GROWING LIKE JESUS—BEFRIENDING NOT DEFENDING
John 5:31 [NIV] says, "31If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid." They had a rule about that. And Jesus was following their rules. Deuteronomy 19:15 [NIV] says, "15One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." Why? Because if you testify about yourself, your testimony is not valid. Which may explain why Jesus requires those of us knowing and growing like Jesus to speak truth in love confidentially and privately at first and if that doesn't work, according to Matthew 18:16, to take two or three witnesses and try again. Years later, near the end of the 1st century AD, this was obviously still a significant principal of communication for all Christ followers because Revelation 11:3-13 highlights the ongoing significance of having two witnesses establish truth.
But Jesus takes that principal in our passage today, one in which they were all very familiar with, and blows it up on them. Doubling it up. Not so everybody will know He's right. Which He is. But so they might choose to be in relationship with Him. Which they weren’t. Without skipping too far ahead or missing the first point I want to highlight today, let's quickly summarize the evidence Jesus cites in our passage today. To his own testimony, Jesus adds the testimony of John the Baptist [in vs.33], His own miraculous healings and works [vs.36], His heavenly Father [vs.37], and the Scriptures [vs.39] in effect doubling the minimum requirements needed to establish the truthfulness of something.
And while Jesus does list these factors of testimony, it never occurred to me until this week that the motivation for doing so wasn't so He could be right before them. I don't know how I missed this before. Jesus didn't double the minimum requirements of establishing truth in this passage just to be doubly right. He did so because, more than anything, he wanted to doubly sure He would be in relationship with people. Both with the people far from God. Like that ceremonially unclean and rejected paralytic of 38 years lying beside the pool of Bethesda he went out His way to heal on the Sabbath. And with people near to God. Like the group of Pharisees criticizing him. Doubting the validity of the things He said and did. Eventually even crucifying Him.
Which leads me to point number one this week: Jesus doesn't need to be defended. He cares twice as much about being in relationship with people. Whether they’re far from God or near to God. Even if they’re cursing his name. Why? Because He already knows who He is. He doesn’t need us to tell him. Verse 32 continues, "32There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid."
Some folks think Jesus was talking about John the Baptist here. Because verses 33-36 start talking about John the Baptist. But if you skip down to verse 37, you'll see that Jesus could have also had in mind his heavenly Father. For it was His words at his baptism in Matthew 3:17 that probably still rang in His ears. "This is my beloved Son, whom I love: with Him I am well pleased."
Maybe he was talking about both. Who cares. The point is: Jesus knew He was right. About anything and everything. Doctrine. Food. People. Healing. Sabbath. Whatever. But from my reading of the Gospels, it doesn't appear that He felt the need to defend himself about very many of those things in lengthy arguments or sermons. He spent more time healing than preaching. Why? Perhaps it’s because He knows the father loves him like crazy and is already well pleased with him. Even if others, with different ideas about all of the above, aren't. I think that's what He meant later in John 8:18 [NIV] when he would add these words, "18I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me."
So people didn’t always agree with him. And people won't always agree with you. So what? Does that mean we can just ignore them for 38 years? Pretend they don't exist? Or that they aren't important to Jesus? Why do we as Christians so often lavish love only on those who agree with us theologically? Politically? Or socially? Jesus didn't do that. He loved everyone the same. Those far and near. Whether they ever started treating him with respect. Whether they ever joined his movement. Which the Pharisees never did. In fact, it was their movement that eventually crucified Jesus. But instead of calling down fire and brimstone on them, you know what Jesus did for them? He forgave them! While He was hanging on the cross! He prayed to his Heavenly Father, who was well pleased with Him on that day too, "Father, forgive them, for they what?" They know not what they do.
Could it be, when we go out of our way to defend Jesus or our church or the things we teach, when our agenda is not to simply love and we’re there to also impart knowledge we deem more important than befriending those cursing His name, could it be that we're really just broadcasting that we know not what we do? That we haven't got a clue? That we may say we know Jesus. But are not living like Him? Is that possible? Yes or no?
I think it's possible. And that’s a sobering conclusion to come to. Which is one reason why in 2008 we're calling our new sermon series Growing Like Jesus. We talked a lot last year about Knowing Jesus. And we'll continue to do so. Because Jesus said in John 17:3 that eternal life depends on who you know. It's always been primarily about who you know. But as we pray and read and share what we're gleaning from the rest of the book of John in 2008, I'd like us to ask a different question of the text from week to week and that is this: What is God's Word telling us about growing like Jesus?
Are there areas of our journey with Jesus, personally or as a church family, that need to grow up? That need to come closer to the way Jesus actually lived his life? For example, if we doubled our efforts at being in relationship with people, whether they’re far or near, singing hymns or cursing His name, and just showed them consistent love with no hidden agendas, what difference would that make in our lives? In our church? In our community? Bottom line: Can we learn from how Jesus treats paralytics and Pharisees how we could better treat those far and near to God today? I believe we can. And one of the things we may begin to see when we do is that Jesus doesn't need to defended. Point number one. He wants to be befriended. Which is point number two.
But you don't even have to be Christian to realize this. History testifies to its validity. Remember the crusades? The single biggest reason why Muslims to this day cannot reconcile the prophetic ministry of Jesus with that of His professed followers? Or if that's too long ago, what about the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s, led in many cases by our very own mistaken Adventist brothers and sisters in Christ? Sure, these are extreme examples of what happens when we mistakenly think our job is to defend Jesus. But don’t we do the same thing on a smaller scale all the time with other things? Insisting on being right instead of doubling our efforts at being in relationship? Can you think of any examples we over-emphasize? If you can't, go to any Adventist boarding school. And ask the kids in there. They’ll tell you. Or if you’re really brave, ask your kids or grandkids.
Why do we spend so much time defending God? It's not our job! It never has been! Our job is to love God. Who first loved us. And to show that love to those He died to save. 1 John 4:20-21 [NIV] says, "20If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother."
Listen to what Jesus told another group of church people in Matthew 22:37-40 [NIV]. Much to their surprise, here he straight out tells them that everything they’ve insisted on being right about actually hinges not on those things. But upon a double dose of showing love. "37Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
How much of the Law and the Prophets are about a double dose of showing love? Just the Torah? Just the beginning of the Bible? Just the prophets. All! They didn’t have the New Testament written yet. If they did, they could’ve quoted Hebrews 6 as well. Which we’ll get to soon. But before we do, please don’t miss point number two. Jesus doesn't need to be defended. Point number one. He wants to be befriended. Point number two.
But it's really hard to befriend people far or near to God if all they hear us saying is how much we're right. About doctrine. Food. People. Whatever. That stuff is significant. But it's not eternally significant. And I think that's why Jesus cared twice as much about being in relationship with the very people who were crucifying him than He did about being right.
I think another reason He doubled up the dosage of love is because His faith matured. It gradually changed. Basically, it grew up. Just like He did. John 5:36 [NIV] say,. "36I 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."
Hebrews 5:7-9 [NIV] says it this way, "7During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him."
The funny thing is most Adventist Christians I hear who quote that text immediately apply it to the state of the dead or the significance of the Sabbath or some other doctrine we must all agree with. Which curiously, is not the context of that passage! If you don't believe me, listen to what the writer of Hebrews says about doctrine right after that verse we like to quote about Jesus learning to obey. Hebrews 5:11 and following through 6:1-3 says, "11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!"
See there you go Mike. We need milk. Gerber #1. Baby food. No you don’t! Unless you’re a baby! Babies drink milk. And actually enjoy Gerber #1. One time years ago, I tasted Joshua’s baby food and I must confess, it was rather tasty. I could eat some of those pears in a big bowl watching the game anyday. Or spread out on some piping hot rye toast in the morning. Delicious. But some of that other baby food was straight out nasty. I couldn’t believe the combination of carrots and foods my children would eat straight out the jar. But when you are a baby, you eat like a baby. And that’s okay. When you first came to Jesus, and accepted Him as your Lord and Savior. Believed the truth about yourself and about Him. And confessed your need of Him and desire to follow Him. Somebody hopefully taught you some doctrine. Some stuff you needed to know about who Jesus is and what He’s all about and the plans He has for you in the future. About His second coming. What happens when you die. Whatever. But being right about that stuff is not enough if you want to have a faith that grows up like Jesus.
To make sure we understand that, the writer of Hebrews then identifies in the next 10 verses what exactly is solid food in a grown up faith. Shockingly to some, it's not right doctrine. Hebrews 6:1-3 [NIV]. "1Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3And God permitting, we will do so."
So if growing up like Jesus is not primarily about learning and defending right doctrine, what is it about? Hebrews 6:10 has a good answer. It’s about shouting the Gospel with our lives. It’s about showing love. To God and to man. Look at Hebrews 6:10 [NIV]. "10God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." Which is a relationship answer. Right? About showing people the love of the Father.
THAT was Jesus’ job. According to 1 John 4:20. And that is our job too. According to Hebrews 6:10. Jesus says it a little differently in our passage today. In John 5:39 [NIV] He says, "39You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me." Jesus doesn't need to be defended nearly as much as He wants to be befriended.
Moving on, let’s skip down to verse 45 [NIV]. "45But do not think I will accuse you before the Father." Praise God!!! Jesus tells us the same thing He told that woman caught in adultery. Where are your accusers? Go and sin no more. Don't even think that I will accuse you before the Father. But then He continues, "Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set."
I must confess. I had to read this verse a few times. Did Jesus' words slap you upside the head too? Am I the only one around here who was taught growing up that our accuser is Satan? In fact, isn't that what Satan means? And what Revelation 12:10 straight out says? Yes, it does! So why does Jesus tell this churched crowd of Pharisees that their accuser is not Satan but Moses? The answer comes in the next verse. Verse 46 [NIV] says, "46If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?"
In other words, when the Pharisees rejected the friendship of Jesus, all they had left was their doctrine. Which is significant. But not eternally significant. It was ancient Jewish thought that a knowledge of the law would itself assure man of eternal life. That's why Hillel, a famous Jewish rabbi of the 1st century BC, is reported to have declared, "One who has acquired unto himself words of Torah, has acquired for himself the life of the world to come" [Mishnah Aboth 2.7, Soncino ed. Of the Talmud, p.17].
But in a stunning reversal, Jesus aware of that saying, says the opposite. Moses had served as an intercessor with God in behalf of Israel pleading with God in Exodus 32:7-14 to blot him out of the books if God blots them out. But by the words of Jesus, Moses the ultimate witness within Judaism is now transformed into the judge of it! Why? Because if you don’t know and grow close to Jesus. If you’re not interested in a double dose of showing the love of God. To people far and near to God. All you’ve got left is doctrine. A bunch of fundamental beliefs on a page somewhere in Maryland. Which, apparently to Jesus, his no different than a scroll in Jerusalem.
When will we ever learn that Jesus doesn't need to be defended? He wants to be befriended. Why? Because point number three:. Being right about doctrine is not enough. Being right with Jesus is. I believe that's what John 5, Hebrews 6, and Matthew 22 are all saying to us today. And if that’s true, the question is: what in 2008 are we going to do about it?
Jesus asked a similar question in verse 44. "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?” Where will we place our efforts in 2008? Will we place twice as much of our time, talents, and treasure into showing people far and near to God the love of God? Shouting the everlasting Gospel with our very lives? Or will we stay on Gerber #1? Drinking milk out of our sippie cups? Satisfied with knowing what is right?
My hope and prayer is that like Paul in Philippians 3:9-10 we'll choose to say, "10I want to know Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.” My hope and prayer is that together we’ll learn to shout the everlasting Gospel with our lives and not just our mouths. That we’ll double our efforts at showing others far and near the love of God. Because Great is His faithfulness.
Our Heavenly Father, thank you for taking the initiative. By sending Jesus. To show us your love. Would you please forgive us for the times we cared more about defending you than loving you? Would you help us learn to shout the Gospel with our lives and not just our mouths? We believe you can help us. And we are humbly asking for more of you today. At the beginning of a new year. This is our prayer, Amen.