This month I’m doing some reading in the book of John, which is a great book to read because it has so many levels, from clear, basic teachings of the gospel to deep, complex ideas about who Jesus is and what that should mean to us as his disciples. And in the fifth chapter, Jesus is making his first lengthy statement to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. He just healed a man on the Sabbath, and he’s laying out the reasons why he has every right to do so, even thought the Jewish traditions dictated that healing on the Sabbath was forbidden.
There’s something he says at the end of the chapter that stuck out to me. He says:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 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. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
We live in a confrontational world where we’re more and more lining up on one side or the other of every issue, and we see the other side as the opposition to be defeated. But even though Jesus is harsh in his statements, he doesn’t see his opposition as the enemy. Jesus’ invitation of blessings was for anyone who was willing to take it – even the people who thought they were doing just fine without him.
He says “you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The implication is that if you’d just get rid of your pride and accept what Jesus is telling you, he’ll give you that life that you’ve been looking for! But you’re not going to find it as long as you’re insisting that your traditions and personal priorities come first.”
Jesus here indicates the core problem with the religious leaders of his day, and it’s the core problem for so many in today’s religious world who are not interested in the pure, complete message of the gospel: How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
Finding life in the scriptures
How many today are so concerned about being approved and congratulated by the right people – the “accredited” people, or the people that they respect in their lives like parents or friends or family members – that they aren’t that concerned with actually reading the word of God and understanding it on its own? Jesus tells them “you search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life.”
I’ve heard people interpret this to mean that Jesus is saying “You think you’ll find it there, but you’re wrong.” But actually, he’s telling them “you’re right! Eternal life is right there in the scriptures. The problem is, you’re not listening to it. You’re ignoring it because you’re focused on what’s being taught by prominent teachers and scholars, and you’re not letting the scriptures point you to the true source of life.”
Jesus makes a pretty strong point, but it’s also a fair one: if I’m more concerned with the ideas of scholars, my family, my favorite Bible teacher or prominent religious blogger than I am with reading, studying, and meditating on God’s word, can I truly say I love God? Who am I really following? Is it more important to me to live, to teach, to believe in a way that makes me socially acceptable or in step with what the people around me are doing? Or do I love God’s word enough that I want to understand it for myself, and then conform myself through faith and obedience to the teachings that Jesus says will lead me to eternal life.
We glorify God by listening to Him, not ourselves
Let’s never have an attitude of shutting our ears to what the Bible says, just because it isn’t always what we want to hear, or what we’ve always been taught, or what we know most other people think. The gospel – not my opinion or yours – is the power of God to salvation according to Romans 1:16, and it will continue to work through us if we’ll let it.
Read the Bible. Find someone to help you study it if you need to, but always make them go back and show you that what they believe is the same as what God teaches through His word. Read and study to learn what God wants from me, not to figure out how I can do what I want and still follow God. And if you find something that requires you to change your life or your viewpoint on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, make the change. Don’t worry about what anyone else believes or teaches, just follow what the word says. Because after all, the only glory we should be seeking is the glory that comes from God, and the source to achieve that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And never allow yourself to be satisfied with where you are; as Paul writes in Philippians 3:14, keep pressing on for the mark, and keep training for godliness.