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Know the Whole Story
Many people know some stories from the Bible, but not how the narrative fits together. The Bible is one story that begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through points to Jesus Christ. Open is your guided journey through this powerful, life-transforming story.
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The Healing at the Pool on the Sabbath

5:1 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 Aramaic1 called Bethesda,2 which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.3 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. 10 So the Jews4 said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well!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.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Jesus Is Equal with God

18 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.

The Authority of the Son

19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father5 does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 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.

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour 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 as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Witnesses to Jesus

30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

Footnotes

[1] 5:2 Or Hebrew
[2] 5:2 Some manuscripts Bethsaida
[3] 5:3 Some manuscripts insert, wholly or in part, waiting for the moving of the water; 4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had
[4] 5:10 The Greek word Ioudaioi refers specifically here to Jewish religious leaders, and others under their influence, who opposed Jesus in that time; also verses 15, 16, 18
[5] 5:19 Greek he

(ESV)

Overview

Jesus is God with us, and for this reason we can truly know the Father through Him. His death on the cross is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us. God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). The deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is our assurance of salvation. Jesus said, “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” (John 5:24).

I became a father in 1986 when my son Andrew was born. Before I had a son, I could not have been described as a father. It is the birth of a son or daughter that makes a man a father or a woman a mother.

When did God become Father? The answer is that He has always been Father. He is the everlasting Father and His nature never changes. When did Christ become the Son? The answer is that He has always been the Son. He is the eternal Son and His nature never changes. The Father was never without the Son, and the Son was never without the Father.

God did not gain a Son when Jesus was born into the world. God sent His Son, who was already at the Father’s side (John 1:18). Before He took our flesh, God the Son shared the Father’s glory (17:5), the Father’s life (5:26), the Father’s activity (1:3), and the Father’s love (17:24).

The Bible makes it clear that the Son is equal with the Father (5:18). He is in very nature God, but He did not count this equality something to be grasped (Philippians 2:6). He placed Himself at the disposal of the Father and took on the form of a servant.

On one occasion, Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). This would be like me saying, “The President of the United States is greater than I.” I share a common humanity with the president, but clearly his position is greater than mine.

So, when Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I,” He did not mean that the Father is more divine, but that the Father had a more exalted position. The Father was in heaven and Jesus was on His way to the cross. This is why Jesus said to His disciples, “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father…” (14:28). Going to the Father meant returning to share His exalted position.

Like Father, Like Son
The Bible uses the word son in two ways. It can mean a dependent relative or a reflected nature.1

In the ancient world, a son followed in his father’s footsteps. If your father was a carpenter, you would be a carpenter as well, and if your father was a good carpenter, the quality of his work would be reflected in yours. As the old saying goes, “Like father, like son.”

In the New Testament, we read about a man whom the apostles nicknamed “Barnabas.” Barnabas means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). It’s not difficult to imagine why the apostles gave him this name. They saw that Barnabas was a great encourager. He was encouragement personified, encouragement in human flesh.

Jesus used the word son in the same way in the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He said, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). God is the great peacemaker, and when we make peace, we reflect His character.

So when the Bible describes Jesus as “the Son of God,” the word Son does not mean that He is a “dependent relative” of the Father, but that He exactly reflects the Father’s nature (Hebrews 1:3). The Son of God is all that God is, in human flesh.

Doing the Father’s Work
The full glory of what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God is opened up for us in John 5, where Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19).

The activity of Jesus is limited to what He sees the Father doing. Christ is saying that He never does anything outside the range of what the Father would do. I wish I could say that everything I do is a reflection of the activity of God, but of course, I can’t say that. Yet that is exactly what Jesus is saying: “You will not find a single thing in My life that is outside of the range of the activity of God.”

Then Jesus makes a second statement that is even more astonishing: “Whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (5:19). In other words, Jesus is saying, “Everything that I do reflects what the Father does, and everything the Father does is reflected in what I do.”

We may do some things that reflect what God does. When we love, forgive, or make peace, we reflect the nature of the Father. But there are some things that belong to God alone. Only God gives life. Only God raises the dead. God alone is the judge. These are God’s things, and Jesus tells us that He does them: “As the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (5:21–22).

The Son Has Life in Himself
Your life is a gift from God through the union of your father and your mother. Without them you would not exist. Only God has life in Himself. He is the only being whose existence does not depend on anyone else.

But Jesus says, “As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (5:26). These words help us to gaze with wonder on the mystery of the Trinity. Notice that Jesus did not say, “The Father has life in himself and the Son has life in himself.” That would mean that there are two gods, both with life in themselves. Nor did Jesus say, “The Father has life in himself and he has granted the Son to have life.” That would mean that the Son was a created and dependent being just like you and me.

Jesus said, “As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” The Father and the Son share in the one eternal life of God. 2

Put all this together and you will begin to see the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. One day He will raise the dead and pronounce final judgment on all people, and He is able to give life to all who come to Him.

Knowing God: A Guess or a Revelation?
The New Testament places great stress on the identity of Jesus. He is God with us and this truth is of central importance, because if the Son were not God, we could not know the Father.

On one occasion, Philip said to Jesus, “Show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus replied, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8–9).

I have a brother in England. He is like me in some ways but very different in others. I could not say, “If you have seen me, you have seen my brother,” because even though we come from the same parents, we are very different. To know me is not to know my brother.

If the Son were not God, we could not know the Father. The best we could say would be that someone who was with the Father came to tell us about Him. That would make Jesus like an angel or a prophet; but Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).

The Cross: An Act of Cruelty or a Gift of Love?
The Bible tells us that the Father laid the guilt and the punishment of our sins on His Son, and that this was a demonstration of God’s love (Isaiah 53:5-6; Romans 5:8).

But if the Son were not God, the cross would be an act of cruelty, not a gift of love. It would be the greatest miscarriage of justice in history, and we would have to rewrite Romans 5:8: “God shows his injustice in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” But the Son is God, and at the cross, it was God who bore our sins and gave Himself for us.

Before God created the world, He planned to redeem men and women so that they would share His glory forever. The plan involved great cost. It would mean God giving Himself, and that self-giving would be the ultimate display of His own nature and glory.

God’s self-giving would involve all the persons of the Trinity. The Father would send the Son. The Son would lay down His life. The Spirit would give Himself to every believer.

Consider the roles of the Father and the Son. Which of them had the easier part to play? The one who would give his Son, or the one who would lay down His life? The question is unanswerable. The Father and the Son were one in the infinite cost of self-giving and sacrifice for you and for me.

Salvation: Being Sure or Hoping for the Best?
If the Son were not God, you could never be sure of your salvation.

I phoned my credit card company recently because I wanted to upgrade my card. “Can I do this over the phone?” I asked. The representative was very helpful and assured me that I could.

A few days later I received a letter.

Dear Colin Smith,

Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding your credit card account. Unfortunately, we are unable to change your account as you requested. If you would like to change your account, please contact our customer service at the telephone number listed above.

Clearly, the representative had been overruled! She sincerely believed that my account could be changed over the phone, but she lacked the authority to make it happen.

What if it was like that with Christ? If Jesus were not God, there would always be the possibility of Him being overruled by a higher authority, and we would face the possibility of arriving at heaven’s gate only to find that we are not qualified to enter.

But the Father has entrusted all judgment to the Son (John 5:22), and the Son is in very nature God. Christ presides over the supreme court of the universe. There is no higher authority. So when the Son says, “You are forgiven,” you are forgiven indeed!

Note:
1. I gladly acknowledge my debt to Professor Don Carson for his work on the “Son language” of the New Testament. See especially D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000), 31ff.
2. I am again indebted to Don Carson for this point, particularly in The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 37–39.

  1. When did Jesus become the Son of God?
  2. In your own words, what does it mean when the Bible says that Jesus is “the Son of God”?
  3. How would you respond to someone who says, “The cross was an act of cruelty”?
  4. Respond to the statement: “If the Son were not God, we could not know the Father.”
  5. On a scale of 1 (no confidence at all) to 10 (certain), how much confidence do you have in your salvation? What is (are) the reason(s) behind your confidence or lack of confidence?
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