Only after you’ve learned you can do NOTHING, can you do ANYTHING for God

Pastor Jeff Struecker

Today, we’re in the book of John, chapter five. What I’m going to do for just a few moments is, I’m going to talk to you about the single greatest problem to ever affect humanity. In fact, you can pretty much trace all human relationship problems back to one source. 

Did you hear what I said? This means if you’re struggling with problems at work right now, I can already tell you where the problem is. If you’re having difficulties this semester in school and your professor’s being a jerk, I know exactly what the problem is, and I don’t even need to know what class you’re in.

If you’re having problems with money, if you’re having problems in your marriage, if you’re having problems with your best friend, I already know what those problems are. The source of those problems is the same no matter who you are and no matter what the relationship issue. 

Do I have your attention? All relationship issues can trace their source back to the same place. It’s a problem of worship. It’s a problem of worship placed in the wrong area, worship of the wrong person. And when the wrong person is worshiped, everything starts to derail.

Did you know that you were created by God? Every human being on the planet was created by God to worship someone or something, and when we worship the wrong person, stuff gets out of whack. 

Well, in the Bible, you see examples over and over again where people practice idolatry. They worship something other than God their creator. And today I want to tell you about the idolatry of self-worship, the sin of placing yourself above God. I want you to lean in for just a second, and I need you to listen to what I’m going to say next.

There can only be one person on the throne at a time. And if you are on the throne of your own heart and making all of the decisions in your own life, then Jesus cannot be king of your life. If you want Jesus to be on the throne and king of your life, then you’re going to have to step off of the throne, and you’re going to have to allow him to make some decisions. You’re going to have to allow him to call the shots in your life. That’s what we’re going to deal with today in this sermon from John chapter five.

I’m going to give you a warning, a disclaimer. If you don’t know Jesus, the sentence I’m going to say next is going to make absolutely no sense to you whatsoever. If you are a Christian and have been walking with Jesus, what I’m going to say in just a second might hurt your feelings. In fact, you might get a little bit mad at what you’re about to hear from this Bible passage today, but it’s absolutely true. So here it is:

Only after you’ve learned you can do NOTHING, can you do ANYTHING for God.

Now, how many of you have memorized Philippians 4:13? “I can do all things. through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 is actually saying what this sentence is describing for you. There’s really nothing of any eternal value that you and I can do for God’s glory until after we surrender it all to him, which means you could get a 4.0 in school, and it’s not going to matter 10,000 years from now. It means that if you win an Olympic gold medal, no one is going to care in eternity. It means that if you climb to the top of the corporate ladder, if you get promoted to the highest rank, if you achieve every success in life and you do it by your own physical efforts, it amounts to nothing eternally speaking.

But when you sit back and say, “I can’t do anything of any eternal value except that God does it through me, except that the spirit of God moves in me and works through me,” now Jesus can do some great things through you. And that’s what you’re going to get from the Bible today as Jesus gives an answer to why he just broke the religious rules by healing a man on the Sabbath. 

Previously in the book of John, there was a guy who was disabled for 38 years. He was desperate to be healed. Jesus shows up, and he does this great miracle. A man who was disabled for 38 years picks up his mat, and he walks home.

When the religious leaders see him carrying his mat on the Sabbath, they get furious at him and they say, “Hey man, you’re breaking our religious, man-made rules. How dare you carry your mat on the Sabbath.” And he says, “The dude who healed me told me to carry my mat.” 

Then the religious leaders go on the offensive against Jesus, and at the end of last week’s message, they basically asked Jesus the question, “How dare you tell this man [they don’t care that he healed him] that he can carry his mat on the Sabbath and break rules.”

Today Jesus gives his answer to their accusations. The Bible says not only do they accuse him and attack him, but they persecute Jesus for doing good on the Sabbath day. 

I’m going to give you Jesus’s answer to their questions in three parts. The first thing that Jesus says when they’re confronting him about healing a guy on the Sabbath is that he describes himself as a faithful child.

A faithful child’s…

Now, I want you to put yourself in that sentence right there. If you call yourself a son or a daughter of God, I want you to place yourself where the word child is here. We’re going to pick up in verse 17 from John chapter five and hear Jesus’ explanation of himself, his legal defense when he’s criticized for healing somebody. 

But I also want to just remind you, every parent on the planet knows what it feels like when children clench their fists and grit their teeth and refuse to do what Mom and Dad says to do.

In fact, every one of us has done that from time to time. And it’s because you and I have a sinful, rebellious nature. That’s not true of Jesus. He is not just the faithful child; he’s the perfectly holy, faithful child of God, Son of God. 

John 5:17-18 Jesus responded to them, “My Father is still working, and I am working also.” This is why the Jews began trying all the more to kill him: Not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God.

Jesus is being called into kind of a legal trial, and his legal defense here is explaining why he just healed on the Sabbath, why he just broke their man-made rules. And Jesus’ legal defense goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. 

We know from Genesis chapter one how God created the heavens and the earth in six days. And we also know on the seventh day, God rested. Did he chill out on the front porch drinking a glass of sweet tea and basically do nothing for the rest of eternity? Is that what the Bible means when it says, “On the seventh, God rested?”

Well, Jesus answers them by going all the way back to Genesis chapter one. He says, “Listen, my Father was working when he created everything, and then my Father rested. But that doesn’t mean he’s not working anymore. He’s still active. He’s still involved in what’s happening around the world. And because my Father is working, I’m going to work also. I’m going to work on the day where you guys say carrying a mat is illegal. I’m going to heal somebody, and I’m going to tell him to get up and to carry his mat. And what are you guys going to do about it?”

Jesus is giving his legal defense here, and you can’t miss it from John chapter five. They are so infuriated by the words that he just said that now they’re trying to kill him. The verb tense here is they start in John chapter five and they don’t stop trying to kill Jesus until the end of the book of John where they actually pull it off. They’re so angry at what he just said. 

Now, for all of those other pagan religions out there who claim Jesus is a good man, Jesus is a prophet, he was a miracle worker, but claim that he wasn’t the Son of God, the Bible doesn’t give you this option. Right here in John chapter five, it is so clear to those religious leaders that Jesus is making himself equal to God, and they’re ready to kill Him right there on the spot.

Here’s what Jesus is saying: “My Father was working on creation. He’s still working today, and I’m working because I’m his child. And a child does what he sees the father doing.” I wonder if you feel sometimes like God has stopped working, like God is just letting this crazy, wicked world spin out of control. I wonder if sometimes it feels to you like God stopped caring about you because of the problems and the difficulties that are going on in your life. 

What Jesus is saying here in John chapter five is, God is still at work. He still cares. He hasn’t forgotten about you. And He’s still very much involved right in the middle of a global pandemic, right in the middle of an economic downturn, right in the middle of a marriage crisis, right in the middle of whatever you’re going through right now.

Just because it’s hard, it doesn’t mean that the Father is not working and that he doesn’t care about you. Jesus is the faithful child, and all of us who call ourselves sons and daughters of God, we should deliberately, intentionally try to follow in those footsteps and be a faithful child of the Father, as well. 

…full submission…  

Here’s what Jesus says next as we put this sentence together. “The faithful child that is in full submission (100% totally submitted to the Father)…” Let me show you what that looks like from Jesus’ own words. We’ll start in verse 19 of John chapter five.

John 5:19-23 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, the Son is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son likewise does these things. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing, and he will show him greater works than these so that you will be amazed. And just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son also gives life to whom he wants. The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”

Did Jesus just say he’s not able to do anything? Because I don’t understand. He just did a great miracle a couple of verses ago. He’s been healing people. He’s been turning water into wine. He is the Son of the living God, and the religious leaders were absolutely clear when he said that he is making himself equal with God. And now the one who you and I would claim has all power and all authority says out loud, “I can’t do anything except the Father shows me, reveals it to me. The Father does it through me.”The son is not able to do anything on his own (nor can you; nor can I), but only what he sees the Father doing. 

You can’t miss it now. This is not just Jesus’s legal defense; this is Jesus’s ministry manifesto. “I’ll tell you why I do what I do.” And one of the reasons that we’re talking about the gospel of John this early in our church’s history is because you don’t find anywhere else in the Bible passages like this, where Jesus just lays it out as clear as day why He does what He does. There are other books in the Bible that tell us what Jesus did and the impact that it made. But in John, you find out why he did what he did.

And what Jesus is describing is a son that is fully and totally submitted to the father. But by the way, did you notice these words? —When you honor the son, you honor the father (making himself equal in honor with the Father). The Father doesn’t even judge anymore. He’s given that all over to the Son. And now he is in the role of God as judge over the earth. 

And Jesus even says, “Look, the God who created and gave life in the first place, he has given me the authority to give life.” Basically what Jesus is saying is, “God gave physical life way back there in Genesis chapter one, but I have authority over spiritual life.”

And if you didn’t hear it, Jesus is basically declaring you and I are dead without him. I don’t know if that word makes you angry or if it upsets you a little bit, but Jesus is saying you are spiritually dead without him. There is nothing that you can do without him. And later on in the book of Acts and beyond, without the help of his Holy Spirit, there’s nothing that I can do, there’s nothing that you can do that will matter 10,000 years from now. Only what God does in you first and then through you second really matters.

Jesus is the faithful and the righteous judge, and he says, “The reason why I can do this is because the Father loves me.” Any human effort to be good and to do good ultimately falls short outside of a relationship with God. In fact, I want to say it this way: Your righteousness only comes through relationship. Righteous meaning, “I did good things, God. Are you pleased with me?” That only comes through a relationship with your Father. And Jesus says, “Because the Father loves me, I can do these things. But if I didn’t have the Father, I could do nothing.”

And if Jesus, the Son of God, can do nothing apart from the Father, then I need you to go away today thinking, I can do nothing apart from the Father because it is only in relationship that I’m able to be righteous. I’m only able to do things, good things, because of the Father and because of what he is doing in my life. Every faithful child submits to his or her parents, and every good and honorable parent will supply all of the needs for their child. But if there’s a struggle between parents and child, it’s always a relationship problem. Faithful submission, perfect supply, it always comes when the relationship is right. 

What I’m telling you is, if there’s a problem between you and God, it’s a relationship problem first. Get the relationship fixed, and then the other things will start to fall into place. Don’t work on the other things before the relationship. Jesus’s method of doing ministry is a faithful child that is totally submitted to the Father. 

… perfectly accomplishes the Father’s will.  

Listen to the end of the sentence: …perfectly accomplishes the Father’s will. I want you to focus in on the last word, because what we’re going to describe for the next few moments is accomplishing the will of God. I can’t tell you about the hundreds of people that have asked me, “Jeff, how do I know I’m doing the will of God? How do I know that I’m accomplishing the Father’s will?” Well, Jesus gives you the answer to this starting in verse 24:

John 5:24-30 “Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life. Truly I tell you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself. And he has granted him the right to pass judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can do nothing on my own. I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”

Jesus’s legal argument here is, “Hey, be very careful, religious leaders. You are making legal charges against the judge of the universe. You might want to tread lightly.” And he describes how you know that you’re accomplishing the Father’s will. He says, “Well, first I need you to understand that you can’t do this on your own.” You don’t humanly, physically have the power to accomplish anything of eternal or spiritual value on your own, but God can do that. He can do it through you when you’re in a relationship with the Father.

Jesus takes His relationship with the Father, and he compares it to our relationship with the Father. He says, “Look, I can’t do anything except in relationship with my Father and nor can you.” And if you really want to know that you are walking with the Father, that you can make a spiritual significance, then the way that you do that is, before anything else, you surrender your will to the will of the Father.

All of us have this natural desire for respect, and we all want honor. We all want people to treat us right, and there’s nothing wrong with those things. But when they get out of balance, when you want that more than you want God to be glorified, now it starts to cross over an invisible barrier. Now it starts to become self-worship. Now it starts to become the sin of idolatry, placing ourself on the throne that only God deserves to be on.