By Whose Authority?

John 5:31-47 

There is a story of a man who brought home his boss for dinner one evening. The man had told his family that his boss was a self-made man who had worked his way up through the ranks and succeeded in rising to the position of CEO of his company. What he didn’t tell his family was that his boss was arrogant and bossy and ruthless, but it didn’t take long to figure that out. The man’s little boy listened to the boss talk on about his accomplishments and finally asked, “My dad says you’re a self-made man. I want to know why you made yourself this way?”

We’re all a little suspicious of someone who thinks more highly of himself than we ought.

If you’ve ever searched for a job you have had to put together a resume. Resumes are tricky because you want to paint yourself in the best light without coming across as full of yourself. Imagine Jesus’ resume:

Name – Jesus of Nazareth

Position – part-time carpenter, full-time preacher

Qualifications – Son of God, Messiah, Lord of creation

References – My Father in Heaven.

It’s not surprising that the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ claims. They were pretty exalted.

There was a question that frequently came up in his encounters with the Jewish leadership: “By whose authority do you do these things?” They asked the question, not so much out of a desire to know the answer as to give themselves further justification to plot against him. They knew his answer – he had spoken clearly and without holding back – and every time he said the same thing they became more and more enraged and accused him of blasphemy: “How can you a mere man, claim to be God?”

Here in chapter 5, John begins relating a series of conflicts that continue for the next three years, each time escalating and each time ending with a similar conclusion: 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. (Jn 5:18)

Let’s read Jesus’ defense of who he is and why his claim is valid. Especially listen to the witnesses he calls to testify.

“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. 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. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 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. 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? But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (Jn 5:31-47)

Jesus knows that he is on trial before his accusers and he uses the language of a legal proceeding with testimony and witnesses. He begins by acknowledging that they shouldn’t just accept his word for his claims: “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” But, he says, I have other witnesses. And he begins with John, and that’s John the Baptist.

Back in chapter one we read of John’s testimony concerning Jesus: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (Jn 1:29, 33-34)

John described himself as a lamp who gives light – over and over he said, “I am not the light, I bear witness to the light.”

John was someone whose word carried a lot of weight with the Jewish people. They viewed him as a true prophet of God – the first in nearly four hundred years. Though he was fiery and accusatory, they recognized the authority with which he spoke. And so, his testimony concerning Jesus should have been convincing. In fact, Jesus tells them, “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.”

Jesus then calls three more witnesses quickly in succession: First, the miracles that he was doing, as he said, “testifies that the Father has sent me.” Back in chapter 3, Nicodemus, himself a Pharisee, had said, “No one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus is basically saying, if you won’t believe what I say, believe what I do. Weigh the evidence and then make your conclusion. Even his opponents had to admit that the miracles were something they could not explain, but in spite of the evidence, they remained dead-set in their opposition. The miracles only served to harden their hearts even further to the point that, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, instead of being won over once and for all they came to the conclusion that Jesus had to die because he was too dangerous to be allowed to live.

Second, he says, “And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.” Now, he admits that if they don’t want to believe in him, God himself can’t change their minds. But God has already testified at his baptism, in a voice from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The problem is, they wouldn’t recognize the voice of God, because they don’t really know God at all. If they knew God, they would immediately recognize Jesus for who he is. Instead, they reject him because they have first rejected God himself.

But then third, Jesus puts the ball in their court: You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

The OT Scriptures were their life blood – they thought that by obeying them perfectly that God would save them. They depended on their study and understanding of the Scriptures to be the foundation for their identity as God’s people.

And the irony is that their own beloved Scriptures were filled with prophecies about his coming – not just general prophecies, but specific details. The Pharisees had dedicated themselves to the preservation, defense and enforcement of the Scriptures. They knew the Scriptures, and if anybody should have recognized the Messiah when he arrived, it should have been them. But as Jesus said, “his word does not dwell in you.”

There is a huge difference between knowing the Scriptures and having the Word of God dwell in you. It’s the difference between being a religious person and being someone who has a relationship with God. I hope you spend time reading the Word of God every day. But I hope even more than that, that you let the author of the Word have a place in your life.

Even a bit more ironic is what Jesus says in verse 45: “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

Jesus says, “If you are unwilling to accept the testimony of John and the miracles and the Father and the Scriptures, there is nothing that I can say that will convince you.”

The tragedy is that they will accept anybody else’s testimony about themselves. A traveling rabbi or teacher shows up praising their wisdom and righteousness and telling them what they want to hear and they fall all over themselves to honor him and give him opportunities to speak and enlighten them. But Jesus comes along, telling them what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear and they brand him a heretic, a blasphemer and a lawbreaker.

I think the point of all this for us is that we’re not too much different in the way we look at Jesus’ authority. We’re thrilled that he’s the creator and sustainer of the universe, but we’re not sure we want him to be the lord of our lives. We’re glad that he is our Savior, but we won’t give him the authority to make demands in our lives. We want religion without the relationship.

The Pharisees were afraid that if Jesus was who he said he was, that was going to threaten their way of life – their position, their power, their prestige. If Jesus was more than simply the good man and the great teacher they wanted him to be then they would also have to acknowledge his authority in their lives, and they weren’t about to do that. They had worked hard to get to where they were, and they weren’t about to give that up.

You and I can be the same way. We enjoy coming to church, when it doesn’t interfere with other things. We like it that Jesus is here at the building waiting for us, and when we leave, we want him to wait here for us until the next time we come back. But Jesus intends to go with us and walk right beside us everywhere we go. He wants to have a say in what we do, the words we say, even the thoughts we think. And we want to say, “Jesus, by what authority do you do these things?” And Jesus replies, “By the authority you gave me when you asked me to be your Savior.”

In Acts 2, when Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem about Jesus, he said, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

If you would let Jesus be your Savior, you must also let him be your Lord. One does not come without the other.

In Phil 2, Paul wrote, Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 Jesus already rules from the throne in heaven. The question is, will you allow him to rule on the throne of your heart?