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Why Listen to Jesus? (John 5:31-47)

August 8, 2021 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: John and the Seven Signs of Jesus

Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Passage: John 5:31–5:47

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I. Two or Three Witnesses

Listen to what the OT tells us about verifying certain claims, about establishing the truth of an accusation, about confirming the validity of an assertion. Deuteronomy 19:15 (a verses quoted or alluded to many times in the NT)... Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. In our internet age of information overload, and competing, disparate voices, this is an extremely healthy and helpful principle. In our age of radical subjectivity, where a person's personal claims (if they fit the accepted script) are to be automatically accepted as valid, this is an extremely health and helpful principle. And regardless of the day and age, when someone claims to be God's chosen messenger, God's chosen vessel, when someone claims to be divine, this is an extremely critical principle. Do you believe that? Jesus certainly did. Look with me at John 5.


II. The Passage: “They That Bear Witness About Me” (5:31-47)

As we return once again to John's Gospel, let me remind you that we are in the middle of a conversation here in chapter 5; maybe it's more accurate to say, a confrontation... between some of the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus. In vs. 19-30. Jesus was clarifying for them his relationship to God. Though he was himself divine, he was not God's rival. He was God's Son.

But wait a minute. Can't anyone make lofty claims about having a divine status and mandate? Yes, of course they can. And they have. All throughout history, and even today, many people claim to be God's chosen messenger, God's chosen vessel. Jesus understood this.


1. Considering Three Witnesses (vs. 31-40)

This is exactly why he pivots in verse 31. Notice how he addresses this issue about making such lofty claims. Look with me at verses 31-40...

If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. [32] There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. [33] You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. [34] Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. [35] He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. [36] But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. [37] And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, [38] and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. [39] You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, [40] yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

So right away Jesus is clear about making personal claims (v. 31): If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. Jesus is not saying that his testimony about himself is not accurate. He's simply saying that it isn't to be believed just because he says so. So why should they listen to Jesus? Why should we?

Did you notice how, in keeping with Deuteronomy 19:15, Jesus provides, not two, but three witnesses in order to establish his claims? Think with me about those three witnesses.

First, in verse 32, Jesus reveals that “there is another who bears witness about me”. Who might that be? I believe Jesus is speaking there about God the Father. The Father's testimony is clear in verse 37, isn't it: “...the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me”. What could be confusing about verse 32 is that in the very next verse, verse 33, Jesus is talking about John the Baptist (the baptizer). But did you notice how John's ministry here is spoken of in the past tense: (v. 33) “he has borne witness”, (v. 35) “he was a burning and shining lamp”. This past tense may reflect the fact that John was in prison by this time, or had been killed.

But the one spoken about in verse 32 is not bearing witness in the past tense” “there is another who bears witness about me”. That's the Father. The Father's witness is mentioned first here because, ultimately, the other two witnesses are connected back to the Father. Jesus will go on in chapter 8 to explain these ideas in more detail. We read in John 8:13-14, and 17-18...

...the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” [14] Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going... [17] In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. [18] I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

So why talk about John the Baptist in verses 33-35? Because not only had these men heard John's testimony, but a specific witness Jesus may have in mind here is the divine witness that came to and through John the Baptist. John the Baptist declared in John 1:33–34 that God spoke to him and identified Jesus as the Son of God by causing his Spirit to descend on Jesus. According to the other Gospels, the Spirit came in the form of a dove, and was accompanied by this declaration: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

But again, Jesus is clear in verse 34: “not that the testimony that I received is from man”. In fact, we heard in verse 36 that the testimony Jesus has is “greater than that of John”. What is that greater testimony? That's the second witness of this passage. Look back at the second half of verse 36: For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.

Though they were more fixated on when it took place, Jesus doesn't want these Jewish leaders to forget what took place at the beginning of this chapter (most likely only hours before this conversation/confrontation). A man unable to walk for 38 years had been miraculously healed. And let's not forget what one of these religious leaders had stated only two chapters earlier: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (3:2) So it wasn't just this miracle that was confirming the lofty claims of Jesus. It was other miracles; miracles that these leaders were well aware of.

So the Father is bearing witness, just as he had through John the Baptist. And these miraculous works are also bearing witness that (in their words) Jesus is “from God” and “God is with him”.

But there's a third witness mentioned in this passage. Look again at verse 39: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me”. Did you know the writings we call the Old Testament all point to Jesus? From the seed of Abraham to the 'suffering servant' of Isaiah 53, from the sacrificial lamb laid on the Israelite altar to the king who sat on the Israelite throne, from the highs of the psalmist to the cries of the psalmist, from the big themes of YHWH as Creator, YHWH as Shepherd, YHWH as King, to the very specific prophecies of the coming Messiah, all of it finds it fulfillment in Christ. As the Apostle Paul would later write, For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. (II Corinthians 1:20) And as Jesus himself had declared in Matthew 5:17... “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

In speaking to these well-studied, highly knowledgeable men, you can sense here that Jesus is communicating something like he communicated to Nicodemus in 3:10... “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” The very writings to which they regularly turned, the very writings these men regularly exalted, should have been the very thing that exalted Jesus in their eyes and caused them to turn to him.

But let me stress a point I made last time: everything Jesus is telling these men is being communicated with one goal in mind: (v. 34) “... I say these things so that you may be saved”. But they want to point their fingers instead of bowing their knees, and you can hear the anguish in Jesus' voice in light of this: “ [the Scriptures] bear witness about me, yet [v. 40] you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” This is an important example for us, isn't it? If more Christians today were concerned about their opponents receiving mercy from God rather than mockery from pundits, about seeing them saved rather than squashed, redeemed rather than 'owned', humbled rather than humiliated, I think the kingdom would advance in new ways.


2. Considering Their Witness (vs. 41-47)

But as we think about what is revealed here in terms of these Jewish leaders, as we think about their witness, about what is confirmed here regarding their spiritual condition, we need to see where Jesus goes, starting in verse 41...

I do not receive glory [i.e., praise] from people. [42] But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. [43] I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. [44] How can you believe, when you receive glory [i.e., praise] from one another and do not seek the glory [i.e., the praise or commendation] that comes from the only God? [45] Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. [46] For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. [47] But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

So remember that Jesus has already pointed to the spiritual poverty of these men in verse 38:

...you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” Notice how he says something very similar in verse 42. How does Jesus know they do not have God's love within? In the same way He knew they didn't have God's word within: because (v. 43) they would not “receive” Jesus. Those in whom God is active are those who embrace the One whom God has sent.

But did you see how Jesus gets even more specific in terms of diagnosing the spiritual poverty that leaves these men, sadly, with only their guilt and an expectation of judgment?

You see, Jesus doesn't need their approval. But approval is exactly what they crave. The problem is that these leaders of God's people care more about the approval of men than they do the approval of God. They didn't care if a man bore witness about himself, as long as he fit in their 'box' of tradition and privilege. Why was that so important? Because it was in that box that they sought and found their validation from others instead of God. And though they claimed (as in 9:28) that they were “disciples of Moses”, it was the example and words of Moses that presently condemned them, for Moses' hope was in the One who was coming, not in the law.


III. 'Depersonalized Performance'

Why listen to Jesus? Because God himself has confirmed that Jesus is who he claimed to be. He did this when he testified of His identity to John the Baptist. He did this through the miraculous signs Jesus performed. And God did this through the Old Testament Scriptures that predicted his coming. Three different witnesses, one source. Wonderfully, all three of these witnesses still speak today; all their voices preserved for us in the Bible. Isn't this why John was writing? To preserve and highlight seven signs that point to, that testify of, Jesus?

...Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; [31] but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:30–31)

But think for a minute about the warning God gives us here through Jesus' indictment. Jesus' listeners were men who knew God's word. They pored over the Scriptures. They were in their Bibles... a lot. But according to Jesus in verse 39, they did this because they believed there was some kind of formula there, a pathway that if mastered would lead them into eternal life. You see, they had depersonalized the Scriptures. The Law and Prophets were no longer about knowing God through the word, but about showing God one's own righteousness in light of the word. And it was that focus on 'depersonalized performance' (religion over relationship) that drove these men to seek approval from one another rather than God.

Aren't we still tempted to do the same thing? It doesn't matter how much time you spend in the Bible, or how well you know the Bible. If that devotion isn't ultimately about God, about knowing, loving, and serving God, that devotion will always, always, always and only be about you. Your performance of the word will push out the Person who wrote it. It's precepts will be viewed as a means to men's praise. And our so-called 'knowledge', our so-called 'sight', will leave us blind when it comes to the testimony about Jesus; to seeing, receiving, and following Christ.

Brothers and sisters, friends, this morning would you carefully consider this two-part question: “Whose approval do you ultimately seek, and how does that shape your practice of faith?” When we rise and fall in light of what people have said, or what they might say, we are far more inclined to make our faith (and God's word) into a people-pleasing tool, whether that means watering down the word to make it palatable, or turning it into a ladder we supposedly use to climb right up to heaven itself.

But when we listen to the word, and its manifold witness about Jesus, we find something far, far better than human approval and human performance. We find the approval of God through the performance of Jesus Christ. We find comfort, peace, rest and assurance that comes from Christ and the life he died to make ours. God is speaking through his word this morning. To what end? Listen to his answer, “... I say these things so that you may be saved”. The heart of Jesus for his opponents is God's heart for his enemies; enemies he reconciled by His grace.


More in John and the Seven Signs of Jesus

September 19, 2021

Savoring His Certainty (John 7:25-36)

September 12, 2021

Things as They 'Should' Be (John 7:1-24)

September 5, 2021

Cannibals and Vampires for Jesus? (John 6:51-71)