Letters to the Prison - Week 51

Greetings!  We’re very glad for this opportunity to consider God’s word with you.  Be sure to thank the people who have made this possible.  We’re considering John 5.  Last week, we saw that, according to Jesus, belief in him is the key.  There is no other or more important work for us to do than to believe that Jesus is indeed who he says he is.  We also caught a glimpse of the mind-blowing relationship that exists between Jesus and the Father within the trinity.  All of these things make for a stunning testimony.  Many letters ago, we noticed that Jesus doesn’t just make a lot of bold claims.  He also backs them up.  In the verses we’re about to study, we will begin to see how he backs up the amazing things he has just said.  
The rest of John 5 sees Jesus calling a series of witnesses to the truth of the profound claims he’s made and that we’ve been studying for the last few weeks.  He begins by observing this:
•If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. -John 5:31
At first glance, this might look like Jesus is admitting that he needs witnesses to verify what he says.  But this is not the case.  If Jesus is God, as he claims, then everything he says must be true whether it is verifiable by anyone else or not.  Given that, what is Jesus saying here?
Another translation renders this verse with a slight difference that offers some clarification:
•If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true.
In other words, in that culture (and today in ours), people usually don’t just “take someone’s word for it.”  Especially on really important matters…  like eternal life and death.  If someone claims, as Jesus has, to have authority about such matters, you might not deem what they say to be true without some further verification.  
Scripture makes several references to the need for multiple witnesses to verify an important claim… like an accusation of a serious crime (Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15, for example) or, in the New Testament, when a Christian insists on continuing in their sins (Matthew 18:15-20).  So, Jesus is here explaining that, while he doesn’t need witnesses to verify his testimony, he’s going to provide them anyway –for our sake.  He even says as much:
•Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.-John 5:34
So, who does Jesus call to bear witness about him?  First up is John the Baptist (John 5:32-35).  We’ve already seen and discussed his powerful testimony from earlier in our study of John.  It is important to remember that John the Baptist was widely regarded and respected as a prophet among the people and, according to Jesus, was the “greatest born of women” (Matthew 11:11).  Yet despite the greatness of John’s testimony, Jesus says:
•…the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. -John 5:36a
We might wonder what could possibly offer a greater testimony than John the Baptist.  Jesus immediately answers this question in the same verse:
•For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.-John 5:36b
We’ve seen many of these works already in our study.  We’ll see even more soon enough.  But here Jesus is simply saying what others have already said about him (like Nicodemus in John 3:2, as we’ve seen):  His works speak for themselves.  No one has ever done –nor can they ever do—the works Jesus has done, is doing, and will do.  Later in our study, we’ll see Jesus actually say, “even though you do not believe me, believe the works…” (John 10:38).  Talk is cheap, as we know.  But Jesus is backing up what he says in unquestionable, undeniable ways.  We do well to heed the testimony of Jesus’ works even if we may have our doubts about what he says.  
This is not a new concept in Scripture.  The Psalms, for example, are full of calls to remember what God has done when our faith is failing and our confidence waning.  Psalm 105 is one such call.  We are encouraged to trust God for the future because of what he has already done.  The prophets who write of far future events have their predictions confirmed by near-term fulfillments.  So, we can believe the truth of their long-term prediction by the confirmation of the short-term fulfillment.  Isaiah 8:1-9:7 would be one example for further reading, if you’re interested.  So, Jesus makes bold claims, and then he backs them up with his works.
Who else does Jesus call to bear witness to his claims?  The Father himself:    
• And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.     -John 5:37-38
This is a simple statement; and for our purposes at the moment, what Jesus means is clear:  Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, God spoke in an audible voice and verified Jesus’ claim to be his Son.  This event is recorded in Matthew (and in other places):
•and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”   -Matthew 3:17
Yet, we’re studying the book of John with a focus on what Jesus says about himself –and what others say about him—and so we can’t pass by these verses without lingering for a little while over what they say about Jesus.  And they say a lot.  They raise a lot of questions, too.
We encourage you then to consider what Jesus has said in John 5:37-38 and ask yourself:
1)What do these verses say about Jesus?
2)What do these verses say about the trinity? (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
3)What do these verses say about us?
Next week, we’ll consider these things.  Like many other topics in Scripture, though, we could spend a long time here.  So, we’ll only catch a glimpse of the “tip of the iceberg,” so to speak, before moving on.  That’s the beauty of God’s word.  We could spend a lifetime studying it and never see the end of all there is to learn.  Until next week!  We love you!

Dean A.

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