. While they were gone, Jesus struck up a conversation with an unnamed Samaritan woman. That act would have been considered extremely scandalous for people of that day, as it was considered inappropriate for a man to speak publicly with a woman, much less a Samaritan woman. The Jews despised the Samaritans, and considered all Samaritan women to be in a state of perpetual uncleanness from birth. But this didn’t stop Jesus from initiating conversation with her. He didn’t seem to give much heed to the manmade customs of His day. During His conversation with the Samaritan woman, they’ve talked about what it means to truly worship God; they’ve talked about her sinful past; and Jesus has offered her living water that would forever satisfy her spiritual thirst and spring up into eternal life.

It is the midst of this conversation that the disciples returned with the food. John tells us that they were amazed to find Jesus speaking with this woman, yet they did not question her by asking, “What do you seek?” Had they done so, they would have likewise been guilty of breaking custom by initiating conversation with a despised Samaritan woman. Nor did they question Jesus by asking, “Why do you speak with her?” There were gradually coming to understand that, though Jesus didn’t always do what people expected Him to do, He always did rightly, and always had a divine purpose in all the things that He did. When the woman went away, the disciples unpacked the lunch that they had gone to purchase for Jesus and urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But notice, Jesus did not say, “Oh, thanks My friends! Bagels and Lox, My favorite!” Like His ancestor David with his mighty men, Jesus refused to eat the food that these men had gone and acquired for Him. It wasn’t that Jesus, like David, considered Himself unworthy of such a sacrifice. As the fully divine God-man, Jesus is supremely worthy of all sacrifice and service that we can offer Him. Rather, Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

Imagine you are one of those disciples. Though you yourself are tired and hungry, you’ve gone a great distance into a sketchy town on the wrong side of the tracks, constantly looking around to make sure no one notices you breaking cultural customs, risking public humiliation, spending your own money, to buy Jesus a meal. You bring it back to Him and He says essentially, “Thanks but no thanks, I’m not really hungry. I’ve got some other food that you don’t know about.” Would you even know how to respond to that? They didn’t! They didn’t say a word to Him, but instead started murmuring to each other, “Who brought Him a sandwich? Where’d He get food? Did He have His own private stash that He didn’t tell us about?” They want to know, what is this food that Jesus has? Don’t you want to know? Well, let’s find out here in the text.

I. The food of Jesus is to do the will of His Father

Are there any foodies here? I remember some years ago when the cable company said they were adding a new channel to the lineup that was going to be entirely dedicated to food programs. I remember thinking, “Who wants to watch food shows all day?” Well, in short, foodies want to watch it, and the Food Network has become one of the most watched of all cable television channels. There’s a lot of foodies out there. Foodies love food. They love cooking, they love eating, they love restaurants, they love grocery stores, they love kitchens. They aren’t gluttons necessarily, they just love food. One foodie told me once, “I live to eat.” That’s interesting – he lives to eat. Only a few people would say that the live to eat, but all of us eat to live. We eat because our bodies need nutrients. God has designed our bodies to need food, and to amazingly transform the food we eat into energy that enables our bodies to do what they have to do for our survival. So we may not all live to eat, but we all eat to live. We eat so that we will have the sustenance to do what we have to do. Jesus, being not only fully God but also fully human, was not exempt from this. He experienced hunger just like we do. He ate food just like we do. But Jesus knew that, though man lives by bread, man does not live by bread alone. When He was tempted to turn a stone into bread in the wilderness, He responded to Satan by saying, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. There Moses was telling the people that God had humbled them as He led them through the wilderness, and He let them become hungry, and provided them with manna, in order to make them understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. The Word of God is more essential to your life than the food you eat.

Jesus says here that the food which sustains Him to do what He has to do is not bread or meat. Rather, doing what He has come to do sustains Him to do what He has come to do. His food, that which He needs, that which sustains Him, is “to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” He doesn’t need a sandwich. He sustained by obeying and fulfilling the mission which His Father had sent Him to accomplish. And what He had come to do was to announce to broken and sinful people that they could have eternal life in Him. He was doing that just now, with the Samaritan woman, and in so doing Jesus was enjoying a feast of sustenance that surpassed any buffet meal you could imagine. He didn’t need what the disciples had brought Him to eat; He was sustained by the doing of His Father’s will.

It’s a funny thing about food – sometimes we are eager to share our food with others and sometimes we are not. For example, if we go to an Indian restaurant and order different items, I will probably want to try yours and I will want you to try mine. And then there are those bizarre times that we eat something so bad that we say, “Oh, this is horrible! Here, taste it!” Why would anyone ever accept that offer? But, let’s say we are in Philadelphia at my favorite cheese-steak place, there’s no way you are getting a bite of my sandwich, and I don’t want any of yours. I know what I want there, and that’s what I ordered, and I’m going to eat every bite of it, and you can’t have any, so don’t even ask. But Jesus is not like that with the food that He has. His food is to do the will of His Father, and He delights to share this food with others. He finds joy in others being sustained by the doing of His Father’s will as well.

Remember that the woman has come to draw water. This was likely a daily routine for her. The water that she would draw every day would be used for drinking, for cooking, for cleaning, and for washing. It was essential. But once she meets Jesus and understands who He is and hears His offer of living water that can satisfy her in a way that no other water can, she leaves her waterpot behind (v28) and sets herself about the task of doing the Father’s will. She has not only been a hearer of the gospel of Jesus, she has become a proclaimer of this good news. She leaves the waterpot behind and goes into the city and says to everyone, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ is it?” Though she has not yet become totally aware of the full significance of who He is and what He has come to do, she has come to realize that the most important task she could set herself about is to introduce as many others as possible to this stranger. He knew all that could be known about her, including her sinful history, and offered her the gift of eternal life anyway. Surely others need to meet Him and hear this good news as well.

You may be like this woman. You may have a sinful past that brings you pain and shame, and wonder if God would ever accept you. But this woman is a beautiful illustration of grace, for in spite of her sins, the Lord Jesus offers her the living water that springs up into eternal life. Jesus came to rescue sinners! He did it for her, and He can do it for you. And though you may think that He could never use you to serve Him because of the things you have done, notice here how quickly and how effectively this woman finds herself in His service. She is involved in the mission of Jesus to take the saving promises of God to other sinners. She’s forgotten all about the reason she came to the well in the first place, and found her thirst quenched by the living water of Christ and her hunger satisfied by doing the Father’s will. And, let me tell you, if the Lord can use her, He can use me. And if He can use me, I know He can use you! It is often the case that “the most unlikely soul may prove the most effective witness” for Jesus.[1] So, the opportunity to be a part of God’s work in the world by sharing the good news of Jesus should not lay heavy on you like a burden. Rather, it should be welcomed as an offer of Jesus to share with you the marvelous food that sustains Him. This Samaritan woman was willing to walk away from her waterpot to tell everyone she could find about Jesus, and she found herself sustained by the food that Jesus has. Are we willing to put aside the things that preoccupy our minds, the things we think we cannot live without, the things we think sustain us, and share in the food that Jesus has?

II. The food that Jesus has is ready for harvest.

We met a family in Vermont that has recently moved from Boston to begin homesteading. They bought a farm and are trying to raise all their own food and become self-sufficient. I told them that if I were to try to do that, I would die of starvation. Some people have a green thumb; I guess I kind of have a brown thumb. Everything I’ve ever tried to grow has died. The produce section of the grocery store is about the closest I ever come to farming or gardening, so sometimes it is easy to forget when I sit down for a meal that the things I am eating had their beginnings on a farm somewhere. Your vegetables and fruit began as seeds in the ground. Your bread began as a seed that grew into a grain. There was sowing, and there was reaping, and there were other processes that brought those things to your table. And in a sense, the food that Jesus has is like that. It involves a process of sowing and reaping, and He says here that His food is ready for harvest.

Now, everyone who has ever grown anything knows that there is a time that passes between the time the seed is put in the ground and the time for harvesting. In verse 35, Jesus reminds the disciples of a commonly used saying in that day. He says, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months and then comes the harvest.’” That was the generally accepted time frame that would elapse between the last of the sowing and the first of the reaping. So, this became a saying that encouraged patience, much like we say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” They would say, “There are four months between the sowing and the harvest.” But Jesus is telling his disciples here that, though that may be true when it comes to growing normal food, the sustaining food of His Father’s will is not always like this. The seed of the Gospel that He has sown into the life of the Samaritan woman is bearing fruit already, and the seed that she has sown in the city is also growing ripe for harvest before their very eyes. Jesus is saying, “You don’t have to wait for this harvest! Lift up your eyes and look on the fields! They are white for harvest!” If the disciples would but just lift their eyes and look, they would see a multitude from the Samaritan city coming out to meet Jesus in response to the seed that had only just been planted by the woman. And this harvest was abundant. Verse 39 says that “from that city, MANY of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman.” The time for harvest was not four months away, it was now! Jesus said, “Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal.” The reaper of this harvest is not sitting idly by and waiting for something to happen. The time has come for the spiritual reaping of a harvest of souls who have received the good seed of the Gospel and eternal life is springing up before their very eyes.

No longer is the sower to be discouraged that he will not see the result of his back-breaking labor. No longer is the reaper to lose sight of the fact that others have labored before him to plow the ground and plant the seed. Jesus says that now the sower and the reaper rejoice together. The Lord had declared through the prophet Amos centuries before, “Behold, days are coming when the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed.” And with the advent of the Messiah Jesus, that day has come. The seed of the Gospel can be sown in expectancy, knowing that in this seed is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16), and where it lands in good soil, a harvest is imminent. We don’t have to sit and wait, or be discouraged and wonder if the harvest will ever come. There is joy to be found in sowing, because we will see and share in the joy of reaping. One may sow and another may reap, but we rejoice together knowing that as we share the good news of Jesus with a world perishing in sin, we are engaged in doing the will of our Father and joining Jesus in His mission.

Jesus tells the disciples, “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” While they were out getting sandwiches in town, Jesus was sowing Gospel seed. While they’ve been trying to figure out why Jesus was talking to that woman, and what kind of mystery meat He’s been hiding from them, the Samaritan woman has been sowing Gospel seed. Though they missed out on the sowing this time, Jesus says, “There is a harvest walking right toward us even now – many Samaritans – and you can be involved in the harvest.” Every time we have the opportunity to lead a soul to Jesus, we are joining in a work that God has been doing for a long time in that person’s life. Others have sown seed, the Holy Spirit has been moving in his or her heart, and we get to take part in the harvest. In the same way, even when we don’t get to see the harvest, we know that as we plant the seed of the Gospel into someone’s life, we are joining Jesus in His mission to redeem the world from sin and destruction. Nothing is more satisfying and sustaining that this! This is the food that sustains Jesus and He shares it with us by inviting us to join Him in this work.

I told you as we began today that one of my favorite stories about David was about how his mighty men risked their lives to bring him water from Bethlehem’s well. Another one of my favorite episodes from the life of David comes from 2 Samuel 9 and has to do with David’s kindness to the house of Saul. Though David had been despised by Saul as a threat and a rival, he had enjoyed a tremendous friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan. Saul and Jonathan had both died, and David was now the king, and one day he asked if there were any surviving members of the household of Saul that he might show kindness to on Jonathan’s behalf. He was told about Jonathan’s son who had been lame since childhood. His name was Mephibosheth, and when he was brought to David, the King welcomed him and promised to provide for him, and extended an open invitation to dine at the royal table regularly as if he was a son of the king. He had done nothing to deserve it. He was incapable of earning a place at that table, for the Bible tells us repeatedly that he was lame in both feet. But because of the kind mercy of the king, this lame and undeserving son of David’s enemy was welcome to partake of his food.

It would have been deemed highly inappropriate for Mephibosheth to ask for a place at the king’s table, and if he had, he could not have expected for his wish to be granted. In a similar way, the Samaritan people who had come out to Jesus did something that many would have considered inappropriate. Remember that Jews and Samaritans didn’t like each other. It was a mutual hatred. But these Samaritans urged this Jewish Messiah to stay with them! If that weren’t surprising enough, the Lord Jesus stayed with them two days. And during that time, He continued sowing and reaping, harvesting the food of His Father’s will and seeing eternal life sprouting all around the city. Though many had believed because of the testimony of the woman, verse 41 says that many more believed because of His word. Her words influenced them to believe in Him, but it was their personal encounter with Him that convinced them that He was the Savior, not of Jews or Samaritans alone, but the Savior of the entire world. It is a wonderful privilege to bring the good news of the Savior to a lost and dying world, but our testimony is only a starting point. The people with whom we sow the seed of the gospel must come to a place of personal encounter with the Lord Jesus and meet Him personally if they would truly know that Him as Savior.

Jesus has food that others know nothing about. His food is to do the will of His Father, to carry out the mission of bringing salvation to the world. He completed His work of redemption on the cross as He died for the sins of the world and conquered sin and death through His resurrection. Once we have met Him and trusted Him as Savior, He invites us to partake of His food, to join Him in this mission of redemption by sowing the seed of the gospel and reaping the harvest of eternal life as others place their trust in Him. Yet, so few of His people seem to be enjoying the satisfaction of this spiritual food. Why is that? There are some clues here in this text.

First, many of us are like the disciples, in that we just don’t get it. When Jesus talks about the food that He has, the disciples can’t think in any other categories besides the earthly and physical realm. They wonder who brought Him food. That’s the problem that some of us have. We are too fixated on the things of this world. Even now, some of us are looking at our watches and thinking, “Speaking of food, I wonder what’s for lunch today?” Little do we know that before we exit this building, there may be an opportunity to sow the seed of the Gospel, or to reap in the Gospel harvest and so to partake of a far more satisfying food than anything that we can put in our mouths at the lunch table. You are thinking you may starve to death if you have to wait ten more minutes for lunch. That’s simply not true. Studies show that you can go a lot longer without food than you think you can, and Jesus says that you can partake of the food of doing His Father’s will and find yourself sustained in unimaginable and seldom experienced ways. We must be ware of the subtle idolatries that surround us in the world – our preferences, our comforts, our personal desires. The Apostle Paul warns us against setting our minds on earthly things in Philippians 3:19, saying that those who do so serve their appetites as gods. We are thinking about the momentary satisfaction of a ham sandwich, when the eternally satisfying food of Christ is available to us if we will deny ourselves and join Him in His mission.  

Second, we are missing out on the food of Christ because we are not lifting our eyes and looking to the fields. We are discouraged, disappointed and dissatisfied with the things in our very small personal universes. Jesus says, “Lift up your eyes,” look beyond the immediate things and look upon the eternal things. Fix your eyes on the fields and see that God is bringing about a harvest in the world. Why don’t we see it? We are looking at ourselves, we are looking at each other, we are inspecting the other farmers and the barn while the harvest is ripe and rotting in the field. Wherever there is a church that is being torn apart by internal strife, I guarantee you that church has lost sight of the mission of Christ! If we were busy with the sowing of the Gospel seed and the reaping of the Gospel harvest, we would have no time, no energy, and no interest in bickering with each other about petty matters. Are you unsatisfied with your spiritual life, or with the spiritual atmosphere of the church? Then hear the Lord Jesus as He beckons you to lift up your eyes and look on the fields, and see that they are white for harvest! There is a satisfying and sustaining meal set before you – the food that Christ has – if you will join in His mission of salvation in the world, in this city, and in your own community! But you have to set your eyes on the harvest if you are going to participate in it. Where are you looking? What are you seeing?

In Luke 10:2, Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” And it is very interesting that in the very next verse, He says, “Go; behold, I send you out.” Do you want to see that harvest? Do you want to see souls coming to Jesus? He says that the harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few. Are you praying for God to send laborers into the harvest field? As you do, remember that you may very well be the answer to the prayer you are praying. He desires to send you out to join in this joyful task of sowing and reaping. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Are we not getting weary of living in this world among so many who are going to hell? Is it not terrible to think that after all the church is doing, thousands are being lost every day? We ought to bestir ourselves for men’s souls.”[2] Yes, we must bestir ourselves for souls, and join Christ in the harvest by sowing and reaping and find ourselves strengthened, sustained, and satisfied by His food that the world knows nothing about.

[1] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970, 1983), 1:115.
[2] Charles Spurgeon, The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life, quoted but not cited in unpublished lecture notes from my own Evangelism class, taught at Winston-Salem Bible College and SBC Seminary Extension.