This series focuses on the actual words and actions of Jesus as portrayed in all 4 Gospels. As I look back over the last 18 years of being a Christian, I have realized something. This is weird to admit – I’ve never done an extended, deliberate study on the life and words of Jesus. Never. He is my Savior, my Lord, my Light, and my heart’s great Hope. And yet so little of my time, thought and study has gone into the life, death and words of Jesus. This blog series is focused on studying the words and actions of Jesus throughout the four Gospel stories and finding out how they apply to us today. If you would like to start at the beginning, go here.
“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 refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 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?” – John 5:37-47
In Jesus is utterly unique. Jesus is preaching God’s message to the people, and He does so without fear. Look at Verses 31-44: Not only do God and John the Baptist testify about Jesus (at His baptism), but Scripture testifies of Him, along with Jesus’ own works and deeds. Jesus is trying to show these men that the very act of healing a man (whether on the Sabbath or not) shows that He is the Messiah. Sadly, though, these men love the law more than God.
If this is true, if God and John the Baptist and the Scriptures are the reliable witnesses to Jesus, why do the religious, the ones who study God’s Word and are supposed to “know God best,” not believe Jesus? Jesus answers this in several ways throughout this text.
First, Jesus makes an unbelievable statement in verses 37-38: He tells the religious leaders that they have made a fatal mistake – they do not have God’s word abiding in them. Wow.
Now you need to know something about these leaders – they had most of the Old Testament memorized. Can you imagine that? They had studied the law their entire lives. Literally. Their entire lives. As children, they were the tiny percentage who were allowed to continue their studies in God’s law, showing incredible aptitude and knowledge. So while other kids were out working in their fathers’ trades, playing or being kids, they were studying, memorizing, debating. On matters of law, following rules, obeying commands, they had it down. Their livelihoods and reputations depended on it. Inevitably, they began to be proud of themselves. They saw the corruption, sin, disobedience and law-breaking of the “common man” and then looked at themselves . . . and felt justified, better than them, holier.
Then Jesus, a peasant carpenter from nowhere Nazareth, comes to them and says that they may have read God’s Word but they did not understand it. That is incredible. It would be like a pudgy fan stepping out of the crowd at a basketball game to tell Michael Jordan that he really doesn’t know the basics of the game. Those watching this happen must have been shocked! Who does this guy think He is, judging our hearts and telling us we don’t understand God or His Word?
The flaw, Jesus says, was this – these men looked to their actions and obedience to Old Testament Scriptures for eternal life, but it was never meant to give eternal life. They thought that by obeying the Old Testament, they could know God, be holy, be righteous, please God, and go to heaven. In many ways, they were being sincere and devoted to God. But the Word of God is not just a book, but a Person. The way to know God, be holy, righteous, and please God is not to trust in yourself to follow commands, but to give your life to the only One who could please God and His laws. The point of the law (as described in Galatians 3:19-29) was to show humanity how impossible it is to please God or earn salvation by human effort AND to point to the One Who would bring salvation – namely, Jesus. Can you see the sad irony? These leaders were condemning Jesus (the Way, the Truth, and the Life), all the while believing they were obeying God and His law (and thus thinking they were gaining eternal life). Jesus draws the parallel between God’s Word and God Himself, between the Word of God and the Word made flesh. “I am the One the Scriptures point to, I am the Messiah.”
Jesus says (in verse 41-44) that He comes in His Father’s Name, not His own, and yet they do not believe Him. However, if someone else came in his own name and teaching his own theology, they would receive him. Yet they don’t receive Jesus because He comes in God’s Name. These leaders didn’t want what the Bible promised, but wanted another kind of Messiah, one who would would justify the religious leaders, exalt them, praise them. They wanted what they expected, not what God had decided. They didn’t want a Messiah who would call them to repentance, humility, and to stop trusting in their pride and traditions. They wanted a Messiah who looked, acted and spoke like them! They wanted a “Messiah in their own image.”
Then Jesus gets the heart – “How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” This isn’t really a question, is it? It is a statement, a declaration. “You can’t believe in Someone else’s glory if you are slaves, desiring glory for yourself from others.” Jesus is telling them they love the praise of men MORE than God. They don’t love Jesus because He is demanding ALL from them. They wanted to be on the thrones of their lives, they wanted to be in control, they wanted the glory and the praise. Jesus says that this pride is the root of their unbelief and their inability to know and love and trust Jesus.
This is true for you and me. We are glory seekers, praise seekers, worship seekers. We so desperately want affirmation, validation, we want others to adore us, love us, justify us, exalt us. Don’t we? Isn’t that the point of so many of the shows, movies, and games out there in the world right now? Super humans with incredible bodies (that we idolize), brilliant minds (that we idolize), exaltation of the self, self empowerment, self-actualization, self-worth, self self self self self. And yet for all of our focus on ourselves, how insecure are we? How self-loathing are we? How insufficient do we feel at times? We are drinking at the wrong well, a well that does not satisfy. Jesus satisfies. Jesus is beautiful. Jesus lived the perfect life we could not live and died the death we should have died for our sin. He alone is worthy of our praise.
John Piper says it so well – “Jesus came into this world to set us free from our slavery to the approval and the praise of others. . . . When you have tasted the beauty of God and the approval of God in Christ, the addiction to human approval is broken. And you are free.” Not only are the religious of Jesus’ day bound to their pride and self-exaltation, but so are you and I. We are self-serving. And Jesus came to deliver us! Hallelujah.
Jesus tells them they will be judged according to their law. If they truly understood God’s Word and Law that they had memorized, they would realize that it was pointing to Him, the Messiah, God’s Son. Instead, their expectations and traditions held them captive. They could not imagine God acting outside of what their expectations and traditions told them. They were in a prison built of their own making. Moses will be their accuser, but Jesus tells them that they don’t even believe in Moses. If they did, they would believe Moses’ writings, which point to Jesus. But they don’t believe in Moses, so they don’t believe in Jesus.
How tragic. Their pride, their expectations, their traditions, their selfishness, their glory-seeking keeps them from Christ, from “the Word made flesh,” from the God they so long to know through the Scriptures.
Don’t make the same mistake. Don’t reject God’s truth simply because God finds it unnecessary to exalt you, glorify you, or validate you. Don’t serve your own pride, but humble yourself under God’s might hand. The truth of the Gospel should humble us down into the dust. The first will be last. The greatest of you shall be the servant, the humble will be exalted, pride is what you have right before your destruction, and the least on earth shall be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Christian, do not walk with a swagger. Do not think you are better than others. Do not exalt yourself or think you are the only one who understands God. Humble yourself. Learn from God. Love and serve those around you. Point them toward Jesus, not toward yourself.