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The Greatest WitnessFebruary 10, 2013
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First in series on “Affirmations and Denials”
The law of God had strict regulations about the number of witnesses that were needed to determine Truth. Moses wrote these words in Deuteronomy 19:15, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses shall a charge be established.” The verification of Truth was tied to the number, the integrity, and the consistency of the witnesses. And in this passage where the issue is not a crime that has been committed but a charge that has been leveled against Jesus by the religious leaders about whether or not He really is the Messiah, He brings out three witnesses.
Now there are three things about what Jesus is doing here that must be understood in order to understand the real point and the penetrating power of this passage. The first concerns the word witness. It can be used either as a verb, “I witness or I bear witness,” or it can be used as a noun, “I am a witness.” It is used 47 times in the Gospel of John and never as a noun. It is always used as a verb and always used in an active sense. Warren Wiersbe points out that it is always used in John of being so sold out and surrendered to something or someone that we will die for that thing or person because we have already died to everything else. It is used in John in other words in its purest sense of one who is a martyr having died to all else because he or she is so dominated by the one thing that is necessary above all else. This takes us to the second issue here. One of the central concerns of John 4 is true and genuine worship and Jesus says that in whatever place it happens, true and genuine worship is in Spirit and Truth. So, He begs us to ask what the Truth is and where it is found and how it is that the Holy Spirit takes us to the Truth because whatever it is and wherever it is found, that becomes the foundation and focus for all genuine worship. And then in chapter six the issue at one level is where real food and real life come from and at another and much deeper level the issue is the reasons for following Jesus. And the answer of chapter six is that most follow Him to find life in what He can give to us and do for us but those who have truly been found by Him follow Him. Life is not found in what He can give and do but in Him. We treasure Him. But how do we get to the place that we see Him this way and love Him this way and follow Him this way? By bringing our lives under the authority of THE GREATEST WITNESS. That brings us to the third thing that we must have in place before we plunge into this passage: there are three witnesses here that move from great to greater to greatest. This whole passage is taking us toward what is the greatest witness of all without which we do not know who Jesus is and without our submission to it will neither know Him nor love Him nor serve Him.
Look with me now at the three witnesses. The great witness is John the Baptist. He is the forerunner. He connects what has been with what is and will be. He represents the era of the law and the prophets and points beyond Himself to the One for whom they waited and of whom they preached. Jesus comes to this testimony about the great witness out of His own testimony that He does nothing of His own authority; He is to do the will of the Father. The Holy Spirit who came and settled on Him to whom John testified, “the one upon whom you see the Spirit come and remain, He is the One.” John was a great witness. Jesus calls Him what I would hope every believer in this room would want to be called, “a burning and shining lamp.” He was not the light but He came to bear witness to the light. He was a great witness.
I read this week of the death of the former mayor of New York City Ed Koch and how he had all things Jewish already written to be engraved on his grave marker. The tragic irony of that is not only that he was buried in an Episcopal cemetery near Wall Street but that there was nothing bibilcially, theologically, or even culturally Jewish about Him. That is tragic, but so is the reality that you could be here today a Christian in name but nothing at all in the way you live your life. The greatest harm in all of history that has been done and continues to be done in the witness to Jesus is not from pagan atheists but from professing Christians whose witness to and for Jesus goes nowhere beyond the words we speak and the worship in which we engage on a Sunday morning in a church somewhere. Jesus is looking for a great witness like John who will be a burning and shining lamp for Him. Will you be that one?
But there is a greater witness than John. Look at verse 36. This is the witness of God the Father through the works of the Son. Jesus has already told us that He does nothing except what the Father tells Him to do and He now tells us that this is a greater witness than the witness of John. God is at work in and through Jesus to do the work that must be done in order for God to be glorified both in His Holy Justice and Loving Compassion, and in order for sinners of every age to be saved. What God is doing in Jesus is what God had ordained to do to vindicate His Justice and to gain victory over sin and death. And that work is for Jesus to fulfill all the requirements of righteousness according to the law of God and then as the perfect sacrifice to offer Himself to God for sinners. And Jesus not many days from this one here will pray that He has finished the work that God had sent Him to do and will cry from the cross, “it is finished.” That is a greater witness than the witness of John but these religious people do not see it. Religious people never see it. Jesus speaks to them in verses 37-38: they do not hear His voice even though He has spoken, they do not see His form even though He is right in front of them, they do not have His word in them because they do not believe in the One whom God has sent and the evidence against them is their failure to receive and respond to the greatest witness.
Every person hearing Jesus that day long ago and those who first read the words of John’s Gospel would know when they read, “greater” in verse 36 meant that what came before it was to be considered great and what came after it was to be considered the greatest witness of all. And what is it? THE SCRIPTURES. And their greatness is that it is from them and through them and by them that we are brought to Jesus, and it is when we refuse to see the greatness of Scripture by reducing them to something less or other than God says that the Jesus we see and know is someone and something other than the Jesus who comes clearly to us through the Bible. We do not see Him clearly at all until we come to Him through our acknowledgement of and submission to the absolute authority of the Bible as the greatest witness to God in His glory and to Jesus as the only one who brings us to God.
The Bible is the greatest witness because God has brought it into being to bring us to Jesus. The heart and soul of everything in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is to bring us to Jesus and to bring us under His Lordship so as to Love Him and serve Him and find life in Him. Jesus knew this. It is why when He joined those two grieving followers of His walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus that He simply showed them from the Scriptures beginning with Moses and moving through all the prophets how everything in it is all about Him. And they had not yet seen it or had not yet been seized by it. Peter knew this about the Bible. Listen to how He puts it in 2 Peter 1:16-21. Or look again with me at what Paul says to Timothy about the penetrating power and life giving purpose of the Bible, 2 Timothy 3:14-16. And beyond this how do we read texts like Isaiah 2 and 7 and 9 and 53 and Psalm 2 and 118 and I could go on and on all of them written one thousand years or more before the coming of Jesus and all of them clearly and completely fulfilled in His coming. This book is the greatest witness that we have ever had or will ever have to who God is in Christ and what God desires from us in the surrender and submission of our lives to Christ. This is why the foundation and focus for any true Christian church is found in what we say and how we live based upon what we say about the Bible. We cannot worship God properly apart from our worship being regulated by His Word. We have no hope for right order and organization of the church without the Bible and we dare not compromise what it teaches. We have no way of knowing what work we are to do or witness we are to give apart from the Bible. We cannot even manage to know what music to sing apart from the Bible or know how to do evangelism or education apart from the Bible. Edmund Clowney is right, “to compromise the authority of Scripture is to destroy the apostolic foundation of the church.” Or as the great expositor Arthur Pink puts it as he asks and answers the question about the importance of the Bible, “what importance and authority does He attach to them! Beyond them there is no appeal and above them no higher authority and after them there is no further witness for none is needed.” Yet, it is precisely here that Satan has all but decimated the modern American Protestant Church. It is where he attacks the church again and again. It is where he has attacked here and is even during these days and will again and again. He wants us to believe that we can have life in Jesus in all the ways that Jesus wants us to have it and compromise our commitment to the absolute authority of the Bible. It was not possible then; it is not possible now.
Listen to what Jesus says to these very religious people. It is what He always says to very religious people. You are searching the Scriptures. You go to Bible Studies and you have your study Bibles at your house. You investigate, you analyze, you assess for yourself what it means which is what the word means here. Why? Because you think that you can find the life you are looking for from them. Yet, you do not seem to be able to see what they are saying to look at the one to whom the Scriptures are pointing. We use the Bible it seems for everything except the one thing for which it is given. We read it as a self-improvement manual or as a proof-texting patchwork of whatever it is that we have already decided to believe or as the way of explaining and justifying the way we have chosen to live and we could go on and on. We have more Bibles in America than any place in the whole world and yet with the exception of most of Western Europe we are the most biblically illiterate nation on earth. And it is because we really do not see the Bible for what it is or believe the Bible for what it is. How many times do you hold up your Bible not to worship it but in awe of what its pages hold for you. Jesus says that religious people are looking for life and love in the Bible and are finding neither: you do not have life nor do you have the love of God in you. Why? Well, he tells us. He tells us what is so hard to hear but we must hear in order to ask God to convict us about our own commitment to the Bible as the inerrant, infallible and fully sufficient Word of God.
We look for and listen to Bible teachers who will tell us what we want to hear about ourselves as we see ourselves and we want affirmation from other people who are important to us more than we want to be fully submitted and surrendered to God, 43-44. And why is it that we are like this? Because we maybe in secret places and hidden ways have refused to submit completely to al the Bible is and all the Bible says. Jesus takes us back to Moses I believe for two reasons: to take us to Moses is to take us all the way back to the first five books of the Bible and He wants us to know that we either believe it all and base who we are and what we do on it all or on nothing at all and I believe He wants us to see that the law of Moses that shows us how holy God is and how sinful we are drives us to the Gospel of Jesus that shows us how loving God is and how much He wants to save us that when that really happens produces people who love the Bible and seek with all that is within us to be loyal to the Bible. We simply become Bible people.
The B-I-B-L-E, NOW THAT’S THE BOOK FOR ME; I STAND UPON THE WORD OF GOD THE B-I-B-L-E.