44. Human Praise

Short Meditations in John 5:  44. Human Praise

Jn 5:44  How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God

Ways of bolstering self-esteem almost comprise an industry in the modern age. There are books and there are courses galore and books how to achieve success are always best sellers. The bookshop beats Amazon in that you can see before you shelves and titles and can get almost overwhelmed at the profusion of the expressions of men’s wisdom (and some women too), but although I know people who are into these things in a big way, and even employ personal trainers, I still watch the frailty of human life struggling to achieve.

The Jews of Jesus’ day (and it is probably the same today) got their kudos from pats on the back from others, whether it was the High Priest who received awe and exultation from the religious establishment, or a more lowly Pharisee who received acceptance from others in ‘the club’. Little has changed. Today politicians, business leaders, academics and, yes, even top religious leaders achieve their kudos from their status, their position in the pecking order, their fame of achievement. Celebrities – actors, singers and in the UK soccer players, and the US, football or baseball players – have the adoration of their fans. At the top of the pile a Lear jet or the big yacht is the sign of achievement, possibly with homes scattered around the world.

And then one day they look around and it is all gone and they are conscious of standing before Almighty God as little naked children.  But I am a CEO of one of the world’s biggest corporations. So? Doesn’t that count for something?  Did you ever give any thought to me and my Son, Jesus? Well, no, I was a bit busy with the world. My world. Is it… was it? Ah!

Praise from God? Who does God praise? “ ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.’ (Mt 25:21) The servant for using the gifts given to him in Jesus’ parable of the talents. Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Mt 8:10) Praise for the centurion for his faith level. I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mk 12:42) Praise for the poor widow for her giving heart. ““Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” (Mt 15:28) Praise for the Canaanite women for her faith. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Mt 16:17) Praise for Peter for his listening ear. Each of these become challenges to us – do I get God’s praise for my faith, my generous heart, my listening ear?

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43. Name Followers

Short Meditations in John 5:  43. Name Followers

Jn 5:43   I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.

The whole matter of who we ‘accept’ is a strange thing. When we say we ‘accept someone we are saying we approve of them in our thinking. We may approve of them because we like them because they have things in common with us – maybe they are in the name sort of social or even ethical group as us, maybe it is just being similar to us – they (and we) are single / married / young parents / grandparents, or perhaps  they play the same sport, belong to the same club / church that we do. Maybe we ‘accept’ them because of their beliefs, or their politics, maybe they do home-schooling, maybe they like the same music we like, maybe they play an instrument and we do too. There are a whole range of reasons why we accept other people.

The other side of the coin is more difficult for Christians – the people we do not accept. It may be social class, it may be just good old fashioned prejudice against different groups of people in society. This is not so good because Jesus is open to all and loves all and calls us to be the same. If we could only automatically love and accept everyone we met, how many problems we would avoid.

When it comes to religion or to spirituality, we are in a completely different arena. Without naming names I may have deep reservations about other world religious leaders, or even Christian sub-group leaders, and where there are good causes (e.g. false teachers) it is not a problem to hold back from such ‘acceptance’.

In Jesus’ day, Judaism was the culture, the ground for belief and at the very heart of their lives, Judaism that was grounded in the Old Testament scrolls, a Faith focused on ”The I AM” of the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. If anyone was to be anyone, they were to have come in the name of Yahweh and whatever they did had to come under His authority and with His permission. In hindsight it is easy to say that they had to be verified by the fruit they bore, the preaching or prophecy they brought and the authority with which they brought it, or the miracles and healings (in Jesus’ case) that he performed that could have no other origin than in heaven. Everything Jesus said and did was done with reference to his Father in heaven.

You might say all that was quite obvious and yet these religious Jews – Pharisees and priests of the Temple – failed to recognize this and thus rejected Jesus. They had their own people, people like them, people who became part of their own sub-group, people who had little to applaud them apart from the fact that they were religious and culturally the same. There are therefore, warnings for us in all this.

42. Loveless

Short Meditations in John 5:  42. Loveless

Jn 5:42   but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.

Hold on to the conclusion at which we arrived in the previous study, that Jesus is not trying to win a popularity contest, trying to get people to like him and is refusing to let us think he wants people to praise him, but the truth is that he is showing in stark relief the hardheartedness of these people before him, a hardheartedness that will eventually drive them to have him put to death, thus fulfilling the will of God for His Son to be a sacrifice for our sins: This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.(Acts 2:23)

So that is what this conversation is all about and is why John is recording it. Yes, indirectly we will consider the greatness of Jesus but that is not what the thrust of this passage is about; it is all about the listeners, these people who have been challenging Jesus. We need to realise this, that whenever there is dispute about Jesus, it is the disputers who are being judged by their words and attitudes, not Jesus. It may take eternity for some to realise this but Jesus doesn’t need defending; he just is the Son of God, so one day they will realise that, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10,11)

In the earlier verses there was a lot about testimony (v.31-37) but then challenges: i) nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. (v.38) and ii) you refuse to come to me to have life (v.40), and so now iii) he adds, you do not have the love of God in your hearts.

Disbelief and refusal to respond to Jesus were their first two failures but now the reason for that is exposed – they have no love for God! Wow! Yes it does say the ‘love of God’ but that may clearly, in the present context, be taken to mean, ‘the love for God’ as well as the ‘love of God’ for if they had love for God and God’s love in their hearts, then they would have accepted Jesus straight away; this conversation would not have occurred.

It had all started when Jesus healed the invalid at the pool (v.1-15) which raised their legalistic and hard-hearted ire and the challenge to Jesus’ authority (v.16-23). This opened up on Jesus’ ministry (v.24-30) and then the talk on testimony. If these Jews loved God and had His love in their hearts, none of this would have happened. For us, the question must be is God’s love or my love for God predominant?

41. Not Human Testimony

Short Meditations in John 5:  41. Not Human Testimony

Jn 5:41   I do not accept praise from men,

Here is another of those tricky bits about doing a meditation on a single verse for this one is going to continue, “but I know you,” and he will then say what he knows about them again. But the verse before this present one declared, “yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

So now we have the context we can see that Jesus is saying, “Look you disregard the scriptures about me and so refuse to come to me, but I don’t want you to come to me to praise me, but to find salvation  through me” (implied). The “but I know you” follow on is going to say that they are not open to God for His salvation that Jesus will be bringing.

Back in v.34, referring to John the Baptist, Jesus had said, “Not that I accept human testimony,” which has a similar ring to it and yet is different. There he was pointing out that he did not need human testimony for he had the testimony of the Father. Now he is saying he doesn’t need or want praise from men. To think that all of this discussion is about getting people to like and accept him is to miss the point. Yes, everything about Jesus is wonderful and should evoke praise and worship within us, because he is the Son of God from heaven, but that is different from saying he needs our praise. That almost implies that he would need our praise to verify who he is; he doesn’t! He knows exactly who he is and the Father knows exactly who he is and so what we say changes nothing about who he is.

So often when we are in ‘apologetics mode’ we tend to think we need to get people to accept what a great guy Jesus was. No, we don’t. We need to get them (with the help and direction of the Holy Spirit) to accept their sinful state and their need of salvation. Thereafter we are simply to show them that Jesus was and is the Son of God who has come to carry out the plan of the Godhead to die for our sins and become the means of that salvation.

The fascinating thing, in my experience at least, is that praise for Jesus, I have observed, comes after a person has accepted Jesus into their life as Lord and Saviour. Only then, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, are our eyes opened to see the wonder of who is he.

If this is true, and I believe it is, then this whole passage in this long discussion with Jesus is not to convince these hard-hearted Jews about who he is – for they are set in their ways and this hard-heartedness will be what drives them to eventually bring about his crucifixion – but simply to show us, John’s readers down through history, this hard-heartedness that existed in them that pushed through the events to culminate in his death.

40. Refusal

Short Meditations in John 5:  40. Refusal

Jn 5:40   yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

When we come to short verses like this, we really do need to check the context, especially when there is a link word, ‘yet’. So, see, These are the Scriptures that testify about me yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  You study the Scriptures, he has just been saying, the very Scriptures that reveal me and my Father’s purposes, but despite that you do not really see who I am and what I have come to do, and so you don’t come to me to receive the life I bring.

This, of course, has so often been the case when religion is involved, for ‘religion’, the following of rites and rituals, has always been the enemy of faith and so there are people who go along to churches – especially liturgical churches where the ritual can create a feeling of difference and specialness – and they hear a brief sermon every Sunday but they fail to be touched by it, they fail to see their need and they fail to come to God to receive the salvation He has provided through His Son Jesus Christ. They are content with the ritual and are even offended when told they are sinners who need a Saviour – just like these Jews of Jesus’ day.

It is an amazing thing that people can actually read the Bible and yet remain untouched by it – just as Jesus says was happening here. When I first became a Christian, I went looking for a local church and found one nearby, went to the Sunday Service, heard they did a mid-week Bible Study and so went along. I was bemused at the blindness that I observed in this group; even as a young believer I could see it, and in retrospect, I believe of this group of some dozen or so people, I believe only the Minister and myself were born-again believers.

But this was exactly what Jesus was experiencing with the Jews of his day, and especially in  those who should be the last offenders – the Pharisees, the guardians of the Scriptures, the priests, the guardians of the Temple. These people you would have expected to know the presence of God in the word and in the building, and thus you would expect them to also recognise the presence of God in Jesus, but instead all he found was hostility against him.

Here was God in human form walking on the earth, walking in a country that had been prepared for over a thousand years to receive Him, but instead they were wrapped up in the laws He had given them, wrapped up in the Temple, the original one of which was designed to house Him and be a focal point  for Israel to meet with Him, but instead it had become a monument, a great and spectacular building that now housed ritual and was almost a tourist attraction. Blindness of Sin means God appears to go incognito. It should not be.

39. Scripture’s Testimony

Short Meditations in John 5:  39. Scripture’s Testimony

Jn 5:39  You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me

Having just told the Jews that the word of God is not in them, he now acknowledges that they do actually study the Scriptures, what we would call the Old Testament, and they do it because they think that that will be the means they get God’s approval and receive eternal life. Now Jesus doesn’t actually say, “Not so!” but it is, I suggest, implied. But more than that Jesus almost seems to be saying, “You study the Scriptures but here’s the funny thing – you don’t see me in them although they are about me!”

Now we’ll see where he goes with that in the next study but for now we’ll stay with idea of the scriptures testifying to Jesus. The difficulty is that he doesn’t enlarge on this and simply makes the statement without explanation and so we’re left to ponder it.

Of course in Luke we have a classic illustration: “on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue…. and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor….. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down…. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Lk 4:16-21) There he was saying about this classic Messianic passage in Isaiah, “That is me!”

When we look in Matthew’s Gospel we find again and again Matthew applying Scripture to things that happened in respect of Jesus. In other words the Old Testament was full of Messianic references and the Jews knew that; they were familiar with these things. It was just that they hadn’t linked them to Jesus.

Let’s see some examples.

His birth: King Herod … asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” (Mt 2:3-6)

His ministry area: Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum,… to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali.…Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Mt 4:13-16) etc. etc.

Oh yes, it was all there. If Matthew could see it, why could not the rest of the Jews?  The answer has to be prejudice blinded their eyes. May ours be open to see the wonder of the Messiah in the Scriptures.

38. Absence of Truth

Short Meditations in John 5:  38. Absence of Truth

Jn 5:38   nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.   

I suspect that if there were verses we placed low down on our list for meditating upon, this would be one of them, but our goal is to ponder on every single verse of this chapter. The fact that the verse starts with ‘nor’ suggests it is a continuation verse, so let’s remind ourselves what went before it: You have never heard his voice nor seen his form.  So Jesus is challenging his challengers over their experience and their knowledge. It’s all very well for them to criticise him, but they have lacks that they need to face.

They weren’t around when the Father spoke at Jesus’ baptism and they have little experience of encounter with the Father anyway. The implication may be that Jesus, of course, has. They certainly haven’t seen God face to face and again, the implication is that Jesus has.

But now Jesus moves on to put two things together which present a further challenge: nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.” The first part of this verse says that they don’t have God’s word within them, and the second part goes on to challenge them and say that this is shown because they reject the one the Father has sent.

Of the paraphrase versions, the JBP version pouts it well: “Nor do you really believe his word in your hearts, for you refuse to believe the man who he has sent,” but the Living Bible puts it best: “And the Father himself has also testified about me, though not appearing to you personally, or speaking to you directly. But you are not listening to him, for you refuse to believe me—the one sent to you with God’s message.”

Now there the interesting link between the two things is displayed well, the absence of God’s word in their hearts, and their rejection of His Son. If they had been people who truly treasured God’s words in their hearts, that would mean they were truly people of God and if they had truly been people of God, they would have recognised His Son when he came with words of life and power than transformed.

It works the other way around as well. Those who receive and accept Jesus as he is, the Son of God, show that their hearts are open to God and therefore they will also have hearts that are open to His will and His word and they will treasure and uphold His word in their hearts.

If we say we are Christians, can we check ourselves out?  We take on his name and so do we truly worship him or is he simply a name to attach our religion to? We say we believe in his word, but do we take time to study it, to learn it and understand it, and what is God’s will?