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.

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