The blindness of self promotion

Series: Face to face with Jesus (John’s gospel).

By Rosie Moore.

“Jesus claimed to be worthy of the honour due God. For one simple reason. He was. Surely only a fool would make such a claim…and yet, Jesus walked on water…calmed the wind and waves…healed the lepers…and sent demons scurrying. Could anyone but God do so?” (Josh McDowell).

And yet, John tells us that most of the Pharisees refused to come to Jesus to have life in his name (John 5:40). Tragically, despite all the evidence presented to them, they didn’t have saving faith, because they refused to honour the Son of God. Instead, they accused him of blasphemy. In John chapter 5, Jesus describes two obstacles to their salvation:

  • They did not cherish God or His Word within their hearts. In fact, they didn’t love God at all (John 5:42).
  • They did not seek God’s glory, only their own. They loved man’s praise, instead of the approval of God (John 5:4244). Like typical politicians, they were bent on prominence.

In his confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus highlighted the great contrast between Himself and them:

“I do not receive glory from people…(John 5:41)

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).

Politicians in priestly robes.

In spite of their outward displays of virtue and vast Scriptural knowledge, Jesus saw the Pharisees’ hearts. He saw how they schemed together to kill him (John 5:18). He saw straight through their public prayers, conspicuous giving and showy acts of humility. And He accused them of doing their ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, ‘to be seen’. Concerned only for optics, the Pharisees announced their generosity “to be honoured by men” (Matt 6:1-2).  And so, Jesus called these original “virtue signalers” hypocrites (Matt 6:5) and “blind guides” (Matt 15:14).

Although Christ demonstrated his absolute authority with meekness and compassion, the Pharisees resented his pure goodness and humility. They refused to bow down to Him as Lord of all, because they were all about their own glory. Let’s look at a small section of what Jesus said to these Pharisees after healing the man by the pool of Siloam and declaring Himself as God’s Son:

“You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:38-47).

Blinded to the evidence.

Self promotion blinded the Pharisees to the vast body of evidence that demonstrated that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.

First, there were His miraculous works:

Hadn’t they just witnessed the supernatural healing of the paralyzed man, or at very least, heard him testify that his life had been truly and completely transformed by Jesus? (John 4:11).  His functioning body was there for all to prod and poke at. Yet, all the Pharisees could see was a carpenter from Nazareth, who threatened their power (John 5:18). They completely discounted the man’s true life testimony.

Second, they ignored Christ’s own testimony, backed up by clear evidence: The Pharisees weren’t wrong when they said that Jesus “was even calling God his own father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). He had just deliberately broken their man-made rules to demonstrate that He was Lord of the Sabbath, as God is: “Jesus said to them “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). The Pharisees knew that only Yahweh works around the clock to sustain the world and deliver his people (Ps 121:3-4).

In John chapter 5, Jesus speaks uninterrupted from verse 19 to 47. Without ego or pride, He makes some of the most astounding statements about Himself and God the Father. If this were a mere man, the Pharisees had every right to accuse him of blasphemy, as it would be idolatry to pay a man the honour that is due only to God. But they would need to ignore the facts right before their eyes. So, it was a wilful blindness and suppression of the truth, because Jesus performed acts that only God could do.

There’s no shadow of doubt that Jesus identified Himself as being one with the Father, with authority to give eternal life (John 5:24); to judge sin (John 5:27); to do whatever the Father does (John 5:19); to be in an intimate, loving relationship with the Father (John 5:20); even to resurrect the dead (John 5:25-26). He claimed to be the source of all life (John 5:26) and to have the power to give spiritual life to people that the Father has chosen (John 5:21). Most offensive of all, Jesus claimed that He was worthy of the same honour as God the Father, and that those who fail to honour Him, cannot claim to honour God. Alford fleshes this out:

“All must honour Him with equal honour to that which they pay to the Father– and whoever does not, however he may imagine that he honours or approaches God, does not honour Him at all, because He can only be known or honoured by us as “the Father who sent His Son”.

These remain the most offensive claims of the Christian faith today. Increasingly, it is seen as bigoted, un-inclusive, intolerant, and an act of oppression and aggression to claim that Jesus is the only way to know and honour God. Equally offensive is the claim that Christ has divine authority to judge humanity. Yet, unapologetically, this what Jesus claimed about Himself:

“For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him… 30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:22-23).

There are many sceptics who deny that Jesus’ claimed to be God, saying that his followers only started worshipping him centuries later. But if the gospels are primary sources, then this cannot be true. The people who rubbed shoulders with Jesus in his own lifetime were certain that He claimed deity. They were willing to die for this belief. “No one ever spoke like this man!” was the verdict of the guards of the chief priests and Pharisees (John 7:46). Who would you rather believe? A primary source and many eye witnesses? Or a secondary source written in an academic institution, thousands of years after the fact?

There are also others who claim that God the Father emphasizes judgment, whereas God the Son focuses on love. Jesus does not give us this option. He claimed to be inseparable from Yahweh. If these claims are true, there can be no rivalry between Jesus and the Father, who says, “I, the Lord, do not change” (Mal 3:6). In fact, if we scroll through John’s gospel, we see that people who came face-to-face with Jesus, encountered a judge who saw into their hearts, and a merciful Saviour who extended a love they did not deserve.

Third, the Pharisees chose to selectively remember their Old Testament Scriptures. They refused to see that these Scriptures pointed to Jesus as the promised Messiah, the One who would fulfill the Torah perfectly (John 5:3946). They searched the Scriptures zealously and cherished their own man-made rules, but were blind to the shadows of Jesus in the testimony of Moses (John 5:45-46).

And so, they missed the Saviour when he came to earth, and even made his dwelling in their own home town, “the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Fourth, they ignored the witness of John the Baptist, who said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:2934),

And so, because of their craving for self promotion, the Pharisees were blind to the great body of evidence given to them. They were blind to the display of life-giving power right before their eyes. And they flatly refused to acknowledge that Jesus was God incarnate, because they were bent on pleasing themselves. Instead of hearing and believing the word of Jesus, they bullied the man who testified to his healing. And as a result, they never crossed over from death to life (John 5:24). It’s tragic to think that these were the men who should have seen Jesus with clear eyes and welcomed the Saviour with open hearts.

But hang on a moment! That’s not actually true of all Pharisees and prominent Jewish rulers of Jesus’s day. Many believed and were saved.

What was the problem with the Pharisees?

In recent years, I’ve heard people attempt to direct Jesus’s accusations against the Pharisees towards a group of people collectively known as ‘oppressors’ on the ladder of disadvantage and intersectionality: Wealthy, heterosexual, able-bodied, educated, white men are usually prime targets, accused of being modern day Pharisees. However, the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees was their hearts, not their group membership. There was nothing inherently wrong with being a Pharisee.

In fact, we are told of a prominent Pharisee called Nicodemus, who visited Jesus at night (John 3:1). This Pharisee became a true disciple. In fact, he helped Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’s body off the cross and place it in the tomb (John 19:38-42). We also know that the apostle Paul was once Saul, “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee”, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6Phil 3:5). Actually, Paul’s knowledge of the Scriptures uniquely positioned him to become a prolific author of the New Testament and an eminent theologian of the early church. God appointed a Pharisee for that task.

Reading through the book of Acts, I was struck by how many synagogue leaders and prominent Jews became followers of Christ, like Crispus in Corinth, whose whole family believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8). After Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem, five thousand Jews were saved, among whom there must have been some Pharisees (Acts 2:41Acts 3:4). In Pisidion Antioch, many devout Jews followed Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:43), and the name of Barnabas was actually “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus” (Acts 4:36). Levites were from the Priestly tribe. Apollos, one of the most influential evangelists in the early Church, was also “a learned Jew, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures (Acts 18:24). He vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:28).

And so, it’s quite clear that the problem with the Pharisees was not their knowledge of Scripture, nor their social/ religious group, nor a form of collective guilt. Through the myriad encounters with Jesus in the gospels, we see that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).

But in John 5:40, Jesus sees into the proud hearts of the Pharisees and says, “Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” What a sad indictment and a warning that we should still apply to our own hearts today. Just as Jesus saw into the Pharisees’ hearts, He says to us too, “I know you.” (John 5:42). No one except the Lord has the ability to judge the motives of another’s heart.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

“Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus knew that the Pharisees loved prominence more than God or his Word. That is why they would not believe and receive him as Lord (John 5:44).

But the love of prominence is a universal temptation that each of us faces, whether great or lowly. Every human heart is bent towards self-promotion, even if we are not the scheming, political types. We can do it in many more subtle ways. It’s a matter of misguided glory, because Jesus is the only man who could honestly say, “I seek not to please myself but him who sent me…I do not accept praise from men” (John 5:30b41). Only Jesus deserves the glory due to God, as only He could please His Father perfectly.

But by nature, each of us craves the approval, credit and sympathy of people much more than we love to please God. What’s more, in a culture obsessed with optics, it’s especially tempting to create an ‘image’ for the world to see and applaud. And social media is a perfect platform for this form of ‘virtue signaling’, which was the great sin of the Pharisees.

In our generation, we face a constant temptation to look good. We are apt to share photos and videos to prove to the world that we are truly virtuous, caring people. We still seek the best seat at the table and our hearts still long for prominence and significance (Luke 14:7). But this need for self promotion is a serious obstacle to sincere faith in Christ.

As Christians and as a Church, we must spur each other on to good deeds (Heb 10:24). But may we simply give, without our left hand knowing what our right hand is doing (Matt 6:3-4). When we pray, may we simply pray from our heart to our Father, who is unseen (Matt 6:6). And may we catch ourselves whenever we try to impress people with our ‘holiness’ or false humility (Matt 6:17). True humility is simply coming to Christ the Son, and allowing Him to reveal to us who God is, and who we are.

What blessed assurance it is to know that if we have put our trust in Christ, we will never be condemned, for we have crossed over from death to life (John 5:24). That is a crossing that can never be reversed, for Christ has finished the work that the Father sent Him to do (John 5:36John 19:30). It is a one-way, fully paid ticket. It is done.

Listen to this beautiful old hymn, ‘Blessed Assurance’, sung by Carrie Underwood.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.

A Biblical perspective on the South African riots this week.

By Rosie Moore.

Last weekend 33 trucks were destroyed in the Mooi River area, one of them a carrier with a full load of cars. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost as factories and businesses; machinery and equipment; farmlands and gas works; oil refineries and distribution centres; wholesalers and Spaza shops; shopping malls and ATM’s; even Hospital suppliers, a Blood Bank and an NGO that feeds the poor, were looted and reduced to ashes. This list can never capture the human suffering in its wake. We have now seen enough looters stuffing expensive electronic goods and fridges into waiting vehicles to know that our country has reached a turning point. The army who were called on to help enforce the lockdowns, are now being called to quell the riots and targeted attacks on major infrastructure. There is a shortage of fuel, basic necessities and medicines, and the violence has had a devastating impact on the medical community already stretched to the limits with Covid-19.

Where to from here?

I’m sure that each of us is asking the same question, “Where to from here?” By now, we are still counting the losses throughout South Africa, most especially in KZN.

The scale and cost of a few days of looting is unknown, but we do know that economic recovery can take many years. Property developers, businesses and investors are not going to return with confidence. Even if the violence and looting of the past few days runs its course, supply chains have been severed, which will lead to human suffering and an economic crisis for which there is no easy re-set button.

To add fuel to the fire, the uprising of the past week comes on top of an economic crisis caused by long Covid-19 lockdowns; corruption on a massive scale; closures of thousands of businesses; high unemployment and the Eskom crisis. Even if shopping malls and factories can claim insurance payouts, will it really make business sense for them to rebuild?

And now evidence is emerging that individuals set about instigating the so-called protests, riots and looting to achieve their political ends. Some were targeted attacks, while others were opportunistic criminality. But whatever the circumstances and causes, in our post 1994 history, never before have we seen such large scale lawlessness across the country. If we are truthful people, we must call it what it is: unrestrained evil.

And once again, it’s the poor who will suffer most when they can no longer buy their basic groceries from their local shop. Their chance of employment and a hopeful future is even more of a pipe dream, as many jobs will be lost forever. We have seen this devastation play out in our nearest neighbour, Zimbabwe. Ask any Zimbabwean immigrant to describe the effects of their nation’s economic free fall since the land grabs and looting of 2002-2005. These were orchestrated by Zanu-PF in a desperate bid to cling to power. Zimbabweans now need to cross borders to get basic foods and find jobs, where their homeland was once the bread basket of Africa.

But as Christians, our national crisis should not lead us into despair. The Bible reminds us of some timeless truths to help us process what is happening in our country and to respond realistically. Here are just two of these truths:

1. No one is righteous, not even one.

While it’s true that looters seem to act with impunity and instigators of violence shamelessly use people for their own selfish ends, Paul reminds us at the beginning of Romans that without the righteousness of Christ, who died on our behalf, there is no one righteous, not even one…

11     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14 
    “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 
    ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 
    “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin (Rom 3:10-20).

What is true of everyone without Christ— Jew and Gentile; religious and unreligious; black, white and brown; employed and jobless; business owners and looters; instigators and peacemakers; criminals and authorities; male and female–is that we are all condemned by our sin. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). That is not to say that everyone is equally sinful, but all are equally condemned, because by nature, there is no fear of God before our eyes.

The Bible doesn’t try to justify our sin. The righteous God of the universe is not indifferent or nuanced about the lawlessness we witnessed this week (Ps 11:3-7). “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men…The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates…For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.” We must not try to excuse or lessen the evil that was committed against our people this week.

Sin affects our minds, motives, will, speech, relationships and attitude towards God (Rom 3:11-18). In these verses, Paul is describing the outworking of sin in the human heart. The videos and eye witness accounts of riots we’ve seen this week have pulled back the curtain to show us the true horror of sin in 3-D, technicolour. As I watched, the thought came to mind:

This is unrestrained evil. This is the ‘secret power of lawlessness’ that Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. This is what our real enemy, Satan, is like. He lies, kills, steals and destroys. He uses people as pawns for his own destructive ends. He never builds, only breaks.

And so, from its opening pages, the Bible reminds us that evil resides in every human heart which is captive to Satan. War and violence, theft and murder, lies and plots, are just a sample of the many faces of sin. Given free reign, we will find something to fight about, leading to political factions, bloody coups, revolutions, murders and wars. We see it vividly in the cameo of Cain murdering his brother, Abel (Gen 4:1-16).

Only Jesus can free us from Satan’s captivity, because on the cross “he disarmed the rulers and authorities, putting them to open shame, by triumphing over them”  (John 10:10Col 2:15). Only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to see that we are moral beings, accountable to a Holy God. Unless we know that we have no defense to make, no goodness to offer God, nothing but empty hands and a ‘silent mouth’ to receive Christ’s righteousness (Rom 3:19), we will remain as lost and guilty as the people who have caused the destruction this week, whose throats are open graves; whose lips hold vipers’ poison; whose feet are swift to shed blood; who do not know the way of peace; and who have no fear of God before their eyes.

Lest we become forgetful or self righteous in our anger, the Bible sets us straight: We are only set free from the life of sin that Paul describes, because of the righteousness of God–a free gift we receive when we believe in Jesus Christ as our substitute (Rom 3:21-26). The perfect God-man, the only Son of God, was punished in our place, for our sin. And only Christ’s Spirit enables us to live a life that is righteous and pleasing to God.

It’s why the gospel of Jesus Christ is our only hope in South Africa.

So, in our anger and turmoil, let’s not forget God’s amazing grace and love for sinners—looters, arsonists, plotters, corrupt politicians and not least of all, ourselves (John 3:16-18). This is the perspective God provides on our anger:

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph 4:26-27).

 “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land” (Ps 37:8-9).

2. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.

But there’s a second truth that the Lord has brought repeatedly to my mind in the past year. It is from Ephesians 6:10-20.* Everywhere I look, I seem to see this text. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…

Christians are a people at war. Our ultimate enemy is not a human being, but the ancient serpent with his crafty schemes (Eph 6:11). Satan uses people and energizes rulers of this dark world, as well as demonic forces, to accomplish his evil purposes (Eph 6:12). His plans are to deceive the nations and destroy God’s people (Rev 20:3710Rev 12:17), even to deface God’s image in any human being.

Right now in our uprising, we see the devil demonstrating his two major strategies: He deceives and devours. That’s why he is called the snake who deceives, and the dragon who devours (Gen 3:132 Cor 11:3Rev 12:4). Andrew Naselli describes the devil’s modus operandi: “Snakes tempt and lie; dragons attack and murder. Snakes backstab; dragons assault.”

And so, it is Satan who is ultimately behind the unrest and intrigue that is shaking our country. It has been this way ever since Genesis 3:15, but Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8).

Here are three practical ways we can apply this truth to our lives as Christians:

  1. As Christ’s people, his Bride, we must be careful not to have our thoughts led astray from “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Our minds can easily be led astray by paying too much attention to anger and fear, the external chaos, the inadequacies of the police, instead of keeping our eyes on Christ. Our Government’s God-given duty is to maintain law and order and restrain evil (Rom 13:4). Our corresponding duty as citizens is to respect and submit to these authorities in carrying out their role (Rom 13:1-2). So, let’s be Christ-like citizens and use every opportunity to do good in our communities during these days of distress. Let’s wear gospel shoes of peace (Eph 6:15), showing the world the contrasting beauty of the gospel and the fellowship it fosters. This week, we saw this pure devotion to Christ outside a hospital, where staff and visitors joined together to sing How great Thou art. We mirror the unity and peace of the gospel every time we get together to pray, rebuild or protect vulnerable people.
  1. As Christ’s people, Paul tells us to resist Satan, careful not to be outwitted by him or ignorant of his true designs (2 Cor 2:10-11). The Christian faith is not naïve or passive, but neither does it stoke conflict. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” says James (James 4:7). Peter too, reminds us to “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Jesus himself told his disciples to be innocent as doves, but wise as serpents (Matt 10:16). It’s been wonderful to see our nation come together to resist evil this week. Communities made up of many races have stood shoulder to shoulder defending their towns and suburbs where police have been unable to protect them. Brave individuals have spoken hard truth to counter the lies of those who stir up strife. Officers of our courts have upheld the rule of law despite intimidation from very powerful people. Farmers have supplied medicines and groceries to communities. Ordinary South Africans have shared what they have with their neighbours and the police, and volunteered to clear up mess. Pastors and civic leaders have called on people to unite and rebuild their towns. As the saying goes, evil is allowed to flourish when good people do nothing. As Christians, “Let us not grow weary in doing good” (Gal 6:9). Let us pay respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed (Rom 13:7). That is how we resist Satan in these times.
  1. And finally, as believers, let’s never forget that the battle belongs to the Lord, because it is Christ, not ourselves, who will finally slay the great dragon, “that ancient serpent who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…He is full of wrath because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev 12:391012). This week it may seem as if evil has the upper hand, but victory has already been secured on the cross. God has placed each one of us in this country and in our community for such a time as this. One of these days, Christ will return to enforce justice, destroy Satan, and get his Bride (Rev 19:6-8). We are that bride! And lest we think that He is only ‘Gentle Jesus- meek and mild,’ Christ is also the great dragon slayer and the commander of angel armies! (Ps 27:1-3;  Rev 19:11-21). That’s why his people can take heart and stand firm in the Lord and in his mighty power (Eph 6:101314Ps 27:14).

Stand firm and take heart.

“The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thess 3:3).

This is what Paul wrote to Christians facing dark days in the first century. In our own dark days, let’s put on the armour that Christ himself has secured for us on the cross and not neglect the Sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word. And over all this, let’s “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Eph 6:10-20).

Lord, we plead the mercy and blood of Jesus over this beloved country that we all call home. We pray that the people and leaders of South Africa would not tolerate evil, but would come together as a nation and bow before you in this strife. What was meant for evil, please use for the good of the gospel and your eternal Kingdom. Lord, use this crisis to make us conscious of our sin and bring many hearts to repentance and faith in you. Unite us as one nation and help us to resist the lies that Satan uses to divide us. Bring spiritual revival to South Africa and deliver us from evil. We look to you who has already won the victory! In Jesus’ name Amen.

Take heart! That’s the message of this song, by Matthew West.

Sources:

  • The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer– Short studies in Biblical theology, By Andrew David Naselli.
  • *The series I wrote on spiritual warfare in July and August 2020 may help you think through the implications of each of Paul’s pieces of equipment:
  1. Going to War.
  2. The Belt of Truth
  3. The Breastplate of righteousness
  4. Gospel shoes
  5. Putting on our thinking caps.
  6. The Sword of the Spirit
  7. The Weakest saint upon his knees

Jesus didn’t offer the lame man a crutch.

By Rosie Moore.

Series: Face-to-face with Jesus (John’s Gospel).

I wonder if you’ve ever heard this accusation: “You’re only a Christian because you need a crutch! Your faith is just a comfort to get you through life!”

Personally, I laugh whenever I hear this accusation leveled against Christians. It’s absurd when you think of the lives of Christ’s disciples and the price they paid for their faith in Jesus. And it’s a false caricature of the Christian faith as a crutch for the weak. In the 45 years that I’ve been a Christian, on more occasions than I can count, my faith has led me straight into the conflict zone and it’s been anything but a crutch. Being an agreeable person, I would always prefer to avoid conflict and quietly get on with my life. But Christ doesn’t give believers that option.

What’s crystal clear from the story in John 5, is that Jesus didn’t offer the lame man a crutch. Nor did He offer prayer, comfort or a well-meaning support group, as we might offer a sick, suffering friend. No, Jesus confronted the lame man with a question. Then he ordered him to get up, take up his bed, and walk! And that’s exactly what the man did. There’s surely no man on this earth who can do that.

An unavoidable confrontation.

It struck me that Christ’s healing of the lame man at the pool (John 5) led Jesus and the restored man straight into the firing line of the Jewish authorities, who cared more about their rules than about doing good. It would seem that Jesus deliberately healed the man on the Sabbath when he could easily have dodged offense by waiting until the next day. Jesus walked purposefully into the combat zone and the poor man didn’t have much time to enjoy his restored limbs before he too found himself facing the Pharisees’ outrage. This was the first of many conflicts which unmasked the Pharisees’ unbelieving hearts and their willful suppression of the truth that was evident for all to see. The extraordinary truth was that Jesus was the Son of God.

Whole, not hobbling.

Instantly the man’s dead cells, nerves, muscles, joints, ligaments and bones regenerated, as if obeying the order of a commander-in-chief. There was complete healing in every corner of his withered body.

After 38 years of paralysis, the lame man left the pool whole, not hobbling! Jesus made him into a new creature, not a cripple with a crutch.

With the Holy Spirit’s help, the reality of this extraordinary miracle should still stun us today:

John 5:2-17:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

That you may believe…

Let’s remind ourselves why John selected this miracle out of the hundreds of signs that Jesus performed: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).”

As readers two thousand years later, we must hear John’s clear purpose for writing this story down for us. He didn’t just fancy himself as an author of a biography about his Jewish Rabbi. We will miss the whole point of this true story if it does not lead us to personal, growing faith in Christ. John wants us to believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be–Not just God’s Messiah, but God Himself.

“Do you want to be healed?” (v 6)

John doesn’t want us to gloss over the fact that the man’s muscles, bones and ligaments hadn’t moved for 38 years. His body had lain limp beside the pool, absolutely helpless and atrophied. The lame man didn’t show any understanding that Jesus was the Son of God, and there’s no evidence that he had any faith before he was confronted by Jesus. Yet, in verse 6, Jesus singles this man out and asks him a strange question: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6).

Why would Jesus ask this unnecessary question? Surely the answer was self evident and rhetorical? After all, wasn’t the lame man lying beside the pool, hoping to be healed? And why did Jesus single him out from all the other sick people?

It is a mystery why he chose to heal this particular man, but it’s also a wonderful illustration of the mystery of faith. Jesus fleshes it out a little later in the chapter when he says: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” (John 5:21). Jesus was pleased to heal this man.

Then Jesus told the man to do what he could not do. Being paralyzed, it was impossible to get up, or pick up his pallet, or walk (John 5:11). He didn’t have the strength to do any of these three things. But this man did exactly what Jesus told him to do. He responded in faith. As Spurgeon puts it, “Because Jesus told Him, he asked no questions, but doubled up his couch, and walked. He did what he was told to do, because he believed in Him who spoke. Have you such faith in Jesus?”

Do you remember the day, or period in your life, when you first heard the gospel, and Jesus confronted you with this same question, “Do you want to be healed from the disease and ultimate death of sin?” Do you remember when you responded to Christ in faith? The Holy Spirit begins to seek us out long before we seek God.  Jesus singles us out and confronts us in our utter helplessness of sin. And throughout the Christian life, Jesus continues to ask us this same question: “Do you want to be healed?”

Jesus doesn’t force restoration on anyone. And just like the lame man in this story, if we say yes– even tentatively and without much understanding– Jesus will bring us complete healing from sin, death and judgment. There are no half measures with Jesus!

When Jesus heals us spiritually, He doesn’t give us a crutch, but sets our feet firmly on the road to a whole and holy life.

This true, face-to-face encounter with Jesus is a wonderful illustration of free, unearned grace and Christ’s perfect saving power. Like the lame man, Jesus will save us perfectly and completely if we respond in faith to his question. And there’s nothing we need to do except believe in the Son of God.

“Stop sinning that nothing worse may befall you.” (v 14).

But verse 14 contains another response from Jesus that initially sounds strange and harsh. Jesus finds the man in the temple and he gives him this warning:

“See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14).

Dick Lucas, the pastor who confronted my own dad with Jesus Christ many years ago, commented on Jesus’s response in verse 14, by explaining the difference between free grace and cheap grace:

“Christ gives him back his health, but now Jesus says that worse things will befall him if he doesn’t repent of sin. If Christ intervenes and forgives me, then He commits me to a lifelong battle against sin and evil in my life. Cheap grace is a perversion of free grace. I cannot ask Jesus to redeem me and then live as though I have no further obligations to him. Do we love our treasured sins? Do we love sin too much? We won’t be completely whole until the last day, but we are being worked on every day until then. We cannot snatch the blessings of eternal life and then continue to live our same old life. That is cheap grace. Jesus offers us free grace, not cheap grace.”

Jesus is surely the kindest and most loving person to ever walk the earth. Yet, He still remains offensive to many. Perhaps that’s because Christ speaks the truth when it comes to our sin. He doesn’t whisper about sin, but exposes it as the fatal disease it is (Mark 7:14-23Mark 16:16John 8:34). Even today, He confronts us like he confronted the lame man (Matt 5:30). Would Jesus be loving if He left us to suffer in our sins which enslave us? True Christian faith is about trusting Jesus to save us, and then waging war against self and sin every day of our lives.

That doesn’t sound like a crutch to me.

Prayer

Father, thank you for the way in which you plucked me from the fire and turned my life around. I wasn’t looking for you, but you sent your Son to earth to seek and save a helpless sinner like me. I’m amazed that you singled me out and poured out your free and undeserved favour on me. Thank you for not offering me a crutch or a temporary comfort, but complete healing and restoration from my sin. As the One who spoke life into a lame man’s body, I submit to you as my Saviour and Lord again today. Please invade every corner of my life and help me to hate and wage war against sin in its sly and deceptive guises. Help me to do whatever you tell me to do in your Word, because I trust in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Join us next week as we look at the stunning claims Jesus makes in the remainder of John 5.

Source

Dick Lucas sermon, The Cure of Souls.

The man who took Jesus at his word.

Series in John’s gospel: Face to face with Jesus, By Rosie Moore.

“Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed (John 4:50).

Often we hear the expression “Seeing is believing”. But the Bible tells us that the opposite is true when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ: “Believing is seeing.” Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” (Heb 11:1-2).  In John chapter 4, the nobleman believed Jesus and took Him at his word, before he saw the miraculous healing of his son. The same is required of us if our faith is to grow.

Our Lord did perform a sign for this nobleman, but it was to point him to greater faith in Christ, not the sign itself. The spiritual miracle of faith in the desperate father and his whole household was far greater than the physical healing of the boy’s body.

Let’s read together this amazing face-to-face encounter with Jesus:

John 4:43-54:

43 After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.

46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”

53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.

“Lord, please grow our faith through this true encounter that John chose to write down for us. Show us that we don’t need to first see sensational signs and wonders to believe you. The Bible shows us enough to know that you are trustworthy and good. As we read these words, may you strengthen our faith so that we may put our trust in you as our Lord and Saviour, just as this nobleman did. Grow our faith through whatever desperate or difficult situation we are facing right now. May our crisis be a severe mercy, just as it was for this father. Amen.”

The man who had everything money could buy.

Of all the miracles that Jesus performed, John chose to tell this story of a desperate Government official, known as a ‘basilica’, whose son was lying in bed at home, at death’s door.  Jesus was not physically with the boy when he healed him. In fact, the sick boy was at home in the city of Capernaum 32 kilometres away, while Jesus was in the village of Cana. But this father, who had everything money could buy, except what he truly needed, saddled up his horse in the midday heat and galloped many miles to find Jesus. He was the man’s last hope.

Let’s put ourselves in this nobleman’s shoes for a moment.

As a ‘basilica’, he was an official of high rank and steady income. He had everything money could buy, except the health of his beloved son. Verse 46 and 47 are understatements. This man was desperate, because his boy was on the verge of death. Reading between the lines of these verses, one can only imagine the misery of this father, who would have given everything and anything to see light in his little boy’s eyes again, to see him running and playing like a normal child. As a parent, I can relate to his fear. When I went to wake up my own son one morning and found him unresponsive, in a severely hypoglycemic state, there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done to bring him back to life. Thankfully he recovered, but the extreme helplessness of this loving father turns any parent ice cold with fear.

In fact, whoever we are, we have probably known this desperation sometime in our lives. The oldest book of the Bible reminds us that “Affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6-7). Life is like a fire that sends its flames of suffering upward, regardless of what some prosperity preachers may say. All human beings are born for sorrow, and there are no exceptions. Just think of what money can and cannot buy:

Money can buy us a lovely soft bed, but it cannot buy us sleep!

Money can buy us delicious food, but it cannot make our digestive system work!

Money can buy us fame and followers, but it cannot buy us close friends!

Money can buy us medical aid, but it cannot buy our health!

Money can buy us a luxury holiday, but it cannot buy a happy family!

The man came to Jesus.

There are many things that money cannot buy. Even 2000 years later, our hearts must ache with this man’s heart, because he shows us our own desperately helpless condition.

But did you notice that this man got on his horse and found Jesus? He didn’t just bemoan his situation. He rode for 32 kilometres to find the one man whose miracles he had heard about. He must have heard about the story of the first miracle Jesus had performed in Cana of Galilee—when he’d turned water into wine. He must have known that this Jesus was no ordinary man. So the wealthy, finely dressed basilica came personally to meet the carpenter, to beg him to come home with him to heal his son.

Notice that this nobleman didn’t send his wife or servant to fetch Jesus. He didn’t send a proxy to ask Jesus to pray for him. Instead, he cared enough to come himself to seek the help that he desperately needed, and fell down at the feet of the one man who alone could do for him what he was unable to do for himself.

And he called Jesus, “Sir”, putting himself under Christ, even though the nobleman had legal authority over the carpenter. Coming to Jesus and throwing himself at Christ’s mercy was his first act of faith.

This man’s humble trust reminds me of how Hebrews describes the kind of faith that God will always reward: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Heb 11:6). This man was earnestly seeking Christ to meet his desperate need.

Unless you people see signs and wonders…

Jesus’s reply in verse 48 is startling and hardly what you would write if you were making up a story of an empathetic hero.  Jesus was speaking to the crowd who depended on signs and wonders for their faith. Their focus was not on Christ. But this father was no sensation seeker. He did not need to see the miracle he sought before he would believe. He didn’t take offense at Jesus’s charge but he knew that Jesus was his last hope. His eyes held onto what he knew about the Lord, even though Jesus gave him no sign.

Jesus replied, “Go your way, your son lives. The man took Jesus at his word and departed” (John 4:50).

The man took Jesus at his word.

What an astounding response. This man’s faith was true, not superficial! Unlike many who craved signs and wonders, the nobleman didn’t need to see his son’s healing before he would believe. The man trusted Jesus’s bare word and acted upon his faith, even before he saw the evidence. He didn’t question Christ’s command to go home, but departed immediately. He simply trusted and obeyed.

The man somehow knew that distance was of no concern for Jesus, and so he obeyed without hesitation. He didn’t bribe Jesus to come home with him, but seemed at peace with Christ’s promise. And when he questioned the servants on the time of his son’s healing, it was at precisely 13h00, the time that Jesus had spoken the word of healing.

When the man saw for himself that Jesus had been true to his word, he couldn’t contain himself. He must have shared his divine encounter with his entire family and those who worked in his home, leading his whole household to faith. They saw for themselves that this miracle was authentic, not just an illusion or the power of positive thinking. The boy was obviously and visibly healed the moment Jesus had spoken the word. On that basis, the basilica’s household believed and put their faith in God’s Son (John 4:53). As Jesus himself described his miracles, “This is the work of God, that you may believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). That is what each and every one of us must do if we are to put our faith in Christ.

A picture of growing faith.

What a beautiful picture of blossoming faith emerges from this story! Whether we are thinking of coming to Jesus for the very first time, or whether we have been Christians for many years, faith is always taking Jesus at his word and trusting his promises more than we trust our perceptions or our doubts.

A little further on in John’s gospel, Jesus made a promise that is almost incredible to believe. He said,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:35-37).

This is Christ’s promise to each and every one of us: He will satisfy our deepest longings. He will never drive us away. We do not need to see Jesus face-to-face in order to come to him and believe. Like the desperate father, we can come to Jesus in prayer. And like him, we can take Jesus at his word, and believe every one of the promises contained in his Word. The Bible contains the very words by which we can live our lives, and this is how our faith will grow, even when we cannot see or understand.

John reminds us why he wrote his gospel in the first place: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

This story reminds us that it’s not enough to say we believe that Jesus is a great miracle worker, or a wise prophet, or the Saviour of the world. It’s not enough to believe that Jesus can take care of our problems and desperate situations. Faith is acting in accordance with those beliefs. It is doing as the desperate father did, when he got on his horse and galloped 32 kilometers to meet Jesus personally. We need to meet personally with Him, by prayer.

Faith is coming to Jesus as Lord, and submitting our entire lives to him. It is praying,

“Jesus, only you can save me from my sins! Only you can help me in this situation! Only you hold the keys to eternal life, and I desperately need you to unlock the door to let me in. I believe you are the Son of God and your promises are true, so I come to you for forgiveness, for light, for life. I beg for your mercy and grace to fill my desperate need. I will take you at your word and do anything you ask me to do.”

This is how faith is born and this is how faith grows. We will never graduate from the humble attitude of trust that this royal official displayed, as he knelt at Jesus’s feet and begged for what only Christ could give him.