If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 5, verses 1 through 47. John says:
After this, a Jewish festival took place, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. 3 Within these lay a large number of the sick—blind, lame, and paralyzed [—waiting for the moving of the water, 4 because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had].
5 One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”
8 “Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” 9 Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk.
Now that day was the Sabbath, 10 so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “This is the Sabbath! It’s illegal for you to pick up your mat.”
11 He replied, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
12 “Who is this man who told you, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’?” they asked. 13 But the man who was cured did not know who it was, because Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 After this, Jesus found him in the temple complex and said to him, “See, you are well. Do not sin anymore, so that something worse doesn’t happen to you.” 15 The man went and reported to the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16 Therefore, the Jews began persecuting Jesus because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus responded to them, “My Father is still working, and I am working also.” 18 This is why the Jews began trying all the more to kill Him: Not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
19 Then Jesus replied, “I assure you: The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing, and He will show Him greater works than these so that you will be amazed. 21 And just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son also gives life to anyone He wants to.22 The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
24 “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.
25 “I assure you: An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have life in Himself. 27 And He has granted Him the right to pass judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come out—those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment.
30 “I can do nothing on My own. I judge only as I hear, and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
31 “If I testify about Myself, My testimony is not valid. 32 There is Another who testifies about Me, and I know that the testimony He gives about Me is valid. 33 You have sent messengers to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34 I don’t receive man’s testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 John was a burning and shining lamp, and for a time you were willing to enjoy his light.
36 “But I have a greater testimony than John’s because of the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish. These very works I am doing testify about Me that the Father has sent Me. 37 The Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me. You have not heard His voice at any time, and you haven’t seen His form. 38 You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent.39 You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. 40 And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.
41 “I do not accept glory from men, 42 but I know you—that you have no love for God within you. 43 I have come in My Father’s name, yet you don’t accept Me. If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe? While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. 47 But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
This is the word of the Lord.
As you probably noticed while Elyse was reading out our passage just a moment ago, there is a lot of stuff in today’s passage. Last week was pretty straightforward and there were like 9 versus. This week there are 47.
And it’s not 47 verses that all kind of say the same thing, like the first sermon out of John chapter 4 a few weeks back. It’s 47 verses that just compound each other and further complicate the story that John is telling us. And so in order to trek through this passage we’re going to jump around quite a bit, to try and find the simplest possible way to explain what John is getting at here. But because we’re going to jump around so much, it is entirely possible that you’ll get a little bit of whiplash, so I ask you to bear with me.
I think the best place to start as we examine our passage this morning is in verses 19 and 20. Take a look at verses 19 and 20. As we look at these verses here in the middle of the passage, what’s going to come to the forefront is the fact that the work of Jesus reveals the will of the Father. I’m going to say that again. The work of Jesus reveals the will of the Father. He says:
“I assure you: The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way.20 For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing, and He will show Him greater works than these so that you will be amazed.”
That’s our first point. The work of Jesus reveals the will of the Father. That is unbelievably important. That might be the most important thing I tell you today, and it might be the most important thing I have told you so far in the year of our Lord 2020.
This is, I think, a very good corrective to one of the common misconceptions that people labor under. And that very common misconception that people labor under is the idea that Jesus is different than his Father. You know what I’m talking about? A lot of people think that Jesus is fundamentally different than his Father in heaven.
Now, obviously, we believe in something called “The Trinity.” That means that we believe in one God who is three persons. I do not know how that works. All I know is that the Bible portrays God as Father, Son, and Spirit. These are not three parts of God. These are not three forms that God takes at different times. These are three persons that are all one God. As Christians, when we talk about God, we mean Father, Son, and Spirit.
So it’s absolutely correct to point out that Jesus is not his Father. But there’s a very different error that John is warning us against Today. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times that I have gone to a church and sat through a sermon or a Sunday school lesson or a Bible study where the central message seems to be that the Father is a hardliner who never wants you to have any fun and cannot stand the idea that you might be happy, but that Jesus is cool. You know what I’m talking about?
The way that some people talk, they make it sound like God the Father spends his whole day watching angrily from heaven, ticking off boxes every time you make a mistake, but Jesus spends most of his day getting high and eating potato chips, or something like that. But nothing on planet earth could be further from the truth.
What the Bible actually tells us is that Jesus does absolutely nothing during his earthly ministry that he doesn’t see his Father doing. Everything we see Jesus doing during his earthly ministry in the gospels, Jesus does because his Father guided him to. The work of Jesus reveals the will of the Father.
That means that if you want to know what God the Father is like, look at Jesus. If you wanna know what the God of the Bible is like, look at Jesus. Jesus is what God is like. To be painfully specific, Jesus is what God has always been like.
He is the God that led Abraham out into the wilderness; the God that taught Moses on the Mountaintop; the God that promised King David that he would make his family line last forever. Jesus is that God, and it is very important to grasp this if you want to understand the Bible.
Run fast, and run far from anybody who tries to tell you that God the Father is mean and boring and joyless but that Jesus is nicer than God and cooler than God and more compassionate than God because that’s just not true. Because what we learn throughout the gospels is that the work of Jesus reveals the will of the Father, so as we watch Jesus ministering on earth throughout the book of John, the will of the Father becomes exceedingly clear.
But what is the “will of the Father”?
John takes kind of a roundabout path in the process of explaining it, but he makes it clear enough, beginning in verse 26: Jesus says, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have life in Himself.” And if you look back, 2 verses earlier, at verse 24, Jesus tells us why that’s significant: He says, “Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.”
What is the “will of the Father”? The will of the father is for you to “pass from death to life,” and we know that because he has made a way for that to happen through the Son. That’s really the big idea at the center of this passage: Christ has life in himself, and today he offers that life to you.
But that means that there’s a very important question you need to ask yourself, and that question is, “Do I actually want it?” Christ is very much calling us to answer the question for ourselves, “Do I actually want the life that Jesus offers to me?” Don’t answer it too quickly.
We see something similar playing out in verses 5-7. John says:
“One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”
Pay attention to the question Jesus asks, here: “Do you want to be well?” That’s a really strange thing to ask a guy who’s been crippled for almost four decades. He’s laying on his mat, looking kinda longfully at the pool, and Jesus stops in his tracks, looks down at him, and asks, “Do you want to get well?” On the surface, the answer is obviously “Yes,” right?
If you can barely walk, and you have an opportunity to start walking freely, that’s almost like winning the lottery. A whole universe of opportunities suddenly becomes available to you that were not available 5 minutes ago. So on the surface, the answer is obviously, “Yes. Of course I want to get well.” “Of course I want to be able to get up, leave this spot I’ve been stuck in, and go move about freely.”
Some of the folks in this room have been struggling with diminished mobility as you’ve gotten older. When you sit in a chair, it is harder to get out of the chair than it was 20 years ago, right?
I’m only 25, and when I tie my shoes, I have a harder time getting back up straight than I did just a couple of years ago.
But what this man is dealing with is even worse than the diminished mobility that comes with age. Our passage says that he is some kind of sick, and the kind of sick that he is means that he can barely move.
So every time this pool gets stirred up and starts healing people – whatever that’s all about – by the time he gets to the pool, crawling slowly across the ground, he’s too late. Somebody else with a sickness that doesn’t diminish their mobility beat him to it. Obviously he wants to be healed of that particular infirmity.
But Jesus is asking him infinitely more than just, “Do you want to be able to walk better?” He doesn’t say, “Do you want to be mobile?” He says, “Do you want to be well?”
It takes a whole lot more than mobility to be well, right?
A lot of people can walk around with absolutely no difficulty but they are not well. You know what I’m talking about? Maybe you are one of those people who can walk around as freely as you want, but if you really look deep down, you could not look me in the eye and say, “I am doing fine.”
If you feel like I’m talking directly to you, don’t feel bad, because probably just about everybody feels like I’m talking directly to them, because as we see throughout the Bible, we are not well. That’s just a fact. We are not all right.
We can talk ourselves into thinking we’re fine, but that’s a really tenuous charade, right? That is very much the reason that our culture is the way that it is. Have you ever noticed how much of our culture relies on racket? Have you ever noticed how much of our culture relies on noise?
That even carries over into, like, Christian radio. I don’t know about you, but half the time when I turn on certain Christian radio stations, I eventually have to shut it off because it’s almost nauseatingly upbeat. Part of the issue, obviously, is that I’m just a stick in the mud, but there’s something unbelievably disingenuous about the way that much of Christian radio – just like secular radio – is built around throwing out as many kitschy and insincere phrases as you possibly can; the DJ has to be the human embodiment of a hallmark card, right? In the background, there’s a really fast paced, upbeat music track playing, and everything everybody says is in a weird kind of singsong voice, and it always leaves me wondering, what planet are these people from?
And part of the goal, I think, is to throw everything they possibly can at the wall to cover up our anxiety, grief, fear, despair – all of it – to cover up our downcast-ness with noise.
They’re not unique in that respect. Our entire culture is built largely around covering up our downcast-ness with noise.
To just keep distracting ourselves from the fact that we are extremely not okay, because if you can keep occupying your mind with one upbeat thing after another, you never really have to deal with just how unwell you really are, just how anxious you really are, just how downcast you are.
That’s just one example.
I’m not picking on Christian radio, or any radio. They’re not doing something evil or sinister, they’re just doing what everybody else on planet earth is always doing, all the time, and that is covering up our Not Okay-ness with bells and whistles and racket.
Because if we’re honest, at the end of the day, what we want is not to be well, what we want is to be distracted.
We’re very much like those folks you hear about in the tabloids, who’ll accidentally cut their fingers off with a buzz saw, but who end up losing the fingers for good because instead of going to the hospital, we went back inside the house because we don’t wanna miss today’s episode of Maury Povitch, or something like that.
There is something in us that reaches for distractions rather than deliverance. There’s something in us that reaches for noise instead of healing. There is something in us that reaches for racket instead of redemption.
And so in the midst of those tendencies, Jesus shakes us back into consciousness by asking: “Do you want to get well?”
And it is not a rhetorical question. Do you actually want to get well?
According to the religious leaders from our passage today, the answer is “No.” Looking towards the end of our passage, they see that Jesus has healed this man by the pool, and instead of celebrating the mercy of God that had been clearly revealed through Jesus that day, they start accusing Jesus of having broken the law.
They point out that it’s the Sabbath, and nobody’s supposed to be working on the Sabbath, and that if healing a person’s lifelong sickness doesn’t count as work, nothing counts as work, right? And Jesus doesn’t really dignify their objection, his response essentially boils down to, “Please sit down, the adults are talking.”
Which is interesting. Because it’s not really like Jesus to be that dismissive when someone asks a sincere question or raises a sincere concern. But this was not a sincere question, and this was not a sincere concern. And we know that because Jesus dissects exactly what was underneath the objection of the religious leaders in verses 41-42, he says:
“I do not accept glory from men, 42 but I know you—that you have no love for God within you.” That’s a pretty cold-blooded thing to say to somebody, but if you look at verse 44, it makes a whole lot of sense. He says, “While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.”
There’s a lot to unpack there, right? But the short version is that these religious leaders did not want to be well. The religious leaders were every bit as sick as everyone else on planet earth, but the last thing they had any interest in was getting well.
We just got done talking about how some folks don’t want to be well because they’d rather be distracted, and we’re about to see that some folks don’t want to be well because they’d rather be glorified.
That’s a really strange thing to say. These religious leaders didn’t want to get well, they wanted to be glorified. They didn’t want to be healed, they wanted to be lifted up. They didn’t want to be “given life through the Son,” they just wanted to be spoken highly of by the folks around them. They wanted to be praised by their culture. Does that sound familiar?
I don’t know about you, but I find that relatable. Because if I am entirely honest, there is something in me that doesn’t want to be healed of what ails me because I really like what ails me. There’s some sinful habits that I really do not want to be set free of.
Now, most of the time, that’s just because I find them enjoyable. There are some sinful patterns in my life that I don’t like the idea of letting go of because I find them enjoyable. But that’s not what Jesus is pointing at in verse 44. He says, “While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.”
I have sinful tendencies that I don’t particularly want to get rid of because the culture around me applauds them. You know what I’m talking about?
As a case-in-point: At this particular point in time, our culture is obsessed with “asserting yourself.” Our culture is absolutely obsessed with “asserting yourself.” You know that because there’s hardly, like, a shampoo commercial that’s not built entirely around “self-assertion.” You see a picture of somebody scrubbing their hair, or something, and it’ll say, like, “Show the world who’s in charge.”
What does that mean?
Or, like, deodorant. You see a picture of somebody applying deodorant to their underarms, and it will say something like, “Don’t let anybody tell you what to do.” And it’s like, is this deodorant going to help me “not let people tell me what to do?”
That’s where we are as a culture. There’s nothing wrong with being assertive, right? Like we’ve said before, Christ never calls us to be everybody’s doormat – you have needs, and it’s important to meet them. But I’m not talking about that.
I’m talking about the way that our culture is absolutely obsessed with asserting yourself at all costs, throwing off any obligations you might have to other people, throwing off any semblance of what’s actually right or what’s actually wrong, and instead just demanding your own way, to the point that it’s literally how we sell mundane household items, and stuff. Because that’s what gets you glory in our day and age.
If you’ve been a human being on planet earth for any length of time, you’ve watched it play out: If you selfishly chase after your own interests, devote yourself exclusively to your own desires, steamroll anybody you’ve got to steamroll to get what you want whenever you want it, our culture “admires your resilience.” Our culture “admires your strength.” Our culture “admires your resolve,” it “admires your consistency.” It says, “At least that person never backs down,” “never compromises.” “At least that person speaks their mind.”
The result is that if you take your cues from Jesus – if you place others before yourself, if you seek the good of even your enemy, our culture calls you weak. It calls you stupid. If you’re a man, it calls you a beta male, and says “survival of the fittest” is coming for you.
If there’s any doubt about whether our culture idolizes sinful self-assertion, just think to yourself, “When the last time one of our country’s leaders was praised for acting cautiously?” “When is the last time one of our politicians received praise for trying to reach across the aisle and formulate a plan that everybody could at least potentially get on board with?” It’s been a while, right? I was in grade school. And part of that’s just because I’m, like, ridiculously young, but the other part is that our culture is obsessed with asserting yourself at all costs.
That is very much the way that our culture has evolved, and we see it on TV, and we see it in politics, and we see it on social media, and increasingly we see it spilling out into regular everyday life, and I am every bit as infected with that tendency towards shameless self-assertion as anybody else, because every time I selfishly assert myself, my culture applauds me. That’s how you get glory in our day and age.
That’s just one example how our culture is eager to applaud our sin. But that’s important because they say that “What gets applauded gets repeated.” Right? If you’re anything like me, you’re generally inclined to repeat whatever gets you applauded. And so, I don’t know about you, but I’ll find myself sleep-walking into asserting myself in a bad way, demanding my own way, instead of consciously seeking to serve the people around me, time after time after time after time because I like the glory that comes along with it. In my sin nature, I don’t want to be healed of my selfishness, I want the glory that comes with embracing it.
That’s very much like these religious leaders. “While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.” They didn’t want to be well, they wanted to be glorified.
Maybe you can relate to at least one of these two things.
Maybe your internal monologue is bent toward distracting yourself rather than reaching out for the healing that Jesus offers, or maybe it’s bent towards chasing after glory rather than throwing yourself at the feet of Jesus to be healed, but in either case, the result is the same: You end up with something other than the life that Christ offers to you.
You either end up with cheap distractions or fake glory, and neither of those things will satisfy you in the long run. Because eventually the distractions wear thin, and the glory proves hollow, and when that happens you’re left with nothing. You’re left with less than nothing. You end up like the religious leaders, and when you look down all you’ve actually got in your hands is the bitterness that comes from watching your distractions and your glories dissolve into nothing.
And yet, Christ shows us a very different way. Instead of offering us a distraction from our downcast-ness, he shows us life. Instead of offering us glory, he offers us life, because as he says in verse 26, he “has life in himself,” and God’s abiding pleasure is to share that life with you and I.
And so, what Christ offers you is the thing you actually need, not just the stuff you think you want. The life that Christ offers to us is the thing your soul actually longs for.
We have arrived at the portion of the service that we usually refer to as the “Altar Call.” What that means is that I’ll be standing at the front as we respond to the Lord in worship through song.
If you’ve been trying to drown out your downcast-ness with distractions, we would love to pray with you about laying down your distractions and trading them for Jesus Christ.
If you’ve been chasing after glory, or applause, or approval instead of seeking out the life that Jesus offers to you, we would love to pray with you about lay those down and trade them for Jesus Christ.