We’re back in our study of the gospel of John this week looking at the last section of chapter 5, from verse 30-47, entitled in the ESV, “Witnesses to Jesus”
Remember the context here. The Jewish leadership, Pharisees, Sadducees, and the rest of the Sanhedrin, are all upset because Jesus healed a man who had been sick for decades – but he did it on the Sabbath. After accosting the healed man for walking with his bedroll down the street, questioning him about what he was doing, and hearing that someone was going around healing people on the Sabbath, they launched an investigation. When Jesus caught up with the man he healed again to tell him who He was, the man went back to the authorities and reported Jesus.
This incensed the Jewish leaders and they ran after Jesus and started to give him trouble, asking him who he thought he was for defying their Sabbath traditions and going against their made-up, non-mosaic rules. And Jesus literally looks at them and says in verse 17, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” suggesting that he had a different, and much closer, relationship to God that other people. He was saying that He had authority over the Sabbath – the same authority God has – and implied that if God is allowed to break their dumb, unbiblical, Sabbath rules – then He is too.
This ticked off the Jews so much that they decided to kill him.
Then, in verse 19, Jesus goes into a long dialogue teaching them who He really is, what authority He has, and why they should believe him. And in our passage today, starting in verse 30, Jesus gives a list of reliable witnesses that will back up his claim to be equal in authority and glory to God.
John’s gospel is all about making absolutely clear who Jesus is and claims to be, about giving signs through story, contrast, miracles, witnesses, and Jesus’ own words – and so, in good Gospel of John fashion, as Jesus speaks, he shares a whole bunch of witnesses who can confirm his story.
See if you can spot them as we read…
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 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. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 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. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 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. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (ESV)
For as long as there have been Christians, from the very beginning two thousand years ago, people have been asking for witnesses, evidence, proof, that Jesus is who He says He is. I’ve literally heard people say, “I’ll believe if He comes down, talks to me personally, writes his name in the sky, rearranges the stars, and does some miracles right before my eyes. But until then, I won’t believe.”
If the Pharisees are any indication of how people would respond, then I don’t think what these people want would do it either. Jesus gave ample evidence for who He was, what authority he had, who His father was, why he deserved to be followed as Lord, Saviour and God, and yet these men, these scholars who knew the Bible better than anyone else – refused to believe and hated Jesus instead. Or… maybe to be more accurate… they couldn’t refute him, the evidence was too great, but believing meant bowing their knee, changing their minds, humbling themselves, admitting they were wrong, and then calling Jesus their King, Prophet, High Priest, and God – and they didn’t want to. It would cost them too much.
It would cost them their position, prestige, and power. It would be embarrassing, humiliating, and they’d have to change their lives. Their whole world would have to be taken apart, utterly leveled, and then handed over to Jesus for Him to rebuild properly. And that was too much. So instead of looking at the overwhelming evidence that kept piling up before them – and I mean lots, and lots of irrefutable signs – and believing what their eyes, ears, and spirits were saying — they, instead, got more angry, more bitter, more jealous, and crushed that part of their minds, hearts, and souls that kept telling them the truth – and chose to believe their own lies instead.
It’s like Romans 1:18–22 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…”
This is still true, isn’t it? God reveals himself in the majesty of nature, the eternity of the cosmos, the intricacy of molecules and atoms — and no matter how much their heart cries out saying, “There must be a creator behind this!” people still crush, suppress that truth – because to believe that means they would have to subject themselves to God and God might tell them to do something they don’t want to do – so they get angry, ignore the evidence, and then make up something that sounds better to them.
God reveals himself in their consciences – their innate ability to know right from wrong, good from evil, their hatred of their own sins – the sins that they keep doing and can’t stop – and the hatred of the sins committed against them – and their desire for peace, hope, joy, and a clean heart – all that is God revealing himself to them —— but they know that to admit that God exists, and that God is the author of morality, that there is a divine judge, means that they are on the wrong side of Him, and their pride can’t believe that so they crush down that thought, medicate it away, surround themselves with people who will keep telling them how great they are, and keep the noise and entertainment and distractions going so they don’t have to think about God anymore.
And, in the most ironic part of this, as they deny all the evidence before them and inside of them, they “claim to be wise”. These days, it’s a sign of intelligence that you’re willing to deny God exists. You know, it wasn’t even that long ago that to deny the existence of God was the opposite. Only a fool wouldn’t believe in God… just look around!
All the greatest scientists for thousands of years were all at least Theists, believing in a higher power that created all things. Sure, they argued about what that power was, but no one believed that the universe just popped into existence out of nowhere for no reason. That’s stupid.
But not anymore. I saw a clip a while back where Bill Nye goes on a bit of a rant saying that it’s basically impossible to be useful in this world, if you believe in God. He says that anyone who claims that the universe has a Creator, cannot be scientifically literate, is denying reality, votes wrong, thinks wrong, and can’t possibly be to be any kind of scientist or engineer. Theists can’t be biologists, or medical doctors, or astronomers, or engineers, or any kind of real scientist – or for that matter, even a person of intelligence.
That’s insane. Truly insane. It is the sign of a person who is so fully committed to a materialistic worldview, who is so entrenched in his own dogma, who is so committed to his own worldview – and probably so committed to never thinking about his own life from a moral, let alone eternal, perspective – that He will absolutely deny what most people in the world today – and most people in history – have believed as just a given.
I don’t mean to go on a tangent here, but I’m going to anyway – so hang on a bit because this is interesting and important.
Historically, going all the way back to the ancient Greeks, to get a full education meant studying the Trivium and the Quadrivium. The Trivium was Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric – or, how to think clearly and communicate. The Quadrivium was Arethmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy – or, the tools we need to grow into mature people and understand the world.
At some point in the Middle Ages, probably after the Dark Ages in the 12th Century, above all that education was added the Queen of the Sciences and her handmaiden. What was the Queen of the Sciences? Theology, the Study of God founded on God’s word. Her handmaiden? Philosophy.
How could one know how to think, how to reason, and how to understand and explore their world, if they didn’t have the foundational concepts of Theology: “There is a God who created all this”, and Philosophy: the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. God was the biggest answer to HOW and Philosophy gives the biggest answer to WHY and everything else we know comes after. And people were educated like this until about 150 years or so ago when modernism took over and, as RC Sproul said, they deposed the queen and drove her into exile along with her handmaiden. Where once theologians and philosophers were honoured and considered the smartest and wisest in the land – they are now considered useless and stupid.
And, once again, to drive this point home – and to confirm that Bill Nye is a ding-dong, Isaac Newton was educated like this, so was Marie Curie, Galileo, Nikola Tesla, Charles Darwin (and yes, Darwin believed in God as the first cause of the universe!), Copernicus, Leonardo Da Vinci… they all believed in God and studied Theology and Philosophy. And I think they did ok in science…
Anyway, back to the sermon.
Here, before Jesus, stand a group of haters and doubters, who, despite the evidence before them, refuse to believe what they see because of the consequences of that belief.
And so, Jesus gives 7 evidences to them. He begins, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.”
In other words, “What I’m doing and saying is right and approved by God. And I’m not the only one saying this. Here’s my witnesses:”
His first witness, from verses 32-35, is John the Baptist, his forerunner, and a man who many considered to be a prophet of God.
The second witness, from verse 36, were the abundant and undeniable miracles Jesus had been performing all over the place and in public. Like the formerly sick man who had kicked this all off.
The third witness, from verse 37-38, is God the Father Himself. Even one of their own members, Nicodemus, came to Jesus in chapter 3 and said, “ “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.”
The fourth witness, from verse 39-44, are the scriptures. Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies and lived perfectly by every law. Every book of the Old Testament tells people what to look for, and Jesus met all the requirements. Think of the Apostle Paul, right? Super smart guy, one of the best – if not the best biblical scholar in the world. But he was totally and completely against Jesus, arresting and murdering Christians left and right – and then he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. Then, for days, maybe even years, all of that bible knowledge, all the memorization, all his studies, starts to snap into place. How did He never see it before? His heart was darkened, he refused to believe the truth, he preferred lies to the truth – but now the Truth Himself had set Him free and He finally saw the light. And every scripture in the Old Testament made sense and he knew it pointed to Jesus.
And the final, fifth witness, was Moses Himself. If you don’t believe in Jesus, then you don’t believe Moses was telling the truth – because Moses not only gave specific predictions about Jesus, but also showed all the ways that the history of salvation pointed directly to Jesus as the Christ.
So, what’s our application today? I think there are two fairly simple ones:
First, is to realize that studying and meditating on the scriptures, isn’t just an exercise, it is a way to meet Jesus. Whatever book you are in, from Genesis to Revelation, that book will not only teach you about Jesus, but give you an opportunity to meet Jesus, the real Jesus, the person of Jesus, in a new way. Cold, rigid, heartless study of the Bible – the kind that we just do and then forget, or just fills our heads with trivia – will drive us away from Jesus. But when we come expectantly before God’s word, prayerfully, anticipating Jesus Himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to meet us in that place, teach us, and meet us there, suddenly that reading fills us up with life and light like never before.
So, if you find yourself in a cold study, a heartless study, just going through the motions – then stop. Spend some time praying, asking God to send His spirit to illuminate His word again, to meet Him in it, to have a real, intimate, personal experience with Him through His word. Maybe that means dropping that study and just reading the Bible for enjoyment. Just pick it up and read through your favourite book, or through a gospel, or through Judges or Ruth, or another narrative book – and not just a verse at a time or chapter at a time, but to read it as a book. They print Bibles now that have no verse numbers or chapter numbers, that look just like books. Grab one of them and read without all the study notes and breaking up of the story with all the other stuff. Get the distractions out of the way so you can meet Jesus in His word again.
And second, remember that there really are good evidences for not only the existence of God, but for Jesus being the Lord and Saviour of the world. Our faith isn’t one based on a foundationless hope, or man-made fictions meant to just inspire. Our faith is based on evidence, history, witnesses, logic, and reality.
So, don’t be afraid to ask big questions, look more deeply into what you believe, ask whether what you think is really true, really has evidence, can really be believed. Some people are afraid – they don’t want to look into it because they’re worried that their faith is foundationless and the idea of living without God is worse than living with a fake one.
This week we’re going to do something a little different. Yes, I’m aware that I’ve only done this once and that last week I told you that we’d be going through the gospel of John, but that was before I came across this amazing clip from a John Piper sermon that I really want to share. I came across it while listening to the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, but it’s originally from a sermon he preached on Dec 17, 2000, from Romans 6:22-23 called “The Free Gift of God is Eternal Life.” I’ll put a link on the website if you want to hear the whole thing.
But before we jump into that, I think I should do a bit of an introduction.
One of the troubles with preaching Romans is that you’re almost always jumping into the middle of something. The whole book is constructed as a bunch of well-built, systematic theological teachings, arguments, and connected thoughts that really do need each other to be fully understood. In other words, we need context.
And to make it worse, not only are we jumping into the middle of the Apostle Paul’s teaching – that started, like, all the way back in chapter one – but we’re also taking just a clip out of John Piper’s sermon. So that sort of makes things doubly ripe for trouble.
But I’ll do my best.
In chapter 1 Paul presents the Gospel as the revelation of the Righteousness of God and compares it to the wickedness of man. That leads to chapter 2 and 3 which speaks of how God’s Righteousness leads to a necessary wrath against those sinners… and who are those sinners? Everyone. For All have sinned. That’s the problem. We’re sinners, we can’t save ourselves, we don’t even want to, and we are all destined to stand before a wrathful God who will condemn us to everlasting torment. That’s a real problem.
What’s the solution?
In Chapter 4 we learn about how the man Jesus Christ, the son of God, was perfectly righteous, and died in our place, and that the only way we can be saved is through faith in the risen Jesus Christ. But what about people in the Old Testament before Jesus? Paul answers that too. The answer is still faith.
Then, in chapter 5, we see that that faith naturally leads to a wonderful hope, because our faith in Jesus makes it so that we can stand before God as righteous, clean, holy, perfect in Jesus. Justified by faith, at peace with God through the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just like Adam got us into this mess and condemned humanity to the curse, so Jesus got us out of the mess, and redeemed his people from the curse. And he offers this gift for free.
Then, in chapter 6, Paul hears his detractors cry out: “What do you mean it’s free? Free? That’s madness. Then everyone will just go sin all the time, ask forgiveness, and go to heaven. That’s ridiculous. How can you go to heaven without following the law, being religious, being good, doing good things? Free salvation, this amazing grace, will lead to spiritual anarchy!
Which leads us close to our passage today…
I’ll pick up the reading in Romans 6:15 and we’ll end at Romans 6:23. Remember, the clip from John Piper is only talking about the last couple verses, but now we’ve got some context.
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15–23)
You’ve got to love John Piper’s passion – and his illustrations – and so many quotable quotes!
“Satan is a liar – he even lies about his lies. … Oh how we should hate him. Oh how free you should want to be right now from this slave-master’s clutches on your lives so that you’re not a dupe and a lacky day in and day out like most people seem to be.”John Piper
As far as an application goes I can only share my own personal reflection and how this impacted me.
I think it’s easy to become friends with sin, to think it’s not that big of a deal, to keep a few favourite sins as pets. To make an agreement with the devil that you’ll keep on doing these things that kill your soul – if he’d just leave you alone.
I know that’s been my temptation. My last few years have been pretty brutal. I’ve felt pain and misery in every arena of my life, except my physical body. It’s almost like when God told Satan to do whatever he wanted to Job, but didn’t allow him to touch his body – except I didn’t remain upright and righteous like Job – but I did get miserable and start to complain like job.
And I could feel the compromise setting in where I’d start to think, “Ok, I know God doesn’t want me to do this, or I know God wants me to do this, but I’m exhausted, hurt, sad, afraid, wiped out – and, like Satan did to Jesus in the wilderness – he offered me an easier way. Just bow the knee a little, just compromise a little, just be a little more selfish, succumb to hopelessness, fear of man, the belief that the immediate comfort from sin is better than sitting patiently at God’s feet, that going through all this stress is a good excuse to avoid bible reading, avoid prayer, avoid worship, avoid thanksgiving, avoid other believers.
And, John Piper her reminds me that not only was I believing lies, but I was becoming Satan’s lacky – and I didn’t even know it. I was doing what Paul said in Romans 1:25 that unbelievers do. I was “exchanging the truth of God for a lie and serving the creature – Satan and myself – rather than the Creator who is blessed forever.”
Even today, as I sit here recording this, I’m still struggling with the motivation to do daily readings, study, journal, pray, listen to worship music. I was talking to a friend the other day and told him that I know for a fact that there’s a lot of stuff twisted up inside me, and it’s like I’m too afraid to sit down and let God unravel it – because in doing so, I’m afraid I’ll unravel completely.
But that too is a lie. It’s a lie to believe that coming to God will be worse than not. It’s a lie to believe that letting the Great Physician do some Soul Surgery will be worse than letting the cancer grow inside me. And those lies come straight from the devil himself.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt the same way – or if you do now. Are you believing lies about God, exchanging God’s truth for the lies of the devil, and becoming Satan’s willing slave, lackey, and dupe – instead of letting Jesus be Lord, friend, and saviour?
Ask yourself this – how would you know? Could it be that you are so deceived that you literally don’t know God’s truth from Satan’s lies? That all the excuses piled up in your brain, the ones that seem so good, and right, and reasonable to you – are actually just demonic traps for fools, keeping you from experiencing actual joy, actual freedom, actual peace, actual contentment, actual healing? Could it be that the food Satan keeps feeding you, the table you keep running to, that you think is so helpful and good – is actually poinsoning you and you don’t even know it?
Maybe it’s time to ask God to tell you the truth, to show you the truth, to invite him to shine light in places where you haven’t let him before, and to open your eyes to the spiritual reality in your life. That takes courage, sacrifice, trust – and it takes humility before God, and before other Christian leaders and friends to which God is going to have you confess your sins and get accountability from.
Do you feel that fear welling up inside? Do you feel that anxiety? Do you feel that anger that says that no one can tell you what to do, that you’re fine, and all the myriad excuses for why you shouldn’t be opening your heart, soul, and mind in that way….. that’s the devil trying to make sure you stay his. Don’t let him. And I won’t either.