Sermon: A book all about Jesus – John 5:37-47


From Matthew 5: 

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. 

Our heavenly Father, we again come to you in praise and rejoicing that we are again able to meet in person. May you bless our time in your word. May our lives be transformed by the truth of your scripture. May we point to Christ. Lord, we continue to pray for our peace in our nation. There has been so much violence and destruction in recent weeks. May we continue to grow in grace and love. 

Lord, may we shine with a light that is evident to all of those whom we meet. May we have a burden that we are your ambassadors in the world. That how we talk, and act, and treat people, and love people is all meant to be a reflection of the great God whom we serve. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

            Text: John 5:37-47

37 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. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people.

 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 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. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 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. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” 

We’re finishing up John 5 today. 

The last time we were in John, two weeks ago, Jesus was talking of those who bore witness to him. And we talked about three witnesses to Christ: John the Baptist, the works of Christ, and God the Father.  In our passage today, we see a fourth witness to Christ. The scriptures themselves witness to the truth of who Jesus is. 

I will say up front that I LOVE this passage. Jesus is making the concluding remarks of a speech to the Pharisees which began in verse 19. Last time we were in John, we quoted part of verse 37. Jesus was talking of God as a witness to his messianic identity. 

And that’s where we’ll start this morning. And this is my plan for us today. We’re going to talk about the passage and the end of the section will lead into some closing remarks on the scriptures and how they point to Christ. 

First point I want to make from our section. 

  1. Misunderstanding the Bible 

Quoting from verses 37-38: 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. 

Once again, a couple weeks ago, I talked about how God bears witness to Christ, and our passage this morning points to how the scripture bears witness to Christ, but Jesus will talk of God to lead into the scriptures as a witness to his Messianic identity. 

Jesus begins in our passage by saying that God has sent him and that God bears witness to him. And then Jesus tells the pharisees that they have never heard the voice of God, nor seen God, nor do they have the word of God dwelling in them. Saying the true thing is not always the popular thing. And Jesus, once again, does not mince words with the pharisees. He says that they have never heard the voice of God. 

Keep in mind the context of what he’s saying. He’s talking to the experts of the Old Testament. The Pharisees. God had given his word to the Jewish people. It was a point of pride. 

And they have Jesus speaking to them. Jesus is God incarnate, speaking the words of God. In 3:34, Jesus says: he whom God has sent utters the words of God.

Also remember how John’s Gospel begins. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God(John 1:1). 

Jesus is the Word of God whom the pharisees don’t hear. There’s the irony that the pharisees are listening to God speak to them and they don’t hear what he’s saying.  Moses had heard the literal voice of God in the Old Testament. And an idea that will come up at the end of this passage is that if the pharisees had been true followers of Moses, they would have recognized Jesus for who he was. 

It’s also true that the pharisees often missed the heart of God’s teachings. It can be easy to know a lot about the Bible but to not have it truly changing your heart. I remember when I was in seminary and we’d pray before classes. A common refrain was that we would ask God to grow in heart knowledge, not just head knowledge. 

As James prays: that we would be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22).  Let’s consider for just a moment that confrontation which inspired this entire speech which the Lord Jesus has been giving. It began with Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, which the pharisees had considered a violation of the law, because they had such a restrictive view of what it meant to follow the Sabbath. 
Jesus says that they have never seen God’s form. Again, there’s irony in that they have God incarnate telling them that. They’re actually looking at Jesus who is God on earth and they don’t see him for who he is. But it’s also true that Jesus has seen the Father and they have not.  

In verse 38, he’s already told them that they’ve never truly heard from God, and here he’s saying God’s word is not abiding in them. When Jesus says that they do not believe in the one whom the Lord has sent, Jesus is obviously referring to himself. 

Jesus continues his harangue against the pharisees.

2. the scriptures bear witness to Christ

Verses 39-40: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 

Jesus acknowledges that the pharisees do study the scriptures, but as D.A. Carson says “there is nothing intrinsically life-giving about studying the scriptures.” At least, there’s not if you miss the ultimate meaning and purpose of the scriptures in pointing to the glorious and gracious God who has made a way for fallen man to be redeemed. Plenty of people value the moral teachings of the Bible, even many non-Christians would affirm that. But that is not the soul-saving point of God’s Holy Word. 

People can study the scriptures. A person can know the Bible backwards and forwards. But if you don’t understand that it is Christ to whom the scriptures bear witness, you’ve missed the whole point of the Bible.

When I was in seminary, in one of my preaching classes we had to do a sermon, but before doing the sermon, we had another long list of things to do. We had to translate the passage from the original language, give grammatical comments on the text, give a grammatical outline, a sermon outline, on and on and on. 

It was a lot of work. And then you had to actually write the sermon. And it was a hard sermon to write because after spending time doing all of that, I didn’t truly understand the heart of the passage. My point is that you can spend lots and lots and lots of time studying the Bible and miss what it’s saying. 

Similarly, a person can have long sections of scripture memorized. That’s fine. But are those verses impacting you? Are they impacting your life? Are they impacting how you look at God? Are they impacting your trust in Christ? Jesus says at the end of verse 39 that it is the scriptures which bear witness about him. It’s not the first time, nor is it the last time in this gospel that it talks of the scriptures as pointing to Jesus. 

Put another way, Jesus is here speaking with the Pharisees and he’s telling them that they don’t truly know the scriptures, because they don’t know Jesus, and it is the scriptures which point to Jesus. 

They had the attestation of the prophet who came before, John the Baptist. They saw the signs Jesus was doing. They had his teaching. They had reason to believe but did not. It’s not that they should have had a perfectly worked out theology of who Jesus was during his lifetime. The disciples didn’t even have that. But as the disciples saw the ministry of Jesus unfolding, they were drawn to this man and had a growing knowledge of who he was. When Phillip was called to be a follower of Jesus at the beginning of this gospel, he points to the scriptures. 

John 1:45: Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

When Jesus does his first sign, where he turns water into wine, John notes that this helped make sense of his entire ministry later on. 

John 2:22: When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 

And then you have Jesus interacting with Nicodemus. Another of the pharisees, the teacher of Israel. An expert in the Law. John 3:10: “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

But the pharisees instead hated Jesus, plotted against Jesus, and ultimately set their actions towards crucifying Jesus. While it’s true that we have the whole story and the pharisees didn’t, they also had the chance to see, hear, and experience the ministry of Christ. So the pharisees are judged on account of their failure to recognize the scriptures as pointing to Christ. 

Jesus continues speaking to the pharisees. He’s talked about the witness of the scripture. And now he comes back to a verdict against the pharisees. 

Verses 41-42:  I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 

Jesus says he doesn’t receive glory from people. He’s pointed to the witnesses of his works, of God, of the scriptures to his divine identity. Jesus is glorious because of who he is. The glory of Christ is not contingent upon the adulation of humanity. The earth revolves around the sun, regardless of if a person wanted to accept that or not. 

Borrowing again from D.A. Carson: if Jesus primarily cared about receiving glory from men, he could pander to the pharisees. He could say what they wanted to hear. But then, what kind of a Messiah would he be? He came to do the will of the Father, not the will of men. 

Verses 43-44: 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. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 

Verse 43, Jesus points to God, in whose name has has come. 

Jesus says that if another comes in his own name, they would receive him. It follows from the fact that they’re mistaken and blind to the true Messiah, that they therefore are going to be susceptible to following a false messiah. And historically, we know that there were many first century false Messiahs who came after Christ. 

Instead, the leaders receive glory from one another. They’re looking for the Messiah, but for the wrong reasons. Not out of love for God, not out of a desire for truth, not to know salvation. The people wanted a Messiah, but not the Messiah who Jesus was. Not the Messiah who points out their sin, points out the flaws in their system, who wouldn’t do what they wanted him to do. 

Our world can be just as susceptible to this. That’s part of why it’s important to come to Jesus, to come to the word of God in humility. If you’re never challenged by what Jesus is saying, you might simply be following a Messiah in your own making. We are sinful, and therefore there is a constant reformation of the human heart in encountering the person and teachings of Christ. Our default is sin, not righteousness. 

3. The indictment of the pharisees

45 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. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” 

Jesus is likely referring to the entire Old Testament and Mosaic Covenant. Moses is the accuser of the pharisees. It’s symbolic. It’s not to say that Moses is the divine judge. Obviously, Moses is just a man. But Jesus is saying to the Pharisees “you want to put so much stock in the Old Testament, you want to put so much stock in the Law of Moses, well if you really understood that, you would believe because Moses’ writings are all about me.” 

Again, this is an indictment from Jesus to the pharisees. To truly believe in the writings of Moses is to believe in Jesus. And this is the point to which we’ve been building up this morning and where we will be spending the rest of our time. 

In verses 39-40, Jesus said:  You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 

And here at the end of the passage: If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” 

The Bible is a book about Jesus. 

First. You have prophecies which are fulfilled in Christ. 

It’s amazing. You have some very specific prophecies about Jesus which are fulfilled in the New Testament. Think about it for a moment. You have where he’d be born and that his ministry would be preceded by a forerunner. He’d be born of a virgin. Hosea said that he’d travel to Egypt. We see this early in Matthew. Psalm 40 predicted that he would preach repentance to Israel. Psalm 78 predicted that he would teach in parables. 

Isaiah 6:9 predicted that people would not listen to his teaching: “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 

Other prophecies fulfilled in Christ. He would have a miraculous ministry. Isaiah 35:5-6: the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. 

The Old Testament mentions that he would minister in Galilee and draw gentiles to himself. The Old Testament mentions that he would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, be plotted against, be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver.

You have prophecies that say he would be forsaken by God. Psalm 22:1: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 

Psalm 22:16 says that he would be pierced. This is often taken to be a prophecy referring to his crucifixion, in spite of the fact that crucifixion didn’t even exist at the time. Dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— 

The Old Testament says that lots would be cast for his clothing and that those closest to him would abandon him. Psalm 41:9: Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. 

The Messiah would usher in a new covenant. Jeremiah 31:31: the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah

I realize that with some of these fulfilled prophecies, the Pharisees weren’t aware of them yet. Not to mention that we have the family he’d be born into. The tribe of Judah, a descendant of David. You don’t have control over where you’re born, or from what family you’d be born. You don’t have control over all of the events that happen in your lifetime. But we have all of these prophecies that point us to what would happen during Christ’s ministry. 

A skeptical person could look at all of these and try to explain it away “well what if the writers of the New Testament just read through their Old Testament, pulled out these little details and reverse engineered the Jesus story.” 

The answer is that that makes no sense when you recall that the apostles were persecuted and died for their faith. Why would they make up a story and then die for something they knew wasn’t true? 

Well what if it’s a coincidence? 

The idea that a person coincidentally had all of the Old Testament prophecies pointing is a bigger leap of faith that believing that Jesus is who he says he is. Perhaps some of you have heard this illustration. 

A mathematician and astronomer named Peter Stoner calculated the odds of just 8 of the prophecies of Jesus coincidentally being fulfilled coming true. He said that the odds were 1×10 to the 17th power. Or 1 in 100 quadrillion. 

Put more seriously, the odds of something that’s 1 in 100 quadrillion is as if you were to take silver dollars and cover the entire state of Texas 2 feet deep in the coins. You put a red dot on just 1 of those coins, you take a person and blindfold them and tell them they can walk wherever they want but that they need to pick up just one coin. The odds of that person walking all across Texas and picking up the one marked coin are about the same chances as Jesus fulfilling 8 prophecies. 

But he fulfilled many more than that. The argument that it’s a coincidence is absurd. The scriptures literally point to Jesus. But prophecy is not the only way in which the scriptures point to Jesus. You have patterns, sometimes called ‘types’ of Christ throughout the Old Testament. 

The lamb led to slaughter in Isaiah 53 is a type pointing us to Christ the greater lamb who was led to slaughter. 

Isaac was a type for Christ in that he was the promised Son of Abraham. He was the Son who Abraham was asked to sacrifice, but at the pivotal moment, God said that he himself would provide the sacrifice. 

Joseph was a type for Christ in that he suffered unjustly and was then exalted to save his people. What men meant for evil, God used for good. 

Moses was a type for Christ in that he was a mediator between God and the people, but in Jesus, we see the greater mediator. Moses had to cover his face when speaking to God, Jesus is the one who has seen God. Moses was given the Ten Commandments on a mountain, Jesus spoke with authority in his Sermon on the Mount.  

Joshua was a type for Christ in that he led Israel into the land, and Jesus leads his people into the greater land: the new Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth. 

David, the great King of Israel who was the man after God’s own heart is a type for Christ, the greater king. 

Jonah was a type for Christ as one who spent 3 days in the fish, Jesus spent 3 days in the tomb. 

And there are many more people. And there are many other themes which show types or themes for Christ and what he’d fulfill. 

Very briefly, we’ve talked about these themes before. Sonship is a theme in the Old Testament where Israel and the Davidic kings are called the Son of God. Jesus is the true Son of God who allows us to be adopted as God’s children. 

In the Old Testament, priests offered sacrifices at the temple. Jesus is the great high priest, who is able to approach God and offers himself as a sacrifice so that we could be redeemed to God. As the temple is the presence of God in the world, Jesus is literally God in the world and the true temple. 

Other themes. Sabbath. Faith in Jesus is what brings the true Sabbath, as we enter into God’s rest. You have the covenants of the Old Testament but Jesus both fulfills the Old Covenant and ushers in the New Covenant. You have creation, Jesus brings new creation. You have wisdom. Jesus is the perfect personification of wisdom. Jesus is the truer Israel who follows the law perfectly. 

It all points to Christ. It’s all about Christ. The Old Testament feasts are all about Jesus. His crucifixion happened at the time of Passover. Passover was the celebration of God redeeming Israel from slavery in Egypt. It was commemorated by sacrificing a lamb. Jesus is the true Passover lamb who redeems sinful people from sin. 

You have the Old Testament holy day of Yom Kippur: the Day of Atonement. They took two goats. One was sacrificed for sins. Again, symbolic of Jesus paying the ultimate price for sin. The other goat was sent out of the camp, which was a symbol of our sins being taken away from us.

Everything in the Old Testament is about Jesus. The New Testament writers certainly thought that. They point to the presence of Christ in the Old Testament. 

The writer of Hebrews talked of Moses’ trust in Christ. 

Hebrews 11:24-26:By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 

The Apostle Paul talks of Jesus’ presence with the Israelites in the wilderness. 1 Corinthians 10:2-4: All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Jude pointed to Jesus as the one who had redeemed the Israelites from Egypt: Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt (Jude 5). 

This is debated, but I would even argue that Jesus is the fourth man in the fire furnace in Daniel, the heavenly figure with whom Jacob wrestled, and the king and priest, Melchizedek to whom Abraham gave homage. 

If you read the Old Testament, you have all of these genealogies. Maybe it’s tempting to want to skip those or think they don’t matter. The genealogies form links in a chain which leads to Christ. 

From Luke 24:26-27: Jesus is walking on the Road to Emmaus and he interacts with the two travelers. They don’t know that the Lord Jesus is in their midst and that he has risen. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 

The scriptures were explained from Moses and the prophets as pointing to Jesus. 

Jesus is the key that unlocks the Bible. I truly hope that understanding this is something that is edifying and encouraging. That these are not just legends or stories. It’s the Word of God, written by different people in different cultures, in different centuries from fisherman to kings and from tax collectors to doctors. But it has a unified message from start to finish of pointing us to Jesus and his gospel. 

The Bible is a challenging book. But it’s an impossible book if you don’t understand that it’s about Jesus. 

 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

The scriptures point to Christ. Therefore the scriptures point to life. 

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