Join us as we learn that there is a place in spiritual growth for understanding more and more who God has created us to be.
November 26, 2023
by Ben Caldwell
Intro. There is an old movie called “Beaches.” In it, Bette Middler’s character says, “Well, that is enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”
I read a cartoon yesterday in which a pastor is sitting at a table having coffee and doughnuts with someone else. And he says, “As a pastor, I feel like there are many times when I am too dependent on external validation. But what do you think?”
In recent years, particularly in the area of education, educators feel that many students have low self-esteem. They need to be encouraged and validated. And I would say, there is nothing wrong with that. As a Christian, someone who reads the Bible and seeks to know the Lord… I see that there can be a problem, if we elevate the approval of others over the approval that the Lord offers us. And I’d like to take a look at a passage of scripture today that demonstrates how we should look to God for our sense of validation and worth.
History: The intent of the whole book of John is found in John 20:31 which says,
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
That is John’s stated purpose. He wants us to believe and find LIFE! In the first four chapters of John, we see that John and all of Jesus’ followers are convinced that Jesus is God. But in chapter 5, John shows us that there was conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders… which IS a fulfillment of prophecy. It was part of God’s plan to come as Jesus, to speak truth, and to demonstrate grace seeking to rescue us. But not everyone wants to hear the truth. Not everyone reacts well when they are confronted with the ways they have gone wrong. And the religious leaders were some of those people; they refused to accept the things that Jesus was saying. Jesus has healed a man on the Sabbath and those leaders didn’t think that God would do that…. So now some of those leaders not only want to persecute Jesus. But then Jesus says HE is God’s son… basically putting himself on the same level with God, the Father. And that outrages them. So that they want to kill him. So let’s take a look at our passage where we are seeing Jesus’ response to their outrage.
John 5:31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that this testimony about me is valid. 33 “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mentioned it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.
I want to take pieces of this passage and explain them, so that we all have a similar understanding of what is going on. The first bit in verse 31…
31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. In the Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy which was part of the Law that God gave to Israel to govern themselves…
Deuteronomy 19:15 says,
“15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
This is courtroom-style language. Obviously, the idea is to keep someone from being wrongly accused of a crime. It isn’t fool-proof; you might still have a couple of people lie about the same thing, but it does make it harder. And let’s face it, people will say anything if they think it will get them a little further down the road. But the context here that a group of deeply religious people are so mad with what Jesus has said that they are looking for a way to kill him. John 5:18 says, “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
So Jesus is referring back to that courtroom-style language saying, “I can stand here and tell you who I am, but that wouldn’t hold up in court. I would need two or more witnesses. He uses the words “witness,” “testimony,” and “testify” over and over again.
*** AS a side note, I think it is important that we learn from our previous passages that Jesus is on trial here… sort of… in the court of public opinion. He is addressing what people are saying about him. BUT Jesus is also the judge. John 5:27 Jesus says: “And He [the Father] has given him [Jesus, the Son] authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” And then he points to a greater judgement day when all will hear Jesus’ voice and be judged.***
And now back in our passage for today then He says: THERE IS SOMEONE ELSE WHO TESTIFIES TO WHO I AM. Everyone immediately would have thought of John the Baptist, the guy who pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sin of the world.” John was tight with God. But John the Baptist isn’t who Jesus is talking about. Jesus doesn’t need a human being to be his witness, even though John was a good man who spoke the truth and was used by God. So let’s keep reading:
36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.
What work is Jesus doing? He’s performing miracle after miracle in front of thousands of people. And he is teaching about God’s expectations. All these things bare testimony to who Jesus is. In the next 8 verses, John Piper said that Jesus is bringing 6 accusations against the people. Let’s take a look, Verse 37:
37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.
Accusation #1: You don’t know God or what He wants, because you don’t believe HIM. Verse 39:
39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Accusation #2: You are looking for eternal life, but you don’t have it because you simply REFUSE to come to me. They reject what the scripture says and so reject Jesus and Life. You just don’t want me to be the way to life. Verse 41:
41 “I do not accept praise from men, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.
Accusation #3: You prefer the praise you get from people to the love of God. You want pats on the back from people more than you want the love of God. Verse 43:
43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.
Accusation #4: You want a Savior who looks and acts like you, instead of a Savior who points to the love and truth of God. The idea of coming in someone’s name, means to come under their authority and acting like they want you to act, serving like they want you to serve. So the issue here is: Jesus is constantly saying, “This is what the Father wants. This is what the Father values. I am only following HIS lead.” And they hate that. If Jesus had come saying, “I’m super important, you should all serve me.” Then the people would have loved him, because He would have been acting just like them. But because he is different from the religious leaders of their day, because HE opposes the way they act. Because he is selfless instead of selfish… the religious leaders reject Him. Verse 44:
44 How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?
Accusation #5: This is a rhetorical question with a clear implication. I’m just going to put this in my own words: “You cannot believe. You cannot trust God when you are in love with the praise of people. Because as long as you are getting those praises, you won’t make any effort to please God.” Verses 45-47:
45 But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believe Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
Accusation #6: You don’t believe Moses. Supposedly you do. But the irony is because of all this self-love, you are rejecting the very things that you claim to put your hope in. You may as well throw out the Bible because your faith is a lie and will ironically condemn you in the end.
(Pause) so what do we do with this? To be honost, when I first read the passage, I thought, “Hmm, there really isn’t anything there for me or for us.” But the more I studied it, the more I thought, “Whoa, this hits me right between the eyes.” It would be very easy to look at this passage and excuse ourselves from it. We could say, “Well that was them back then. It doesn’t really apply to me today.” Their issue was they were not really listening to the things that Jesus is saying. They dismissed what Jesus said.” Or maybe “Yeah, well, they were the bad guys and we are the good guys.” But the truth is, I think we all struggle to some extent with the issues that Jesus is addressing. We would be wise to try to understand the tensions we live with and how this passage of scripture points out our own weaknesses.
1. So lets start with me. I like for people to like me. I want to be accepted. I want good self-esteem. But look at these accusations:
Consider accusations #3 and #5:
Accu. #3: You prefer the praise you get from people to the love of God.
Accu. #5: You cannot trust God when you are in love with the praise of people.
Years ago, I worked in a church that was doing well. When I started, I was the only pastor… the sole pastor, not soul. But over time God blessed us. Things really started to go well. The church was growing. The number of people attending doubled and then tripled. We added discipleship programs. We built buildings. We added staff. That doesn’t have anything to do with this illustration, I just want you to think I’m great. Just kidding. Well, at that church, my work week was Sunday through Thursday. That way I had two days off (Friday and Saturday were my weekend). And as we added staff, we just kept the office hours the same. Secretaries worked Monday through Thursday. And all the pastoral staff worked Sunday through Thursday. The office was closed Fridays and Saturdays.
Somewhere along the way, this woman who was on the personnel committee came to me and said, “The office is closed on Fridays to give you two days off in a week. But now that we have multiple staff, can’t we have someone cover the office on Fridays. That way the office will be open Monday through Friday.” And I was about to say, “Sure, let’s give it a try,” when she added, “I’ve talked to all the senior adults, and they all agree with me.”
Wait a minute, what? You’ve talked to all the senior adults? Why? “To make sure that everyone agreed with me.” Now I’m thinking, “This is a red flag.” In that moment, I let it go. I mean, she was on the personnel committee anyway. I don’t see any problem with us trying. So we went ahead and did it. But I am telling you this, because I want you to think this through with me. At that church the Personnel committee was a three-person committee. All she needed was for one other person on the committee to agree with her. Then she could have just ordered me to do it; she would have had that authority. Why did she feel the need to poll the senior adults?
Two reasons. #1. She needed validation. She needed to hear from other people that she had a good idea. AND #2. She was trying to push me toward doing what she wanted. She was trying to exercise some control over the situation, and she figured the more people she had behind her, the more weight her argument would carry.
Why was that a red flag to me? Because what if I said, “No, that’s a terrible idea. That means there will always be some staff member who is off on a different day and on when no one else is. What if I rejected the idea because it wouldn’t have been productive… or for any reason. The problem that she could have created was either I’m forced to live with something bad or she has to go back to all those seniors and explain why we aren’t going to go through with what they all thought was a great idea.
This is a dysfunctional way of pursuing ideas. It represents seeking public validation as a way of finding truth… which is dangerous. Why? It leads to unrest in the body of Christ. It leads us toward validation by the masses, and away from pursuit of truth.
The Bible tells us 1 Corinthians 1:10
1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Ephesians 4:3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Proverbs 6:16 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
What God hates, what he detests is someone who causes division in the community. What He wants is for us to work toward unity.
Like that woman, we all like to be liked; we all need validation. We need love. There is nothing wrong with that; there is nothing wrong with a little self-esteem. The problem develops when we begin to love the praise of people more than the approval of God.
I’m talking about looking good instead of doing what is good. And I think we all live with that tension. It is so easy to rationalize things that are wrong if we have public approval or the approval of the people who are closest to us. The question is: What does God think of my behavior. He sees me all the time; He knows what is right and what is wrong. Does He believe that I am doing what I should? Does He believe you are doing what you should which leads us to our next point…
Accu. #1: You don’t know God or what He wants, because you don’t believe HIM.
Accu. #6: You don’t believe the Scripture.
The last point had more to do with where we get our approval, from people or from God. The tension here has to do with doing what God says is right in the scripture verses what other people say is right.
Exodus 24 tells about how God called Moses up onto a mountain top to give Moses the Law. And so Moses and several of Israel’s leaders went up to a higher elevation. And then God called Moses to come up the rest of the way on his own. The Bible says…
Exodus 24:15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
So while Moses is up on the mountain top getting the law from God… for forty days…. The leaders of Israel tell Aaron, who has been Moses’ right-hand man that Moses has been too long up there. Exodus 32: So they decided that Aaron should make them a golden calf to worship. And Aaron does what they ask. He makes this golden calf and they all declare that it wasn’t the Lord who freed them from Egypt, but it was this golden idol. Can you imagine? How quickly they forgot that it was God who set them free. And maybe there is a part of us that thinks, “They are so foolish for acting that way!” “How horrible that they forgot what God had done!” “How terrible that they went back to a way of living that was just like all the surrounding nations!”
But the truth is… we aren’t so different. I once had a conversation with a young man who grew up in church and he was telling me that he thought being actively gay was ok with God. The reason he believed that was that we are all rescued from our sin based on Faith. So he figured, even if God says living a homosexual lifestyle is wrong, He wouldn’t condemn this young man for doing it anyway. Let me tell you, I am certain he is wrong, because of other things that the Bible says which I will share with you in minute.
But… let me also say… I am not picking on gay people here. I once had a heterosexual man make a similar argument. This man was separated from his wife (not divorced, just living separately). And he was living with his girlfriend. He was struggling to understand why he shouldn’t be a leader in the church.
So here is why the gay argument and the “its ok to live in adultery” arguments don’t work. 1 John 3:4-10 says:
1 John 3:4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. 7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
We will all continue to make mistakes, but those who have been rescued by God will recognize the things that they do that break God’s law, and they will turn away from those things. If I was a murderer, then I will see what God has to say about murder, and I will realize it is wrong. And I won’t continue on as an active murderer. You see? I might slip and fall in a mud puddle, but John is saying, I won’t get down and wallow in the mud. Me staying out of the mud is not what rescues me, but my effort toward staying mud-free is evidence of what God is doing in my life. It is a sign that I love God and others and am trying to live the way He wants me to live.
Now, let’s talk about you. Are there things in your life that don’t measure up to scripture? Because we are all sinners, the answer is: Probably. There is a place in spiritual growth for understanding more and more who God has created us to be, and then to change our lives to get in line with His will. Don’t live like the Israelites acting just like the nations around them. Instead, realize you are called out to be His dearly loved children. Live like it. Reflect his character in every facet of your life.
Accusation #2: You simply REFUSE to come to me. You just don’t want to.
Accusation #4: You want a Savior who looks and acts like you.
These two accusations really are the toughest ones. Aren’t they? No one likes to be told “No.” Sometimes we simply want what we want. We want a savior who will act like us and do what we want Him to do. So we elevate our own ideas and opinions over HIS. We recreate God in our own images, rather than recognizing him as almighty God who has made us to be a reflection of His image.
Ephesians 2:10 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.