Tonight our subject is the Bible. The Bible is still a world best-seller. But there is a problem. For all its popularity the Bible is too often ignored. In the West you are now getting churches that ignore the Bible and preachers that don't preach from the Bible. But let me just say, by way of introduction something about our own convictions at this church. This church was founded in 1861 to be "a central point for the maintenance and promulgation of sound scriptural [or biblical] and evangelical truth in a large and populous town."
So we believe, as our founders did, that the Bible is fundamental. And our founders believed, as we still do, Article XX of the Church of England that says the Bible is "God's Word written". That phrase means that while the Bible is a human book - in fact, a library of books - at the same time it is as divine book. So, on the one hand, you study the Bible like any other human book. You find out what was the original meaning of the writer. And if it is history, you treat it as history. If it is poetry, you treat it as poetry. If it is wisdom literature, you treat it as wisdom literature and so on. But, on the other hand, you also read it like you read no other book in the world. That is because through these various writers and various styles almighty God, by his Holy Spirit, is speaking to you and me in the 21st century. That is why our title tonight is THE BIBLE SPEAKS TODAY.
And you must interpret the Bible so that one part of the Bible - the Old Testament, say, is not contradicting the New, and vice a versa. Article XX says you must not, "so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another." Yes, there will be some things you don't understand about the Bible. Well, put them on the shelf. Don't contradict the Bible. Just wait. Join a Christianity Explored group or ask one of us on the staff. We may be able to help. But in the meantime remember those words of Mark Twain: "It is not the things in the Bible that I don't understand that trouble me, but the things I do understand!"
The Bible is clear enough over the essentials. But some people like Mark Twain realize that there is a cost in obeying the Bible.
We have just passed the anniversary of the death of William Tyndale - it was on 6 October. For in October of 1536 he was strangled and burnt at the stake for translating the Bible into the English language. That was a supreme cost. But eternity, I am sure, will show that it was worth that cost. For through his work of translating the Bible, Tyndale got the Bible out into the world of his day and helped reform the church and transform the world. How we need to get the Bible out once again into the modern world!
Well, will you now please turn to John 5.31-47 - our Bible reading for tonight.These verses really answer two questions, "Why believe in Jesus?" and "Why do people not believe in Jesus?". So they are my two headings for tonight. First, WHY BELIEVE IN JESUS? and, secondly, WHY DO PEOPLE NOT BELIEVE IN JESUS?
I want to spend most time on that first question ... WHY BELIEVE IN JESUS? So John 5.31-47. Let me put our passage into context. Jesus had just performed an amazing miracle in Jerusalem. A man had been disabled and lying paralysed for thirty-eight years. But the religious people of the day didn't like Jesus doing this, because this healing was on the Sabbath - the Jewish day of rest. Look down to verses 16-18:
"So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." 18 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."
The Jews were horrified at these claims to being equal with God, or implied claims. So how does Jesus respond? Well, in verses 19-30 he speaks about judgment. Oh, yes. This world will not last for ever. There will be a day of reckoning. So it is vital you sort out now what you think of Jesus - is he or is he not the divine Son of God? But his main response is in verses 31-47. This is how Jesus deals with people who are basically asking the question, "why on earth should we believe his claims?" And, this is where you need to concentrate. For Jesus doesn't treat these questions about God and human existence and history and eternity as you might treat questions of the truth in mathematics or logic. That is where to arrive at the truth you sit down on your own and just think from first principles.
No, Jesus treats these questions more like the way you arrive at the truth in a court of law. There you need more than your own intelligence. You need evidence from outside. You need witnesses. And at the end of the day, you weigh the evidence and reach a verdict. That is what you have to do with this question about Jesus Christ and his claim to be the divine son of God. Nor was this unreasonable. The Jews understood this way of reaching the truth. The Jews had their courts of law. That weren't naive people who believed the first things people said. They knew how to sift fact from fiction. And in their courts they had a basic principle. It is mentioned several times in the Bible. Paul cites it in 2 Cor 13.1:
"Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."
So Jesus in answering this question about himself basically is saying "let's summon some witnesses." What then? Well, first, he says let's exclude some witnesses, even though the witnesses are good. He is wanting only watertight witnesses. So he eliminates his own witness or testimony. Look at verse 31:
"If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.
Jesus is saying here, "don't believe me just because of my claims." Jesus knew that all sorts of weird people make claims. So, for the moment, he says, exclude my testimony. Then he says, let's exclude the witness or testimony of John the Baptist. Look at verses 33 - 35:
"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. "
If they accept John's testimony, fine - for Jesus knew that what John said was true. But Jesus is not relying on such testimony - verse 34:
"Not that I accept human testimony."
You see, even the best of religious leaders make mistakes and they are fallible. And you only have to have a religious leader make one mistake, and their enemies have a field day. So Jesus says, "let's exclude all human testimony as well as my own testimony". Well, with that out of the way, he then is positive and presents the evidence he is wanting his hearers to consider. And there are two pieces of evidence that he submits. And the first piece of evidence is there in verse 36. Look at verse 36:
"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."
So the first testimony that Jesus says you must come to grips with is his work. Literally in the original that is plural - it is "the very works that the Father has given me to finish." What were his works? Well, his works cover a number of things. Let me mention two.
First, there were his miracles - like the healing of this man earlier in chapter 5. And Jesus miracles were remarkable. People today are often embarrassed by these miracles. They assume they must be made-up stories that are OK for Sunday School children but not for grown-ups. But you can't say that. When you compare the miracles of Jesus with the reports of other so called miracle workers, Jesus miracles are very different.
Plutarch was a priest of the Greek god, Apollo, and an exact contemporary of Mark. In one of his works Plutarch tells about a miracle of the Greek general Pyrrhus. He once was involved in a sacrifice, when suddenly the severed heads of the oxen that had been killed stuck out their tongues and began to lick up their own blood. Plutarch describes that as a "great sign". It is impossible that that sort of thing could have been one of the "signs" of Jesus. The miracles of Jesus are not just bizarre conjuring tricks. No! They reveal his love and his compassion. And these miracles were very public. So Jesus' enemies could not deny them. They had to say that they were the result of Satanic power. And of course there was the Resurrection - the miracle of miracles. Matthew Arnold, the English poet, called it "the best attested fact in history". Well, perhaps not of modern history. But in terms of ancient history it is remarkably well witnessed.
But, secondly, the supreme work of Jesus was not his miracles but his death. Jesus came into this world to save men and women from their sins. They disobey God and reject Jesus Christ, the divine Son and the consequences are dire. But on the cross of Calvary, Christ died to bear the guilt and punishment you and I deserve for that sin. Just before he died after that awful crucifixion, Jesus was given a drink and he said these words, "It is finished". We are then told that "With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." - John 19.30. So that was the great work the Father had given Jesus to finish - his death for us on the cross. And that together with his miracles is all part of the evidence that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God.
But by themselves actions are not enough. Miracles will not, by themselves persuade people. The crucifixion of one religious leader, by itself, will not persuade many people. It was a terrible crucifixion, but crucifixion was all too common at the time of Jesus. Those actions are absolutely necessary as evidence but they are not sufficient. So Jesus then submitted the second testimony that you must come to grips with if you want to answer the question, why believe in Jesus. Look at verses 37-39:
"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."
Jesus is saying here that the Scriptures are the second great witness. The Scriptures, verse 39, "testify about me". This is the Father's direct testimony to Jesus -"the Father has himself testified concerning me". He is saying that God's testimony that is accessible to everyone is not through some words from the sky nor from some vision. He says "You have never heard his voice nor seen his form" (v 37) No! God's direct testimony is through the Scriptures or the Bible. But these Jews, although they were "diligently" studying the Scriptures (verse 38), they were missing its whole meaning. They failed to see, as Jesus says in the last part of verse 39, that ...
" ... these are the Scriptures that testify about me."
The great purpose of the Bible is to reveal God's purposes and supremely in his purposes in Jesus Christ. Now Jesus, of course, is here talking about the Old Testament that points to him in so many different ways. Look at verse 46:
"Moses [said Jesus] ... wrote about me."
Moses recorded God's promise of a great coming prophet that was fulfilled by Jesus. And Moses' whole legal and sacrificial system highlights human sinfulness and disobedience and makes Christ and his cross so necessary. Then the Prophets prophesied of Jesus. Isaiah 53 is an amazing prophesy of the crucifixion. The Prophets also speak of a coming Messiah who will be a king of David's line. He is also "the son of man coming in the clouds of heaven" whom all people will serve. Then there is the divine wisdom that you read about in the wisdom literature. And there is more that all witnesses to him. When you come to the New Testament it is obvious that it is about Jesus Christ. And the Bible is so important as a witness because it gives those works of Jesus a meaning.
God revealed himself in Old Testament times to his people through his actions of blessing and judgment. But he then sent prophets to record and explain what was happening when they suffered, for example, their defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. The prophets said it was God's judgment for the sins of the people. In the same way in New Testament times you needed the apostles to record and explain the meaning of the cross for us, namely that it is God's judgment on our sins but borne by Christ in our place so that we might be free. But do you then see what Jesus is doing in claiming that the Scriptures are a testimony to him? He himself is giving his testimony to the Scriptures. et me explain and make three observations.
First, Jesus is claiming that the Bible is a divine book. He has just said that John's testimony was human. But the Scriptures he says are his Father's testimony - yes, through human writers but miraculously inspired by the Holy Spirit.
So, secondly, he naturally submitted to its authority. He shaped his mission by the Bible. He obeyed its moral law when tempted by Satan. He argued from it with the Jews. He criticized the Pharisees for adding their traditions to it and the Sadducees for subtracting the miraculous from it. And Jesus never disagreed with the doctrinal or ethical teaching of the Old Testament. Yes he disagreed with religious teachers who misinterpreted the Old Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, several times, "You have heard so and so, but I tell you something else." For example,
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate you enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Mat 5.44).
The point was this: what people had heard was a wrong interpretation of the Old Testament. Nowhere does it say, "hate your enemy." That was a wrong interpretation of the Old Testament message. No! Jesus endorsed the Old Testament and so must we.
Then, thirdly, Jesus made provision for what we know as our New Testament. We have said that there were prophets in the Old Testament who were called and sent to record and explain what God was doing. In the same way Jesus called and sent apostles (apostle, literally means a "sent" one) to record and explain what he had done. They had his divine authority. So again, although they were all human writers, what they wrote in what we now call the New Testament had divine authority. The apostles were special. The early Christians just after the death of the last apostles were very aware of this. So Bishop Ignatius of Antioch who was martyred about AD 115 wrote in his letter to the Romans, "I do not command you like Peter and Paul did. They were apostles."
The early church knew the difference between their own leaders and the apostles. So when it came to fix the canon of the New Testament in the 3rd century AD and to decide on a disputed book as to whether it should be in the Bible or not, the crucial question was this: "is it apostolic?" "was it endorsed by an apostle?" Christ's apostles had a unique authority; and we need to submit to their authority. And where do you find their teaching? Answer in the New Testament. The New Testament is the apostolic book. So the Scriptures, or the Bible, has two sections - with Jesus in the middle (so to speak). And both the two testaments, the old and the new witness to him. So why believe in Jesus? Because of his works and because of the Bible.
So finally, and briefly, WHY DO PEOPLE NOT BELIEVE IN JESUS?
Jesus gives four reasons. First, look at verses 38 - 40:
"God's word does not dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent ... These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life."
Jesus is saying it is not a matter ultimately of the intellect but of the will that people do not believe in him. They "refuse", he says, to come to me.
Secondly, he is saying it is also a matter of the heart. Look at verse 42. Jesus said to these Jews:
"I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts."
People just prefer to go their own way.
Thirdly, Jesus is saying it is because they are irrational. Look at verse 43:
"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."
These people will accept blindly the claims of false teachers who have no credentials what ever. It has been well said that when you cease to believe in the triune God of the Bible you don't believe in nothing, you believe in anything!
And, finally, Jesus is saying that people do not believe in him because of what others will think of them. They want to be thought well of by their peer group. Look at 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?"
They were putting their friends before God. Who is doing that tonight? If you are, I pray that the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to the truth as it is, and only is, in Jesus; and, then, that as the Holy Spirit enables you to trust in him, the word of God will "dwell in you" (v 38).