Bible Text: John 5:31-47 | Preacher: Dan Lee | Series: Making The Father Known | Jesus is on trial for making the massive claim that he is equal with God. In his defence, Jesus lays out three pieces of evidence and then masterfully turns it back on his hearers. In the end, people are left with no excuses!
'Chucking a sickie’ is as Aussie as meat pies and backyard cricket. It is estimated that Australians take over 90 million sick days every year. The average person takes 9.5 sick days. Now of course there are times where that is legitimate. If you’ve got the flu or food poisoning, we don’t want you coming to work. But with that amount of sick days, there are some pretty creative excuses people give for not coming to work. Here they are, and I’ll let you decide whether they are true or not. (Google told me so they must be true!)
At the back end of John 5, Jesus basically says that there are no excuses for not accepting him as God in the flesh. Picture a courtroom with Jesus on trial. Jesus has just made the massive claim that he is equal with God! The Jews respond, “How dare you?” So Jesus brings forward three testimonies to back up his massive claim.
You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth […] John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. (John 5:33, 35 NIV)
The first witness Jesus calls is John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. These Jews knew exactly who John is. Back in John chapter 1, they sent a group to check him out, and John more or less said, “I’m not the Messiah you’re waiting for. I’m just the giant neon arrow pointing to the Messiah! You should pay attention to the guy coming after me. He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
Jesus describes John’s witness as a lamp that burned and lights up the path so you can find what you’re looking for. Well, here, these people could see Jesus, but they didn’t accept him as God. It’s like our Muslim friends or neighbours. They believe that Jesus is a messenger, but they reject his way to God. It is like the Jew who studies the Torah, but refuses to accept that Jesus is the Messiah.
Some of you here today may be like that. You’ve come to church, but you have not yet come to Jesus. You need to understand that after today, as a result of hearing God’s word, you will have no excuses, because you will have heard all the evidence you need to determine who Jesus is. You will need to decide whether Jesus is Lord, lunatic, or liar. That is what I had to do back in 1997, when a guy named Richard sat down with me and together we read through Mark’s Gospel.
In verse 34, Jesus accepts that John’s witness is good, but he offers testimony that is better that John the Baptist.
Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved (NIV)
The logic here is genius. Who else is qualified to tell us who God is and what he is like apart from God? The moment you allow a human to describe what God is like, you are elevating that human above God himself. So Jesus is effectively saying, “Let God tell you about God. If you want to know who God is and what he is like, go listen to God himself! God is the only one qualified to tell you about the existence, nature, and character of God. You can’t look down on God or put him under the microscope. Verse 36:
I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. (NIV)
The works that Jesus has been doing at the start of this chapter was the healing of the man who was paralyzed for 38 years. I am 38 years old. I can only imagine what it would be like to have lived my entire life with my muscles having degenerated, tendons wasted away, and limbs out of order. Yet, after he encounters Jesus, he stands on two feet with his mat tucked underneath his arm. That miracle alone is enough to prove that Jesus is who he says he is. If either you or I went up to someone in a wheelchair and told them to get up, we might end up with a punch in the face. But remember what Jesus said back in verse 19?
Very truly I tell you, the Son [i.e. Jesus] can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
What a humble statement! Whatever Jesus says or does is nothing more or less than what the Father sent him to do. The works of Jesus are the works of God himself! We saw this earlier in John chapter 5, that Jesus does not have an original bone in his body. He doesn’t go it alone but is under orders. He does exactly as he is told.
Jesus does things only God can do. How else do you explain the other miracles Jesus does? So in John 2, Jesus turns water into the finest Cab Sav. In chapter 5, Jesus feeds 5,000 adult men with a couple of breadsticks and some sushi. He will walk on water, heal a man born blind by giving him a mud mask, and raise Lazarus from the dead. You and I can’t do any of these miracles. They are the works of God. And if you don’t believe me, then next time that you are at the pool, don’t bother changing into your swimmers: try and walk across the water. That will prove that neither you nor I are God!
Despite all these works, Jesus knows that the job his Father has given him is not yet done, verse 36:
For the works that the Father has given me to finish testify that the Father has sent me. (NIV)
Jesus knows there is more of the Father’s work to be done. For all the miracles Jesus did, there is one ultimate work to finish. We see that work when we fast forward to John 19:30, and Jesus is on the cross, beaten, bloodied, and bruised. And so Jesus’ last words when he had received the drink were, “It is finished”. Jesus will finish the work of his Father by once and for all by dealing with sin, defeating the devil, and absorbing every last drop of the Father’s anger.
The ultimate proof that Jesus is God is that Jesus offers the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of the world. No one else qualifies as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. If someone other than God dies on the cross, the sin problem is still a problem. Sin hasn’t been dealt with, because all you’ve got is one sinful human dying in place of another sinful human! And that doesn’t cut it for God. He demands a perfect sacrifice. The only innocent, perfect sacrifice is God himself. God takes the initiative and offers himself to die in our place to satisfy his own righteous anger at our sin.
That is why Jesus is God’s way to God. There isn’t any other way. Jesus is telling the religious leaders, “The Father says I am who I am. That’s why I do what I do. I do what I do because of who I am.” These works are not the works of a mere human, a mere prophet. They are works only God himself can do, and he has given them to Jesus!
That brings us to the third testimony that Jesus brings forward. Jesus points not only to the works of the Father but also to the words of the Father when in verse 39 Jesus says to the Jews:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (NIV)
As far as God is concerned, the Old Testament is a one-way street that ends with Jesus. Jesus was God’s ‘Plan A’ all along. The Old Testament is the story of God’s preparation for, promise to, and purpose in sending Jesus.
The problem here is not that the Jewish leaders searched the Scriptures. It’s not a problem that they believed that the Bible gives eternal life. Rather, the problem was that they used God’s words against God’s Son!
Notice how the verse ends: “yet you refuse to come to me to have life”. Jesus is saying that even though the Scriptures all point to him, and they had the Scriptures and cherished them, yet they refused to come to him. It is not that they were ignorant, or confused, but they refused.
What a tragic and depressing scene! These folk devoted their entire lives to searching the Scriptures, day and night, in private and in public. They would have memorized it off by heart. They went to all that effort and yet they still missed the point of the Scriptures completely! All those propositions and prose point to a person, and his name is Jesus! Rather than trusting a book, they should have trusted the person who the book is about!
The Old Testament can be a little intimidating to read on your own. It is sometimes not straight-forward, with weird names and places, occasionally repetitive, written in all different genres, such as poetry, narrative, or wisdom literature. But the Bible reading tip here is that we read the Old Testament the way that Jesus wants us to read it. Reading the Old Testament can be a tough slog. I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately, and that is one heavy book. The question I’ve been trying to ask myself each time I’ve read it is, “Where is Jesus is in this passage?” Sometimes Jesus is found in a promise that he is going on to fulfill. At other times, Jesus is found in the righting of the wrongs of a situation that the Old Testament describes. And at still other times, Jesus is found in a person who is a type or pattern for his later coming. It may not always be an easy question to answer, but it is the right question to answer. Let’s not miss the entire point of the Scriptures when we read them: Jesus!
As you read the Bible, make the most of what God has made available to you. You might benefit from a book like Vaughn Roberts, God’s Big Picture. That is probably the most helpful book available which helps us make sense of the Bible as one big story. Maybe making the most of what you can will mean meeting someone else during the week to read the Bible. Why not ask someone in your small group to meet one-on-one to read, say, Judges, or Joshua, or Jonah together?
So Jesus has brought forward three pieces of testimony: the witness of John the Baptist, the works of the Father, and the words of the Father. But before we go off into the jury room to consider our verdict on Jesus, he gives the religious leaders (and us) a warning. Those who are challenging him might think that they are judge and jury over Jesus and his claim to be equal with God, but at the end of the day, Jesus is going to be judge and jury over them, and us too. Jesus has given them and us reliable testimony, so that there can be no more excuses. If, after all this evidence, people still don’t believe in Jesus, it says more about them than it does about him. Think about how Jesus gets stuck into the religious leaders in verses 37 and 38. He says of them that they have never heard God’s voice, nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in them, for they do not believe in Jesus, the one who the Father sent.
Do you see the irony here? They’re seeing God with their eyes and hearing God with their ears—in the person of Jesus—and still they don’t believe in him.
But Jesus is not done pointing the finger just yet. In the next verse, he says that they pour over God’s words. They read the Bible over and over again. But in verse 40, they still don’t welcome God with open arms. The love of God is not on their radar. All this leads to verse 43, that they reject God. In fact, it is worse than that, because they would rather gain the praise and approval of other people than that of God. The love of others is more important than the love of God.
The modern day equivalent would be that Jesus says to the Bible scholar: “Sure you’ve got a PhD in the Bible, but you deny that I even existed, or that I rose from the dead”, so what good is it? Or to the person who says that they hear God speak to them but never obey him or repent of their sin, Jesus is saying “I don’t know you!” For all your piety, study, religiosity, intelligence, and experience, you have not come to me to have life. This warning is for the person who reads their Bible every day, goes to Growth Group, and comes to church, but has not received Jesus for who he is. They have spent all their time being informed, rather than transformed. They have forgotten that it is not about pages, but a person. That is one serious warning.
It boils down to people not wanting God on his terms. In the last decade, the task of sharing Jesus has changed. Whereas previously people were asking, “Is Jesus true?”, nowadays, people are asking, ”Does it work?” Does it fit in with my life? Is it going to benefit me and make a difference? There are plenty of people in our church who would say that Jesus is not only true, but following him works!
I remember sharing Jesus with a colleague at my old workplace. For him the stumbling block to accepting Jesus was that he couldn’t turn his back on his family’s religion. Yes Jesus was there, but keeping the family happy was the highest priority. Then there was the friend I went to school and uni with: “I don’t wanna do ‘the Jesus thing’. I’m on about working in finance so I can buy my Lamborghini.” I’ve even heard of someone who spent an entire year reading the Bible one-to-one, checking Jesus out, and then one day he reads a tweet by Ricky Gervais on atheism, and decides to live his life based on what a comedian said, rather than what the God of the universe, because that’s what worked for him!
If you haven’t yet taken the hand of Jesus, what is stopping you from accepting Jesus? What excuse are you telling yourself? Will a relationship in your life have to change? Is it that a parent won’t be happy?
One of the best questions you can ask your unsaved friend is “What is stopping you from accepting Jesus?” Chances are, their answer will be less about the evidence for Jesus, and more about them being worried about what others might think: a parent won’t be happy, a spouse will be upset, a dating relationship will have to end, or a friend will make fun of you. If and when they come to Jesus, there’s a good chance some of those things will happen. And if they do, they will be in good company. Plenty of people have faced something similar, but are still following Jesus today.
Evidence after evidence after evidence; witness after witness after witness: what we have here in John 5 is a three-legged stool, leaving you and I without excuse that Jesus really is who he says he is. Jesus leaves us with no excuses to not accept him as God! If you put your trust in Jesus, you are doing exactly what science does: you are making evidence-based conclusions. It is not a blind leap of faith, it is not parking your brain at the door, nor are you using Jesus as some sort of crutch to get you through life. You are accepting the evidence and making a reasonable judgement.
Just as Jesus testified to his Father, so too do Jesus’ people. We’re on about testifying to the Father too. We testify to the works of the Father, what Jesus has done, and to the words of the Father, with an open Bible. That happens in many different ways: with our lips and our lives, in public and private, at home, work, school, on campus, or at church.
I was so encouraged this week to hear that someone plucked up the courage to ask a friend, “Would you like to read the Bible with me?” Then there’s the guy who’s looking for work at the moment. Rather than wasting his time, he’s using that spare time to study the Scriptures. But unlike the Jewish leaders that John wrote about, he is doing it because he knows the person to whom those same Scriptures point. He is wanting to hear from Jesus so he can obey him and serve him. Then on Friday, I happened to be chatting to one of our ‘Jesus Club’ leaders, someone who is here every second Thursday night, testifying to the words of the Father among those with intellectual disabilities. How good was it to hear from Josie and Josiah this morning? Testifying to their Father for them meant giving up a day a week and then using that time to the Jesus whom the Scriptures testify among kids and youth, both at church and in our schools. Then there is Richard, who testified about Jesus to me, when I finished Year 12 back in 1997. Rich is now a missionary over in Thailand, and this week I did something that was long overdue: I wrote him an email thanking God for him and how he introduced me to Jesus from the Scriptures all those years ago. I wanted to encourage him to continue doing what he did with me, just now in a different country.
There are plenty more people I could mention. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I thank God for each of you and for the different ways you testify about your Father in heaven.