19 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. 20 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. 21 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.22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 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 5:19-23 NIV)
Last time we looked at the Apostle John’s setup and introduction to Jesus’ discourse beginning in verse 19. Jesus had just healed a man who had been lame for 38 years, and then warned him about his sin. The man ignored Jesus’ warning, turned traitor and gave Jesus up to the Jewish religious officials because Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath. Jesus’ act of healing was not a violation of God’s Law but was a breach of the Jew’s oral tradition that they had added to God’s Law.
Jesus begins his discourse with “Very truly I tell you…”. In the King James Bible, this phrase is translated “Verily, Verily, I say unto you…”. Whenever Jesus starts a sentence with this phrase, it’s a signal that what Jesus is about to tell us is critical. We need to give Him our full attention – no multi-tasking, no distractions, the look-Him-in-the-eye important. This phrase, if you remember, is literally translated “Amen, Amen…”, not as an ending but as a beginning to a conversation.
So what is this important message Jesus is sharing? Jesus is saying that He and God the Father are inexorably (unchangeably) connected to each other, so much so that Jesus can do nothing on His own – that He must be in constant connection with the Father. Jesus is very much part of the Trinity, the community of the Godhead, and as such would never violate His role and trust.
Notice that Jesus uses the words “sees” and “does” in the first-person present tense. Jesus does not say that He hears about what the Father does – He sees it first-hand. And Jesus does not say that He “saw” or “will see” – He is actively engaged in what the Father is doing right her and right now, in the present.
In verse 20, Jesus says that the Father loves the Son. The word Jesus uses is “phileo”, the “brotherly” or “family” kind of love. Some folks try to rank-order the Greek words used for love, where “agape” or unselfish love is the highest form, and “phileo” or brotherly love is second, etc. But Jesus is clear here – the Father does not love the Son in a second-rate fashion. Jesus knows He is loved relationally, as part of the Trinity.
Jesus’ point to the religious leaders is that He (Jesus) is one with God the Father, and they (the religious leaders) are the ones separated from the heart of God and sinning by trying to set God’s standard of not working on the Sabbath lower than what God said.
Upon first reading this passage, I thought that the religious leaders were trying to set the standard for not working on the Sabbath higher than what God said. Then I realized that what Jesus did by healing the man on the Sabbath was an act of mercy, not an act of work. And when Jesus told the man to pick up his bed and walk, it was to be an act of worship and praise to the Lord, a sign that the man had been healed.
Jesus’ command to the man was never intended to be an act of work, a burden, or punishment. Thus, when the religious leaders verbally attacked Jesus for healing on the Sabbath and for chastising the man for carrying his bed on the Sabbath, they were telling God to shut off His mercy on the Sabbath. The Jewish leaders’ attack was (and is) entirely legalistic on their part, and misses the whole idea of repentance and restored relationship with God. The religious leaders had the belief and obedience of God’s Word down pat, but they missed the relational part of God’s nature, and their need for repentance and restoration back to the Lord.
Jesus sums up this relational disconnect in verses 22 and 23 by telling the religious leaders that they were disconnected from the heart of the Father, and thus did not recognize or respect the Son.
So where are our hearts? Have we missed the heart of the Father? Do we recognize the Son? Do we resort to legalism and self-righteousness in our relationships with others?
Belief, obedience, and repentance are all required to be in close relationship and community with the Trinity. If we leave any one of the three (belief, obedience, repentance) out, we’re trying to live for the Lord in our own power. And we quickly run out of fuel.