Last week I wrote about Jesus’ healing of a crippled man on the Sabbath. Remarkably, his critics were enraged because in doing so he had broken one of the many rabbinic laws about Sabbath!
In Jesus’ response to his critics, three times he introduced what he had to say with the words, “I tell you the truth” (NIV). This introductory declaration occurs 25 times in John’s account of the Gospel so we must treat it as very important.
But first a brief aside about the words themselves: While the New International Version translates the original language as, “I tell you the truth,” the King James Version says “Verily, verily I say unto thee…”, a more literal and compelling rendering.
The Greek word for “verily” is “amen”, a word found throughout the Scriptures. It means, “It shall truly and certainly be.” Thus, this word launches our Lord’s sentence with vigor and conviction. In addition, repeating the word, verily, verily, is one way to increase the word’s force. It is like his saying “I really, really, mean this!” Or “I speak this with certainty”.
The miraculous healing of the man crippled for 38 years should arrest his critics to hear the claims Jesus is about to make. In his first “Verily, verily” statement, he asserts of himself: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (John 5:21).
With these words he makes it clear that he and God, the Father, are one in being. The rage of his detractors was greatly inflamed by the claim that Jesus made himself equal with God (John 5:16-23). He also made it clear that the Father his critics professed to worship was compassionate on every day — and so was he.
His second declaration was an even more amazing claim. “I tell you the truth, (verily, verily) whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned: he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). He is claiming not only the power to heal, but also to grant eternal life and the forgiveness of sins.
Our Lord’s third claim growing out of the conflict over his Sabbath healing of the man crippled for 38 years seems stronger yet: “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear him will live” (John 5:25). This promise is to those who are willing to hear without resistance when the Father calls.
In his healing of the crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda Jesus again had performed a miracle that validates his origin and his divine power. Into the intense and sometimes hostile discussion that follows he weaves these certainties: Only I can give eternal life; the Father raises the dead and gives them life, and so do I; a day has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear him will live.
These ringing statements are claims of truth about the shared life of God the Father and his Son, Jesus our Lord: about his compassion to us all, his eagerness to give the gift of eternal life, and the assurance that there is life after death. On those subjects only Jesus can say with certainty: “I tell you the truth.” And only we who respond in humble, contrite faith can receive these great statements of truth for our eternal benefit.
Image credit: The National Gallery