John 5:19-30 30/7/17 9.45 & 11.30am
By porthkerryandrhoose, Aug 3 2017 09:08AM
I have recently got into watching the Netflix series The Crown, a series which follows our Queen from the last years of her father's life right through the twists and turns of her reign in the second half of the 20th century. In one of the early episodes, while the queen and Prince Philip were in Kenya, one of the cars they were travelling in convoy with broke down. Lots of men huddled around the open bonnet trying to figure it out. They were scratching their heads and pouring water randomly into the engine, while the Queen sat in the car in front. After some time she could take it no longer and she got out of her car, shooed the men away and looked in at the engine. "It has simply overheated. Leave it and wait a little while and it will work again just fine." They looked at her gobsmacked until she said "Simple mechanics. I learned during the war." It wasn't the last time people would underestimate her abilities.
In our reading from John today we see people underestimating Jesus' abilities too, with much more far reaching consequences. Let's look at it.
If you were here last week, you will recall that Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. He was sitting by the pool of Bethesda, but each time the waters were stirred up, indicating a healing might be possible, other people got in before him. When Jesus saw him, he told him to get up, take up his mat and walk. And the man did and he was completely healed. It was a wonderful miracle, showing both the power and the compassion of Jesus. But not everyone was impressed. You see, the healing took place on the Sabbath and this got the Jewish leaders really mad. Jesus' defence didn't help much v17 "My father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working." They knew straight away that Jesus wasn't talking about Joseph making a few chairs on the Sabbath, instead he was talking about God the Father. In case we're a bit slow on the uptake, John helpfully adds an author's note v18 "For this reason they tried 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." If he was just an ordinary man, then those would be blasphemous claims. But in our little section of the event today we'll discover who Jesus is, what he came to do and the difference it makes to us right now.
Jesus answers the accusation by stating clearly that he is God's son and the perfect revelation of God. v19 "Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." God the Father and God the Son are so perfectly linked that Jesus always does what the Father wants. Jesus sees what the Father does in heaven and he does it on earth. The only difference is location. So his claim to equality with God isn't a blasphemous one. It's the truth. And we need to grasp this. Jesus isn't a good man or a great teacher or a kind miracle worker. He was and is God. Does that not shape the way we think of him and relate to him?
Jesus didn't come to earth just to swan around doing good here and there. God the Father has given some specific tasks for Jesus to do v21-22 "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son." There are 2 primary tasks listed here: giving life and being the judge of all. These are no small things. Scientists are still trying to create life, as they have been for years, and although they can now clone living creatures, and grow body parts and insert a sperm into an egg artificially, they can't actually make life. They need something to begin with. God speaks and life is made. In the news a couple of weeks ago was the story of a man whose heart had stopped for 40 minutes yet by the efforts of paramedics and doctors he made a full recovery. It's so rare it made it to the news. In John chapter 11 we'll see Jesus calling to Lazarus who had been dead for 4 days, in a hot climate, to come out of the tomb and he comes out, alive again. Jesus gives life.
But he also judges. There are many in the church today who will tell you that there will be no judgement, that these ideas are primitive and outdated, that because God loves each of us, everyone will get to live in peace with him forever. That is not what Jesus believed and it's not what he taught. v24-30 state clearly that there will be a day of judgement and on that day some people will go on to live while others will be condemned. We need to know this so that we can be prepared. God has given us a warning.
One of the significant events of the 20th century covered in the series The Crown is the great smog of December 1952. The episode begins with a meteorologist taking readings, and the readings are so shocking that she rushes off to tell her superior. He reads them and rushes off to his superior who takes it to his and so on, until the head of the Met Office decides they must tell the Prime Minister. A weather system is coming which will trap all of the smoke and emissions from powerstations and hold it close to the ground where it will poison people. A letter gets sent to the PM straight away. But when he reads it, he dismisses it "It's only weather. It comes. It goes." No amount of pleading from anyone will change his mind. The smog comes and people die in their thousands. The cry goes up "Why hasn't someone warned us this would happen?" The truth is that the warning was there but no one listened to it. This is so often the case, all the more so when it comes to God's warning.
So what are we to do? v24 "Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged because he has crossed over from death to life." We are to hear Jesus' word and believe it. Remember a fortnight ago, we learned that faith is taking Jesus at his word? Here he's saying that again and showing us that that faith has massive consequences. As we believe in Jesus now, we have already passed over from death to life. When judgement day comes we will be safe because we have already moved into Jesus' realm of life and light.
v28-30 reiterate this, with more detail, and we must be careful how we understand them "A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out." Notice that this is everybody. Not just the Christians or those who believe it will happen. Even the most devout atheist will hear the voice of Jesus and be unable to resist doing what he says. And there will be a judgement: v29 "those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned." But how do we know if we'll be OK? Does God have a set of scales to weigh the good out against the bad? This is what most people believe and hope. They hope that they will have just about scraped through, that their good intentions and lack of major evils will tip the balance in their favour. We need to understand what Jesus is actually saying here. What does he consider doing evil? We need to look back to 3:18 to see where condemnation falls "whoever does not believe [in God's son] stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." That's the ultimate evil - it's not believing in Jesus because it cuts off the source of forgiveness. What's doing good? 6:28 The crowd asks Jesus "What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." So judgement isn't based on a moral assessment but on a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus, our advocate who speaks for us; Jesus our saviour who took the penalty of our sins for us.
So, a really important piece of teaching from Jesus today. We've been reminded of who he is: the Son of God, equal to God, carrying out His perfect will; we've seen 2 of the tasks God sent him to perform; to give life and to judge; and we've seen that a response is needed from us in the here and now to guarantee what will happen to us on the day of Jesus' return. Will you hear the warning of Jesus and respond, or will you push it away as unimportant, to be dealt with another day? If Jesus is just a teacher from 2000 years ago it won't really matter what we do. But if he is the Son of God with the power of life and death in his hands, we push him away at our peril.