2. Sent to please the Father (John 5:25-30) – a mission of judgement
Very truly I tell you, 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. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
‘Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By 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.
In John 5 we see Jesus healing a man who had been paralysed for 38 years. The miracle took place at a pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda. When the Jewish leaders heard about it they were incensed because the healing took place on the Sabbath. This is one of several occasions when Jesus’ actions clashed with the prevailing interpretations of the Old Testament Law within the religious hierarchy. What really riled the religious leaders, however, was not just Jesus’ actions, but His claim in response to their challenge that He was working in partnership with His Father. By speaking of God in these intimate terms they saw that He was claiming equality with God. Faced with their opposition, Jesus did not back down, but proceeded to intensify His claims about His relationship with God – claiming that He, the Son, had been entrusted with the authority to judge. This judgement, which would ultimately be universal at the final resurrection, would be based on justice because He would only judge according to what He heard from His Father. There was no doubt about this because Jesus was committed to pleasing His Father rather than pleasing Himself.
Obedience to the Father in this instance meant confrontation with those who had a distorted view of God and His priorities. They had elevated religion – even the God given requirements of Sabbath – above the purpose of true faith – the imperative to love God and our neighbour. Their hierarchy of laws had been constructed on the basis of preserving their appearance of righteousness and in their desire for self-justification they were missing the point that God’s Kingdom was demonstrated in Jesus’ astounding miracle. The lessons from Jesus’ example ought to be clear. We have been sent by Jesus in the same way that the Father sent Him. Our mission is not one of pleasing self, or seeking approval from others. Indeed, there will be opposition and misunderstandings. This is part of the deal! Just as Jesus was persecuted, we should also expect to be. Obedience to God, as in the healing of the man on the Sabbath, may well set us in conflict with cultural and religious norms. There are occasions when the gospel brings us into direct confrontation with powers and ideas that are opposed to God. We will, of course, require wisdom to know when to engage in confrontation and when to take a more gentle approach, but we must have courage to know that the gospel of Christ is universally true and is for all, perhaps especially for those who are marginalised, like the man at Bethesda.
As we engage in our challenging mission, we do so with confidence that God is the ultimate judge. Christ will judge the living and the dead. Yet in a sense our message is a message of judgement – we come with truth which is a corrective and challenge to the falsehoods that pervade cultures. As we do this, we must display humility and dependence upon our Father. Jesus spoke only what His Father gave Him to say. In this, He was our example. We are sent as He was and this means that we must speak only as we hear Him speak. In our mission we must be careful to distinguish between our tendency to judge as inferior those things with which we are unfamiliar – what is simply foreign – and the need to discern what is opposed to the gospel – what is actually false. Entering into mission, especially when crossing cultures, will entail wisdom and humility. We must expect to be changed as much as we expect those we are reaching to be changed. In the process the unerring standard is the gospel revealed to us in Scripture. We must pay careful attention to it and allow it to correct both us and our hearers.
In summary, the lesson for mission that emerges from this passage is:
Mission requires humility and discernment – the proclamation of the gospel declares judgement on human sin, but we need wisdom to distinguish cultural preferences from biblical absolutes.