I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
The Branch and the Vine
John Flavel (1628–16991)
Oh, what considering, serious man can see,
The close conjunction of the graft and the tree;
And while he contemplates, he doth not find
This meditation grafted on his mind?
I am the branch, and Christ is the vine;
Thy gracious hand did pluck
Me from that native stock of mine,
That I his sap might suck.
The bloody spear did in his heart
A deep incision make,
That grace to me He might impart,
And I therefore partake.
The Spirit and faith are that firm band
Which binds us fast together;
Thus we are clasped, hand in hand,
And nothing can us sever.
Blessed be that hand which did remove
Me from my native place;
This was the wonder of Thy love,
The triumph of Thy grace!
That I, a wild and cursed plant,
Should thus preferred be,
Who all those ornaments do want,
Thou mayest in others see.
As long as ever the root doth live,
The branches are not dry;
While Christ hath grace and life to give,
My soul can never die.
O blessed Savior, never could
A graft cleave to the tree
More close than Thy poor creature would
United be with Thee.
My soul, dishonor not the root,
’Twill be a shame for Thee,
To want the choicest sorts of fruit,
And yet thus grafted be.
Thus you may shake from grafts, before they blow,
More precious fruit than ever trees did grow.
—Worthy Is the Lamb (Soli Deo Gloria, 2004).
For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”
Equality with God in Nature18 For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
Equality with God in Power and authority19 Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
These verses begin one of the most deep and solemn passages in the four Gospels. They show us the Lord Jesus asserting His own Divine nature, His unity with God the Father, and the high dignity of His office. Nowhere does our Lord dwell so fully on these subjects as in the chapter before us. And nowhere, we must confess, do we find out so thoroughly the weakness of man’s understanding! There is much, we must all feel, that is far beyond our comprehension in our Lord’s account of Himself. Such knowledge, in short, is too astonishing for us. “It is high: we cannot attain unto it.” (Psalm cxxxix. 6.) How often men say that they want clear explanations of such doctrines as the Trinity. Yet here we have our Lord handling the subject of His own Person, and, behold! we cannot follow Him. We seem only to touch His meaning with the tip of our fingers.
We learn, for one thing, from the verses before us, that there are some works which it is lawful to do on the Sabbath day.
The Jews, as on many other occasions, found fault because Jesus healed a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years, on the Sabbath. They charged our Lord with a breach of the fourth commandment.
Our Lord’s reply to the Jews is very remarkable. “My Father,” he says, “worketh hitherto, and I also work.” It is as though He said:—“Though my Father rested on the seventh day from His work of creation, He has never rested for a moment from His providential government of the world, and from His merciful work of supplying the daily needs of all His creatures. Were He to rest from such work, the whole frame of nature would stand still. And I also work works of mercy on the Sabbath day. I do not break the fourth commandment when I heal the sick, any more than my Father breaks it when He causes the sun to rise and the grass to grow on the Sabbath.”
We must distinctly understand, that neither here nor elsewhere does the Lord Jesus overthrow the obligation of the fourth commandment. Neither here nor elsewhere is there a word to justify the vague assertions of some modern teachers, that “Christians ought not to keep a Sabbath,” and that it is “a Jewish institution which has passed away.” The utmost that our Lord does, is to place the claims of the Sabbath on the right foundation. He clears the day of rest from the false and superstitious teaching of the Jews, about the right way of observing it. He shows us clearly that works of necessity and works of mercy are no breach of the fourth commandment.
After all, the errors of Christians on this subject, in these latter days, are of a very different kind from those of the Jews. There is little danger of men keeping the Sabbath too strictly. The thing to be feared is the disposition to keep it loosely and partially, or not to keep it at all. The tendency of the age is not to exaggerate the fourth commandment, but to cut it out of the Decalogue, and throw it aside altogether. Against this tendency it becomes us all to be on our guard. The experience of eighteen centuries supplies abundant proofs that vital religion never flourishes when the Sabbath is not well kept.*
We learn, for another thing, from these verses, the dignity and greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Jews, we are told, sought to kill Jesus because He said “that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” Our Lord, in reply, on this special occasion, enters very fully into the question of His own Divine nature. In reading His words, we must all feel that we are reading mysterious things, and treading on very holy ground. But we must feel a deep conviction, however little we may understand, that the things He says could never have been said by one who was only man. The Speaker is nothing less than “God manifest in the flesh. (1 Tim. iii. 16.)
He asserts His own unity with God the Father. No other reasonable meaning can be put on the expressions,—“The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.—The Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth.” Such language, however deep and high, appears to mean that in operation, and knowledge, and heart, and will, the Father and the Son are One,—two Persons, but one God. Truths such as these are of course beyond man’s power to explain particularly. Enough for us to believe and rest upon them.
He asserts, in the next place, His own Divine power to give life. He tells us, “The Son quickeneth whom he will.” Life is the highest and greatest gift that can be bestowed. It is precisely that thing that man, with all his cleverness, can neither give to the work of his hands, nor restore when taken away. But life, we are told, is in the hands of the Lord Jesus, to bestow and give at His discretion. Dead bodies and dead souls are both alike under His dominion. He has the keys of death and hell. In Him is life. He is the life. (John i. 4. Rev. i. 18.)
He asserts, in the last place, His own authority to judge the world. “The Father,” we are told, “has committed all judgment unto the Son.” All power and authority over the world is committed to Christ’s hands. He is the King and the Judge of mankind. Before Him every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord. He that was once despised and rejected of man, condemned and crucified as a malefactor, shall one day hold a great assize, and judge all the world. “God shall judge the secrets of man by Jesus Christ.” (Rom. ii. 16.)
And now let us think whether it is possible to make too much of Christ in our religion. If we have ever thought so, let us cast aside the thought forever. Both in His Own nature as God, and in His office as commissioned Mediator, He is worthy of all honor. He that is one with the Father,—the Giver of life,—the King of kings,—the coming Judge, can never be too much exalted. “The one who honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father who sent him.”
If we desire salvation, let us lean our whole weight on this mighty Saviour. So leaning, we need never be afraid. Christ is the rock of ages, and he that builds on Him shall never be confounded,—neither in sickness, nor in death, nor in the judgment-day. The hand that was nailed to the cross is almighty. The Saviour of sinners is “mighty to save.” (Isaiah lxiii. 1.)
—J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Baker Books, 2007), 3:276–279
*For the record, I don’t agree with Ryle’s sabbatarianism.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.