A LENTEN SERMON: FOUR WITNESSES TO JESUS
Scripture: John 5:31-47
As we approach Easter, we think about Jesus, and what He and others said about His person and accomplishments. In many parts of the world, there are many willing to make witness to Jesus today. For example, look at how the Korean Christians bear witness to Jesus. Once I was honoured to lecture about one thousand young Korean pastors in the lecture theatre of the Seoul Women’s University. My address was telecast to other countries, translated into thirteen languages. Korea is the ideal site for such a satellite transmission and the Korean Church is the greatest example of church growth in the last fifty years. The spread of Korean ministers influences the world. The scholarship in Korean seminaries is impacting the Western world. Every four hours a new Christian congregation is organised in Korea. Church bells echo daily at five o’clock in the morning to call believers to prayer in Korea’s 18,000 Protestant and Evangelical churches. Over 2,000 churches are in the capital Seoul alone.
In June 1994 over 2 million people participated in a prayer meeting in Yoido Plaza for world evangelisation. Years ago, I raised money to support poor Korean students in the Seoul Theological Seminary. Now it is a University with thousands of students. For some years I was on the International Board of the Korean Institute for Mission and Church Renewal International of the Choog Hyun Presbyterian Church. I know well the ministries of Young Nak Presbyterian Church and Yoido Full Gospel Church with more than half a million members. The world’s largest Methodist Church is the Kwang Lim Methodist Church also in Seoul — in fact five of the largest churches in the world are in Seoul Korea. Dr Billy Graham was the first Westerner to preach in the Bong Su Church and the Changchung Church in North Korea. He lectured in the leading University to huge crowds. This was the University his wife attended in the 1930s as a daughter of American Missionaries.
In 1980, about 200 Korean missionaries worked in 29 countries. By the beginning of 1990 the number had grown to over 1,600 missionaries working for 54 Korean mission agencies in 87 countries. By 2000, the Church in Asia has sent approximately 80,000 missionaries through 650 mission agencies to other countries. Prof. Samuel H. Moffatt, of Princeton Theological Seminary, writes: “Korea’s Christians grow four times as fast as the population. Koreans build six new churches every day. Protestants outnumber Catholics about six to one, and well over half the Protestants are Presbyterians.” I receive the magazine of the Korean Centre for World Missions which trains Koreans how to witness to Christ. It has the largest campus of any such centre in the world, a huge library of 100,000 volumes, a worship hall seating 3,500 people, conference facilities for another 1,000 and accommodation for visitors. Each week 2000 complete courses in evangelism.
While I was Superintendent of Wesley Mission, we established the Wesley Institute Korean Theological Program, led by my colleague Dr Kae Won Lee, who soon had 80 Korean ministers in training in Australia. There are over 200 congregations associated with the Australian Korean Presbyterian Church and that number is growing rapidly. The Korean Christians make powerful testimony to Jesus Christ. No-one remains the same after hearing the account of a person who once despised the ways of God, but who is now living a chaste and effective life following the way of Jesus Christ. The testimony of the persecuting Saul who was converted on the Damascus Road into the crusading Paul, caused people to say “the man who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” Galatians 1:23. You cannot argue against the changed life.
So in turn the dissolute Augustine was changed into the greatest logical and moral mind of the next thousand years. So the foppish Francis of Assisi was changed into the great church reformer and servant of the poor. So the meticulous legally minded Catholic monk Martin Luther became the protestant proclaimer of God’s grace through faith rather than of works. So the frightened failure of an Anglican missionary John Wesley became the unbelievably successful evangelist who civilized Britain’s social conscience. So President Nixon’s convicted White House hatchet-man Charles Colson was converted to become the great servant of prisoners and penal reformer of the twentieth century.
Another testimony is that the best of mankind’s great spiritual thinkers do but echo the teachings of Jesus. No one has ever surpassed Him in His understanding of God or human nature, and where they have differed from Him they are the poorer. Another testimony to Jesus Christ lies in the existence of the church. One of the world’s most enduring institutions with two billion members today came into being overthrowing the mightiest Empire ever and every persecutor since. Another testimony to Jesus Christ lies in the date on our calendar. Some superhuman power took the normal march of time and broke it into two, so that everything that happened before his birth is referred to as B.C., Before Christ; and everything since as A.D., Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord. Others have tried to do that and failed. Only the power of Jesus Christ has prevailed. When the world pauses every Sunday from work it is a silent testimony to the day of His resurrection as the year is a testimony to His birth.
These testimonies: from changed lives; spiritual insight; the existence of the church; to the very day and date on our calendar are powerful in their effect, separately and accumulatively. But John saw deeper testimonies to Jesus. John recounts accurately a powerful address that Jesus directed toward some religious leaders who had questioned His authority and activities. The situation was tense. Jesus was confronted by angry religious leaders who disputed His right to heal a man on the Sabbath. They did not want to believe in Jesus. They were bitter, rejecting, negative, disbelieving critics! They were “all the more determined to kill Jesus for not only had He broken the Sabbath law, but He had said that God was His own Father and in this way had made Himself equal with God.” John 5:18 They did not want to accept the testimony about Jesus. Jesus does not testify on His own behalf, for under the Law that was prohibited. “If I testify on my own behalf what I say is not accepted as real proof.” v31. There was a need for external evidence, a supportive witness, an independent confirmation, a tangible verification. So Jesus mentions four testimonies to Himself:
1. THE TESTIMONY OF GOD THE FATHER. John 5:30-32,37-38
He starts with the testimony of God the Father. “There is Someone else who testifies on my behalf and I know what He says about Me is true.” v32. This was the voice of God heard by Jesus at His baptism: “This is my own dear Son with whom I am pleased.” Matthew 4:17 For Jesus Himself that testimony was irrefutable. “The Father who sent me, also testifies on my behalf. You have never heard His voice or seen His face, and you do not keep His message in your hearts, for you do not believe in the One whom He sent.” v37-38
2. THE TESTIMONY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST. John 5:33-35
John the Baptist was the man of God who turned all of Jerusalem toward God. He had baptised Jesus, and recognised Jesus as the Hope of Israel. Jesus pointed to John and said: “John is the one to whom you sent your messengers and He spoke on behalf of the truth.” v33. They had recognised John to be a prophet of God, speaking of baptism for the remission of sin, but they refused to accept John’s testimony to Jesus: “There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!… I have seen it and I tell you that He is the Son of God.” John 1:29-34 John had spoken the truth about Jesus, but they did not accept his uncomfortable truths. John’s testimony was clear and could open their eyes to what God was doing. “It is not that I must have a man’s witness; I say this only in order that you may be saved.” 5:34 John had paid a heavy price for his testimony. Jesus says: “John was like a lamp, burning and shining, and you were willing for a while to enjoy his light.” 5:35 Jesus speaks in the past tense: “John was like a lamp, burning and shining”. John was already silenced in prison, perhaps already beheaded. But his shining testimony had been made. There is a price for testimony: the burning lamp had been extinguished.
3. THE TESTIMONY OF THE DEEDS OF JESUS. John 5:36
Jesus moved to a third testimony: “But I have a witness on my behalf which is even greater than the witness that John gave: what I do, that is, the deeds my Father gave me to do, these speak on my behalf and show that the Father has sent me.” 5:36 Jesus contrasts Himself with the religious leaders: “But I have a witness”. Jesus was referring to His miracles. John always quotes Jesus referring to His miracles as “signs”.
His deeds show to all their divine origin and point to Jesus as God’s son. “The deeds my Father gave me to do, these speak on my behalf and show that the Father has sent me.” 5:36 That was the meaning of the healing of this cripple at the Pool of Bethesda. The miracle was obvious. It was a testimony to Jesus. Eleven times Jesus refers to his miracles as signs from God. “The deeds My Father gave Me to do, these speak on My behalf and show that the Father has sent Me.” 5:36
4. THE TESTIMONY OF THE SCRIPTURES. John 5:39-47
The fourth testimony cuts at the very heart of the main source of pride for these religious leaders: the scriptures they studied were a testimony to Him. “You study the scriptures because you think that in them you will find eternal life. And these very scriptures speak about me! Yet you are not willing to come to me in order to have life!” 5:39-40 They studied the scriptures but they had not caught the message of life they contained. They had missed the main message, the testimony to the coming Messiah to be born in Bethlehem, of a virgin, whose name would be Jesus and who would save His people from their sins. They missed it! How like liberal theologians today who can give the most detailed information of the usage of words in the first century, who can describe the variations in the New Testament text, who can demythologise the text and who can make a computer analysis of Paul’s conjunctions, but who miss the testimony of the scriptures to Jesus as both Lord and Saviour! Jesus could also say of them: “You study the scriptures because you think that in them you will find eternal life. And these very scriptures speak about Me! Yet you are not willing to come to Me in order to have life!” 5:39-40
That was especially true of the testimony of the greatest writer of scripture, the incomparable leader and lawgiver Moses. He bore witness to Jesus and the Jewish leaders stood condemned before God for their refusal to believe in Jesus. “Do not think however that I am the one who will accuse you to My Father. Moses, in whom you have put your hope is the very one who will accuse you. If you had really believed Moses, you would have believed Me, because he wrote about Me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?” 5:45-57 His logic is inescapable. If they were only to catch the meaning of the scriptures, they would see the scriptures bearing irrefutable testimony to Jesus as God’s Son.
Jesus concludes His teachings about the four testimonies and He does so with deep sadness. It permeates His comment: “Yet you are not willing to come to Me in order to have life” 5:40 Negative, resistant, incredulous people refuse the testimony of God to His Son Jesus Christ. The testimony is irrefutable! It is there in personal testimony, in the insight of spiritual giants, in the existence of the church, in the evidence of Sunday, in the date on our calendar, in the impact of the early church. But most of all it is in the testimony of God the Father to His Son Jesus Christ, in the testimony of John the Baptist, of the miraculous deeds of Jesus, of the testimony of the scriptures and especially of Moses who pointed to His coming. Jesus invites you to believe in Him. He invites you to “come to Me in order to have life” 5:40 Why not believe and come and find life?