I know that I have read John chapter 5 many times, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I realized how important it is. Oh, we know about John 3 because it contains probably the favorite verse of Christendom and the incredible interaction that Jesus has with Nicodemus, a questioning Jewish leader. We also know about John 4 because of the classic encounter that Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well. But we are probably not so familiar with John 5.
Why is that the case? Maybe it is because all we focus on is the narrative parts of the Gospels. Maybe the kind of discourse Jesus gives is pretty overwhelming, hard to understand or even rather technical. Maybe we just want to get from the healing of an invalid to the feeding of the 5000 in chapter 6 that we have not taken time to discover the rich truth of John 5. But, I want to encourage you to look there and study what John reveals to us, giving us evidence that will lead to our belief which will, in turn, lead to our abundant life (John 20:30-31).
John Chapter 5 is an account of Jesus’ deliberate provocation through the healing of an invalid man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. The Jews, or as I like to call them, the Sabbath Police (the religious leadership) are offended that the once healed man is walking around town carrying his mat. The fact that he is healed doesn’t seem to catch their attention, but the fact that he is violating their Sabbath regulations does. It is quite a sad picture, isn’t it, but this story is much more than a lesson on “how to bring glory to God by breaking the distorted Jewish Sabbath rules!” It is, however, a deliberate action by Jesus to enter into a conversation with the Sabbath Police regarding the fact that He is equal with God and therefore, He is God. Now I say conversation, not because we have record of the Sabbath Police’s words with Jesus, but only because they were speaking questions in their hearts that Jesus already knew about. Here is how John records it…
17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
So, Jesus is now on trial. He is being accused of claiming equality with God as well as responsible for inciting another to break Sabbath, and both were blasphemy to the Sabbath Police. What happens next is a beautiful picture of Christ’s humility coupled with His authority. He takes time to defend His claim to be equal with God by giving the following evidence. First, he wants his hearers to understand that His equality with God is rooted in the fact that He is united together in His actions (i.e. creation), love (an intimate phileo relationship) and responsibility as a giver of life and a judge of the world. Jesus is not saying that He is equal with the father as if He is another god somehow competing with the father. No, He is saying that He is intimately united and that unity is the source of His Equality. Second, Jesus stresses that those two responsibilities, giving spiritual life and judging in the resurrection can only be accomplished if He is equal with God.
21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
In other words, if you deny that I am equal with the Father then you are denying the Father and you not only dishonor Me but you also dishonor the Father whom you call God.
Now, what happens next is truly amazing. Jesus is on trial and in a typical trial there are many elements: An accusation, a defense, witnesses, accusers and a verdict given either by a presiding judge or a jury. So, in true trial fashion Jesus, the accused, give his defense (5:17-30), but he also recognizes that His testimony is inadmissible alone in a Jewish court of law. In order for it to have any bearing there must be some corroborating testimony to His claim to be equal with God.
So, He first appeals to the testimony of John the Baptist whom the Sabbath Police initially embraced as a true prophet. In fact they were drawn to him and rejoiced at the fact that after 400 years God was, once again, speaking through a prophet. But over time, when they actually listened to his message, they turned away from him, but not before hearing him say about Jesus…
34 …I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:34 (ESV)
Next, Jesus appeals to the testimony of His Works, which can best be understood as the signs that Jesus was doing throughout Jerusalem, Samaria and the region of Galilee. Although John’s gospel specifies seven signs, the reality is that each miracle pointed to Jesus as being God and having qualities and power that only God could have.
Finally, Jesus appeals to the testimony of Scripture, emphasizing that
39 …it is they (the Scriptures) that bear witness about me.
This, of course reminds me of the words that Jesus shared with the two confused and discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus who having listened to Jesus said…
So, with three separate and weighty witnesses giving their testimony Jesus corroborates His personal claim. But, He is not done talking. Unlike our western trails, in the Jewish context the one accused has an opportunity to say something to and about those who are the accusers. So, Jesus takes the opportunity to confront them in three areas: Their ignorance due to their inability to understand the Scriptures; their emptiness due to the lack of the love of God in their hearts; and, their unbelief because they are not willing to accept the evidence clearly presented, but are willing to embrace false messiahs if they will scratch their backs and elevate them.
That was a scathing confrontation, but Jesus isn’t done. Although He is the one being accused His humility continues to be demonstrated as He recuses His right to be the Judge in this trial. Instead He establishes that Moses, one of their hero’s, the one through whom their beloved Law was written would be their judge and weight the evidence in the favor of Jesus.
There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Jesus is, in fact, equal with God. He is God!
Now, the point that John’s Gospel is making is that we are the jury. We have the opportunity to look at the evidence and consider if it warrants belief in the Gospel. If we do, and we believe, John promises that we will have everlasting life and we will have it abundantly. (John 20:30-31)