Heavenly Father, by your Spirit help us this evening to hear the voice of Jesus. Amen.
The Gift of Life is what I want to talk about this evening. My task is to try and help you hear what Jesus says in the Bible passage that we heard from John’s Gospel earlier – John 5.16-30. It’s printed there in your service sheet. You can also find it on page 1068 in the Bibles that you’ll find in the pews. Either way, it would be really useful if you could have that passage in front of you so you can see for yourself what I’m talking about. There’s also an outline on the back of the service sheet. If you can arrange things so you can see the passage and the outline at the same time then you’re doing well.
There is a radio quiz called ‘The Unbelievable Truth’. You might have heard it. Each contestant has to speak for a few minutes on a topic. Everything they say is untrue, except for a small number of hard to spot truths that they try to smuggle into what they’re saying without anyone noticing. Their task is to persuade everyone that nothing they say is true. The other contestants get points for spotting the few facts that are true even though they sound like they’re not.
What I want you to see this evening is that everything that Jesus says is true. Please note I’m not talking about what I say. What I say is not the point. I’m talking about what Jesus says, as the Bible reports it.
Now I’m aware of course that many of you already know that what the Bible says is true. For you, this will be a welcome reminder of good news that you know has completely transformed your life for ever.
But it’s really those of you who are not sure what you think about Jesus and the Bible that I want to talk to especially. Maybe, if someone asked, you might say that you think the Bible is unbelievable. On the other hand the very fact that you’re here suggests that maybe you’re really not sure whether the Bible is unbelievable, or whether it’s true.
Now there’s no getting away from the fact that what Jesus says and does is amazing. Not unbelievable. But definitely amazing. Jesus himself recognises that. Do you see how he says here in verse 20, describing his relationship to God the Father:
For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.
The truth is not unbelievable. But it is amazing. And what is more, it is good news. So good that once we’ve got it, it sets up a constant stream of joy deep down inside us. One old archbishop, Geoffrey Fisher, said shortly before he died:
The longer I live, the more convinced I am that Christianity is one long shout of joy.
Those of us who are Christians aren’t always very good at showing that. But it’s true. The truth about Jesus is amazing. And it’s good news. So what is it? You can see on the outline that I want to answer that under three headings. First, the amazing truth about who Jesus is. Secondly, the amazing truth about how people react to him. And thirdly, the amazing truth about eternal life. So:
First, THE AMAZING TRUTH ABOUT WHO JESUS IS
What we’ve got here is what Jesus said about himself. And there can be no better source of information. If I wanted to get to know you (not that I don’t – please don’t take me wrong) – if I wanted to get to know you, the best thing I could do would be to meet you and listen to what you had to say about yourself. And that’s what we can do through the pages of this book. Even though this happened 2000 years ago, through these words and by God’s Spirit we can meet Jesus today. So what does he say about himself? There are three key points, and you can see them there on the outline. He is equal with God. He is the judge of everyone. He is the ruler of all things. Let me go through those one by one and show you where I get them from.
Jesus is equal with God. He makes that clear by saying that he is the Son of God the Father; that he does whatever God the Father does (which only one equal with God could); that he gives life to the dead (something only God can do); and that he has life in himself (and only God can be like that).
So you can see that in verse 17 Jesus says:
“My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”
Those who are listening to him – hostile as they are, as we’ll see – immediately get the implication of this, which is there at the end of verse 18:
he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
They were right. And then in verses 19-21, Jesus expands on the ways that he’s equal with God:
I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.
And there’s more about how he’s equal with God down in verse 26:
26For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.
Jesus is the Son of God the Father. Over and over he speaks of himself as God’s Son, and of God as his Father.
Jesus does whatever God the Father does. They move completely in step with one another. They’re so close that they work as one.
Jesus gives life to the dead. It’s amazing enough that God gives life to the dead. That Jesus says he does the same is mind-blowing.
Jesus has life in himself. In other words he doesn’t get his life from anyone or anything else. He is life. He is the source of life.
All of that adds up to Jesus being equal with God.
What is more, he is the Judge of everyone. Take a look at verses 22-23:
22Moreover, the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.
And there’s more along the same lines down in verse 27:
27And he [that’s God the Father] has given him [Jesus] authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
And again in verse 30:
30By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
God the Father has delegated judgement to Jesus his Son. Everyone without exception will have to give account to him for how they’ve lived their life. Whatever their religion or lack of religion, wherever they’re from, whatever they think of Jesus can’t change that. And his judgement is just. We tend to think that we judge Jesus. Shall we bother with him or not? But in the end it’s not us who will be the judge of Jesus. He will be the judge of us.
So Jesus is equal with God; he is the Judge of everyone. Then also, he is the ruler of all things. It would be easy to miss, but that fact is embedded there in verse 27, where Jesus says:
27And [God the Father] has given him [Jesus] authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
That ‘Son of Man’ title is lifted from what was then already a centuries old prophetic vision that was given to Daniel and that’s recorded in the Old Testament, in Daniel 7. In it ‘one like a son of man’ is led to the throne of God and (I quote):
He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
That, says Jesus, is me. When Jesus says that he’s the Judge of all things “because he is the Son of Man”, he’s saying that it’s because he is the ruler of all things. Every nation. Every person. Forever. No wonder he is our Judge as well.
So, according to Jesus, that is the amazing truth about who he is. He is equal with God. He is the Judge of everyone. He is the ruler of all things. But why should we take him seriously? Why not just write him off as insane?
The reason we must take him seriously is this. What he did confirms what he said. These amazing things that he says about himself are backed up by the amazing way that he lived his life and the amazing things that happened to him.
This is the man who saw right into people’s hearts and knew all about them without being told. This is the man who healed the dead and dying with a word.
This is the man who deliberately laid down his life and was executed by the political and religious authorities of his day. Why did he do that? On another occasion he said:
“For even the Son of Man [there’s that title again] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
He died “as a ransom for many”, in other words his death paid the price for our sins so that we could be forgiven for them and set free from them.
This is the man who, as he predicted would happen, on the third day rose again from the dead. The eye-witness documentary evidence for all this is conveniently collected here in this Book. It’s in the open, easily accessible to anyone who wants to examine it.
What Jesus did confirms what he said. What he said about himself is not only amazing. It is the amazing truth. The obvious and inescapable question, then, is this. Will you listen to him?
‘The amazing truth about who Jesus is’ is my first heading. The next is this:
Secondly, THE AMAZING TRUTH ABOUT HOW PEOPLE REACT TO HIM
At the time that Jesus said these things, people reacted to him in two very different ways. Some hate him and try to kill him. And some hear him and believe in him. Let me show you what I mean.
Look back to the start of our passage and the opening exchange there in verses 16-18. They say this:
16So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working. 18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
What was this thing, evil in their eyes, that Jesus was doing that caused this hostility? He was healing people on the Sabbath. That counted as work, and you weren’t allowed to work on the Sabbath. Only God worked on the Sabbath, sustaining his creation. And when Jesus makes that point, and then says “I, too, am working”, they immediately think he is making himself equal with God. Which he is. And they’re so offended by that that they tried to kill him.
They don’t succeed. Not yet – though they do in the end. But why such murderous hatred for such an amazingly good man? Because they reject what he’s saying about himself. And they reject the implication of what he’s doing – which is that he is God in the flesh. God come among us. They reject him, and want him dead. That’s the first way people reacted.
The second way people reacted can be seen in what Jesus says there in verse 24. He says this:
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
Those are the only two options. Either what Jesus says about himself is a lie, or it is the amazing truth. And if it is the amazing truth, then the only possible response is to hear and believe. That is what many did at the time.
Ever since then, the amazing truth is that people have been reacting to Jesus in exactly those same two ways.
The equivalent nowadays of trying to kill Jesus is to want nothing to do with him, to wish that he’d go away, and to wish that the church that talks about him would disappear as well. Wishing that Jesus would go away and leave you alone is a polite way of wishing him dead.
The alternative is to stop running away from him, and to accept that what he says, amazing though it is, is the truth, and to begin to live by it. And that is what more and more have been doing for two thousand years ever since. That’s why we’re here this evening. This church is a community of people who have heard Jesus, and believed.
So the obvious question is this. What about you? How will you respond to him? Will you believe him?
Then my final heading relates to the consequences of how people respond that Jesus spells out. So:
Thirdly, THE AMAZING TRUTH ABOUT ETERNAL LIFE
The key things that Jesus says about this are there in those four bullet points on the outline under that third heading. The Day of Judgement is real and it is coming. Jesus said clearly elsewhere that no-one knows when that will be except God, so anyone who says they do know is wrong. But Jesus says it is coming. It will be Resurrection Day. Jesus gives eternal life to whom he is pleased to give it. Those who hate Jesus do evil and are condemned. Those who hear and believe Jesus are given eternal life and do good.
Now it has to be said that our culture nowadays is so materialistic, so focussed on the here and now, that many people give little or no thought to eternity. Many do their very best not to think about death and what lies beyond it at all.
Over and over again, when I ask people what they used to think about these big questions of life and death before they started to believe in Jesus, they say to me that for years they didn’t really think about it at all. That in itself is amazing considering how important these issues are. It’s a bit like arriving at the airport, going to the check-in desk, and when you’re asked where you’re going, saying, “Oh, I never thought about that.”
We don’t do that when we’re going on holiday. Our holidays are important to us. If you are like that when it comes to life after death, then you’re far from being alone. But it does mean that what Jesus says about eternal life and what will happen after death will challenge very deeply the whole way that you think about life and death. It’s there in verses 24-25, and then in verses 28-29. Here’s 24-25:
24I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.
And then 28-29:
28Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and come out— those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
Who are those who do evil, and who are those who do good? That’s something that Jesus has already talked about back in John 3, where he speaks of himself as the Light that has come into the world. He says (this is John 3.20):
20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
So those who do evil, and so are condemned come Judgement Day, are those who hate him and reject him.
On the other hand, Jesus goes on in John 3.21:
21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
Those who do good are those who come into the light, that is, who hear Jesus and believe, and put their trust in him and his death for their sins. Then it becomes obvious that the good they do “has been done through God”. They have nothing to boast about, because it’s all God’s work in them.
Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the one who gives the gift of eternal life. He gives it, he says, to those “to whom he is pleased to give it”. And he is pleased to give it to those who hear and believe.
The obvious question, then, is this. Will you ask Jesus to give you eternal life?
Now, if you’re wanting to take this seriously, perhaps for the first time, can I urge you to do two things.
First, keep coming to church. What we’re doing here week by week is helping one another to understand and live out what it means to believe in Jesus. So the best thing you could do is just to keep coming, so that you can hear more. Whether or not you’re a believer, you’re very welcome, and we’d love to have you with us.
Secondly, there’s no need for you to learn alone. So find someone you know who is already a believer, and let them know that you’d like to find out more. Then they’ll be able to give you a hand. And if you can’t think of anyone, you’re always very welcome to get in touch with me or any other member of staff here.
Well that is the truth about who Jesus is, about how people react to him, and about eternal life. It is amazing. But did you notice what Jesus says there in verse 28? He says:
“Do not be amazed at this…”
This is not ‘The Unbelievable Truth’. This is not a game like that radio quiz. This is for real. Jesus doesn’t want us just to sit around being amazed and doing nothing about it. So don’t be amazed. Believe the truth and act upon it. And Jesus will give you the gift of life.
Let’s bow our heads to pray:
Lord Jesus, we need to know the truth. We need to know who you are. We need to understand what you have said. Please open our spiritual eyes to see you. Open our ears to hear your voice. And open our hearts to trust you, that we might receive for ourselves your free gift of eternal life. Amen.