What Motivates us? (John 5:17-30)


Every action is motivated by something. We do nothing without having a motivation behind it. No matter what we do, we do it for a reason. My family cat sits at the door to the kitchen if he wants out, or he walks over to his and starts to screech if he wants to be fed, ignore him long enough and he will start to rub the bag of dry meal that sits just to the side of the Aga – his actions are inspired by his motivation. Human action is no different, we do things because we are motivated. What motivates how you live?

Context of Passage

Jesus is no different from any other person who has walked this earth. Everything he did was motivated by something. He always had an agenda. In today’s passage, we find ourselves in the aftermath of an act of Jesus. Specifically, his actions have provoked the ire of the established religious leaders of his day who are questioning his motivation and reasoning for what he does.

Briefly, a reminder about the setting so that we can understand our passage and what it is teaching us. Jesus is in Jerusalem for one of the Jewish Festivals (5:1). He has entered the city through the sheep gate, near which lies a pool that tradition held to have healing prosperities. Thus, by it lay a group of societies-outsiders, those who were not considered fully person because of their various ailments: the blind, lame, and the paralysed – each placed outside the protective bounds of their society, ignored and rejected. There they lay by the only thing that offered they any (slim) chance of healing, and with that healing would come acceptance back into society. John focuses for us on one particular man, who has been unwell his whole life, some 38 years. Upon which hearing Jesus had compassion and healed him of his ailment.

Jesus heals the man and then withdraws into the protection of the crowd before the man is able to figure out had granted him the very thing he had longed for. In the commotion the man get’s in trouble with the established religious leadership for “working” on the Sabbath: he had the audacity to carry his mat – his only belonging on the Lords day. The Pharisees want to know his motivation, he informs them he was only acting via instruction and they are engaged. They want to condemn the man leading people to break their laws. They want to understand what motivates someone to challenge the rules they have set for the Lord’s holy day – their glory. Thus, as the narrative unfolds Jesus is revealed to the man commanding him to live a life worthy of the gift that he has received. Commanding him to be motivated not by the desires of the flesh, but by the ways of God. What motivates how you walk?

The narrative quickly accelerates as the returns to the Jewish leaders and informs them that it was Jesus who had healed him. Resulting in an increase in persecution for Jesus as his opponents put their human, fleshly and religious motivations above the kingdom motivations of Christ: Love, care, compassion and healing. The outworking of a life lived for the Glory of God.

The Motivation of Christ (v17-18)

In one sentence Jesus defends his actions and outlines for us his motivation for everything he does, that which inspires his every thought, step, interaction and action – His Father. Thus, because God the father is at work on the Sabbath, so to will God the Son work on the Sabbath. And, so to must God’s Children “work” on the Sabbath. Yet, not simply as the world works, because the Sabbath is a day of rest, but as God works bringing compassion, hope and healing – worshipping. Jesus claims that he is able to work because like the father he is Lord over the Sabbath. He lives to do as God does. His motivation was not for power, pride or status, but to seek and save the lost and bring healing to the hurting – regardless of the day of the week. What Motivations you?

Just in case you miss what Jesus is claiming, John, highlights it in verse 18, he highlights the wrong motivations of the Jewish leaders by highlighting the higher motivations of Jesus. Wrapped in his audacious claims: “Not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

Acting because of Authority (19-30)

Verse 19 begins the Longest uninterrupted Speech of Jesus (19-47) anywhere in the Gospel of John as he explains he previously brief statement in verse 17. The purpose is twofold: refuting the authority earthly motivations of his opponents and to instruct the readers of the Gospel as to where true authority lies. In summary, he is showing us what should motivate us and the benefits of that motivation. The speech of Christ can be divided into two parts:

  1. An examination of the two types of Work that Jesus has in common with his Father: The giving of life and the judging of sin. (5:19-29)
  2. An actual judgement against those who challenge him (30-47). Which we will not be looking at today.

Jesus claims that his every action is justified because it is motivated by God, more than that it mirror’s God’s acting in the world. Jesus declares to those challenging him that he is acting out the will of his Father, the coming plan of God’s redemption. to Challenge him and question his motivation is to challenge the very heart of Yahweh, who they claim to serve. The motivation of Jesus is the same as the Father: to bring new life. Yet, to be able to act out the plan of the Father it requires something of Jesus – Equality with the Father and this is the problem for the Jewish Establishment. For them new life came by the law and adherence to it, also their power came from the law and the hold they had on applying it to every facet of Jewish life. Jesus arrives claiming that he is the fulfilment of the law, and the path to new life, and to receive it he must become our motivation. He is a threat to everything they are The Son does as the Father; thus, the (true) disciple must do as the Son, the challenge then is are we motivated by the things of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit, or are we simply living out of the flesh?

The Challenge to our Motivation

The Summary claim of Jesus in this section of Scripture (and the whole of Johns Gospel) is that he never acts out of his own desire. He only does that which has Father wills him to do (5:30, 7:17/28, 8:28) because the person who acts according to their own will is one who is seeking his own Glory, not the glory of God (7:18). We see that contrasting picture right in this passage: between the Kingdom Person (Jesus in this case) motivated by God and the building of His Kingdom: thus he heals and restores a man’s personhood; and the Jewish leaders who are motivated by their own Glory because Kingdom actions challenge their authority and glory. Jesus says his motivation is to imitate his father. What motivates you?

Thus, I want to close with a challenge to our motivation. Not in the silly things, of why perhaps we speed when we are not late, or why we boast when we are in a situation where we have nothing to prove. No, I want to challenge our overarching motivation, our identity per se. This passage must cause us to stop and think too what Kingdom do we belong? For either, we are motivated by the desires of the flesh, and ultimately under the curse of the flesh – condemnation; or we are motivated by the desires of God, citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom and under the blessing of the Cross – New Life. Our actions display our motivations and our motivations our citizenship. What motivates you?

If Jesus Christ is truly our motivation then we should be living in a way that brings Glory to his name and through him his Father (5:23). We honour Jesus by Believing him at his word, we display our belief by walking with and through the Spirit of God working in us seeking to become more like him, and to draw others to him. To put it another way: We bring Glory to God, through Jesus when our motivation is to walk in this world like Jesus and with Jesus. The amazing thing is, when we walk with Jesus we are living out of our new life. In acting in a way that brings honour to the name of Christ, we display that we are no longer slaves to the desires of the flesh or fearful of the judgement of this world, fearful of living for a higher purpose thus we have moved from the judgement of the flesh to the fullest of life because Jesus took our judgement on the Calvary cross (5:22-24).

Ultimately the Jewish Leaders (as representative of all people outside of Christ) preferred to receive glory from each other, rather than admit who Christ was and seek the Glory of God. A motivation which would lead to condemnation and not life. So today I ask you, I challenge you to consider what motivates your living? the Flesh or the King.

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