The Unity of the Father and the Son:
A Call to Honor Jesus
By Greg Wright
Preached at Grace Baptist on March 1, 2009
Good morning, and welcome to Grace Baptist Church. We are continuing our studies in the Gospel of John. Today we will be looking at John 5:16-30.
We have now come to that place in our studies where Jesus is beginning to reveal the deeper things about His relationship to the Father. In the prior chapters, He has already affirmed that He is the Son of God, but in our discussion today we will see in more detail what this means. It is a relationship of unity, and the unity of the Son with the Father has enormous implications for how we should receive and honor Jesus.
But before we launch into that subject, let’s review where we have been over the last couple of months. Two messages ago we looked at John 5:1-15. The title of that sermon was Six Reasons to Hate Sin: Putting Your Anger Where it Belongs. We discussed the human tendency to rail against God when things go awry, and we considered why we should blame sin instead of God. However, that passage is also the springboard for today’s very different topic, which is The Unity of the Father and the Son.
In John 5:1-15, Jesus heals a man who has been paralyzed for thirty-eight years, and Jesus cleverly and deliberately heals that man on the Sabbath day, knowing that the Jewish leaders will jump down his throat, so to speak, for having the audacity to heal on the Sabbath. We can imagine them getting right in Jesus’ face and demanding, “Just who do you think you are? Even if you do have special powers, who do you think you are that gives you the right to violate our traditions?” Of course, Jesus did not break God’s law; he only violated their overreaching traditions. Had Jesus actually broken God’s law, He would not have been able to save us.
Meanwhile, Jesus responds as if to say, “I’m so glad you asked. Now, let me tell you just who I am.” From that point on, Jesus begins to reveal one of the most profound and mysterious truths in all of scripture, that part of the Doctrine of the Trinity that deals with the unity between the Father and the Son.
How we understand the relationship between the Father and the Son depends upon our knowledge of the biblical Doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, because of the forthcoming Trinitarian issues, I used my last message to review the Doctrine of the Trinity. I even gave you a song about the Trinity, hoping that you might use this song at home to help you to instruct your children.
The sermon on the Trinity fulfilled a primary goal and a secondary goal. The secondary goal was to protect us against the doctrinal errors regarding the Trinity that are being proclaimed in our day, but the primary goal was to prepare us for the subject matter we are about to consider – the unity of the Father and the Son. How are the Father and the Son one; how are they different; and how do they work together?
These questions were addressed, at least in part, in the summary points of the last sermon. Those summary points were:
1. There is only one God, the living and true God.
2. There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
3. These three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.
4. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding.
5. The personality of the Son is eternally begotten of the Father.
6. The personality of the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from both the Father and the Son.
7. Subordination of essence in the Godhead is denied, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being equal.
8. Subordination of persons in the Godhead is affirmed, the Son submitting to the Father and the Holy Spirit submitting to both with respect to role and hierarchy.
9. The hierarchical order in the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is permanent.
10. Each person in the Godhead works on our behalf to bring us through this life and into the life to come.
As you know, the Trinity includes the Holy Spirit. However, in today’s sermon I will not be saying very much about Him. The Gospel of John has much to say about the Holy Spirit, and we will respond accordingly as we, Lord willing, address subsequent passages, but the focus of today’s passage is Jesus’ relationship to His Father.
Let’s read what Jesus has to say. If you are not there already, we will be reading from John 5:16-30:
For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.
But He answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working."
For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
Verse 16 sets the stage for our discussion: “For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.”
Jesus had healed the paralytic on the Sabbath day. One of the reasons this angered the Jews so much was this was not the first time Jesus had done good on the Sabbath. Notice that verse 16 says, “was doing these things on the Sabbath.” It was Jesus’ practice to do good on the Sabbath. On other occasions, as reflected in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus had defended His Sabbath activities with different arguments. But on this occasion in the Gospel of John, Jesus defends Himself by disclosing four things. Those four things constitute the outline for this sermon. They are:
1. Jesus is equal to the Father.
2. Jesus is led by the Father.
3. Jesus is loved by the Father.
4. Jesus is honored by the Father.
II. Jesus is Equal to the Father
A. My Father.
First we note that in some sense Jesus is equal to the Father. This is seen first in the personal relationship between the two of them. In verse 17 we read, “But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’"
The Jews were outraged, “What do you mean, My Father?” They would have had no objection to the term, our Father. They understood that God was in some sense the Father of all of mankind and in a more particular sense the Father of their nation. Even Jesus, when He taught His disciples to pray it was to “Our Father” not “My Father.” But when it came to His own personal relationship to God, He unapologetically used the term My Father.
The Jews’ objection is summarized in verse 18 where we read, “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”
Equal with God, equal with the Father, is that what He was claiming? One of the great debates in the early church was over whether Jesus and the Father were equal. Do you remember the Arians? They believed that the Father created the Son, making the Son a lesser being than the Father, created essence having a lesser being than uncreated essence. In opposition to the Arians, the church fathers were possibly thinking of this very passage when they said, “What the Arians did not understand, the Pharisees did understand.” The Pharisees clearly understood that in some sense Jesus was claiming to be equal to the Father.
But how was Jesus claiming to be equal? When we discussed the Trinity last time we noted that God is one with respect to essence and three with respect to persons. The three persons of the Trinity share God’s whole and undivided essence equally, simultaneously, and fully. We then went on to discuss the meaning of the word essence. Another way to ask about the essence of God is to pose the question: what is God? Left to ourselves, God is incomprehensible to us. But God has not left us in the dark. Through the divine revelation of scripture, God has revealed some of His attributes. The Shorter Catechism summaries this revelation when it says, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” These are the qualities that make God, God.
Now, Jesus does not provide this detailed Trinitarian description. He simply says, “My Father is working until now and I am working.” However, when this working is further explained in the verses that follow, we find not only that the Father and Son are engaging in the same activities, but we discover that these activities transcend the abilities of human beings. The implications of Jesus being able to engage in the same activities as the Father are enormous. Jesus gives life. Jesus raises the dead. Jesus could not do these things unless He had the same attributes as the Father. He could not do these things unless He and the Father shared the same essence. To do divine things you must have a divine nature.
Other scriptures support, in a more explicit way, the equality of essence between the Father and the Son. One example is Colossians 2:9 where we read, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” Note that the Colossians passage says ‘all the fullness of Deity.” Thus, Jesus does not just have some of the powers of the Father; He has all of the powers of the Father.
III. Jesus is Led by the Father
Not only does Jesus have the same nature (or essence) as the Father, but Jesus is also led by the Father. Equal and led – at the same time – what a lesson for us! Husbands and wives are equal before God; yet a Godly wife willingly submits to her husband, as we read in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”
In verse 19 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”
You might have noticed that this is an example of something that we discussed last time, the fact that equality and subordination co-exist in the Trinity. While the Father and the Son are equal in essence, the person of the Son submits to the person of the Father with respect to activities. Here Jesus submits to the Father by waiting for the Father to reveal His works, works that Jesus will then copy.
Someone might ask, “How can Jesus be equal with the Father in ability if the Father has to show him what to do?” In response, let me say that even if you show a person what to do, he cannot do it unless he has a nature that equips him to do it. An example is the child prodigy who can, without reading the music and without practicing, play a difficult composition that he knows only by having heard someone else play it. There are certain people who can do that.
Now, suppose one of the many gifted musicians in our church were to say to me, “Greg, I am going to show you how to play Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Now pay really close attention, because after I have shown you how to play it, I want you to play it, without music, in the same way.” There is no way I could do that. I could approximate the way that person played it after a long season of practice, but there is no way I could play it on the spot, having never practiced it.
It was different with Jesus. The Father clearly and effectively communicated to the Son, the Son clearly understood the Father, and the Son consistently followed His Father’s leadership.
Most likely, this leadership also included things like timing and method. Note that part of verse 19 which says, “These things the Son also does in like manner.” Even though Jesus had by nature the required abilities, He depended on the Father to tell Him what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.
IV. Jesus is loved by the Father
Not only is Jesus led by the Father, Jesus is also loved by the Father. In verse 20 we read, “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.”
How does the Father love the Son:
· He shows the Son all that He is doing.
· He will show the Son even greater things than the healing of the paralytic.
· He allows the Son to join Him in His work.
The Father and the Son have always worked together. There is something analogous to this in our own families. It is one thing to try to teach a child to work independently. It is another thing to allow a child to share in your own personal work.
For example, I remember when my son Stephen first wanted to help me rake leaves. He was probably five years old or less. My initial approach was to try to teach him how to rake his own pile of leaves. This would have allowed me to still get my work done by keeping him from slowing me down. But I soon discovered that this was not at all what Stephen had in mind. He wanted to rake leaves with Dad into Dad’s pile. What a timeless moment – that special time in the life of a son when he wants to be with Dad, doing what Dad does. I did not realize at the time that this was a glimpse into the beauty of the way the God the Father and God the Son work together in a relationship of mutual love and joy.
The Old Testament gives us a peek into some of these inter-Trinitarian acivities. Isaiah 50 is one of the servant songs that speaks of the Messiah’s dependence upon the Father. In the last part of Isaiah 50:4 we read, “He [the Father] awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.” Here the Father seems to be in a regular habit of lovingly waking up the Son so He can give Him His instructions for the day, and the Son seems to be in a regular habit of longingly anticipating instruction and communion with His Father.
Then in Proverbs we find a personification of wisdom where wisdom seems to portray Christ, Himself. This interpretation is easy to believe in light of those New Testament passages that refer to Christ as the wisdom of God, for example, 1 Corinthians 1:24. In Proverbs 8:22-31 we read:
The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth; while He had not yet made the earth and the fields, nor the first dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, when He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed, when He set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.
If this passage is talking about Jesus, and I believe it is, Proverbs 8:22-26 speaks of Jesus as eternal, deploying phrases like “From everlasting I was established.” Then, Proverbs 8:26-29 speaks of the Son as being there with the Father in the works of creation, for example, “When He established the heavens, I was there.” Then verse 30 tells how the Son was with the Father, for example, “When He marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was beside Him, as a master workman.” Jesus was there with the Father as a master workman. Now, does this not sound like John 5:19 where we read, “Whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner,” and John 5:20 where we read, “The Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing”?
Consider also the last part of Proverbs 8:30 where we read, “I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.” Does this not sound like John 5:19 where we just read, “The Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing.”
And look at the Son’s attitude towards these works of the Father in Proverbs 8:30b-31, “Rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.” Not only was Jesus led by the Father, not only was Jesus loved by the Father, not only did Jesus work with the Father, but Jesus delighted and rejoiced in the work that He and the Father were doing together.
This is just a glimpse into the beauty of the love and intimacy that unites the Father and the Son.
V. Jesus is honored by the Father
Not only is Jesus loved by the Father, Jesus is also honored by the Father. In John 5:21-23 we read, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
Here the Father honors the Son in two ways. The first way the Father honors the Son is by giving Him the authority to give life. Jesus gives physical life, spiritual life, and resurrection life. The second way the Father honors the Son is by giving Him the authority to execute judgment.
First the Father honors the Son by giving Him the authority to restore physical life. This authority is demonstrated at least three times in the Gospels. In Matthew 9:23, Mark 5:22, and Luke 8:41, Jesus raised Jairus’s dead daughter. For some reason Jesus wanted this miracle to be concealed. Next, the raising of the only son of the widow of Nain was much more public, for in this case Jesus interrupted a funeral procession, as recorded in Luke 7:11-16. Since I think this miracle was done while John the Baptist was still alive, I believe the Jews already knew about this event when Jesus healed the paralytic. Later they would see Jesus heal Lazarus in John 11:38, and by that time the Jews would be so offended that they would seek to kill Jesus and Lazarus, both. That is how Jesus gave physical life.
Second, the Father honors the Son by giving Him the authority to impart spiritual life. By spiritual life I mean conversion, the work of bringing sinners to repentance and faith. Let us be clear that this spiritual life is a present reality. If you are born again, you possess eternal life right now.
This is not to deny that like a tornado headed our way, physical death looms in our futures. Death is real, death is often painful, and death rips our emotions apart – it tears away at our very hearts. But for the believer, physical death is only a part of the journey in the eternal life that begins, not at the moment of physical death, but at the moment of conversion. So it is that we read in John 5:24, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
The NIV captures the sense of this, “He has crossed over from death to life.” On the other side of the bridge you were as dead as a rock. You were helpless. But you are not on that side of the bridge anymore. Now you are a believer. Why, because Jesus knows how to talk to rocks. Jesus knows how to change your will so that you come willingly. Jesus knows how to change hearts so that you have a heart for Him. John 5:25 says “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live."
Do all of the spiritually dead live? No, it is the ones who hear that live. How do they come to hear? The Father elects a people for salvation, the Son redeems the elect by dying for them, and in time the Holy Spirit regenerates them. Prior to regeneration you are spiritually dead. You are as unresponsive to the gospel as a dead man is to a human voice. But when God decides to impart spiritual life through regeneration, the spiritually dead hear and believe.
You might have noticed that I said the Holy Spirit regenerates people. This is true, but even when the Holy Spirit comes, He comes as the Spirit of Christ, as we see in Romans 8:9 and 1 Peter 1:11, all of this serving to illustrate how the entire Trinity works together for your salvation.
You might have also noticed the part of verse 25 that says “an hour is coming and now is.” God has always called out His people by regenerating them. When people were born again in the Old Testament, it was through regeneration. It is perhaps in this sense that He was saying the hour now is. But now a new hour was coming in which the Gospel would be preached, not just to Jews, but to people all over the world. Dead as a rock in their polytheism, dead as a rock in their animosity against Christianity, dead as a rock in their pagan philosophy, by the grace of God, many of those dead ones would hear and believe. This is how the Father has honored the Son through the authority to give spiritual life.
Third, the Father has honored the Son through the authority to give resurrection life. We see this in John 5:26-29:
For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
When Jesus calls people to spiritual life it is not universal. Only the elect are called in this way. However, on that day when Jesus calls people to resurrection life, both the righteous and the unrighteous will be raised. While in this life people are free to ignore Jesus, in the next life they will not ignore Him. His call to life will be a call they have to obey. The unrighteous will have new bodies, and the righteous will have new bodies. No one will be allowed to remain in the grave. The sea will give up its dead. Even those who were cremated will receive new bodies. No one will be able to refuse to honor the Son’s command to rise and live.
But the authority to give life – physical life, spiritual life, and resurrection life – is not the only way in which the Father has honored the Son. The Father has honored the Son by also giving Him the authority to judge.
How will people be judged? Verse 29 distinguishes between those who did good deeds and those who committed evil deeds. Those who did good deeds are raised to life, and those who committed evil deeds are raised for judgment.
Of course, if you read all of scripture, it is clear that no one is saved by deeds. No one is saved through the works they have done. Works do not even help your salvation – salvation is through faith alone. However, true faith is never alone. True faith is lived out in a righteous way of life, as the epistle of 1 John makes clear. It is in this sense that believers and non-believers are distinguished as those who do good deeds and those who do evil deeds. Their deeds are not the cause of their salvation; they are the evidence and the effect of their salvation.
The doers of evil are bold to assail Christ in our day. They ignore His warnings, they malign His character, and they blaspheme His name. Today Jesus is dishonored. But on that day He will be honored. The Father has seen to it that Jesus will be honored, and He has done this by making Him judge.
Yet, even in this the Father does not leave the Son alone. Just as the Father and the Son have worked together for all eternity, the joyful fellowship continues in John 5:30 where Jesus says, “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Yes, Jesus will be the judge, but the Father will support His every verdict.
This unity between the Father and the Son has sobering applications for us. Are you ignoring Jesus today? If you are, then you are ignoring the Father as well. Do you dishonor Jesus in the way you use his name in your conversations? Then you are also taking the Father’s name in vain. Do you see the Father as angry and vengeful and the Son as easygoing and lovable? If you do, take note that the Father and the Son are united in both life and judgment. They are of the same mind towards you. Will you honor Jesus today? Will you submit to Him as Lord? If not, be assured that you will eventually honor Him. If you humble yourself before Him today with true repentance and faith, you will have forgiveness of sins, you will have eternal life, and after you die you will be resurrected to a life of eternal happiness. On the other hand, if you die in your sins, you will honor Him by submitting to Him in judgment and by receiving the just penalty for every sin you ever committed. So what would you have, eternal life or eternal misery?
Let us pray: Dear heavenly Father, my hearts is heavy, because we live in a day when the Son is dishonored. We long for that day when He will be honored by all people. Meanwhile, give us the grace to always honor Him in our hearts. Amen.