Calvary Road Baptist Church

“MAKING HIMSELF EQUAL WITH GOD”

John 5.17-18 

Turn in your Bible to John chapter 5. When you find John chapter 5, I invite you to stand for the reading of God’s Word: 

1  After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

2  Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.

3  In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.

4  For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

5  And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.

6  When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?

7  The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.

8  Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.

9  And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.

11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.

12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?

13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.

14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.

16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.

18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. 

We have previously focused our attention on the sovereign display of the Lord Jesus Christ’s selection of the one impotent man to the apparent exclusion of dozens if not hundreds of others laying about the pool of Bethesda, on His command to that one man and apparently not others to “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk,” to make that man as opposed to the other men there immediately whole, and to that man’s instantaneous obedience to the Savior’s directive.

Of course, the Savior’s words and deeds aroused the ire of the religious Jews in the shadow of the Temple, especially because He worked the miracle of healing the impotent man on a Sabbath day, the obligatory day of rest under the Law of Moses.[1] Therefore, the religious Jews persecuted Him and sought to slay Him, according to verse 16.

How did the Lord Jesus Christ respond to their persecution and conspiracy to slay Him? It may surprise some people to learn that the Lord Jesus Christ here answered His critics and responded to His enemies. He was not silent in the face of their accusations. To be sure, as He approached the cross He fulfilled the prediction of Isaiah 53.7 of opening not His mouth to His accusers. But on this occasion, some 18 to 24 months in advance of His crucifixion, our Lord mounts a vigorous and effective defense of His actions.

It is our Lord’s reaction to His persecutors, and then their response to Him, whether on the same day or on a subsequent day, which forms the basis for this morning’s message from God’s Word, in two parts: 

First, THE LORD’S ANSWER TO HIS ACCUSERS 

Verse 17: “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”

“But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” 

Before I proceed, let me caution those of you who are skeptics, cynics, and unbelievers concerning the truths you will be exposed to in this message from God’s Word, matters of grave personal responsibility that you will be held accountable for come Judgment Day should you not consider the claims of Jesus Christ, or should you choose to discard His claims.

There are four observations I would like to make concerning this verse that I hope will provoke your thinking to recognize the greater depths to our Lord’s remarks than is generally comprehended:

First, recognize that our Lord answered His accusers. Mentioned moments ago, let me drill down on this a bit. This opening phrase of verse 17 takes us back to verse 16: 

“And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.” 

The Greek word translated “persecute” refers in this context to harassing someone.[2] This would suggest verbal harassment since opposition to the Savior had not yet escalated to physical violence. Therefore, what we have here amounts to verbal push back and the answering of their accusations by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Next, recognize that our Lord asserted His deity. Understand that our Lord is now laying the doctrine by which He explained what He did on the Sabbath day. Of course, this supposes that He had been accused of wrongdoing. His reply was 

“My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” 

At other times, in answer to similar charges, He would plead the example of David’s eating the shewbread, of the priests’ slaying of sacrifices, and of the people’s watering their cattle on the Sabbath day. Here, however, He goes higher and alleges the example of His Father and His divine authority. At this point let me mention that other than when teaching His disciples how to pray, the Lord Jesus Christ never identified with anyone else when His relationship with God the Father was referred to. This is because His relationship with His Father is entirely different than our relationship with our heavenly Father. He is the eternal Son of the living God, while the believer is the child of God by means of the new birth, and unbelievers are in some sense God’s children because they are His creatures. John 20.17 illustrates this distinction that I am pointing out: 

“Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” 

That He is asserting His equality with God, the Father is abundantly clear from the reaction of the Jews in verse 18. They very obviously knew what the Lord Jesus Christ meant by what He said, even if Jehovah’s Witnesses, who reject the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, utterly deny the more than obvious sense of His words.

Third, our Lord revealed that God works even on the Sabbath. It may surprise you to learn that though the Jewish people were meticulous in their compliance with the Mosaic Law prohibition against working on the Sabbath because God rested on the seventh day of creation week, they were not of the opinion that God rested from all work on the Sabbath. 

“Although Gen. 2:2-3 teaches that God rested (sabat) on the seventh day of creation, Jewish rabbis agreed that God does indeed work constantly, without breaking the Sabbath (Exod. Rab. 30:9; cf. Gen. Rab. 11:10). After all, the whole world is God’s domain (Isa. 6:3), and God fills the entire universe (Jer. 23:24).”[3] 

Therefore, though it is obvious that part of God’s reason for the Sabbath rest was to enable the physical recovery from arduous toil of both men and beasts, Sabbath rest does not refer to doing nothing whatsoever. Indeed, the Jewish rabbis believed, and the Lord Jesus Christ shows by what He says here, that God works on the Sabbath. The seventh day of creation was God’s day of resting from His creative activity.[4]

Fourth, the Lord Jesus Christ not only admits that He worked on the Sabbath when He healed the impotent man, but He also joins His work on the Sabbath to God’s work on the Sabbath, once more asserting His deity. He does this by joining the Greek word for work as applied to God’s activities on the Sabbath to His activities on the Sabbath using the very same Greek word; the two Greek verbs joined to each other by a single Greek word meaning “and I.” The phrase is pronounced “ergazetai kagoo ergazomai.” Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ insists when speaking to His Jewish persecutors that He is equal to God using two devices He employs in this short statement: First, by stating “my Father worketh” in a manner of such intimacy with God as to be alarming in its implication to His Jewish audience. And, second, by linking the work of God on the Sabbath with His work on the Sabbath so closely together as to identify them as being the same thing. 

Then, THE ANTAGONISM OF THE LORD’S ACCUSERS 

Verse 18: “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the

“Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” 

As offended as they had been because of what the Lord Jesus Christ did on the Sabbath, how more enraged they have become because of what He has said in His defense. Consider the four phrases of verse 18:

First, 

“Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him.” 

And why would the Jews seek to kill the Lord Jesus Christ? Generally speaking, it is how unsaved men always deal with those with whom they disagree and who they see as a threat to them. Cain killed Abel. Why? He disagreed with him. Moses killed the Egyptian. Why? He disagreed with him. David killed Goliath. Why? He disagreed with him. And why did David kill Uriah the Hittite? The bottom line is that he disagreed with him, though Uriah did not know it. John the Baptist was beheaded. Why? Herodias disagreed with him, Matthew 14.3. The same was true with Stephen, the first martyr. Because the Jews in Jerusalem disagreed with him, they argued with him. When their arguments proved ineffective, they sought to assassinate his character. However, failing that they assured his silence by murdering him. Thus, Stephen was martyred because some Jewish men disagreed with him. Why do you think John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln? He disagreed with him. Why do you think Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, thereby igniting World War One? His assassin, Gavrilo Princip, disagreed with him. Why did Josef Stalin arrange the assassination of Leon Trotsky? He disagreed with him. My friends, the Jews decided to murder the Lord Jesus Christ because they disagreed with Him. They disagreed with what He did, which was enough to decide upon His murder, according to verse 16. Then when He said what He said they were even more enraged and determined to slay Him: 

“Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him.” 

Next, 

“because he not only had broken the sabbath.” 

Reflect with me for a moment on what anyone at the pool of Bethesda that day would have seen and heard. Jesus of Nazareth approaches the impotent man near the pool of Bethesda. Not a violation of the Sabbath. Jesus of Nazareth queries the man. Again, not a violation. The Lord Jesus Christ issues three succinct directives. Once more, not a violation. Then He walks away. None of the four things the Lord Jesus Christ was seen and heard of doing was, either separately or in combination, considered by anyone present to observe Him a violation of the Law of Moses. Jewish men who had not seen or heard Him, but who had been told by the impotent man himself what He did, surmised that He had worked on the Sabbath and thereby violated the Law of Moses. What the Lord Jesus Christ was deemed guilty of doing was not making either the statements He made or approaching and then leaving the man’s location. To conclude that He was guilty of violating the Sabbath prohibition of working they who were not there had to conclude that the Lord Jesus Christ had, indeed, worked the miracle of healing the man. Amazing. And this would not be the first time He was considered a Sabbath breaker for healing someone. For healing someone! Thus, the enemies of the Lord Jesus Christ concluded that He had, indeed, worked a miracle, because approaching a man, querying a man, giving a man directions, and then walking away from a man are not violations of the Law of Moses. For Christ’s enemies to attest to His miracle of healing the impotent man is an astonishing validation of His miracle-working power, because their admission of His miracle is the admission of an enemy, and therefore a weighty admission indeed. That was the initial reason they wanted to kill Him. They had decided to kill Him before they ever spoke to Him about what He had done, in complete violation of the Law of Moses that prohibited the passing of a death sentence upon anyone without a fair trial in which every effort was used attempting to discover the accused innocent of all charges. Why did they toss aside all that they claimed to believe as the basis for their lives of obedience to the Law? They disagreed with Him.

Third, 

“because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father.” 

There are very few places in the Hebrew Scriptures in which God is addressed as “my Father.”[5] Therefore, because the Jewish people were such committed monotheists, believing in only one God, those the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to were taken aback by His comments that expressed such intimacy with God the Father. Their attitude was that anyone who subscribed to the notion that he was equal with God (and a son is equal in essence to his father), was being blasphemous and was therefore subject to severe punishment. The Savior’s ongoing insistence that He is God’s Son will later lead to His crucifixion.[6]

Finally, 

“making himself equal with God.” 

There are always religious liberals who occupy positions in mainline denominations who make the false claim that the Lord Jesus Christ never actually claimed to be God or asserted His equality with God. Such statements are simply not true. There can be no doubt that the Lord Jesus Christ knew precisely what He was communicating when He said what He said. Neither is there any doubt that His defense against His accusers was correctly understood by them to mean precisely what it meant. They were spot on when they recognized that He was “making himself equal with God.” That is exactly what He was doing, and very intentionally so. 

Here, then, are the takeaways from this morning’s message: We are in the fifth chapter of this Gospel account and the following things are reported in each of the chapters the Apostle John has given to us thus far.

John’s Gospel opens in eternity past, before Genesis 1.1 if you want to be precise. Before time and the creation of anything was the Word, Who was with God, and Who in fact was God. Everything God made was made by the Word, Who was in the beginning with God, and Who was God. He is also described as the Light, the true Light, which lights every man that cometh into the world. At one point He entered the physical universe He had created, was made flesh, and dwelt among us. Then He was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, who then identified Him on two occasions as the Lamb of God. He also bore record that He is the Son of God. That is a portion of what is found in the first chapter of John’s Gospel.

In the second chapter of John’s Gospel this One identified to us as the Word, but commonly referred to as Jesus of Nazareth turned six large pots full of water into wine. That was the first miracle He worked, and it was a very interesting one. He somehow transformed water, which consists of two parts Hydrogen and one part Oxygen, H2O, into wine, which consists mostly of water, but also contains hydrocarbons, sugars that are comprised of Hydrogen and Carbon atoms.[7] Thus, the Savior’s first miracle involved the creation of an organic compound, including at the very least the creation of Carbon atoms to combine with Hydrogen atoms. Astonishing.

In the third chapter of John’s Gospel account, the Lord Jesus Christ met with a Jewish scholar named Nicodemus one night in Jerusalem. During that conversation, the Lord Jesus Christ did not work a miracle but did insist that Nicodemus would neither see nor enter the kingdom of God unless he was the object of a miracle worked by the Spirit of God. The apostle’s commentary on the Savior’s encounter with Nicodemus spelled it out for his readers, in John 3.14-18: 

14  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

15  That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

16  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

18  He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 

John chapter four begins with the Savior traveling through Samaria, where He meets a woman of ill-repute and identifies Himself to her as Israel’s Messiah.[8] The middle of the chapter records the Lord Jesus Christ’s ministry among the Samaritans lasting several days. The chapter ends when the Savior returned to Cana in Galilee and healed a man’s little boy who was at the point of death. Through chapter four of John’s Gospel we are told that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Word, is God, was with God, created all things, became a man, was baptized, worked an astonishing miracle of turning water into wine, told a Jewish scholar that he needed to be born again to see and to enter God’s kingdom, meets with a Samaritan woman and declares to her that He is Israel’s promised Messiah, and heals a boy who is near death.

Here in chapter five, the Savior is back in Jerusalem on the Sabbath. He approaches an impotent man among perhaps hundreds of others, asks him a question, issues the man three commands, makes the man whole after 38 years of the crippling malady, and then walks away. He later speaks a few words of instruction to the man. Later still He is persecuted by Jews and verbally defends Himself by claiming to be equal with God in two distinct ways.

Thus, you are faced with Jesus Christ. It is claimed He is God, has always been with God, and that He created everything. He then became a man, worked astonishing miracles, claimed He was Israel’s Messiah, and then claimed equality with God as the explanation for His miracle of healing on the Sabbath.

My friend, what are you going to do with all of this? Will you ignore it and go on your way? Will you reject it by concluding against all reasonable evidence that these things are not true? That is what most people do. Or will you act upon the truth in an appropriate way? That, of course, would be to embrace Jesus Christ for Who He claims to be and Who He has shown Himself to be, God, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Healer, and the Savior of sinful men.

__________

[1] Exodus 20.8-11

[2] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 254.

[3] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary On The New Testament Use Of The Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), page 441.

[4] Genesis 2.2-3

[5] Jeremiah 3.4, 19; Psalm 89.26

[6] John 19.7

[7] I do not subscribe to the belief that the Lord Jesus Christ created alcoholic wine. See Jack Van Impe with Roger F. Campbell, Alcohol: The Beloved Enemy, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980), pages 101-129.

[8] John 4.26

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org