Sunday 29 December 2013

Life in the Son (John 5:16-30)

The purpose of the Sabbath

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working. For this reason the Jews tried to all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
John 5:16-18

     “These things” that Jesus was doing on the Sabbath (verse 16) build on the event of the miraculous healing at the pool of Bethesda (verses 1 to 15). The phrase indicates that the healing of the paralysed man was not an isolated event. Jesus had developed a pattern of healing - and as the religious authorities understood it, a pattern of ‘working’ - on the Sabbath day. Because of this, the religious leaders set out to persecute Jesus (verse 16), even to the extent of plotting to kill him (verse 18).
     This latter section of John 5 forms an extended defence Jesus presents against the charge of breaking the Sabbath law. “Jesus answered them” (verse 17 in the ESV, not merely “said to them” in the NIV; once again in verse 19: “Jesus therefore answered them.” Greek: apekrinato) Jesus is giving a direct, point-by-point defence of his ‘work’ on the Sabbath, answering his critics amongst the religious leadership of the Jews.

     The main thesis of Jesus’ defence is the working relationship he shares with his Father. “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”
     It is worth noticing that Jesus does not appeal to any loopholes in the Sabbath law, such as he does in Matthew Chapter 12.

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12)

In healing the paralysed man, Jesus was “doing good in the Sabbath”, something that was permissible according to the religious leaders’ own understanding and practice of the law. Yet, Jesus does not appeal to this legal loophole.

     Rather, Jesus presents a picture of God’s continuing, never-ceasing work in sustaining the created order. “My Father is always at work… to this very day.” This statement introduces a dilemma: for God himself commands his people to rest on the Sabbath, citing his own example of creating the universe in six days and then resting on the seventh. In other words, the call is to imitate God’s pattern of work and rest.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8)

     Yet, here Jesus claims to be truly imitating his Father, not in resting on the Sabbath, but by working. How can this be? In truth, the text does not tell us. It may be that Jesus is appealing to the Jewish scholar’s own prevailing understanding of God’s continuing work in sustaining the created order, without which, all life was cease to exist.
     Rather than breaking the Sabbath law (as the Jews understood Jesus’ actions to be doing - verse 18), it seems evident from Jesus’ own position that he is fulfilling the Sabbath law. In the same way that the very first Sabbath was a culmination of God’s masterpiece in creating the heavens and the earth, so subsequent Sabbath markers - the pattern of rest instituted by the Decalogue; the entry into the Promised Land; the hint yet another form of God’s rest found in Psalm 95 - point us forward to a greater accomplishment - one seen not in the present created order but in a renewed creation.
     Elsewhere, Jesus declares himself the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). Here we learn that Jesus is not simply one who stands over the regulations of the Sabbath as its Lord, but the one who works to bring about a new Sabbath; a new conclusion to God’s plan in redemption and salvation. It is in this sense that Jewish leaders are right in sensing that he was “making himself equal with God.” (verse 18) Jesus was equating his work - of preaching, teaching, healing; ultimately in his dying on the cross - to God’s work in creation, though readers of John’s gospel know that it was through the co-eternal Word that this creation came to being in the first place (John 1:3)!

The love of the Father

Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, 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.
John 6:19

     Verses 19 to 23 present four statements, each beginning with the word “for” (Greek: gar).
Verse 19: For whatever the Father does the Son also does.
Verse 20: For the Father loves the Son...
Verse 21: For just as the Father raises the dead… even so the Son gives life.
Verse 22: For indeed the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son.

     In these four statements, Jesus is presenting four implications of his Sabbath work. Remembering that the theme of the Sabbath is the end-goal of the God’s work in creation, so these four statements point us towards God’s purpose for his new creation to be accomplished through Jesus.
     More importantly, these four statements reveal an intimacy that Jesus shares with his Father - his working relationship, if you like. They give us a glimpse into the eternal fellowship shared between God the Father and God the Son, in terms of headship and submission; in terms of glory and self-denial.

     In the first purpose statement, Jesus reveals his complete and utter dependence on his Father. “For whatever the Father does the Son also does.” The Son can do nothing by himself, he is completely and willingly dependent on his Father. In so doing, Jesus is revealing the Father to us. John 1:18 - “No-one has ever seen God, but God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” He says to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9) elaborating still, “It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)

     In the second purpose statement, Jesus reveals his Father’s love for him. I might even call this, the Father’s passion for his Son. I say that because this is a love that God wants us to take notice of; especially to Jesus’ critics, God would have them bow down in amazement before such love.

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.
John 5:20

     God the Father’s initiative in revealing his plan to Jesus is a measure of his love for his Son. The picture is that of a father sharing his trade skills with son, passing on his experience and knowledge to his son, handing over, as it were, the family business to his firstborn.
     What this looks like in terms of the role and responsibilities that the Son will inherit from his Father is seen in the following two purpose statements.

For just as the Father raises the dead and give them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.
John 5:21

     The third purpose statement deals with the theme of final resurrection. This is God’s power to raise the dead to life again, something the Jews understood as God’s sole prerogative to be exercised at the end of the age. Jesus says the the Father has handed over this role to the Son, such that the Son is able to “give life to whom he is pleased to give it.”
     To the paralysed man by the pool of Bethesda, Jesus doesn’t merely say to him, “Be healed!” Rather the actual command that issues from Jesus’ lips is “Rise up!” - an indicator of Jesus’ authority not simply to heal a disease but to bring life out of the dead.
     The fact that Jesus performs this miracle on the Sabbath - on the seventh and last day - is precisely meant to sharpen this expectation. His words will be heard on the last day; these are words that call forth obedience from both the living and the dead.

Moreover, the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father.
John 5:22-23

     The fourth and final purpose clause deal with God’s final judgement, which God the Father has fully entrusted to the Son. “The Father judges no-one,” Jesus says, “but has entrusted all judgement to the Son.”
     Notice the reason why: That all may honour the Son as they honour the Father. Our response to Jesus today is linked to Jesus’ response to us on that final judgement day. Indeed, our response to Jesus reveals our true inner heartfelt response to God the Father. “He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father.”
     Now John 3:17 makes it clear that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Jesus was not sent to bring final condemnation. He was sent by God the Father to bring salvation.
     And yet, John 3:18 is equally clear that our response to Jesus is a sure indicator of that final verdict - “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
     God has entrusted all judgement to the Son so that all may honour the Son as they honour the Father.

     Jesus presents four purpose statements outlining four implications of his Sabbath work. (1) He is completely dependant on his Father; doing only what the Father does, and nothing else. (2) He is completely loved by his Father, receiving the rights and the responsibilities of the ‘family’ business. (3) He has the right to raise the dead to life; a prerogative reserved for God alone at the end-time. (4) Jesus will stand as God’s chosen judge over the living and the dead. All will stand before his judgement throne on that final day.
     These four purpose statements form the end-goal of his Father’s work in salvation and redemption. They point us to a new Sabbath rest: when all glory will go to Jesus; when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

     From the importance of heeding his work, Jesus now turns to the importance of hearing his word. He brings forward that final day to say to us: Listen! Hear and respond to his salvation today!

The voice of the Son

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
John 5:24

     Jesus is calling for a response. He has just presented us with his answers to our objections: He really is God’s beloved Son. He really has the power to raise the dead to life. But here he says to us: Will you therefore listen to my voice?
     “Whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me,” Jesus says, “has eternal life.” Now, these are not two responses but one. Jesus is not saying (1) Hear what I’m saying; and (2) Believe in God who sent me. No, the two statements form one single response. Meaning this: To hear Jesus’ words equates to believing God. To hear Jesus voice means you are hearing God’s voice speaking to you. It is one and the same. What is Jesus saying? Pay attention!

     What is at stake is no less than eternal life: “he will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” That is the language of conversion. Becoming a Christian means crossing over from death to life, and Jesus is saying, it’s not something that might or might not happen in the future; he says, “If you hear my word, that’s done!” His word causes the dead to come to life!
     The amazing thing about these verses - that would have shocked his hearers at the time - is how Jesus brings forward to the present day a reality the Jewish leaders expected to happen only at the end of time. Jesus says, “A time is coming and has now come…”

I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.
John 5:25-26

     The power that Jesus exercises in raising the dead to life, according to these verses, is seen - not in the future - it is seen today in believers who hear his voice and receive life from the Son. All that Jesus was talking before about the culmination of the work of God in the bringing glory to his Son - that’s happening right now. The dead will hear his voice and those who hear, Jesus says, will live.
     When we open the bible each week here at the Chinese Church, we are asking Jesus to make this happen: To bring the dead to life! Only his word can do this. No amount of counselling, no amount of singing, no amount of cooking can bring dead people to life. But Jesus says his words can raise the dead to eternal life.

     But what kind of life is this? Verse 26 tells us the Father has life in himself, that is, God is the source of all life. He has life in and of himself. He is the author and sustainer of life; whilst we receive life from him. He sustains us in our very being, he gives us every breath, he holds the universe together by his will. God alone is the author and sustainer of all life. That much makes sense, doesn’t it?
     Why then does verse 26 go on to say, “so he has granted the Son to have life in himself”? Either the Son is like God - he has life in himself. Or the Son is unlike God - and has to be granted/given life. Which is it?
     I think this, admittedly confusing, statement on life from God is there to help us to understand what it means when Jesus says offers us “eternal” life. It is life that is not independent of God. It’s not the permission to carry on living our life away from God, to do whatever we want with our lives. The life that Jesus has is the life that he shares with his Father, in the same way, that your life is not an independent measure of time you’ve spent on earth but a fullness derived from your relationship with God and the people around you. Jesus has life in and of himself (he isn’t a created being and has the ability to grant life) but at the same time, his is a life lived in complete love and unity and co-existence with the Father. That’s the life he offers us through his word.
     The question is: Will you respond to this offer of life today? The alternative is that final day when all will hear his voice and rise to face Jesus, not to receive salvation and life, but rather, to face judgement and even, death.

And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to life, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
John 5:27-30

     When Jesus commands the paralysed man to rise up (Greek: egeire), pick up his mat and walk, it is a glimpse into a future certainty when Jesus will say to each one of us “Rise up!” “Do not be surprised at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice.” Both good and bad, Jesus tells us, will respond to that call, some to life, others to condemnation. On that day, it will no longer be a question of faith or repentance, but obedience and accountability to the judge of all the living and the dead.
     Verse 27 calls Jesus the Son of Man, probably an allusion to the Son of Man in Daniel Chapter 7 who receives all authority and power from the Ancient of Days. God hands over the keys to Jesus. Jesus has the final word on salvation and condemnation.
     His judgement is completely fair. “My judgement is just,” Jesus says in verse 30, “for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”
     And Jesus prefaces this picture of the final judgement with these words, “Do not be amazed at this,” as a way of saying, “You should have seen this coming.” From the account of the healing of the paralysed man. From the hearing of the gospel. Don’t be amazed.
     But also, Jesus seems to be saying, Don’t use this as an excuse.
     We put off thinking seriously about who Jesus is and how we should respond to him. Either we respond to his word today - a word that speaks forgiveness and life - or, we foolishly wait till that final day. “Do not be amazed,” Jesus says, when that final day comes.

     I have been preaching in the Chinese Church three years now. This is my last sermon to you as a council member. Each week, I have tried to make this book - the bible - the centre of all we do and who we are. Not the food. Not the music. Not the fellowship and events. This book. These are the words of eternal life, friends, and my intention in opening to the scriptures each and every time we meet is so that we - you and I together - can hear Jesus speaking to us. It is so that he can speak life into our dead hearts. It is so that he can reveal his Father to us, each time we hear these words read. Each time we take heed and obey his instruction. It is so that you and I can hear our the voice of our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ - and have life in the Son.

     Jesus says, and I will close with his words, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”

Saturday 28 December 2013

Those who hear will live (John 5:1-30)


In today’s passage, Jesus heals a guy whom I can only describe as pathetic and a bit of a jerk. Jesus heals him. In case you think I’m being too hard on this guy, let me just say that he and I have a lot in common. I love making a big deal about my problems. I can talk about my problems all day long. Some of us do that in a group - we call it a prayer meeting. We go round and round; and talk about all the bad stuff that’s happened to us this week - complaining about our boss, our doctor, our spouse. And when we finally do pray (in the last few minutes), we even complain about God - “Oh Lord, why don’t you do something about this painful situation in my life?”

Well, that’s me, honestly. Maybe, that’s some of you here today. And that’s the guy we meet in John Chapter 5.


Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie - the blind, the lame, the paralysed.
John 5:1-3

It’s a strange scene. What we have here is a swimming pool for sick people - the blind, the lame, the paralysed (verse 3). So, it’s not exactly Cambridge Parkside Community Pool. These sick and paralysed guys sit around the pool all day long - they are not there for a game of water polo.

John tells us that the pool is surrounded by five covered colonnades, and archeologists have actually dug up this pool called Bethesda - so it’s a real place in Jerusalem. There is a covered walkway that goes all round the four sides of the pool and one walkway that goes right across the middle of the pool (so from above the whole thing looks like a digital number ‘8’ on your old Casio watch). These walkways provided shelter for the blind, lame and paralysed people sitting all day under the sun.

It was not a very pleasant place to be. These guys can’t exactly go to the toilet any time of their own choosing and they just sit there all day long. It’s a stinky place, to say the least.

Why were they there? Well if you look at verse 4, you’ll notice something interesting. It’s missing! Verse 4 isn’t in most manuscripts which means it probably isn’t in the bible. Somewhere down the line, someone thought it would be a good idea to add that verse, to explain what was going on with all these sick people sitting around the pool all day. And if you look down in your footnotes, you’ll see verse 4, which says, “From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.”

Every now and then, they believed that God would cause the water to bubble up. When that happened, the first guy into the pool won the lottery. Whatever disease he had - blindness, paralysis, whatever - if he was the first in, he was healed. We don’t know if that’s the real story, but it does explain why they were there.

But Jesus comes to this place filled with sick people - who all have a story, who all have needs - but Jesus chooses to heal just one guy - a man who has been paralysed for 38 years.


One who was there had been invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
John 5:5-6

That’s a strange question to ask a guy who’s not been able to use his legs for 38 years. “Do you want to get well?” You don’t go to the cancer ward in Addenbrooke’s and talk to the guy lying in bed with five tubes sticking out of his body only to ask him, “Do you want to get well?” Of course, he does! That sounds like a silly question. That sounds insensitive. Of course, he wants to get well!

But for those of us who have been here in the Chinese Church, studying the gospel of John the past couple of months, I think we have come to expect that surprising question from Jesus when he first meets someone. We tend to expect Jesus’ opening words to be something profound - “I am the light of the world; I am the resurrection and the life” - and Jesus does say that (in this same gospel of John, I might add). But Jesus always begins when he first meets someone by dealing with their expectations. He deals with their baggage, if you like. “What do you want?” he says to the two guys who want to sign up as followers. “Woman, why do you involve me?” he says to his mom. “Can you get me a drink?” he says to the Samaritan woman by the well provoking a scandalous response. Each time, Jesus deals with our expectations first - what we really think of him; what we expect him to do for us; what we read about him in Time magazine - before revealing who really is and what he has come to do in his own words and on his own terms. He needs to do that because all of us have baggage. All of us have preconceived ideas about Jesus - positive and negative.

He says to the man - paralysed for 38 years - “Do you want to get well?” It’s a good question because the man’s answer to that question says a lot about about his expectations from the people around him.

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no-one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
John 5:7

His problem, according to him, is the people around him. There’s no-one to help him into the pool and someone else gets there first. That’s his story. It’s never his day. Someone else always wins. No-one’s there to help him. That’s the reason why he’s stuck in this situation for 38 years.

He sounds bitter. He sounds miserable. He sounds as if he’s given up. So when Jesus asks him, “Do you want to get better?” instead of saying, “Yes,” or instead of getting angry with the question, “Of course, that’s why we’re all here, to get better!” what does the man do? He complains about the people around him. “My life is so unfair!”

Friends, why are you here today? The church is a gathering of sick and broken people and yes, you should come expecting the people around you to be gracious and compassionate towards your needs. But is it possible that you’ve turned up today just to complain; just to get attention; just to feel sorry for yourself? Like I said before, he and I have a lot in common. I can talk about my problems all day. Do you know where I get to do that most? Here in church. It’s tempting use the time we have at bible studies, at prayer meetings, at Sunday gatherings as forms of therapy. But instead of getting better, we become more and more bitter. That’s because God is our heavenly psychologist, who doesn’t actually do anything for us, he just sits back and asks us how we are feeling today. But when Jesus says, “Do you want to get well?” that’s not an invitation to whine about our day. He is offering to completely change to lives.

Jesus could have talked to any other person at that pool that day. Yet he chose to focus on this guy - a man who needed his help; and yet a man who wasn’t looking for help. All this man wanted was attention and the chance to feel sorry for himself. Out of all the sick people Jesus could have talked to that day, Jesus chose to talk this man. Jesus chose to heal this man!


Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
John 5:8-9

Instantly and completely, the man is healed. There is no recovery period - “At once,” the bible says, “the man was cured.” There is no physiotherapy involved: he is strong enough to pick up his mat and walk.

And all Jesus has to do is say the word: “Get up!” Jesus commands the man to rise up and he does. Jesus gives a command and his power to heal - to completely restore a man from 38 years of paralysis - that power lies in the authority of his word.

But after that, the guy who has just been healed doesn’t stop to say thank you to Jesus. He doesn’t even know his name. In fact, what we see next is this guy going out of his way to get Jesus into trouble for healing him in the first place.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry you mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
John 5:9-11

The man gets into trouble with the authorities. The Jewish rabbis say to him, “Hey, you’re breaking the law of the Sabbath,” by which they mean: he shouldn’t be carrying his mat around on the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day, which was holy in the Jewish religion, was a day when God said, “You shall not do any work.” It’s one of the Ten Commandments. Breaking the Sabbath was breaking God’s law and the religious police were threatening to punish this man for his crime.

What does the man have to say in his defence? “It’s not my fault. The guy who healed me - he made me to do it.” Seriously, that’s what he does in verse 11: he points the finger at Jesus. The thing is, he doesn’t know his name. That’s why he calls him, “The man who made me well.”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd who was there.

Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
John 5:12-15

Jesus looks him up again in the temple. What does the man do? He reports Jesus to the authorities. “Hey, that guy you were looking for who told me to break the law of the Sabbath? I saw him in the temple. His name is Jesus.”

It doesn’t sound as if this man is very grateful to Jesus for healing him. He’s doing the same thing he’s always done: complaining about the people. Blaming others for his pain. “Jesus got me into trouble. Why did he have to heal me on the Sabbath? Why did he tell me to carry my mat? I was minding my own business sitting by the pool when he turned my life upside down!”


But I wonder if the reason why he was also upset was because of what Jesus said to him at the temple in verse 14, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Whoa! Who does Jesus think he is telling me not to sin, warning me that something bad might happen? What does he know about my life? I’ve been suffering for 38 years. He thinks because he said some magical words he can tell me how to live my life?

Now I want to be careful about what I say about the connection between sin and suffering; about what the bible teaches us about the consequence of our sin. It’s not always a one-to-one correlation: as if, you sin therefore you will suffer this pain. That’s a mistake the religious leaders make in Chapter 9 when they say to a blind man, “You were steeped in sin at birth!” They were saying God was punishing him with blindness. Yet in the same chapter, Jesus says about the same man, “Neither this man not his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” It’s not always the case that pain, illness and tragedy are a result of a personal wrong or sin and Jesus actually warns us about making that connection in Luke Chapter 13, when he refers to an incident of a tower collapsing in Siloam: “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

But here in John Chapter 5, Jesus does make that connection between this man’s sin and his paralysis. “Stop sinning,” Jesus says to him, “or something worse may happen to you.” The 38 years of paralysis was bad; there is something worse that God can do if you continue to rebel against him. Now remember, Jesus has just healed him of his paralysis, so this warning comes in the light of an amazing display of grace and mercy. But the healing was not an end in and of itself. The healing was a sign to turn to God in repentance and faith. This is not the case of manipulating someone in a painful and vulnerable situation into going to church or to give money. No, this guy is healed! This guy has had his slate wiped clean - no more problems, no more pain, no more suffering. And yet, here is someone who is blinded by his sin, not because of his pain, but because of his prosperity.

People today who claim we need more faith in order for God to heal us; who claim we need more faith for God to work miracles in our lives - are clearly wrong in their understanding of the purpose of such healings and miracles in the bible. This man had zero faith. Jesus healed him. This man, as far as we can tell, was not a Christian when he was sitting by the pool of Bethesda. Yet Jesus healed him. Why? Because the healing was not an end in itself.

If all you want Jesus to do is heal you from our physical suffering, frankly, you have no idea who Jesus is. Jesus has come to heal us from a more serious condition - something worse than the 38 years of paralysis the man suffered. Jesus has authority to raises the dead to life.


Now, you will have to bear with me a moment because the way in which Jesus raises us from death to life comes at the end of this section. It is important not to skip the part in the middle because some of us need to know who we are dealing with - kinda like the man who was healed but had no idea who healed him. We need to know who Jesus is before we can truly say, “Yes, I believe in him.” Otherwise, we might walk away thinking we’ve been blessed by God when we’ve not; we might walk away better only to become bitter. We need to hear what Jesus says to us about himself.

To put in simply, Jesus says that he has come to do his Father’s work.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
John 5:16-18

Remember that the Jews were really upset about the Sabbath law being broken by the guy carrying his mat but it looks like the guy has successfully deflected all the attention towards Jesus, “He’s the trouble maker. It’s his fault, not mine.” So, the issue Jesus is dealing with here is the Sabbath law: You shall do no work, says God.

How does Jesus answer? Jesus does not say what many of us would say. We would be tempted to say to the religious leaders: You’re too extreme! You have misread the law! The Sabbath was a command to stop work - not carrying mats around. God meant us to lay down our tools, to cease from our labour. What the religious leaders had done was come up with additional stipulations - 39 additional descriptions of work - one of them was carrying anything in public. You could carry stuff - like your bowl of cornflakes or your iPad - in your own home, but not out in public because that is work! You are “transporting” an item from one place to another. It was possible to use that argument, but notice that Jesus doesn’t say any of that.

Neither does Jesus argue for acts of mercy. Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 12), Jesus says it is lawful - not unlawful - to do good on the Sabbath. Jesus is healing people. He is helping them get well. Yet, that’s not the argument Jesus uses here either.

What does Jesus say? “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” Instead of breaking the command, Jesus is saying: I am fulfilling the command. Why do they have the Sabbath? Because God gave the Sabbath in the ten commandments, yes, but also because God finished his work of creation in six days and rested on the Sabbath, according to the creation account in Genesis. The Sabbath is the fulfilment of God’s work. Like when you finish that big project - an assignment, a painting, an XBOX game - and sit back with an ice-cold Pepsi and go, “Ahhhhhh, that’s good!” It’s the accomplishment of work. God sits back and looked at his work of creation on the seventh day and said, “It is very good!”

But the fact that Jesus says, “My Father is always at work,” means, God is working towards a final, ultimate goal that is the new creation. The Sabbath is a hint that something amazing is still to come. And Jesus says, “That’s what I was sent to do: to finish my Father’s work.”

The Son

Very quickly, he gives us four implications of that working relationship with his Father in the following verses: God’s pattern, God’s passion, God’s power and God’s judgement.

Firstly, God’s pattern. Verse 19: “Jesus gave them this answer, ‘I tell you the truth, 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.” When Jesus is healing the paralysed man, he is not merely acting as a doctor, he is bringing in the new age when all death and decay will be removed from God’s creation. What Jesus is doing is imitating his Father’s work on redemption.

Secondly, God’s passion and this is his passion or love for his Son. Verse 20: “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.” God wants all glory to go to Jesus, that’s why he sends him into the world. So that, verse 23 says, “all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father.” It is the language of inheritance. Jesus is taking over his Father’s business.

Thirdly, God’s power seen in the resurrection. Verse 21: “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.”

All this is relates to the fourth implication: God’s judgement. Verse 22: “Moreover, the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son.” This is God the Father handing over all his authority - to raise the dead, to pronounce judgement, to grant life and forgiveness to Jesus.

If you see these four implications of Jesus doing the Father’s will, carrying on the Father’s work as his Son, we can now understand how this fits in with our response to him. What did Jesus expect the paralysed man to do when he healed him? What does Jesus expect us to do today as we read these words from the bible?

He wants us to hear his words.


“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father as life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has granted him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”
John 5:24-27

These words are in the present tense. Whoever hears my words… he has crossed over from death to life. A time is coming… and has now come when the dead will hear… when those who hear will live.

What does Jesus want us to do today? To hear his words and live. He raises us from the dead. Those who hear have crossed from death to life. That is something that happens and can happen right now if we hear his words today.

Later on, Jesus makes a distinction with what will happen on the last day.

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
John 5:28-29

On the last day, Jesus will come again and all will hear his voice. “John… rise up!” “Calvin… rise up!” Good and bad will all hear his voice. By the way, the word for “rise” as in “rise to live” and “rise to be condemned” are the exact same words Jesus says to the paralysed man, “Rise up! Take your mat and walk!” It is his command that speaks life to the dead. Not even death will prevent us from facing him on that last judgement day.

The question is: Will you hear his voice today? “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says in verse 24, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” To hear his word and to believe God are not two separate responses. To hear is to believe. Jesus says, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me.” He is saying: To trust in his word is to trust in God who sent him. His voice is God’s voice. He speaks with all of God’s authority. When we gather like this on a Sunday to hear the bible read, we are hearing Jesus; we are listening to God speaking to us.

That is so important because here Jesus is speaking to a group of people - the religious leaders - who think they can trust in God’s word on the Sabbath by ignoring what he says about the Sabbath. He is talking to a man so aware of his physical suffering but so blind to his spiritual condemnation. “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you,” Jesus says only to be ignored by the very man he healed. “My Father is at work, so am I,” Jesus says to the religious leaders who become all the more determined to persecute him and eventually nail him to the cross. Here is a guy in the temple; here are leaders of God’s people - all thinking they are doing God’s will by ignoring God’s only Son.

We are no different. I say to you quite soberly, we are no different, unless we strive to make this word - this bible - the very centre of who are and all we do here in the Chinese Church, we will have been no different from these pathetic men. We will be tempted to make a big deal about our problems. When times are tough, we whine and complain. When times are good, we are less inclined to turn to God in repentance. Only God’s word speaks life into the dead. Only God’s Son can raise us from the dead.

Make this word the centre of who we are and all that we do. God is speaking today and he speaks to us by his Son in his Word. These are the words of eternal life. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says in verse 25, “A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” 

Saturday 21 December 2013

Really, really (John 3:16)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but will have eternal life.
John 3:16

I want us to see four things today. I want us to see that God really, really loves the world; That he gave his only, only Son; So that those who believe in him will never, never die; But that they will truly, truly live.

1. God really, really loves the world

The first thing we see is that God really, really loves the world. This is the God who made the world - who made you and me. The bible says that he loves us.

Some of you hear that and say, “Of course, he loves me. I’m so lovable!” But others hear that and think, “Who cares?” Either we assume if there is God he must love us - that's his job. Or we use that as an excuse to say God doesn't exist because if he did, a loving God would never allow so much suffering to happen in this world.

When the bible says that God really, really loves the world, it is describing a world that takes him for granted. This is a world that ignores God. This is a world that hates God. And yet the bible says the God loves this world that he made.

When Princess Leia finally says to Han Solo, “I love you,” at the end of the Empire Strikes Back, Han turns to Leia and replies, “I know.” We think that’s cool. Or when Jack and Rose are standing on the top of the sinking ship, Titanic and Jack says to Rose, “You jump, I jump,” we think that’s love. Love is something that is mutual. It's chemistry. It’s spontaneous.

But that’s not the kind of love the bible is talking about. It’s more like Shrek, the big green monster when he says, “I love you,” to Fiona the princess at the end of the movie. Shrek is an ogre - a monster - and he is standing in front of Princess Fiona in a big church at the end of the movie; only Fiona is no longer a beautiful princess. She has turned into a big green monster and Shrek looks at her and says, “I love you.” Fiona is surprised and says, “Really?” Shrek answers, “Really, really.”

When God looks at us he does not see a beautiful princess - attractive, beautiful, size 8. He sees a big green monster. And he says, “I really, really love you.”

In this sense, the bible uses the word “world” to describe not its bigness but its badness. It’s not the world of the National Geographic documentaries - panoramas of mountaintops, snapshots of places and peoples in the world. Rather it’s world of the 8 o’clock news. Each time you turn on the evening news you expect to see reports on war, famine and violence; on conflicts happening across the globe. That’s the world we live in. Verse 19 tells us: This is the verdict: Light has come into world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds are evil. This world is filled with people who do evil things. This is a world which hates God.

The bible says this is the world that we live in, but it also says: This is the world that God really, really loves.

2. God gave his only, only Son

Secondly, God gave his only, only Son. That’s the message of Christmas: Jesus coming into this world to be born as a baby.

His father (if you remember your Sunday School) is Joseph. His mother’s name is Mary. They are his parents; his mum and dad. But actually, the bible tells us that Jesus is God’s one and only Son.

That’s why God sends angels to the shepherds in the middle of the night with that important message, "I bring you good news of great joy for all the people." That’s why we read passages like Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders,” written 700 years before the birth of Christ. That’s why the angels say to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

It is because God is telling us this baby is no ordinary baby. This is God’s only, only Son. He was born to rule all of creation with the authority and power of God himself. The title the bible gives him is “Christ”, a word which means God’s chosen King. When we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating the birth of the King - the birth of the Christ - who is Jesus.

A few months ago was my wife’s birthday and I got a big poster that said, “Happy Birthday” and put it up on the wall in our living room. It’s now December - which means the poster has been up on our living room wall for three months - and the other day, we were watching TV when she said to me, “Are we going to take it down?” “No problem,” I said to her. “We can just write ‘Jesus’ underneath, and it can be our Christmas decoration!”

Happy Birthday... Jesus!

Christmas celebrates the birthday of King Jesus - God’s one and only Son. And if you turn to the very beginning of the gospel, John first introduces us to Jesus as the eternal Word of God. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. This is the same Word who created the world - Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. And John 1:14 tells us, this is the same Word who enters our world as a human being: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God became human in Jesus Christ.

Theologians call this the incarnation. Carne is the latin word for flesh, but I like to think of “chilli con carne” - Chilli with Meat. That is, the Word took on flesh, or meat! I know that sounds crude, but it is supposed to be a shocking statement: God became a human being. Through the incarnation, Jesus becomes fully man and at the same time, fully God. He is Emmanuel - God with us. 

The question is: why? Why did the Creator become like his creation? Our third point tells us: So that we will never, never die.

3. So that we will never, never die

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son… so that whoever believes in him shall not perish. And that word “perish” means to be completely and violently destroyed. It’s saying something we don’t hear a lot during Christmas: We are in danger of perishing - of being destroyed - because of God’s wrath over our sin.

Wait a minute! Didn’t we just say a moment ago that God really, really loves the world? How then can this same God be angry with the world? If you have never thought of that question before, it’s worth struggling with it - because people tend to either choose God’s love and ignore God’s anger or they focus on God’s anger and forget his love.

We know from the bible - and from our own experience - that both are true. The people we hurt most in our lives are the people we love the most and the people who love us the most. Our parents, our friends, our loved ones. When we let them down; when we lie to them; when ignore them - we hurt them much more than we would a complete stranger.

Someone asked me recently why God should care about the way we live our lives. When we sin against another person - it's understandable if that person is upset. But why should God be upset? It's actually a good question because I don't think this friend of mine disbelieves in the existence of God. But I think that this person believes in a God who is indifferent, not loving. They believe in a God who doesn't care about sin because they think sin doesn't affect him.

The bible tells us that sin is something God takes personally, mainly because sin is defined in the bible as rejecting God. One of the reasons God sends Jesus into the world is to show us that he takes that rejection very seriously. Look at verse 18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Our attitude towards Jesus is a picture of our attitude towards God - whether it is rejecting Jesus as King because I want to be king over my own life. Or it is rejecting Jesus as a Saviour because I am perfectly able to solve my own problems, thank you very much. The bible calls that sin and it tells us, one day, God will judge the sin of our lives and our attitudes and our actions and our hearts with death and destruction.

But that day is not this day. Verse 17 says: “For God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world but to save the world through him.” Jesus was sent as a King who would save his people. That’s what his name means. The angel says to Joseph (Matthew 1:21), “You are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus means God saves.

4. So that we will truly, truly live

Which brings us to our final point: God gave his one and only Son so that all who believe in him shall not perish but will have eternal life. How does Jesus save us? Not by ignoring our sin but by taking our sin. Jesus came to take our death and to give us his life.

The way that Jesus saves is by himself being condemned. The way that Jesus gives life is by taking our death. In fact, that's how we know that Jesus really is who he is - God eternal and incarnate - through his death on the cross. The word became flesh - Tim Keller a Christian author says that at that point, the word became killable. What Christmas does in such a spectacular way is prepare us for the cross.

What does it mean to truly, truly live? It means to live in a relationship with God that is so intimate and trusting and loving that it can only be described in one way - in terms of God's love for his only Son. All his life, Jesus lived in obedience to his Father. All his life, Jesus never sinned against his Father, not even once. He was the only human being ever to have done that. He walked in obedience and love before God every step of the way.

Yet on the cross, Jesus would cry out to his Father, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was abandoned on the cross. Why? Not because he sinned. Jesus was being punished not for his sin but for ours. The eternal Son of God was abandoned on the cross. When it says there that “God gave his Son,.” it’s not talking about the baby in the manger. God gave up his Son on the cross when he treated Jesus the way he should have treated us - with anger and abandonment. On the cross, it was Jesus who really, really died.

But you see, because Jesus really, really died, we can truly, truly live. He takes our death and he gives us his life. Earlier on, I said that God looks at the world and sees the big green monsters that we are. That’s not the full story though, because if we trust in Jesus, something marvellous happens. God looks at us and sees us the way we should be. He sees Jesus, his Son. On the cross, Jesus takes all our ugliness and sin but he also gives us his life, loveliness and relationship with his Father. He gives us eternal life.

Friends, do you know that God really, really loves you? And if you do: How do you know?

Some of us have never heard of God's love before and it sounds amazing! Wow, God really, really loves me? But some of us know all about God's love. If that's you, might I ask: How do you know that God really, really loves you? Can you even be sure of such a love?

John 3:16 is there to say to us: God wants us to be absolutely sure of his love by looking to the cross. He gave his Son. The incarnation prepares us for the crucifixion. Christmas points forward to the cross. Don't leave today without that absolute assurance - God really, really, really loves me, so much, that he gave Jesus on the cross, so that I might never, never die but will truly, truly live.

Friday 13 December 2013

Your son will live (John 4:43-54)

After two days he left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country.) When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.
John 4:43-45

     Jesus comes home, having spent a couple of days in Samaria where “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him” (John 4:39) and “urged him to stay with them” (John 4:40).
     Before that, he had been to Jerusalem where many saw Jesus perform miracles and were impressed with him.
     Jesus was a success overseas, but how would he fare back home?
     Verse 43: Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country.
     And yet the very next verse reads: The Galileans welcomed him.
     Was Jesus wrong in his prediction that he would be ignored back in his hometown?

     Jesus is helping us to understand the kind of response he received in Galilee. His friends were not welcoming him home as a prophet - much less as God’s chosen king. They were welcoming a pop star.
     Verse 45 tells us: They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem - meaning they saw the miracles he did (John 2:23). The miracles impressed them greatly and yet Jesus is telling us that isn’t the response he is looking for. If anything, Jesus is saying that miracles can lead to the wrong response.
     Well, why then did Jesus do those miracles in Jerusalem if he didn’t want this sort of attention? To reveal our hearts, for one.
But another, to get us to pay attention to what Jesus is saying about himself. Jesus’ works are there to get us to pay attention to his words. His miracles are there to authenticate his message.

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick in Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
John 4:46-47

     This man was desperate. He wants Jesus to do something for him that he could not possibly do himself: He wants Jesus to heal his son.
     Verse 46 tells us he is a royal official. This man was powerful. He had money. He had a big house with servants tending to his every need. But in verse 47, the rich royal statesman begs Jesus for his help. Imagine a powerful businessman in an Italian suit falling to the ground before Jesus. He is begging Jesus for his help.
     This man is willing to travel an entire day’s journey to Galilee because he obviously loves his son; because no amount of money or power he has can help save his son from death. He humbles himself before Jesus.
     And yet what does Jesus do next? He rebukes him.

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
John 4:48

     It sounds harsh but notice that Jesus is addressing the same response he got earlier from the Galileans. “You people,” he says. “Unless you people see miracles, you will never believe.”
     But Jesus is also speaking to the man begging him for help. To the royal official, it doesn’t matter whether Jesus is the Christ; whether he is the Son of God or some kind of magician. This man is desperate. He is willing to try anything: doctors, priests, voodoo, whatever. Anything as long as it works. He will try everything as long as his son is saved.
     Now that’s truly loving of this man as a father to be willing to do anything and everything for his son. But despite his sincerity - I have no doubt that he is sincere and humble in his request - he really doesn’t care who Jesus is. He just wants the miracle. He just wants the results.
     You see, here is an example of the best of motivations leading to the worst of  conclusions. If God is only there to meet my needs, then God is not God; then I am God. God is just a means towards my own ends.
     But to the man’s credit. He persists in humbling himself before Jesus and Jesus responds in an unexpected way. Instead of responding with a miracle, Jesus gives the man a promise.

The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son with live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
John 4:49-51

     Remember that what the man wants Jesus to do is to go with him. Verse 47: He begged Jesus to come. And in verse 49, he says, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
     But Jesus doesn’t go with him. If anything, he tells the man to leave. “You may go,” Jesus says. But Jesus doesn’t send him away empty handed. He gives him a promise: “Your son will live.”
     The man took Jesus at his word. Literally, he trusted the word and left. “Your son will live,” Jesus said. Jesus’ word was enough as a guarantee.
     It wasn’t what he expected, of course. He wanted Jesus to come with him. He wanted Jesus to do something. Instead what he got was a promise.
     It was a whole day’s journey back home. I’m sure he was worried. What if his son died while he was away? Should he have tried harder to convince Jesus? Should he have offered Jesus money or forced him to come with him?
     The reason I say that is because it’s obvious from the very next verse that this man was not expecting the news he got along the way.

While he was still on his way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”
Then the father realised that this was the exact time at which Jesus said, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.
John 4:51-53

     The precise moment at which Jesus gave his word, the miracle happened. The official’s son was instantly healed.
     Now he didn’t get to see it. The man was miles and miles away from home but it still the miracle happened.
     It is important to understand what did not happen. It wasn’t the case that this guy really, really, really believed in the miracle and therefore it worked. It wasn’t the case that this guy had enough faith in order for his son to be healed. That’s nonsense and the text tells us why it’s nonsense.
     How do we know that? Well, his son was not healed because of his sincerity. Jesus rebuked him. His son was not healed because - and we need to get this straight - he went home seemingly empty-handed. No, the son was healed because Jesus gave this man his word.
     The point is: the miracle was independent of the man’s faith or belief or sincerity. The miracle depended entirely on Jesus’ promise - “Your son will live”. The point is: the man did not see the miracle and therefore could not put his trust in the miracle. He went away trusting in the promise. That was the turning point.
     Verse 53: So he and all his household believed.
     From that moment, Jesus was no longer a miracle healer. Jesus was someone who kept his word. The miracles authenticated the message. The works proved the truthfulness of Jesus’ words.

This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.
John 4:54

     Why does the chapter conclude by telling us this is the second sign? Didn’t Jesus do many, many other signs in Jerusalem? He definitely did more than just two miracles. Why then does John call this the second sign?
     If you read through John’s gospel, you find seven major signs or miracles recorded in the book around which the whole account is structured. And with each of these signs, John reveals an important lesson about who Jesus is. There is something peculiar about the miracle John chooses to highlight in each instance; something that tells us who Jesus really is.
     In this miracle, we see a father begging Jesus for the life of his son. He has money, influence and power but to this man, his greatest possession is his son. He loves his son. He is willing to do anything for the sake of his son.
     The reason this account is so important in John’s gospel is because it shows us something of God’s love as a Father for his Son. Look across the page to John 5:20.

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 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.
John 5:20-21

     What does Jesus say to the man again in verse 50? Your son will live. Jesus has the authority to say that because of who he is. He is the Son to whom God the Father gives life. He is the Son who raises the dead.
     But also, verse 22 tells us, he is the Son who judges the living and the dead.

Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.
John 5:22-23

     What was the issue with the Galileans again? Honour. “A prophet has no honour in his own country.” Oh, they might see Jesus as a pop star; as a miracle-worker. But Jesus is saying, they reject him as God’s Son. In doing so, they reject God who is Jesus’ Father. “He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.”
     What the Galileans did in having a big surprise party for Jesus when he got home was not honour. It was a smokescreen. Similarly for us, it is entirely possible to make a big deal about Jesus while rejecting him in our hearts. It is possible to do that with Christmas - to make a big fuss about the turkey, the nativity play and the presents in an attempt to divert attention away from the fact that we don’t want Jesus ruling over our lives.

     Jesus says to them, “Unless you see miracles, you people will never believe.” But he says the same to the royal official. For some of us, our problem might not be making too big a deal of Jesus. It’s the opposite: our Jesus too small. He is a means towards an end. We go to Jesus driven by our desperation, our wants, our anxieties. If that’s you, Jesus offers something better than a quick-fix. He offers himself.
     If you asked the royal official what Jesus gave him, he would say, “He gave me my son back.” It wasn’t healing. It wasn’t money or power - all that was meaningless. It was his most precious love: his son.
     On the cross, God gave us his most valuable possession: his Son. God’s son dies on the cross. Unlike the royal official who could do nothing to save his son, God the Father sent his Son to the cross to save us. Jesus died to take our sin, to take our dishonour, to take our death - so that we will live, so that will be glorified, so that we will be justified. He dies so that we live.

     I wonder if you have ever been as desperate as this official? Have you ever felt so powerless, so useless, so desperate for God’s help?
     Another gospel writer, Matthew, tells us that when Jesus was on the cross - when he was helpless and dying on the cross - people were gathering around him saying, “Come down!” They wanted Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by coming down from the cross.

“Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save others! He is the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”
Matthew 27:40-42

     They thought Jesus was helpless. He couldn’t come down from the cross (Greek: kathebe - the same thing the official asked Jesus to do - to “come down” to Capernaum)
     But the truth is: in order to save us, he couldn’t come down. In order to save us he couldn’t save himself. In order to give us life, the Son of God had to die.
     That’s the guarantee Jesus gives us. When we come to him in prayer and say, “Help me!” or “Save me!” how do we know with absolute certainty that God will answer that prayer? Because God did not save his Son on the cross. That’s the certainty Christians have in Jesus. We look at the cross. He hear Jesus say, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” and we know because Jesus was forsaken, I will never be forsaken. Because Jesus died, I will never die. By his wounds we are healed. Because he was condemned, there is now no condemnation for those we are in Christ.
     Because the Son dies, we can now be made alive as sons and daughters of God.

The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me

Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You
(“Jesus, Thank You” - Sovereign Grace Music)

Sunday 8 December 2013

Water (John 4:1-26) - MP3 recording

Preached at the Chinese Church on Sunday, 8 December 2013.

Download MP3 View transcript

Water (John 4:1-26)

1. Woman

1 The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptising more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptised, but his disciples. 3 When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

     The scene changes from the crowds in Judea to the empty desert road in Samaria.
     Back in Judea, everyone knew Jesus. Everyone came to Jesus to get baptised. People were comparing him to the most famous preacher at the time, John the Baptist.
     But Jesus leaves all that behind. He makes his way up north to Galilee, a journey of seventy miles by foot (which would have taken him and his disciples four days to reach) - and enroute, stops in the middle of nowhere, at a well in Samaria, just so he can speak to one woman.
     Unlike Nicodemus in Chapter 3 who is a well-respected Jewish leader, this woman is a Samaritan who has been married five times and lives with her boyfriend. In fact, we don’t even know her name.
     But the amazing thing is: She becomes a Christian and because of her witness, the whole village turns to Christ.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

     Remember, Jesus is alone and here he is talking to a woman. His friends have gone to get lunch from Boots. It’s just Jesus and the Samaritan woman, and frankly, what Jesus did in asking her for a drink was quite scandalous.
     Verse 9: The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” And John adds: (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
     Jews and Samaritans are like North and South Korea: Neighbours who hate each other’s guts. These guys have had a long history of racial conflict and religious disagreement.
     But it’s more than that. Notice how shocked she is when she says, “How can you ask me for a drink?” Jesus is breaking social taboo. If anyone saw him speaking to her, they might get the wrong idea. What would they think? (Look at the reaction of the disciples when they get back from their shopping trip in verse 27. They are surprised. Yet no-one dared to say to her, “What do you want?” or to ask Jesus, “Why were you talking with her?”)
     Meaning: Jesus is risking his own reputation by speaking to the woman. It’s like seeing your pastor sitting in a gay bar or your bible study leader waiting for the bus at the red light district. One instagram and the church elders will be knocking at your door!
     Jesus did not avoid her. He didn’t ignore her either (though she expected him to). Instead, Jesus came all this way to talk to her and to offer her something called living water.

2. Water

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?”

     “Living” water, as we have it here in verses 10 and 11, can also be an expression meaning “running” water. That is: water that is fresh from it’s source. Water from a spring or tap.
     And from the woman’s response in verse 11, that is clearly how she understands the phrase. She thinks Jesus is offering fresh running water and says, “Where can you get this running water? You don’t even have a bucket.”
     You can hear the cynicism in her voice. “Who does this guy think he is? A minute ago he is asking me for a drink. Now he says I should be asking him for a drink?”

     But Jesus says something that completely changes her mind. Something that makes her go, “Sir, give me this water…” and it’s verse 13.

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

     Jesus speaks about something that is real for this woman and it’s her thirst. I doubt she understood what Jesus meant he talked about eternal life. Or back in verse 10 when he said, “If you knew the gift of God,” she didn’t know what that was about. She wasn’t thinking about God or salvation or heaven or anything like that.
     But she was thinking about her thirst. I know that’s hard to get across here in Cambridge in the middle of a stormy winter but this was the Middle East at twelve noon at the hottest time of the day.
     Every day, this woman had to come to this well with her water jar to get water.
     Verse 15: The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

     Out of nowhere, Jesus says, “Go call your husband.”
     Why does he do that?
     “I have no husband,” she replies in verse 17. Why does Jesus suddenly tell her to call her husband and to bring him? Because Jesus knows the man she is living with right now isn’t her husband.
     And because Jesus knows that her thirst goes beyond the physical. It goes beyond relationships. It’s a spiritual thirst for something that will give her true meaning and satisfaction.

17 Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

     Have you noticed that she’s the only person from the village there at the well? Where are the other women? Don’t they need to draw water?
     That’s the significance of verse 6 when John tells us, “It was about the sixth hour.” The sixth hour - or noon - was the hottest time of the day. Most sensible people fetch the water they need from the well at the beginning of the day, when the weather is cool and the sun is at its lowest. They do not wait till noon when the sun is at its highest.
     The reason why she’s there at this time of day is to avoid the other women. I think everyone in the village - they all know about her past, they all know about her previous marriages, as well as her current live-in boyfriend. She is avoiding them by going to the well at the hottest time of day.
     So when she says, in verse 15, “Give me this water… so I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here,” it’s frustration. She hates coming to this well day after day.

     But Jesus knows all about her past and very lovingly confronts her with her sin. The truth is her love life is no different from her daily trips to the well: a constant search for fulfilment and a never-ending thirst for satisfaction. Again and again she comes back to the well. Again and again she looks for happiness in arms of a man. Each time she gets more disappointed and disillusioned. Each time she gets more and more thirsty.

     Sin in the bible is pictured in two ways. The first is rebellion; saying to God, “Get out of my life. I don’t want you in my life.” But the other way sin is pictured is idolatry - that is, treating something other than God as God. We look to something other than God to give us happiness, meaning and fulfilment.
     Jeremiah 2:13 says, “My people have committed two sins.
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
     It’s this second sin that Jesus deals with here. It’s turning our relationships into God. It’s turning our career and our exam results into God. And the bible says when we do this, we look to something other than God to quench our thirst. It never delivers. It always leaves us dry and disillusioned.

     Which is why, the conversation turns to worship. Notice, it’s she who brings it up. She asks Jesus, “How can I worship God in a way that I know is true?”

3. Worship

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”

     “My pastor says our church is true place of worship but your pastor says your church is the true place of worship. Who is right and who is wrong?” We hear something like that and tend to think, “Both of them are wrong!” or we might say, “How arrogant for those pastors to claim that their church is better than the other guy’s church.”
     And at first glance, it looks as if Jesus is saying just that, “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Now if that’s what you think Jesus is saying (“It doesn’t matter. Those who fight over these things are idiots!”) then read on to verse 22. Because there Jesus says…

22 “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

     Jesus is saying, “You’ve got it wrong. You don’t know God.” That’s serious. Jesus is saying: You don’t actually know whom you are worshipping.
     God has revealed himself in his Word, specifically in the history of his relationship with the Jews as recorded in the Old Testament. That’s where we get the instructions for worship with the sacrifices and the temple in Jerusalem and the priests and the offerings. It comes from God’s revelation of himself in his word. And Jesus says, “Salvation is from the Jews.”
     The Samaritans reject most of the Old Testament, accepting only the five books of Moses to be authoritative. They never get to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel when God gave the blessing to King Solomon to build the temple in Jerusalem.
     In effect, Jesus is saying to the Samaritan woman, “You’re wrong. And as offensive as it might sound, they are right. The temple should be in Jerusalem, not Mount Gerizim.”
     Yet in the same breath, Jesus says, “A time is coming when this, too, will change.”

23 “Yet at time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

     Jesus is still speaking into the Samaritan woman’s thirst. She wants to know the right place to worship. She wants to know, “How can I worship God?” and that’s a fantastic response. She finally sees that what she yearns for and longs for is God.
     But interestingly, Jesus answers by pointing her to God’s thirst. God is seeking for, God is searching for, God is longing for true worshippers. “These are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks,” Jesus says.
     A time is coming, when God will make this happen. Friends, whenever you see that expression - “a time if coming” in John’s gospel - it is always, always referring to the time of his death on the cross.

     Do you know what Jesus said just before he died on the cross? Look with me John Chapter 19 verse 28 (page 765).
Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
     Jesus didn’t simply die on the cross. He experienced all the consequences of our sin on the cross. The bible says he became sin, meaning, his body became a sponge that soaked up all our sin, all our rejection, all of shame, all of our thirst and only after he did that did he say, “It is finished.” John is saying this: On the cross, Jesus took our thirst in such a way we would never thirst again. He took our sin, our emptiness, our death so that we would never die again.

     Now I can’t imagine that the Samaritan understood all of that in one go, but here at the point when she finally acknowledges her longing for God - she wants to worship God truly in the right way - Jesus answers by pointing her to God’s longing for worshippers like her. It’s not our love for God that saves us, it’s his love for us. It is never our desire, our sincerity or our earnestness that redeems us, it’s always his grace and mercy shown to sinners like us through the death of Jesus Christ on cross. We need to keep that in mind when we talk about worshipping God and serving God - even our worship was paid for on the cross.

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

     It just made sense to her when Jesus said, “It’s me.” She was waiting for answers. She knew the Messiah would be the one to explain everything to them. Jesus says, “It’s me,” literally, “I am.”
     Back in verse 10, Jesus said, “If only you knew…” “If you knew the gift of God.” “If you knew who it is who asks you for a drink.” She knows now, doesn’t she?
     Friends, what should we do in response to this? If by God’s grace you hear these words and something in you says, “I know this is Jesus. I know it’s him.” How should you respond?
     Ask him. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would ask him and he would have given you living water.”
     That’s what she did, didn’t she? "Sir, give me this water."

     You know, the book of Revelation uses this “thirst” to describe believers who long for Jesus’ return

     The Spirit and the bride says, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 21:17)