The Danger of Worshipping Jesus?

Harry Emerson Fosdick preached a sermon on the “Danger of Worshiping [sic] Jesus.”  He mentioned both the theological inappropriateness of it and considered the deifying of Jesus as a way to escape the power of his example of compassionate suffering. Fosdick would have been among those that decried Jesus’ extravagant claims in 5:19-27.

I. Divine Healing

A. Location – In Jerusalem, by the pool of Bethesda – John does not explain the precise chronology, but quickly we find Jesus back in Judea after having made his sojourn to Galilee to avoid what he perceived was a possible conflict with the Pharisees (4:1-3). He has returned and does a sign that initiates his continual conflict with the Jewish religious elite. 

B. Situation – Many sick and lame waited for the presence of healing conditions in the water. Verse 4 is a palpable gloss and is placed in brackets in the NASB and omitted but footnoted in the ESV and the NIV. it is absent from earliest and best manuscript witnesses; diacritical marks indicating its spurious nature. The vocabulary is non-Johannine and there are significant variant forms. A copyist probably entered it as a personal gloss on the text to explain the power of the water. A man had been there for thirty-eight years and had never had any assistance to get into the water at the most propitious time. We are not told what constituted the healing power of the water.

C. John emphasizes an event that shows strikingly the unilateral manifestation of power and compassion. 

1. Again, water is prominent. John 1:26, 31, 33 sets forth a contrast between John the Baptist and the unique personhood and power of Jesus. John 2:6-9 shows that Jesus has fulfilled and brought to an end the ceremonial law; John 3:5-8 show the cleansing operation of the Spirit as he works savingly through the word (cf. Ephesians 5:25); John 4:10-15 shows that true and eternally satisfying worship comes only through the work of Jesus the Messiah. Here in John 5:7, 8, Jesus shows that ultimate effectuality in salvation comes immediately from his person and work. Every other facet of the saving work of God depends immediately and materially upon him.

2. Not only does Jesus bypass the water, Jesus bypasses any expression of faith or reverence and performs the miracle of healing. He only engages the man in conversation long enough to hear him tell his story. In fact, Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed and the man only explained why he always missed the right time. This is a paradigm of sovereign, effectual grace focused intensely on the work of Christ. When were helpless, Christ died for us. “He himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sin should live unto righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). When we were dead, he raised us up (Ephesians 2:4-6); while we were hating one another, his goodness and lovingkindness appeared (Titus 3:3,4). 

D. Jesus violated humanly contrived restrictions of the Sabbath. Jesus shows that the day is a day for achieving wholeness. He does not reject its legitimate place in the 10 commandments nor indicate that it will pass away. His resurrection on the first day constitutes the ultimate healing and achievement of wholeness and witnesses to his completed work in the establishing of the new creation. Did Jesus purposefully create a situation of confrontation?

1. Jesus heals and commands him to walk and carry his mat. Jesus knew well the Pharasaic code concerning the Sabbath as well as their other glosses on God’s revealed truth.

2. The Jews confront the man for carrying his mat. The load he carried violated one of the many regulations that had been introduced into Sabbath legislation in order to avoid any violation of the day. Nehemiah 13:15-22 showed the importance of remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy. Calamity had come to Israel because of their violations and, in order to avoid such a thing again, they over-regulated the Sabbath. 

3. The man reported to them precisely what had happened, indicating that he still did not even know Jesus’ name. 

4. Jesus makes contact again and shows that he is interested more in holiness than healing [contrary to the implications of the Jews] (14). In John 9, Jesus indicates that the blind man’s blindness (9:3) was not a punishment for sin but a decreed occasion for the glory of God. That does not mean that no infliction is ever related to one’s sin. In this case in John 5, Jesus seems to imply that it was and he warns the man that if he continues in sin, something worse might happen. Perhaps he means a more severe physical affliction, but most likely he refers to the fact that an unrepentant life will terminate in endless punishment in hell (14). 

5. Initial opposition to what Jesus did consisted of a disagreement about the purpose of the Sabbath, but immediately escalated into something more radical. The language indicates that this work on the Sabbath was only one of several things of this type that Jesus did. In Mark, Jesus claims to be the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:8). His answer here amounts to the same claim, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This is a claim that the work of the Son of God is co-temporal and concomitant with that of the Father. As the Father has created and sustains the world from moment to moment, so the Son is exerting his own power by “upholding the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). The manner in which Jesus referred to the Father as “My Father” indicated the closest of possible relationships. It is to this, in addition to his authoritative posture toward the Sabbath, that the Jews took exception and for which they began a plot to kill him.

II. Divine Sonship

A. Divine Nature –Jewish perception of Father-Son relationship (17, 18) – They rightly understood Jesus as claiming an equal essence with the Father’s deity.

B. Father’s communicating of Himself and His prerogative to the Son

1. Son’s power and knowledge is an outflow of the Father’s will of power and absolute eternal knowledge –“The Son can do nothing of his own accord.” And though, because he is the Son, his is a reflective or derived power, it is nevertheless, eternal like the Father’s and equal in efficacy (19). 

2. This is a direct result [“For”] of the Father’s love for the Son.  In one sense, the Son exists in accordance with the eternal love that the Father exhibits for his own perfections; the image he has of himself and his perfections and his unalloyed love for those perfections is itself an eternal replication of himself, so that the Son, eternally generated in such a way, is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” (Hebrews 1:3) and he is the “image of the invisible God.” There is nothing that the Father does that the Son does not know, so that greater works than healing a lame man will be done. 

3. Verse 21 – Son gives life even as the Father raises the dead and gives life. Even as this is the sovereign prerogative of the Father, so the Son claims an equal and correspondent sovereignty. “Son gives life to whom he will.” 

4. All judgment committed to the Son – Even as John has indicated in this gospel, Jesus knew what was in men, so this claim shows that he knows every action and every motive so that he is able to render on the final day an absolutely just judgment. 

5. Verse 23 – Honor of the Father bound up [“just as”] with how one honors the Son. If Jesus had any intention of correcting the way in which the Pharisees understood his calling God his Father, then he certainly missed the opportunity. Instead, he does all that he can to certify that they have understood him correctly. And if they are offended at his claim to be equal with God, then they do not honor the Son and thus do not honor the Father. This is an unvarnished claim to being worthy of the same worship that is given to the Father. Their resistance to his claims verified by his signs shows that they do not know the Father (John 9:39-56).

III. Divine Prerogative of Life and Death Judgment

A. Hearing Jesus now (5:24-26; cf. Mt 7:24-27)

1. Believing Jesus is the same as believing the Father–“Believes Him who sent me” “Granted to the Son.” 

2. Present enjoyment of eternal life – “The hour is coming and is now here” – Jesus used this same expression with the woman at the well (John 4:23) concerning worship in Spirit and in truth. All that has been prophesied about the culmination of the promises in the covenants, the fulfillment of the types, prophecies, and ceremonies, the forgiveness of sins, the coming of God to his people is finding fulfillment in the words and works of Jesus.

      • 25, Here he uses the nomenclature that surely is the corollary of the term that so offended the Jews – There it was “My Father;” here he uses a phrase equally as powerful and surely to the Jewish leadership as offensive and blasphemous, “the Son of God.” And what does the Son of God do? He speaks with a voice that raises the dead, both those that are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins presently and those that will be in their graves when the Son of God returns in his resurrected glory.
      • 26 – He gives life to others because he, like the Father because eternally generated by the Father as the express image of his own nature, has “life-in-himself.” He as God is self existent, the necessary being upon whom all else depends for existence and life.

B. Hearing Jesus then [in the future] 28

1. Resurrection of All

      • Resurrection to life
      • Resurrection to condemnation

2. Righteous Judgment of Jesus (30) – this is a reiteration of verse 22, but speaking now in his role of Messiah as both God and Man. As Messiah, he had to be God, but he also had to be man. He had a will co-equal and eternally enmeshed in the will of the Father, but as Messiah he comes not to do his own will but the will of his Father.

IV. What Divine Testimonies have been put in place and all come together to convince those who hear that these claims are true (“that you may be saved”)?

A. Jesus points to the testimony of John, a “Burning and shining light.” 

B. Jesus points to the works the Father gave him to do (36 cf. John 3:1). 

C. Jesus points to the witness of the Father, perhaps referring to the voice at his baptism or reference to his own works as reflecting the power and character of the Father.

D. Jesus points to Scripture (39) – See also 46, 47 for Jesus’ testimony of the witness of Scripture to himself as in Luke 24:27.

V. Jesus gave this characterization of the Jews that were opposing him, publicly ridiculing him. 

A. (37) You have not heard his voice.

B. You haven’t seen his form. 

C. You don’t have his word living in you (38). 

D. You don’t believe the one He sent (38). 

E. Their zeal for Scripture is empty and unproductive for they approach their study as a work of merit on their part and miss both its message of eternal life and the person who brings it (39).

F. For that reason, “You are not willing to come to me that you may have life” (40). 

G. While the Pharisees sought to find glory in the admiration and praise of people (44), Jesus did not seek glory from them but only from the Father by a perfect reflection of his righteousness (41, 43). Jesus had come in his Father’s name; the Pharisees showed their spiritual deadness and absolute hypocrisy by not recognizing the very one that had come in the Father’s name—that is, the one that truly reflected the grace and truth of the Father (John 1:17, 18).

H. You have no love for God within you (42). This is the condition of all men—“There is not fear of God before their eyes”—but it is particularly egregious and startling because of their attention to Scripture.

I. You don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God (44).

J. Your accuser is Moses for you don’t believe his writings (45, 46). “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.” With the meager canon received by the Samaritans, the woman at the well brought up Moses’ prophecy that the Messiah would be a great prophet who would have “My words in his mouth” and would “speak in My name” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) and received Jesus’ claim to be that messianic prophet (John 4:25, 26). These learned religionists refused to hear him so that the judgment of that text has fallen on them: “And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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