Deuteronomy 19:15-19; John 5:1-47 (text)
January 3, 2016 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Dear Congregation of Christ: In recent weeks, so many people are confused about the person and work of our our Lord Jesus Christ. They confuse Christianity with other religions. One popular movie personality says, “We’re all Muslims.” A professor at a well-known Christian university says that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Just a few years ago, even those who reject Christianity knew the simple distinction between Christianity and other religions: Christians believe that Jesus is God and other religions reject this doctrine. What happened? For one, nobody wants to be accused of racial or religious discrimination. Everyone wants to be politically correct. Secondly, there is now so little knowledge about Christianity and other religions, even among professing Christians. Third, we have been bombarded and brainwashed with erroneous ideas about religions.
In our text today, our Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear who he is: he is the Second Person of the Trinity, of the very same essence as God the Father. As we recited in the Nicene Creed today, “very God of very God… being of one substance with the Father.” In Chapter 5, his dispute with unbelieving Jews is like a courtroom trial. The Jews accuse him of breaking the Sabbath and of blasphemy. Jesus defends himself by stating his relationship with God the Father and his work on earth. Then he turns the tables on his opponents by accusing them of unbelief and twisting the Scripture. In his defense of himself and accusing his opponents, he then presents five witnesses.
How did this trial begin? It began when Jesus was in Jerusalem to attend an unnamed Jewish feast. He went to a pool called Bethesda, which when actually excavated in the 1800s, turned out to be a two-pool complex. Many blind, lame and paralyzed people were there. Why did they congregate by the pool? They believed that the water had some medicinal property. In verse 7, we read that once in a while, the water would start stirring. In the older translations such as the KJV, there is an explanation in verse 4 why the water would start stirring: “an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.” The problem is that in more recent translations such as the NIV and ESV, there is no verse 4, because they are based on much older Greek manuscripts than the manuscripts used by the KJV. The most plausible explanation is that verse 4 was a later addition by scribes to explain why the water stirred at certain times.
But this is not the focus of the story. Out of all the sick people at the pool, Jesus chose to heal a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. After he was healed, the man went to the temple, probably to offer praise to God, or to show the priest that he has been healed. John does not say that the man thanked Jesus. He just obeyed Jesus’ command, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk,” and was instantly healed. This obedience started Jesus’ trial by the Jews.
Today, we will study John Chapter 5 under the theme “Jesus Turns the Tables on Unbelievers at His Trial” under three headings: first, The Trial of Jesus; second, The Trial of Unbelievers; and third, The Five Witnesses.
The Trial of Jesus
There were two charges by the Jews against Jesus. The first charge stemmed from healing a man on the Sabbath. After he was healed, the Jews saw the man carrying his bed, and told him he was violating the Sabbath laws. The Pharisees even prohibited walking more than a few steps on the Sabbath. The Old Testament does not have any such prohibitions, only that no work or business shall be done on the seventh day of rest (Exo 20:10; Isa 58:13-14). And that there should also be holy assemblies on this day (Lev 23:3).
The Pharisees accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath on other occasions. He and his disciples gathered grain on one Sabbath because they were hungry. After this, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand (Matt 12:1-8).
The second charge started in verse 17, which also stemmed from his work on the Sabbath. He answered the Jews, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (v 17). The Jews him all the more for saying this, because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (v 18). It was so obvious to the Jews that Jesus was claiming to have a Father-Son relationship with God. The Jews also recognized that even if God is continually working to uphold and provide for his creation without resting, he is not violating the Sabbath. God cannot violate his own Sabbath law because he is Lord of the Sabbath. So when Jesus claimed that he is “Lord of the Sabbath,” the Jews knew he was claiming to be God. So in these two things – his Father-Son relationship with God, and his Lordship over the Sabbath – he was claiming to be equal with God.
Since the Jews regarded Jesus as only a man like everyone else, according to Scripture, he was committing the ultimate sin: blasphemy against God. So the Jews put Jesus on trial for committing two crimes: breaking the Sabbath laws, and blasphemy against God. In this trial, the Jews were seeking the death penalty. According to Scripture, if he was found guilty, the sentence would be death. The law of Moses condemns Sabbath-breakers to death (Exo 31:15). And the same death penalty applies to blasphemy against God (Lev 24:16).
In his trial, Jesus acted as his own counselor by defending himself from the Jews’ charges. Against the first charge of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). What he is saying is that God instituted one day every seven days as a gift to man for his physical and spiritual refreshment. On the Sabbath, we are not prohibited to do “works of necessity” as when the disciples were hungry, or when we are called to a necessary work, such as medical and emergency workers, or peace and order workers. Also, we are allowed to do “works of mercy,” as when after Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, he rebuked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4).
Jesus did not break the Sabbath, but he instead honored it by always worshiping in the Jerusalem temple and in the synagogue (Luke 4:16) every Sabbath, as Moses had commanded.
The bigger portion of Jesus’ defense, verses 19-29, was against the second charge of blasphemy – making himself equal with God. This defense is anchored in the first part of verse 19, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” How is it that Jesus cannot do anything of his own will? Because he only does what the Father does. But how would Jesus know what God does to be able to do the same work? Can any human being see and hear what God is doing in heaven and on earth? Can anyone ask God what he is doing and planning? Can we know when and where the next great earthquake would strike?Can we know what God would bring – to us, our families, and our church – in the year 2016?
To us, God has revealed his personal attributes only in the Scripture. In Scripture, he has revealed his salvation plan, and his commandments for our lives so we may do his revealed will. Other than his revealed will, “the secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deu 29:29).
But “the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing (v 20). Jesus knows whatever the Father does because he has revealed all things to him as the Father’s only-begotten, beloved Son. Every event and every human thought, word and deed has been decreed by his Father from eternity, and he has revealed all these things to his Son.
Not only does the Father show him all that he is doing. He will also show him greater and more marvelous works than all the miracles and healing that Jesus had already done (v 20). And what are these “greater works”? In verse 21, Jesus tells the Jews that it is the power of giving life to whomever he wills. To those who are dead in sin but believes in him, he will give eternal life (John 3:16). John also declares, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4); and, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11).
Even better than this, we do not have to wait until after death for eternal life; we have eternal life the moment we are born from above by the Holy Spirit, who creates faith in our hearts, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (v 24). When Jesus came, he brought eternal life with him, “an hour is coming, and is now here” when the dead will hear his voice and will live (v 25).
But Christ does not only give spiritual life to unbelievers. Another “greater work” that he will do is his own physical resurrection from the dead, and the resurrection of all believers. In fact, on the last day, he will raise all the dead from their graves, “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:27-29). So contrary to popular teaching, the resurrection of believers and unbelievers will happen in a certain “hour,” and not separated by a thousand-year millennium. This verse, and many others regarding the resurrection, is clear: there will be no such thing as a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth.
So Jesus declared he is the Lord of the Sabbath; the Son of God the Father in heaven; he knows and does all the works of the Father; and he has power to raise himself, and then all mankind, from the dead. These are all the evidences Jesus presented to his Jewish prosecutors to defend himself from the charges of breaking the Sabbath and blasphemy. From verses 19-29, he presented his arguments. Then, beginning in verse 30, he presents five witnesses to corroborate his defense.
The Five Witnesses
Before presenting his witnesses, he cites the law of Moses regarding witnesses for a trial. A single witness would not suffice to convict a person for any crime; two or three witnesses are needed to corroborate a charge (Deu 19:15). So he says emphatically, “If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true” (v 31). Who or what are his five witnesses?
The first is God his Father in heaven. In verse 32, he says, “there is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.” He was referring to his Father, as he says in verse 37, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.” He has a Father-Son relationship with God who has personally sent him to the world.
Then he calls on John the Baptizer in verses 33-35, “he has borne witness to the truth.” Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. John preceded him, and identified him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And he also testified, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34).
The third witness is his own works, “the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (v 36). Who is able to heal all kinds of diseases, turn water into wine, and raise people from the dead, all with one word, except one who has divine power? Even Nicodemus acknowledges this (John 3:2). And his greatest work is his own resurrection.
The fourth witness that Jesus cites is the Scriptures, “it is they that bear witness about me” (v 39). After his resurrection, “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus fulfilled all the Old Testament prophesies concerning the Messiah, but the Jews were not willing to come to him in faith (v 40).
The fifth and final witness that Jesus calls in his defense is Moses himself who he says, “wrote of me” (v 46). The Jews consider Moses as the greatest prophet, and if he wrote about Jesus as the greater Prophet who was to come, then Moses’ testimony establishes the others.
With these five witnesses, Jesus made a most convincing defense of himself. The defense rests. But the trial does not end there. Unlike our modern courts, the Jewish court system allows the defendant to accuse his accusers. So Jesus then prosecutes the Pharisees who prosecuted him.
The Trial of Unbelievers
Back in verse 23, Jesus starts his charges against the Jews who despise him, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” On Judgment Day, they will be raised from the grave, only to be judged by him (v 29). The reason why they will be judged is because they did not believe him whom the Father has sent into the world. His prosecution of the unbelieving Jews is detailed in verses 37-47.
Jesus says they did not believe in him because they have never heard or seen God, and his Word does not remain in them. They study the Holy Scripture because they recognize it brings eternal life, but God’s Word does not remain in their hearts, only in their minds. Instead, they rejected and despised him. Therefore, God’s love does not abide in them.
Because of this, they rejected Jesus who had come with all the authority of his heavenly Father’s name. So he rebuked them, “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.” And this was fulfilled when after he ascended into heaven, many false prophets and false Christs came and had many followers. Because God’s Word does not sink into their hearts, they are easily deceived by false teachers. Just as many today, the Jews have itching ears, so they are easily flattered by those who shower them with praise and glory to gain a following. They seek man’s praise instead of seeking the glory that comes from God.
Finally, he accuses them of rejecting Moses because Moses wrote about him, the greater Prophet. If they did not believe Moses, their greatest prophet, how could have they believed Jesus whom they did not respect and honor, and regarded only as a mere man like Moses?
Therefore, his Father had given him all authority to judge, and all of these unbelievers are found guilty. They are guilty of desecrating the Sabbath, for they go to worship in the temple, but there is no repentance and obedience in their hearts (Matt 6:5). They are guilty of blasphemy against God, because they despised and rejected Jesus, the Son of God (Matt 12:31-32). Their sentence is life in eternal punishment without the possibility of parole.
Dear Friends in Christ: All throughout Jesus’ life, the Jews put him in trial. Near the end of his life, the rulers of the Jews, the high priest, and Pilate tried him. But they did not find any guilt or sin in him. Even their witnesses against Jesus were false, so the Jews violated their own Mosaic laws, and the penalty for a false testimony is death if death was being sought against the accused (Deu 19:16-19). Still, they sentenced him to death on the cross. By so doing, they were accomplishing God’s plan from eternity to save his people from sin.
As we enter another year, remember Christ’s words, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Just this last year, Christians have been bombarded with hate by the culture. Unbelievers accuse us of intolerance, but they cannot tolerate us. Any religion is acceptable, except for Christianity. In the schools, many kinds of religions are allowed to be taught, except for Christianity. In the workplace, talking about Christianity is prohibited, but not other religions.
This year, let us be steadfast and immovable in our belief in Christ as true God and true man. That Christ is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life. There is no other way to eternal life in heaven except through him. That Christians worship only the God of both the Old and New Testaments, the only one God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jews and Muslims hate Christians because of these doctrines. They argue, “How can God have a Son? How can there be one God, and yet three Persons in one God? So it is astonishing that many people today, including those who profess to be Christians, would say that Muslim, Jews, and Christians worship the same God, and that “We’re all Muslims.” Nothing can be more heretical and unbiblical. In the past, if any pastor, theologian, teacher, or any Christian said this, he would be condemned of heresy and burned at the stake. This is what happened to Servetus during the 16th century Reformation, because he did not believe in the Trinity.
Let us not be afraid or intimidated by the hatred hurled our way by those who hate Christ and Christians. Recently, a professor of Wheaton College, a conservative Christian college, was put on administrative leave because she taught that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. But in its statement, the college only said, “Her recently expressed views… appear to be in conflict with the College’s Statement of Faith.” But her views not only “appear” to be in conflict with our faith; they are in conflict with our faith. Why can’t they simply say, “Christians worship God in Three Persons – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Muslims do not believe that Christ is the Son of God, and so do not worship him. Therefore, Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.” How is it that the college could not issue a very simple statement like this? Because they, like many other Christians, are intimidated. They do not want to be labeled exclusivist, intolerant, and discriminating. Instead, they want to be politically-correct.
Brothers and sisters, it will be more and more difficult for us Christians to freely express our faith to our family and friends, and in public. Will our church be steadfast in our doctrine that Jesus is the Son of God who saved us from all our sins, and is the Lamb of God worthy to be worshiped, honored and praised forever? Will you be steadfast in your faith as you speak with your unbelieving friends? Will you be brave to invite them to our worship service, and pray that they too will say, “God is in this place?”