Jesus is What God is Like
November 18th, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
In response to Jesus’ healing the disabled man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:-15), the Jewish leaders reveal starkly that they have no idea what God is really like. They condemn Jesus from their elaborate list of rules, for healing on the Sabbath, and stand ready to kill Him for claiming the authority of God Himself (Jn.5:18). Jesus then gives His defense for His works and identity/authority in John 5:19-47: As the Son of God, all that He does and is on earth, is a reflection of God the Father’s heart. To know Jesus is to know the Father.
In Jesus’ defense of his work and authority in John 5:19-47, He presents three truths that Jesus wants all to understand about knowing God:
I. If you know God the Father, you will recognize Jesus.
Like an apprentice, Jesus does only what the Father shows Him (Jn.:5:19,20). While He was on earth, Jesus was actually a man, and gave up the independent exercise of His Godlike abilities. All that He did was a reflection of God the Father’s heart (Jn.5:42): e.g., loving the outcasts (Samaritan woman), healing bodies (the overlooked and disabled at the pool of Bethesda & the elite, Royal official’s son), teaching the learned (Nicodemus), caring for life’s details (wine at the wedding), being angry at religious oppression (Temple money changers), pursuing relationships (woman at the well), and ultimately offering love and forgiveness to the world (Jesus’ willing death and powerful resurrection).
II. If you know the Old Testament, you will recognize Jesus.
Jesus presents John the Baptist as a valid witness to Himself, as John called Jesus the “Lamb of God” (Jn.:1:29) and declared “Jesus must increase and I must decrease” (Jn.3:30). Jesus also points to His many miracles and signs which “revealed His glory” (John 2:11). Yet Jesus’ most pointed argument to these Jewish leaders is that He Himself is the One which the Old Testament images, prophecies, and narratives point to. In their focus on the minute details of the law, the Jewish leaders completely missed the point: Scripture is not about rules and judgement, but about Jesus Christ and His love for the Jews… and the whole world.
III. If you recognize Jesus, you have eternal life.
Instead of worrying about whether we will meet the rules (the do’s and don’ts) of religion in this life, we are called by Jesus Himself to focus on His glory and mercy, which will lead us to eternal life (Jn.5:24). Jesus, the perfect representation of the Father for us on earth, calls us to celebrate and focus on “the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn.1:14). And as we learn more & more who Jesus really is, we will know more & more who God the Father is, and as we turn to Jesus, we will become more like Him…and His Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. (II Cor.3:18)
- Where do you get your ideas/info about God?
- If Jesus is what God is like, what do I know and believe about Jesus? Be specific.
- If I am a spiritual person and believe in God, why do I even need Jesus?
- Is every book of the Bible really about Jesus? Why?
- How has your view of God/Jesus changed from studying Scripture?
- What do’s and don’t keep you from seeing Jesus now? Will they keep you from heaven?
- How can you know God more each day while you are on earth?
- In your faith walk, is Jesus still just an historical character, a spiritually abstract idea, or has Jesus has become more irresistible to you daily? Can you be honest?
My friend Angela has a question. A big question. It’s not a question she has asked me yet, but I can tell you that she’s pondering it and turning it over in her mind. It’s a question about God. Now Angela is not a Christian. Far from it. She’s actually from a culture that might at times be antagonistic toward Christians like me. But she’s been thinking a lot about God these days. She told me the other day that her son went to vacation bible school this summer and won a children’s Bible that she’s been reading it to him. She’s also thinking about going to Mexico with us to serve there. She’s not sure if she believes in God yet, but she’s interested in serving and in seeing what it’s like to hang out with Christians.
Here’s the question I think Angela is turning over in her mind as she thinks about all this: What is God really like? What is He like? Is He all about rules or is everything OK with him? Is He angry or is He happy? What does He care about? What moves Him to compassion? What does He hate? What is God really like?
It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? There are so many answers people would give to that question. Not only are there so many different religions with different ideas about God, but even among Christians there are a lot of different ideas out there about what God is really like. The way I understand and proclaim God to be now is very different from the way He was portrayed in my Independent Baptist upbringing. The God of my upbringing was a lot more into rules! Maybe the way we portray God is different from the way He was portrayed in your Catholic or Presbyterian or Methodist upbringing. There are a lot of different ideas out there!
So what would you say to my friend Angela? Is there a simple way is there a sure way to know what God is really like? How do we know what God is like?
Today we are going to look at a passage that answers that very question for us. Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to John 5:19-47. Last week we looked at the first 18 verses of John chapter 5 (the background). John 5 is a chapter where Jesus comes into conflict with some people that had very specific ideas about what God was like. They thought that God was all about rules.
These guys loved rules! They memorized all 613 of the rules of the Old Testament. They studied the details of those rules. They made rules about the rules. In fact, they thought that what really pleased God was having a longer list of rules than anybody else and keeping them all! They were Independent Baptists! Just kidding! They were the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Jesus ran into major conflict with them when he broke one of their rules. He had healed a man who had been disabled for 38 years. He had told the man to get up pick up his mat and walk, and he did it on a Sabbath! Now all the Old Testament actually said about the Sabbath was that was a Holy Day and a day that man should rest. But these Religious Leaders, true to their nature, had made all sorts of rules about the Sabbath. We said last week that they had 39 categories of things that people were forbidden from doing on the Sabbath. One of those categories was carrying things. You couldn’t wear a brooch on the Sabbath if you were a woman because you were carrying it. You couldn’t have a needle stuck into your clothes because you were carrying it. You definitely couldn’t carry your mattress on the Sabbath. So when these guys found out that Jesus had healed this man on a Sabbath and told him to carry his mat, there was immediate conflict.
They began to persecute Jesus. Not only did they refuse to recognize him as a prophet or teacher from God, but they accused him of violating the Sabbath. When Jesus responded that he was healing on the Sabbath, because he had the authority to do so as the Son of God things really ramped up! John tells us they sought to kill Jesus for blasphemy.
This is where we are at as we enter today’s passage. The Religious Authorities who had a very rule-driven view of God were accusing Jesus of Sabbath-breaking. and blasphemy and seeking to kill him. What we have in today’s passage is Jesus’ defense to his accusers.
OK, that was a long intro but let me say this. This is a long passage very long. It’s a 28 verse monologue by Jesus that at first seems complicated. Actually, it is complicated! I’ve been wrestling with this thing all week! But it breaks down into three simple truths about Jesus. So today as we look at this passage, what we are going to do is see how Jesus relates to three things:
- How he relates to God the Father
- how he relates to Scripture the Old Testament Bible that these religious authorities loved so much
- How he relates to eternal life
As we do that, we’re going to learn something very significant, the most basic fact about what God is really like. So let’s read John 5:19-47. Here is Jesus defense to the Religious Authorities:
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. 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. 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. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 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.
“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. I 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. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son 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 good will rise to live, and those who have done 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.
“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.
“You have sent to John (meaning John the Baptist) and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.
“But I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.
And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
“I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?
“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
And that is the way Jesus’ encounter with the Religious Leaders ends.
– John 5:19-47
I’m going to frame message around how Jesus relates to three things: the Father, Scriptures and Eternal Life. We’ll see as we go through these what this all has to do with truly knowing God (so kind of two things going on at once!) But the first thing Jesus talks about is how he relates to God, the Father, and what he says is this:
If you know God (the Father), you will recognize Jesus
That is the first thing Jesus says here in his discussion with the religious leaders. They have accused Jesus of violating God’s Law. They have refused to recognize the goodness of what he did when he healed the man on the Sabbath. They have most definitely refused to recognize that Jesus has the authority to work on the Sabbath. They are refusing to recognize Jesus. So Jesus tells them “If you truly knew what the Father is like, if you knew God you would recognize me.” Look at what he says:
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. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.
– John 5:19-20a
Now that’s a bunch of information, and there is some weighty theology there. When Jesus says “The Son does what the Father shows him,” he’s basically giving us a word-picture. This is the language of apprenticeship. In Jesus’ day, many sons, probably most sons, learned and carried on the trade of their Father. The way they did that was by becoming an apprentice. As an apprentice, their Father would show them one aspect of his trade, maybe how to hang a door if he was a carpenter, maybe how to quarry stone if he was a mason. He would show them one aspect of his trade. Then after they saw him do that thing, they would do it. So Jesus is using apprentice language here and this would be natural for him. His earthly Father, Joseph, was a carpenter. The Bible says Jesus was also a carpenter so he, at one point, had been an apprentice.
He’s using this language to describe his earthly relationship to the Father. Jesus was God fully God, but when Jesus came to earth he gave up the independent exercise of his divine abilities.
When he was on earth, he didn’t know everything. That’s why the Bible says that Jesus increased in wisdom. As a child, he learned things. When he was on earth, he couldn’t do everything. There’s a passage in Mark’s gospel that says “He could not do any miracles in Capernaum.” When he was on earth, he wasn’t everywhere at once like God, the Father, is. He gave up the independent exercise of his divine abilities. He could only exercise those abilities knowledge, and power and presence when the Father enabled him to do that.
He took on the role of apprentice when he became human. But think about how he describes his apprenticeship in the verses we just read. He says the Son can only do what the Father shows him. He says “Whatever the Father shows him, the Son does and he says the Father eventually shows the Son all things.” In other words, Jesus only does what the Father shows him. He does everything the Father shows him, and the Father shows him everything. In other words, Jesus and the Father are the same. They’re not the same person, but they do the same things. They have the same essence, the same heart.
When we apply all of this to the situation, we can see that what Jesus is implying is this: Everything you’ve seen me do in John’s gospel, everything is a reflection of the heart of God. When you see Jesus heal a sick child, it’s because the Father’s heart cares deeply about sick children. When you see Jesus go to the outcast Samaritans and pursue a relationship with a woman who was so outcast that she had to go get water in the heat of the day, it’s because God’s heart goes out to the outcast. He loves them. When you see Jesus go to a wedding in Cana and create awesome wine when they run out, it’s because God cares about the little things in our life like when we’ve run out of wine for our guests. He wants us to know joy! When you see Jesus cleanse the temple, it’s because religious oppression makes God angry. Everything Jesus does is a reflection of God’s heart!
That’s what’s going on with this healing on a Sabbath day. This is a display of God’s heart. What Jesus is saying is that this deed, even though it caused a man to carry his mat on a Sabbath, is a reflection of God’s heart. God’s heart is far less concerned about brooches and needles and carrying mats than it is with the health of his people. That’s the heart of the Father! He’s saying you can see this is the Father’s heart, because he enabled me to do this miracle! Jesus is saying that everything that he’s done, everything that he’s taught, every miracle, every kindness, every rebuke reveals the Father’s heart. It’s what God has shown him to do. He says the Father is going to show him more:
Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 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. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 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.
– John 5:20b-23
Jesus is saying the Father is going to show him far more than just a few miracles. He is going to hand over to Jesus the power to raise the dead and the power to judge all things at the end of the world. In all of this, here’s what Jesus is saying: I am God the Son. As the Son, I am completely submitted to the Father, but I am fully God. We are one in essence. So that you cannot honor the Father if you refuse to honor the Son. In verse 42, he says you cannot love the Father if you refuse to love the Son.
In John 8, he says you cannot know the Father if you refuse to know the Son. What Jesus is saying to the Religious Leaders is this: If you really knew God, if you really knew his heart, you would recognize me by my works as God’s Son. Whether you knew my claims, my story, my pedigree or not. If you knew God, you would recognize me.
Let me give you an example. Our neighbors down the street have a dog that, as a puppy, looked something like this. Her name is “Blue.” Here’s what she looks like now that she’s grown up. I have to tell you the first time we saw Blue as a puppy we recognized her. Kelley and I were on a walk. We went right up to the owners and said “We love your GSP puppy!” We recognized Blue for what she was! By the way, we also told the owners to get ready for puppy hades and for a high energy dog that rips your arm out of the socket every time you walk her, because she’s bred to run in the field all day! We recognized Blue for what she was.
Now how did we recognize that Blue was a GSP? Did we see her papers? Did someone tell us about her? No. We recognized her because we know bird dogs. I don’t mean we’re experts, but we grew up in a pheasant hunting state. Our neighbors had bird dogs. We’ve had four bird dogs ourselves, and I’ve trained them. Because we know bird dogs, we immediately recognized Blue! You could say the converse too. If I look at Blue and think she’s a Lab or a French Bulldog or a Brittany Spaniel, I don’t know bird dogs!
That’s what Jesus is saying to the Religious Authorities here. If you truly knew the Father, you would recognize that everything I do is a reflection of the Father’s heart. If you know God, you’ll recognize Jesus.
Now here’s what that has to do with you and me. It’s simple, but it’s profound. If you really want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Jesus is the expression of the Father’s heart. If you really want to know how God feels about people who are suffering and grieving, look at Jesus. See him heal the broken. See him weep at Lazarus’ grave. If you really want to know how God feels about people who use religion to exploit others and hold on to power, look at Jesus. See him rebuke the Pharisees and cleanse the temple. If you really want to know how God feels about people who are on the outside religiously like my friend Angela, look at Jesus. See him pursue the woman at the well. See him eat a meal with the sinners, and tax collectors, and prostitutes. He is a perfect reflection of God’s heart!
If you really want to know how God feels about you, look at Jesus. See him born in a manger, as one of us. See him walk the dusty streets of Jerusalem in a human body. See him willingly die on the cross for your sin. God loves you. The Father freely chose to give his one and only Son, and the Son freely chose to give his life so that you could be forgiven and have eternity with him.
Jesus is the expression of the Father’s heart. If you know God the Father, you’ll recognize Jesus. That’s the first thing Jesus says in response to the Religious Leaders. So that’s how Jesus relates to the Father. Now the next thing I want us to look at is how Jesus relates to Scripture so point 2 is just this:
If you know the Old Testament, you’ll recognize Jesus
If you know the Father, you’ll recognize Jesus. If you know the Old Testament, you’ll recognize Jesus. Now to see what Jesus says about this we need to jump down to verses 31-32. Jesus is continuing to argue for his validity when he points out that there is someone who can testify on his behalf:
“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid
– John 5:31-32
Jesus says there is a witness there is someone who can testify on his behalf whose testimony is completely valid. This witness is like the Hydrogen Bomb in Jesus’ legal arsenal. The testimony of this witness is more powerful than anything Jesus could say to the Religious Authorities. So we wonder who this witness could be?
Jesus actually lists three witnesses. We won’t go through it verse by verse, but he lists three. The first one is John the Baptist. John was an incredible witness. He was this crazy desert prophet who dressed in skins and ate bugs and wild honey. He was the greatest Prophet who ever lived. John testified powerfully to Jesus. He called Jesus the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. He said “Jesus must increase, and I must decrease.” He testified powerfully. Jesus says John is not my Hydrogen Bomb witness.
Next Jesus mentions the works, the miracles that he has done. Jesus’ works were an incredible witness to his validity. He’s already turned water into wine, healed a child that was at death’s door, and cured a man who was lame for 38 years. That’s pretty good! But he’s going to a lot more than just heal people. He’s going to basically feed 5,000 people with one Happy Meal and change the weather and, oh yeah, he’s going to raise the dead. I reckon if I met someone who had done those things I would listen up! Those are kind of more powerful than the testimony of John.
But that’s still not what Jesus is talking about. So what is this great testimony? What is this Hydrogen Bomb in Jesus’ arsenal of validation? What could possibly be greater than having the greatest prophet ever preparing the way for you and doing hundreds of miracles? What’s bigger than that? Look at verses 37-39:
And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. (so then how has the Father testified?) You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me,
– John 5:37-39
Jesus’ greatest witness is the Scriptures! He says that the Religious Authorities diligently study the Scriptures. Let me say that’s an understatement! These guys were legendary for their knowledge of the Old Testament. I once heard someone say you could drive a knife through a book of the Law of Moses and these guys could tell you which words were on either side of the blade. I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration! But they did have the entire law memorized plus tons of tradition and interpretation. They were legendary for their study of the details of the Old Testament.
But they missed the whole point! Jesus is saying “Look, you’ve spent so much time looking at the individual trees the little micro-commands and interpretive issues, that you’ve missed the forest! I’m the forest. It’s all about me! It testifies to me!”
In saying this, Jesus is saying something profound. He’s saying the point of the Old Testament is to point to him! And it’s true. Listen, the types, the word pictures or metaphors of the Old Testament point to Jesus. If you know the stories of the Old Testament, Jesus is the Manna that Israel ate in the exodus. He’s the bread that comes down from heaven to give life to God’s people. Jesus is the Temple. He’s the place where God meets man. Jesus is the Passover Lamb, the lamb that was sacrificed so that God’s judgement would pass over his people. The types of the Old Testament were all written to point to Jesus.
The prophecies of the Old Testament point to Jesus. Do you have any idea how much the Old Testament predicts about Jesus’ life? It predicts his ancient lineage, the tribe he would come from, the town of his Birth by name, the fact that he would be born of a virgin, the place he would grow up. Do you have any idea how much the Old Testament predicts about Jesus’ death? It predicts his betrayal by a friend and the fact that he would be beaten and disfigured. It predicts that his hands and feet would be pierced without breaking a bone. How many types of death do that? It predicts that foes would encircle him and that they would cast lots which are like dice for his clothes. It predicts that they would give him vinegar to drink. That he would be buried with the rich, but that God wouldn’t leave him in the grave. All the prophecies point to Jesus.
The narrative of Scripture points to Jesus. The whole plotline of the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi moves toward the climax of Jesus. Dozens of writers over centuries but it all forms a single story and guess who the hero is? It’s Jesus! It’s all about him! And the Religious Leaders had missed it entirely!
It’s like one of those 3D posters that were so big in the 90’s. They just looked like a big bunch of squiggly lines. You would stare at them for five minutes. Then, all of a sudden, a 3D space shuttle or something would pop out! You were like “Wow!” Once you saw it, you couldn’t un-see it. Every time you looked at that poster you would see the Space Shuttle. Once you see that you come to realize that the point of the poster isn’t the squiggly lines it’s the Space Shuttle!
That’s what the Old Testament is like. It’s all about Jesus. But look at what he says to the Religious Authorities in verses 45-46. Look at how he closes his encounter with them. He’s already implied that they will face judgment. Now look at what he says:
“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
– John 5:45-46
Moses was the one who wrote these guys’ favorite part of the Old Testament. Jesus is saying “Look, you’ve been staring at the squiggly lines, dissecting them, expanding them, deriving one command after another after another. You have been making it all about your little rules and saying that’s what God is like. When if you would just take an honest look, you would see that it’s all about me. I’m the point of the Old Testament. The fact that you can’t recognize me now that I’m here shows something about the hardness of your heart. It’s not aligned with God and his Word.”
Jesus says “If you know the Old Testament, you’ll recognize me.” Now how does this relate to us? How does this relate to us, knowing what God is really like? Simple: If you want to see what God is really like in Scripture, if you really want to know his heart, don’t make it all about the rule. Don’t focus on the commands and the minutiae. Don’t get me wrong. The rules are awesome in their right place. They are good for us. They can reveal things about God’s character. But if you make it all about the rules, about making a checklist of do’s and don’ts and justifying yourself by that checklist, if you think like the Religious Authorities did “OK, I’ve had a good day. I didn’t disobey too many commands God must love me today.” Or “Boy, I’ve really blown it today. God must really hate me.” If that’s what you think God is all about, you’ve missed the point entirely! He’s so much better than that!
The Old Testament at its core isn’t a rulebook, even though it does have commands. The Old Testament at its core is a love story. It’s a story about a God who loved the world so much that he created a nation to give birth to a Savior who could rescue us from our brokenness and sin. If you read the Old Testament that way, you’ll see what it’s really all about.
If we know God, we will recognize Jesus. If we know the Old Testament, we’ll recognize Jesus. Now one more point, and it actually comes from the middle of the passage, but it really puts a bow on it, so that we can understand what this is all about. If you know God, you’ll recognize Jesus. If you know Scripture, you’ll recognize Jesus.
If you recognize Jesus, you’ll have eternal life
Look at what Jesus says in verse 24. He makes a very simple statement:
“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
– John 5:24
Jesus is saying if you recognize him, if you accept his claims and listen to his teaching, you will have eternal life. Notice the tense of the verbs Jesus uses in this verse. He says those who believe in him will not be condemned in the future, because they have already crossed over from death to life now. That shows us once again that it’s not about the rules. See if it were about the rules, I couldn’t have eternal life right now. I’d have to wait until the end of my life to make sure I don’t misbehave and blow it! It’s not about the rules.
It’s not about the rules because if it is about the rules, we are ultimately going to do the same thing that the Pharisees and Sadducees did every time. We’re going to focus on our favorite rules and make a big deal out of all the details of those. We’re going to judge others when they don’t measure up to our expectations. We’re going to miss the heart of God entirely.
Look at the Religious Authorities. They are so wound up about one little aspect of one rule that’s in the Old Testament that they can’t even celebrate when someone who has been in bondage for 38 years is healed and set free! That’s not God’s heart at all. His heart is for us to know his love and mercy. It’s for us to look at Jesus who is the perfect representation of the Father, to see him as the point of the Old Testament, and to believe in what Jesus says, the claims he makes, and the teachings he gives, so that we can be transformed in his image and have eternal life.
What is God really like? I would want my friend Angela to know that He’s just like Jesus.