In last week’s reflection on the spread and effect of the gospel, I mentioned that the consistent spread of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has an uneven effect. As Paul remarks to the Corinthians, his own gospel proclamation was at once an aroma of life unto life and death to death. The difference in the effect depended on the response of the hearer. This observation means that our job is to concern ourselves with the preaching of the gospel and to let word and Spirit effect what God has ordained.
This week, as we move on from Jacob’s well to a few snapshots of Christ’s work in Galilee and Judea, the final scene picks up on what it looks like for the spread of the gospel to be an aroma from death to death. John reports that the Jews, the religious authorities, were livid that Jesus would heal a lame man on the Sabbath. This sign of Christ’s ultimate victory over sin, death, and the devil had a calcifying effect on the religious authorities. Their response to this sign was the opposite of belief. They were hardened in their opposition to him and began to persecute him for his good works.
In response, our Lord frustrated these religious authorities all the more by adding “offense” upon “offense” by declaring that his good deeds, which were so odious to the religious authorities, are nothing more than a continuation of or cooperation with the work of the Father. Thus, there were two reasons that the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus. First, he broke their Sabbath traditions, which means that he denied their authority to lay unnecessary burdens on God’s people. Second, he blasphemed, which means that he confessed his coequality with God the Father.
In the following verses, which we’ll consider next week, Jesus offers his defense against these two “charges” against him. In the course of answering their accusations, our Lord will identify himself as the Son of Man of Daniel 7, the one who receives all authority and power from the Ancient of Days to rule the kingdoms of this world and render judgment against the wicked.
Connecting all of these ideas together, we should note that the work of the Christ, in both his earthly ministry and his ongoing session in heaven, includes manifesting the glory of God in regards to his perfect justice. While we rightly emphasize the manifestation of God’s glory in regards to his mercy, God’s glory also necessarily includes his justice. The vexing of these religious authorities with his good works and saving words simply points us to that great day when Christ will come in final judgment to fully and finally manifest his glory. On that day, Christ will separate the sheep from the goats. He will openly declare that the sheep are the sheep of his own pasture, and so the glory of his mercy will be manifest. He will also openly condemn the goats, who know not God and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, thus revealing the glory of his justice.
This work of the Christ, to manifest the glory of God with respect to his justice, is a crucial part of our confession as followers of Christ. Without it, there is no meaningful distinction between the sheep and the goats, salvation becomes arbitrary, and the exercise of God’s will and power devolves into capriciousness. But with it, there are clear consequences for rejecting God, salvation becomes a consistent application of grace to unworthy sinners, and the exercise of God’s will and power are balanced as aspects of his simple being.
This observation highlights the wholeness of Christ’s work as it is presented to us in the Scriptures. Though there is an asymmetrical relationship between the revelation of the glory of God’s mercy and of his justice, Christ works to reveal the fullness of God’s glory, which includes his justice. This observation, then, also reinforces the deity of Christ, since in order to fully reveal God’s glory he must fully know God. And the only one who can fully know God is God himself. This also reminds us that none of Christ’s work was wasted. Whether he was healing the sick or confronting the prideful, he was working to reveal the glory of God the Father through his ministry. Thus, we can equally learn from his works of mercy and his revelations of justice.