John 5:16-23; 14:28
So if Jesus is fully God, what’s his relationship with the Father? There are some verses that sound like he’s equal with the Father, while there are others that sound like he’s not.
For example, in today’s first passage, Jesus made some seemingly outrageous claims about his relationship with God. He made a parallel between himself and God: The Father works on the Sabbath, and so does he. He does the same work the Father does. And how did the Jews react? They were ready to stone him for blasphemy, because by calling God his Father, he was making himself “equal with God.” And notice that neither the author of this Gospel nor Jesus correct their basic theology: By calling God his own Father in this sense, Jesus was making himself equal with God.
But what about the other type of passage? For instance, Jesus said that he does nothing on his own initiative; he only does what he sees the Father doing. And then at the Last Supper (our second passage), he specifically says that the Father is “greater” than he is. So how do we reconcile this?
We can do it by distinguishing between essence and position. In essence, Jesus is exactly the same as the Father. Water is made up two Hydrogen atoms mixed with one Oxygen atom; that's the essence of water, and the basic essence of the ice cubes in my glass is the same as that of the water in my fish tank. In the same way, whoever and whatever God is in himself, Jesus is. As the creed we read yesterday put it, in substance he’s the same.
But as regards his position there's a great difference. Once again we’re approaching an ineffable mystery, but in eternity past, God the Father had his plan. And the Son freely submitted to this plan. Jesus did not come up with this plan, the Father did.
And what was this plan? The plan to redeem lost humanity. Jesus left Heaven, came down (so to speak), lived as a human for 33 years, died on a cross, rose again, and now reigns in power and glory back in Heaven.
That’s what Jesus is referring to in the first passage when he speaks about how the Son only does what he sees the Father doing. The Father raises the dead and gives life to the world, so does (or will) the Son. The Father works even on the Sabbath, and so does the Son.
For 33 years, it was the Father’s plan for the Son to humble himself. When someone was walking down the street towards him, the right thing to happen would be for that person to fall down and worship the Son. But as part of the Father’s plan, Jesus’ deity was hidden behind a veil of flesh, and the person could walk right past him and never know who he was. The Son experienced hunger, thirst, tiredness, frustration, pain and finally death.
And that submission to the Father didn’t end when Jesus ascended back to Heaven. He sat down at the right hand of the Father, which is the place of highest honor next to the person who’s at the center.
We’re going to examine this a bit more tomorrow, but I think this is a great stopping point for some practical application. The Son is equal in essence to the Father. This comes with privileges. But in submission to the Father’s plan, he gave those up. It’s the same principle with submission to each other as siblings in Christ. In essence we’re all equal to each other: In Christ "[there] is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." None of us is more important or has more dignity than the other, none of us need Christ more than the other, and certainly this forbids any bigotry based on race or any other background.
But just because we’re all equal in essence doesn’t mean that we all have the same position. The Lord has appointed leaders, both in the home and in the church and even in government. And if the Lord's placed a leader above you, you need to submit to that leader (inasmuch as they’re following God’s instructions). This is not a comment on anyone’s innate dignity (that’s handled by the Galatians verse) but on the position we’re called to take, that position might entail giving up some privileges.
Let me blunt here. The Son of God, considering who he is/was, was perfectly willing to lay aside his rights/privileges and submit to the Plan. So what right do any of us have to assert our dignity and say “That’s beneath me.”? Um, none. If my leader ask me to scrub toilets, I should do it with a smile on my face.
Do I have this attitude in my own life all the time? I wish. But I know what the standard is, and by God’s grace I’m reaching towards it. Who’s with me?
Lord Jesus, when I think about what you gave up, and compare it to what you ask me to give up, there’s no comparison. Take my pride, my self-love, my so-called dignity, and kill it. As ruthlessly as we need to, please kill it.