Read John 5:31-47
John records some incredibly striking words in the continuation of Jesus’s response to the religious leaders who were so upset that they literally couldn’t think straight. The passage begins with a discussion about who is testifying for whom. Then we read some very convicting words like, “nor does his word dwell in you” and “I know you do not have the love of God in your hearts.” (John 5:38, 5:42) Ouch! These words had to sting or at the very least provoke some kind of response. Jesus concludes with a very compelling and convicting argument that they don’t even believe the words that Moses wrote.
For those who think Jesus was all about holding hands, smiles, and thought-provoking storytelling, this passage will help to refocus your thoughts.
Let’s take a quick look at the scripture, then I want to share a story, The Canal, from the NIV Application Commentary. Perhaps you’ll see the connection.
Testimony – John 5:31-37a
Jesus tries to explain that He is the One sent from the Father, but not because He says so, rather, it’s because others, notably John the Baptist, proclaimed this good news. He’s clear to state that He didn’t need John’s testimony, but if it’s easier for you to accept the word of another human, then great! What really matters is that you hear the testimony: Jesus is here to finish what started long ago!
Empty Vessels – John 5:37b-44
Jesus then directed His words at the hearts of those listening. I highlight this section (ok, I highlight a lot!):
You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 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. John 5:37b-40
The reason they couldn’t understand the testimony is His presence is not within them. When I read verses like this, I shudder to think about how many Bible studies I’ve been a part of, the hours invested in study and memorization for the sake of education rather than life change.
I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. John 5:41-42
They were good students, So I imagine they were busy taking notes, looking for ways to pick apart His message. How did they receive this message? Did Jesus pause here for a while and wait for them to look up from taking notes?
Your Accuser is Moses – John 5:45-47
To make His message perfectly clear, Jesus points to the one they all agreed on: Moses. The Sadducees and Pharisees made up the Sanhedrin, the religious ruling authority of their time. They disagreed on a lot of things, but the writing of Moses was something they could mutually accept. Jesus points out Moses even testified about the day when someone greater than he would come:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. Deuteronomy 18:15
“You must listen to him.” Jesus’s concluding remarks is followed by gently setting the microphone down and walking away:
But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” John 5:47
Later on, the half-brother of Jesus would exhort us to become doers of the Word, not just hearers. I hope we gather together and build great friendships in ministry. May we learn to love and cherish each other as wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ. Absolutely. Please get together and study scripture, sing songs, pass the communion cup, but don’t stop there. Go and do something. Share the love of Christ and the message of salvation. Lord stir in our hearts so powerfully that we can’t help but reach out to others!
I read this section in the NIV Application Commentary as I was preparing my thoughts on the passage above. I love the imagery it presents and the truth that it provides. Take a minute and read this excerpt and pray that God will stir something fresh in your heart.
Jesus’ inquisitors represent the “religious establishment” for whom the vigorous preservation of religious tradition counts more highly than the spontaneity and openness of faith. These people know their Scriptures and use them to defend all of the wrong things.
Karl Barth provides a harrowing description of this sickness in his famous 1919 commentary on Romans (see his remarks on Romans 2). Barth thinks about people who live in a wilderness alongside a canal. The canal was there to bring them water and life, and it was with great effort and cost that the project was built for their place in time. Great sacrifices were made, and many died as the canal was cut through mountain and desert. But the great irony is that the canal has become dry, and while its walls still convey evidence of the coursing of water, there is nothing there that can give life to anyone. Nevertheless, the people continue to service it, to defend it, to name their children after its architects and engineers; but it is only an historic thing.
A canal meant to convey something— water and life— now has become static, an end instead of a means. Something for the museum. People tell stories about it instead of drinking from it. The older ones treasure the stories most; the younger ones have to be initiated deliberately, but each generation seems to lose a fraction of the true vision of the canal as time goes on. And no one has a memory of what water in the canal really looks like. Barth’s warning to the Swiss and German church following World War I is a word we should heed today. The possibility always exists that my life, my church, my tradition, my denomination, even my Bible will become relics of religious curiosity instead of living instruments of God. Men and women will be ordained, earn Ph.D.s, and launch magazines, publishing houses, colleges, and seminaries with solid evangelical commitments, and it will all be for nothing. Empty canals. There are specialists who can cite Scripture and verse, who can measure orthodoxy with exacting precision, who can identify the religious speck in someone’s eye from a great distance, but in whom love for God does not exist (John 5:42).
Source: Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland, David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 63083-63098). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.