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Jesus and the Sycophants

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Jesus and the Sycophants

John 5:31-47


Last week we talked about the heated discussion that erupted between The Jews who were angry that Jesus had healed and done other work on the Sabbath and Jesus. The Jews got further enraged when Jesus answered them in a way in which He had acknowledged Himself to be equal to God.. Jesus told them that He was only doing what His Father has shown Him to do. The Father had given Jesus the authority to work on the Sabbath, to raise the dead, and to be their judge. As the Jews were standing in judgment over Jesus’ works, little did they realize the Jews were standing before the same one who would judge them at the last day.

It is evident from this passage that Jesus was no mere human being, although He was human. He was also more that some superhero with special powers. He was God the Son and, therefore, fully God. Yet Jesus never used this power to better Himself, but to serve others. When confronted with the cross before Pontius Pilate, He refused to use this authority to save Himself. He saved the world not through His super powers, but as a man who gave Himself willingly on a cross for us. How remarkable is this God whose power is demonstrated in such weakness. How great a love He must have for us to have allowed this to happen to Him!

Exposition of the Text

This week’s text picks up where we left off. It has the feeling of a courtroom. And a courtroom is where you expect to find plaintiffs, defendants, testimony, and a judge. All of these are present in this passage.

Jesus, who the Gospel of John clearly states can read the thoughts of people’s hearts beforehand. He must have anticipated that they were about to state that no one’s testimony about himself/herself is admissible. The Law of Moses did say that in capital cases, there had to be at least two or three witnesses in order to condemn the perpetrator to death. There is no Scriptural precept about testimony given in non-capital cases as far as the number of witnesses are concerned. But Jesus seems to allow the multiple witnesses idea into this discussion with the Jews, perhaps because the dialog with the Jews would later lead to Jesus’ execution.

Jesus allows that the uncorroborated testimony of someone’s claims is not valid in court. This is not to say that the testimony is false or a lie. Jesus’ claims are no less true, even if everyone in the entire world rejects them. Jesus as much as says this when He says that He has no need of any testimony from a human being, including John the Baptist. Jesus knew Who He was. He knew where He came from. He knew who had sent Him. So they idea of testimony isn’t here for Jesus sake.

The testimony of John is mentioned here because of God’s will to save sinners rather than some need on Jesus’ part for recognition. This was no ego trip for Jesus. John the Baptist in prison needed encouragement to be sure he had pointed out the right Messiah. He asked Jesus for additional evidence. But Jesus had all the evidence He needed. Jesus called John a “bright and shining lamp”. A lamp eventually burns out of fuel, and so John had burned out. But his testimony lives on. He had borne this witness of Christ not for Jesus’ sake, but our own. In John 20:31, the Apostle John mentions that the purpose of the book of John was for the reader “to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and by believing they might have eternal life through His name.” This is in keeping with Jesus’ statement here.

This is another strange twist on who’s what in the courtroom. At first glance, it would appear that Jesus was the defendant and the Jews the plaintiffs or accusers. But in another way, it is the Jews who are truly on trial here with Moses being the accuser and God the Judge. Jesus was acting as the “would be” defense attorney trying to convince the Jews to trust Him to handle their case. He would even die in their place to get them off the hook, if they would only believe!

Jesus calls John the Baptist’s testimony as His first proof for the sake of the Jews that they might believe. He reminds them of the delegation(s) they has sent, and Jesus confirms the validity of John’s testimony. And for a while they has been attracted to this light, but when John failed to live up to their expectations of a Messiah, they quickly lost interest in Him. No one at any rate tried to rescue him from Herod.

Jesus then calls the very works and signs He performed as a witness. We are reminded of Nicodemus’ words here that “no one does the works You do unless God be with Him.” These works were even a greater witness than John’s witness. And Jesus reminds them that these works were given Him by the Father to finish. And the greatest of these witnesses was yet to come when having finished the work of our salvation on the cross, Jesus cried “It is finished.” If they could not believe now, perhaps they might believe when they would see the Savior high and lifted up.

The Father testifies of Jesus. Even though no one has ever seen the fullness of His form nor heard His voice, the Father’s witness to the Son is demonstrated in the heart of the believer. This is the internal testimony to Jesus Christ. It is written later in the Gospel that no one is able to come to the Son unless the Father draw Him. This testimony, then, must be a gift. The Father did also testify of Jesus at John’s baptism, and would later give testimony to John Himself with James and Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration. Finally the Father responded to Jesus’ prayer later in the gospel saying “I have glorified it before, and I will glorify it again.” All heard the sound, only some understood the voice. This is part of the internal testimony. But this testimony was as meaningless as the external testimonies mentioned to the Jews. It is the gift of the Father’s grace that witnesses to us of the truth of Jesus Christ and that the Father has sent Him.

The witness of the Father in verse 37 is in what the Greek language calls the perfect tense, the same tense used to describe the testimony of John to Jesus. The meaning we need to understand here is that the testimony is eternally valid. The Father is not about to change His testimony about Jesus like many earthly witnesses change theirs. God is no perjurer (liar).

By the way, the Greek word for a courtroom witness is “martyr”. So many Christians paid for their testimony of Jesus in the following centuries that the Greek word has changed its meaning in English to one who dies for a cause.

In verse 38, Jesus reveals to the Jews that He knows they are rejecting this testimony, and by rejecting the one the Father has sent, they are rejecting the Father also. In verse 39, he affirms they are searching the Scriptures which is good, but they are blind to whom the Scriptures are pointing to. They were looking for Eternal Life in the Scriptures, but they felt that just knowing the Law was sufficient. What Jesus is saying is “Yes, there is eternal life in the Scriptures, not by merely knowing them, but by looking to the one whom the Scriptures are testifying. The One to whom the Scriptures testify of is Me.” The Scriptures become then the 4th witness to Christ, following the testimony of John the Baptist, Jesus’ works, and the testimony of the Father Himself.

Yet Jesus knows he has failed to win over the audience. What more witness could He give? If this wasn’t enough, then nothing would be good enough. He did works which no one had ever done before. The only witness left was the cross and resurrection. This would be Jesus’ final work. To reject this work would leave one eternally lost. How Jesus must have been grieved with them on this occasion. He clearly saw their unbelief. How He wanted them to come to Him to be saved, but they had no love for God in their heart. What interests they might have had in the Scriptures were selfish. They weren’t interested in the things of God. They just wanted eternal life or fire insurance.

Jesus’ testimony of the Jews is stunning. He strongly denies that the Jews love God at all. Rather they love themselves. Jesus reaffirms what he as done and would do was not for His own sake and self-satisfaction. But this is what motivated the Jews. They came to synagogue to soak up the praise of one another, and therefore deny God the honor which belongs to the only God, alone. Truly in this is the first commandment broken, “You shall have no other Gods before me. And to use God’s own Law and written word to puff themselves up was the worst idolatry. When God isn’t loved and put first and loved with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength for Who God is rather than what benefit might be received from either God or man for their service, this is a recipe for God’s judgment. The Jews were engaged in what was called “sycophancy.” A sycophant is one who shamelessly flatters with hisher tongue or even slanders in order to get what one wants. They have no interest in the object of their flattery or slander. They certainly do not love himher. The only thing that matters is getting what they want. And this is just what the Jews were doing with God.

The final witness cited is Moses. This witness is what would be called in courtroom situations a “hostile witness”. But the testimony of this witness wasn’t so much about Jesus as it was against the Jews themselves. This very Moses in whom they trusted would testify against them all at the final judgment. What a sad irony.

Application of the Text

The first thing that we must learn from the text is that God is no fool. Jesus knows what is going on inside us. He knows all of our motivations. In fact the Scripture affirms that God searches our heart. This same verb that Jesus uses in stating the Jews study of even the minutest details of the Scripture can be used to show that God knows not just the broad picture of what is going on inside our heart. He knows all of the intimate details including the ones we go to great length to hide from others. We must be reminded by St. Paul who says in Galatians; “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. As a man sows, so shall he reap.” God knows if we truly love Him. God can see right through insincerity.

Secondly, we need God much more than God needs us. God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are complete in themselves. They kept perfect communion within Themselves for eternity past. The prayer of Jesus in John 17 shows the intimacy of the Father and the Son before the world even was. This is why Jesus was not interested in the testimony or praise of men. He does not need them. We must realize that Jesus is motivated by the desire to save the lost. So what He does is for our benefit. And even when we respond in praise and worship to God, we are responding to God’s love for us. God already had everything He needs, and being thankful is something which in the long run benefits the believer.

In other words, we ought not to come to church with the attitude that God should be thankful that we made the effort to come to His house. God does not need this. Whereas God may be dismayed for the sinner who rejects Him, God is no less God if 10 or 10,000 come to His house. We ought to be in God’s house because we love Him and that we need to feel God’s love for us. We learned a few weeks ago that God is seeking those who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth. He does not need the vain flattery of people. But we sure do need God and His grace.

But let no one think that God can be impressed by anything other than our sincere coming to Him for grace and salvation. And let no one think that God will make any other way than the one He has already made. The Father’s testimony of His Son Jesus Christ stands true today as well.

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