The Challenge: Why Believe the Testimony?
Some Christians are gullible, but not all of them are. Some
disciples today or in times past might have been superstitious, but they ought
not to be, and the Bible in many places tells us to discard such from our lives.
Many Christians are very reasonable, rational folks who do not get taken in by
every charlatan that walks down the street. The slogan of people from Missouri
is: "Show me!" I think that is a good slogan for people who are searching for
God. That was evidently the slogan of the people of Berea, because when Paul
came preaching the gospel they wanted to see for themselves. They are commended
for their "show me" attitude; "Now these were more noble-minded than those in
Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the
Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11).
I don't think I know of a single Christian that if someone walked into the room and announced that they were the Son of God that they would believe him. And yet, every Christian I know believes that Jesus is the Son of God; by definition that is what must be believed to be a Christian at all. So why do disciples believe the things they do about Jesus? Gullibility? Wishful thinking? Foolishness? Superstition? No, not at all. Christians have examined the evidence, considered the testimony, and have become convinced that Jesus' claim to be God's Son is true. That is exactly the procedure that Jesus challenged even His enemies of the first century to take. He challenged them to consider the evidence and testimony. In fact, He insisted that they reject Him if there was no valid evidence or collaborating witnesses.
The Text: Jesus Cites His Witnesses
"If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the testimony which he bears of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. But the witness which I receive is not from man, but I say these things that you might be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father who sent Me has borne witness of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. And you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him who He has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life." (John 5:31-40).
Unsubstantiated Testimony Ought to be Discarded
"If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true." (John 5:31). The first thing that Jesus did was to challenge His unbelieving enemies. He had not demanded that they carelessly accept His claims without question. Such would be unreasonable.
Jesus made some pretty substantial claims. He had just claimed equality with God (John 5:18), the authority to judge all men (John 5:22, 27) and the ability to raise all the dead on the last day (John 5:28-29). Jesus invited His enemies to reject all this if He had not properly substantiated the validity of His statements. Obviously, as we deal with determining truth from error today, we also must examine carefully the things that are taught. Accept no teaching blindly. Not even Jesus expected that of His own teachings.
The Testimony of John
"There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the testimony which he bears of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. But the witness which I receive is not from man, but I say these things that you might be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light." (John 5:32-35). The first testimony Jesus considers is that of John. These people knew John well, and evidently respected him greatly, though perhaps grudgingly. John had been sent to precede the Messiah and to identify Him when He arrived. Concerning Jesus, John "bore witness of Him", saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me" and "Behold, the Lamb of God!" (John 1:15,36). John was a no nonsense fellow. He was strong and determined, faithfully committed to his task. Everyone of his day even slightly knowledgeable of John knew this about him, so John's testimony carried much weight, but not as much as the next witness Jesus calls.
The Testimony of the Works
"But the witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me." (John 5:36). Jesus invited the skeptics to consider the miracles He had done and which they had witnessed with their own eyes. Nicodemus, one of the leaders of the Pharisees, was of the minority opinion that Jesus was from God because, as he put it, "no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him." (John 3:2). How sad that most of the rest of Nicodemus' associates rejected Jesus in spite of all the evidence provided. Human obstinacies can sometimes cause very irrational behavior.
Jesus often appealed to the miracles which he did as being powerful testimony that He was the Son of God (John 10:25,32, 37-38). His enemies finally had to resort to the ridiculous explanation that Jesus did the things He did by Satan's power and not God. For us today, the fact that even His enemies were forced into admitting that the mighty deeds were done, is convincing evidence that the Biblical record of these events is true. The miracles themselves could not be denied, so the only option left to the unbelievers were to attribute them to a source other than God.
The Testimony of the Father
"And the Father who sent Me has borne witness of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form." (John 5:37). The Father on several occasions audibly identified Jesus as His Son. At Jesus' baptism, the Father announced, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (Matthew 3:17). Later, at the transfiguration, the same statement is made with the added admonition: "listen to Him!" (Mark 9:7). During the final week of Jesus' ministry the Father promised to glorify His name. Some of the multitude thought the voice sounded like thunder, evidently not understanding the words. (John 12:27-30). Jesus' enemies were not hearing the Father as had John and the disciples. Today, the unbeliever does virtually the same thing by ignoring and rejecting the Scriptures given by the inspiration of God.
The Testimony of the Scriptures
"And you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him who He has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life." (John 5:38-40). As a final witness, Jesus appeals to the ancient Scriptures. These are filled with prophecies which Jesus was fulfilling daily. Though familiar with the Scriptures, these people rejected the One of whom they spoke so plainly. It takes more than being able to recite various passages; we must apply these things to our hearts and lives else the searching and knowing is wasted.
These people honored Moses in word, but not in deed. If they truly believed and respected Moses, they would have believed the things he had written centuries before about Jesus (John 5:45-47). Likewise today, many will say they honor Christ, but when it comes to applying His teachings they do Him much dishonor by disobeying Him. Consequently, by not truly coming to Jesus in humble obedience, one cannot have eternal life.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 6.9; September 1999