HOW INTELLIGENT PEOPLE CAN MAKE DISASTROUS DECISIONS

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress people experience when they are exposed to information that conflicts with their beliefs, values, ideals, and actions. There are two responses to cognitive dissonance: to dig in and continue in your current way of thinking and acting by dismissing and fighting the evidence mounting against your position, or, the better approach, to embrace the evidence and change your beliefs and actions. This is what repentance is all about. Considering what Jesus was saying to the religious leaders in his day, rather than repent, they chose to ‘persecute’ and finally ‘crucify him,’ despite all the evidence pointing to Jesus’ claims about who he was. Earlier in John 5, Jesus clearly communicated that He was God. Jesus supported His claim through the miracles he was doing, which was the Father’s authentication of him. Last week, I pointed out that life was inherent in Jesus, and that the Father had given the responsibility of all judgment to him, which were aspects of God’s essence. Craig Keener explains why Jesus continues to cite witnesses to his claims.

“Confronted by accusations that he is guilty of blasphemy, a capital offense (5:18) [making himself equal to God], Jesus responds by citing witnesses in his defense. He accommodates the biblical rule that requires at least two witnesses to validate testimony in a capital case (Num 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15).[i]

Jesus now closes his defense by appealing to certain witnesses. John’s gospel is concerned with the idea of bearing witness to the person of Jesus. Answering the question of the identity of Jesus is critical for people to understand that eternal life is experienced on the basis of acceptance of who he claimed to be. In describing the purpose or ministry of John the Baptist we read:

He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.

He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.[ii]

Here in the closing verses of John 5, we discover the witnesses that support Jesus’ claim. Jesus is answering the charge that he alone is testifying about himself.

If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.[iii]

In the ancient world the testimony “on one’s own behalf was easily dismissed in a court of law. Ancient Greek and Roman courts weighed heavily arguments from probability. Nevertheless, witnesses often proved essential for demonstrating a case.

Jesus thus answers the charge that he alone testifies of himself (5:31; 8:14-16). He cites the witness of John (5:33), and on a higher level the Father’s works (5:36) and hence the Father himself (5:37), who also spoke (5:38) through the Scriptures (5:39) including Moses (5:46-47) to testify of Jesus. In other words, the claim that Jesus testified of himself without any other supporters was false. If many did not accept and share in the witness, it was only because the world was too corrupt to recognize and understand heaven’s agent (3:11-12, 32-33).[iv]

Jesus now begins by saying that he has witnesses to support his claim.

There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.[v]

That witness, alluded to in verse 32, is God Himself. He is the only witness in fact whom Jesus regards as important as far as His own vindication is concerned.[vi]

What this text is driving at is that Jesus is saying that this testimony is not for the sake of his opponents but is for his own sake. All that matter to Jesus was what the Father thought about him.

This is of a piece with the perfect, inward awareness of his Father’s will that Jesus displays elsewhere. He is the one who speaks what he knows, the one who is able to disclose heavenly things.[vii]

Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[viii]

He [Jesus] knows where he came from and where he is going (8:14), and stands with the Father who sent him (8:16). Jesus knows that he does not speak of his own accord: ‘the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say (12:49-50). That is precisely what ensures that Jesus is not simply testifying about himself.[ix]      

What can we learn from Jesus as a witness of the Father? That Jesus only spoke and did what the Father showed him. Can you imagine living our lives in such a way that we only do what the Father wants us to do, and only say what the Father wants us to say? How would that impact the lives of people around us? Jesus now brings us to three witnesses who are testifying as to who he is. 

THE FIRST WITNESS THAT TESTIFIES OF JESUS IS JOHN THE BAPTIST

What did John have to say about Jesus? Jesus is not looking to human testimony to support his claim for his own sake, but John’s testimony is for the sake of the people.            

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.[x]

When John burst on the scene, the religious leaders sent a delegation to ask John who he was.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.

He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’

Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.[xi]

What was John’s response? He said that his role was to announce the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom of God and that the people needed to prepare their hearts. He pointed out that he was among them. This certainly brought about a heightened sense that this was a incredible moment in time, and that they needed to be open to responding to the Messiah. John pointed out that they were ignorant of who that was.

‘I baptize with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know.[xii]

Yet, as the passage continues, John, the Baptist makes it even clearer by identifying Jesus as the Messiah.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.[xiii]

Is it any wonder that those who were following John, now started to follow Jesus? The tragedy as Jesus pointed out was that John was not the light but he was a lamp illuminating their path toward the ultimate light which is himself. Jesus said that they enjoyed John’s light for a time but then Herod killed John.

But instead of taking urgent action while John’s lamp still burned, they procrastinated, and now that lamp had been removed. But here was the Light of the world himself, with greater accreditation than even John could supply.[xiv]

Yet, these leaders were blind to this reality. So, why did some believe in Jesus and others rejected him in that hour? We’ll get to that in a moment.

THE SECOND WITNESS THAT TESTIFIES OF JESUS IS THE FATHER’S AFFIRMATION OF JESUS THROUGH THE MIRACLES

Yet even a greater witness or testimony was the works that Jesus was doing among them.

A. The miracles were signs of Jesus’ identity.

“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me.[xv]             

Not only had the majority not listened to John the Baptist, but now they were rejecting the weightier evidence of the works or signs that Jesus was doing. Then John the Baptist, in a moment of despair and imprisonment, began to question the ministry of Jesus. Part of the problem was the popular misconception of the nature and purpose of the Messiah. So, John reaches out to Jesus and asks if he is the Messiah. Jesus’ response is significant.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’

Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see:

The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.[xvi]

What was Jesus doing? Reminding John from the prophet Isaiah regarding the coming of the Lord, and a word to reassure and strengthen John’s faith. Isaiah 35 is a wonderful poetic picture of the coming of the Lord in his glory.

they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.[xvii]

What an amazing word of encouragement to John who was struggling with fear and doubt in prison. But here is the part that Matthew records that Jesus told John.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.[xviii]

Yes, Jesus is reassuring John, that He is the Messiah. He is the Lord demonstrating his glory in the deliverance that he is bringing over sin, sickness and Satan’s agenda of death and destruction.

B. Jesus identifies the real issue of their rejection of him.

And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form,[xix]

Here were a group of people who claimed to know God and be God’s children but Jesus states that they had never heard God’s voice nor seen his form. How could Jesus say that? Because Jesus is God and he is speaking to them now. All that the prophets had pointed to, they were deaf toward.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.[xx]

The fact that they were not listening now suggests that they never understood what the Scriptures were saying.

THE THIRD WITNESS THAT TESTIFIES TO JESUS IS THE SCRIPTURES AS THEY ARE FULFILLED IN JESUS

What was the message that God had been communicating to his people? The overarching message is one where God comes to save his people and that is now being realized in the person of Jesus.

nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.[xxi]

The apostle John had earlier in the book explained that Jesus came to make God known and if they didn’t see that than they were rejecting the eternal life that comes only through Jesus. Listen to the distinction between the law given through Moses and the revelation that comes through Jesus.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.[xxii]

You cannot know God if you don’t know Jesus. The law only makes a person aware of what God expects but doesn’t change the person into what God desires. In other words, the law can only point out what is wrong with us, not fix us.

A. The proper interpretive approach to studying scripture.      

Jesus now comes to their problem. They do not grasp that the Scriptures are not an end in themselves but are pointing to the solution.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.[xxiii]

There are many who come to the Scriptures with a blindness and do not understand that they are pointing us to Jesus. The Scriptures therefore are Christocentric.  

If therefore some of the Jews refuse to come to Jesus for life, that refusal constitutes evidence that they are not reading their Scriptures as they were meant to be read. No independence is more arrogant and more delusive than religious independence, which reaches its tragic apogee [highest point] when the central meaning of Scripture is perverted. The world’s resistance to God is based on its imagined security, which reaches its highest and most subversive form in religion and thus, for the Jews in their pattern of life based on Scripture.[xxiv]

When you have the wrong understanding, it leads to a false sense of security. There are many groups and people today who are reading into biblical texts what is not there What we should be seeing is God’s salvation on our behalf in the person of Jesus. We are living in a time shaped by what is termed the ‘postmodern world’. The primary challenge posed by the postmodern approach to life is an issue of hermeneutics, which is how we interpret things. The argument made from the philosophical pluralist is that there are no ‘objective’ stances possible and therefore all interpretations are ‘my interpretation.’ In other words, everything we understand is culturally shaped and therefore eternal truths are rejected. 

The problem that has emerged in the ‘new hermeneutic’ where the meaning is no longer found in texts or what the biblical authors were trying to convey but is instead what the reader sees or understands. Therefore, what can be known becomes an impossibility as meanings can be as diverse as what each reader understands is meant for themselves. When taken to its logical conclusion what is left is absurdity, confusion, and an inability to convey ideas.

It is obvious that Scripture itself teaches that misinterpretation of biblical texts exists and can lead to devastating results. Peter warns against this very thing in his second letter. This is how intelligent people make devastating decisions.

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.[xxv]

Jesus, talking to his disciples in the upper room after his resurrection from the dead, explains to them from the Scriptures how all that had happened to him was in fulfillment of the Scriptures.

He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.[xxvi]

Not only are the Scriptures centred on Jesus, but we also need the Holy Spirit to open our minds to understand. The bible is a spiritually discerned book.

B. Why people reject the message of Jesus and embrace lies.

The problem with not believing the truth is that we end up embracing lies. Jesus now explains the core issue in their rejection of him is a moral issue where sin is dominate in their lives. Jesus says that he knows what only God can know: what is in their hearts. He sees that a love for God is absent, and also that they are seeking the praise of each other rather than the praise of God.    

I do not accept glory from human beings, 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 since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?[xxvii]

Because of their rejection of Jesus, they will embrace and follow false messiahs. When we reject the truth all we are left with is lies.

Carson explains why we are so susceptible to following what is false.

Inevitably, that meant they were open to messianic claimants who used flattery or who panted after great reputations or whose values were so closely attuned to their audience that their audience felt they were very wise and farsighted; they were not open to the Messiah that Jesus was turning out to be, one who thought the only doxa (glory/praise) worth pursuing was the glory of God.[xxviii]

What was even more tragic was that these religious leaders felt that Moses, just like during his earthly lifetime, would intercede for the nation and they would be spared God’s judgment. Jesus, however, warns them that Moses as law-giver will be their accuser.

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?”[xxix]

When confronted with the truth in the person of Jesus, and all the witnesses and actions pointing to that reality, the religious leaders remained steadfast in their opposition and rejection of their promised Messiah. But if we think that we are beyond that folly, let me point out to us what Barbara Tuchman, in her book ‘The March Of Folly’, concludes regarding human behavior in decision making.

‘Divine reason’ was more often than not overpowered by non-rational human frailties -ambition, anxiety, status-seeking, face-saving, illusions, self-delusions, fixed prejudices. Although the structure of human thought is based on logical procedure from premise to conclusion, it is not proof against the frailties and the passions.[xxx]

Simply put, sin distorts our ability to think straight about the consequences of our actions.  

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[i]       Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 655-656.

[ii]      John 1:7-8, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[iii]     John 5:31.

[iv]      Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 656.

[v]      John 5:32.

[vi]      R. V. G. Tasker, John, TNTC, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960), 88.

[vii]     D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 260.

[viii]    John 3:11-13.

[ix]      D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 260.

[x]      John 5:33-35.

[xi]      John 1:19-20, 22-23.

[xii]     John 1:26.

[xiii]    John 1:29-30.

[xiv]    F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 135.

[xv]     John 5:36.

[xvi]    Matthew 11:2-5.

[xvii]    Isaiah 35:2b-4.

[xviii]   Isaiah 35:5-6a.

[xix]    John 5:37.

[xx]     Hebrews 1:1-2.

[xxi]    John 5:38.

[xxii]    John 1:17-18.

[xxiii]   John 5:39-40.

[xxiv]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 264.

[xxv]    2 Peter 3:15-16.

[xxvi]   Luke 24:44-45.

[xxvii] John 5:41-44.

[xxviii] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 264.

[xxix]   John 5:45-47.

[xxx]    Barbara Tuchman, The March Of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1984), 380.

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