There was a wondrous pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda. Every so often the water of this pool would begin to bubble, and it was said that the bubbles were caused by an angel swooping down from heaven and dipping its wings in the water. It was also said that the first person to bath in the water after the angel had touched it would be healed from any ailment. So, naturally there were many people sitting by the water and waiting; waiting for a miracle.
Jesus was by that pool one day, and he saw a man there who had not been able to walk for 38 years. Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” There was no flashy miracle, no angel dipping its wings, no bubbling water; just the simple word of Jesus, and this man got up and walked.
The Jews didn’t like what Jesus had done, though. The Bible says they persecuted him because he had done this thing on the Sabbath day, when no Jews were supposed to do any work. They accused him of sinning, but Jesus answered them with the words of our text. He told them that he couldn’t possibly be sinning, because he was only doing the things that he had seen his Father, God the Father, doing. God the Father is always working and caring for all people, even on the Sabbath, so Jesus also cared for this crippled man and healed him on the Sabbath. Now the Jews were even more angry, and they tried to kill him, because, as verse 18 says, they understood that he was calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Now today it maybe isn’t so hard for us to believe that Jesus is God, if we are used to that idea. After all, we have all his miracles. He healed that cripple, and healed so many others. What man can do those things? He must be God. But the Jews saw the other side of Jesus—his human side. He was born in Bethlehem. He grew up in Nazareth and had to learn to feed himself and put his shirt on the right way just like everyone else. People heard him call himself the Son of God and they said, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” To them, he looked like just a man, and many did not accept his words. But to those who did hear him, he did what no man can do: He gave the gift of eternal life.
I think we can understand why it was so difficult for them to see past the humanity of Jesus and honor him as the Son of God. After all, how well do we actually honor him as the Son of God? He may not be visibly present, but he has left his Word with us. He has commanded us to gather together around that Word, to preach it, to baptize, and gather to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. As you hear the text, ask yourself whether you really do give Jesus the honor that is due him as the Son of God.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “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. 20 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. 21 For 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. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.
24 “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.”
Theme: Honor the Son of God!
1. The incredible claims.
2. The incredible gifts
1. Jesus makes some incredible claims about himself, but is it too much to believe? Perhaps the most incredible claim that Jesus made is here in these verses—the claim that he gives eternal life, a life that never ends, not even when you die.
“For 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 again, “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.”
An incredible claim, but is it amazing or too much to believe? We’ve had plenty of incredible claims made by politicians recently; we know what to do. Let’s check the facts.
Does God have the power to give life? In the beginning God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and he breathed into him so that the dirt man became a living man. He took a rib from the man and made the woman. God certainly can give life.
But what about Jesus’ claim that he is the Son of God, and he can give life too? Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. But there is more to it. Jesus said, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He has crossed over from death to life.” Lazarus, as far as we know, did die again at some later time. Also, though we listen to Jesus, all of us will most likely die one day too. What is all this talk of eternal life? Jesus is talking about a deeper, more meaningful and lasting life for those who believe in him. It’s a life that death can’t touch.
These words from the Bible will help us out: Paul wrote in Ephesians, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins…but God made us alive with Christ.”
Spiritually, we were all born dead, but none of you here are spiritually dead anymore because of what Jesus has said and done. You listen to the Savior’s voice. You do things that please God. You are all evidence that Jesus does give life.
Jesus said that this life is eternal—when he gives spiritual life that person continues to live after he dies. Consider this proof that he has told us the truth: On the Mount of Transfiguration we read about Jesus, walking and talking with Moses and Elijah—two prophets who had believed God’s Word and preached it fearlessly to the people. Moses had been dead for 1400 years, and it had been at least 800 years since God took Elijah to heaven in that chariot of fire. Yet, there they were on the mountain, walking and talking with Jesus, just as alive as you and I. Apparently, God’s gift of life lasts after death. It truly is eternal.
Jesus’ incredible claims are true. He gives life by the power of his Word. He has promised that you have it right now, and you see it in the spiritual life of your soul as you listen to God and do what pleases him. Jesus also promised that this would be an eternal life. You have heard that life lasts after death and you have heard about his power to raise the dead. It’s incredible and a true claim. Jesus is the Son of God, and he does give life. Honor him!
But where is Jesus to receive our honor? He ascended to heaven. We don’t see him anymore, though he has promised that he is always with us. It might be tough to find a way to honor him, except that he has left us with his Word and the Sacraments. We can honor that. Honor the Son of God by honoring…
2. His incredible gifts
These gifts are incredible, but are they too much to believe? Does the Word of God really create faith and give forgiveness of sins and eternal life? Does Baptism actually wash your sins away, like Jesus said it does? Is the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper actually Jesus’ body and blood, and do you really receive forgiveness by eating and believing this? I can’t check the facts on these things. This is where you have to remember that Jesus is the Son of God, and if he says that this is so, then it is so. Honor him by believing what he has said.
Don’t get hung up on the earthly appearance of the gifts Jesus has given us at church. I know that I’m just a man and I’m young. I don’t have many experiences and I don’t know much about the world, and I’m not the world’s greatest preacher anyway. But I’m talking about the Word of God, the Word Jesus gave us; and that’s powerful. Baptism may look like just a bit of water and a ceremony, but the Son of God has commanded that water to wash your sins away. The Lord’s Supper also looks like just another ceremony where you get a tasteless little wafer and not enough wine, but the Son of God has declared that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood, and that it gives you forgiveness.
Since he is the Son of God, you will believe and honor what he has given, even though it doesn’t seem like anything all that impressive. You will be there when his Word is read and taught in church. If you can get your hands on a Bible, you will read it often on your own time also. You will have your kids baptized. You will often think of your baptism and remember that God used that water to wash away all of your sins. After you have learned all the basic teachings of the Bible, you will joyfully come to the Lord’s Supper with the rest of the congregation, as often as you are able. Because you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you will honor his Word and these Sacraments as precious gifts.
Not that’s an incredible claim. Because you believe Jesus is the Son of God, you will honor his gifts. Do you really honor his gifts? Maybe we should do a fact checker on ourselves. Let’s pull out the church attendance records. Should we be honest about how many times we have not come to church and have skipped the Lord’s Supper? I know you feel bad about it, because you come to me to try to justify yourself with rather lame excuses about being tired, not feeling well, being depressed, being busy, or having too much pain. Now, maybe you really were in rough shape, and maybe you did honor God by spending an equally significant amount of time reading the Bible at home when you were sick, and there are legitimate reasons for missing church once in a while, especially if you make it up in some way. But these are gifts from the Son of God. If you aren’t here, I should almost be able to assume that you are dead. Instead, it never surprises me that the church is more than half empty.
Let’s be honest about how seldom we have thought about what God did for us when we were baptized, and how little comfort we have found in that thought. When we are here in church, where have our thoughts been? What is he wearing? What am I going to make for lunch? How are the 49ers going to do today? Have we really honored the Son of God?
Jesus is coming back, and he is coming back to judge. What are you going to do when you meet the judge?
The gifts are still the same, though you may have neglected and despised them. Your baptism still counts. Your sins have been washed away. God’s Word is still here for you. Not a page has been taken out of it. The promises still stand. “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.” That is still true for you. Believe it. The next time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, make sure that you are there. Jesus will be there, and he will be offering his sacrifice to you, for you to eat and drink and share in the forgiveness that he won for you so that you will have forgiveness and eternal life in him. Because he is the Son of God, honor his gifts of Word and Sacrament. Then the Last Judgment will not be a problem for you. You will not be condemned; you have crossed over from death to life. Honor the Son! Amen.