by Rev. Jeff Chapman
19Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 20The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. 21Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomsoever he wishes.
22The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.
25‘Very truly, I tell you, the 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. 26For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; 27and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
28Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:19-29, NRSV)
Slowly, but surely, it’s happening. I’m growing weary of mowing my lawn.
Yes, there was a time when I really used to enjoy this particular chore. In fact, I remember my excitement the day my dad told me that he was going to teach me how to cut the grass. What 10 year old boy wouldn’t jump at the chance to get his hands on the throttle of a machine as dangerous as this? Four horsepower, right at my fingertips. As I pulled on my leather gloves and, for the first time, pushed that old Craftsman lawn mower back and forth over that 300 square foot patch of bluegrass, I just knew that manhood was waiting to meet me right around the corner.
35 years later, I’m only being honest when I tell you that some of the novelty is wearing thin. I see now why fathers teach their 10 year old children to cut the grass. I see now that it has less to do with teaching responsibility and more to do with avoiding responsibility. Thankfully, most 10 year olds are eager and naïve enough to give it a try.
As I was out cutting the grass the other day, I found myself thinking back to when my oldest son, Noel, was about four years old. At the time our house inOmahahad a large back yard with a long sloping lawn. At one point somebody gave Noel a toy lawn mower. It was shaped like the real thing. You pushed it around like the real thing. It had a pull cord like the real thing. It’s only downside, really, was that when it came to actually cutting grass, it was nothing like the real thing.
That didn’t stop Noel. Whenever he saw me pushing my Toro out of the garage, he would push his Fisher Price right out of the garage behind me. I’d follow my established pattern, cutting back and forth across the lawn, working from the back fence in towards the house. He’d follow the same exact pattern, right in my footsteps doing his best to keep up.
I’d complain about the crabgrass which was constantly was invading my lawn; he’d complain about those same weeds. I’d hose down my mower after we were done; he’d want to hose down his mower right beside me. Finally, when the chore was finished, both of us would stand back with pride and enjoy the fruit of our labor. Because, you know, there are few things in life as satisfying as a freshly cut lawn. Even now, I always take a moment to enjoy the finished product.
All this leads me to a question. What is it about a little boy that makes him want to mow the lawn just like dad mows the lawn? Why does a little girl try to dress up and put on jewelry and makeup just like she sees mom doing every morning? You cannot deny that there is something strong in all children that makes them want so badly to identify with their parents.
When I was a little boy nobody had to teach me this. I just knew that I was meant to be like my dad. I wanted to be like my dad. And yet in so many ways I couldn’t. No matter how hard they try, little boys just cannot cut the grass like dad cuts the grass. And it’s not for lack of desire or effort. It’s just that little boys and girls don’t yet have in them what it takes to do what dad and mom can do.
If you look deeper into the human soul you will find this same desire in each of us when it comes to our perception of our Heavenly Father. As God’s children, there is something strong in us that tells us we were made to be like God. Scripture affirms this. From the beginning we are told that we were created, each of us, in the very image of God. We were not made to be gods, but we were made to be like God. We were created to follow as children in the footsteps of our Heavenly Father.
Specifically, there are two main attributes of our Heavenly Father which we most admire and which we most desire to possess ourselves. First, it is God alone who is able to create life where there is no life in the beginning, and second it is also God alone who is fit to pass judgment over life in the end. The ability to impart life and the fitness to execute judgment over life, are two attributes which our Heavenly Father possesses which we also want to possess. Try as we may, however, we simply cannot be like God in these respects.
We want to possess life and hold on to it for good. We can’t. We want life to last. It doesn’t. We want to thrive and flourish. Even when we do, it’s short-lived. We want lasting control over health and youth. We never gain such lasting control. We do not want things to end in death. They always do.
We also want to execute judgment. We want to be the ones who have the final say over things. We want the power to determine that in the end our lives will be found acceptable. We want to live with the peace of knowing that we have lived lives which will ultimately be found worthy. We want all this and yet we know, instinctively, that such judgments are not ours to make.
As a four year old, my son was young and naïve enough to believe that he, with his little toy lawn mower, was actually doing the same thing his father was doing with a real lawn mower. Wisely, I didn’t burst his bubble. What would have been the point?
We, however, are not so naïve. Experience teaches us that in spite of our efforts we simply cannot become like our Heavenly Father in these ways. And that’s humbling. In fact, it is an extraordinarily humbling thing to come to the point where you realize that your life is slipping away and there is nothing you can do about it. And worse, you realize that when all is said and done it will not be left up to you to judge how your life was ultimately lived. These are humbling realizations which can lead to fear. We fear death. We fear judgment. We fear these things we long to control but, in the end, cannot.
Again, the ability to impart life and the fitness to execute judgment over life are attributes which only belong to God. And this is frustrating to us because we have this innate sense that we, as sons and daughters of God, are supposed to be like God. So we keep pushing our little lawn mowers trying to keep up. But we push in vain, because we’re not cutting any grass. So badly we want to be like our Heavenly Father. In reality, we just cannot do it.
But then, all at once, we discover that there is One in our midst who is able to do what we could never do. He is One who is, in some ways, so much like us and yet who is, in other ways, so much unlike us.
Jesus of Nazareth was a human just like us. He was born of a woman, just like us. He went through day to day life in this world just like us, working, resting, learning, playing, growing. Every emotion you have ever experienced, Jesus experienced as well – joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, friendship and loneliness. Jesus was human, just like you are human.
And yet at the same time, Jesus of Nazareth – and this is one of the greatest mysteries of all – Jesus was the son of man and was also, at the same time, the Son of God. Unlike us, he was born of God, he was one with God. Unlike us, Jesus shares the same divine nature as his Heavenly Father. Unlike us, he is eternal. Unlike us, he is holy and without sin. Unlike us, there has never been anything which has separated him from the Father. Their mutual love, shared with the Holy Spirit, is pure and unblemished. It always has been. It always will be.
Therefore, because this human Jesus was also, at the same time, God, he then was a Son of God who was able to be like his Heavenly Father in ways which no other human before him was able to do.
No man or woman had ever before held in their hands the power of life. Jesus did. Not only in his hands, but even in his words. He only needed to speak and the dead would rise.
Others had also never been able to hold in their hands the power of judgment. Jesus did. Again, he need only speak the word, and a person could all at once find himself, or herself, forgiven before God.
Listen again to Jesus’ words from John 5. “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. Like father like son. Jesus is able to do whatever the Father is doing because Jesus and the Father are one. In ways we will never be able to fully understand, Jesus is God just as the Father is God.
By the way, do you realize that the person who makes these sorts of claims, as Jesus did, is either one of two things. He is either a nutcase or is telling the truth? No other religious leader in the history of the world claimed to be God and then was able to sustain such a claim. Because, you see, if you really are God, that means you have the power over life and death.
This is why Buddha, for instance, never made this claim. Mohammed never made this claim. No sane person would dare make this claim because if and when you do, you have to back it up. If you claim to have power over life itself, you can’t up and die one day. And if you do die, you better find a way to rise from the dead because if you don’t, all your credibility is shot. Who is going to believe you are God if you die and stay dead?
Understand, when Jesus made these claims to be God, he was either a lunatic or he was telling the truth. It is Christians alone in this world who believe that he was telling the truth.
With this truth in mind, Jesus gets specific in verse 21: “Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.”
Here is a Son whose lawnmower does just what his Father’s lawnmower does. It actually cuts the grass. Here is a child of God who can, in fact, follow in the footsteps of the Father and do exactly what the Father is doing.
The power of life is in Jesus’ hands. The power of judgment is also in his hands. Jesus is one human who did what we have long believed all humans were created to do but which we never have been able, ourselves, to do. Jesus is like the Father in ways we can only dream of being like the Father. In Jesus we finally see what a human life looks like when it is fully formed in the very image of God.
But how does that help us? Well, in verse 24 he says, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
Did you just hear what Jesus said? Are you listening to what Jesus is trying to tell you this morning?
Anyone who hears the message Christ came to bring and believes him, and takes him at his word, that person will be given the gifts we have all long desired to receive. Those who truly believe that the son of Mary really was also the eternal Son of God who lived, and died, and rose from the dead, those people will be given the opportunity to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and themselves become, finally, like God in ways God intends us to become like him.
Real, lasting life is finally possible in Christ. Freedom from condemnation is finally possible in Christ. In Christ, we can become what we were originally created to become people reflecting the very image of God.
The truth is, none of us could ever become like God until God became one of us. But once God, in Christ, became human, then humans, through Christ’s sacrifice, could become like God. We can’t become God. That is not offered us. We will always be human, never divine. But we can become like God. Like a son who wants to be like his dad, like a daughter who wants to be like her mom, we, as sons and daughters of our Creator can, through Christ, become like our Heavenly Father.
In what ways? Let me be specific as Jesus is specific.
First, as you trust in Christ the gift of God’s life is offered to you. Eternal life. Life without end. Abundant life in all its fullness. And though we only taste this life today, you can live in the present knowing that your future death has no more power over you than it has over God. When death comes, as it will come, it will only come as it came to Jesus. The grave will not hold you. And on the other side you will finally and fully experience what, in this life, you have only glimpsed and tasted.
Second, as you trust in Christ you are also given the gift of God’s righteousness. Through Christ, we are made holy and blameless. Our lives are made pleasing in God’s sight. And not just at some future date, but now. In Christ, we do not have to wait and wonder about the Father’s judgment. Today judgment has no more power over us than it does over Christ. Through Christ we have received the life of God and there is no condemnation for those who are full of the life of God.
Think about this. Can you imagine a life free of any fear of death or judgment? In Christ, that life is possible, even today. The testimony of the Christian Gospel is that such a life is possible today for anyone and everyone who would place their faith in Christ as the living Son of God.
This is such good news, you know, because I think that if we were all honest we would admit that our lives can so easily be permeated by a prevailing sense of fear and failure. From the time we are little children, the world never ceases to remind us of all the ways we fail to measure up. Deep inside there is this sense of the sort of person we were created to become. But then day in and day out, reality shows us how far short we have fallen. We show up to cut the grass with our little toy lawn mower and realize that we do not have within us what it takes to get the job done.
I hope you will agree me when I say that this is no way to live.
If you’ve missed it so far, let me tell you why the Gospel is called good news to those who have ears to hear it.
When a little boy drags his toy lawn mower out to follow his dad around the yard, is he really motivated by a desire or need to cut the grass? I don’t think so. It’s got nothing to do with cutting the grass. Because if the father decided to paint the garage that morning instead of mow the lawn, the toy lawn mower would sit untouched and the little boy would want, instead, a paintbrush in his hand.
This gives us a clue to what the little boy is really after. He was not born with an innate desire to cut the grass. He was born, instead, with an innate desire to be with his dad, to share life with his father, to become like his father. And it so happens that’s really all his father wants as well. No dad really needs his little boy to cut the grass. The father, in turn, only wants to share life with his son.
This is the Gospel. We show up before God with our toy lawn mowers and immediately realize that we cannot, on our own, ever be like God. But then God, with grace that changes everything, makes it clear that in Christ, he doesn’t expect us to come and accomplish anything.
God wants to do great things through us, and will if we let him. But what God most wants is to just share life with us. We are God’s children, sons and daughters, of our Heavenly Father. In Christ, God’s Son become one of us, we can now have what God most wants us to have, life together with God. Life together, forever.
The Next Step – A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
When you were a child, what is one way you tried to imitate your mom or dad?
Read John 5:19-29. There is a lot here. What sticks out to you?
What do we learn here about Jesus’ relationship with his Father?
If Jesus, the Son, does whatever the Father does (see verse 19), then how are the Son and the Father distinct?
Do you desire to be like your Heavenly Father? How so? Have you been successful?
How does Jesus help us to become like God?
Are you able to imagine a life today free from any fear of death or judgment? Jesus promises this is possible (see verse 24). Is he right?
Jesus says that whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father? What are the implications here for people who want to believe in God but who do not want to believe that Jesus is the Son of God?
Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:
Monday: John 14:1-14 – The Way to the Father
Tuesday: John 14:15-31 – Father, Son, Spirit
Wednesday: I John 1:1-10 – The Word of Life
Thursday: Psalm 22 – Prayer of Deliverance
Friday: Romans 8:31-39 – God’s Love in Christ
Saturday : In preparation for worship tomorrow, read John 5:30-47