“I say these things so that you may be saved.” (John 5:34)
Today, we come to the end of the conversation between Jesus and his enemies. This whole exchange was provoked by his healing of the man who had been lying beside the pool of Bethesda. And all this took place on the Sabbath.
Verse 18 tell us that our Lord was speaking to people who “were seeking all the more to kill him.” Verse 19 says, “Jesus said to them…” And what Jesus said to the people who were trying to kill him, runs all the way from verse 19 down to verse 47.
To get the feel of this you need to picture Jesus speaking to an angry crowd of demonstrators. This is a hostile environment. The people he speaks to have been offended by him and they have it in for him. They are not in sympathy with him.
We saw last week that to these people who are so antagonistic toward him, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
Every word Jesus speaks here is so that people who hate him may have eternal life. What does Jesus say so that they may have eternal life? Two things. First, Jesus tells them about himself. We looked at this last week: Our Lord gives a seven-fold description of how he is one with the Father. They are one in work, will, and love. They are one in authority, trust, and honor. And they are one in life.
So how are people who may be antagonistic toward God going to have eternal life? First, they need to know the truth about Jesus and second, they need to know the truth about themselves. And that is our focus today.
When Jesus tells the crowd of people who want to kill him the truth about themselves, it is not pretty. It is not easy to hear, and it must have taken immense courage for our Lord to speak as he did here.
John has already told us that Jesus is full of grace and truth. The truth is in what he says. The grace is in why he said it: “I say these things so that you may be saved” (5:34). When Jesus says the hardest things to you, it is because he seeks the best things for you.
The desire of Jesus, even for people who are openly hostile towards him, is that they should be saved. All that he says here is spoken to that end. Whenever you find something in the Bible that offends you, remember that God says these things so that you may be saved.
Before we get into what Jesus said, I want to point out something that will help us to connect with what he is saying. Notice these words of Jesus about John the Baptist: “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (John 5:35).
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus who prepared the way for him. He called people to confess their sins and repent. He pointed to Jesus and said “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world… This is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:29, 33).
Jesus says, “You were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (5:35). These people once had light! At one time they were open to the truth. They once found joy in the truth! But now they are angry with Jesus. They are hostile toward him and ready to be done with him.
This tells us something really important: It is possible for a person to lose the light they once had. Our Lord makes this very clear later in John’s gospel when he says, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you” (John 12:35). That’s what happened to these people. They once walked in the light, but the darkness has overtaken them.
I want to speak today, especially to all who may be in this position: You once had some interest in Christian faith. At one time you may have been involved in ministry of one sort or another. At one time you found joy in this, but that is no longer true of you. Today you are in a different place: There is a hardness in your heart, a hardness that you may not even be able to explain, or know how it got there. You may not understand it yourself.
I want you to know the great love Jesus Christ has for you today. He wants you to be saved. He wants to bring you from that awful state of spiritual death where the judgment of God is before you, to the new life in which the judgment of God is behind you. And because he loves you, he speaks the truth to you. That truth may not be easy for you to hear, but it is the truth that can set you free.
How then can a person be saved? Two headings today: 1. Face the truth about yourself. 2. Find the truth about Jesus
(A 7-Part Diagnosis of a Hard Heart)
“The Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen…” (John 5:37).
This must have been really hard for these folks to hear. These were people who came to worship and were involved in ministry, and Jesus says to them: “You do not know God. Everybody thinks you know God, but despite all that you say about God, the truth is that you don’t know him.”
Here is where you need to begin when your heart is hard and you want to face the truth about yourself. It is possible to call yourself a Christian when the truth is that you really do not know God. So stop claiming what’s not true. Face up to the reality that you are actually far from God and that left to yourself you have no hope of finding him. Thank God you are not left to yourself. Jesus is reaching out to you even now.
“You do not have his word abiding in you…” (John 5:38)
These leaders had the Word of God in the Old Testament Scriptures. They were very familiar with the Bible. They were able to argue from the Bible.
Think about a person who has been in a church where the Bible is preached, a person who has heard many sermons that are faithful to the Bible. They have heard the truth, but Jesus says, “God’s Word does not abide in you.”
You hear the truth, but when it touches you, it bounces off you like a billiard ball. The Word of God does not go in you. You hear it but it does not remain with you. No lasting impression is made. No lasting change results.
iii. You do not believe
“You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” (John 5:38)
Notice the word ‘for.’ Why is it that God’s Word does not abide in you? Because you do not believe the one whom he has sent.
Why is it that some people who profess to be Christians never seem to grow? They go to Bible studies. They get involved in ministry. They have Christian friends. But the Word does not seem to bear fruit in their lives. Why is that? Jesus says, “[It is because] you do not believe the one whom he has sent” (5:38).
Turn that around: If you were to really start believing and trusting in Jesus. If you were to start looking to him to bring change in your life, and you were to start believing that he can and that he will, then the Word of God that has been bouncing off you without making any impression would start to go in. It would remain in you. It would abide in you and it would begin to change your life.
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)
Jesus is saying to people who once had light and joy in the truth, but who now have an inner folding of the arms: “This is why you have lost the light and the joy that you had: You are determined not to come to me!” What kept them from coming to Jesus?
They were hung up on the fact that Jesus had healed this man on the Sabbath. Really? Lose the light and the joy that you once had over that? Maybe there is something in your life that has caused you to be offended by Jesus. Is it really worth all that you are losing now and all that you will lose in the future to stay offended by Jesus?
John the Baptist had a marvelous ministry. Jesus said on one occasion that there was none greater. But when he faced something really hard in his life, John the Baptist, who had proclaimed Jesus so wonderfully to others, began to have doubts himself. Dark times can come to God’s best servants. So don’t be surprised when they come.
John sent messengers to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mat. 11:3). Do you remember the message Jesus sent back? “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me”(Mat. 11:6).
The most miserable place in life is when you are holding onto a grievance against Jesus. If you take offense at Jesus, you will lose the light and joy that you had. Whatever he has allowed in your life, being in a stand-off with him will only make your pain greater.
Jesus says, “You refuse to come to me that you may have life.” You could have life! There is a peace, a strength, a joy that could be yours, but it’s not yours and the reason it’s not yours is that you have taken offense at me, and so you refuse to come to me.
“I know that you do not have the love of God within you.” (John 5:42)
This is why your heart is so hard. You may congratulate yourself on all kinds of good things that you do, but you don’t have the first thing that God requires of you. You do not have the love of God in you. If you did, your heart would not be hard.
“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)
Jesus says, “You receive glory from one another.” What matters to you is what other people think. It’s all about the impression you make. You are looking for your “well done” in the wrong place. You want to find it in people being impressed with you. How can you believe, if that’s how it is with you? That’s what Jesus is saying.
Notice the emotion of Jesus here: We all love the stories where Jesus wonderfully reaches a lost person. His masterful leading of Nicodemus, who eventually came to faith in Jesus. His winsome winning of the woman at the well, whose testimony led many people in her home town to believe. And we say, “Here’s how you should do evangelism!” But some people were not won… even by the sustained witness of the Son of God himself!
You may have a loved one who is far from God, whose heart is hard. Their hostility toward Jesus overflows in hostility towards you. You feel like you are walking on egg shells with them. And you find yourself thinking, If only I could find the right words to say that would break through this hardness of heart. But you never seem to find the right words. Maybe if they read this book or heard that sermon… But nothing gets through to them.
The Son of God has been there. You can say to him, “Jesus, you know what this is like! You know how painful it is when someone you love has a hard heart. You have been there in your perfect life. Please help me because I am here right now in my very imperfect life.”
vii. Your hope is misplaced
“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.” (John 5:45)
Here are people who have set their own hope on their own virtue. Their hope is that they can live a life that will be good enough for God. But that hope is misplaced.
A successful man came to Jesus on one occasion and asked him, “What must I do to have eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Then after Jesus recounted the commandments, the man said, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Here was a man whose hope was set on Moses. His hope was that he had kept all of the commandments. But the truth was that he had kept none of the commandments. He hadn’t even kept the first command: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). His life was about himself. He was his own god. His hope was misplaced.
So let’s put together what Jesus is saying here to these people whose hearts are hard:
You once had light. You once had joy. But you have lost the light and joy that you had. And here’s where you are now: You don’t know God. The truth is not in you. You don’t believe.
You have no desire to come to me. You don’t love God. You seek the wrong kind of glory. Your hope is completely and utterly misplaced. And, I say this so that you should be saved!
I want you to know God. I want the truth to abide in you. I want you to believe in me and come to me. I want you to have the love of God in your heart. I want you to share the glory that comes from God alone. And I want you to have a hope that can never be shaken!
Only a Savior who loves would speak like this to his enemies! When they took offense at him, Jesus could easily have walked away and ignored them. There were other times when that happened. When Jesus stood before King Herod, he did not speak a single word. Herod had rejected the truth to the point where Christ had no further word for him. That’s devastating! But there is hope for these hard-hearted people in John 5. Jesus was speaking to them and Jesus is speaking to us today through his word in John 5.
So what are we to do? At this point, it would be very easy for a preacher to say what everyone would expect: “Repent and believe.” But Jesus is not saying that here. So let me, in these last moments, lay out the path that Jesus prescribes for hard hearts.
It is very striking to me that Jesus keeps pointing to the Scriptures:
God has spoken in the Scripture
“You do not have his word abiding in you…” (John 5:38)
Scripture is God’s Word. It is not our word about God, it is God’s word to us. This is how you come to know God. And if you really come to know him, you will come to love him. And if you love him, you will come to Christ who he has sent. You will believe in him, and then your hope will be well placed and you will live to seek his glory!
The whole of Scripture points to Jesus Christ
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39)
“For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).
These are marvelous statements from our Lord himself about how the whole of Scripture is about him. The Scriptures “bear witness about me” (5:39). Moses “wrote of me” (5:46)!
There’s a warning here about the dangers of a diminished view of Scripture that that I don’t want you to miss. Many people who profess to be Christians would say that they believe in the Bible, but they “don’t buy all that stuff about inerrancy.” So what happens is that people start chipping away at the Bible. They see it as a book that contains many wonderful things, especially about Jesus, but they do not receive it as the very word of God.
Notice what Jesus says here: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me.” If you lose confidence in the Old Testament, it won’t be long before you lose confidence in Jesus as well.
“Moses wrote about me! If you don’t believe Moses, you won’t believe me!” If you come to the Bible as a critic, the Bible will be a closed book to you. Your heart will be as hard at the end as it was at the beginning.
If you are going to move beyond hardness of heart, you have to humble yourself before God, and open his Word with an honest recognition of your true position before him: God, I don’t even know you, so I need you to make yourself known to me through your Word. Lord, the truth is not in me – I need you to teach me through your Word. Lord, I do not have faith – I need you to give me faith through your Word. Lord, the inclination of my heart is to turn from you – create a new desire in me through your Word.
Lord, I do not have your love in my heart. Show me the love of Christ and pour out that love into my heart by your Holy Spirit. Lord, I have been seeking the wrong kind of glory, so create within me a new heart that seeks the glory that comes from you alone. Lord, I have put my hope in all the wrong places, lead me to a hope that will not be put to shame.
Face the truth about yourself. Find the truth about Jesus. The Savior says these things so that you may be saved.
© Colin S. Smith
Permissions: You have permission and are encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format you choose, as long as you do not alter or change the wording in any way and do not charge a fee (beyond the cost of reproducing these materials). For posting on the web, a link to this document on our website (www.UnlockingtheBible.org) is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Unlocking the Bible, 1-866-865-6253.
Please include this statement on every copy distributed:
By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org