Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
29 May 2016 / Ordinary Time
May the grace and truth of Christ be with you!
Last week heard that Jesus is the Judge of the living and the dead. He said, “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.”
But this week we will see that the Judge becomes the accused. In other words, God in the flesh is being tried in the court of public opinion. In response, Jesus calls on a variety of witnesses who provide evidence to verify his identity and character.
Our sermon text for today is John 5:30-47. It is printed in your worship order if you would like to follow along. If you are willing and able, I invite you to stand and pay close attention to God’s Holy Word. Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh for the life of the world, said:
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. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 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. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you do not want/desire to come to me in order that you might have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know you — that you do not have the love of God within yourselves. 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. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 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. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
The word of the Lord. May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen. You may be seated.
Remember the context. The Jews were seeking to kill Jesus because he healed a lame man on the Sabbath day and because he called God his Father and claimed to be equal with God. (John 5:18)
Then Jesus said something very important to his accusers, “I can do nothing on my own…because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
As the God-man, Jesus received authority from the Father and he received ability from the Holy Spirit to do God’s will. In other words, Jesus did not act independently or autonomously. He did not come to do his own thing. He was a man with authority under authority.
Even when he was put on trial by his accusers, he did not over-play his divine authority card. He submitted to the Father’s will and stood trial before his accusers.
In his book God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis says that “The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock.”
In general, that is true. But in the Gospels we see ancient man approaching the God-man as judge, jury, and executioner.
The Word made flesh came to his own people, but his own people did not recognize him. Light came to darkness, but darkness did not comprehend it (1:10-11). From the start of his public ministry til now, his own people were opposing him, persecuting him, and seeking ways to kill him (5:17-18).
The speech we just heard was offered up by Jesus as a defense against his accusers.
Now, what’s so interesting to me is that those ancient people were super-religious monotheists. They believed God was there and he was not silent, yet when God came near, they put him on trial because they had no idea who he was or what he was doing.
The same thing happens in our day with super-religious atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. Yes, despite their claims, they are deeply religious — they hate every form of religion except their own.
The point I want to make here is that the New Atheists falsely accuse Jesus of all sorts of non-sense and they pass harsh judgments on the person and work of Christ in the name of their religion.
Historical Evidence to the contrary, some New Atheists rant and rave that Jesus did not even exist, that he was the stuff of myth and legend, that he was a delusional mad-man. They have a terrible habit of misrepresenting people and ideas that they don’t like, especially religious ones. They are blinded by their hatred of divine authority, crippled by their ignorance of the truth, and defensive of their autonomous little egos. They foolishly insist that god is dead and zealously assert that man is the measure of all things.
For example, in his book The End of Faith, New Atheist Sam Harris boldly and arrogantly asserts,
“We are the final judges of what is good, just as we are the final judges of what is logical…The only angels we need to invoke are those of our better nature: reason, honesty, and love. The only demons we must fear are those that lurk inside every human being: ignorance, hatred, greed, and faith, which is surely the devil’s masterpiece.” Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), page 226.
To which we might simply reply, “Really? By what standard?”
We denounce that man is the standard of right and wrong, or the arbiter of what is good and bad. Rather, we confess that God as revealed in the Word made flesh is the standard of reason, honesty, and love.
We affirm with Sam Harris that ignorance, hatred, and greed lurk inside every human being — including Sam Harris. But we deny that faith is the devil’s masterpiece — rather, faith in anyone or anything other than the Triune God is the devil’s masterpiece.
(I must say that we find it strangely inconsistent and terribly sad that Sam Harris believes in the devil and his works, but not in God and his works. One comes to steal, kill, and destroy; the Other comes to give life and save.)
Like other New Atheists, Sam fails to understand that his personal-finite human standard simply does not measure up to the personal-infinite divine standard revealed to us by the Word made flesh.
What can we say? The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. Like a outraged toddler drumming his heels on the floor, it has only shouted and screamed against it.
Jesus turns the tables and flips the script on all his ancient and modern accusers when he says,
“This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
Ancient man and modern man have something in common after all. Both attempt to judge and condemn God in the flesh from the darkness, yet both will be judged and condemned by the Light, unless they recant their charges and receive him by faith.
The late Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen reminds us that the Christian life-and world-view “does not require us to consign God to the dock, awaiting the verdict of an autonomous rebel. Instead, it constantly reminds us that sinful man is in the dock before the awesome bar of God’s scrutiny and judgment. It encounters him with the intellectual challenge of the gospel.” (Presuppositional Apologetics Stated and Defended)
Unlike everyone from Adam to the Jewish leaders to Sam Harris, Jesus did not revolt and rebel against authority, he respected it and rejoiced in it.
That brings us back into the story at hand.
It has been said that Jesus Christ is the most significant man who ever lived. It has also been said that Jesus is the most influential man who ever lived, the smartest man who ever lived, and the wisest man who ever lived.
To that list I want to add that Jesus Christ is also the most judged man who ever lived. No one in the history of the world has been evaluated, scrutinized, assessed, criticized, and examined more than Jesus.
Jesus is the most judged man who ever lived.
When God came in the flesh for the life of the world, he made himself vulnerable, he put himself out there to be put on tested and tried even in the court of sinful man.
[Side-Note: In this story, we see God incarnate on trial so to speak. The Jews are challenging Jesus the way Job challenged Yahweh.]
As is the case with anyone on trial, the accused needs solid evidence to mount a defense, especially when death is on the line.
So, Jesus calls on a variety of witnesses to verify his identity and character. The witnesses are the proof and evidence that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word made flesh for the life of the world.
Jesus does not call himself as a witness. Nor does he call John the Baptist as a witness. Rather, he calls his Father God is a divine witness.
As much as Jesus appreciated John’s human testimony, in this story, at this trial, Jesus calls on the true and better divine testimony of his Father.
Jesus explains that his Father’s testimony about his identity and character is revealed in the Signs performed by Jesus and the Scriptures penned by the prophets. In other words, the Works and Words of God.
That is what we will focus on as well.
SIGNS / WORKS – 5:30-36
First, Jesus calls on the testimony of his Father, the witness of the Signs. Up to this point in John’s Gospel Jesus has performed many signs and works in the presence of God and man.
We saw him turn water into wine, drive out the money-changers from the temple. We heard him teach an old religious man new gospel truths, and saw him give a thirsty woman living water. We saw him heal the terminally ill son of a desperate nobleman’s son, and we saw him make a lame man rise and walk. In all these things Jesus went about doing good works and giving rest and relief to restless people.
And Jesus did many other signs that we did not see, but these signs are God’s evidence and proof that Jesus is the Son of God.
The signs and works of Jesus are divine witnesses; they are part of the Father’s testimony in defense of Jesus.
Now, as impressed as we are with the witness of the signs, a shrewd prosecutor might object that the signs are not valid witnesses because only a few local, backwoods, bronze-necked people saw them — if they really happened at all.
Unlike many modern religious folks, Jesus’ accusers were skeptical of signs and wonders. There so many hucksters going around that they were highly skeptical of sensationalized testimonies. They needed more a more reliable witness than someone’s personal experience.
On a side note, this might be a good time to make an observation.
Have you ever noticed that no one who was healed, saved, or delivered by Jesus in these stories ever capitalized on it? No one ever published a book or made a movie or created a devotional guide based on their experience with Jesus. Can you imagine what they could have raked in with a little evangelical marketing plan? The Samaritan woman could have made a fortune with her story A Stranger in the Desert! And who knows what kind of near-death experience story the nobleman’s son could have told! And the lame man could have made a docu-monial about his experience and called it “From Broken Legs to Broken Laws.”
The fact is that there was no market among orthodox people for myths and fables like Jesus Calling, 90 Minutes in Heaven, or The Shack.
True, sometimes Jesus’ critics demand signs; but they always demanded more than signs and subjective stories about signs. They were so old school that they actually demanded Book, Chapter, and Verse — they insisted on the more reliable word of the Law and the Prophets.
Again, nothing against signs. These signs are written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But Jesus called on the more reliable testimony of his Father, the witness of the Holy Scriptures.
And we will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.
SCRIPTURE / WRITINGS (WORDS) – 5:37-44
As we shift our attention to the Scriptures, we need to know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture ever came from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet 1:19-21)
When Jesus appeals to the Scriptures, he is appealing to the sacred writings that were produced by the Holy Spirit through the mouths and hands of men.
Like Jesus, the Scriptures are divine and human.
Now, Jesus refers to the Scriptures as his Father’s testimony about him. “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.” Then he quotes from Deuteronomy 4: “His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen.”
In its OT context, Moses said, “And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.” (Deuteronomy 4:11-14 ESV)
As you know, even though God spoke to Moses and gave his word to his people through Moses, God’s people rejected his word and did not keep it.
Jesus’s point to his accusers was this: the same thing is happening right here, right now. “You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” In other words, you guys are no better and no different than your forefathers.
How could Jesus flip the script and accuse them of not having God’s word in them? After all, they were a people of the book, by the book, and for the book. They put the Bible in Bible Belt. Yet Jesus levels this charge against them: You have God’s word, but it is trapped in your scrolls, locked in your Bibles, stuck on your refrigerators, but it is not in your heart, mind, and soul.
Then he goes for the knock out blow by leveling the mother of all charges against them:
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you do not want/desire to come to me in order that you might have life.”
Like many Bible-quoting professing Christians in our day, those religious leaders treated the Bible as a specimen to be examined and explored by man, not a source of life to be embraced and imbibed.
Like many modern theologians and scholars, they applied their reason and expertise to the scriptures, but they did not allow the scriptures to apply itself to them. They wrongly believed they were living and active, but the scriptures were dead and passive. They treated the Bible as a destination point and it became a dead end in itself to them.
Like many people I know, they wanted the Scriptures, but they did not want the Savior.
Now, before we pass judgment on them, let’s first consider our ways.
Some of us treat the Bible like a giant fortune cookie. We crack it open and hope it tells us something good. Some of us treat the Bible like a horoscope. We want it to predict our future. Some of us treat the Bible like a weapon. We wield it to go after our enemies so we can cut them down and shoot them up. Some of us treat the Bible like a pop-psychology manual. We read the parts that make us feel good ourselves, and we ignore the parts that make us feel bad about ourselves.
But Jesus says the Bible should be treated like a massive Where’s Waldo? picture book. The whole story is about Jesus. He is hidden in plain view on every page. If you search for him you will find him if you search for him will all your heart. If you find him you will have eternal life in him.
Geerhardus Vos says, “In his treatment of the Bible Jesus was the most orthodox of the orthodox. Jesus regarded the whole OT movement as a divinely directed and inspired movement, as having arrived at its goal in Himself.” (Biblical Theology, p 358)
Now, we could spend all day today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that — to infinity and beyond — showing how one OT text after another points us to Jesus. (In fact, if you would like to do something like together, just say the word. There is nothing I’d rather do than more than walk through the Bible seeking and finding Jesus with you. I invite you to fill up my schedule.) Suffice it say for now, that all the scriptures — from the Law to the Prophets, from the History to the Poetry — all the scriptures testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Clearly, searching the Scriptures and reading the Bible is good, but it is not good enough. There is a right way to read the Bible and a wrong way to read the Bible. The right way is to read it as a means to knowing and growing in Jesus Christ. The wrong way is to read it as a means to some other end besides Jesus, or to read it as an end in itself (like Jesus’s accusers did).
As my OT professor Dr Gropp says, “The OT is not purely an academic object for our study, but it is the word of God to us, the word that God has spoken, and the very words through which he continues to speak to us…The whole Old Testament is all about the gospel and the gospel is all about Jesus Christ.”
So, remember that Bible. is an interstate not a cul de sac. It is not our destination, but our transportation to Christ.
And remember that the Bible is a muse not a museum. Its stories and songs preside over the arts and sciences; it is the source of inspiration and illumination for people re-created after the image of Jesus Christ.
The Bible point us to Jesus and takes us to Jesus.
Some of you might not know this, but you have a privilege of knowledge which makes even the angels and prophets jealous.
As Peter said, “The prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours in Christ searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. But it was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:10-12 ESV)
Don’t live below your privilege, but take advantage of your privilege to grow in the knowledge of Jesus.
There is far more truth, goodness, and beauty in the Holy Scriptures than may be found in all the Internet, TV, pinterest, the Mall, the beach, novels, music, university, science, politics, sports, and personal experience combined.
To misquote Mr Keating (DPS), ““We don’t read the Bible and search the Scriptures because it’s cute. We read the Bible and search the Scriptures because we are seeking Jesus’s face. And his face is filled with light and love. Now medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But truth, beauty, goodness, and love, these are what we live for.”
Now, perhaps the most damning thing Jesus said to his accusers in this story is this:
“I know you — that you do not have the love of God within yourselves.”
How did Jesus know that they did not have God’s love in their hearts? Was it because they were not reading the Bible the right way? No. Was it because they were asking hard questions? No. Was it because they had deeply rooted traditions? No. Was it because he was a mind-reader? No.
He knew they did not have God’s love in their hearts because of their words and works. They did not receive him; they rejected him. They did not honor him; they hated him. All the evidence proved that they were seeking to kill him.
Brothers and sisters, I cannot over-emphasize the gravity of this truth: your love for God and for one another is truer and better than your knowledge of the Bible. How do I know that?
Because the Bible tells me so:
“Whoever does not love his brother is not of God; whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:10, 14-15)
As your pastor, I want you to know God’s word as much as you can possibly know it, so that you may know the love of Christ. But I also want you to love God and his people as much as you can possibly love them.
But I don’t want you to choose either knowledge or love; I want you to choose both love and knowledge and keep them together. That is the way of Jesus.
SAVIOR – 5:45-47
One final thought, and we’ll be done for today.
At the end of all things, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. We will stand trial, not God. You and I will be in the dock, not God. Our accuser will make a case against us. The evidence will be stacked against us. We will give an account for our thoughts, words, and deeds.
What will be your defense?
That you did the best you could? That you were not as bad as others? That you could have been worse? That you did not know right from wrong? None of these defenses will take away your guilt or keep you from condemnation.
On the day of judgment, the best and only defense you can offer will be this: Jesus Christ came in the flesh for the life of the world; the Lamb of God came to take away my sins; and by grace I turned from my sins and trusted him to save me. I confess that I am a great sinner, but he is a greater Savior.
Jesus is all the defense you need. That defense is enough to take away your guilt and make you innocent, both now and later.
If you trust him as Lord and Savor, we urge you to keep on trusting him and turning away from your sins, for his glory and your good.
If you have never turned and trusted Jesus as Lord and Savor, we urge you to do so now, that you may have forgiveness of sins and fellowship with God.
If you have done that before, but lapsed and fallen away, we urge you to turn back from death and trust him again that you may have life.
Pastoral Prayer — Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me! (Psalm 119:1-16 ESV)