Equal with God
Series: The Gospel of John
The Bible tells us clearly to worship one and only one God. But Christians worship Jesus. How can that be ok? Because Jesus is equal with God.
It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving, which means Christmas is approaching soon. I’m one of those people who only listens to Christmas music after Thanksgiving; no judgment on you if you start earlier. But that means I’ve got it on now, and my favorite Christmas song is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. In that song there’s a line that says this: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity.” In this song, Charles Wesley, the writer of the hymn, tells us to hail God, to worship God, in Jesus Christ, because he says that in Jesus’ flesh God was truly there, though veiled. The claim is so bold that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir edited the line out in their version of Hark!. Is it true, though? After all, we must admit that in the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t just go around telling people He’s God and calling them to worship Him. Nonetheless, we are going to see in this passage that Wesley was right. Though the Godhead is genuinely veiled in Christ, which explains why He’s not just going around flaunting it, it’s really there, and because it is, we must hail Him. Jesus is equal with God, and this passage gives us three proofs of that: He heals, He commands, and He works.
After a time in the surrounding region of Galilee, our text tells us that Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. In Jerusalem there is a pool of water to which various invalids would go, as legend had developed that the pool, when stirred up, could heal those who enter it. When Jesus arrives the text tells us there are multitudes of invalids around the pool, but Jesus goes to one in particular, a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. Last week we saw Jesus heal a child who was on his deathbed. That was more of an emergency situation. Here there is no emergency; the issue is chronic. He’s been an invalid for 38 years.
Over the years here we’ve had people in our church dealing with chronic pain issues, and it can be terrible. There is an ongoing oscillation between hope and despair. You want to believe you can get better, but then you talk to another doctor who can’t diagnose what’s wrong with you. You pray for healing, but then it doesn’t come. How many times in the 38 years of this man’s life do you think he prayed for healing? You try that surgery, you see another specialist, and it seems like this time it will work…until it doesn’t. Sometimes friends and even doctors don’t believe you at all; I was just talking with a member a couple weeks ago who said that’s one of the most frustrating parts of her chronic pain. Maybe you even try things that seem a bit outlandish and superstitious like this man going to a pool hoping that when it is stirred up, he will be healed. And then there are plenty of times where you give up all hope of getting better and descend into self-pity, telling yourself that nobody sees or cares.
Well, Jesus saw this man. Verse 6 tells us not only did Jesus see him, but Jesus knew he had already been there a long time. Jesus just arrived in town; how would He have known that this man had already been there a long time? This is one of the early clues in the passage that Jesus is equal with God, and one we’ve seen throughout John: He knows things no ordinary human could know. And what this reveals about God is that even when none of your friends or doctors believe you, even when it feels like no one sees you or cares about your chronic pain or illness, God sees you. He knows. So Jesus saw the man and asked him if he wanted to be healed. Jesus’ willingness to heal is not in question; He simply asks the man if he wants to receive it. As is often the case in these dialogues, the man responds not really knowing to whom he’s speaking. He assumes what Jesus meant when He asked the man if he wanted to be healed was, “Hey, why aren’t you getting in the water? Don’t you want to be healed?” And so the man explains that he has no one to put him in, and others always beat him to the punch anyway. Jesus loves to do good to such people. In His kingdom, the last are first.
So instead of taking this man down into the pool, Jesus speaks to the man and says in verse 8: “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” What a crazy command, right? This man has been an invalid for 38 years. Jesus tells Him to get up, carry the bed on which he’d been laying, and walk. And verse 9 tells us that at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Jesus, in giving the command, also gave the power to obey the command. Who can do such a thing? We have a lot of medical professionals in our church and city, but they’ll be the first to tell you that commanding an invalid to walk isn’t the standard operating procedure. In fact, it only discourages people further to tell them to do things they cannot do, unless, of course, you can also grant them the power to do what you command. So Augustine prayed, “Father, command what you will, and give what you command,” because he knew he needed God to grant him the ability to obey what God commanded. This passage shows us that Jesus too can give us the ability to obey what He commands, because He is equal with the Father. Are there things Jesus has commanded that you think you could never obey? On one level you’re right; we’re all spiritual invalids, and in and of our ourselves, we lack the power to do what Jesus commands. But Jesus doesn’t lack the power to give what He commands. As you go to Him, He will give you the power to do what He commands. And so He did here, giving this invalid the power to obey His command to rise, and healing Him that very day.
And yet, Jesus didn’t heal everyone that day. Recall that there were a multitude of invalids at this pool called Bethesda, but this is the only one we read of Jesus healing. The miracles Jesus performed were not ends in themselves; they were signs, meant to reveal Jesus’ identity as equal with the Father, and pointing forward to a day when all the invalids would hear Jesus’ voice and rise, those trusting Him to everlasting life, those rejecting Him to everlasting judgment. Trust in Jesus, and you will be healed of all your sickness one day, whether from death or before it. He is sovereign over the timing of that healing; there was nothing in this man that cajoled healing out of Jesus. We do not read that he was more righteous than the others at the pool that day, or that he had more faith than they. Jesus chose him; he did not choose Jesus. There is no technique through which you can force God to heal you. Tell Him you want to be healed, ask Him to do it, but trust Him with the timing and manner in which He heals. Even this invalid would one day be paralyzed again by death, as will the rest of us, and both his ultimate healing and ours will only come when Jesus speaks to us in our graves and tells us to rise. He has that kind of authority, an authority He lets us see here, because He is one with the Father. The healing itself is issued in the form of a command, and the way Jesus issues commands in this passage also shows us that He is equal with God.
So after the man is healed, John notes at the end of verse 9 that the day on which he was healed was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “it is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” Here the word Jews doesn’t mean Jewish people generally, but is a kind of shorthand for the Jewish leaders of that time and those who followed them. And you’ve got to hand it to religious leaders: A guy gets healed, and instead of celebrating that, they tell him he can’t carry his bed on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the seventh day of the week, what we now call Saturday, and God did require that the people rest from their ordinary labors on that day. However, a tradition had then grown up around it that wasn’t from God and that added commandments to what God had commanded, one of which was the idea that on the Sabbath you could not carry an item from one location to another. Now here is this man carrying his mat, so they rebuke him.
Look at how the man responds, though, verse 11: “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” These are the religious leaders of his people, but now this man says he broke their command to obey another command. Why did he feel free to do that? Because Jesus was the man who healed him. He’d been an invalid for 38 years, and none of these religious leaders could heal him. But this man, Jesus, did, and that revealed not only Jesus’ authority over sickness. It revealed Jesus’ authority over all other religious teachers, such that when Jesus’ commands contradict the commands of the religious teachers, you obey Jesus, not them. His teaching didn’t contradict God’s; that’s impossible. But His teaching will often contradict that of people, even people holding religious titles. And these weren’t even religious leaders of some false religion; they were Jewish leaders, the people God had chosen for Himself. But Jesus ranks higher than they even, because God ranks higher than they, and Jesus is equal with God.
And that’s true also of the voices you might be prone to obey. Sometimes for those of you who grew up in communities of faith, it may be those voices. Often those are helpful voices too, but they aren’t ultimate. If you find Jesus, by His Spirit, in Scripture, commands you to do something, you need to do it, even if it goes against the tradition in which you were raised and the teachers to whom you looked up. We see this happen commonly with baptism: To obey Jesus’ command to be baptized, sometimes it means disobeying your parents or home church which taught that you were baptized as an infant, even though in the Bible faith on the part of the recipient is an essential component of baptism. It can happen with worship practices. I had a great conversation with a member the other day who was pointing out a way we did something different from her previous churches, and when I explained to her that the way her previous churches did it wasn’t in the Bible, she was cool with it, because she wanted to obey Jesus more than men. It may be a host of other things: Your influences growing up told you you had to hit certain financial goals on earth; Jesus tells you to store up treasure in heaven. Here’s one I see a lot: Your influences tell you you have to have a big amazing wedding, so couples indulge in sexual immorality while putting off marriage unnecessarily, while Jesus says if you cannot exercise self-control, you should marry. Jesus is equal with God; obey His commands over those of people.
And then there’s another command Jesus gives to this man. Jesus finds him in the temple later and verse 14 records these words from Jesus to the man: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” Notice the order of the command here. Jesus didn’t first secure from the man a commitment to sin no more before He healed him. He healed him first, and then announced to him the good news of his healing: See, you are well! And then He goes to the people He’s saved and says, “See, you are well! Sin no more.” So one error this corrects is thinking that Jesus is still waiting for you to clean yourself up before He’ll save you, that if you could just get that one sin that’s still pestering you out of your life, then He’ll be for you. That’s false. He saves before we go and sin no more, or else we never could go and sin no more. On the flipside, another error this guards against is thinking that because Jesus saves us before we sin no more, that we therefore don’t need to sin no more. No; just as Jesus has authority to heal, He has authority to command, and those who would have Him as their healer and Savior are obligated to also then obey Him as their Lord. So go and sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.
Jesus adds that warning, right? And what could be worse than being invalid for 38 years? Here Jesus is speaking of the coming judgment, when those who refuse to go and sin no more will be judged for their sins and sentenced not to 38 years of paralysis, but to an eternity of conscious torment. If the saving work of Jesus which you profess to have received doesn’t produce in you a willingness to go and sin no more, then you will face a judgment far worse than any pain you’ve experienced in this life. The salvation Jesus gives is not the freedom to sin, so that we might go and sin more after receiving it. It’s freedom from sin, so that we might go and sin no more after receiving it.
I had a good conversation with a lady who is newer here and is considering baptism, and one of the things we try to do with anyone considering baptism is to help them come to a deeper understanding of the gospel, so they know what they are professing faith in. As we were talking, she told me of a way the Holy Spirit had recently made her aware of a sin in her life which she had then chosen to forsake. I tried to help her see that even before she forsook that sin, she was just as justified in God’s sight as she is today, because the righteousness of Jesus had been imputed to her by faith. But she helpfully replied, “Right, but if God had shown me that I was sinning and I kept doing it, that wouldn’t have been good, right?” And she was exactly right. Precisely because she professed faith in Christ, she sensed that she needed to go and sin no more.
Every experience of sickness and suffering should serve to remind us that there is a worse judgment coming. And every time we are healed from sickness, it a kind of mini salvation. Our life on earth has been extended. We aren’t yet facing the judgment, and God has been exceedingly gracious to us. Therefore, go and sin no more. That’s one of the ways you, in the words of older theologians, “improve” a time of sickness. In other words, that’s one of the ways you can not waste a time of sickness, but use it to grow in godliness. You can let it remind you of the coming judgment, give thanks to God that you haven’t yet faced it, and use any healing you experience from it as another evidence of God’s goodness, another reason and opportunity to go and sin no more. That’s what Jesus commands of those He heals, and ultimately, of those He saves. He has the authority to do so because He is equal with God.
Nonetheless, there is still this dangling question about the Sabbath. This man goes and tells the religious leaders that Jesus is the one who healed him, and in verse 16 we read that they began persecuting Jesus not because He healed a man; even religious leaders don’t typically get mad about that. They persecuted Jesus because He healed the man on the Sabbath. How would Jesus defend Himself against this charge? He shows the ultimate way He is equal with the Father: As His Father is working until now, He works.
There was, after all, a genuine prohibition of work on the Sabbath that God had given. So what gave Jesus the right to work on it? Well, there had always also been provision within God’s law for doing works of mercy on the Sabbath, which Jesus’ work here would have qualified as. In other encounters with the Jewish leaders of His day, Jesus gives that answer. But that’s not the answer He gave this time. This time He presents a fact: His father is working until now. In other words, God doesn’t stop working on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was originally instituted by God to mark the way He did stop His work of creation on the seventh day of the creation week, recorded in Genesis 1-2. So while God did rest from His work of creation, He didn’t then become inactive. In Psalm 104, for example, after the Psalmist praises God for His work of creation, he says this: “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work” (Psalm 104:10-13). Theologically the way we’d say this is that God’s work of creation is complete, but His work of providence continues. Without that ongoing work of God, our universe would fall apart. It’s because God works on the Sabbath that we can take time to rest.
Ok, so God works on the Sabbath; fair enough. But how does that justify Jesus working on the Sabbath? Look at how He describes God in verse 17. He doesn’t just say God is working until now. He says “My Father” is working until now. He doesn’t even say Our Father; Jesus taught His disciples to pray that way. He refers to God with a singular possessive pronoun. He’s my Father, and in doing this, He was saying something unique about Himself, and the Jews recognize it in verse 18: Not only was He breaking the Sabbath, He was calling God His own Father, which was to make Himself equal with God. He’s saying He is the Son of God in a unique way, and throughout the Gospel of John, John calls Him God’s “only Son.” And why’s that make Him equal with God? Well, when a human gives birth to a son, what do they give birth to? Another human. So when God gives birth to a son, what does He give birth to? Another god? Well that can’t work, because part of what it means to be God is there is only one of you. If God has a Son, then, that Son must be one in being with God Himself. And therefore, that Son is equal with God.
And that explains why if the Father is working until now, the Son is too. Bear with me for another minute here because I want to teach you a theological term and I know for some personality types that makes you eyes roll back in your head, but I think it’ll help. The term is “inseparable operations.” Operations in theological terminology means works, and the idea of inseparable operations is this: When God works inside Himself, as when the Father eternally begets the Son, those operations are separable, meaning they’re true of one person, and not of another. So the Father begets the Son, but the Son does not beget the Father. But when God works outside of Himself, as when He creates, or in this case, when He engages in the work of providence, He does so by His power, and His power, like all of His attributes, is one with His essence, which subsists in all three persons. Therefore, the works or operations of God outside of Himself are inseparable. If the Father does something outside Himself, the Son and Spirit do it too, and vice versa. That’s inseparable operations. And that’s why the Father’s working on the Sabbath justifies the Son’s working on the Sabbath. The Father is always working but never tiring, and so also the Son is always working but never tiring. The healing of this man is just one more manifestation of that.
So do you see what a bold claim Jesus is making here? His original audience recognized it, and spoiler alert: Jesus doesn’t correct them. He doesn’t say, “Well now hold up; I wasn’t trying to make myself equal with God.” There’s no denying it: That’s exactly what He was doing. The Bible is clear from beginning to end that there is only one God, and now here is this man claiming to be that only God as His Son. If that’s not true, that’s one of those big deal sins in the Bible. In Ezekiel 28, God says to the prince of Tyre that because he called himself a god, God was sending people to kill him. In Ezekiel 29, God says he will put hooks in the Pharaoh of Egypt’s mouth and cast him into the stream because he claimed he made the Nile river, thus making himself equal with God. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon tried to exalt himself to position of a god, God made him dwell among the beasts of the field and eat grass with them. So this is no light thing for Jesus to be claiming about Himself, and in response to it, the religious were seeking all the more to kill Him.
And kill Him they would. The day came when Jesus was paralyzed with His hands and feet nailed to a cross. Though He had the power to prevent it, He didn’t, because He came not ultimately to heal one man who had been an invalid for 38 years. He came to save the world, so that whoever believes in Him would receive the ultimate healing of eternal life, and to accomplish that work, He had to first go through death Himself. On the cross something worse happened to Him than 38 years of paralysis: The judgment our sins deserved was poured out on Him, so that nothing worse might happen to us. And three days later He rose from the ultimate paralysis of death when He got up and walked out of the tomb. He accomplished everything necessary for the salvation of whoever would believe in Him. So now the question comes to you: Do you want to be healed? Come to Him, be healed of your sins, and then go and sin no more. You will still die, but nothing worse will happen to you, and one day you will hear the voice of Jesus Himself: Get up, take up your bed, and walk. At once you will be healed, never to face sickness or death again. And you will join the innumerable gathering from every tribe, tongue, and nation, to worship the Son with a glory equal to the Father forever.