June 9, 2013

Believe the Witnesses to Jesus' Glory

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John Passage: John 5:30–47

Sermon on John 5:30-47 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, June 9, 2013

Summary of John 5:1-29

The words of Jesus Christ in verse 30 summarize where we’ve been the last two weeks. Jesus came to a man who was lame for thirty-eight years, and Jesus healed that man with his powerful word on the Sabbath Day. And instead of falling at Jesus’ feet and rejoicing over the One who brings our eternal rest from sickness and sin, the Jews persecute Jesus and determine “this man who’s calling God his Father and making himself equal with God has got to die.” And so Jesus then responds to their opposition by pointing out that their anger toward him is groundless.

The Son Only Does What the Father Does

As God’s Son, he can only do what God himself does. His very nature as divine Son is to do what his Father does. Jesus shares in the eternal love and immediate self-disclosure of the Godhead, and in his role as Son, he accomplishes his Father’s will perfectly. That’s true in all that he’s doing in Jerusalem—like healing a man on the Sabbath—and that will still be true on the Last Day when he judges the world. And so he says in verse 30, “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 [That’s his Father].”

Now if that’s the case—that Jesus can truly do nothing on his own, but only what he sees his Father doing, and that is true all the time—then that’s also true with the way Jesus speaks about himself. In other words, the God the Father’s unity with God the Son means that Jesus can’t even say anything about himself that is not simultaneously an expression of what his Father thinks about him. Every time he testifies about himself, the Father simultaneously bears witness to the Son. That’s his point in verse 31: “If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true.” How could it be otherwise when the divine Son does nothing on his own, but only what he sees his Father doing? And if that means the Father revealing the true nature of the person of Jesus to the Jews after healing a man on the Sabbath, the Son is right there with him—speaking so that all might know who he really is, God’s Son in human flesh.

Four Witnesses to Jesus by the Father

Now, to help the Jews see this, Jesus steps back for a minute and lays out four additional witnesses given by his Father. Jesus has already implied what his own words are—those given by his Father—but if that were not enough to convince them, perhaps it would help them to see that Jesus’ testimony about himself is perfectly consistent with what his Father has been saying to the Jews all along. So Jesus introduces us to the Father’s testimony in verse 32, “There is another who bears witness about me [and he’s speaking about the Father], and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.” And then we see his Father’s testimony play out through four additional witnesses concerning Jesus. If you asked, “How has the Father been speaking to the Jews about Jesus?” Jesus’ response would be, “In at least these four ways.”

1. The Father's Witness in Sending John the Baptist

Number one, the Father sent John the Baptist before Jesus. Jesus brings him up in verse 33: “You sent to John [the Baptist], and he has borne witness to the truth.” We were first introduced to John the Baptist in 1:6, where we learn that John didn’t come to Israel on his own. The Bible tells us, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” God the Father sent John the Baptist. He raised him up within Israel to be a forerunner to Jesus’ ministry. God assigned John to the specific task of announcing the day of God’s visitation, just like the prophets had said. John came as a witness, to bear witness about the life-giving light arriving in Jesus Christ (1:7). John came so that through his own baptism ministry, all of Israel would know that their long-awaited Messiah had arrived in the man from Nazareth (1:31). In fact, John even told Israel, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Jesus—not on another man, but on Jesus” (1:32), which was the Father’s way of telling Israel, “This one is my unique Son.”

And Jesus’ point, here in verse 33, is that the Jews had already heard the Father’s testimony through John. They even sent to John the Baptist and asked him about the Christ and about his baptism; and John told them exactly what he was doing and who the Christ really is. It’s in this way that John “was a burning and shining lamp,” Jesus says in verse 35. God appointed John as a lamp to shine forth the light of Jesus Christ through his witness—to uphold before a dark and dead people the message that “light and life are present in Jesus.” This was the Father’s witness through John the Baptist. Jesus isn’t saying these things about John to add anything to his credibility before others. He’s saying these things so that their eyes would be opened to see that when John was teaching them about Jesus, the Father was bearing witness to his Son.

If they were to see that and embrace it for themselves, they would be saved. That is Jesus’ ultimate concern. He doesn’t want them rejoicing only “for a while” in John’s light—and then giving it up once John’s popularity decreases and Herod eventually cuts off John’s head. Jesus wants these Jews rejoicing for an eternity in the light of God’s Son. Verse 34 says, “I say these things so that you may be saved.” Isn’t that just like our Savior? The Jews were persecuting Jesus and seeking all the more to kill him, and Jesus concerns himself with their salvation. He doesn’t return evil for evil (Rom 12:17). He goes on speaking for their eternal good. He endures their misguided accusations in order to give them life in himself. Soon he will be crucified at their hands, and in his resurrection life, he will empower disciples to extend the same life in Christ again to those who crucified Jesus. Some of you have been opposing Jesus for years, and here we are reminded that your rebellious opposition doesn’t keep him from extending grace to you still. He says these things, so that you may be saved. We’ll see in a minute why the Jews don’t like this about Jesus. He doesn’t fit their agenda of self-glory, but requires death to self-glory for the eternal good of others.

2. The Father's Witness in Jesus' Works

Second,the Father gives special works to Jesus. John the Baptist’s testimony in and of itself is great, because the Father introduces his Son to Israel through John’s ministry, but Jesus ups the stakes even more in verse 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.” Let’s get this straight. The works the Father gives Jesus are greater than John’s testimony not because John’s testimony was of lesser importance or because John’s testimony contained less truth. Rather, the works the Father gives Jesus are greater than John’s testimony because John’s testimony itself could never bring God’s purposes to pass. John could announce God’s purposes to save his people; but God’s purposes to save his people could only materialize in the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, it’s one thing for John to say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” It’s another thing to be the Lamb of God who actually takes away the sin of the world.

The Father has given special works to Jesus for Jesus alone to perform, and these works bear a greater witness than the testimony he gave John to speak—Jesus’ works actually bring to pass God’s purposes to save. And, therefore, they are yet another way the Father bears witness to his Son. The works he has entrusted to his Son have a unique, divine quality to them. They are works belonging to God himself, works that only God could perform; and by giving them to Jesus, the Father declares to the world, “This is who my Son is—God in the flesh—and this is why he has come—to rescue you.” So, for example, to this point in John’s Gospel, we have seen these special works given to Jesus: the divine Son comes from heaven to earth (1:14); he changes the water in Cana into wine (2:1-11); he cleanses the temple in Jerusalem from its corruption (2:13-22); he causes the new birth in sinners (3:1-8); he creates true worshipers from adulterers (4:21-26); he cures a sick son with a single word (4:46-53); he commands the lame to walk (5:1-9); he carries out everything needed for our ultimate rest with God (5:10-17); he calls those who are spiritually dead to life with his voice (5:25); and he consummates the kingdom of God by raising the dead for judgment (5:27-29).

If you can do those things, you are not a mere prophet or moral teacher or good example—you are God almighty. And that’s the whole point of Jesus’ works. The Father gives these special works to his Son, not merely to amaze people with his power, but to reveal Jesus’ glory as the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth. Jesus’ works—like the healing of the lame man—are the Father’s way of saying to us, “God has come to save you. The eyes of the blind are being opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the age has come when the lame man leaps like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy (Isa 35:5-6). My Son has arrived; the kingdom of God is almost here; look to him, all you rebels, and be saved!” The Father gives special works to Jesus.

3. The Father's Personal Witness

Third,the Father personally bears witness to Jesus. John’s testimony and Jesus’ works are indirect ways the Father bears witness to Jesus. This third witness given by the Father is more direct. We see it at the beginning of verse 37: “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.” That is, the Father didn’t send his Son into the world and leave us guessing about who he might be; he bore witness to Jesus himself. Look with me at 1:33. John the Baptist says, “I myself did not know him [that is, John didn’t know Jesus as the Messiah], but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” Who told John the Baptist this? He who sent John to baptize with water—namely, the Father. The Father has himself borne witness about Jesus. He told John from heaven who to look for and how to point him out.

On top of that, the other Gospel writers tell us that when Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened to Jesus and there was heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Now, you can make the argument that the whole deal was fabricated by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, we should remember that they wrote their gospels based on eyewitness testimony—meaning, “If you don’t take our word for it, go ask the other witnesses still alive. They heard the voice as well.” In fact, the Father does speak one more time from heaven in John 12:28 and the crowd standing near Jesus says it sounds like thunder, while others say that an angel must have spoken to Jesus. And then Jesus tells them, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.” In other words, “I know who I am; but this voice has come from my Father that you might know who I am.”

The Father has himself borne witness to his Son, Jesus; and this should not be a surprise to the Jews. Even if God had never communicated to them—the ones Jesus is talking to—audibly or visibly, the Father’s testimony about his Son had been communicated to them already in Scripture. That’s his point in the rest of our passage: “His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you don’t have his word abiding in you [the word that has already come to you in Scripture], for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” They’ve never heard God like Jesus has heard God (3:32), and they’ve never seen God’s form like Jesus has seen God’s form (1:18). Jesus hears God’s voice supremely; Jesus knows God’s form eternally. All of their knowledge about God comes through another means, namely, the gift of God’s revelation in Scripture—what we call the Old Testament. So what is the fourth way the Father bears witness to Jesus?

4. The Father's Witness in the Scriptures

Lastly, the Father wrote the Scriptures about Jesus. Jesus makes this point twice. He makes the point broadly in verse 39, where he includes the witness of Old Testament Scripture as a whole. It’s very similar to the point he makes at the end of Luke’s Gospel, “that everything written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” And then in verses 45-46 he narrows his focus to what Moses wrote about him in the first five books of our Old Testament. So read them with me. 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.” Now verses 45-46, “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.” So whether we’re talking about Moses in particular or the Scriptures as a whole, Jesus’ point remains the same: his Father wrote all the Scriptures to point people to his Son—which means that if you read the Scriptures for any other purpose than knowing Jesus Christ, you don’t read the Scriptures rightly.

In fact, you will be searching them and studying them and applying them and memorizing them in vain, like these Jews were in process of doing. The great tragedy was that these Jews searched their Scriptures; they banked on what Moses said in the Law; they read what the Father inspired to be written; and yet they still missed the Son to whom all the Scriptures were bearing witness. They read this law and that law as ends in themselves—like we saw they were doing with the Sabbath—instead of seeing that the whole purpose of their existence was to bear witness to the Christ himself and the redemption God would accomplish in him. They did not see that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom 10:4).

We’ve been seeing this witness of Scripture to the Son playing out in the Gospel of John, so we need not wander what Jesus means. For example, John’s Gospel begins with the same words Moses wrote in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning,” and John does so to reveal that God the Father created the world through God the Son (1:1). Meaning, everything else he does in that world always involves his divine Son; he does nothing for his people apart from him.

Or, when the Son came from heaven to earth, John describes it in terms of the Son dwelling or tabernacling among us to show that God’s tent in the wilderness was never an end in itself, but always anticipated the much greater dwelling of God with man in Jesus Christ (1:14). The great exodus Moses wrote about—when God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt—was only a foretaste of how God would ultimately deliver his people from sin through Jesus Christ. In fact, John even implies that the death of the Passover Lamb formed a picture of what God would ultimately provide through the death of Jesus—namely, our final deliverance from sin and death (1:29). We could go on to speak about how Jesus fulfills God’s promise to Jacob to bless all nations through his offspring (1:51), or how Jesus brings the better wine of God’s kingdom just like Gen 49:11 says, or how Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to remove God’s curse anticipated Christ removing our curse through the cross (3:15), or how the Sabbath law looked to a day when the strife and hostility of the present sinful world would be lifted and again restored to its original rest through the work of Jesus Christ. And John’s just getting started—we have sixteen chapters left. Manna in the wilderness next week pointing to Jesus as the bread of life.

The point Jesus is making to these Jews is clear. His Father has borne witness to him in Israel’s Scriptures and the Jews still totally miss him. To use Paul’s words in 2 Tim 3:15, they have failed to see that “the sacred writings, are able to make [them] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” How do we know they’ve missed the Father’s testimony in Scripture? Because they don’t want Jesus for eternal life, they want Jesus dead—and out of their religious hair forever.

Unbelief Is a Moral Problem Rooted in the Desire to Be Praised

Why is that? After so many clear witnesses by the Father? They’re entire history—from creation, through the Fall, through the patriarchs, through the exodus, through the Promised Land, through the rise and fall of kings, through the judgment in Babylon, through the prophets, through their return to the land, through the psalms they sing—everything was written to lead them to Christ. Then the Father sends John the Baptist to announce “the Christ has come and his name is Jesus.” On top of that, the Father not only announces him from heaven, but he even makes it obvious for everyone by giving Jesus all kinds of special works that reveal his glory and his power and his divine nature and his mission to save the world; and they still refuse to believe.

Verse 38, “You don’t believe the one whom he has sent.” Verse 40, “You refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Verse 42, “You do not have the love of God within you.” Verse 43, “You do not receive me.” Verse 47, “You don’t believe Moses’ writings, so how will you believe my words.” Why is it that they refuse to believe the Father’s witnesses? What’s at the core of their being that keeps them from coming to Jesus and being saved? The answer appears in verse 44: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” The same indictment appears in 12:42-43, but it becomes even more pointed when John describes how some of the Jews’ respond to Jesus. It says there, “Many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess [that they believed], so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” That means their rejection of Jesus and their mishandling of the Scriptures, is not ultimately an intellectual problem. It is a moral problem.

The desire for human praise is always opposed to faith in Christ—because the desire for human praise ultimately says I am the worthy one. And that’s not just a Jewish problem; that’s a universal problem that we all suffer. The desire for human praise doesn’t want to admit that “I am ugly in sin, that I am selfish to the core, that I will use others for my own ends, that I am weak and vulnerable and empty inside, that I am desperate for a Savior.” The desire for human praise will only put up a façade so that others make much of us. Instead of bowing at the feet of Jesus as the only worthy one; the desire for human praise will lead us into a life of constantly seeking the approval of others. Test yourself to see if the desire for human praise is in you.

Does any part of your life revolve around what others think of you? That is, at some level, your sense of well-being depends on the opinions of others. Have you ever been singing with all your heart to the Lord when you’re alone, and then as soon as somebody walks in the door or somebody sees you embarrassment fills your gut? Have you ever sat in a care group meeting and not answered a question, or confessed your sins, or prayed out loud because all that’s racing through your mind is “Oh, but what if I’m wrong. What will they think of me if they know of this sin? What will they think of my prayer?” If that’s true of you, the desire for human praise is waging war against your relationship with Jesus. Or, do you ever find it difficult to say “no” to other people even though biblical wisdom indicates that you should say “no”? Or, are you always second-guessing decisions because of what so-and-so might think?

Do you avoid people, because you’re afraid of what they might or could or will say about you? Are you angered easily when other people cross your agenda, or interrupt your plans, or criticize your ideas? Have you ever backed down from sharing the gospel with someone out of fear of how foolish you may look or how inarticulate you may sound? Folks, it’s really easy to criticize the Jews in this passage for their blatant unbelief despite all the witnesses to Jesus’ glory. But the truth is, that the same desire for human glory and praise and approval that hinders their faith is often raising its ugly head in us. If we’re not careful to satisfy our souls with Jesus, we will seek to satisfy our souls with the compliments of man. We will become ‘approval junkies’—people who vainly attempt to preserve our self-image, who hide our sinfulness from others, who want to be in control of everything, who want everyone else to think we’re somebody. We’ll attempt to fatten our souls on glory that comes from others because we think they have power to give us what we need—more success, a higher position, a greater sensation, a better feeling of self-worth—when the truth is that everybody is bankrupt and perishing without Christ.

What we need is not the glory that comes from men, but the glory that comes from God. We need his approval on Judgment Day if we are to truly live—and this whole passage bears witness that that approval comes to all who embrace the Father’s witness about the Son. The Father didn’t send his Son into the world with all the pomp and pageantry these Jews would have preferred their Messiah to have. He came in humble submission to his Father’s will, doing everything his Father gave him to do, even unto death on a cross, so that we might live. The Father sent the Son into the world that we might be liberated from the desire for human praise, forgiven for thinking we are the center, and welcomed into a relationship with God where true glory resides.

When we come to Christ, we can rest from our anxious toil of seeking the approval of others, because our meaning and purpose no longer resides in the praise of others, but in the glory of God himself, given to us in full through the person and work of Jesus Christ. This—receiving the glory that comes from the only God—is where we truly learn to live; because this same glory will one day fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. The city we who are in Christ will live in will have no need of sun or moon to shine on it, “for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23). And I’ll tell you something: we don’t have to wait for the new heavens and new earth to taste that glory. Daily, it’s available to us through communion with Jesus Christ. And you know where that happens? With both elbows on the table over our Bibles, reading and enjoying the Father’s witness to his Son with every turn of the page—with sitting down with brothers and sisters and saying, “Tell me more of this Jesus and the life God gives me in him;” with asking God to show you wonderful things in his word; with thinking hard over what God has written, expecting him to give you understanding in everything. The Father has borne witness to Jesus. Will you believe his witness to Jesus? Will you let his witness abide in your heart, that it may be a guiding light to his Son? He says these things so that you, too, may be saved.

other sermons in this series