Good morning. It’s good to see you. If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab those. We are back in the gospel of John. If you were with us through the fall, we tackled most of the first four chapters in our fall, and now we’re going to be back into our study of the book of John. If you have your Bibles, we’re going to start in John 4:46. While you turn there, let me catch you up. I just want to recapture for a second what’s going on in the gospel of John. We don’t have to wonder what John is up to, because he clearly tells us the purpose in writing the book in verses 30-31 of John, chapter 20. This is what that text says:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The book of John is wrought by the Holy Spirit, given to the church for these reasons: that you and I might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised One, the Messiah and that all that the Old Testament has prophesied about in the fulfillment of God’s big plan of redemption and reconciliation with his creation is going to happen in the person and work of Jesus.
He’s writing to convince us of that, that he is not just the Christ but he is the Son of God. This is a sticking point with a lot of people, as we’ll see as we work our way through today’s text. Jesus is the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father, has always been, will always be, unlike any other who has ever been.
Jesus, although in flesh, fully human, is also fully God. He is not just some moral philosopher. He’s not just some teacher. If that’s what he was, maybe we could listen to what he said or maybe we didn’t have to listen to it. There are a lot of teachers out there. But he’s God. That is what John is after to convince us: he is the Christ, he is the Son of God, and lastly, so that we may have life in his name.
Now, we did a lot of work around that little word in. The concept of union with Christ is a massive theological, doctrinal study in the New Testament. In fact, I would encourage you to study on union with Christ and what that means. To be in Christ is to be in the righteousness of Christ, in the life of Christ, in the power of Christ. Us being in Christ is where life is found. Not off on our own with Jesus as kind of an add-on, but to be in Christ is significant.
One of the ways we talked about that early on (maybe you’ll remember this) is that you were made by Jesus for Jesus, which is why, ultimately, life in Christ is the only place we actually fully experience what God designed life to be. You have not been made by your spouse for your spouse, by your kids for your kids, by your work for your work. These things cannot fulfill you because they did not make you. Christ has made you; therefore, life is found in Christ. You have been made by Jesus for Jesus.
That’s just chapter 1. Then from there, we begin to watch Jesus become the “better than.” Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. No longer will we need to make sacrifices, because Christ will be our sacrifice once and for all. We saw that Jesus is bringing the new wine of the kingdom of God over old Jewish purification laws. We then saw that Jesus is God with us, not in a physical temple but indwelling our souls via the Holy Spirit, making us the temple of God.
We don’t have to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. We are the temple. This is huge and “other than” compared to any other religious system. Where does God dwell? In his people. It’s Christians alone who believe this. We are the temple of the living God. We then saw that there is new life offered to us. Not born of flesh and blood, not born of our own effort, not born of our family lineage but given freely by Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Our newness of life isn’t tied to the fact that our parents were Christians. Our newness of life isn’t tied to the fact that we’re trying really hard to be good. That’s not how you’re born again. You’re born again by the free gift of God’s grace through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit unto salvation. Lastly, we saw that the offer was living water bursting forth unto eternal life and that the way Jesus goes about that is almost always through our wound, through our shame, through our brokenness, through that place we want to hide.
So, this is what the gospel of John is all about. This is, at a cursory level, all that we covered in September, October, and November. You can go back and listen to those if you need to. Here’s the invitation that’s happening in the book of John. This is a Frederick Bruner quote. Here’s the invitation that’s for you today: “’Come into union with the Word who made you, and you will come to Life!’ ’You came from him; please come back to him.’ ’You were made for him.’ The result of this reunion will be more than human existence; it will be human ’Life.’”
That’s the invitation for you today. That’s the invitation for me today. I have said yes to this invitation, and I woke up early this morning and said yes to it again. This is what you’re invited into. Not necessarily moral betterment. This is what you’re called to: union with Christ, reconciliation with your Creator. Not just human existence…life. If the word over your life right now would maybe be the word bland, empty, in vain, this is the invitation: come past human experience unto life.
I don’t know if anybody saw the suicide letter that was posted in the New York Post this past week from the dietician in Manhattan, a young, beautiful woman, everything going for her. She wrote a letter of the emptiness of life and the things she would miss, like a wine and cheese board, that she would miss those things but she had found them ultimately all to be vain. Human existence versus life. What you’re being invited into is life…blandness removed, life infused. Not ease, not comfort…life.
We get another front-row seat today. The front-row seat we have to all of this happening in the gospel of John is going to revolve around the authority of Jesus. We’re going to see the authority of Jesus over human categories; we’re going to see the authority of Jesus over, let’s call it, human fragility; and then we’re going to look at how authority lands on us and how it can be a real struggle for us. With that said, we’re going to start in John 4:46. Here’s what it says:
“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, ’Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’” He rebukes this man, kind of, and look at what happens.
“The official said to him, ’Sir, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus said to him, ’Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ’Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ’Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ’Do you want to be healed?’
The sick man answered him, ’Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ’Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day 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.’” You want to talk about adventures in missing the point. I’d be careful about giggling. That’s going to be us in a moment.
“But he answered them, ’The man who healed me, that man said to me, ”Take up your bed, and walk.“’ They asked him, ’Who is the man who said to you, ”Take up your bed and walk“?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him [sought him out] in the temple and said to him, ’See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’
The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ’My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ 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.”
I said there are two things in particular that are happening here around the authority of Jesus. First, you’re seeing the authority of Jesus over human categories. Let me explain that. If we followed the flow, the narrative arc in the gospel of John, Jesus is engaging across the social spectrum. If you remember back to the fall, the first interaction we see is with Jesus and Nicodemus, who is this ruling religious elite, and Jesus calls him unto this life, calls him to surrender to his authority as the Son of God, as the Christ.
Then from Nicodemus, who is this high religious official, we see the invitation to the low Samaritan woman outcast to come into this life, and now early on in this story you see another high secular official come, and Jesus invites him into this life. Now you have an invalid of 38 years being called into this life. He is deconstructing the human category that all of us, whether we’re aware of it or not, make decisions around, which is ultimately who actually matters.
Look at me. I know nobody in this room thinks they actually do that. I don’t think I do that. I mean, I teach on the imago Dei. I think everybody matters equally, but if you watched my life you’d probably see something a little different. What strikes me as fascinating is that when Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the festival, he doesn’t start at the temple. He doesn’t start at these places in Jerusalem you just have to see. He went to the colonnades where all of the invalids were, where the blind and the lame…
If you’ve traveled the world, there are places in cities that smell so bad they’ll burn your eyes and nose and you won’t be able to forget the smell. That’s where Jesus went. Years ago, when I was doing college ministry, we took a spring break trip every year, and I took these kids to the Dream Center in Los Angeles. The Dream Center is tied to the Assemblies of God. They bought the old Queen of Angels Hospital in LA, and each floor, they have a ministry that does outreach to the least of these.
They take a group down to Skid Row. They go out at night and minister to the male and female prostitutes. They bring them white roses and invite them in. You don’t at any point go down to Hollywood Boulevard when you’re at the Dream Center. You go to Skid Row. You don’t see the sights; you go where the most broken are, where the least of these are, where the most hopelessness is to carry the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus shows up at Jerusalem, he doesn’t go to the temple; he goes to Skid Row. He starts there. He’s deconstructing the human category of who ultimately matters. We’re all guilty of this. If you have a background in church, don’t we get really geeked up when somebody famous is a Christian? I remember after my conversion, anytime there was somebody who even just said something spiritual in a song I would tell my mom, “Oh my gosh! They’re Christians, Mom. I can have that CD. They’re believers. Look. ’Going up to the spirit in the sky.’ They obviously love Jesus Christ. This is a Christian band.”
I watch my own kids do that now. We have parameters that are meant to guard their minds and hearts. It’s not uncommon to go, “Oh, look. I think they might love Jesus. I don’t know. I know there are a couple of F bombs in this record, but I think they might actually love Jesus.” We so want some famous, beautiful person to validate us, but Jesus shows up at the colonnades. He’s deconstructing this question of who matters.
In fact, one of the things you’re seeing about the authority of Jesus over human categories is that he tends to transcend socioeconomics, gifts and abilities, ethnicity, background, current reality. Jesus is bigger than all of that. Jesus is just bigger than all of that. I’ve tried to highlight this over and over and over again for 16 years. The people God uses most profoundly in the Bible are not people anyone here is going to hire to work with them.
You can just pick whomever you want to pick out of the Bible. There are maybe four people who would pass muster, with Christ being one of those. It’s broken human rejects with significant issues, whether that issue be anger, whether that issue be lust, whether that issue be greed. Whatever it is, they’re humans, and they’re on the fringes, and Jesus brings them into the kingdom, gives them life, and uses them profoundly.
I just wonder how many of you are still spectators in this great call because you think you’re not good enough yet. I want to love you well enough to say you won’t be, ever, because it’s his goodness that we lean into, not our own. It’s his power, not ours. Jesus’ authority transcends our categories. He shatters them. He goes and picks an invalid of 38 years. Invalid. Do you know those two words? In-valid. Doesn’t matter. Can’t contribute. Yet this is where Jesus chooses to go.
It’s not just his authority over human categories. (The Lord was sweet to me this week to let me be in this text in this season of my own life for a variety of reasons, some of which you know, some of which you don’t know.) We also see the authority of Jesus over human fragility. First of all, let’s just talk about the two healings. The two healings are spectacular in and of themselves. This dad comes from Capernaum to Cana. That’s 20 miles by foot. He comes to ask Jesus to heal his son.
It’s obvious now that his son is not going to make it, so in a great deal of desperation, this man with money and title and power feels a universal human experience, which is powerlessness, and in desperation he walks 20 miles, 40 miles round-trip, in the hope that Jesus, this man he has heard about, might heal his son. So he approaches Jesus, and Jesus rebukes him. “Will you heal my son?” Jesus says, “Oh, you guys always need a sign. You won’t just believe. You always want magic.”
In desperation, the father is undeterred. He says, “Sir, heal my son.” And Jesus heals his son from 20 miles away. “Go, your son is well.” There’s this fascinating story here. The thing I want to highlight on this and then also… I say this all the time. I just want to keep saying it. The more significant things Jesus accomplishes in your life are going to take place over a long period of time in a way that you don’t even recognize is happening.
We grow spiritually oftentimes like we grow physically. If you’ve had children or you’ve been around children, you know you can stare at them all you want; you never watch them pop up an inch. They just come downstairs one day, and you’re like, “Good lord! How much do you weigh now, bro?” My son right now is like a freak. I don’t know when that happened, but he went from baby boy to a little shadow on his lip, like overnight. It wasn’t overnight. But that’s how we grow spiritually.
Although we’re going to see powerful, instantaneous healing, I don’t want you to miss the fact that this brother has been an invalid for 38 years. That’s a long time to wait on the Lord, isn’t it? I’ve had to wait a couple of years and got antsy. Thirty-eight years praying, wanting to be healed, being unable to move toward your healing, being stuck before breakthrough happens? We need that category. We need the expectation of breakthrough and the patience to wait on the Lord.
The thing I want to highlight in this authority over human fragility is the fact that powerlessness is a universal human experience. If you live long enough, you will eventually feel powerless. This brother, 38 years an invalid, is powerless to get to the water, and this secular official with all his wealth, with all his authority, with all his power cannot heal his son.
Here’s part of the invitation around Jesus’ authority. You and I are limited in our authority. I have some authority. I have a staff. I have people who answer to me. I’m an elder at this church. I’m the lead pastor. I have some authority, but my authority is fragile and limited. What can happen to me… I’m not projecting on you; I’m just talking about me. I think you’re probably farther along than I am.
When I feel powerless, a couple of things happen. I double down on control and I get angry. Anybody else? If I feel powerless, I kind of shift up. I power up my intuitive gifts that God wove into me for his glory and my gladness, and I will try to control a situation, almost always making it worse. I will feel fear because of my powerlessness, and fear makes me angry.
Then instead of resting in the one with all the power, instead of resting in the one who’s able, instead of resting in the Son of God, Christ, the Sovereign King of everything, I will put the weight on me and in anger and exhaustion try to fight my way forward to my own shame and to the hurt of everybody around me.
One of the things you’re seeing Jesus do right here is go, “I have power over human fragility; you don’t. At your strongest you’re weak. You at your best is not enough.” You’re going to see Jesus start to hold hands as we work through the gospel of John. He’s like, “You, when you’re most desperate, you’re most powerless, you’re most needy…that’s you at your most powerful.” How upside down is that? “When you have no more cards to play, that’s when you’re going to see my hand.”
Can we just have a real talk really quickly? I’d rather see his hand when I have a lot of energy and things are awesome. Anybody? If I could rewrite this, which nobody wants… There are so many texts in the Bible that are trying to teach us and disciple us in the opposite direction that we’re trying to be discipled by the day in which we live. Namely, that meekness and weakness and desperation and brokenness is a launching pad for power…Jesus’ power.
Part of that means I need to continually be aware of my own tendency to want to control situations when I feel powerless, as a husband, as a daddy, as a pastor, as a leader. I want to control. I am a gifted man in several areas. I have horrific weaknesses. You don’t want me adding stuff. You don’t want me anywhere near numbers, but I have some intuitive gifts. They translate well across the domains God has called me into. So it’s easy for me to rely on those and, when I feel powerless, to power up to try to overcompensate for my weakness.
The authority of Jesus beckons me to rest in his authority and not try to flex my own. If I can do that, then I’m trusting one who is not powerless and never will be powerless. So, that’s one of the things we’re seeing here: Jesus’ authority over physical fragility. But it’s not just physical fragility. In fact, I want to argue that there’s a double healing that happens in both of these stories. Let me show you this. Look back at verse 53.
You have this physical healing of the son 20 miles away, and then this is what you read in verse 53: “The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ’Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.” You have this double healing. You have the physical healing that then leads to the deep spiritual healing. There was not belief and now there is belief. There was desperation that now gives way to faith in the one who actually holds the power.
This man is not just saved physically; his whole household is healed spiritually. Then there’s this really strange… I wish I had more time to teach on this, but this is Jesus’ authority over spiritual fragility. Look now in chapter 5, verses 14-16. Jesus has healed the invalid. The invalid doesn’t know who healed him, and Jesus then, in turn, seeks him out because the healing is not complete.
“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ’See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.” I wish I could get into verse 15 and how dumb that makes this man, knowing that the Pharisees were seeking to persecute Jesus, but neither here nor there.
There’s something Jesus is doing here I just want to touch on, warn you against, and then I want us to move on. Jesus is making something that you and I should not be too bold to make. He is making a connection between sin and sickness. Do you see that? Now, we’re going to find out in John 9 that Jesus clearly says there is sickness that is not due to sin, that you haven’t personally sinned and that’s why you’re sick.
If you’re bent that way, hear me: John 9. Read it. “’Is this man blind because of his sin or his parents?’ ’Neither, but so that God might be glorified.’” But in this individual case, something in this man’s life that was sinful was connected to him being an invalid for 38 years. So Jesus heals him and then warns him not to sin so that something worse might not happen to him. We see echoes of this in the Bible. Let me show you Psalm 32:3-5.
“For when I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah.” Which means, “Think about that.” Then he goes on and says, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ’I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin [and healed me]. Selah.”
If we just stopped at this point, this is a Jesus almost everybody would get on board for. “Jesus is all-powerful where you are powerless. Walk with Jesus.” Everybody is like, “Oh. He has power? Oh, I’m all in on that.” “Jesus can physically heal. He can spiritually heal.” Anybody with depression or anxiety or emptiness or blandness is like, “Yeah, yeah. I want some of that.”
What’s happening in this passage around the authority of Jesus is if we’re not careful we begin to believe we can harness Jesus’ authority like a genie in a bottle for us, but you actually see the authority of Jesus landing on men and women in a way that leads them to persecute Jesus, hate Jesus, and ultimately want to kill Jesus. Look there in verse 16.
“And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.” That’s going to be the first point under this authority of Jesus in question. “But Jesus answered them, ’My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” That’s a little play on words. The “I Am.” If you were here in Exodus, you’ll understand it. “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.”
Two things about the authority of Jesus. First, the authority of Jesus is going to confront strongly held belief in our lives. In this passage, that strongly held belief is around the Sabbath. Jesus, in his life and with his authority, is confronting a strongly held belief, and it has created anger and animosity toward the authority of Jesus, so much so they couldn’t celebrate the healing power over a 38-year cripple because Jesus was confronting them in his authority. Strongly held beliefs around the Sabbath.
Now, because we’re in 2019, most of us don’t have strong conviction around the Sabbath. Some of us have strong conviction around the Sabbath in that we’re trying to practice a sabbath, but I’m guessing that many of us aren’t going to turn our backs on Jesus because of Sabbath teaching. But Jesus will confront you and me over and over and over again with his authority. He is not just a teacher; he’s God.
Jesus is going to confront us. He’s going to confront our culture around issues of sexuality, around issues of marriage, around issues of holiness. He’s going to confront us, and when that confrontation happens, we will say, “The authority of Jesus wins” or “My preference wins, and Jesus is meant to serve my preference and my desire and what I want and what I think is best for me.” Although very few of you in this room think that collision is coming, it’s coming.
The Word of God, the Spirit of Christ dwelling inside of you will confront a compulsion you have, and in that moment you’ll say, “I’m going to submit to the one with the power; I’m going to submit to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords” or you will choose, “I am the king. I am the lord of my life.” I would just testify to you that I would love it if Jesus and I just got in that skirmish once, but 20-something years into trying to fully surrender to him, a couple of times a month this pops up.
The righteous path is oftentimes a difficult path. It’s not always easy to follow the Lord, even with all of the promises we know are true. There are things Jesus asks us to step into, and he asks us to step into them because he knows what’s best for us far more than we do. I talk about this all the time.
I am smarter than my 9-year-old. That doesn’t have to do with intellect alone; it has to do with the fact that I’m about to be 45 and she’s 9, which means I’ve seen the world in a way that she has not. If God is infinite and has always been, won’t he and I disagree? Surely. Is he not the one who should be trusted over my own compulsions and impulses? Yeah. Jesus’ authority is going to confront you. What you do with that at the time kind of lays before you whether you’re going to step into life or choose existence.
The other thing you see here and why this is so important is that Jesus is claiming to be God. If Jesus is just a man, if he’s just a good teacher, then maybe you listen to him, maybe you don’t listen to him. There are a thousand teachers out there. But because Jesus is God, his teachings aren’t suggestions. In fact, let me give you my favorite C.S. Lewis quote, and then I want to land this. This is from C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. If you haven’t read that, I would just commend you to read Mere Christianity.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.
You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
If Jesus is God, then his commands on our lives are authoritative in a way that no other teaching and no other command is. The “Thou shalt nots” and the “Thou shalts” become on a level of importance beyond anything in our imagination. If you’ve ever been in your car and looked in your rearview mirror and saw that there was a police officer behind you, you immediately, whether you’re speeding or not, will tap your brakes really quickly. Won’t you? Am I making this up? Is this just me? You might not even be speeding. You’re like, “Whoa! Oh gosh. I was going 20.”
You’ve done this, and you’ve seen people do it. Then you will go below the speed limit. You don’t know what kind of mood that brother is in. You’ll kind of back up. Why? Because he has the kind of authority that flips on lights, and the next thing you know you’re funding a road or something around here. If something as small as a couple hundred bucks and maybe an insurance hike if you’ve already done deferred education…
If something that small makes you so anxious you pop your brakes the second you see, why doesn’t the authority of Jesus as God create in us a quick reaction to pop the brake and go, “Whoa! God is clearly asking me to do this. I clearly don’t want to do this. There is a collision of wills here. There is a collision of authority here. Am I going to be the authority or am I going to submit to his authority?”
This is why people don’t follow Jesus. They love the idea of his healing power. You’ll hear people talk about “God is love. Jesus is love.” Love is weighty. It’s not just an emotive thing. It puts parameters and guards. I love my children; therefore, there are rules. Not to crush them…for their safety, for their well-being, for their joy.
Where are you with the authority of Jesus? He cannot just be a magic healer, Spirit sprinkle, “all about what you ultimately want” Savior. He is our Lord, rightfully demanding full submission. It’s a process to get there, but it’s one that we will make over and over and over again the decision of “This is my compulsion. This is relationship with you. I’m going to choose relationship with you. It is ’better than.’” Let’s pray.
Father, thank you for these men and women, your grace and mercy on our lives. We just praise you, lift you high. Thank you for your grace. It’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen.