Work is Work

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Gospel of John 5:14-47

14 After this Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “Look, you have become well. Don’t sin any more, lest anything worse happen to you.” 15 The man went away and informed the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the one who had made him well. NET

This case involves a man who was unable to walk for thirty-eight years. Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk. When the Jewish leaders saw the man carrying his mat, they asked him, ‘Why are you carrying a load on the Sabbath?’ The man told me to. Who? What man?

Now we return to Jesus in the Temple. He sees the man and advises him to give up sinning. We moderns know that sin does not directly cause physical illness. We also know that alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and overeating can cause serious physical issues. Abuse of just about anything can cause problems. But is that sin?

It was not until the sixteenth century that medical professionals began to talk about causes without mentioning sin. In the mid-nineteenth century, doctors in German hospitals started talking about the Germ Theory. That theory became accepted by the beginning of the twentieth century in most of Europe. But only by the youngest doctors in the US. Sadly, the older US doctors did most of the treatments during the Great War, and too many men died needlessly.

Chrysostom about 390 CE made the standard statement on sin as a cause. But someone might ask, “Do all diseases proceed from sin?” Not all, but most do. Jesus did admonish his disciples once that sin had not caused a man’s illness because they all assumed sin caused all illness. It would be easy to say that Jesus believed that as well, except that God the Father was aware of bacterium and viruses.

John knew nothing of modern medicine, so wrote what he remembered happening some sixty years earlier. By now, we should have a strong sense that Jesus did what God directed him to do. God sent him to the pool of Bethesda to look for a specific man. When they meet again, the man learns the name of Jesus. Jesus also told him, Don’t sin any more, lest anything worse happen to you. John does not tell us why Jesus said that. But Jesus would know the state of the man’s relation to God. He would also know the cause of his condition, and it may have been the result of sin.

16 Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began persecuting him. 17 So he told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason the Jewish leaders were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God. NET

John spells out the issue about working on the Sabbath. The Jewish law is found in Exodus 20:10, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gatesNET Jeremiah 17:21-22 expands the law, at least in the minds of the leaders. 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gatesNET

Those two passages of scripture left room for improvement. The rabbis created a comprehensive list of what labor is. The Mishnah records many of the decisions over the centuries. Here are a few. A tailor should not go out carrying his needle near nightfall. A scribe should not go out with his pen. On the Sabbath, one should not search his clothes for fleas or read by the light of a lamp. They do not soak ink, dyestuffs, or vetches on Friday afternoon unless there is sufficient time for them to be fully soaked while it is still day.

No wonder Jesus was at odds with the leaders. Yes, Genesis records that God took the day off, yet nothing stopped; the sun and moon continued to rise and fall, rain came and went, animals needed feeding. Genesis 2:1-2. The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. JPS Torah

Jesus told the leaders that God is working today, and so am I. God does not stop loving on the Sabbath, nor does he ignore people’s suffering any more than we would ignore an animal that had slipped into icy water.

John records a lengthy speech by Jesus. John likely remembered many of the statements made by Jesus on that day. But he also came to understand them better in the intervening decades. What he records includes the meaning and the words of the Word.

19 So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed. NET 

The Son can do nothing on his own. We should be clear; Jesus is not saying he is a robot. Unlike us, Jesus has an unbroken connection with God the Father. The Son would never do anything contrary to what the Father wished. Jesus does not have to be told ten times to take out the trash.

The next sentence, for whatever the Father does, tells us that God continues to work in the world even on Sabbath. William Barclay writes, Jesus teaches that human need must always be helped: that there is no greater task than to relieve someone’s pain and distress and that the Christian’s compassion must be like God’s—unceasing. Other work may be laid aside but the work of compassion never.

These two verses are part of John’s effort to maintain the new and changing Christian Church as a monotheistic religion. Near the end of his life, John wanted Jews and others to know that Jesus only claimed to be one with God, not a separate god. John’s Gospel did not solve the problem. It took the church more than three hundred years to once-and-for-all establish that God is present in three forms, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the Trinity. It was argued and debated until 381 CE when the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was adopted.

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. 22 Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. NET

Most Jews of the first century believed in life after earthly death. Only the Sadducees rejected the possibility. Passages such as Isaiah 26:19; the dry bones in Ezekiel 37; Job’s belief in a coming redeemer in Job 19:25-27; and Daniel 12:2 with multitudes rising from their graves. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish belief was that God alone would raise the dead.

At this point in the Gospel, John has not recorded Jesus raising anyone from the grave, so John has Jesus saying that he gives life. [Lazarus will come in chapter 11.] Based on verse 21, we could say Jesus never raised anyone from the dead, God alone did that. In fact, Jesus always gives credit to God the Father, except for judgment, as verse 22 clarifies.

Having read some of the Old Testament, I remember passages involving God’s judgment. Is Jesus saying that he alone judges, or is he saying that he will be the exclusive judge from now on?

God alone is the Judge in the Old Testament. Yet, the New Testament has passages in agreement. Hebrews 12. 22But you have come to Mount Zion, the city[a] of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly 23and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, NET

1 Peter 1. 17 And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. NET There are others.

In the Synoptics, there are numerous parables in which Jesus appears as a judge, although in some, God judges. [The word parable appears 23 times in Matthew, 23 in Luke, 15 in Mark, but only once in John.]

John alone has Jesus saying that God the Father has given the duty of judging to him. But he adds in 5:30 and 8:16-16 that Jesus’ judgment is because he does what the Father wants.

There is also a paradox in John’s reporting of Jesus as judge. In John 9:39 and 12:47, Jesus claims he came to save the world. That would seem to contradict the role of the judge. As with all other paradoxes involving Jesus—the lion and the lamb—he has both savior and judge. John will let both play out as we read on. Jesus offers everyone the chance to enter God’s presence and will judge those who enter and those who do not enter.

24 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the solemn truth, a time is coming—and is now here—when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself, 27 and he has granted the Son authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. NET

In case we have forgotten, all that Jesus is saying is in response to the Jewish leaders accusing Jesus of violating the Law of Moses about carrying burdens on the Sabbath. The man holding the load—his bed—gets a free pass because they were after Jesus. They do not see him as the Messiah because they are too busy counting all the law violations.

The one keyword in verse 24 is, believes. Once we believe Jesus is who he says he is, all the rest will follow. There is a great deal that follows. Within a decade of the resurrection of Jesus, hundreds of house churches developed and shared a verbal instruction ‘kit’ for—as it was first called—The Training of the Lord Through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles. It is known today as the Didache—Did-ah-Kay. It is brief—2,190 words (in Greek) and is a step-by-step training manual. It could take weeks or months for a (non-Jewish) novice to learn what was necessary to be a true and faithful follower of Jesus the Messiah.

How ever we do it, we need to learn, learn, learn. The Jesus Way is not the easy way.

Jesus told the thief on the cross that his belief, his faith in Jesus, earned him entrance to Heaven. Faith first.

Those who hear will live. Jesus speaks of the dead hearing Jesus’ voice. They are believers in God and the Son of God and have not died but await the call. Those who turned against God will never hear the call. I like this image. Only those who have life can hear the Word.

In verse 27 Jesus adds a new wrinkle, authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. The Son of Man was a well-known image in Judaism of the day. They said the Son of Man is the Messiah. Jesus took Son of Man for himself. We find it 30 times in Matthew, 30 in  Luke, 16 in Mark, and 13 in John, nearly all spoken by Jesus about himself.

Just before that statement, Jesus did refer to the Son twice, suggesting the Son of God. If his listeners did not like that suggestion, he softened it with the more familiar Son of Man.

28 “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out—the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation. 30 I can do nothing on my own initiative. Just as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. NET

These verses give more detail on the judgment. Here, there is resurrection for both believers and non-believers. The non-believers are not going to be happy about theirs. See Daniel 12:2.

I do not seek my own will. We do not give enough credit to Jesus as the obedient Son. We tend to see him as wise, able to decide the right thing to do quickly. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to have God fully present in our every moment, never having to wonder if our choices are the right ones. Yet, that should be our natural state and will be after the resurrection.

How can we achieve the goal of doing God’s will every time? Again, from the Didache. Be gentle, long-suffering, merciful, harmless, clam, good, and trembling through all time at the words that you have heard. You will not exalt yourself; you will not give boldness to your soul, your soul will not be joined with the lofty, but with the just and the lowly you will dwell. [my paraphrase]

The (walking) dead are those who stop trying to do what God wants us to do. We die when we stop feeling sadness for those lost. We die when we stop thinking and asking questions, even asking God, Why?

31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies about me, and I know the testimony he testifies about me is true. 33 You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34 (I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved.) 35 He was a lamp that was burning and shining, and you wanted to rejoice greatly for a short time in his light. NET

Jesus is now presenting his best case to ‘prove’ his innocence on the charge of violating the Law of Moses. First comes the testimony of the Baptizer. We will see later that Jesus will be taken to the Sanhedrin on charges even more severe than violating the Sabbath. Under Jewish law, at least two witnesses had to be presented with the same testimony to prove a charge against a person. Jesus says here that he is not testifying about himself; that would not be allowed in court.

36 “But I have a testimony greater than that from John. For the deeds that the Father has assigned me to complete—the deeds I am now doing—testify about me that the Father has sent me. NET

God the Father has given me tasks to complete, and those deeds witness to me as Messiah.

37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified about me. NET

The greatest witness of all is God. Where do we find his testimony? In the Scriptures.

You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form at any time, 38 nor do you have his word residing in you, because you do not believe the one whom he sent. 39 You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, 40 but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life. 41 “I do not accept praise from people, 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me. If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe, if you accept praise from one another and don’t seek the praise that comes from the only God? 45 “Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father. The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe what Moses wrote, how will you believe my words?” NET

Jesus gave them four witnesses but knew they did not accept them. You are not willing to come to me so that you may have life. That brings us back to faith. We must believe first.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

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