Two weeks ago, we talked about Jesus healing the sick man who had been sick for 38 years on the Sabbath day. To the Pharisees, this seemed to be a gross violation of the Law of Moses. In fact, the Old Testament forbid the carrying of a burden on the Sabbath day, but this was more in context with the carrying of a burden in reference to buying and selling on the Sabbath day. Jesus’ saw things differently. To Him, the man was carrying a burden of sickness for 38 years. How many Sabbaths had this man been burdened with this sickness without finding rest. In comparison carrying a lightweight, flimsy straw mat was nothing in comparison. It is this disagreement over the proper observance of the Sabbath which leads to the confrontation we look at today.
Exposition of the Text
Verse 16 says that the Jews were continually persecuting Jesus because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. The English translation does not bring out the idea of an ongoing conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Greek indicates that the healing of this sick man on the Sabbath was just one of several incidents. John has not included any other of these to this point, but we can see several such incidents recorded in the other Gospels. The meaning of the verse is that the Jews were constantly accusing Jesus of being a habitual Sabbath breaker. Not only this, but by commanding the man to take up his mat, he was teaching others, in their opinion, to break the Sabbath as well.
In versed 17, Jesus defends what he has done. The verb “answered” here in the Greek is in the rare use of what is called the middle voice. This gives the idea of “Jesus answered for himself” or simply “Jesus defended his actions, saying…” What Jesus says here in his defense is “My Father is always at work; therefore, I am working also.”
Even the Pharisees had to conclude from what we have of their writings that it was necessary for God to be continually at work. What would happen to the universe if God took a day off? Would the planets fall out of their orbits? Or how would we feel if we came before God in an urgent prayer request and got the answer from God’s voice mail; “I am on vacation today, please call again later.” In other places in the Gospels, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that they would lift their donkey out of a pit it had fallen into on the Sabbath day. This would break the exact reference the Pharisees accused the man of doing, which is carrying a burden on the Sabbath day. The implication that what one would do for an animal as an act of mercy is even more appropriate for a human being created in the image of God.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath day. He was accused in the other Gospels that this, too, was a violation of the Sabbath. Could you imagine how well the concept of Sabbath the Pharisees had would go over today? Forget the Taliban! Suppose you or someone you loved had a heart attack on the Sabbath day, and there was no one to answer at 911 because it was the Sabbath day. And there are no doctors on call also, because it is the day of rest. You can’t perform CPR, because it is work, and work is forbidden on the day of rest. Any you better not pray either, because some would consider this work. And if prayer itself were allowed, you would be petitioning God to work on his day off. Anyone can plainly see that Jesus’ concept of the Sabbath was far superior to the Pharisees.
Yet God was about to take His second day off since the creation. God the Son was about to be put in a tomb to rest on the Sabbath, having finished the new creation on the cross with the words, “It is finished.” Just as God at the completion of creation on the sixth day, said, “It is very good.” The words Jesus said on the cross is better translated “It has been made perfect” Rather than “finished”. Having finished the work of the new creation starting on Palm Sunday, Jesus would take His Sabbath.
There is another subtle thought embedded in this verse as well. It is true that the Law commanded the keeping of the Sabbath day and keeping it Holy. It was also conceded even by the Pharisees that God was necessarily exempt from this requirement. By Jesus saying that He was working on the Sabbath just like His Father was at work, He was making a claim that He was exempt from the Sabbath law. If only God is exempt, then Jesus is claiming that He is none other than God Himself.
The Jews understood fully what Jesus said. They were enraged even more than they were before and sought to kill Him because not only was Jesus in their eyes a habitual Sabbath breaker but a blasphemer as well because they understood Him as making a claim of equality with the Father. The fact that Jesus did nothing to deny this ought to tell us who Jesus is.
Note that Jesus says “My Father” and not “Our Father”. This can either be a claim of Jesus’ unique relationship to the Father or a claim that God was not their Father. In fact it is both. The unique relationship of Father and Son is described throughout the Gospel. And in chapter 8, Jesus would flatly accuse the Jews who opposed them by saying “You are of your father, the devil!” I would suppose if Jesus had been inclusive and said “Our Father” here, they would have been far less angry. But Jesus is being very provocative here. Salvation depends upon getting the person and work of Jesus right. Jesus is not just a good man, a wonder worker, or a good teacher. He is God the Son. Therefore it is not enough to believe that Jesus was a good man or a martyr. It is necessary to believe in Jesus not just about Jesus.
In verse 19, Jesus defends Himself again. The same for of the verb “answered” is used here again. The Jews were angry because they understood Jesus to be making a claim of equality of God. Here would have been a perfect time for Jesus to tone down the rhetoric. After all, he makes numerous statements in the Gospel to the effect that the “Father is greater than I.” But not here-- in fact, Jesus boldly reasserts His unique relation to the Father. Jesus claims that He is only doing the work His Father sent Him to do. By saying this, He is telling the Jews that to accuse His actions is to accuse God. To accuse God was to blaspheme God. So Jesus is in the sense turning the tables on the Jews. It was not Jesus who was blaspheming, but the Jews, just like His views on the proper meaning of the Sabbath was the true keeping of the Sabbath, whereas the Jews who thought they were keeping the Sabbath were actually breaking it by placing horrible burdens on the people.
It is also interesting to note the double amen which Jesus uses—translated “most assuredly” or “verily, verily”. Amen is a Hebrew word which has the meaning “So let it be”. In the Hebrew tongue, there is no comparative adjective like our “big”, “bigger”, and “biggest”. The way to express the idea of “most truly” is to repeat the word. Unlike our prayers which end with “amen”, “so be it”, Jesus begins his pronouncements with “Amen”. And this is they way it should be. We pray, hoping that what we have just prayed is on accord with the will of God and say “amen” with the sense of “If we have prayed according to your will, so be it.” But it is not so with Jesus. He already knows the Father’s will and can say the “amen” first, knowing that what follows is the truth of God and the will of the Father.
Verse 20 describes the intimacy between the Father and the Son in the words “For the Father eternally loves the Son”. This love means the Father can trust the Son in all things, knowing that whatever the Father wills, the Son can be trusted to carry out. The relationship of the Holy Trinity itself will be further developed in the prayer in John 17.
This verse also states that greater works than these were going to happen. We know what these greater works were from this side of the cross; the first would be the lifting up of Jesus on the cross, his death, and resurrection. The next is that Jesus would be the one who would raise the dead at the last day. The third is that Jesus Himself would be judge. What sad irony there is here that these very Jews who were judging Jesus were judging the very person they would have to stand before on the Day of Judgment. The very Son whom the Father sent in love, that whosoever believed in Him should not perish but have everlasting life is also appointed to be the judge in the Final Judgment. How great is God’s saving grace! How painful is its’ rejection! Those who come to Jesus in faith have Jesus as their Savior, but those who fail to believe have Jesus for their judge. How important is is to get this right when where we spend eternity hangs in the balance!
In verse 23, we learn that it is the will of God that we honor the Son in the same way we honor the Father. This means the Son is to be worshipped even as the Father is worshipped. We cannot worship the Father unless we worship the Son also. God has provided exactly one way to be saved. To reject Jesus is to reject God. And to reject God’s free pardon in Jesus Christ is to invite eternal punishment. This truth would be later reinforced in John 14 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
In verses 24, the believer has the absolute assurance of salvation. The one who hears and continues to believe has everlasting life and has no reason to fear condemnation from God, neither now nor at the Judgment. For the believer, eternal life has an immediate effect. Even though we must die in this flesh unless the return in our lifetime, the benefits of eternal life start here and not. Does it not say in John 11 “I am the resurrection and the life”? It does not say “I will be the resurrection and the life”. “I am” means the here and now as well as later. We are not challenged to live for Jesus in the sweet bye and bye, but in this life also.
Verse 25 and following develops this two-fold concept of resurrection. Note especially the words “and now is”. The cross had not yet happened, nor had the resurrection, and certainly not the resurrection of the last day. Yet Jesus talks about the dead who hear His voice (i.e. believe and obey) shall live. Note that it does not say the dead in their graves like in verse 28 which refers to the resurrection of the last day. Those who are dead in their sins can come to life by hearing and believing on Jesus today. Note that again Jesus uses the double “amen”. This is most certainly the will of the Father, and it shall indeed come to pass. He who believes has passed from death to life and can be sure of eternal life. The one who rejects Christ stands before the judge even now. The effects of being condemned are felt already. Hell is enlarging itself upon the unbeliever even in this life. For an unbeliever, life itself is hell. This should act to plead to the unbeliever to repent and believe on Jesus before this condemnation becomes permanent at the Last Judgment. Only those who have done the right things, which can only be interpreted as believing on Jesus and living for Him have the assurance of the resurrection of life. The rest who practice evil, of which there is no greater even than to reject Jesus Christ can only expect damnation.
Application of the Text
We have all heard of the fictional comic book character called Superman. He supposedly came from the planet Krypton. The myth goes on that he was a survivor from an exploded planet that gave the infant superhuman powers. He was found and adopted by human parents who raised him and kept his identity secret. Later on he would save Lois and Jimmy and others at the Daily Planet. This superhuman theme would later be developed to the point that he became more global in his saving interests.
At first glance, there are some surface similarities between Superman and Jesus. Superman, like Jesus came in a sense from above, although we must realize that Superman is but the figment of someone’s imagination, possibly illumined by the figment’s of other’s imaginations and perhaps the author’s intent to use the Savior as a model for his superhero. Both save people, Jesus real people, and Superman comic-book people. Both clothed themselves into human flesh, Jesus real flesh, and superman the appearance of human flesh. Both had a secret identity. Clark Kent was used to keep Superman hidden (The Greek word for hidden by the way is “Krypton”, ironically.) But Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate, tried His entire earthly life to reveal His identity and of the Father through the Word He preached, the signs he performed, and the lifting up on the cross. (The Greek word for reveal is apocalypsis, from which we get the English word ‘Apocalypse’.)
We must realize that Jesus is the only hope. The fictional superman cannot help us. If I can put it into words which appear in this text, the words “Marvel not” ironically fit. No comic book character ever saved a real person. I don’t know what was in the mind of the original writer of “superman”, but it seems to me, he is presenting another Jesus and preaching another gospel that is in reality no gospel at all. The fact that such a character ever became impressed on the American mind shows that they have rejected the real Superman. It is distressing in the passage we read this morning how the Jews rejected the very one who came to save them. Yet, we can hope that at least some of them came to their senses like the prodigal son who came back, that their rejection of Christ was so that God’s plan of salvation might be carried out on the cross. But we know the rest of the story. What excuse can we have to reject Christ now? We have gone back to the Roman and Greek gods and traded God’s truth for myth.
The fictional superman stood for “truth, justice, and the American way.” But this is not God’s truth. Man’s justice is not God’s justice, and the American way is not the same God’s way, and whatever favorable comparisons which might have been made at one point of our history is rapidly eroding away. The appeal to the Greek and Roman myths was often used to bolster public morality in the past. The result in Greece and Rome was that they traded the myths of the courageous superman-like gods into gods who committed rape, incest, and other abominations. In the US, superman was replaced by silly “superheroes like “Diaperman” and then “Underdog”. Then it was decided to make our comic book heroes a little more human with faults. These occurred in movies like the Batman movies. Then these moral “heroes” degenerated into the Simpson’s and Beavis and his buddy who were not super in any sense of the world unless “super-reprobate” be coined to describe them. This should be proof of the book of Romans that those who refuse to keep God in their minds and hearts will be turned over to every degree of corruption. Our culture is falling further and further into degeneration and we are changing the appearance our gods to match our depravity as our Hollywood idols wax worse and worse to the point that like the Greek and Romans gods before them, they are becoming a laughingstock and a source of depraved worship.
Our church has become the mall and our god the economy. We praise the works of our own hands rather than the works of God. Our beautiful calls of worship to God have been replaced by the advertisements, calling us to shop, which grow dumber and dumber every day. Instead of being filled with the awe and majesty of God, we have become like that idiot in the Sonic commercial who worships his own cleverness by saying “Wow, breakfeeeest, get it.” If we have ever needed a real Superman, the time is now.
No, the real Superman doesn’t have an “S” branded on his chest, but He does have a logo, the mark of the spear in His side and the prints of nails in his hands and feet. Instead of X-Ray vision, He has eyes as a flame of fire. X-Rays can reveal what is inside you flesh, but the eyes of the real Superman can see into the soul. The real Superman is not some reject from another planet but was rejected by his own on planet Earth. The mythic superman saves imaginary people, but the real Superman came and died on a cross to save real people like you and me. It’s not a bird or a plane, but the cross unto which we fix our gaze. It’s not way up in the sky we need to look, because the presence of the real superman is here this morning to hear your cry. This Jesus saves not because he is more powerful than a locomotive or faster than a speeding bullet, but because he allowed Himself to become an ordinary human being. Unlike the phony superman who only appeared to be human but was really an alien in human dress, our Lord conquers because he became as fully human as we are, yet without sin. Christ conquered death by dying in weakness on a cross. And how is this weakness of God so much more powerful than the fictional strength of this so-called “superman”. Only Jesus is the real superhero. And we need a real superhero to save us from real sin to real life for eternity.
And speaking of those speeding bullets, we are reminded in Scripture that the Lord is going to return to this earth in a moment, in the blink of an eye. His return will not be mistaken for the appearance of a bird or a plane but will fill one side of the sky to another. And then it will be too late to repent. All the nations of the earth will look upon him whom they pierced and shall mourn. In that day, let the only tears you shed be the tears of joy that your Savior has come.