It was the first sermon I ever preached. It was entitled, “Encounters of the Closest Kind”. It was a riff on an immensely popular Hollywood movie at the time—“Encounters of the Third Kind”. But it was more than that. The title fit the text—I Kings 18 and Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal.
Ahab, the King of Israel, had ordered all the people of Israel to gather together at Mount Carmel for a showdown between the prophet of God and the 450 prophets of the false god, the god of the Canaanites, Baal. It seems that, in the opinion of the King and his prophets, Baal was more to be worshipped than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So there’s a showdown.
The terms are simple. Both the prophets of Baal and the prophet of God (Elijah) will set up altars. They both will sacrifice animals and place the carcasses on the altar. They both will call out to their god, and the one who answers with fire will prove he’s the one and only god.
Now it’s interesting to observe in this account that while the prophets of Baal follow the established procedure, Elijah adds a significant degree of difficulty to his setup. The Bible says that after putting the wood in order, and placing the offering (the bull carcass), he commands that four jars of water be poured all over it. Not once, not twice, but three times! In fact, the Bible says there’s so much water that it fills a trench that Elijah had dug all around the altar. Even without reading further you can guess what happens. After spending a whole day crying out to Baal and cutting themselves, Baal fails. Baal, the god of the false prophets fails to bail them out!
But not so with the true God. The Bible says that when the fire falls from heaven it not only consumes the whole sacrifice, but it “licks up” all the water standing in the trench!
And the question that prompts all of this is a simple one—which god is worthy of our worship? In other words, who is the real God? The answer is crystal clear—the God of Elijah is the one and only God. It’s an encounter of the closest kind!
When you come to the end of John 5, John gives us a similar encounter. Think of it. Jesus has just healed a man who’s been paralyzed for 38 years. He’s just healed a man who’s totally unable to help himself. And yet, the reaction of the Jewish leaders is to want to kill Him. And the reason is clear, He’s making Himself equal with God. Whereas, at other times, Jesus slips away from His antagonists, this time He stands and challenges them.
What we have here, in John 5:18-47, is a comprehensive defense of the deity of Jesus. In fact, He cites 10 proofs of His deity here in this text. But instead of detailing all 10 of His claims, we will examine Jesus’ defense by using His words to the Samaritan woman in John 4:13. We will look at the THIRST, the TAP, the TEST, and the TRAGEDY. Just like the prophets of Baal, these religious leaders are blind to the identity of the One true God who’s no longer sitting in heaven, but standing before them. And what question is, “Are we?”
In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:
1. What prompts the Jews’ anger in chapter 5?
2. How is Jesus guilty of the charge that He’s making Himself equal with God?
3. What does Jesus mean in verse 19? How does this relate to His words in John 15:5?
4. What is the essence of the Jews’ problem as pinpointed in verse 39?
5. What is Jesus saying about the purpose of the Scriptures?
6. What’s Jesus’ message to the Jews in verse 24?
7. What is the proof of Jesus’ deity in verse 30?
8. What’s Jesus saying about Himself in verses 46 & 47?
9. What do you think of Jesus’ charge in verse 44?
10. What’s Jesus saying to you about yourself in this text?
See you Sunday!