Monday, October 26, 2009

Jesus Gives Life

As we work through John's Gospel at SET (St Elizabeth's Teens), the Sunday night youth group, we've come to chapter five. We're introduced to a sad character. A man who has been paralyzed for thirty eight years. That's longer than any of us have lived on earth, although some are closer to it than others! The man lies near a pool in the city of Jerusalem, with lots of other sick people, because they expect a miracle to happen - possibly superstitious - that when bubbles appear in the water then an angel is stirring the water and the first one in will be cured.

Jesus comes along, and asks the man what seems to be a silly question: 'Do you want to be healed?' Well of course he does, after all, he's paralyzed, isn't he? But that's not his answer. He doesn't say yes - instead he gives an answer born of self-pity: 'Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.' I would be healed if I had someone who could help me...

Jesus asks us the same question. Do you want to be healed, forgiven, changed, cleansed? It seems that the man was comfortable as he was, he didn't really want to change. What about us? When Jesus asks the question do we answer yes, or do we cling to what we know? We are paralyzed by our sin, not really living. Jesus rightly urges us to count the cost before making a commitment.

So what does Jesus do next? * Jesus doesn't help the man into the pool when the bubbles come, he just says the word, and the man is healed: 'Get up, take up your bed, and walk.' Jesus' word has power, he just has to say the word and the man's legs work again. Even more interesting is the word that's used: Get up is the same word to rise up, a resurrection word that is used of Lazarus being raised from the dead, and later used of Jesus being raised up. The paralyzed man is having a mini-resurrection, being raised to new life.

The man hasn't walked for thirty-eight years, and he's able to walk away. You'd think everyone would be tremendously happy. But that's not how it is. Some people are cross, because the man is breaking the Sabbath laws by carrying his bed. No joy, just condemnation. The man's response is great: 'The man who healed me, that man said to me, "Take up your bed and walk".' Implication: If he's powerful enough to heal me, then he can jolly well tell me what to do! The Jews don't like it one bit and set out to find out who it was who did this.

Jesus later encounters the man again and warns him not to sin again, in case something worse happens to him. While it's not always appropriate to claim that suffering is a result of personal sin (see John 9), sometimes it is the case. The threat of something worse evokes the threat of eternal punishment in the judgement.

The Jews are hopping mad by now, because Jesus is claiming to be equal to God, by calling God his father. So Jesus talks to them, and says that just like a son goes into the family occupation, carefully watching and learning from his father in an apprenticeship (e.g. carpentry or goldsmith etc), so he does what he sees the Father doing. In John 5 there are two particular things that the Father does which Jesus also does: Gives life (as seen in the healing), and exercises judgement.

21For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. (John 5:21-23)

What Jesus says next pulls these two things together, but before we come to it, I want to tell you about a village I used to live in. Newtownstewart is a small village halfway between Omagh and Strabane. At one time, if you were going from Omagh to Strabane, you had to pass through the village of Newtownstewart. There was no way around it. It's a wee place, twisty corners, narrow roads, pedestrians, traffic. It was a nightmare to get through and took ages and ages. But just as I moved there, they opened a new by-pass. Now, if you're going from Omagh to Strabane, you don't have to get stuck in Newtownstewart. You can speed along the main road, and miss the problem of the village.

Each of us are in the throes of death. We will all some day die. There is no escape. And death leads to judgement, it's what happens: we die and we are judged. And therein lies our problem. We've all done bad things, wrong things, and the outcome of the judgement will be punishment. But Jesus, in John 5:24, says that we can avoid the judgement:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.(John 5:24)

We can bypass judgement by hearing Jesus' words and believing in him, and we immediately pass from death to life! It's the difference between pulling the 'Go to Jail, Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect £200' card in Monopoly and pulling the 'Advance to Go' card in the Chance pile.

The promise of life has been made - Jesus is the one who will judge, and the one who can give life. How can we be sure of it?

In a court case, there are witnesses brought to verify that what is being said is the truth. They testify to what they know. Jesus presents four witnesses to verify what he is saying (even though he doesn't need any witnesses as he always speaks truth):

1. John the Baptist came before Jesus, to prepare the way for him, and he has borne witness to the truth.

2. God the Father, because the very works that Jesus is doing are the things the Father desires, thus showing that the Father is pleased with Jesus, and that the Father sent Jesus into the world.

3. The Scriptures, because the Jews were searching the Scriptures to find life, but all the while they were missing the whole point of them. Yes, the Scriptures point to the life giver, to Jesus, but the Jews refused to come to Jesus to have life, depending instead on their interpretations and law-keeping for their goodness.

4. Moses himself testifies to Jesus. You see, Moses was the giver of the Law, the whole point of the argument being the breaking of the Sabbath. But Jesus says that it is the very Moses on whom they pin their hopes who accuses them, because Moses wrote about Jesus, and points to Jesus.

The Jews that day had no excuse for not believing Jesus - the evidence was right before they eyes, the witnesses were pointing to the truth that Jesus is the judge, and Jesus is the Life-Giver. What excuse will we have if we come before Jesus the Judge? We've been to SET and heard the Gospel many times, we've heard how Jesus is the rescuer who saves us from the penalty our sins deserve. We've probably all got Bibles in our houses, and we've been in RE / RS and Assemblies in School, so have no excuse at all for not believing.

Jesus shows his power by healing the man with his word. Jesus is God, the Son of God. Jesus is the judge, but provides the way of escaping judgement by giving life. At the end of the day you have a simple choice. Life or judgement? It's up to you...

A form of this talk was given at SET in St Elizabeth's Halls on Sunday 25th October 2009.

* One of the joys of teaching the Bible to young people who have never heard it before is that you get refreshingly honest answers based on what they think, not what the answer should be. So some of the guys thought that Jesus would give the man a helping hand into the pool. One guy got it right!

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