A Paradox or Two (Jn. 5:1-19)
A paradox is “a seemingly contradictory proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true”. An example of such would be George Orwell’s famous quote in Animal Farm; “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Mr Orwell used this paradox to make a political point, but the Bible uses them in order that we might know God and serve him better.
Many of our most cherished doctrines are paradoxical in their nature; a virgin who gave birth, exaltation through humility, liberty through slavery and human authorship through divine inspiration. Just as a train needs two rails to run on, these singular doctrines operate on two distinct but parallel tracks. They are not contradictory but simultaneously true. We often do not understand them, but we ought to receive them by faith.
There are a couple of paradoxes here in John 5. As we survey the dismal scene in Bethesda where there are crowds of sick people (v3) we perhaps wonder why only one man was healed. Certainly, the Saviour knew each one and understood their plight. No doubt he was able to deliver all from their maladies; but there was only one miracle that day. He purposefully healed a lame man, bedridden for 38 long years. Had the Saviour not intervened, the man would never have been made whole. The explanation for this is found in the chapter: "the Son quickeneth whom he will" (v21). Elsewhere in the New Testament we read that salvation is according to the good pleasure of God's will (Eph 1:5). God acts sovereignly in salvation. It was not according to any good or merit in ourselves but rather because God had chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3). We learn here that salvation is all of God. He owes us nothing and yet has given us all. No wonder Paul sang in praise "blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed with all spiritual blessings" (Eph 1:3). Unless God acted sovereignly in salvation, not a soul would be saved, we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet 1:2).
The parallel truth presented here is that man’s volition is also involved in the matter of salvation. The Lord Jesus addressed this man's will, asking him "wilt thou be made whole?" (v6). If this man was going to be raised, it would involve his desire and choice. This is the same in salvation, it is by grace and through faith. John has already presented these parallel truths to us by saying; “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God... which were born ...not of the will of man, but of God” (ch 1:12-13). He says later "all that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (ch6:37). This is the paradox, God saves according to his own will, and yet it is the responsibility of each to believe.
The second paradox is found in verses 17-19. We read that the Son is equal in nature and ability to the Father. The claim "my Father worketh hitherto, and I work" shows that the Son is one in nature with God and possesses the same attributes as God. He is claiming to be God essentially and God dynamically. This is why the Jews accused Christ of blasphemy. They understood that by saying God was his Father he was making himself “equal with God” (isos Theos). The Lord Jesus is equal in substance and value to God himself. He is essentially the same as God, for he is Divine – there is One God.
And yet verse 19 presents to us the paradox of the Trinity, we read “the Son can do nothing of himself”. Though essentially the same, there is a functional difference. Though the Son is equal in rank to the Father, there is a difference in role. The Son does not initiate a work, but rather submits to the will of the Father. The Son never acts in isolation and independence but is in perfect harmony and fellowship with the Father. Christ was ever subject to his Father whilst acting in perfect synchrony to his will and desire. This is the paradox of the Trinity, God is One in nature and three in person.
Submission is not inferiority but rather essential to working of the Trinity. It was the Father that sent the Son to save, we have access to God through Christ, we were chosen by God in Christ before this world began. God has revealed the Triunity of his nature to us in very practical terms. We see it throughout the Bible, from creation to redemption.
Our finite minds cannot grasp these truths, but we gladly believe them, knowing they come from an Almighty and Loving God.
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Is 55:8-9)