I’ve included my sermon from wine-before-breakfast on Wednesday. We’ve been studying John this semester with the CRC chaplaincy on campus. The preaching role goes on rotation and once a semester I’ve been doing the writing for the last 4 years although I’ve only ever twice posted it online [here's the last one]. Mostly because I think I lost the other ones before they made it onto the computer. The attitude at WBB isn’t to make any conclusive statements on anything, but rather to open up the word and let it say something. It always will, and if we’re diligent about it we’ll actually hear something once in a while. And that is the best way to start a Wednesday morning.
John 5:15-40 [Eugene Peterson's Paraphrase - "The Message"]
15-16The man went back and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. That is why the Jews were out to get Jesus—because he did this kind of thing on the Sabbath.
17But Jesus defended himself. “My Father is working straight through, even on the Sabbath. So am I.”
18That really set them off. The Jews were now not only out to expose him; they were out to kill him. Not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was calling God his own Father, putting himself on a level with God.
19-20So Jesus explained himself at length. “I’m telling you this straight. The Son can’t independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing. What the Father does, the Son does. The Father loves the Son and includes him in everything he is doing.
20-23“But you haven’t seen the half of it yet, for in the same way that the Father raises the dead and creates life, so does the Son. The Son gives life to anyone he chooses. Neither he nor the Father shuts anyone out. The Father handed all authority to judge over to the Son so that the Son will be honored equally with the Father. Anyone who dishonors the Son, dishonors the Father, for it was the Father’s decision to put the Son in the place of honor.
24“It’s urgent that you listen carefully to this: Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father, who has in fact put me in charge, has at this very moment the real, lasting life and is no longer condemned to be an outsider. This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living.
25-27“It’s urgent that you get this right: The time has arrived—I mean right now!—when dead men and women will hear the voice of the Son of God and, hearing, will come alive. Just as the Father has life in himself, he has conferred on the Son life in himself. And he has given him the authority, simply because he is the Son of Man, to decide and carry out matters of Judgment.
28-29“Don’t act so surprised at all this. The time is coming when everyone dead and buried will hear his voice. Those who have lived the right way will walk out into a resurrection Life; those who have lived the wrong way, into a resurrection Judgment.
30-33“I can’t do a solitary thing on my own: I listen, then I decide. You can trust my decision because I’m not out to get my own way but only to carry out orders. If I were simply speaking on my own account, it would be an empty, self-serving witness. But an independent witness confirms me, the most reliable Witness of all. Furthermore, you all saw and heard John, and he gave expert and reliable testimony about me, didn’t he?
34-38“But my purpose is not to get your vote, and not to appeal to mere human testimony. I’m speaking to you this way so that you will be saved. John was a torch, blazing and bright, and you were glad enough to dance for an hour or so in his bright light. But the witness that really confirms me far exceeds John’s witness. It’s the work the Father gave me to complete. These very tasks, as I go about completing them, confirm that the Father, in fact, sent me. The Father who sent me, confirmed me. And you missed it. You never heard his voice, you never saw his appearance. There is nothing left in your memory of his Message because you do not take his Messenger seriously.
39-40“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.
Today’s Gospel tells a story of a discussion between the religious elite and Jesus. We’ve just encountered a situation where the religious leaders believe Jesus to be overstepping the bounds of what is appropriate. Identifying oneself as doing the work that only God can do is deemed unacceptable and it sets the stage for this encounter.
This is not the first encounter that we’ve seen between Jesus and people who do not fully understand him. We’ve seen this situation arise a couple times already and in all of those situations we see Jesus make an effort to meet those people in the situation that they are in. From there we consistently see Jesus present himself as the answer to the question they did not know they were asking or the solution to the problem they did not know that they had.
Jesus’ track record on this is clear. He’s there for everyone, including Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, so we must understand this interaction with the Pharisees to be Christ’s best attempt, and most carefully chosen interaction with them. John the writer chooses to leave out the Pharisees’ half of the discussion here. Whether or not the Pharisees confronting Jesus participated with lengthy speeches or with just the expressions on their faces I think is unimportant. John likely leaves it out because the the specifics aren’t consequential and the reader knows what the interaction is like. That’s because I’d guess that this is the reader’s interaction, and I think it’s our interaction.
We are people who have at least some sense of God’s story, we have a general idea of what’s going on but our struggle is often that of the pharisees. Can I give Christ credibility to let my life be changed? The readers of the Gospel have an idea of the story of Jesus in their heads, as we do, but need to cross into lives fully entrusted to him. To cross from death into life.
For us I don’t see this as an invitation to a conversion experience and a complete being born again. While it might be that sort of invitation for some people at some point in their lives I more understand this to be a continual or a daily invitation to make an active choice to pursue Christ’s promises in certain areas of our lives. Can I give God credibility in making decisions about my career? Can I give God credibility in deciding about what I do with my money? Is the bible a credible source of wisdom in confronting socially contentious issues? Could God’s wisdom be a credible source of advice in guiding me in a romantic relationship? Am I brave enough to give credibility to a God described in an ancient book to directly influence my life today?
The situation for the pharisees is clear. If they grant credibility to Jesus to be who he says he is they lose control, they lose power, and their lives might be unpredictable and different. This is the same situation for us in areas of our lives where we still hold the power. Areas where we may be wary of entrusting ourselves to Christ as it might mean things are unpredictable and different.
Jesus response in this scripture is long and relatively dense. The whole thing is a lot to bite off, and I’m not going to try and chew it for you, but there is a systematic progression of thoughts.
Jesus starts by making a case for the benefits, not for the credibility. Just as we have seen in earlier encounters between Jesus and others he answers the question that needs to be asked before he answers the question that has been asked. We are caught up in asking questions of God’s credibility in the areas of life that we remain in control. Christ’s response is to show an open invitation to real life; an invitation to being an insider with Christ. We’re shown that aligning ourselves with the ways of God is the recommended course of action.
Only later, and likely following the blatant refusal of the pharisees to consider the possibilities offered does he present his reasons for credibility. It turns out that there are good reasons to believe him but the preference was clear. We’re presented with such a great invitation, such an abundant promise of life, and such a warm welcome into an existence of eternal significance that the desire to get on board should be natural. Jesus could answer the question of credibility in solving our problems or issues by declaring that he’s God and he knows best. He doesn’t though… He gently shows us the better way and makes the invitation to step into that abundant life.