How do you know what the “truth” is? Whether we are talking about testimony in a court of law, two friends whose relationship has become strained because of something that was supposedly done or said, or some new supposed breakthrough that people are all talking about—it is important to be able to know the truth and not simply rely on hearsay or opinion.
My oldest son, Dan, is a young lawyer. Much of his time is spent taking depositions from folks who are involved in legal cases. I called Dan this week and asked him, “What is most important in trying to arrive at the truth in a court of law?” Dan said, “Credibility and firsthand knowledge.” We talked for a few minutes about these important aspects of trying to discern the truth and Dan shared with me some examples from his experience in taking depositions. That got me to thinking about an experience I had just this past weekend.
I was meeting with the Withrow family as we were planning the funeral for Jimmy Withrow. I was asking the family questions about Jimmy—where he was born, his early years, where he worked, etc. All of a sudden someone said, “We’ll have to wait until Randy, Jimmy’s brother, gets here. He’ll know the answers to those questions since he was there.” Those who were in the room at the time were grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and in-laws. They had heard things about Jimmy’s early years, but Randy was there, he had firsthand knowledge about Jimmy when he was young. Now that’s a witness whose testimony about Jimmy’s early years we could count on—he was credible and he had firsthand knowledge.
In our Scripture for today we can see that John makes the case that the testimony of Jesus concerning the things of God is the most credible, reliable, and trustworthy of all witnesses. Why is the testimony of Jesus “above all?” Because, John writes, “He testifies to what he has seen and heard…” Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today and see what we can learn.
31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:31-36 NIV)
In the opening of our Scripture for today we find John presenting us with a contrast. The contrast is this: Jesus is “from above and is above all” while everyone else who has ever lived is “from the earth, belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth.” This is important for you and me to keep in mind as we live life every day and run into all kinds of people who have all kinds of opinions about God and His ways.
I was listening to a program on NPR’s “All Things Considered” podcast this past week about what people believe about the afterlife. The host, Robert Siegle, was talking to people of various faiths and no faith, as he described them. He interviewed a Christian pastor, a Muslim scholar and imam, a philosopher who is an atheist, and a Jewish rabbi. Each had different ideas about what the “afterlife” entails. The Christian spoke about the significance of Jesus and the assurance that those who trust in Him have in spending eternity in heaven. The Muslim scholar and imam said that angels will ask each person three questions and how we answer those questions will determine whether or not we spend eternity in heaven or hell. I bet you are wondering what questions we will be asked? Here they are: First, we will be asked, “How did you spend your life? Your youth?” Second, “How did you earn your wealth? How did you spend it?” Finally, we will be judged concerning our prayers, “Did you pray to only one God?” How we answer those questions will determine if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds. The philosopher, who is an atheist, said that for him the hope of the afterlife is in knowing that after we die humanity will continue, there will still be people alive after we have died. The Jewish rabbi said that his views of justice lead him to believe that there must be an afterlife or else Adolf Hitler and Anne Frank would suffer the same fate. His belief is that those who live good lives will go to heaven and those who don’t live good lives will go somewhere else.
Now, all of these folks have their own opinion about the afterlife, about what life will be like once we cease breathing and our heart stops beating. You can see, from what I’ve shared, that people’s beliefs are all over the board. Who should we believe? Some beliefs sound more logical than others. Some seem to make more sense than others. If we simply think through the matter, take an objective look at each, and then decide which view is right…how can we know that the choice we have made is actually true?
If John the Baptist, or John, the writer of the Gospel we have been studying, were here this morning they would speak up and say, “Wait a minute. These sources don’t have firsthand knowledge. They weren’t there in the beginning. They weren’t there when God established His order for all of Creation, including life and eternity. If you want to really know the truth about things, this life and life eternal, then you must go to the firsthand source, the most credible of all sources. Listen to what Jesus has to say.” This really hits home with what God would have us learn this morning from our Scripture in John 3:31-36.
John tells us that Jesus is from above and that all others are of the earth. I want us to take a look at these two words just briefly. The Greek word, “??????” (anothen), which is translated, “above,” in your Bible, means, “from above, from a higher place,” or “of things which come from heaven or God.” We’ve already run into the word when we began studying John 3. When Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, He told him,
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3 NIV)
The phrase, “born again,” translates this Greek word we are looking at. No one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born from “above,” unless they are born by God. Let me show you a couple of other places where the word appears. In John 19, Jesus is on trial and His life is at stake. Jesus wasn’t answering the questions that Pilate was asking so Pilate tried to convince Jesus that he held the keys to life and death. Then John tells us,
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…” (John 19:11a NIV)
Where did Pilate get his power? Jesus says it came from above, or from God. There is one more example that I want us to look at this morning. Turn with me to James 3:13-17. This example is so powerful for us because not only do we find the word “above” used, but we also find James drawing a sharp contrast between “earthly” wisdom and wisdom that is from “above.” Read along with me.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13-17 NIV)
Wisdom that comes from heaven looks totally different than the wisdom that is from below, or earthly, isn’t it? You can ask people what they believe, what they value, and how to live life, but if you really want to know the truth about these matters then you really shouldn’t be relying upon people, even if they are authorities with Ph.D’s and the commendations of other people. “Why?” you might ask. Well, it is because of the second word John used in his contrast, the word, “earthly.” The Greek word translated, “earthly,” is the word, “??” (ge), and it means, “the land, the earth as a whole,” or it can be used to point out the limitations of humanity. Jesus used a form of the word when He was speaking to Nicodemus. Jesus said,
12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? (John 3:12 NIV)
You and I are limited in our understanding. Even the smartest among us is limited in their understanding. Some have great knowledge about a particular subject, but our knowledge is limited, it is finite whereas the knowledge of God is infinite. When it comes to our knowledge about God then we can only know what God reveals to us. I’m reminded of a story in Matthew’s Gospel about the time Jesus asked His disciples what folks were saying about Him? “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” There was talk on the street about Jesus so the disciples began to answer Jesus. “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus turned to the disciples and asked, “Who do you say I am?” Then we read in Matthew 16:16-17 where Simon Peter spoke up. Read along with me.
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:16-17 NIV)
How did Simon Peter know? Jesus makes it clear for us, it wasn’t “earthly” knowledge, not the kind you acquire in school or a weekend seminar or retreat, but God had revealed it to him. For those of us who are flesh and blood we can’t know a thing about truth or God or spiritual matters unless God reveals it to us.
John lets us know that what Jesus teaches us about God is perfect truth because in Jesus, God is made known, God is revealed to you and me. There are many in our society today who will talk about the similarities of religions, they will make statements like, “Well, all religions are fundamentally the same. We need to focus on the commonalities of our faith traditions.” Nothing could be further from the truth if you take the Bible seriously. Let me give you an example. In John’s Gospel, over and over again, at least 23 times, Jesus is said to have been sent on a mission from God. Look at what we can learn about that mission just from the Scripture we are taking a look at this morning.
• Jesus comes from above; he is sent from God (vv. 31, 34).
• Jesus is above all; he has all things in his hand (vv. 31, 35).
• Jesus speaks things he has seen and heard from the Father (vv. 31, 34).
• Jesus gives the truth to those who receive him (v. 33).
• Jesus gives the Spirit to those who trust in him (v. 34).
• Jesus is loved by the Father for he is the Son (v. 35).
• Jesus gives life which is everlasting (v. 36).
The mission of Jesus, the love of Jesus, led Him to come into this broken world, reveal to us the truth about God, offer His sinless life for our sinful lives, and rise from the grave so that we might be reconciled with God the Father. This is a mission unlike any other leader who has ever lived. What others have taught about God throughout the ages has been partly true, but what Jesus has taught us about God is the full truth of God. In John 3: 33-34 we read,
33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. (John 3:33-34 NIV)
Verse 33 paints such a vivid picture for you and me. Take a look at verse 33 where John writes, “Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.” John MacArthur says that in the ancient world people set their seal to something, or they certified something, often with a signet ring, as a sign of complete approval. We can see examples of this in Scripture.
In Esther, when Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews had been uncovered, Xerxes, the King of Persia, ordered Haman killed and a new edict sent out to all of the provinces on behalf of the Jews. Xerxes told Mordecai and Esther…
8 Now write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring–for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked. (Esther 8:8 NIV)
Just as Xerxes “certified” the words in the edict, the followers of Jesus certify the truth of what Jesus says about God when we surrender our wills, our thoughts, our ambitions in life, our supposed truth, and embrace and live solely for the truth we come to know in Jesus. To say that you are a Christian, believe in God, but reject the words of Jesus is an impossibility my friends.
John tells us that Jesus speaks the very words of God. There were times that the Old Testament prophets, enabled by the Spirit spoke, “Thus saith the Lord…” but their words weren’t always the words of God, they only spoke for God when the Holy Spirit enabled them. When Jesus spoke every word was the very Word of God because God gave Jesus “the Spirit without limit.” An old Jewish commentary, or Midrash, on Leviticus called Leviticus Rabbah says, “The Holy Spirit rested on the prophets by measure.” John tells us that the Spirit rested on Jesus without limits, or without measure. Jesus said and did only what God gave Him to say and do. That’s not my estimation of Jesus, that’s what He said about Himself. Take a look at John 5:19 and John 12:49 with me.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19 NIV)
49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. (John 12:49 NIV)
When you see Jesus act, you are watching the very actions of God. When you hear Jesus speak, you are listening to the very words of God.
Last of all, in John 3:35, we read, “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” In Matthew 11:27, Jesus said, “All things have been committed to me by my Father.” The only question that is left for us to answer is, “What does ‘all things’ mean?” Well, remember, it is always best to answer biblical questions with biblical answers so let’s see how God’s Word answers our question. In 1 Peter 3:22 we learn that Jesus has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand. Let’s see what else we can learn by reading this verse. Read along with me.
22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Peter 3:22 NIV)
“Angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.” There’s an answer for us, but it’s not the only answer provided for us by God’s Word. In Ephesians 1:22-23 we learn that Jesus is the authority over the Church. Read along with me.
22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:22-23 NIV)
Jesus is the Head of the Church and when He is honored as the Head then the Church can flourish as God intends, but when the Church or individual churches neglect His authority then the Church, and churches, become a mess.
So, we have learned that He is over the angels, authorities, powers, and the Church, but that’s not all. Turn with me to Philippians 2:9-11 for there is more for us to learn. Read along with me.
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV)
He is Lord of all my friend! He is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords! He is God who has come to you and me to offer us eternal life. As we close out our time together this morning John states the obvious for you and me when he writes,
36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:36 NIV)
What will you do with the claims of God’s Son, Jesus? If you believe Him, if you “certify” His claims by surrendering your life then you will know the life that only He can give, abundant life in the here and now and eternal life forevermore. If you reject His claims and walk away waiting for the right time, the right mood, the right conditions, then you need to know that God’s wrath remains on you. That’s an interesting thought isn’t it? “God’s wrath remains on them.” “Remain” means that it is already present and that’s something that most people are not willing to deal with. We want to hold on to the belief that God is love and as long as we do the best we can do then everything is going to work out alright for us. That’s not what the Bible teaches. We are not born “good” and “innocent.” We are born separated from God and sinners by nature. We are born under the judgment of God, but the possibility of experiencing the grace of God is made available to those who will confess their sin and receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. God’s ways and our “natural ways” are like oil and water and never shall the two mix. Jesus died so that we might die to our old nature and live a new life, life produced by the Spirit who lives within us. Apart from Jesus we need to know that we are on a collision course with destruction. Let me close with an illustration.
Have you ever watched a Navy pilot land a fighter jet on one of those aircraft carriers out in the ocean? If the pilot trusted in his own skill and expertise then the landing would never be possible, he would crash that fighter jet and lose his life. The pilot has to relinquish his best thinking, he can’t trust in his experience, no matter how many times he’s landed safely on the aircraft carrier—he must trust resources outside of himself.
The first thing a Navy pilot must do when he or she is trying to land their jet on the aircraft carrier is to find the phrenol beam, a light sent up from the landing of the aircraft carrier to guide the plane in. When the pilot finds the phrenol beam then he must locate the center strobe line which starts just off the stern of the carrier and goes all the way through the center of the landing area. The angle of the landing looks right only if the pilot lines up his plane with the strobe. He can’t land any way he likes, it is imperative that he align his plane with the line of strobe lights that are blinking to keep him in line.
Once the pilot has his plane aligned with the line of strobe lights then he must stay in constant contact with the landing signal officer whose one mission is to guide him in. The landing signal officer’s one mission is to keep the pilot focused on the phrenol beam and the strobe line. If the pilot will trust these, the phrenol beam, strobe line, and the landing signal officer then he will be able to land safely on the carrier.
You and I are much like the jet pilot. We’ve got our hands on the yoke and we are called to live this life each and every day, but if we simply rely on our own experience or intelligence then we are going to crash and burn. Before we can do anything else we must find the phrenol beam, the Light. Jesus is the Light of the world and this morning you need to set your eyes on Him my friend. After we come to see the Light we then we must align our lives with the “strobe line.” Can you guess what God has set in place as our “strobe line?” We read in Psalms, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105 NIV) God has given us His Word to keep us on the path, to keep us from running our lives in the ditch, but we must align our lives with God’s Word. Last of all, the Holy Spirit is our “landing signal caller, who has been given to keep us focused on Jesus and the Scriptures.
God has provided everything you and I need for us to experience His abundant life and to have eternal life. He has taught us all of this and more through His Son, Jesus, who speaks the very words of God, the truth of God, to you and me. What will you do with Jesus? Will you surrender your life this morning or will you walk away and reject Him? Don’t walk away.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 20, 2013