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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8 am service, 2008-01-27

Text: John 5:31-47

Many of us may have heard of man called John Newton. He was a British slave trader who experienced the grace of God while returning home to England on board a storm-battered ship and was marvelously saved. Twenty-five years later, when Newton had become a well-known pastor, he penned the words of a song which he intended to teach his congregation. This song would help to bring home to their hearts the sermon he was going to preach on New Year's Day of 1773. It was entitled, 'Faith's Review and Expectation.' Today, that song has become one of the best known hymns in the world, under its better-known title, 'Amazing Grace.'

The first stanza of this hymn presents a contrast between past wretchedness and present blessedness; between being lost and being found, and between being blind, and being able to see. This aptly describes the transformation that happened to Newton himself - from the cruel slave-trader that he once was, hurling terrible abuse at everyone on board a ship, to the gentle soul-winner he became, drawing sinners to Christ. 'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see!'

Dearly beloved it is only because of this amazing grace that you and I have been able to see the light of God's salvation. If it were not for the grace of God we would not be gathered here in this sanctuary to worship the Lord. We would still be totally blind, just like the many souls in the world that are lost in sin. This is because according to God's Word in 2 Corinthians 4:4, 'the god of this world (with a small 'g' and it refers to the Devil) hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.' 

What a blindness this is! Even though the truths concerning God are so clear and evident in the wonders of nature (Romans 1:20), and also in the Bible - people can't see these truths or understand them. They can't accept anything that is miraculous or supernatural. They think they already know everything there is to know. Instead of attributing the world's existence to God's creation, they seek to explain it merely as a natural process called evolution.

They are really blind! But what is worse than that, is that they do not even realise that they are blind to the God's clear revelations. And many would be quite upset if you were to tell them they are blind. Now, there are some who do acknowledge their need of sight but unfortunately, they seek for answers in the wrong places: in the many self-help books that are in the bookstores, in clairvoyants, fortune tellers, astrologers, self-styled prophets - all claiming to be able to see the things that ordinary people cannot see, and to be able to lead others to the light. But they are like the blind leading the blind - both will fall into the same ditch. (Matthew 15:14)

The apostle Paul was like that before he was saved. He was a very proud Jew, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee who thought that he knew all there is to know because he had been trained by the Jewish rabbi Gamailiel and thus he had full knowledge of the Law of God. But he did not accept that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and he zealously persecuted those who believed in Jesus very severely (Philippians 3:4-6). But on the road to Damascus, Jesus Himself appeared to him and shattered his great pride. For the first time in his life, Paul realized how spiritually blind he really was. In fact for a while he was physically blind as well, and had to be led by someone into the city of Damascus (Acts 9:3-9). 

But it was only then, when he was willing to admit his blindness, his need for spiritual light, that his eyes were opened to the precious truths of Christ and His salvation. The scales fell off his eyes and he could see once again (Acts 9:11-18). Like John Newton, Paul could now say, 'I was blind, but now I see.' I'm sure that many of us can thank God that we too had our eyes opened by God at the time when we trusted in Him. God's amazing grace had worked in us to make us see our need for salvation from sin, and to make us see Jesus Christ as the only answer to that need.

Now besides this kind of spiritual blindness there is another kind of spiritual blindness which is much worse and which we will now turn our attention to. It is a deliberate blindness, based on personal prejudice against Christ. This is a blindness that goes against all logic and reason, and it is therefore deserving of the most severe judgment. Let us turn our Bibles to our passage of Scripture in John 5:31-47 (Read). This passage shows us two characteristics of this spiritual blindness: Firstly, 

I. It Rejects All The Witnesses To Jesus Christ.

Jesus cites no less than 4 reliable witnesses - all of them rejected by spiritual blindness: The first one, mentioned in v.33-35 is 

A. The Witness of John the Baptist (vv.32-35)

v.33 'Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.' John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ, the one who baptized Jesus and pointed Him out as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews. What kind of witness did John the Baptist give to Jesus Christ? He said that Christ was so much greater than him. He said that he was unworthy even to unloose the latchet of the shoes of Christ. He openly declared that Jesus is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world. He announced that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This would be a far more glorious ministry than his own baptism with water (John 1:26-29).

The remarkable thing about John the Baptist was that he wielded great influence among the Jews. As he preached repentance at the River Jordan, crowds of people came to hear him and to be baptized by him. Many became his disciples and there were even disciples of John the Baptist right up till the time of the apostle Paul (Acts 19:1-4). Hardly anyone doubted that John was a great prophet, one who had the courage even to publically expose the evil deeds of king Herod (Luke 3:19,20). 

The high esteem that John the Baptist had in the eyes of the Jews can be seen on one particular occasion when the Jews challenged Jesus, and Jesus replied by asking them 'The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.' (Matthew 21:25,26)

The point then is this: If the Jews had such high regard for John the Baptist, even to revere him as a prophet, who was a burning and shining light to them (v.35), then they should have accept his witness about Jesus willingly. By rejecting Jesus, they were making John a liar! Such an accusation is a great sin not only against John the Baptist, but also against the Lord who had sent him! But some may say, 'Well, John the Baptist was after all, a mere man - a man who could have been terribly mistaken about the identity of Christ.' That is why he is not the only witness to Christ. We go on now to look at the second witness that Jesus names in our passage of Scripture, which is: 

B. The Witness of the Miracles of Christ (v.36)

In v.36, Jesus describes these miracles as being a greater witness than John's witness. The Jews knew about these miracles very well, because the news of them had spread far and wide. They had also been following His ministry and works closely from the time He began. As we study the Gospel of John, one of the things we will notice is that it describes certain miracles of Jesus in great detail, beginning from the first one He performed at a wedding in Cana of Galilee where He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). 

The chapters that come before our text record two other noteworthy miracles performed by Christ. One is the healing of the Nobleman's son (John 4:46-54) and the other is when Jesus healed the paralyzed man at the Bethesda pool (John 5:1-18). By the end of the book, the Gospel of John will provide four more miracles of Christ - Feeding the Multitudes (6:6-13), Walking on Water (6:16-21), Healing the Man Born Blind (9:1-7), and the Raising of Lazarus from the dead (11:1-45). All these miracles were of such great magnitude and power that they are very compelling evidence that Jesus Christ is truly all that He said He was - the only begotten Son of God who had created all things. 

So we now have two powerful witnesses to Christ - the witness of John the Baptist and the witness of Christ's miracles. Now we come to the third witness, which is also the most important witness:

C. The Witness of God the Father (v.37)

v.37 'And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.' Now, the question that some would ask is, How did the Father bear witness to the Son while Jesus was on earth? There are three distinct events in the life of Christ where God the Father spoke with an audible voice in the presence of Christ and testified to Him in public. The first was His baptism. As Jesus came out of the water, the heavens opened, the Spirit of God descended on Him like a dove, and there was a voice from heaven saying 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' (Matthew 3:16,17). Another was during the transfiguration of Jesus, when the appearance of Jesus was changed before three of His disciples, and Moses and Elijah came to speak with Him. Then a voice from Heaven spoke: 'This is my beloved Son: hear Him.' (Luke 9:29-35). 

The next time when God the Father bore witness was toward the end of Christ's life on earth when Jesus, while speaking to a crowd, said to God the Father, 'Father, glorify Thy name.' And the Father replied 'I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.' (John 12:28-30)

What Jesus says in the latter part of John 5:37 about the Father is significant 'Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape.' In other words, these three occasions when God spoke with an audible voice to a crowd of people had not happened before, at least not since the time when God spoke to Israel at Mount Sinai with an audible voice (Exodus 20:1,19). Those who heard God's voice speaking from Heaven when Jesus was on earth were therefore very highly privileged to have heard it. They should have realized that it was an unprecedented and special occurrence that calls for their full attention. When God has something to say to man like this, man must certainly listen very carefully to what He says, and receive it without any doubt at all, because God does this very, very rarely. And since in all three instances it was Jesus Christ who was the subject of the Father's speaking, there should now be no doubt at all that Jesus is truly all that He said He was.

Now, at least some of the Jews whom Jesus spoke to could have argued, 'Well it was only those people who were present at that time, who heard God's voice speaking from heaven. I did not hear it. And all those miracles that Jesus did - I was not there when He did them. So how can you expect me to believe in Jesus?' This is where the fourth witness becomes useful, because it is a witness that every Jew could have access to at any time: 

D. The Witness of the Holy Scriptures (vv.39; 45-47)

In v.39 and 40, Jesus challenges the Jews to search the Scriptures. And He tells them that if they looked carefully, they would find the Scriptures speaking all about Him and that He is the source of life they should seek. By the term 'Scriptures' here, Jesus is only talking about the Old Testament. The New Testament was not written yet at that time. We all know that the New Testament has plenty of information about Jesus. But do you know that the Old Testament also abounds with information about Him? Let us look at a few verses to verify this:

There are many prophecies about Christ, like Isaiah 9:6 'For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.' There are also many titles and allusions to Christ, like 'the Seed of the Woman' in Genesis 3:15, 'Immanuel' in Isaiah 7:14, the 'Son of Man' in Daniel 7:13, and 'Messiah' in Daniel 9:25,26

. Another evidence of Christ in the Old Testament is found in the times when God appeared to Israel in human form. These appearances were also physical manifestations of Christ since Micah 5:2 tells us that out of Bethelehem, the birthplace of Christ, there would come forth One who is to rule Israel, 'whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.'

What all this means is that the Jews had no excuse for not believing in Jesus Christ. The OT Scriptures they possessed provided abundant testimony to them of Jesus - revealing the family line He would come from, the time and location of His birthplace, His ministry of healing and teaching, His death for sinners and even His resurrection, His ascension up to Heaven, and His Return to rule the world. All these things had been foretold in the Scriptures concerning Jesus Christ!

And for the same reason, all who live in our present time also have no excuse for not believing in Jesus, when God has already given His full written Word to testify of Jesus Christ. Today we have the Old as well as the New Testament to testify of Him. These have been translated and printed and disseminated all over the world making the Bible the most widely distributed book in the world. Through the efforts of missionaries in the last few centuries the Gospel has been preached even unto the uttermost parts of the earth. Unless a person lives in the remotest parts of the world today, the knowledge of Jesus Christ is readily available to all.

Our task then, is to bring this written Word of God, this Testimony of Jesus Christ to everyone around us so that they may read it and believe in Him. There are bound to be those who will believe and be saved. But sadly, there will also be those who will refuse to believe in Him even after they have read the Bible many times over and heard the Gospel message many times. These would be just like the Jews in the times of Jesus who read their Scriptures, but did not turn to Christ.

Despite the many witnesses they had - the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of the miracles, the witness of God the Father and the witness of the scriptures - they still refused to believe in Him. And now we want to know: What is the cause of this unbelievable unbelief? 

II. It is Caused By Sin

Jesus diagnosed the root of the problem in vv.42-44 'But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?'

A. Love for Self and Not for God

We can observe two particular sins of the Jews mentioned here: The first is that they did not have the love of God in them. Outwardly they may seem to be very pious, religious people who worshipped God, but Jesus knew their motives for doing all these things, and He knew that they did not do them out of love for God. They did it rather out of love for themselves. This is also known as the sin of pride. In the final analysis, the reason for the unbelievable unbelief of the Jews despite the abundance of witnesses to Christ was their selfish pride. Believing in Jesus would only hurt their pride. They would have to humble themselves. They would have to deny themselves what they loved most - the honour and glory they received from men. 

That was a price they refused to pay because they loved themselves more than anything else, even more than God. The Jews prided themselves in being custodians of God's Law and in being known for their meticulous keeping of all the 613 laws. They loved to be called by the title 'Pharisee' or 'Chasidim' denoting how pure and how righteous they were. They loved to show off their zeal and how blameless they were, touching the righteousness which is in the law (cf. Philippians 3:6). All this was merely an outward form, without any love for God. Let us beware lest we too fall into the same sins and come under the same condemnation.

Because of their pride, whatever fault they could find in others would make them feel very good about themselves. Therefore, when Christ supposedly broke their Sabbath-keeping rules by commanding the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda to take up his bed and walk, their pride made them find fault with Him, and it also made them prejudiced and hardened against Him. In their eyes Jesus was condemned as a Sabbath breaker, unlike them who were perfect in Sabbath keeping. They felt good to be better than Him. And since their pride had made them prejudiced against Jesus, nothing that He said or did mattered to them anymore. Everything He did could never be right, even if it was clearly a miracle of God. To them, Jesus could not be the Son of God because by their definition, not God's definition, He had broken the Law of Moses and He was therefore a sinner. 

The miracles of Jesus should have evoked a response of wonder, worship and praise in their hearts, plus a desire to know Him and serve Him. They should not make themselves judges or critics over His works, just because He had done the miracle on their sacred Sabbath day.

In the world today, there are many people who still reject Christ for the very same reason: Just because what He was and what He did does not fit into their own selfish ideas or concepts of what the Saviour of the world should be and what He should do. Some are looking for a Saviour who will give them everything they want, and require nothing at all from them. Some years ago when I answered the phone in the church office, the caller wanted to know the name of the god or goddess who can give him the most money! I told him that he must seek God not to get money from Him but to give himself to God. He hung up. Others are looking for a Saviour who will give them recognition and who will praise their religious works of piety and devotion that they are so proud of.

Perhaps there is someone here who is like that. As long as you allow yourself to be prejudiced against Christ based on your own selfish concepts of what He should be, and on human standards of judgment, you will remain blind to all the wonderful life-giving truths about Him. What you need to do is not to judge Him at all, but to humbly receive Him, recognizing that Jesus Christ alone can give you the spiritual knowledge and discernment you need. Then, you will receive sight and your eyes will be opened. Coming back to our text we have just seen the first sin of the Jews which is their love for self. Now the other sin is their: 

B. The Desire to Receive Honour from Men Rather than God

There are some people I have met who do not want to believe in the Lord Jesus, because they are afraid of what others would think of them. Perhaps there may be someone like that here. You come from a very staunch idol-worshipping family, and for generations everyone has been proud of how devoted the family has been to the worship of those idols. And then all of a sudden you are confronted with the truth of the Gospel and you have to decide what to do with it. 

But when you think about committing yourself fully to believing only in Christ, you realize that if you were to do that you will face tremendous opposition and persecution from those you live with and love. Your mind imagines the angry faces of your parents, the unkind words of your brothers and sisters and your spouse who accuse you of being a traitor to the family. The thought of being cast out by your own loved ones makes you tremble. All the upset emotions of being the cause of division and trouble at home makes you very fearful of acknowledging the truth.

And then you ask yourself, is it worth losing the honour of men for the sake of following Jesus Christ? If you allow your desire to receive honour from men to overcome you, you will say, 'No, it is not worth it' and just continue on in life pretending that you had never seen the truth. This is willful blindness. But you are only fooling and deceiving yourself. You are living a lie. Please do not allow the desire to be honoured by men to make you blind to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is worthwhile to go through emotional crises for a while and even to be cast out of your own home, because you will not be left alone. Jesus Himself will give you the courage you need, the strength you need, the assurance and comfort you need. 

Dearly beloved we have seen in our study of God's Word this morning, how terrible blind unbelief is. Let us examine ourselves well to see if we are like that. And if we are, let us not choose to remain in that state. Ask the Lord to help you to love Him and to seek for the honour that only He can give. 

And please remember this: There are none so blind as those who refuse to see. May the Lord help us. Let us pray.

Vision & Mission


To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

February 18 & 25 - Fruit of Obedience

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. John 15:10