When I say the word “apprentice”, who do you think of. Some of us may have entered our trade as apprentices, learning on the job from the experts who showed us what to do. Certainly for me as a teacher the most important part of my year of training was watching one of the best teachers in the country and learning from his skills and his humour. Then as a new minister I spent five years as an Associate watching and learning from a very experienced Senior Minister. But even more in other professions like the building trade, or the motor trade, or in catering as a chef, people begin their careers and learn their skills as an apprentice.
Of course the word apprentice is now much more associated with the television show The Apprentice. In America, that was the show which made Donald Trump famous and quite probably opened the door for him being elected as President. In this country we think of Sir Alan Sugar’s search for his apprentice. The people of Brentwood have a particular affinity with that show because Alan Sugar’s company Amstrad was based in the town. Their headquarters appeared in the show every week and it was just a hundred yards down the road from our church. Every so often there would be film crews outside Amstrad Towers filming yet another rejected candidate getting sadly into a taxi and being driven away, with the film amusingly cutting immediately to the backdrop of the streets of central London 15 miles away. Donald Trump and Alan Sugar each searching for their Apprentice, somebody who would learn from them and one day carry on their business and become as successful as they are.
Jesus of Nazareth was an apprentice. Like his earthly foster-father Joseph before him, Jesus was a carpenter. In Roman Catholic traditions, Joseph the husband of Mary is known as “Saint Joseph the Worker”, the Patron Saint of all workers. Joseph was a carpenter, and Jesus was his apprentice. Of course in those days there was nowhere like Ikea or B and Q. The village carpenter would start by cutting down a tree and preparing the timber. Then he would take simple tools like a saw and a plane and a file and a hammer and nails and use all his skills to create tables and chairs and beds and footstools, roofs and doors and windows. He would make everything from bowls and boxes to ploughs and yokes and carts. Joseph the Carpenter would be the craftsman and the handyman for the whole town. And there in his workshop the boy Jesus would play in the workroom at Joseph’s feet. He would join in holding the nails and passing the tools. He would watch and learn the skills of the trade from his father until one day the son would no longer be the helper and the learner. One day he himself would be known not as the apprentice but as Jesus the Carpenter.
Jesus was an apprentice. This helps us to understand the little parable Jesus used to defend his ministry when he was criticised for healing the paralysed man at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath Day.
John 5 16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defence Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’ 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Jesus was not healing people on his own authority. Jesus was only doing what God his Father was doing, following the Father’s example. Of course this made his opponents even more angry, because this was indeed a claim to being the Son of God. So then Jesus goes on to explain his ministry in the little parable we can call the Parable of the Son – the Apprentice.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.
Jesus had been his foster-father Joseph’s apprentice as the village carpenter. But now Jesus was the apprentice of his true heavenly Father God, learning to do what the Father shows him to do. Jesus was not working miracles like healing, or changing water into wine, on his own authority but on the authority of His Father God. Jesus did not work miracles in his own strength but with the power of Almighty God. The Father loves the son and shows him all that he does. And that would be even greater works, even more amazing miracles than the signs anybody had seen so far.
Jesus goes on to explain what at least two of these “greater works” were going to be for God’s Son – the Apprentice. The Son would do what the father was doing in two important ways.
The Son Gives Life
John 5 21 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.
What an amazing claim! Only God has power over life and death. Only God can raise the dead back to life! But the Son, God’s Apprentice, is given that power and authority as well. They had already seen that Jesus can work miracles. Jesus can heal the sick. Jesus can command obedience and call followers. Jesus the Light of the World can reveal God. But more than that the Son, God’s Apprentice, is able even to raise the dead and to give life to whomsoever he is pleased to do so. The Son is the source of all life and goodness and blessing.
John 5 24 ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.
God is the source of all life. The Father has life in Himself and the Son God’s Apprentice also has life in Himself. He is the source of eternal life. This is not only life which is everlasting – life which conquers death. This is life in all its fullness, the life of the age to come. Life of such quality and value that it is above and outside time. Anybody who has this eternal life will escape condemnation and judgment. They have escaped from the guilt and the penalty and the power of sin. They have indeed passed from death to life. They are no longer on the sinking ship. They are safe in the lifeboat on the way to dry land.
And who is it who receives this wonderful free gift of eternal life?
“whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”
Everybody who hears the Good News Jesus brings and responds in faith by putting their trust in Jesus. They receive this promise of eternal life, life in all its fullness which not even death can take away. We have heard this message before in John, particularly in John 3.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him
But giving eternal life to all who will receive it is not the only task God has entrusted to the Son as God’s Apprentice.
The Son Brings Judgment
22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.
Here is “the dark side of hope.” “The Great Divide.” What C.S.Lewis called “The Great Divorce.” The subject of judgment is unpopular with writers and preachers today, but when we read the Bible and even the words of Jesus then judgment is an inescapable reality. Judgment is simply the inevitable consequence of ignoring God and rejecting God. Again back in John 3 Jesus explains it this way.
John 3 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
When it comes to thinking about judgment, many people make a fundamental mistake. Many people wrongly believe that human beings are naturally good. They think that we may have our occasional failings and make some careless mistakes – but God will overlook these because at heart people are naturally good. This understanding is simply wrong. People are not naturally good. By nature, people are inherently bad. All people do things and say things and think things which offend the Holy God.
19 This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
There is the root of the problem. People know that their deeds are evil, so they naturally prefer to hide in the darkness rather than to come out into God’s light.
20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
So all human beings start off in a state darkness, being separated and alienated from God by their innate selfishness and greed and pride. And then they remain cut off from God, because they refuse to accept the way of salvation God has promised. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
And all the choices people have made in this life will determine their destiny into eternity.
28 … a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.
So the Son, God’s Apprentice, has two tasks given to Him by His Father. To some people He brings life in all its fullness. To other people He brings judgment. That’s the choice. One or the other. Life or judgment. No halfway house. No don’t knows. No maybes. Life or judgment? These are the tasks given to Jesus Christ the only Son of the Father.
But there is one more thing we can all learn from this little parable of the Son, the Apprentice.
The Son pleases the Father
John 5 19 Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
Jesus gave his whole life to doing what His Father God was doing. Nothing on his own initiative. Nothing in his own strength or on his own authority. Just doing the works of his Father.
John 5 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
Jesus was not pleasing Himself – but only seeking to please His Father. You might remember what Jesus said to his disciples after he had been talking with the woman of Samaria.
John 4 34 ‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.
Jesus lived to please his Father. That was food and drink to Him. And that should be our occupation as Christians and our motivation of everything we do. To do what the Father is doing – to see what God is doing in the world and play our part in it. Christians are disciples of Jesus. The word disciple means a learner. But of course that means more than academic learning from Jesus. A very good word for disciple would be apprentice. Learning to be like our Master and Teacher. To do the good works He did. To speak His words to this lost world. To let His light shine through us. Christians are apprentices of Jesus. Jesus said, I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. And that should be our motivation and our life’s work as well. Jesus God’s apprentice came to rescue people from judgment and to bring them God’s gift of eternal life. As apprentices of Jesus it is our job to tell everybody about this wonderful salvation God promises to all who put their trust in Jesus. But there is much, much more to following Jesus than that. Becoming more like Jesus, praying, worshipping God, serving our neighbours. And pleasing God can never just be a hobby. It must be our whole life. Following Jesus isn’t just for Sundays but for every moment of every day.
Discovering God’s will for our lives. And then doing God’s will in our lives. We sometimes sing, “I want to serve the purpose of God in my generation. …. What is on your heart? Tell me what to do. Let me know your will and I will follow you.” Not, “Let me know your will and I’ll think about it.” Not, “Let me know your will and we’ll put it on the agenda for a church meeting one day.” But following Jesus, learning from Him, doing what He is doing. Not just knowing God’s will but doing God’s will. Often the issue is not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of obedience!
Jesus is God’s Son the Apprentice. The Son who always pleases the Father and always does the Father’s will. Jesus gives us the perfect example to follow. He sets the standard for our discipleship.
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. … I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”