Testimonies to Jesus
Reading : Jn.5:1-
Jn.5:39 "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me."
I’m sure you’ve found in life that it is an easy thing to mess up. You can mess up by doing the wrong thing and you can mess up by failing to do the right thing. But there is another important way in which we can mess up and that is by doing the right thing in the wrong way! This third way is perhaps less obvious to us and therefore potentially more dangerous for us.
In my gardening endeavours, for example, I might have heard that I need to prune some of my plants in order to keep them looking good and to promote healthy growth in the future. But I might not know that pruning is something that can be done in the wrong way and at the wrong time. If I were to prune too hard and at the wrong time of the year the results I get may discourage me from ever attempting any pruning again! In that case I will resign myself to having untidy plants in an increasingly scruffy garden.
I could take the radical approach. I could simply dig everything up – but I think that would be the wrong thing.
I could stop pruning and leave the plants to get on without my help – after all I could maintain that pruning just doesn’t work for me, that I don’t have green fingers or so other tame excuse – but that would mean failing to do the right thing.
Or of course I could learn how and when to prune properly – then I would be able to do the right thing in the right way!
Well, you might be wondering, what has that to do with our text for this evening? So enough of my garden advice and let’s turn to our text which points us in the direction of Bible reading.
It is possible for you to fill the time you should be spending on reading your Bible with something other completely: that would be to mess up by doing something wrong. It is possible that you don’t think about setting aside time for reading your Bible – that would be to mess up by failing to do what is right.
Our text this evening addresses another possibility we all have that of reading our Bibles but in the wrong way.
We must begin by looking at the context which prompted Jesus to say what he did.
A man had been suffering for 38 years without any respite. How he wanted to be made well. One Sabbath Say Jesus met him, talked with him and healed him. As Jesus sent him on his way he instructed him to take his bed with him. And that is exactly what this happy man did.
He hadn’t gone too far however before some other Jews challenged him: what was he doing carrying a burden like that? Didn’t he know it was the Sabbath? No work was allowed.
The man answered as best he could:
Jn.5:11 "The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’"
The fact that this man had just been healed from a long, debilitating sickness didn’t seem to matter in the slightest to the Jews who had challenged him – they don’t evidence any sympathy or compassion nor do they rejoice in what had taken place, in fact they pass over the news of his restoration entirely. What they are interested in however is to know the name of the man who had told him to carry his bed on the Sabbath.
A little time elapsed during which Jesus spoke again to the man he had healed this time instructing him to take care how he lived from then on. Innocently this man then reported back to the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
The healed man has put the focus on Jesus the healer but the Jews only see in his testimony a reason to point the finger accusingly at Jesus – they actively persecute him for doing good on the Sabbath.
Jesus explained his action and his motivation:
Jn.5:17 "My Father is working until now, and I am working."
Jesus’ testimony is rejected on the spot as his hearers rapidly grow more hostile, so hostile in fact that they want to kill him! They now saw him not merely as a Sabbath breaker but as a blasphemous Sabbath breaker who made himself equal with God!
I suppose Jesus could have walked away – would you try to reason further with folk who became so quickly inflamed with rage and all stemming from a powerful act of kindness that nobody could deny? Jesus didn’t walk away though – he continued to reason with those who would accuse him.
Jesus told them he didn’t and couldn’t work independently of the Father but could only do what the Father was doing; because the Father loved his Son he showed him what he was doing and so when Jesus acted as he had just done he was doing the very work his Father wanted him to do!
Jesus added that the Father had not only given him this great authority but he had also established him as the central actor in the divine plan of salvation. Because this status had been given to the Son by the Father any failure to honour the Son was also a failure to honour the Father.
In this way Jesus responded to the criticism of those Jews and defended himself against their accusations. What a testimony he gave them as to his own identity – but it wasn’t the testimony of a proud, rebellious blasphemer – he humbly acknowledged his dependency upon God whose will he is determined to accomplish.
Jesus knew he was speaking the truth but was well aware that his detractors would reject what he had to say on the grounds that he was bearing witness about himself which, in their, eyes rendered his testimony automatically invalid. Although he did not consider the testimony of others necessary for himself he nevertheless drew his hearers’ attention to the fact that his was not a unique testimony, there were others who testified too. Jesus then proceeded to refer to:
John the Baptist
The works his Father gave him to accomplish (including his very recent miracle of healing)
The Father himself has spoken at his baptism but more probably more importantly at this juncture he has in mind the Scriptures, what we refer to now as the Old Testament
Jesus was clear in what he said:
v.37 "the Father has borne witness about me..."
and then just a couple of verses later:
v.39 "they (the Scriptures) bear witness about me"
What he was saying is that the Scriptures are God’s word to mankind and in the Scriptures the Father’s voice is clearly heard testifying to Jesus.
And these were the very Scriptures that these Jews read and read regularly.
When Jesus said that they read the Scriptures it wasn’t a criticism. Yes, the Jews did read the Scriptures as a duty but it was a good duty to carry out and their reading was seriously undertaken: the word ‘search’ implies a diligent concern for detail . And yet there was a problem. They had got their whole approach and methodology all wrong. They came with their own agenda to the Scriptures and consequently missed what it was that God was saying.
They came with their own question and on the surface the question seems to be an excellent one all about finding and having eternal life. But they were too quickly satisfied. They were happy to possess a simple knowledge of God’s word – they would have been able to answer Bible trivia questions with ease – but they needed to be brought to see that God revealed himself in his word and for this to be brought home to them the ministry of the Holy Spirit was absolutely essential. It is the special ministry of the Holy Spirit to do this and to bring men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Heeding those Testimonies
The Spirit delights to show men and women their need of salvation and then having convicted them of their need to lead them on to the One who can meet that need by saving them – Jesus.
These Jews with their own agenda didn’t see the big picture and so when they were confronted with the Lord Jesus they failed to recognise him. They had in their possession the very oracles of God but failed comprehensively to see what they were primarily all about.
While they are times when we come to the Bible seeking specific answers to our questions we also must allow God to set the agenda and allow him to speak to us about the things he sees as most important – he will speak to us about Jesus.
Bible reading is a great thing to do if we go about it in the right way but if we don’t we’ll end up in trouble.
On the one hand these Jews "knew" their Scriptures but on the other as they refused to recognise Jesus they showed that they really didn’t know the Scriptures at all!
The Bible is NOT primarily a book about the spiritual adventures of one small nation in the ME. It is NOT primarily a book of rules and regulations and religious duties. It is NOT a book full of the stories of heroes to fill Sunday School lessons. It is not even primarily a book about eternal life. It is a book about Jesus Christ and if we read it without finding him we have got it wrong!
Jesus here clearly states that the Bible is about him and he is specifically referring to the OT.
A few verses further on in this chapter Jesus declared that Moses written about him (Jn.5:46).
And he stated the same truth elsewhere too:
Do you remember that small group Bible study meeting that took place on the Road to Emmaus?
Lk.24:27 "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he (that is, Jesus) interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."
The Bible’s own view is that the Bible is full of Christ! His person and work are revealed in the NT but also foreshadowed in the OT through both the vehicle of prophecy and the use of types. The major offices of Christ as Prophet, priest and king are all to be found in the pages of the OT.
These convictions that informed our Lord’s own thinking were subsequently shared by the early church:
On the day of Pentecost Peter’s sermon was laced with OT passages that he understood to be speaking of Christ. A few days later he was in the temple again preaching. Once more his sermon was filled with OT references to Christ:
He spoke about Abraham and he spoke about Moses and he further generalised by saying:
Acts 3:17 "But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled..."
Acts 3:24 "And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days..."
Nor are we to imagine that this was something he grew out of as the years went by for when visiting Cornelius we find him preaching in similar vein:
Acts 10:43 "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
And the Spirit fell on the congregation as Peter thus preached about Jesus – how the Spirit loves to honour Christ!
And the same Spirit will help us too. The fact we need the Spirit’s help to properly read and understand the Scripture should be no discouragement to us for the Father delights to give the Spirit to those who ask him:
Lk.11:13 "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Ah, but there comes the rub – do we ask the Father to send him to us? How easily we settle down and simply stop asking!
I wonder whether some of us have found our own Bible reading becoming a bit dull and tedious. We won’t perhaps want to say so openly but we’re wondering whether Bible reading just isn’t my thing, fine for others but not for me.
The answer may simply be to realise that we’ve been going at it in the wrong way like those Jews. We’ve not been ready to listen to what the Bible wants to say to us and we’ve ended up reading the Bible without being drawn to Christ. When we are being drawn to Christ, feeding on him and delighting ourselves in him, our Bible reading won’t be a chore. But perhaps we’ve stopped expecting to meet him there and then the histories and the prophecies of so long ago seem so dry and dusty that we’re ready to throw in the towel.
Go to the Father and plead for the Spirit and go to the Word expecting to find Christ in what you read. Don’t expect God to by-
The witnesses are all there let’s make sure we listen to them and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.