In these chapters something of the Jews is brought forward, just to shew out the blessing God was bringing in in Christ, in contrast with all that had gone before. Here it is the Pool of Bethesda—angelic ministry. Though the people were captive, and the ark still gone, God had preserved a remnant to present Christ to them; He kept them till they had rejected His Son; and there were the remains of blessing still with them. He was still the Lord that healed them, and angelic ministry was still there.
A man was here at the pool, but the character of his sickness was such that it had taken away his strength, so that the sickness from which he wanted healing had taken away the power to use the means of being healed. It was not a question of being willing—he was willing enough; but this disease had taken away the power of using the remedy. The great thing we have to learn is, that “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” We are slow to learn this—that we have no strength. The first man you meet in the street will own that he is a sinner, but if you tell him there is no strength in the flesh, he will think you are going to condemn him to be a sinner all his life.
I do not know a more precious word in the spirit and character of it than this portion. The poor man had been ill thirty-eight years. The Lord asks, “Wilt thou be made whole?” He had the will, but explains he had no strength. Christ brings the strength with Him. This is what is so distinctly and definitely brought out in contrast with the law.
It was the Sabbath-day: the Jews draw attention to the fact, and the Lord takes up the blessed character He had as Son, and says: “My Father worketh hitherto and I work.” How can God rest where sin is? where misery is? He cannot have His rest in a world like this. Christ had come to work: but what makes it so blessed, beloved friends, is this truth, it was not man’s work and man’s strength; the Father and the Son are the workmen in our salvation. God might have cut off Adam and Eve, and there would have been an end of them in righteousness, but His nature would not let Him do that. He sets about to work; we see the Father and the Son working in grace; the Son had come to work. Instead of cutting off the sinners or leaving them to their wretchedness, God had made Himself a workman in His grace, and the whole thing was changed. The law required man to work, just as the Pool of Bethesda required a man to be quick enough to get himself into it. But in the gospel, it is God who works: “My Father worketh.” What an answer to their wretched malice, in accusing Him of breaking the Sabbath! The Father and the Son working in grace to save man, because God had no rest when he was in misery and sin. But though a vivid picture of the principle of grace in teaching, the Lord goes beyond this, and shows it is really life-giving.
They charge Him then with saying He was equal with God, which He did say, because He was one with Him, but He never puts Himself out of the place of servant, which He had taken. He unfolds to them His Father; the Son would do nothing by Himself; He was a divine Person, but He had taken the place of servant, and He had one object in everything.
In verses 21-23 he goes into the work of the Father and the Son in two distinct things. There are two great ways in which the glory of the Son is displayed. The Father quickens, and the Son quickens whom He will; and now mark: we are dead in sin and the Father comes and quickens, the Son too. But it is not so when it comes to judgment. The Father has not been incarnate here, spit upon and trampled on. The Father judges no man, and He has secured in this way that all should honour the Son even as they honour the Father, by committing all judgment to Him. They have blessed fellowship in quickening souls, but the Son having come down as Son of man, having been outraged and insulted by everything man could do when he got the chance, all judgment is committed to the Son. Every knee shall bow; things in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth: no matter how wicked or how infidel and rebellious, he will have to bow to Christ just the same as any saint, though in a very different way. Thus we get the Father and the Son both giving life—a divine work and power exercised in our favour; and then we get judgment—the way of securing honour for the Son; the Father judges no man, but puts it all into His hands.
And now comes this solemn question, beloved friends: In which way have J to do with the Son? In quickening or in judgment? as the blessed One who loved me and gave Himself for me, washing me in His blood, or as the One who is executing judgment because I would not own Him? To this God gives an answer in His own blessed way: “He that heareth my word and believeth him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.” Those that believe do not come into judgment, do not come into Christ’s second way of dealing. The thing is done. Christ has wrought in His blessed quickening grace, and the judgment is over. We are not called in question, because the place, the life, the condition we have, are the effect of the work of the Father and the Son, and He will not call that in question.
Whenever a person has heard His word—believed Him that sent Him—that is eternal life, and he has got it. If the Shepherd’s voice has been heard, I say, Yes, I know whose voice that is; it is the voice of the blessed Son of God. As He said to the poor woman at the well: “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” I know the Father sent Him that I might have life: not by my wishing, for it was when I was a sinner.
If I have heard His word, the voice of the blessed Son of God, I shall not come into the judgment. All stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, everything will come out there, and so much the better; but there is no question of judgment for the believer, because Christ has borne the sins for which he would have had to be judged. The Person who is to be the judge has first of all been the Saviour. When I come before the judgment-seat of Christ, I say, There is the Man who bore all my sins! But more, we are in glorified bodies when we get there: “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory.” We are glorified and brought there like Himself.”
The one who believes has been quickened, does not come into judgment, and is passed from death unto life. Not only that when he was living in sins he learned to hate them, and put them away, but he is brought into a new state altogether: “Alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
And then He goes on to the display of still further power: “All that are in the graves shall hear his voice.” There is the resurrection of life; the power that quickened the souls, now raising the bodies; He carries on and completes as to the body the work which He had begun in the soul. People talk of fitting themselves for heaven; you never find such a thing in Scripture. “He hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,” and therefore the thief, when he died upon the cross confessing Christ to be the Lord (a most glorious confession of faith, for He was rejected and forsaken of all) goes straight into paradise, and I suppose he was quite fit to go there. I am not saying a word against growth; there are abundant scriptures for that, but you will not find one of them in connection with being fit for heaven.
“The resurrection of life “is the carrying out fully this blessed work of the Father and the Son. The bodies of the saints are raised, and all is complete; and then comes the resurrection of judgment. Of believers it is said: “He shall change our vile bodies, and fashion them like unto his glorious body.” But this is not the case with those who have been walking in evil: they are raised for judgment. I do not know anything that has done more mischief than the thought of a general resurrection, because it throws back the question of the justification of the Christian to a day of judgment that has not yet come. There is no such thought in Scripture. “Christ, the first-fruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming.” “The dead in Christ shall rise first.” The resurrection of the saints, as explained in 1 Corinthians 15, is the fruit of the quickening power of the Lord Jesus, applied to the bodies of His saints. It is the resurrection of life; we are raised in glory. Scripture does not throw us back into uncertainty to be judged; and why? Because the Lord is my righteousness, God’s righteousness is shown in glorifying me. Whoever is judged for his works is infallibly condemned. But if I have no righteousness for God, He has righteousness for me, and how can that be a thing to be called in question afterwards? But if I am in Christ and so accepted, He is in me, and here is our responsibility. And this I press, if we are alive to God, let us see this life come out. The only thing we have to do here is to live Christ. Responsibility flows from the place I am in. I am to glorify Christ in the place that I am in as alive to God in Christ.
And then He takes up their responsibility in rejecting Him as come in grace. He had shown the operation of sovereign grace in quickening, so He shows how they had neglected every testimony: His Father’s, that of His own works, of John the Baptist, and their own scriptures. In the folly of their hearts they rejected Jesus, rejected or neglected Him, and they have to be judged.
We have got the quickening power of the Father and the Son, that exercised in giving divine life, and in consequence no mixing up of the resurrection of life and the resurrection of judgment. But there is another thing that is important for our peace, the knowing it now. “He that heareth my word and believeth him that sent me, hath everlasting life.” The Spirit gives power to the quickening word. It is a blessed thing to find we can know this now. If I have heard Christ’s word, and believed the Father, who in unspeakable grace sent the Son to be the Saviour, I have everlasting life, and I recognise not only that I was guilty through my sins, but dead; and when dead, quickened, and have passed from that state, out of it, into life; and if Christ come soon enough I may not have to die at all.
How little, beloved friends, have we realised the completeness of the work Christ has done; we do not believe that He has so completely overcome the power of death that we need not die at all. We may be all changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.
We have to learn ourselves and God’s faithful patience and grace, and God knows how long to leave us to learn this—but we have got life in the Son. An unconverted man has not got life at all: he is dead in his sins, though that is not the first thing that reaches his conscience, but his guilt. But when we come to learn our state, it is important we should know what we are. In the flesh the tree is bad; but I have got life in Christ, and that is another thing.
Do not confound things and think of a future judgment which is going to settle everything. It will settle nothing: it will manifest and execute, but it settles nothing. “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God”; and if he die in that state he dies in his sins.
Do you believe there is no good in you at all? It is a most bitter thing to say. No one denies there are amiable qualities, but you find them in animals too. Who would be morally in a better state before God: a person with a shocking bad temper, who was looking to God earnestly every day to control it, or one with a good temper, who was pleased with himself? God tells us we are dead. It is hard to learn, for our experience contradicts it. We are to “mortify our members”; and I have got power and duty too, for Christ has died. There comes this everyday conflict, but I have both the title and duty, and power to say: I am not a debtor to the flesh. “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” It is all settled: Christ died. Then I am dead, and I have got Christ for my life; and having Him for my life, I have Him after He has put away all my sins.
Now, do you honestly say, I know that in me, that is, in my flesh—dwelleth no good thing?—Do you believe that of yourselves? You will never get full liberty till you do, and you will never know what it is to be settled and steady in your soul till you have learned it; for then you get not only forgiveness and justification, but deliverance. It is a very different thing to contend with the flesh when it has got the upper hand, and when you have.
Do you say: Yes, I am a poor nothing, but I have passed from death unto life; I shall not come unto judgment? I have heard His word, I know that the Father in unspeakable, unutterable love, has sent the Son, and I have heard Him, and got everlasting life.
And oh, see, beloved friends, the infinite blessedness of it, to be walking with God in the full sense of His unclouded favour resting upon us as it did upon Christ!
And we want to know more: First, of the place by faith, and then of the power where God has set us through this astonishing work of the Lord Jesus Christ: that, while He has put away all the sins the flesh produces, He has given us eternal life, and that here we are called to manifest the life of Christ in everything, as dead to sin, crucified with Him, and always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus—not only to avoid open sins, but to be epistles of Christ, that men should read Christ in us as they did the law in the ten commandments on the tables of stone. We shall soon find what we are— poor feeble creatures—but that with Christ we can do all things. We need diligence in seeking His grace, but with Him there is positive strength to overcome.
The Lord give us simplicity of heart to see the fulness of His grace, and then to live to Christ here through all the circumstances of life; the only object before us, the only motive in the thousand things we have to do—Christ.