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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 24: John 5:36

A Heavy Testimony

How do we, or did Jesus, prove that what he said was true, right, valid, in a disbelieving world? That was the problem Jesus had to face and the one that has troubled his people ever since.

The first thing Jesus said, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true” (5: 31) is really rather puzzling since 3 chapters later he seems to say the exact opposite. He is referring here to the Jewish requirement that witnesses always come in twos. They had no forensic methods at all: no finger prints, blood types or DNA analysis; so they had to rely exclusively on witnesses, to the events at dispute, if there were any direct witnesses, or to character references. On these criteria the unsupported testimony of Jesus to himself was not valid.

So he goes on to cite 3 other witnesses to himself: John the Baptist, the works he was doing and the scriptures right back to Moses. As I commented before John was listened to in this context more than Jesus because he, unlike Jesus, behaved in the way they expected a prophet to behave. He fitted in to their expectation of what a prophet might do and Jesus did not. By the next thing he said about the ‘works he was doing’ Jesus meant the ‘signs and wonders’ which he had discounted previously as a way to faith but were valid in this different context. He is quite brutal in his comment on the third thing when he says about their use of the scriptures, ‘you do not believe what Moses wrote’ presumably meaning that they had added so much to the original intentions of the words of Moses that their use of them was no longer valid.

All that is very fundamental but it is not easy to understand. Perhaps the best thing that has ever been written about this is what C. S. Lewis said in his book Mere Christianity many years ago. They are comments particularly well said in relation to this chapter where Jesus has said that God is his Father (not in the general sense in which we talk of God as our Father), that what he was doing is special because he copies the Father in all he does, that he has been given all judgment to do at the end of the age and that honour paid to him is honour given to the Father.

Lewis said, “I am writing here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus ‘I’m ready to accept him as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”

I cannot improve in any way on those comments so I will just leave you to think about them …

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