LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 24 November 2019
Sermon Text: John 5:44
II. Why people disbelieve
III. Seeking the glory that comes from the only God
The Lord Jesus visited Jerusalem to attend one of the important Jewish festivals. So many Jews had come from all cities and towns of Israel and Jesus taught them and said that He is the Messiah with full authority as testified by the Father and the Scriptures. While teaching them to believe in Him, the Lord pointed out an undeniable fact, that is, the natural man cannot believe in Him and God. V. 44 records His words in a rhetorical question asked to all people, the Jews of His time and all of us after them. He said, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” He means, in other words, as you people receive glory from one another, disregarding the glory from above, none can believe. Because all in mankind do seek glory from one another rather than seeking the glory that comes from God, there’s no hope of any man to believe and be saved.
While true and factual, this teaching puzzles us, especially when we consider and compare this with the openness of Jesus’ gospel and His invitation to salvation. All may come to Him and, through repentance and faith, all may be saved. There’s no exception; there’s no discrimination on any ground – male and female, rich and poor, the colour of skin, hair or eyes – nothing obstructs anyone; the door to Jesus is wide open. The grace of Jesus is for all and everyone who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, the Saviour and Lord of the world. In this sense, Christ’s invitation and redeeming grace is unique.
But, here in v. 44 of Jn. 5, Jesus says that people cannot believe; it is impossible for people to believe, thus, be saved. I don’t want to begin a theological lecture with this fact, but I’d like you to consider these words of Jesus and see why there are so many people in the world disbelieving, thus, missing out on the blessings from God and Christ of forgiveness of sins and everlasting life in heaven.
I also want you to hear the solution Jesus presents to all who disbelieve and know how to turn from the ways of sin and destruction and come and believe in the One who came from above, from God the Father and receive and enjoy the deep joy of forgiveness of sins and the ever-growing hope of dwelling in God’s paradise. Hearing it, I pray that all hearts may be turned and redirected to the way of faith and living for Christ and enjoying Him both now and ever.
Before we move on to think about why people disbelieve, I’d like you to know what ‘disbelief’ is. What does disbelief mean? Its dictionary definition is ‘inability or refusal to accept that something is true or real.’ Borrowing the well-known definition of ‘faith’ from Heb. 11:1, the opposite of that verse is the biblical explanation of disbelief. So, while faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” disbelief is ‘distrust of things that cannot be seen or touched.’
In other words, disbelief is ‘acceptance of only what is sensible to human mind.’ Only what is visible, touchable and audible makes sense, and accepting that perspective and holding and remaining in that viewpoint while rejecting all others is disbelief. Refusing to trust anything invisible, anything untouchable, anything that cannot make sense to the human mind is disbelief. An actor in a movie said, ‘I believe cause and consequence and that’s my faith.’ That’s exactly what disbelief is. The human mind perceives a cause and how that cause proceeds to a consequence, and that’s all that human mind accepts and believes. And that is disbelief.
Disbelief is, therefore, ‘self-interested’ or ‘egocentric.’ The human mind is the only reference for credibility, thus, anything that does not give a sense to the human mind or anything that dissatisfies his/her mind is rejected and disbelieved.
So, when Christians speak to non-Christians and share Jesus with them and invite them to believe in Jesus, the usual answer we’d hear is, ‘I can’t believe that Jesus is God’s Son, was born of a virgin, died and came back to life.’ We hear this answer because their minds cannot sense, cannot see Jesus, nor touch Him, nor hear His voice. A well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins, once responded and said, ‘One of the things that is wrong with religion is that it teaches us to be satisfied with answers which are not really answers at all.’ You see his point by saying, ‘religion, that is, Christianity, teaches him to be satisfied with answers which are not really answers at all.’ He means, firstly, his human mind accepts what is sensible only and refuses what is not and, secondly, his human mind is the only reference and standard in grading or classifying what is believable and what is not. Ps. 10:3 describes all who disbelieve in the words, “the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.” Such is disbelief.
II. WHY PEOPLE DISBELIEVE
Now, based on our Lord’s explanation given in Jn. 5:44, we move on and see why people disbelieve. Jesus means in this verse that people receive glory from one another and that’s why they cannot believe. Simply put, people’s eyes are always on fellow men and it never changes; their only concern in their life is to have applauses and praises from people. I’m not talking about people in whose occupations mainly deal with people such as businesspeople, counsellors, teachers, or doctors; I’m talking about all human beings in whatsoever jobs and occupations, including those people whose life’s concerns are far from fellow human beings but are on animals, minerals, plants or even stars in the universe. All men and women constantly desire to have people’s applause and praise. This is, in Jesus’ expression, ‘receiving glory from one another.’ After all, people who desire receiving people’s acclamation, give honour and glory to others first, hoping that they too might return the same to them.
Pause for a moment and consider the very fundamental goal of every human being on earth. What is everyone’s fundamental goal in their life? Everyone wants to be rich; everyone seeks pleasure, desires to be famous, endeavours to obtain power, to be beautiful, attractive, healthy, influential and so on. The list goes on and on, but the summit, apex, zenith is one, that is, to be honoured and gloried by their fellow human beings!
The Lord Jesus points out this deepest root of disbelief in this question, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another?” As long as anyone’s life’s concern is on receiving glory, honour, applause from people, there’s no room in his/her heart for trust and faith in Jesus. Someone might question in his mind and say, ‘I guess I could manage my Christian faith and my desire in this world well and balanced.’ But, my friend, that’s impossible; you and I cannot keep two desires and concerns well balanced because one will crush the other and the crushed side is always our desire to give glory to Christ. This is why Jesus teaches us in Mt. 6:24, talking about two ‘masters.’ Let me read that verse to you: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” He means, you and I can never keep our worldly desire and Christian faith well and balanced!
This might sound to you that there’s no hope, then, for anyone, even any Christian, because no person can perfectly devote his life to God and Christ, but always has some reservation on his worldly desire. But, don’t be despaired because Jesus has graciously given to us His solution and we’ll deal with it shortly. As long as you’re with the Lord through faith and He with you in His grace, you have His guarantee of life and everlasting blessings.
Meanwhile, let me point out to you one more important reason why people disbelieve. People reject Jesus and disbelieve Him because they search for a ‘saviour’ of their own design. People know they cannot save themselves and they need salvation, a way out of their misery. That’s why all men and women in the world are religious in whatever way. Some might deny, but they can’t fool themselves as they cross fingers, turn their eyes and incline their ears to all sorts of fortune-telling. People accept all forms of religion, trying to trust something or someone that might give them a comfort to their uneasy, troubled minds. But they altogether reject Jesus. Why? Because Jesus who came down from above is not what they want. The closest form of ‘saviour’ people seek is the Genie of the lamp in a Disney’s cartoon. People like to initiate the process of calling their Genie by rubbing their lamps, and exercise a full control over their Genie to gain a full benefit of their wishes. That’s the version of saviour they search.
To these people, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God who came down from above with His own agenda and His own way of redeeming sinners doesn’t appeal at all, let alone making sense. So, the Lord Jesus asks, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” Here, ‘the glory that comes from’ above can also mean ‘the splendour, brightness or glorious being that comes from the only God’ as the Greek word for ‘glory’ also carries those meanings – splendour, brightness or glorious being. Simply, Jesus Christ who has the full and complete authority from the Father for redeeming all who come to Him and bringing them to the end of the age and into His eternal kingdom! People cannot receive Jesus as the only Saviour and Lord!
Not surprisingly, the Jews of the first century AD were not different from the disbelieving people of our day and age. They had been waiting for a saviour who was quite different from the One from above. They had Him; they heard Him; they touched Him and ate with Him; but, never did they know Him as the Messiah for the whole world. Why? Because they were waiting and searching for their own version of messiah. So are general public of our days; so are even some people who claim to be Christians, but are not.
Like this way, people disbelieve; they disbelieve by desiring the worldly applause, glory and honour, while searching for their own version of saviour.
III. SEEKING THE GLORY THAT COMES FROM THE ONLY GOD
Having said, I want you to go back to the point we left earlier, that is, these reasons for disbelief might sound hopeless to you who believe because no Christian could perfectly devote his/her life to God and Christ, but always has some reservation on his/her worldly desire. What you heard from the Lord that we could not serve two masters might drag your spirit down to despair because you feel guilty of not fully honouring Christ, but sparing some of your heart and mind, your hands and feet for tasting and indulging in some worldly pleasures.
But, I repeat what I said, that you don’t, never, despair because Jesus has graciously given to us an ear to hear His voice – that is, ‘faith’ and this is why ‘faith’ is the Lord’s gift to us – and with this ear, hear His solution and way for us to escape the mess we all are in. That is, we hear the Lord and understand Him, telling us this: ‘You ought to believe Me, by not seeking to receive man’s glory, but seeking the glory that comes from the only God!’ This glory is perfect and eternal and ever-growing in the heart of all who have received it.
This does not mean that all Christians should regard everything of this world worthless and purposeless – no, that’s not the point. We carry out our life’s duties, not in a way satisfying our fleshly desire to be gloried by people, but in a way that deepens our search for Jesus and His glory and our commitment to Him.
In fact, this is exactly what we find from Phil. 3:1-11. Being inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul explains what we ought to believe and pursue in our life. I’m reading it from one of the paraphrase versions of English Bible. I want you to hear each word in every verse that nail down the message we’ve heard this morning.
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin – a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage [or ‘dung’], so that I could gain Christ and become one with Him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead. I want to suffer with Him, sharing in His death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” ***