If Jesus really is who he claims to be, then the most amazing thing has come our way: the way to peace with God is available to anyone who will accept it, and forgiveness of sin can be yours and mine. It’s an amazing claim. And…it is highly controversial.
Our walk through the gospel of John brings us this week to one of the most controversial claims of Jesus—that he alone is the world’s Judge and Savior. That is a huge claim—that to welcome him, Jesus says, is to welcome God who sent him, while to reject him is to reject the Savior, the Mediator, the peacemaker whom God has sent.
That claim has always been controversial, starting with when Jesus first made it. Because it opens up only three possibilities:
- Either Jesus is a lunatic, a liar, or he is Lord—so it’s crucial to chase the evidence and choose.
- His claims mean he is either a conman, crazy, or Christ. Those are the only options: so let the clues help you conclude.
- He’s either a conman, crazy, or Christ. Let the clues help you conclude, and decide who you are trusting for a right relationship with God, both now and forever.
It was C.S. Lewis who pointed out that many are willing to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but reject Jesus’ unique claims to be God, to be the world’s Savior and Judge. To that objection, Lewis famously wrote:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.” (Mere Christianity, p. 41).
- We all have to decide: Jesus is either a lunatic, liar, or Lord; either a conman, crazy, or Christ. Where does the evidence point? Let’s take a stab at it.
We’re going to read John chapter 5 in its entirety today, and then quickly consider the evidence that the world’s Savior and Judge is none but Jesus. Let’s set it up with a brief outline of the chapter. John chapter 5 can be captured in four words:
That’s the flow of John chapter 5. Jesus brings…
- An amazing cure
- That cure provokes murderous conflict
- Jesus responds to the conflict with astounding claims
- And he points to several confirmations of his claims—and we can add more confirmations since the time Jesus made this intense claim.
Again, Jesus is either a conman, crazy, or he is Christ: let the clues help you conclude. John chapter 5, we read…
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
[There’s the cure, the 3rd miraculous sign the gospel of John is structured around. Here comes the conflict.]
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
[We saw the cure, followed by conflict. Here come Jesus’ highly controversial claims.]
Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, 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, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. 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. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 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.
[The cure provoked conflict, which led Jesus to these controversial claims. Finally, he backs them up with several confirmations, saying…]
“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.
“You have sent to John 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.
“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify 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 study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
“I do not accept glory from human beings, 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 since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory 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?”
Cure, Conflict, Claims, Confirmations: it all starts with a miraculous cure. This man who has been disabled for 38 years is waiting by Jerusalem’s Pool of Bethesda, which means ‘house of mercy.’ He needs mercy, longs for mercy, and has just about given up hope on finding mercy.
But then Jesus shows up, and with a word of command, new life and health course through those until-then-withered limbs. The man is healed, picks up his mat and walks.
John’s gospel is structured around seven miraculous signs of Jesus: this is the third that John features. Each sign is a miracle that conveys meaning. The meaning here is that Jesus has authority over the physical realm and spiritual realms: he heals, and does so on the Sabbath. We—all of humanity—have two big problems. The first is physical: we all eventually get sick and die. The second is spiritual: after death comes judgment. As Hebrews 9:27 declares, “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…” We have those two big problems, and no one has come up with a solution to either one.
Robert Webber tells a story about this. He was flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles one day and reading a Christian book to pass the time. The man next to him, dressed in attire from the Eastern hemisphere, asked, “Are you a religious man?”
Webber replied, “Well, yes.”
“I am too,” his seatmate responded. They began talking about religion. In the middle of the conversation, Robert Webber asked, “Can you give me a one-liner that captures the essence of your faith?”
“Well, yes,” he replied. “We are all part of the problem, and we are all part of the solution.”
They talked about that one-liner, a statement that Webber felt was thoughtful. After a while Webber said, “Would you like a one-liner that captures the Christian faith?”
“Sure,” his seatmate responded.
Here’s what Robert Webber said: “We are all part of the problem, but there is only one person who is the solution. His name is Jesus.” And with that, the conversation shifted from our problems and our efforts, to what it is that only Jesus can do, because of who only Jesus is.
Source: Robert Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? (IVP, 2008), p. 26
And again, he is either a conman, crazy, or he is Christ. Let the clues help you conclude.
The miraculous cure is followed by murderous conflict. Because Jesus healed on the Sabbath and declared himself to be equal with God (verse 18), John writes, the Jewish leaders tried all the more to kill him.
Instead of backing down, Jesus responds with two explicit claims about who only he is. First, Jesus claims…
All judgment has been entrusted to me.
“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. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” John 5:22-23
Jesus claims to be the world’s Savior and Judge. What a claim! And lest we think this is unclear, listen to what the apostle Paul preached in his evangelistic sermon to non-Jews in Athens. He told them the same thing:
“[God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Jesus claimed to be the world’s Savior and Judge. And the apostles preached the same—all verified by his resurrection from the dead. Only Jesus could make such a claim and have such a confirmation to back it up.
Let’s take a step back to consider judgment, the Bible’s clear teaching that all will be judged after this life. Here in the West especially, we struggle with believing in judgment day. What you need to know is that not everyone does. Not everyone struggles with Jesus’ claim that the dead will be judged.
Consider this from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire. It’s the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa. Mobutu Sese Seko reigned as President and dictator of that country for more than 30 years. And after he was forced out of power and the country descended into chaos. It became—and still is—the poorest country in the world, even though it has huge deposits of diamonds, cobalt, copper; one of the largest forest reserves in Africa; and about half of the hydroelectric potential of the massive African continent. Even still, it became the poorest country in the world.
A Congolese man named Emma tells of witnessing many atrocities committed against his friends and family members. He and his wife and three daughters fled on foot. Weeks later they arrived in Uganda as refugees, with nothing.
One night he opened up with a friend and started to weep over the violence and injustice he had witnessed. Then he said this to his friend: “You know Mark, I could never believe the gospel if it were not for the judgment of God. Because I will never get justice in this world. But I couldn’t cope if I was never going to see justice done.”
We in the West may recoil from the idea of God as Judge because we’ve rarely tasted severe injustice. But most people have: most people around the globe, and most people throughout history, have tasted the bitterness of injustice, and thus recognize the goodness and appropriateness of the coming judgment day, that God’s justice is necessary, that without justice, there would be no basis for believing that God is good.
“All judgment has been entrusted to me,” Jesus insists, and “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” A huge claim. Jesus claims to be the world’s Judge.
- He’s either a conman, crazy, or Christ. Those are the only options.
Then he goes even further, claiming…
Eternal life is found in me. 24-27
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 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…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.”
John 5:24-25, 28-29
How can you hear this and not be amazed?
More than twenty times in John’s gospel, a heavy claim from Jesus starts with this same introduction: “Very truly I tell you…” It’s an alert. It’s a huge flashing light. It’s a massive heads up—that to receive Jesus is to receive eternal life.
To trust in Jesus is to change eternal status from condemned to acquitted.
To listen to Jesus is to hear your name called on resurrection day, as you are invited into the fullness of life with God and all who have trusted the heaven-sent Savior. Huge claims!
These are not the claims of just an inspiring religious figure, or some kind of enlightened guru.
- These are the claims of either a lunatic, a liar, or our Lord. Those are the options. Jesus unmistakably claims that he alone is the world’s Judge—and that he alone is the world’s Savior. what you do with him is what you do with
Let’s quickly move to the evidence for Jesus’ outrageous claim. Jesus points to four witnesses who back him up, four confirmations:
- First is John the Baptist, verse 33, who testified of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
- Second is his miraculous works. Verse 36, “The very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me.”
- Third is God the Father himself, verse 37. Jesus is likely alluding here to his baptism, when God the Father testified, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
- And fourth is the Old Testament Scriptures, verses 39-40.
- None but Jesus fulfills the supernaturally-detailed prophecies predicting the Messiah.
- None but Jesus is foreshadowed by the entire Old Testament storyline. If you asked an ancient Israelite from Moses’ era to give their testimony, they would have said:
- We were far from home, living in slavery and under the sentence of death.
- But our mediator—the one who stood between us and God—came to us with the promise of deliverance.
- We trusted in the promises of God, took shelter under the blood of the lamb, and our mediator led us out.
- Now we are on the way to the Promised Land.
- We have God’s Spirit to guide us,
- we have blood sacrifice to cleanse us,
- we have God’s Word to lead us,
- and we have God’s promise to never leave or forsake us as he calls us toward our true country, our everlasting
- John the Baptist
- Jesus’ miraculous works
- God the Father
- The Old Testament Scriptures
The same testimony could be given by a Christian at any point in history, almost word for word—because of how the entire Old Testament storyline foreshadows Jesus as the world’s Savior and Judge.
He is either a conman, crazy, or Christ. Those are the only options. Let the evidence lead where it may.
Today, as with the first Christians, we can add the confirmation for Jesus’ claims of his resurrection, which has won over many a skeptic. If you ever fall into doubt, look into the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Part of my coming to faith was reading the attempts to disprove Jesus’ resurrection up against the evidence for it: the evidence is compelling.
Today, two millennia of Christian history later, we can add the confirmation of Jesus’ continuing impact for good in the world—like Christians leading in the abolition of slavery, working for children’s rights and women’s rights in light of how Jesus treated women and children. We can hold up evidence like Christians promoting education around the world including Christians saving literacy itself during the Dark Ages. We can point to humanitarian aid around the world through orphanages and hospitals started by Christians because of Christ’s example like the healing of this paralytic. The impact of Jesus is compelling confirmation that backs up his claims.
And finally, we can add the confirmation of changed lives—countless people who in Jesus have found forgiveness of sin and new purpose because of him. There is a mountain range of evidence that Jesus is not a mere man. He alone is God the Father’s Son, he alone is the Word made flesh, he alone is the second person of the Trinity, he alone is entrusted as Judge and Savior, offering eternal life to all who will have him. And on his road to becoming the world’s Judge and Savior, he faced death and judgment himself, on our behalf.
Wayne Cordeiro and a church member of his church in Hawaii were talking one day when Wayne noticed how scarred the man’s hands were: we’ll call him Billy. So Wayne asked him about it. In reply, Billy told about a tsunami that hit Hawaii in the 1960s.
Billy was working above the bay that their family home overlooked when the strongest tsunami their sleepy little town had ever experienced roared in as a sixty-foot wave. It smashed and pulled homes, cars, possessions, and people out into a watery grave and left behind splintered homes, shattered windows, and broken dreams. Billy ran downhill as fast as he could to their home, where he found his wife sobbing uncontrollably, unable to find their six-month-old child who had been asleep in the house.
“I was frantic as I looked over the shore strewn with the remains of the frail stick houses that were now piled in heaps along the sands. Realizing that another wave may soon be following, I began running on top of the wooden structures, tearing up pieces of twisted corrugated roofs that were ripped like discarded remains of a demolition project. I tore up one piece after another running over boards and broken beams, until I heard the whimpering of a child under one of the mattresses that had gotten lodged beneath an overturned car.
I reached under and pulled up my little son, Robby. I tucked him under my arm like a football player running for the end zone, then I sprinted back over the debris until I reached my wife. We ran for higher ground, hugging our child and one another, thanking God for his mercy.
Just then, my wife said, “Billy, your feet and your hands. You’re covered in blood!”
I had been wearing tennis shoes, and I didn’t realize that as I ran over the wreckage, I was stepping on protruding nails and screws that had been exposed in the rubble. And as I pulled back the torn corrugated roofing looking for Robby, the sharp edges tore into my hand …. I was so intent on finding my boy that nothing else mattered.
Friends, that’s a picture of how Jesus approached his mission for us and for all. It’s why he made these claims, and then backed them up by going to the cross, intent on finding and rescuing us from the wrath to come, all who would have him.
Source: Wayne Cordeiro, Sifted (Zondervan, 2012), pp. 205-208
So in this first month of a new year, I have to ask: have you allowed Christ to swoop you up in rescue from sin, death, and judgment? Where does the evidence lead you? Which is he: liar, lunatic, or Lord? Conman, crazy…or Christ? Let the clues help you conclude. Decide who you will trust for right relationship with God, both now and forever.
Lord Jesus, we believe.
We stand in awe at what you have done,
And at so great a cost.
Carry us through, we pray, until you carry us home.
We trust in you.
That none other is the way.
That none other has such authority.
We commit ourselves and one another to you.
And we pray for those whom we love, who at this point don’t recognize your love.
We ask that you awaken them to the wonder of who you are.
Hear our prayer, Jesus, the world’s Savior and Lord. Amen.