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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Pay attention to the witnesses calling you to believe in Christ
Text:John 5:30-47 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:All of scripture points to Jesus Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 146:1-3

Hymn 82:3 (after the law)

Psalm 84:1-3

Psalm 40:1,3,4

Psalm 146:4,5

Scripture reading:  Genesis 49:1-27

Text:  John 5:30-47

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Have you ever been called as a witness in a court proceeding?    If you’ve seen a crime committed, you may be required to come to court and give testimony.  You’d have to swear on the Bible to tell the truth and then you’d be asked a number of questions by the lawyers involved.  Your testimony would be part of the process leading to justice in that matter.

In the Gospel According to John, there’s a kind of court case being made as well.  Some are on trial.  They’re accused of a serious breach of God’s law.  There are these Jewish religious leaders and they’re accused of the sin of unbelief.  The Son of God came into this world and they refused to acknowledge him and believe in him.  It’s a serious matter and they’re going to be held to account for it.  There’ll be court proceedings.  And in their court proceedings, there’ll be witnesses.  There are those who can say, “We pointed to Jesus and who he really is.”

That’s what our passage is about this morning.  This passage reminds us too that we have no legitimate excuse for unbelief.  If we refuse to turn to Christ and find in him the Saviour we need, we’ll have no ground to stand on at the end.  For us too, there’ll be witnesses lined up against our unbelief. For us too, there’ll be those who can say, “We pointed to Jesus and who he really is.”

So I preach to you God’s Word from John 5:  Pay attention to the witnesses calling you to believe in Christ. 

We’ll consider the witness of:

  1. The Baptist
  2. The Father
  3. The Scriptures

This passage continues the response of our Lord Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders.  They were offended at him after he healed the disabled man earlier in the chapter.  Not only were they offended at him, they decided he needed to be terminated.  In their eyes, he was not only a Sabbath-breaker, but also a blasphemer.   As he responded to these charges, Jesus insisted he was the Son of God, he was God himself, given the calling to raise the dead and carry out judgment.  In particular, he spoke of how all human beings are going to be raised on the last day – believers who’ve done good as fruits of their faith will go to the resurrection of life, but the unrepentant and unbelieving wicked will go to the resurrection of judgment. 

In verse 30 at the beginning of our passage, Christ reaffirms that he doesn’t act on his authority or initiative.  He acts in concert with the Father.  He does what the Father tells him to do – he seeks the will of the Father, also when it comes to judgment.  Because the Father is just, the Son’s judgment will be just and fair too.  The idea here is the divine courtroom where there will be judgment on all people at the end.    

Verse 31 continues that idea of the divine courtroom.  Christ draws attention to an important biblical principle:  the witness of one person isn’t enough to secure a conviction.  In the legal world of the Old Testament, there had to always be at least two witnesses for there to be justice.  So Jesus says here if there’s just my witness, that’s not enough.  There must be at least two witnesses in this courtroom for things to be done fairly.  When he says that his witness alone would not be “true,” that doesn’t mean that his witness would be a lie.  He means that his witness wouldn’t be legally valid.

So there are other witnesses.  Jesus mentions one of them in verse 32.  Now this is actually referring to the witness of the Father, which we’re going to deal with in a few moments.  We know that this is referring to the Father because it’s in the present tense, there’s an ongoing witness there – which is different than the witness of John the Baptist, which was in the past. 

Let’s turn to his witness in verses 33 to 35.  We were introduced to John the Baptist in chapter 1 of this Gospel.  John gave a witness about who Jesus is.  He told people that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Through Jesus Christ there is what we call propitiation.  Propitiation is the turning away of God’s wrath and the return of his favour.  Through the cross, God’s wrath is averted from us, and we’re reconciled to God, we’re back in fellowship with him.  John said that this happens through Jesus, the Lamb of God.  He also said that Jesus was the one who would baptize with the Spirit.  He would pour out the Holy Spirit on his people.  Last of all, at the end of John 1, John the Baptist also witnessed that Jesus was the Son of God.  He was the Messiah.  He was the Christ who had been promised in the Old Testament.  John said that Jesus was the one who’d come with salvation for sinners. 

While John the Baptist was doing his ministry and giving his testimony, the Jewish religious leaders sent a delegation to check him out.  They wanted to investigate John and his message.  That’s in John 1:19.  When that happened, John told them the truth – not just about who he was, but most importantly of all, about who Jesus is.  Christ himself didn’t need that witness, but it was for the sake of the people, so that they would hear it, believe it, and be saved.  In verse 35, Christ adds that John was a burning and shining lamp.  John brought light into darkness, but just temporarily.  As lamps do, eventually he burned out.  But for the time that he was carrying out his ministry, there was a lot of excitement around him.  People thought that perhaps John was the Messiah, or perhaps some other important prophesied religious figure.  So, for a while, they enjoyed his presence.  But, and this is the most important, they didn’t listen to what he was saying.  They didn’t turn to Jesus, believe in him, and follow him. 

It’s important to remember that John the Baptist was a prophet.  In fact, you can think of him as being the last Old Testament prophet.  A prophet is a preacher.  John preached Jesus Christ.  He witnessed and testified about him, pointed to him and who he really is.  Christ is saying that John’s witness would testify against those who refuse to believe in him. 

For us today, Christ still has his witnesses through preachers.  Each Lord’s Day, a preacher comes and witnesses to who Jesus Christ is and what he has done.  Like John, every preacher is just a burning and shining lamp – one day they’ll be gone.  Every preacher is a jar of clay.  They’re easily broken and dispensed with.  The important thing is the message, the witness.  Listen to Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”  Preachers will have to give an account, as will the elders who supervised them.  Did he preach Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?  But also:  did you, when you heard Christ preached, did you pay attention to the witness?  Did you embrace the Saviour and what he did in his life, death, and resurrection?  Loved ones, whenever you hear the call to believe in Christ and to continue believing in Christ, pay attention.  Don’t be like the Jewish religious leaders who enjoyed a little excitement from John’s ministry, something different, but then it made no difference because they didn’t believe John’s message.  Don’t let the preaching you heard witness against you in the day of judgment.  Instead, take the message to heart “so that you may be saved.” 

Now there is that other witness spoken of in verse 32 and Christ gets back to that witness in verse 36.  John’s witness was important, just like the witness of preachers today is important, but there is something greater.  It’s the witness of the Father.  That witness comes through the works that Jesus does.  Whatever Jesus does or says is work that has been given to him by the Father.  Christ’s works have their source and authority with God, and therefore those works are a witness from God to who Christ is.  They bear witness, as verses 36 and 37 say, that the Father has sent him.  And as Jesus says later in verse 43, he has come in the name of the Father, which is to say on the authority of the Father.  The Father is saying:   this is my Son, this is the Saviour I have sent for your rescue and redemption. 

The witness of the Father is in the works of the Son.  It’s in what he says – it’s in his teaching.  But it’s especially in what he does.  In the context of John 5, the witness of the Father is in Jesus giving healing to a disabled man.  When Christ did that, the Father was witnessing that this is the One who’d been sent as the help of the helpless.  Skipping to the next chapter, the witness of the Father will be seen in the feeding of the 5000.  Who is this who can take five loaves of bread and two fish and feed 5000 people, with leftovers to spare?  Through that the Father was witnessing that this was the one who had been sent to feed the spiritually hungry with overflowing grace and mercy.

What did the Jewish religious leaders do with that witness from the Father?  They rejected it.  They didn’t receive Christ the way they should have.  They didn’t believe in the One the Father sent.  Consequently, as verses 37 and 38 say, they’ve closed their ears to the voice of the Father, they haven’t seen him revealed in his Son, and they don’t have his Word abiding in them – which means they were essentially unbelievers.  Even though they were God’s covenant people, they were outside of salvation.  They had missed out, because they rejected the witness of the Father through the works of the Son. 

Now today Christ is no longer on earth to do the works he did during his years of earthly ministry.  Yet the Father still witnesses to those works.  He continues to witness to those works through the New Testament.  As we read especially the Gospels, we’re still being witnessed to by the Father.  He’s still calling us to believe and continue believing in Christ.  Look at his works, examine them, and consider what they mean.  See yourself in that helpless man broken by the pool of Bethesda.  You’re spiritually helpless – the Father witnesses that Christ heals you and makes you whole.  See yourself in those hungry crowds in John 6.  You’re spiritually hungry – the Father witnesses that Christ feeds you with more than enough.  Pay attention to the witness given by the Father in Scripture and hear the call to place your trust in the Saviour he sent for you.

That witness in the Scriptures is not only in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament.  That’s what we find in verses 39 to 47.  Remember, Jesus is speaking to the Jewish religious leaders:  scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees.  They’re religious experts, well-versed in what we call the Old Testament.  They’re Bible scholars.  Many of them had spent years studying the Bible and they even had large parts of the Bible committed to memory.  Christ acknowledges that in verse 39 when he says, “You search the Scriptures….”  He’s saying, “You’re really keen on studying the Bible.”  They do that because they think that in these Scriptures they’ll find eternal life.  But they’re missing the point.  They’ve missed out on who is at the center of these Old Testament writings.

Those Old Testament writings bear witness about Christ.  Loved ones, this is crucially important to understand.  We all have to understand it.  The children here have to understand it and they can.  This is important, but it is not hard.  Who is the Bible about?  Jesus.  Your parents can ask you about that later.  Who is the Bible about?  Jesus.  It’s that simple.  At the center of all biblical revelation is Jesus.  He’s the focus of everything.  If you don’t understand that key principle, you completely miss out on what God is saying through the Bible.

In 1972, a hit song was released by the American singer Carly Simon.  Since then, the song has been covered numerous times by other singers.  Even though it’s from 1972, I’m sure many of you have heard it before.  The refrain of the song says, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.”  Sadly, that’s the way many Christians approach the Bible today.  They approach the Bible as a book in the first place about them.  According to our text, the Bible is not about you, at least not in its focus and emphasis.  No, the Bible is about Jesus.  He’s the central figure.  It’s all about him and he’s on every single page.                               

Now it’d be easy to misunderstand that.  Obviously I don’t mean you literally find the name of Jesus on every page of the Bible, or particularly the Old Testament.  What I mean is it all points to him in some way, shape, or form.  There are prophecies, promises, sacrifices and ceremonies, types, and also God’s law. 

So there are numerous prophecies about the coming Messiah in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 53 right away comes to mind.  We’re going to sing Psalm 40 after the sermon and in Hebrews, that Psalm is put on the lips of Christ.  It’s his song and you need to remember that when you’re singing it.  Psalm 110 is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament and it’s always understood to be speaking of the coming Christ.  You could also think of Genesis 49, where Jacob speaks about a ruler coming from the tribe of Judah.  This ruler will also have the obedience of the peoples, the nations.  That’s a prophecy about Jesus. 

There are also the covenant promises made to the patriarchs.  They point ahead to Christ and his salvation.  God promises that salvation and blessing with come to the nations through the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.    

There are the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament law.  Take for example, the Passover lamb, sacrificed so that death and judgment would be turned away.  That pointed ahead to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, his propitiation for us. 

Then there are the types of the Old Testament.  These are people who point ahead to Christ in some way.  In Genesis, you can think of that mysterious priest-king Melchizedek – he points ahead to Christ, Christ is said to belong to the priesthood of Melchizedek.  Or you can think of King David, Christ’s great ancestor who slays Satanic giants and conquers nations.  There are also figures who are supposed to be types and point to Christ, but who are massive failures.  Here you can think of the majority of the kings of Judah and Israel. 

Then there’s God’s moral law and the way it exposes our need for a Saviour.  The law tells you to live a certain way and when you don’t, there’s sin and guilt.  The law tells you you’re a sinner and you need atonement.  So in your need you’re pointed to the final and ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

We could go on.  The point is this:  you need to learn to read your Old Testament in a way that looks for Jesus.  These writings point to him.  They all bear witness about him in some way. 

And yet Christ says to the Jewish religious leaders in verse 40, “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  You have to let that sink in.  These men are God’s covenant people.  They’re biblical experts.  They probably had a far greater knowledge of the Old Testament than you or I ever will.  They thought their knowledge of the Scriptures would bring them salvation.  Yet because they missed out on Christ, refused to see him in the Scriptures, refused to see him in front of them and believe in him, they’re lost.  These biblical experts are lost.  Let that register.  You could go to a Christian school and get 100%, straight As in Bible Knowledge.  You could go to Bible study and amaze everyone with your great depth of knowledge of all kinds of things from the Bible.  You could list every king of the Old Testament in order, know the names of all the apostles, tell us the precise middle chapter and verse of the Bible, and a host of other amazing things.  You could know all that and still miss out on salvation, because you don’t pay attention to the witness to Christ and you don’t believe in him in a saving way.  That’s what had happened with the Jewish religious leaders.  They’re Bible experts who are perishing.  Their Bibles that they know so well, they actually don’t, because they missed the point.  They’re deluded, self-deceived.  Their Bibles they hold so dearly are actually going to witness against them.  What a tragedy!    

Loved ones, don’t let that be you.  Instead, go to the Scriptures and expect to find a witness to your Saviour.  When you read the Bible as a family, ask:  how does this point us to Jesus?  When you read the Bible on your own, ask:  how does this passage direct me to the Redeemer?  When you’re at Bible study, the most important question to ask and answer is:  how is Christ being revealed here in this part of God’s Word?  When you find the answer, see your Saviour again and conscientiously embrace him with faith.  Don’t just let that opportunity mindlessly drift by.  Actually think, and say, “This is my Saviour.  This is how he’s revealed to me.  I’m going to take hold of him and what he did for me again.”  That’s how a Christian reads the Bible as it’s supposed to be read. 

In verses 41 to 44, Christ continues to call out the Jewish religious leaders on their unbelief.  In verse 41, he says that he’s not concerned with approval from people – he doesn’t need their approval.  Their approval doesn’t matter for anything because, as verse 42 says, they don’t love God.  If they really loved God, they would love the one he sent, the one who has come in the name of the Father.  But they don’t, says verse 43.  If someone else comes along on his own authority, they’ll follow him.  That’s speaking of the coming time after Christ’s ascension where there would be many false messiahs.  The historical record tells us that after Christ left this earth, there were many who claimed to be messianic figures and they attracted followers.  All of that is because the Jewish religious leaders and those who followed them were too earthly minded.  They didn’t believe in the one God sent because they were stuck on the horizontal, focussed on getting praise and approval from one another rather than seeking God’s approval by believing in the One he sent. 

In verses 45 to 47, Christ comes back to the witness of the Scriptures.  Christ says that his say so won’t be necessary in the divine courtroom.  They’ll have a surprising accuser.  They’ve placed their hope in Moses.  There was a belief amongst the Jews that Moses would continue to be their mediator, their defender before God.  Moses defended them in the past and would do so in the future.  That in itself was a failure to recognize that Moses in his work as a mediator was pointing ahead to Christ.  They got so fixated on Moses himself that they failed to look to the one to whom Moses was pointing.  So Moses too is going to witness against them.  If they really believed Moses, they would believe in Jesus, because Moses wrote about Christ.  Again, that’s not a reference to one or two prophecies in the Old Testament writings of Moses.  Everything in the first five books of the Bible speaks about Christ in some way.  If you saw that, you’d believe in Christ.  But if you don’t see that, then how can you believe when the one prophesied is standing right in front of you?  You’ve missed the point of Moses and therefore you’ve missed the point of who Jesus is and why you should listen to him.

Loved ones, again note not only the great knowledge of those Jewish leaders, but also their privileged status.  They had the status of covenant members.  God had established a gracious relationship with them.  In that relationship, he had revealed himself through his Word.  In that relationship, he had revealed the Messiah through his Word.  Their failure to take that revelation to heart would be something for which they would be judged.  Moses would be a witness against them through what he wrote.

Today we have been blessed too as God’s covenant people.  He’s come to us and claimed us for his own in our baptisms.  He’s not kept us in the dark as to who he is and how sinners can be reconciled to him.  He’s given us revelation.  But do we pay attention?  Do we hear his revelation, see Christ at the center, and believe in him?  Or do we somehow think that there is another way for us to have hope?  The Jews thought they could set their hopes on Moses as an alternative mediator.  Do we set our hopes on something or someone other than Christ?  Maybe it’s all the good things we think we do.  Maybe it’s our baptism or status as church members.  No, brothers and sisters, as the Bible says, “there is only one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  If we’re not trusting in him, there will be witnesses testifying against us too – including the Scriptures.  It’s way better to pay attention to the witnesses calling you to believe in Christ. 

Really this whole passage comes down to what you do with the Word – what you do with the Word as it’s preached to you; what you do with the written Word of the New Testament; what you do with the written Word of the Old Testament.  God is not without a witness.  In fact, he’s given ample witness to the way of life in Jesus Christ.  At the end, none of us will be able to justly say:  “But I didn’t hear, I didn’t get the message.”  Just like with the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day, the message has been put out there.  The question is:  what have you done with that message?  What have you done with the witnesses?  AMEN. 


Heavenly Father,

You haven’t left us in the dark.  You’ve given plenty of witnesses to who you are and to who our Saviour is.  Thank you for that.  We pray for your Holy Spirit to help us believe the witnesses you’ve given.  When we hear faithful preaching, open our hearts for it to hear it and believe it, to believe in the Saviour preached.  When we study your Word, help us always to see our Saviour and entrust ourselves to him.  Open our eyes to the true meaning and focus of your Word.  Father, we pray that all these witnesses we have would never stand against us, but work in our favour and bless us with salvation in Jesus.      


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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