God’s Only Son Our Lord
Preached by Pastor Jason Abbott
What do you hear those outside the church saying about Jesus?
In my conversations with non-Christians, I usually hear very nice things. Non-believers typically say rather kind things about Jesus. They say things like: Jesus was a prophet. (I’ve had Muslim friends tell me something like that before.) They say things like: Jesus was a lover of people and a revolutionary for good. (This is a common refrain from secular friends—atheists and agnostics I know.) They may even say things like: Jesus is the son of god. (My LDS friends say this, but what they mean is that he has obtained a divine status as we one day will too.) All these are nice things, but are they true things?
You see, it’s really easy to say things about Jesus that have no foundation. We can take things he said out of context to make him say what we want him to. Or, we could argue that we’ve divorced the Jesus of the Bible from the mythology which his followers throughout history have made up about him. Or, we can invent our own unbiblical, modern day mythologies about him. Do you see how easy it is to make Jesus look different than the biblical picture?
James Boice, a pastor-scholar whom I often read, once shared an illustration that demonstrates the very real danger of making mistakes about Jesus’ identity. He explained that he was on vacation to Egypt and went to the Temple of Luxor. And, he described looking at the great columns of the temple reaching 60 to 80 feet into the sky. As he was taking this all in, he noticed something very, very strange. Upon one of the columns, there stood a small house.
Of course, he very quickly asked the guide about the house upon the column, and the tour-guide told him that, before the site had been excavated, a local farmer had been looking for a solid place to build his house. Well, he dug around the sand and finally found what he thought was bedrock—so he very eagerly built upon it. Yet, as time passed and sand shifted, he realized he was on a piece of carved stone, and, as the archeologists came, the farmer was told he was on an ancient column. Then, finally, once all the sand had been removed, he realized his house was built upon a stone column 80 feet in the air and uninhabitable.
Like that farmer and his bedrock, many people build lives on false views about Jesus, and their false views have very real consequences in the end.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
Today we’re going to springboard off the statement in the Apostles’ Creed “[We] believe in Jesus Christ, [God’s] only Son, our Lord…” that we may assess the claims Jesus made about himself—about his own identity. In order to do this, (1) we’ll consider what we learn about Jesus through what he says about himself, and (2) we’ll consider what we learn about Jesus through what he doesn’t say about himself.
1. What we learn about Jesus from what he says.
Well, this passage begins with Jesus healing a man who’d been an invalid for 38 years! It’s a beautiful and moving scene; we’ll return to it at end of our time. For now, we want to consider the conversation this miracle triggers between Jesus and those called “the Jews” here—likely the religious leaders of the time.
They’ve questioned the man who was healed to find out who is responsible. In the end, they find that Jesus is responsible, and now they are “persecuting” him. I imagine this means they’re accusing Jesus of teaching the people to disobey God’s law—specifically to break the Sabbath.
To this persecution, these accusations, Jesus simply responds by saying: “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (v. 17). Not sure about you, but that is not the way I’d respond if I were Jesus! What is even stranger than this is what the Jews conclude from Jesus’ statement. John tells us:
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (v. 18).
Why on earth is this so offensive to the Jews? How does Jesus make himself, through his statement, equal with God?
Well, it’s not that he refers to God as Father since this was commonly done in Judaism. Rather, it is that Jesus infers a unique Father-Son relationship here. And, the Jews hear his inference loud and clear.
You see, no one debated whether God could work on the Sabbath or not. Obviously, God was able to work on the Sabbath because he was (and is!) God after all. He created the Sabbath; he created the law. He is over it not it over him!
So, when Jesus says: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” what he’s really saying is—Just like my Father who can work on the Sabbath, because he is over the Sabbath, so too can I work on the Sabbath, because I am over the Sabbath. He is clearly saying—I am God! and the Jews get it.
Well, if his words weren’t enough gasoline on this inflamed conversation, Jesus decides to go ahead and throw an entire tanker-truck of gasoline on next. Look at what he says:
Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him (vv. 19-23).
Let me make just a few observations:
- Jesus doesn’t get a mere glimpse into the business of God the Father. Rather, the Father loves the Son and shows the Son “all that he…is doing” (v. 20). This isn’t the prerogative of a mere human being. Does God share with you all that he is doing? Anyone here have that right?
- It was widely agreed upon among the Jews that God—and God alone!—possessed the power to give or take away life. Notice that Jesus says that he (just like his Father!) “gives life to whom he” chooses (v. 21).
- Finally, the Jews were very zealous for the glory of God—and of God alone! In fact, Rome made special allowances for the Israelites to practice Judaism without adopting Roman religious practices because, when they did not, Israel demonstrated time after time that she was very willing to fight and die in order to give Yahweh, and Yahweh only, her worship. Yet, Jesus says that the Son should be honored just like the Father is honored, and anyone who “does not honor the Son does not honor the Father…” (v. 23).
Jesus’ words open up a hornets’ nest of controversy!
Benjamin told me about an experience in which he listened to some pastors discussing Jesus. At one point, a pastor from a liberal theological tradition shared his interpretation with regards to what Jesus meant when he explained to the Jews, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). This pastor said that Jesus simply meant what you or I might mean if we said we wanted to be united to or close to God. That, however, cannot be what Jesus means either in John 10 or in today’s passage unless he’s the absolute worst communicator of all time!
To say something like that, to the very serious Jewish audience of his day, and expect them to understand that he merely wants to be closer to God the Father would be akin to me telling a national gathering of the NAACP I’m about to join the Klu Klux Klan so that they’ll understand that I’m open minded.
Well—just to be clear—Jesus is not the worst communicator of all time! Instead, he is a divine communicator. He knows precisely what he is saying here, and he means to say it. Our second and final point makes that clear.
2. What we learn about Jesus from what he doesn’t say.
Suppose you’re in a situation where you are being totally misunderstood. What would you do? How would you work for clarity?
I once had a good friend visit me who was in the midst of a painful divorce. He came over to my house to have dinner with me and Natalie, and to catch up because we hadn’t seen one another for some time.
During the meal, my friend thanked Natalie for preparing a beautiful dinner. And, I thought that I’d be funny (and steal the complement) by making a little joke about our beautiful marriage being the inspiration for her artfully prepared dinner. However, to someone who’s going through a painful divorce that isn’t funny at all. In fact, it can be misconstrued as a jab or a judgment.
So, what did I do? Of course, I immediately apologized for my awful joke, and I explained what I really meant to say. I didn’t want to remain misunderstood for a moment longer than I had to!
But, what does Jesus do in his interaction with the Jews?
Well, if he’s being misunderstood, if he’s not making himself equal to God, then Jesus says absolutely nothing to make that clear. There’s nothing here like a: That’s not what I meant at all! from Jesus.
However, if Jesus wants all those present to understand this very thing—that, in fact, he is equal with God—then, indeed, silence is precisely the response to give. Jesus’ silence speaks volumes to them! It is a resounding: Yes, I am God! Yes, you are correct! to the Jews.
Friends, there can be no doubt that Jesus meant to say this very thing here. There is no doubt that when the Apostles’ Creed says: God’s only Son, our Lord it’s saying precisely what Jesus said about himself and what the Bible also says about him again and again and again.
This is the bedrock truth on which we build our faith as Christians!
And, as we close, let’s reflect on what kind of God, what kind of Lord, he is. Jesus is not a God who is far off and unconcerned as the deists believe that God is; rather, he is a God who cares for those who suffer—even as he cared for this man who’d been suffering for 38 years with no one to help him into the pool of healing! If you’re suffering, friends—turn to Jesus.
Jesus is not a God who first requires our service if he’s going to serve us; rather, he is a God who serves us even though we have nothing at all to offer him. Thus, this man, who didn’t even know Jesus’ name, receives from Jesus the thing his heart most desired. Friends, don’t hesitate to turn to Jesus when you’re lacking because his love is free.
As we see Jesus Christ (the Lord!) care for the broken man in this passage, whether we’re followers of Jesus or not, we can only identify with the broken man. In a broken world, as broken people, we must identify with the man who is broken. Do you see? We are that man.
And, in the end, the difference between remaining broken another 38 years or walking away from the illusory hope of healing is only found in a single person: Jesus Christ—God’s only Son, our Lord. For, unlike all the other gods around you, only Jesus is the God of grace and mercy and eternal life; only Jesus is the God who suffers so that you won’t have to. Praise God for his Son!