John 5:30-47 “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. 31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 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. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 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. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 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. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
I want you to imagine yourself on trial for something extremely significant—you’re innocent, but the charges are as serious as they come. If found guilty, you’d likely get decades in prison…or worse. Now imagine that the verdict will depend entirely on your witnesses; the quality and believability of those willing to testify on your behalf. Who would you want to speak for you? Of everyone in the entire world, who do you think would be the most helpful person to call? The pope? The president? A supreme court justice? In some ways that’s what we’re dealing with in this passage.
There’s a type of trial going on in John 5 and we’re meant to notice the several stages of it. In the first stage Jesus “committed the crime” of miraculously healing a paralyzed man. In the second stage Jesus was “brought to trial”. He was accused by the Jews of breaking the Sabbath (by healing on it), of encouraging someone else to break it (by commanding the man He’d healed to carry his bed away), and of claiming to be equal with God. In the third stage (which we considered in last Sunday’s sermon), Jesus took the stand Himself. He explained that the Jews misjudged His words and actions because they misjudged His nature. As a means of clearing up the misconceptions, Jesus listed eleven aspects of who He was/is that gave rise and legitimacy to what He said and did. Now, as we come to the close of the chapter, we enter the fourth stage. In this stage Jesus clarified Himself and called witnesses on His behalf.
Again, then, first, Jesus reiterated His main claim—that He did and said only what and everything that the Father gave Him to do and say. And second, Jesus offered four different witnesses to back up His claim: (1) John the Baptist, (2) Jesus’ miraculous works, (3) God the Father, and (4) The Scriptures (especially those written by Moses). And yet, despite the impeccable credentials and consistent testimony of Jesus’ witnesses, the Jews still refused to believe because: (1) They lacked genuine knowledge of the Scriptures, (2) They lacked the love of God, (3) They were hypocrites, and (4) They loved their own glory.
The main point of all of this is that while Jesus is fully trustworthy—with the most credible witnesses attesting to it—the Jews still would not believe because of the hardness of their hearts. The main takeaways for us are to ask God to make us humble as we come to the Word of God and eager to believe and obey all we find therein. Let’s pray that we’d see and respond to the text as God means us to.
JESUS’ MAIN CLAIM (30)
Jesus makes many claims about Himself and His work throughout John 5. In some ways, they are all summed up in v.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.” When agreeing to become incarnate, Jesus agreed to depend entirely on the will of the Father and the power of the Spirit. The main implication of that in the context of John 5 is that everything Jesus said and did—everything that made the Jews so angry and accusative—was the exact will of God. Jesus was completely surrendered to the will of God in a way no other man had been or has been since. Jesus’ main point, then, was that to accuse Him of acting wrongly, was to accuse God the Father of acting wrongly; a preposterous claim, of course.
The problem, once again, was that the Jews had recreated much of what God had said of Himself and called them to according to their own wisdom and desires—twisting and adding on over and over again to the point that the true version was no longer recognizable to them. (It’s kind of like those celebrities who, futilely chasing youth, have had so many cosmetic procedures that they no longer look like themselves.) Therefore, when Jesus came, perfectly imaging God and obeying His commands, instead of repenting and worshiping, they persecuted and reviled.
Part of Jesus’ mission on earth was to perfectly reveal and model the true nature of God and His will. And insodoing, Jesus aimed to correct and atone for the centuries of disfigurement and rebellion. Both for the sake of His accusers then and for us today, Jesus continued to stack up more and more evidence to prove that He really was of God. In this latest round, Jesus added four impeccable witnesses; any one of which would have been entirely sufficient, but all four together provided the strongest evidence ever presented.
Before we come to the witnesses, let me ask you two questions. First, if you are still not sure of whether to trust in Jesus or to trust entirely in Jesus, who would need to testify and what would they need to say for you to believe? Who would be the perfect witness in your eyes? Who would need to attest to the authenticity of Jesus’ claims for you to truly surrender to Him? And second, how are you guarding against falling into the same deadly pit the Jews had fallen into—the pit of adding to or taking away from the life God has called you to? How are you intentionally seeking to live an authentic Christian life instead of a man-made counterfeit version? These are two critical questions we all need to settle on if we are to gain all we are meant to from this passage.
JESUS’ WITNESSES (31-47)
To be sure, Jesus’ claim was significant. It is the biggest thing anyone has ever claimed about themselves. Fully aware of this, Jesus declared, “31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.” That did not mean, of course, that Jesus’ words were insufficient all by themselves. It did mean, however, that by law and nature, the Jews would not have accepted Jesus’ testimony if He had no witnesses. And, more significantly still, it meant that embedded in Jesus’ very claim was the fact that He had witnesses to back up His claim. In other words, Jesus was saying in effect, “I know that there’s no way you will accept my claims apart from the testimony of others and you shouldn’t because part of my claim to have witnesses (eternal, divine, inspired, miraculous, unprecedented witnesses).” Jesus’ claim was significant indeed. But His witnesses were no less significant. And with that, let’s meet the first witness.
John the Baptist (32-35)
32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.
With those words, Jesus was referring to John the Baptist. He was the first prophet in 400 years and the greatest man who ever lived (Matthew 11:9-11). That’s not a bad start to your witness list. Indeed, for a time, the Jews agreed.
When John first came on the scene, he really did inspire many. He “was a burning and shining lamp,” that caused many to “rejoice for a while in his light” (35). He broke God’s centuries-long silence and promised the imminent coming of the long-expected Messiah. The Jews even sought him out to hear his message (33) and respond to it in repentance and baptism. But when he finally announced the arrival of the Messiah in the person of Jesus, everything changed.
John 1:29-34 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, 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.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
The Jews should have believed him because “he [bore] witness to the truth” (33), but they didn’t. They turned on him to the point that he was eventually beheaded for his testimony (Mark 6:14-29).
The first witness was John the Baptist. And he was a good witness, promised and sent by God (Isaiah 40; Malachi 3). Among men, he was the best witness. But he was merely a man which is why Jesus declared, “34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.” More and greater witnesses were up next.
Jesus’ Miraculous Works (36)
The second witness Jesus called was His own marvelous, miraculous works.
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.
Two weeks ago we considered the miracles of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel. To this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus turned water into excellent wine (2:1-11), He supernaturally read minds and knew hearts (2:25), He miraculously healing an official’s son, saving him from death, by merely saying that it would be so, without touching or even seeing the boy, from a day’s journey away (4:46-54), and He caused man who was paralyzed for 38 years to immediately stand up and walk (5:1-17). In the coming chapters we’ll see that Jesus miraculously fed 5000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish (6:1-15), walked on water (6:16-21), healed a man who was born blind (9:1-41), raised another man from the dead! (11:38-44), foretold Peter’s denial of Him (13:36-38), and rose from the dead Himself (20:1-10)!!!! On top of all that, you probably remember, John wrote, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which were not written in this book” (20:30).
No one could do those things apart from the power of God. More even than the greatest man who ever lived, Jesus’ miraculous works testify to the truthfulness of His claim to do nothing outside of the will of God.
God the Father (37a)
Where do we go from there? What greater witnesses might Jesus call than these first two? Truly, the only thing that can top the first two witnesses called by Jesus is the third: God the Father.
37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me…
While John’s Gospel records neither, Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record two explicit, audible declarations from God concerning the legitimacy and divinity of Jesus, the very Son of God.
When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist “immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:16-17; see also Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22). John doesn’t record these words, but speaks of the event in the passage I just read (1:29-34).
In similar fashion, in Matthew 17:1-5 (along with Mark 9:7 and Luke 9:35) we read of the transfiguration, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light…and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.'”
Grace, do not miss the profound reality that at both the beginning and end of His ministry, God audibly spoke on Jesus’ behalf, testifying to the facts that Jesus was His Son and that Jesus’ words and actions were pleasing to Him. How’s that for a credible witness and a powerful testimony?!
If someone charged you with stealing from the president of the United States, who would be able to provide a more compelling argument on your behalf than the president of the United States? Imagine being on trial. The charges are leveled. Things are looking rough for you. The prosecution is zealous and the circumstantial evidence against you is significant. And then, the president himself walks in, and under oath testifies that it was definitely not you who stole from him. What person in their right mind would still believe you to be guilty? Case closed, right?
Well, that’s exactly what happened to Jesus. He was charged with blaspheming God, but God testified that He was pleased with Jesus; more than once!
The Scriptures (39, 46)
After that, what possible need might there be for a fourth witness? The issue was whether or not the things Jesus said and did were the will of God. God himself testified that they were. What more could be said that would add to that? The answer is the Scriptures.
The Scriptures themselves are nothing more or less than the Words of God. In that sense, to say that the Scriptures testify on Jesus’ behalf is simply another way of saying that God the Father testifies on Jesus’ behalf. But while John’s point in v.37 was that the Father audibly spoke for Jesus, his point here is that God has done so for millennia! From the very first pages of the Scriptures God testified about the coming, work, and message of Jesus.
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me… 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.
Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17-19; Deuteronomy 18:15-18
In addition, Job 33:23-28; 1 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Psalm 2:7-9, 22:16-18, 16:10
Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
Isaiah 7:14, 40:3, 53:1-12
Zechariah 9:9-10 Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he…
Zechariah 12:10; Malachi 3:1-2 and 4:5-6
The Scriptures, the very words of the Father, the very words the Jews studied so diligently, the very words they believed gave them life and condemned Jesus, actually testified for Jesus, over and over again, over century upon century (39). And yet, instead of finding the life they promised in Jesus, the Jews misread them and refuse to come to Him (40).
John the Baptist testified on Jesus’ behalf, Jesus’ miraculous works gave testimony to the fact that He was from God, God Himself testified for Jesus while He was on earth, and the Scriptures too, over thousands of years, authenticate Jesus’ claim to do nothing other than the will of God.
Grace, whatever doubts you may have, consider the testimony of these witnesses. There are no greater witnesses and there is no greater testimony to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Learn from the mistakes of the Jews and the heart behind their rejection of Jesus, that you might turn to Him in faith. It is to that which we will now, very briefly, turn.
THE REASONS FOR THE JEWS’ REJECTION OF JESUS
In spite of the impeccable testimony of the witnesses, the Jews still refused to believe Jesus and, therefore, receive, the salvation of God in Jesus. To help them understand themselves and to help us look for hints (or large doses) of these things in us, Jesus named four specific reasons why those accusing Jesus refused to accept Jesus.
Lack of Genuine Knowledge of the Scriptures (37-40, 45-47)
First, they misread their Bibles. While they understood themselves to be experts in the Law and fervent keepers of it, they were anything but.
37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
45 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. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Again, Grace, may this stir in us humility of the highest order. Humility recognizes the ease with which our hearts wander into pride and selfishness, with which our minds settle too early or late on what God has said, and with which our actions take on a form of obedience but miss the spirit. Learn humility from the tragedy of the Jews.
And then respond in reading your Bible more and more consistently, digging into it thoughtfully, studiously, meditatively, and prayerfully; reading it with the help of good resources, reading it with other godly people, and reading it in light of history. Genuine knowledge of the Scriptures doesn’t come from reading your Bible alone a few times a year, half-engaging sermons and Bible studies, and being unaware of how the Church has understood it for centuries.
To truly and fully trust in and follow Jesus, we need to understand how He is revealed in God’s Word. Failure to do so always ends up like the Jews in some form of misbelief, unbelief, or unbelieving belief.
Lack of the Love of God (42)
The second characteristic of the Jews that kept them from receiving the testimony of Jesus was the lack of the love of God within them.
42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.
We love others, and we only love others, when the love of God is in us (1 John 4:19). If there is a message the world needs to hear today it’s this. Love is not something we can define or conjure ourselves. Love is not love. God is love and so all love comes from Him. There is no such thing as atheistic or self-generated love. The Jews missed this and so they missed the truthfulness of the testimony of Jesus and His witnesses, and therefore, they missed on the love and salvation of God found only in Jesus. May we not make the same mistake.
Third, the Jews had given themselves over to perpetual hypocrisy and so missed the genuine thing in Jesus. One such example was in how they applied the commands of God when it suited them but didn’t when it didn’t.
43 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.
Often, they would believe the testimony of one on their inner circle without witnesses. Here, in the case of Jesus, however, they would not budge in spite of a plethora of witnesses. More than a dozen times Jesus is explicitly recorded as condemning the Jews as hypocrites, for reasons just like this. No one is perfect, but hypocrisy and imperfection are not the same. We’re hypocrites when we say or act as if we’re perfect, not when we admit we aren’t. Admitting we aren’t is the beginning of trusting in Jesus and finding life in Him.
Loved own Glory (44)
Finally, in spite of the overwhelming evidence for the fact that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, the Jews refused to believe because they were consumed with the love of their own glory instead of God’s. Like so many often do, they claimed to care about the glory of God, but it was only the means by which they sought to be glorified themselves.
41 I do not receive glory from people… 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 universal truth is that everyone is seeking glory. That desire and impulse are hardwired into us by God. The only question is where we look for it. Will we look for it in the one place it is truly found (in God Himself) or in the countless other places that promise it but can never deliver? Will we seek the eternal, all-consuming, all-satisfying glory of the God of glory or in the counterfeit versions in and around us?
The Jews missed that that the Messiah they claimed to long for was standing in front of them because they didn’t understand the Scriptures, they lacked the love of God, they were filled with hypocrisy, and they loved their own glory. Again, may we consider these things and make war against them wherever they are found in us.
The chapter closes without any formal verdict. We have to wait thirteen more chapters to come to that. When we get to chapter eighteen, though, we’ll see two unmistakable things. First, we’ll see that even as Jesus’ witnesses continued to testify on His behalf, the animosity toward Jesus and the false charges against Jesus only grew. And second, we’ll see that all of this was according to the eternal plan of God and the willing submission of Jesus, for the salvation of the world. Jesus came to bear witness to the plan of the Father, to perfectly obey the Father, and then to suffer, die, and rise from the dead for the glory of the Father and the everlasting good of mankind.
Are you with me, Grace Church? Jesus came as the innocent Son of God and Son of Man in order to endure these false charges, die at the hands of these lawless men, and to atone for the sins of you and me and all who will receive Him. The sham trial that began in the beginning of John and continued throughout the entire ministry of Jesus was the very reason Jesus came to earth. It was the means by which He would rescue us from our rebellion against God and reconcile us to God.
And so, let us grieve over the mistreatment of Jesus, let us experience holy anger at the injustice perpetrated against Him, let us marvel at the hardness of the hearts of those accusing Jesus, and then let us remember that is us. It was our sin that caused those things. Then, let’s turn to Jesus in humble faith, thanksgiving, worship, and obedience. He was falsely condemned so we wouldn’t need to be rightly condemned. He was wrongly sentenced to death so that we might be graciously justified to eternal life.