April 25, 2021
It was Walter Martin who said, “When people say, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ look them straight in the eye and ask, ‘Which one?’” You see, there has always been confusion about who Jesus of Nazareth is. The truth is, you have to do something with Him. As British author H. G. Wells once said, “I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.” You have to do something with Jesus.
Sholem Asch, a Polish-American Jewish author, said, “Jesus Christ is to me the outstanding personality of all time, all history…There is no easy middle ground to stroll upon. You either accept Jesus or reject him.” I agree, there can be no middle ground.
Still further, the Christian author James C. Hefley said, “Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of His Divine manhood. While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a Cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying—and that was His coat. When He was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Such was His human life—He rises from the dead. Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the Centerpiece of the human race and the Leader of the column of progress. I am within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.” You have to do something with Jesus.
The Jews of Jesus’ day, both followers and opponents, knew this. They could not ignore Him. Love Him, despise Him, those were the options. After all, many were there when He performed all those miracles – healing people of every disease. They watched blind eyes see, deaf ears hear, mute tongues speak, crippled legs walk, lepers healed, deformed bodies restored. They saw storms calmed, dead raised, demoniacs delivered. These were not your run-of-the-mill, sleight of hand tricks. These were bona fide miracles – there could be no explaining them away, there could be no denying them. Even His opponents didn’t try to dismiss them – they were too real with too many witnesses. So instead, they just attributed His power to Beelzebub, the prince of demons.
The disciples were there to see this opposition mount from the religious elite – from scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, teachers of the law. They watched as Jesus adeptly handled their challenges and accusations. Despite their best efforts, they could not trap Him. You see, no one spoke with the authority and clarity of this man.
And so, as the opposition continued to mount, at one point Jesus led His followers outside Jewish territory. They traveled north to Gentile country, to Caesarea Philippi, at the foot of Mt. Hermon. Even on the way, He continued to do amazing miracles – He healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter who had been demon-possessed. When He arrived in the Decapolis, a huge Gentile crowd gathered and He healed all who were sick. He even fed the Gentiles with a few loaves and fish, just like He had done with the Jews outside Capernaum. And so the disciples were beginning to understand the kingdom would eventually transcend cultural and racial boundaries. And the evidence was becoming overwhelming. You have to do something with Jesus.
When they arrived at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” In other words, what are people doing with Me? Let’s read the conversation that takes place in Matthew 16:13-18.
I love this passage. It contains the first mention of the church which Jesus promised to build despite the opposition of hell itself. Jesus actually asked two questions – who do people say that I am, and more importantly, “Who do you say that I am?” That is a question not only for the disciples – it is the question for every person who has ever lived. Who do you say Jesus is? Well, as to the first question, let’s begin with some wrong answers:
- Some say you’re John the Baptist. You see, both the messages of Jesus and John were similar, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And John was dead by this time; He had been beheaded by Herod Antipas. Highly regarded by the people, they saw him as a prophet. Apparently, some thought maybe, just maybe, Jesus is a resurrected John. That’s what Herod thought, which was why Jesus steered clear of him. Well, of course, we know Jesus wasn’t John – He couldn’t be. They were contemporaries – born six months apart – cousins. John had baptized Jesus in the Jordan some time before. John was the one sent to prepare the way of the Lord – the forerunner to prepare the way for the Messiah. So, good guess, wrong answer.
- Some say you’re Elijah – now, why would they say that? Because, Malachi 4:5 says, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.” This was rightly seen as prophecy concerning the Messiah – Elijah would come and announce the Messiah’s arrival. Even today, orthodox Jews leave an empty chair at their Passover celebrations, waiting for Elijah. Good guess, wrong answer.
- Still others said, maybe He’s Jeremiah. Why would they say that? Well, first, Jeremiah was seen as a prophet of gloom, and Jesus didn’t have a lot of positive things to say about the future of Israel and their religious system – maybe He’s a reincarnated Jeremiah. Not only that, there was a teaching within Judaism that came from the apocryphal book II Maccabees – one of those inter-testamental books written between Malachi and Matthew, that said Jeremiah had taken the ark of the covenant and the altar of incense from the Temple right before the Babylonians arrived and hid them. The legend said he would return with them right before the coming of the Messiah. Maybe at any moment Jesus would produce the ark and the altar, and the Messiah would come. Good guess, wrong answer.
- Finally, there were others who didn’t try to identify which prophet – they just thought Jesus might be one of the prophets, preparing for the Messiah.
This is what I want you to notice. Every one of those responses was positive. They weren’t saying bad things about Jesus. Sure, there were some like the Pharisees accusing Jesus of being in league with Satan. But that’s not what most were saying. Jesus, you’re obviously a good guy, a godly man, a prophet, a man sent by God. We think you’re okay, not unlike today. Jesus is cool, not so sure about this Son of God thing, but He’s obviously the dominant figure of all history.
Notice also, most of those guesses had to do with someone sent to announce the Messiah – in other words, they saw Jesus as right next to him, a forerunner perhaps, but not quite the Messiah. I mean, we like Him, keep up the good work. We like the miracles, we like the healings, we like the food, but you don’t quite fit the Messianic profile. You see there was a major problem: they were looking for a political leader to overthrow Roman oppression and lead them to their rightful place of glorious victory. Jesus wasn’t that guy. I mean, come on – He was from Galilee, can any good thing come out of Galilee? And He didn’t appear to be gathering an army. His followers were former fishermen, tax collectors, lepers, sinners, prostitutes. We’re impressed with Him, but He’s not quite right.
And that assessment has been the conclusion of many people through the centuries as they have dismissed Him. Oh, they might not call Him demon-possessed, they might not call Him a fraud, but they dismiss Him nonetheless. They may even say great things about Him. He’s a good man, a good example, a man without equal, maybe even a prophet. Think about it, Pilate said, “I find no guilt in this man.” Great, that’s positive – He’s not such a bad guy.
The French philosopher Diderot referred to Him as “the unsurpassed.” The German rationalist Strauss saw Him as “the highest model of religion,” Decante said He is the “guide to humanity,” the French atheist Renan as “the greatest among the sons of men,” and my personal favorite, Martinot saw Him as the “flower of humanity.” What does that mean? I don’t know, but most of those answers attribute some goodness to Him, after all, you have to do something with Jesus.
And so today, people dismiss Him. They might see Him as a historical figure. I believe what I’ve read about Him in the history books, in my philosophy of religion classes. They might see Him as a moral example – He did lots of good things. In fact, most people don’t even have a problem with us being here today, I mean, if that’s what we want to do – our religion has been somewhat harmless and inconsequential to them. And so they dismiss Him. You may even be here this morning with warm and fuzzy feelings about Jesus. You may like church and church people.
I want to say that all those thoughts about Jesus, as positive as they may be, miss the mark. In fact, I would suggest saying positive things about Him, but coming short of what the Bible says, is dreadfully mistaken. Like that Jewish author said, “You either accept Him or reject Him.” You can’t waver; you can’t make up your own ideas. He’s either who He claimed to be, or a deranged, wannabe religious figure with delusions of grandeur, or worse. I agree with C. S. Lewis who once said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic…or else he would be the devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
I agree – so did the Jews. That’s why they put Him to death. Not ultimately because of His miracles, not even because of His authoritative teaching, but because of who He claimed to be. We’ve been in a study of I John for some time now. This morning, we arrive at a clear declaration of who Jesus is and what He came to do. People must decide. Read it with me, I John 5:6-12. John had just said in verse 5, “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” He continues…
So important is believing the testimony about Jesus that such belief results in eternal life – and to deny the testimony about Jesus is to not have eternal life. You have to do something with Him – there is no middle ground. When you are asked, who do you say Jesus is – your answer is of eternal consequence. Do not waver.
Now, the word testimony or testify is used 10 times in these verses. The word is marturia or martureo which means to testify, or a witness. Interestingly, it’s the word from which we get our word martyr – because when many in the early church testified about Jesus or were His witnesses – it cost them their lives. Because belief in Jesus was more important than life itself. And so also today, naming the name of Jesus is not without cost.
John has just said in verses 1 and 5, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Now, he goes on to give testimony, in the sense of proof, as to the person and work of Jesus. As we have seen, through this book, the successionists were in some way denying that Jesus was the Christ, that He was the Son of God, and likely were denying His work. So, John has said clearly through the letter – you must believe/confess rightly about Jesus. He is the Christ; He is the Son of God. How do we know that what John says about Jesus is true? He tells us in these verses, with this testimony about Jesus, and the consequences of believing or denying the testimony, which forms our outline:
- The Testimony Concerning Jesus (6-9)
- The Results of Believing/Disbelieving the Testimony (10-12)
John gives solid testimony concerning Jesus in verses 6-9. Actually, there are three witnesses, likely because in Deuteronomy 19, the Law required something to be established in the presence of two or three witnesses. So, John gives three. He starts with a notoriously difficult verse in verse 6, “This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.” What in the world does that mean?
Through the centuries, there have been many different interpretations, Jesus came by or with water and blood. Some have suggested those two refer to the ordinances of baptism and communion. Others have suggested they both refer to Jesus’ death, when He was pierced with a spear, and water and blood came out. Most, however, agree today they refer to the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry – namely, His baptism by John the Baptist, and His crucifixion at which His blood was shed for sinners. Jesus the Christ came in water and in blood.
Now, what’s John’s point? Remember, in some way he was battling false teachers denying the deity of Jesus – that He was the anointed One, or that was the Son of God. So John points to the beginning of His ministry when He was baptized. Do you remember what happened when John baptized Jesus? The Spirit of God was seen descending on Him in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father was heard from heaven to say, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” So He came through water at His baptism as He entered His public ministry, and His identity was proclaimed. John the Baptist was even told, as the forerunner, the One upon whom the Spirit descends is the One. It’s why John could later say, behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
But He didn’t just come by water, He also came by blood. Most everyone agrees that refers to Jesus’ death. When He died on the cross, shedding His blood, He was the atonement for our sin. We could talk about lots of verses which say Jesus shedding His blood was for the remission of our sins.
But, why is that important here? In some way, it appears the false teachers were denying the vicarious death of Christ. Remember Cerinthus? He was a heretic who said that Jesus was just a man, upon whom the Spirit descended at His baptism, but left Him before the crucifixion. John is likely dealing with that heresy which says, Jesus was just man when He walked the earth, filled by the Holy Spirit. Does that sound familiar? John is declaring Jesus was fully the divine Son of God, filled with the Holy Spirit from His baptism through His death. He was the Christ, the Son of God – He was not just a mere man.
Which leads to the third testimony – the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Notice the end of verse 6, It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. Throughout the Farewell Discourse, Jesus told the disciples when He left, the Father and He, the Son, would send another advocate, another counselor, another Helper to be with them – the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus said in John 15:26, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” Later, in John 16:14, speaking of the Spirit, we read, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” So, one of the Spirit’s primary responsibilities will be to testify about and bring glory to Jesus.
And so, verses 7 and 8 of our text read, “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” They are testifying about who Jesus is, and what He came to do. Now, here’s an important question – how does the Spirit testify about Jesus? Well, to the disciples, He reminded them of all that Jesus said, so that they could write the biblical record which we have. But what about for us? How does the Spirit of God testify about the truth of Jesus to us? In a number of ways:
- Certainly through the Spirit-inspired record that we have concerning Jesus called the Word of God. In John 4, Jesus gives four witnesses to testify as to who He was – John, His works, the Father, and the Word of God. You search the Scripture….
- Secondly, the Spirit abides in us – John 14:16-17, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”
- Third, the Spirit guides us into all truth, John 16:13, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.”
So, the Spirit’s work is to testify to us about Jesus. He indwells the believer, guiding us into all truth, so that through the Spirit-inspired Word as Spirit indwelt believers, we can know truth – namely and ultimately the truth about Jesus. There is some truth to the idea that believers say, I know that I know. There is the subjective truth of the Holy Spirit living within.
These three are in agreement about Jesus – meeting the demands of Deuteronomy, establishing the fact in the face of three witnesses. And so, verse 9, if we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God concerning His Son through the His baptism, His death, and the Spirit is greater – and He has testified concerning His Son.
So where does that leave us? Point two and our conclusion: to believe, or disbelieve the testimony of the Father about the Son. Again, I want to say, you cannot just be impressed with Jesus. You cannot just say, well, He was the most dominant figure in history. You cannot say lots of good things about Jesus. You must believe the testimony about the Son. Look at verse 10, “The one who believes in the Son of God – that is, trusts in who Jesus is and what He has done through His ministry and life, through the cross – has the testimony in himself.” That simply means the testimony about Jesus becomes your testimony about Jesus – you believe it.
But, the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar. John has used this challenging word throughout the letter. I won’t review all of them – but today John says, if you don’t believe God’s testimony about His Son, you are calling God a liar. You don’t want to do that.
What is God’s testimony about the Son? God has given us eternal life, and this life is to be found in His Son. In John 17, Jesus is praying to the Father, and He says, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Earlier, at the very beginning of the Farewell Discourse, Jesus had said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Peter will say, “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
So, John sums it up in verse 12, “He who has the Son – that is, believes the truth about the Son and trusts Jesus for salvation – this one has the life – that is, eternal life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”
When we talk of eternal life, it’s not just endless duration – it is eternal, abundant life – a joyfilled life knowing God through the Son. So, when you say you believe in Jesus, I ask, which one? Are you impressed with Him – the dominant figure of all history? Or do you know Him as the glorious Son of God, through whom you have life – abundant life now, into eternity?