What a Lot we Have in Jesus!
Reading: John 5:1-
Text: John 5:24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."
Have you ever listened to a debate in the House of Commons? Sometimes when the house is full of MPs the atmosphere can become really quite rowdy and it becomes increasingly difficult to hear the person who is speaking. It is the role of the Speaker of the House sitting in his special chair to restore a certain measure of respect and calm – you hear him call out at such times:
It's an intervention to try to make members respect the right of the one holding the floor to speak and to be heard. The more important the speaker, the more important the announcement, the more important it is that he/she should be heard.
According to the apostle John Jesus regularly employed a similar device when he was about to say something of great importance and significance. Twenty five times in the Gospel as a whole and three times in the passage we have already read and at the beginning of our text this evening we find these words on Jesus' lips:
"Truly, truly, I say to you…"
He is about to outline something important and it behoves us to pay serious attention.
These words Jesus used are familiar to us – perhaps we know them better from the AV – "Verily, verily, I say unto you…" But we must not allow the fact that we are familiar with them to keep us from understanding just how unusual they really were.
In the entire Bible Jesus is the only person ever to have spoken this way. In fact this way Jesus had of speaking was not only unique, it contrasted remarkably with the way in which other speakers prefaced their remarks in the Bible.
In the OT we find the phrase "Thus says the Lord…" being frequently used – it appears more than 400 times. Or we come across a similar expression "The word of the Lord came to…" 100+ times. God's servants took care to make it clear that they were not speaking on their own authority. But when we come to John's Gospel Jesus important remarks are not prefaced with "This says the Lord…" but with this egocentric "Truly, truly, I say to you…"
Jesus had an authority that was personal and direct and he did not depend upon any other to add weight to his words. Elsewhere in the Gospels we learn that this authority made its own profound impression upon his hearers:
And when his authority was called into question by those who opposed him he could backup his words with appropriate, confirming action. His enemies didn't agree with him but they couldn't but notice the authoritative manner in which he spoke and acted.
Sadly, however, many who witnessed this authority refused to respond positively to it and instead tried hard to bring him into disgrace.
The words of Jesus that we're taking as our text this evening were spoken in a context of just such unwarranted hostility.
What Jesus had just done
Amongst a large crowd of sick folk waiting by a pool called Bethesda had lain a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. He, along with the others, had been hoping to be restored to health by benefitting from some miraculous properties attributed to the waters of the pool. This man had waited for years without finding any relief and although he was lonely and in an apparently hopeless situation he hadn't quite given up on the hope of being made well.
And his life had just been totally transformed! Jesus had singled him out, spoken to him, challenged him and restored him instantly to health. The word was out too as to just what had happened.
You'd have thought that those in the vicinity would have been thrilled for this man but they weren't. Jesus had done this wonderfully good and kind act on the Sabbath and all the critics could think of was their traditions about Sabbath observance and doing good just didn't figure in their thinking about the Sabbath at all.
The man who had been healed was immediately criticized and chided but when he gets free of his critics the first place we find him is in the Temple, the place of worship! Jesus had made him well and this man was in God's house where praise and thanks could most readily be offered to God. Far from being a negative act of Sabbath-
Furthermore Jesus followed up his healing of this man with an exhortation to godly living. This man who had benefitted from the grace of God in Jesus Christ was now being told that his life must reflect God's goodness by leading a pure life from now on. Is there anything blasphemous about any of this? Where can even a hint of blasphemy be found in a good deed that promotes the glory of God and is accompanied by exhortations to godly living which will also glorify God?
And yet the critics were stubborn in their hostility and they became yet more determined to oppose him when Jesus had the temerity to compare himself to God himself. They had just found out about a tremendous miracle accompanied by a tremendous emphasis upon holy living – the proof was right there before their eyes but they were too set in their prejudices to think again.
I wonder that would effectively describe some of you this evening. Oh maybe you don't oppose Jesus in such an overt manner as his detractors did then but still you have effectively made up your mind about him and you're not prepared to have your thinking changed. Perhaps you think to yourself that you've come this far in life without doing much about Jesus and so you fondly imagine you can safely go on ignoring him too.
My friends Jesus is the most important person you're ever going to be confronted with and he has got important things to say and to say to you. Will you not listen to what he has to say?
Jesus Important Words
As Jesus continued talking to those who were so opposed to him he didn't back-
No, Jesus went on. Everything he did was in harmony, perfect harmony with the Father. He did nothing that he did not see his Father doing. And the Father in his great love for his Son showed him exactly what he was doing. In this way Jesus was revealing God to the world – they didn't see it, they didn't want to see it – but what about you?
The position Jesus' detractors were putting themselves in was a desperately dangerous one. They were trying to suggest that they were on God's side and defenders of his honour and glory whereas the reality was totally different. The Father had given Jesus, his Son, a mission to accomplish and that mission was comprehensive including even authority to pass final judgment upon men and women. Jesus glorified the Father as he faithfully and loyally carried it out this mission that the Father had given him. The Father in turn thoroughly approved of all that his Son did.
Do you want to know how much the Father approved of his Son? So much so in fact that he declared that it was impossible for him to be honoured as the Father if the Son was not honoured! To put it another way to reject Christ is to reject God – if you will not have Christ God the Father will not have you!
Where does this place you?
One day you will be called to give an account of your life and how you have lived to God. What will be your hope on that day? Do you realise that whatever you might say or do or plead if you have not honoured the Son you will have failed to honour God and for that the only judgment you can expect will be one of condemnation?
Oh, but it does not need to be that way! God is not itching to cast you into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and wailing and the gnashing of teeth in an everlasting torment of regret. His Son was sent into this world on a mission and that mission in a demonstration of the wonderful loving heart of God the Father includes securing salvation for sinners such as us.
Let us turn to our text and consider just what Jesus said.
What Jesus has to say is important because it is true.
Now I can't prove to you that it is true but Jesus said it was and Jesus is certainly a reliable and trustworthy person who frequently backed up his words with demonstrations of remarkable power. If God were not pleased with what he said then how come miracles flowed at such a pace in Jesus life often explicitly tied to the veracity of his words. Remember too that he spoke predicting not only his sufferings and death but also his own resurrection from the dead. He rose from the dead proving the truthfulness of his words – does this not make him worthy of trust with regard to the other things he said especially when he highlighted the importance of what he was saying with a "truly, truly.."?
Why would you not believe him? Think about some of the alternatives: is it because other people that you know don't believe in Jesus? But are they experts who can be trusted? What is their track record like? Have you never known them to make the slightest error of judgment, have they always been right? Do they always know what they're talking about? What are their credentials when it comes to living in relationship to God? Jesus came from God, he did what he saw his Father doing and spoke what his Father taught him to say? Are your friends better experts in divine knowledge than Jesus?
Or perhaps it's not friends, perhaps you prefer to trust yourself rather than Jesus? Face this: have you never failed to match up to you own expectations of yourself? Have you always done what is right? Has there never been a day when you've said or done something of which you are ashamed? Oh I know you may well bluster it out in public but has your heart never condemned you for anything? But even if you were the cleanest purest person alive on planet earth this evening what experience do you have of the Living God? Are you so sure that you have God's number and that he is as you want him to be and not as Jesus declares him to be?
"I say to you, whoever…" Jesus words are broad and generous in their scope. He speaks because he wants men and women to listen, he wants people like you and me to listen. He has authority and he gives life to whom he will – he can give it to you, ah, but do you want it? "Whoever" says Jesus before going on to explain his terms and conditions: life will be given because Jesus has authority and grace but it will not be given to those who steadfastly refuse it.
There are just a couple of related conditions that Jesus flags up now for us and they demand a response from each of us. The kind of response that is necessary is not some kind of outward appearance of some kind of outward gesture that is no more than skin-
Whoever hears my voice
Whoever believes him who sent me
These are not alternatives, they go hand in hand together, they must go together. Jesus is not referring to having a bare external hearing it that leads to nothing. Our faith is not to be located in our ears but in our heart and so Jesus talks about an internal hearing of the heart that produces a spiritual understanding, he talks about gaining such an experimental knowledge of the truth that we approve of it, that we like it, that we love it. Jesus wants us to recognise that what he says is true and he wants us to be able to separate it from what is not so. He wants us to feel its power and he wants us to respond to it with the obedience of faith.
But to the one, whoever he is, who hears and believes Jesus makes two promises (or maybe one promise in two halves):
Firstly, he "has eternal life"
I want you to be clear about this:
A terrific change is wrought in the spiritual status of the man or woman who responds with faith to the Gospel. Before becoming a Christian the sinner has no spiritual life whatsoever:
If you are not yet a Christian then this is still your status at this moment in time – no spiritual life at all and under the wrath of God.
But come to Christ and you will live! The Christian believer is granted, and granted at once, eternal life. That new life, that spiritual life is kept safe, hidden in Christ for you but it also infuses and transforms everything about you from the moment of conversion on. You have the life of the age to come and in eternity you will live in the presence of God with joy and without fear for ever and for ever.
Secondly, "he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."
The believer was once in that awful situation of being by nature a child of wrath and had the wrath of God hanging over him but since hearing with a believing heart all that has changed! And Praise God that it has!!
The believer will never come into the judgment of condemnation ever again. The transition and the change could hardly be more dramatic than it actually is:
"he has passed from death to life".
This is exactly what we all need and yet which none of us by our efforts could ever secure but it comes to us as a gift of God's grace in Jesus Christ. He came and died that we might turn and live through believing in him.
This is a wonderfully full and complete acquittal and it is offered to us as Christ is presented to us.
What will you do with Jesus' words today? Will you receive them with faith and believe the God who sent him to be the Saviour of the World?
Make God have mercy on us all!