37. The Father’s Testimony

Short Meditations in John 5:  37. The Father’s Testimony

Jn 5:37  And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 

After basically rejecting John’s testimony for himself but recognising that it was for the benefit of the people, Jesus makes reference to the testimony his Father has given to him. Three times in the Gospels God the Father broke into the affairs of His Son, to affirm him.

First, at his baptism: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)

Second, on the Mount of Transfiguration, While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Mt 17:5).

Third, in John’s Gospel after the raising of Lazarus and in the run up to the last hours, we read, Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:27-29)

The two incidents from the Synoptic Gospels bring as double message from heaven – Son, I love you and Son, I am pleased with you. Now what is interesting is that the first of those, at Jesus’ baptism, is before Jesus has started his ministry. It is simply a bold affirmation that He is pleased that His Son has gone to the earth to fulfil the plans of the Godhead – and that He loves him.

In the second incident, on the Mount of Transfiguration, while it is clear that it comes with an instruction to the disciples – Listen to him – it is also clearly an affirmation of love and approval for Jesus himself.

In the third incident, recorded by John, when the Father says He has glorified His name, it is an affirmation of Jesus’ ministry that has one that so far, and will yet do that in the coming days and hours.

The audible voice of God heard on these occasions, reminds us of the voice of God that was heard at Mount Sinai (e.g. Ex 19:19,20), again at most significant times in the life of Israel. Mostly in these three present incidents, however, the voice was not so much for the people, who often either didn’t hear it or attributed it to an angel, but for Jesus himself. It was, in other words, the Father testifying to His love and approval of His Son – for the benefit of His Son at crucial times.

36. The Testimony of Works

Short Meditations in John 5:  36. The Testimony of Works

Jn 5:36 I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.

Twice Jesus had made mention of John the Baptist as he has been discussing testimony, first as he referred to the testimony that John gave to Jesus and then, second,  how John’s ministry had burned like a light in the darkness and had been gladly received by many – for a while at least.

So, yes, it was true that John had shone in the darkness, a light from God who seemed to shine bright in the spiritual darkness of the day, but says Jesus (and he is not being petty, just truthful) Jesus’ own testimony was far brighter than that of John. John came speaking the words of the kingdom and caused people to repent, but that was only the beginning as far as God was concerned.

Jesus came to bring the kingdom or rule of God by power. On the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter declared, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Jesus didn’t speak just words, he brought literal change to people.

In the Isaiah mandate that he read out in the Synagogue, he declared, “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19). To John’s disciples he said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) Now we try to rationalise or rather spiritualise those things but the truth is that when you look at Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels, these were all physical realities. The challenge comes when Jesus said, I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12)

It is plain and simple unbelief to deny these obvious words that are Jesus’ calling to the church. Consider also, “go and make disciples of (or from) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  (Mt 28:19,20) i.e. do what I taught my disciples to do, i.e. what I do!!!  It was for this reason that Jesus could say, “the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.There was no way that any man could do these things unless the Father had sent him and enabled him to do them. What was true then is true now – but we have been called to do that. We have some learning to do.

35. John’s Light

Short Meditations in John 5:  35. John’s Light

Jn 5:35    John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

This whole subject about the testimony to Jesus, is really raised like this nowhere else in the Gospels. The synoptic writers simply declared what they knew and that was it. It was only John, who pondered on all he had seen and heard in those three wonderful years, who remembered this brief teaching of Jesus. The more and more we go into it, the more we see how important and how significant it is.

Jesus has previously referred to John the Baptist two verses back in verse 33 but that was simply about the fact that John had testified powerfully to Jesus, and we looked at that testimony. He had followed that up by saying that he himself did not need to rely upon any human testimony, but having said that he returns to John and speaks some more about him.

John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. Two things about that. First, the nature of John’s ministry. In the spiritual darkness that had existed in Israel at that time, John had come as a light for the people and they had flocked to him. He clearly was a prophet of the old school and there hadn’t been one of those in the land for over four hundred years! But John had come calling the people to repentance and giving them an opportunity to be ceremonially washed clean of their sins by being baptised in the Jordan.

Second, for a while at least, Israel has basked in John’s glory, as uncomfortable as it was. He was at least a prophet and that reminded them that they were truly God’s people and after four hundred years of waiting, suddenly the prophetic tradition was back there in their midst. Hundreds, if not thousands, had flocked to him. He was, as we might say today, the flavour of the month. Now Jesus is going on to say that he has a more powerful testimony than John had, but for the moment he focuses them on how they had, for a while at least, accepted John.

Perhaps the nearest we can get to this in modern Christianity are the ways people leap to follow Christian celebrities on Christian TV or perhaps leap at a ‘new teaching’ that causes excitement for a short while. It may be right to acclaim God’s gifting in Christian leaders and it may be right to work out new or fresh teaching that brings a balance that had been missing, but NOTHING is to compete with the relationship that we have directly with Jesus. He alone is our Lord and Saviour and in him alone are all our answers. Such a recent fad has been that of the ‘mindfulness’ phenomena. Jesus is the answer to our lack of peace and he alone makes sense of the present moment.

34. Helpful Testimony

Short Meditations in John 5:  34. Helpful Testimony

Jn 5:34   Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 

And so Jesus continues to speak about testimony, about who or what testifies to who he is. He wants his followers to be assured as to who he is, but perhaps it is bigger than that, perhaps he is saying these things to provoke his disciples into thinking more about who he is because there will come a time when they will stand alone and everything about their future will depend on who they think he is.

So he has just referred to the testimony of John about him, which was indeed, a strong and powerful one, but then it is as if Jesus shrugs it off, as he appears to say, “Well, yes, it was a great testimony but I actually don’t need such a testimony, or any human testimony for that matter.

When he says, “Not that I accept human testimony” it is like he says, “I don’t need to lean on such testimony to know who I am.” Imagine you are in a court, watching a case before a judge. We, the onlookers, need to hear the testimony so that we can be assured of the person’s guilt or innocence, but the person on trial doesn’t need it because he or she know the truth about themselves; they only want us to accept their testimony because we might hold their future in our hands.

And so it is that Jesus is self-assured, we might say, he knows who he is and therefore he doesn’t need us to tell him who he is. In fact silly atheists may pontificate about what they think about him but that only says more about them than it does about him. He is who he is and he knows it. So why all these verses about testimony?

The latter part of this verse explains: “but I mention it that you may be saved.”  He says all this for our benefit. What we think about Jesus is critical to our being able to receive God’s salvation. You cannot be saved unless, from the outset, you believe that Jesus is God’s saviour for us. There is no other way our sin and our guilt can be dealt with and our consciences allayed, except through the Cross of Christ, and saying that involves us believing that Jesus is the Son of God, the Lamb of God who gave his life to take our punishment.

Suddenly all this talk of testimony makes sense. This isn’t a criminal on trial for his life in a human court room, but this is the One that you and I have to rely upon for our salvation, for our future in eternity. For us these various people or ways of testimony take on a new significance if we are to come to the place of utterly trusting in Jesus. Where do we get our information about him? From the Bible. Who in the Bible reveals Jesus for who he truly is? Ah, that is what these verses are all about. As we proceed we shall see more of this.

33. John’s Testimony

Short Meditations in John 5:  33. John’s Testimony

Jn 5:33   “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.

Now sometimes in these short meditations there can be few verses that can be added to shed light and it is simply a matter of pondering on the words of the verse, while at other times the outworking of the verse must come through referring to other scriptures. This is one of the latter cases.

Jesus now appeals specifically to the ministry of John the Baptist as a testimony to him. Matthew records that John declared, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:11,12) The apostle John comes in behind that: “(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” (Jn 1:15)

Now just in case we missed that, John goes back on it a little later: “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (Jn 1:26,27) So both Matthew and John record these words of the Baptist that heralded Jesus, showing him to be greater than John. John was merely his herald; Jesus was the long-promised one, but one far greater than the present scribes thought he was going to be.

But then, just in case we weren’t sure who John was referring to we come to Jesus’ baptism and just before it we read, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” (Jn 1:29-31)

Thus John leaves no room for doubt in our minds as we read his account, but here is the problem: the Pharisees didn’t have these records, these Gospels, for they were not written until a number of years later. Nevertheless, the accounts of the activity of John the Baptist had spread widely and no doubt some of the Pharisees had been there and heard John’s words first hand, thus Jesus is able to point this out to them.

“You want a positive witness,” he appears to be saying. Then let me remind you of John’s ministry that you saw a while back. You were there, you heard it, so believe him.

32. Supportive Testimony

Short Meditations in John 5:  32. Supportive Testimony

Jn 5:32   There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.

Something I have noticed a number of times with Jesus is that, unlike modern preachers, he doesn’t always try to make everything absolutely clear. In fact he often, as here, seems to leave the door ajar, so to speak, so that the inquisitive will push on further and think more fully what he was getting at. If we take this verse on its own we might wonder who he refers to when he says, “there is another.” Who is this other and why does he refer to him (assuming it is a ‘him’)? If you were listening to Jesus, this type of speech makes you more attentive as you wait to hear his explanation.

The fact that in the next few verses he refers to John the Baptist rather suggests that this is the one to whom he refers, and yet as we go on we will see that he is not content to leave it with John. But the point he is making here is that there IS someone who “testifies in my favour”, there is someone who speaks well of Jesus. Now we may think little of this but when you consider the hostile environment that he is speaking in, it is like he is saying, “I know all you Pharisees and you Sadducees and you temple officials think little of me but you are not the only ‘kids on the block’; there are others and they think differently to you.

Now if we were objective investigators, it would be important that we considered the credentials, if you like, of the various parties who were either for or against Jesus and we consider whether they can be trusted in what they say, in their opinions of him.

The truth is that each of those groups we have just mentioned – the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the temple officials were against Jesus, either because they had a particular philosophy or religious outlook to defend, or they were defensive of the role as keepers of the Temple which might be threatened by the Romans if anyone came along as an apparent rebel leader supporting Judaism. So each of those groups had their own agenda that involved rejecting Jesus, because he was a threat to them. THEY are not good witnesses and indeed their hostility is suspect. The lesson is a clear one: check out WHO people are that speak out publicly and check their motivation. Once you do that, you might think differently about what they say.

So, by implication, Jesus is rejecting the testimony of these different groups and says he has a ‘witness for the defence’ (in the face of their ‘prosecution’) whose testimony about Jesus is valid. i.e. this person knows all about Jesus, who he is and where he has come from and therefore what he says can be accepted, he is indeed a ‘valid’ witness, as against these groups who don’t really know Jesus.

31. Inadequate Testimony

Short Meditations in John 5:  31. Inadequate testimony

Jn 5:31  “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid

I can say, “I’m a nice person, a trustworthy person, so you can trust me,” but my testimony alone does little to convince you. What you need is to see me, watch me, listen to me over quite some period of time – but a quicker method to bring you assurance that what I have just said is true, is if a dozen people around us, who you know, all verify the truth of what I said. But there is even a better way – if someone of impeccable reputation backed me up and said what I had said was absolutely true.

This is what testimony is like. If we simply testify on our own behalf that is of little consequence; we need others to testify on our behalf. In the Jewish law, one witness was not enough, you needed at least two to confirm a crime (e.g. Num 35:30 and Deut 17:6, 19:15)

In Jesus’ case, he is about to explain the variety of witnesses that point out who he is – John the Baptist, his own works, the Father Himself, and even the Scriptures, and we’ll look at each of these in the studies to come.  This is the thing about Jesus, no one really has any excuse NOT to believe in him, the witnesses and the evidence is so strong. The four Gospels themselves are a unique account and there is nothing like them anywhere else in history and the question has to be, “Why did four different writers (and they each have a clearly distinctive different style indicating different writers) go to the trouble of writing (and writing wasn’t easy in those days) so similar but so different accounts (without contradictions) about Jesus, if the things they all wrote about didn’t happen, and if they did happen then, as C.S.Lewis wrote, you have to say that Jesus was either deluded and mad (and there are no signs of that) or he was a deceiver and bad and a liar (and that goes against everything else written about him) or he is who he said he was, Lord of all.

But what about ourselves? What sorts of testimony do our lives produce? What do people say about us based upon what they see of us, or hear from us? What sort of words describe us? Insular or outward going? Self-concerned or kind and compassionate? Rough and gruff or gentle and caring? Arrogant or humble? Getting or giving? Demanding or encouraging? It’s slightly scary isn’t it, thinking in these terms, facing the thought that our lives daily produce ‘a testimony’. It isn’t only the thing we give when asked, that tells how we came to Christ, but it is the person we reveal we are by our daily words and deeds. Jesus was perfect and that in itself created hostility. We are imperfect and so our testimony (the daily life testimony) will never be perfect but it can certainly have many good aspects. May it be so.

30. Pleasing the Father

(For the next few weeks we will pick up again the series of short meditations in John 5 we started some time back)

Short Meditations in John 5:  30. Pleasing the Father

Jn 5:30  By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

To the questions of how the Father and Son relate to each other, are they equal or are there apparent inequalities, this verse provides answers.

It starts off by Jesus’ declaration of need: “By myself I can do nothing.” Now of course, later in chapter fifteen when he is speaking of the vine, Jesus says the same thing about us and him: “Without me you can do nothing.” Now that is not very surprising because he is God and we are not, but when it comes to his relationship with the Father we may find that a little more surprising; the Son is reliant upon the Father. The Early Church Fathers and those church leaders who followed them struggled to understand the relationship and concluded that Jesus was not created but was begotten – ‘came out of’ the Father and was thus God in nature and being and yet when it comes to working out the relationship it seems that God the original, who we now call Father,  is always seen as the initiator, the one who decides and the Son submits to His leadership.

Thus it is now that Jesus clearly places himself under the ‘headship’ of the Father, for the Father is the One who leads the way and the Son follows (see back to v.17-19). It may be that there is more to this that takes into account that when the Son inhabited a human body he clearly put off the glory he had in heaven previously and indeed relied upon the Holy Spirit to expand his human knowledge and experience to more nearly match his heavenly capabilities, thus when Jesus says, “I judge only as I hear,” we may suppose that he is referring to hearing what the Spirit communicates is the Father’s will and the Father knows all those they saw from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1) would be those who would respond to them, i.e. who became ‘chosen’. Thus now, as the Spirit communicates the Father’s will, that includes the revelation of who Jesus encountered that they knew are part of that ‘foreseen’ (and thus ‘chosen’) people. So, again, those Jesus accepts are those ‘chosen’ and he brings life to them, while those he rejects are those that the Godhead saw would be those who would reject them throughout their time here on earth.

Jesus therefore executes the will of the Father by declaring in heaven who are righteous and who are not (as they respond to him) and as he exercises this ministry or divine activity, so he pleases the Father. Indeed at the heart of their relationship is this love where the Father desires to bless the Son and the Son desires to please the Father, and thus provide a picture for us to follow.

29. Facing the Past

Short Meditations in John 5:  29. Facing the Past

Jn 5:29  and come out–those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned

This is a verse that must be read with the verse before it, for it to make sense because it is a continuation verse: “all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out”.  The effect of Jesus voice, that we considered in the previous meditation, is that the dead will rise. Now some might think of the reference in the Gospels to the dead rising and appearing in Jerusalem at his death, but this cannot refer to that for there are two very specific reasons given here for their rising.

The first reason is to reward those who “have done good”. Now that needs thinking about because anyone can claim to have done good at some time or other and if that was sufficient there would be no one in the other group. No this cannot refer to those who occasionally did something good, but those whose hearts are set on doing good.  Indeed, Paul spoke similar words when he said, “God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life.” (Rom 2:6,7). Those two verses show us that this ‘doing good’ is more than an occasional act but a life outlook which clearly involves seeking God. In conversation, Jesus equated this ‘doing good’ with the work of God and that work meant believing in Jesus. Thus, bringing all these things together, the people who will be raised to life when they hear the voice of Jesus are those who do good, who do the work of God and who believe in Jesus.

The second reason for people rising at Jesus’ voice is that those “who do evil” will be raised for an accounting for their lives and that accounting will involve condemnation. Condemnation is simply a negative judgment or declaration of guilt. Now here again there is not one of us who cannot say we have never done something wrong or something evil, even those who generally seek a life of goodness; we all, at some time or other, get it wrong; we slip, we fail, we blow it – and are sorry. That is very different from the person who doesn’t care, who gives no thought to the rightness or wrongness of their words or actions; those are the people now being referred to here.

Put most simply, as we come to summarise the thrust of these verses, what we have here is a clear warning that there WILL come a time of accounting and every person will have to account to Jesus for how they have lived on this earth – and there will be no excuses! There will be a separating out and whatever has been the character of your life will become clear – and there will be consequences! There is thus a clear warning that need be heeded by every person.

28. The Voice for the Dead

Short Meditations in John 5:  28. The Voice for the Dead

Jn 5:28  “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voic

With this series of meditations (the Short meds) we try to focus the meditation on just one verse as a form of discipline which is a little difficult here as the verse caries on into the next and the temptation is to observe what happens in this verse and then its outworking in the next, but we’ll keep the outworking until the next meditation. What does this one verse say to us?

Well, I suggest, something very simple and also very profound. The very simple thing that Jesus says to whoever hears or reads these words of his, is that they will hear his voice AFTER they die. The phrase “all who are in the graves” can be simply be taken to mean, whoever has already died. It is that simple and straight forward. Now what this must also say to those who think that death is the end is that you are wrong! There is more to come. You may not be bothered with all this talk in the Bible of ‘eternal life’ but these words to Jesus apply to absolutely everyone; note the all who are in their graves.”

Now the more profound thing that follows from this is that after death YOU are going to have dealings with Jesus Christ, because he is saying here that all will hear the voice of the ‘Son of Man’ which we have already noted he applies to himself. He, Jesus, makes this claim that because of who he is, his voice will reach beyond the grave and therefore he is saying that he himself extends beyond death – anyone’s death wherever it occurs in history – and that puts him on a par with God, so we have yet another of these subtle implications that Jesus IS God.

Now when we move on into the next verse we will see what happens and why Jesus will speak but for now (as if there was no follow-on verse) anyone who reads these words should think – “There is an existence after death?  I am going to have to face God after death?” Within this there comes a serious challenge, why would God want to talk to me after death if it were not to talk about how I have lived this live here and now?

I find those who deny there is anything beyond death simply short-sighted. That is not being unkind, but it is an acknowledgment that we normally base our actions and beliefs on evidence. Now there is an enormous amount of evidence to suggest that the Bible is true and can be trusted, and then, that what those who spoke have been recorded in a measure, that can be accepted, but what evidence is there that there is nothing after death? Throughout history this belief of an afterlife has permeated the human race, so why deny it?