The third part of John, chapter 5:John 5:31-47
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As we finish John 5 this morning, I’m reminded of how different the Gospel of John is when compared to the Synoptic Gospels. His approach seems to be more theological than chronological, so the rhythm of reading the Synoptics alongside John requires adjusting my glasses a bit, perhaps even trying a different pair, because we’re looking at a very different account of Jesus’ life and testimony.
We begin by reading a statement that leaves the Jewish leaders confused: “There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true” (John 5:32). Jesus refers to John the Baptist and gives an emphatic positive endorsement to his testimony by saying “he has testified to the truth,” then qualifies the statement to ensure we are focused on God’s revelation and not man’s perspective. John was a lamp and he did what he was supposed to do: he cast a light into darkness, a light which “you chose for a time to enjoy.” For the Jewish leaders, especially the Pharisees, it seems they had a case of one foot in one foot out disease. John was preaching repentance, something all should hear, but surely he was not referring to the righteous Jews, right? As they say in the south, y’all need to repent, not us! Jesus turns up the heat on his next words.
“I have testimony weightier than that of John” (John 5:36). This segue gets their attention and Jesus makes a statement must have spiked the blood pressure of every Pharisee:
The part that I think gets them is the middle phrase, “nor does his word dwell in you.” It seems they have been great at memorization, but not digestion. In other words, they can speak the words, but they are not fed on the words of God. This hypocritical stance is responsible for undermining the validity of churches across this country. Currently, I live in the southeastern part of the country where people would easily say they are Christians, they believe the Bible is true, Jesus is the Son of God, etc. At the risk of sounding pious myself, I would dare to say that most could not expound on any of those statements. One of the motivating factors in writing this blog is to hold myself accountable by publicly showing my journey through the scriptures. It’s so important for the life of the church to hear, “nor does his word dwell in you” that I keep pointing people to resources that would help them.
New Life Christian Church is starting their “Word Up” reading through the New Testament today, a challenge to read through the New Testament between June 1st and August 29th. While this sound like quite the challenge, it’s only about 21 hours of reading (based on audio-book versions available). Sure, it’s a lot of content in less than 90 days, but this is a great way to gain perspective.
Back to the verses at hand. “You study the Scriptures diligently…yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). As mentioned yesterday, I really believe Jesus is looking intently at them and saying these words in a careful, considerate voice. He really is trying to explain this new Gospel to them. Some get it, most don’t. If we jump to John 12 we see that there are those who are following along with these thoughts, “…many even among the leaders believed in him…they loved human praise more than praise from God” (John 12 42-43). They’re stuck with concern about what others are thinking about what they are thinking. It’s this kind of circular logic that breaks down quickly.
It is a natural desire to want to be accepted by others, no doubt, but this desire must not override truth. How we deliver this “truth” is important and some are better at delivering the message than others, but the truth is what we must seek. Jesus tries to help them by pointing to Moses, the one they revere as the human authority for all of their laws. In this direction, Jesus encourages them to go back and read the words of Moses and find him in the scrolls! Unashamedly he insists that their understanding of Moses is limited, that they don’t even understand that which they profess to know so well: “you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:47). That had to make their heads spin.
The rub is this: does this make our heads spin? Am I reading the Bible without really understanding God’s word? How do I know the difference? Should I take a Bible trivia test to see if I can score higher each day? While we can quickly conclude this is not the right approach, the question still burns in my mind. The answer is rather obvious: how we live our lives must reflect that of Godly, Christ-following people. How do we know we’re doing this if there is no empirical measurement? Part of the problem is we tend to want to compare ourselves with one another. That’s what these Jewish leaders were so concerned with and what I think we do today. We’ve created standardized tests as a means of measuring ourselves against some set of known facts. This might be valuable if we used the results as a means of self-diagnosis, but we quickly slip into comparing results to on another and subsequently honoring those who score a 602 greater than someone who merely scored a 598. Sure, we can play with statistics, etc., but let’s stick to the words of Jesus and focus on belief.
If we believe, we should act differently. If we truly listen, we should be changed on the inside, the heart will change, not just the head. The first half of this scripture talks about testimony while the second half focuses on belief. The word testify or testimony is used 10 times in 10 verses. The focus switches to acceptance and belief in the latter half of the reading where those words appear 8 times in 8 verses.
Lord help me to move from your testimony to complete belief. May this transform my life to become the witness that invites people to come to know you fully, not just hearers of the word, but those whose lives are a testimony unto themselves.