Gospel of John Sunday School | Week 17


Notes on John 5:31-47

For various and sundry reasons, people have the tendency to focus on the “less important” things. Like complaining about the color of the leather seats in a free car or making more to do about an athlete’s facial hair than his performance, it is possible for anyone to miss the point. That isn’t to say that the peripheral details aren’t important; just that they must be understood in the context of a greater situation.

Jesus’ ministry is a constant reminder of this principle. Throughout the gospel narratives, in the early church, and even today, the main point of His time on earth is sometimes lost in the shuffle of the sheer magnitude of miracles, teachings, and actions. In John chapter 5, Jesus Himself explains how the glory of God is His focus. The purpose of His ministry is glorifying the Father; the chief channel being redeeming a people for His glory.

In verses 31-47, Jesus illustrates this point in a number of ways. He frames His defense in the context of witness. A witness corroborates and authenticates. In the first century, a witness was necessary to establish credibility. That being said, the witness had to have integrity themselves. The Jewish authorities sought and received this kind of credibility from one another (34, 41-44). Jesus pointed out this flaw, and then showed Who bore witness of Him.

Returning to the original point: periphery elements can be vitally important, but they are not primary. Jesus illustrates this principle when He “throws out” the witnesses of John the Baptist (33-35), Jesus’ own miracles (36), and even the Old Testament (39). It must be understood that all three of these are vitally important. However, none are God. Prophets of God, works of God, and the words of God are not equal to God. Making any of those primary, that is ascribing to them the glory only due God, is ignorance at best and blasphemous at worst.

Jesus obviously has genuine love for John the Baptist, devotion to His ministry, and the proper perspective towards the scripture. What trumps all of those is God Himself. Jesus derives His witness from God (32, 37, 43).

Much can be derived from this passage. Jesus is sometimes scathing of the religious establishment for their mishandling of truth (37-47). In the same verses He explains something of His role in judgment. What application is the most profound, in light of contemplating issues of primacy, is that we never think too much of ourselves. If John the Baptist had to defer to Jesus, so must we. If the Pharisees, who knew the scriptures inside and out, missed the point, we have to be humble enough to acknowledge that we can also miss the point.

Jesus sought to glorify the Father. Our goal in devotion, ministry, and life ought to be the same. We are simple vessels in the hands of the great Potter. The most beautiful and finely crafted of us are still just pots ordained for a purpose. Any piece of earthenware that elevates itself above other pots, or the Potter Himself, is deluded and destined for cracks. Humility was modeled in the life of Christ, and the kind of humility is what we ought to strive for through the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 9, Philippians 2)

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