Snapshots: Day 61

Snapshots: Day 61

The Snapshot: “On that day tell your son.” (Ex 13:8) Israel were given a duty, not just to remember what had happened to them, but to pass it on to the next generation and so on.  Testimony triumphs over the enemy (Rev 12:11), is the Gospel story in action, of lives transformed (Mt 24:14, Jn 5:36), and speaks of our experience of God (1 Cor 2:1, Psa 92:12-15, 1 Jn 1:1-3). It is one thing to teach the word of God to the next generation but it goes live in testimony when our children hear from our lips the wonder of our experiences – and of course that is the challenge, to ensure we have such a testimony to pass on. It is the reality of our faith that our children look for, not church going, not religiosity, but reality, God who has changed us and moved through us. Testimony!

Further Consideration: It is said – and rightly so – that each generation has to receive the Gospel for themselves, but that means that they must first hear it. God’s instructions to Israel were that parent should convey the good news about God to their children. We very often offload that responsibility to children’s workers in Sunday school, and rely on Children’s Missions to bring the challenge, but that is doing just that, offloading responsibility.

When our three children were small we used to have a family time on our double bed. We found a book of daily readings and each day they would gather on the bed and I would read one of these readings and then my wife would pray, and as they grew older we encouraged them to pray. Yes, they went to Sunday School as well, but we took on the responsibility. As they grew older we bought a new set of daily Bible Reading notes for children and did these for a few months. This seemed to pall and so I took an old portable typewriter and typed up daily reading notes that required them to answer six simple questions about a short passage, then three questions that checked understanding and finally a prayer. I produced, and we used these for several weeks and I began to realize I had created a job for myself and so as we approached the end of the month, suggested we go back to the professionally produced notes. “Oh no, daddy,” they all cried, “these are much better.”

Thus I started a process that I have carried on and developed for approaching forty years, but the point is that children are not put off the Bible if we make it relevant and personal to them. It becomes the foundation for their faith. Yes, it did take me time and effort but I have never regretted it and I have benefited from what they led me into virtually every day of my life since then. Reach into the Bible when your children are as young as possible, feed them with the truth and help transform the next generation.

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.

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.

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.