Solving the Mystery of the Messiah
June 6, 2001 John 5:16-30
Scripture: John 5:1-15
This message is based upon some ideas put forth by D. A. Carson at the M.B.I. Pastors' Conference, 2001.
How many of you have ever played the game, "Clue?"
In that game you try to solve the mystery of "who did it."
As the game progresses, you can come across more and more clues until you can make an educated guess and try to solve the mystery.
Perhaps it was Mr. Green who did it in the parlor with the candlestick?
And of course there are many real life mysteries we try to solve like, "Who ate that last piece of cherry pie?"
Or, "Who put that dent in my car door?"
Or on a more serious note, "Why did God allow my father to die?"
Or, "Why is my son so rebellious?"
In other cases, we may have acquaintance with someone who actually has the answers and tries to give us clues in order to help us with our situation.
Often times it may be answers we will not readily accept because of our fallen natures, but only as we "discover" them ourselves as we are able to accept them that we can begin to solve the mystery of what we need in life.
This morning it is the apostle John who knows what we need.
From the beginning of the Gospel According to John, we see that the apostle is in the business of revealing the Messiah.
In the first few verses he describes him as the Word of God, the life of God, and the light of God revealed to mankind.
These are themes that John continues throughout his gospel.
But alas, in 1:10 the apostle says that the world did not recognize him.
They were "clueless."
And so John's purpose is to tell the story in such a way as to reveal the Messiah to us that we might come to accept him and know him in order to meet our greatest need.
(And John is consistent in that purpose as we see in 1John 1:3 that he wrote later.)
John gives us a number of clues to help us solve the mystery of the Messiah.
Indeed, at the end of his gospel, he says there are more clues than he could ever have written down.
And so he starts at the beginning of his gospel by naming clues for us to observe:
We have the profound statements by John Baptist reported by the apostle in John 1 that reveal Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Son of God.
Then Andrew brings Simon Peter to Jesus with the exclamation that, "We have found the Messiah."
Then we have the revelation by Nathaniel that he is indeed the Son of God and King of Israel.
And then Jesus begins to reveal himself with the first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee in John 2.
At the end of that account was when the apostle said Jesus then began to reveal his glory.
Recall at that feast that Jesus changed the water in the jars used for ceremonial washing into wine that was the best ever?
This is a perfect picture of the work he came to do in abolishing the written code with all its regulations that required ritual washing.
He replaced it with the perfect sacrifice of his own righteous blood upon the cross which gives us the freedom of the new covenant that we will celebrate in communion this morning.
having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
(Colossians 2:14 NIVUS)
And so began an increasing self revelation by the Messiah of who he really was to a world that would be hard convinced.
To the Jews who demanded a sign (clue) of his authority after he drove out the moneychangers from the temple in John 2, he said, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."
To Nicodemus in John 3 he replied, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."
And John Baptist again chimes in, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
To the Samaritan woman's comment about the coming Messiah in John 4, Jesus replies, "I who speak to you am he."
And in response to the faith of the royal official in Capernaum he exclaimed, "You may go. Your son will live."
And so we come to our text this morning in chapter 5 where we get one of the fullest and most profound explanations yet by Jesus himself about his true nature, identity, and relationship to God.
And if we think it was as difficult as John says in his opening verses, that even his own did not recognize and receive him, can we think we are too far different, given the fact that even his own disciples had great difficulty even to the end?
Have we truly grasped the solution to the mystery of the Messiah?
Have we really understood who he is?
It will make all the difference in our relationship to him.
Can we truly worship him and obey him if we don't truly understand him?
Let us consider the first fifteen verses of chapter five that we just read together ---.
Are we to assume that we can be cured merely because we obey Jesus, or if he wills it, even if we don't know who he is?
I think it is obvious here that the man is healed merely because Jesus wills it.
Jesus tells him to get up because he has already healed him; and so the man is able to get up (John 5:8-9).
But in any case, the man did not yet know who it was that healed him (John 5:13) when the Jews asked him.
It was only later in the temple (presumably the man was giving praise to God for his healing) that he understood it was Jesus because Jesus told him to stop sinning.
It was here that the man made the spiritual connection (got a clue) with what had happened to him.
You see, healing by Jesus normally required faith in who he was as the Messiah in order to be effective, although Jesus was obviously not limited to this.
But now, after the fact, Jesus tells him to have that faith in him or he will be worse off at the end than the beginning.
Jesus appeared to him so that the healing would remain by faith.
And so it is with us.
Just like with the invalid, we must continue in coming to know Christ more fully if we want to remain in our healing.
We must grow in the fullness of his self-revelation to us if we want to remain in him.
We will never find all of him until we see him face to face --
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
(1 Corinthians 13:12 NIVUS)
But unless we advance in our knowledge of him we will grow complacent and begin to retreat by default.
We must continue to be drawn by the light and the life that he is – coming ever closer, nearer, and dearer.
But Jesus' immediate purpose here was not only to reveal himself to the man he healed but also to reveal himself to the Jews who were protesting his work on the Sabbath.
They didn't understand him so they wanted to kill him.
Isn't that just the way of man, trying to kill that which he cannot understand?
(I know of people who will kill any snake they see just because it is a snake, even though it may not be dangerous.)
And in the discussion that followed with the Jews, Jesus would reveal not only himself but the fullness of God in himself.
They had to know just who they were dealing with.
And that is the subject of our message this morning.
What is the mystery of the Messiah, the Son of God?
I. The Son insists he has the right to do what the Father does. (vv. 16-18)
The Son works on the Sabbath (not only heals but tells the man to take up his mat).
The Jews persecuted him because of this – they had 39 categories of prohibited work on the Sabbath based upon how the OT was understood.
Jesus could have entered into an exegetical debate: the man was not carrying his mat as part of his normal work and so Jesus could have kept this criticism in check.
But instead he answers according to who he is as the Son of the Father.
If God quit working on the Sabbath the whole universe would collapse.
One of the 39 categories of prohibited work was that one could not carry a burden from one house to another and that it could not be carried any higher than one's shoulders.
But God is so big that he would not find it necessary to carry anything on his shoulder, and since the whole universe is his he could not be found to carry anything from house to house.
He just moves things within his own house and they are all smaller than he is.
So does God keep the law? Yes! He has to keep the universe going. Jesus said, "My Father always works."
And then he said, "I too am working."
This means then that Jesus is claiming the same exemption as God.
They have no right to charge him.
So since Jesus was claiming to be God they tried all the harder to kill him.
Jesus is claiming God's prerogatives. He is who he said he is at the level of God or he is a blasphemer.
This Sabbath controversy over how high one can lift a mat has now been elevated by Jesus to who he is.
But what Jesus meant by being equal with God was not what we might understand at first glance.
He was not saying that he was equal in the sense of being another God.
Jesus clarifies this in the next few verses.
We find a defense of monotheism.
II. The Son insists he is subordinate to the Father, but it is a uniquely defined subordination. (vv.19-23)
The clarification that Jesus gives is to say that he can do nothing by himself.
He is not another God-center, a competing God, God number two.
John consistently affirms the deity of Jesus, but now here also (and in v. 30 or in 8:29 or in 14:31) insists on the subordination of Jesus to God the Father.
This is a functional subordination: Jesus obeys the Father.
The Father sends, shows, commands, commissions, and Jesus obeys to say and do what the Father gives him.
But this subordination needs to be carefully defined.
There are four "for" clauses that actually justify the entire doctrine of the Trinity.
v. 19 for (because) whatever the Father does the Son also does.
Sons usually did whatever line of work their fathers did.
A son of God reflects his character and his work.
"Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God."
And in Mt. 5:43ff, "Pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For he sends his rain on the just and the unjust."
This is not in the sense of gaining salvation but in being like God is.
Now we cannot be like God (or a son of God) in the sense of being Creator.
But Jesus says that "whatever" God does he also does.
Jesus grounds his functional subordination to God in his claim to coextensive action with the Father or doing what the Father does.
He is the perfect Son in doing all that the Father does.
v. 20 for the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.
John 3:34-35, "The Father loves the Son and gives the Spirit without measure, placing everything in his hands."
John 14:31, "The Son loves the Father, and the whole world must learn that because the Son loves the Father he always does whatever the Father gives him to do."
This circle of love explains v. 19 – it revolves around love.
The Son by his obedience based upon love is acting in such a way that he is revealing the Father when he says and does what God gives him to say and do.
The perfection of Jesus disclosing God to us is bound up in his obedience based upon love.
The functional subordination of the Son to the Father does not jeopardize Christ's deity, it precisely reveals it.
Jesus does all things in perfect conformity to the Father so that he can say:
Jesus answered: "Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ’Show us the Father’?
(John 14:9 NIVUS)
Jesus discloses God to us not primarily because he loves us but because he loves the Father.
He first loves God the Father.
"Not my will but yours be done," he says as he prepares for the cross.
It is this love relationship that drives Jesus to the cross.
God's love for us is mediated through the Son; it turns finally not on God's love for us but on God's love for his Son.
And Christ's redemptive work turns on God's love for the Father.
It is this love relationship within the godhead that emanates out toward mankind.
We are tempted to think that God exists primarily to serve us.
"God loves us so all will be well."
But we are not at the center of the universe; God is!
He is not some genie we can stroke to obtain blessings.
We are the beneficiaries of the fact that God is love within himself.
Indeed, "God is love" as John tells us in 1John 4:8 & 16.
And there is more to come, "Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these."
There is more to come in the disclosure of the Father through the Son.
v. 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.
This "for" is not so much explanation as it is example.
The point is that God himself is the author of life; he gives life and takes it away.
Jesus here claims to do this in and of himself – 'to whom he is pleased to give it'.
Jesus directs attention to himself here since he is indeed God and is to be worshiped as God.
He does what God does; "just as the Father raises the dead, even so --."
v. 22 for (moreover) the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.
There is a sense in which the Father delegates certain things to Jesus; Jesus dies on the cross, not the Father.
There is enough distinction between the Father and the Son that the Son may do something the Father doesn't do.
This is a role distinction in which all judgment is entrusted to the Son, and the reason he does this is so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.
But Jesus is not autonomous in this since in verse 30, Jesus says, "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."
This is why Jesus can also say --
John 8:15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.
John 8:16 But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.
John 8:50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge.
John 12:47 "As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.
48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.
49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.
50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say."
Jesus does not judge independently. There is perfect unanimity in all that the members that the godhead perform, but there are some entrusted things to one member or another.
The purpose in all this is so they will all honor the Son just as they honor the Father since (verse 20) the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he does.
At the end of it all, God will ask, "What did you do with my Son?"
III. The Son insists that like the Father he has life in himself. (vv. 24-26)
The reason that Jesus can promise eternal life to those who believe in him is because he has eternal life to give.
He has life in himself, as the author of life, just as God the Father is life.
Notice that it doesn't say, "For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life --."
No, it goes on to say that "he has granted the Son to have life in himself."
But Jesus is not a derivative being or a junior god like the Jehovah Witnesses would have it.
Nor does it say that the Father has life in himself and the Son has life in himself to give the sense of two gods.
But God has granted the Son to have life in himself as an eternal grant.
There was never a time when God the Father had not granted the Son to have eternal life in himself.
It is an eternal grant as part of the eternal relationship.
It is here our human language and understanding breaks down since it is impossible to "grant" self-existence.
It is an ongoing subordination, but the result is that the Son has life in himself, and he is God since only God is self-existent.
It is the way the Trinity works.
There is a functional subordination even as it insists that the Father has life in himself and the Son has life in himself.
And it is this truth that grounds the foundation of this great Gospel text in verse 24 when Jesus says, "Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life --."
You believe Jesus' word and you believe God since Jesus only says the words of God.
We gain life through faith in Christ because he has life in himself.
We will rise from the dead when we hear the voice of the Son of God calling us forth from the grave because it is God who speaks.
God will do what God does even as God the perfectly subordinate Son.
Our passing from death to life is all contained in the capacity of the Son who is as God himself is.
IV. The Son of God insists he is also the Son of Man. (vv.27-30)
As such he is the God-sanctioned judge of all.
Do not be amazed at this since he is "Son of Man" (without an article).
He is not only Son of God but he is Son of Man.
He is not only Son of Man in the unique sense of being the son of Mary in the kingly line of David, but as representing the whole race of man.
He has been where we are and knows us through and through.
This "Son of Man" description is not a mere quality but an existence.
And as such he has the right and the mandate to judge as the judge of all since God has determined that he be honored as the perfect Son.
His authority is unmistakable and on the last day will be inescapable.
16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!
17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
(Revelation 6:16-17 NIVUS)
V. Practical Implications
It helps us to put our Bibles together in understanding the uniqueness of the Son of God (among his other names) that is tied to kingship and reflects God the Father perfectly. We cannot understand our Bible unless we get this.
There are implications for evangelistic decisiveness. The theme of salvation and judgment is exceedingly important here and it is bound up with the authority of the Son to raise people to judgment and to life on the last day. We must never lose sight of the decisiveness of what it means to trust the Savior – the decisiveness of a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. We must not just consider that Jesus is a "nice man" that fixes us when we are broken. He is at the center of everything. It is the determination of God Almighty to honor the Son and of the Son to bring glory to the Father and to teach the whole world what it means to love in the perfection of obedience.
There are also implications for preaching Christ in a world that is increasingly ignorant of the gospel. This passage explains what sonship is to Muslims who are hung up on the "God is One" paradigm. This passage explains the rudiments of what the doctrine of the Trinity looks like to those who do not understand the particular nature of the godhead.
There are implications for worship. If we are to rightly worship God we must see him as he is. We do not worship better and more deeply by a better vision of God and grasping more fully the object of our worship.
What is the mystery of the Messiah?
The mystery of the Messiah is the fullness of God revealed.
He is the Son of God that reveals God the Father and is indeed God himself.
Subordinate to God as the Son, and yet equal with him, Jesus has eternal life in himself which he may confer upon all whom he judges worthy by faith in himself. He has given us the clues to eternal life. He has solved the mystery of the ages; how man can live forever even as God lives forever.
Knowing Christ is an eternal proposition. Get a clue and you won't get your due. He is Son of God and Son of Man – equal with God in doing what he does and yet subordinate to God in doing what he does, having the life of God within himself and having the authority of God to give it to man. We must take these clues and build a case for him in our hearts by faith or he will build a case against us in the heavenly courts. Let's not be clueless about Christ.