Why People Will Not Believe in Christ

John 5:41-47

The Queen Mary was the largest ship to cross the oceans when it was launched in 1936.  Through four decades and a World War, she served until she was retired and anchored as a floating hotel and museum in Long Beach, California.  During the conversion process, her three massive smoke stacks were taken off to be scraped down and repainted.  But on the dock they crumbled.  Nothing was left of the 3/4 inch steel plate from which the stacks had been formed.  All that remained were more than thirty coats of paint that had been applied over the years.

Here at the end of John 5 Jesus is directing His words toward His accusers, who are standing around him in their elegant robes and with their pious countenances. And He starts chipping away at their paint! After healing the invalid at the pool of Bethesda, these Jewish religious leaders accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath law and of blasphemy because He dared to call God His Father making Himself equal with God (5:18).

In verses 19-30 Jesus made astonishing claims about His identity and His authority. Yes, He was claiming to be equal with God. He was equal with the Father in His nature as the Son of God, in His knowledge, in His power to give life, in His authority to judge, and in His honor to be worshiped just as the Father. He claimed to be the only one who could give eternal life, who could raise the dead with His voice, and who would judge the world.

In verses 31-40 Jesus went into great detail to substantiate His claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God. He invoked witnesses that the Father gave to His identity and authority: the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of Jesus’ miraculous works, and the witness of the scriptures. But Jesus concludes about these Jews in verses 39-40:

39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

They were not willing to come to Jesus for eternal life. Why not? He has just given them adequate witnesses to back up His claim to be equal with God, so they didn’t lack evidence. They were zealous students of Scripture, so they didn’t lack knowledge. What kept them from believing in Christ? It’s the same thing that keeps many today from believing in Jesus for eternal life: their won stubborn, sinful, pride.

Listen to our passage today and see if you can recognize Jesus’ diagnosis of their problem of sinful pride:

41 I do not receive honor from men.

42 But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.

43 I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.

44 How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?

45 Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you–Moses, in whom you trust.

46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.

47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

Pride is at the root of unbelief. Pride is loving ourselves rather than loving God. Pride is seeking to be honored ourselves rather than honoring God. Pride is putting up a good outward front to impress others, while we hide the sin that is in our hearts. It was this kind of pride that kept these Jewish religious leaders from believing in Jesus.

Unbelieving pride comes through in four ways in these verses:

1. No love of God (5:41-42).

Jesus has been appealing to their minds by giving them proofs of His deity. Then He appealed to their wills, exposing their stubborn refusal to believe Him. Now He’s getting at the heart of the problem. In verse 41, Jesus is contrasting His humility with their pride. He says, I do not receive honor from men.”  He is not seeking the applause of men. He is not a man-pleaser, seeking everyone’s praise so as to build up His image.  

Rather, His motivation is that of doing the will of the Father out of love for the Father. Jesus said “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does,” (5:19-20). He is controlled by His love relationship with His Father.

By contrast, he says to them in verse 42, But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.” Can you feel the sharpness of His rebuke? But I know you, He says. They are not going to pull the wool over His eyes! He sees underneath the paint! He could rightly judge their inner thoughts and motives. He knew that they were studying the Scriptures to increase their own glory, not to grow in love for God. Now He begins chipping away at it, and revealing to them what He sees.

The first thing he reveals to them, in verse 42, is that they have no love for God. In their hearts they don’t really love God. It’s just “external paint” that they have applied to themselves so that others might see it and admire them. Jesus is saying, “If you loved God, you would seek His glory, as I do. As it is, you love yourselves; you’re seeking your own glory.” I can envision the anger on their faces and can almost hear the threats they murmur under their breath as Jesus confronts their pride.

These verses should cause us to examine our love for God also. We claim to be people of the book. We study the scriptures. Well, so did these Pharisees! What makes you different from them?

Maybe we should ask ourselves: Is my study of the Bible leading me to greater humility or to greater pride? Studying the Bible properly will show you how great your sin is and how holy God is. It will show you His majesty and His great power. It will humble you as you realize His amazing grace. But if you start thinking that you’re better than other Christians because you know theology and you delight in proving that you’re right and others are wrong, look out! I’ve been around guys who use their knowledge of the Bible like a club. They try to dominate others through their scholarship. Studying the Bible rightly will lead to more humility and graciousness, not to pride.

So ask yourself: Is my study of the Bible causing me to love God more and more? Jesus hit these Jews because they did not love God. They were not seeking His glory and living to please Him. Proper study of the Bible will show you more of His grace. It will reveal His great love in sending His own Son to die for your sins. It will cause you to love Him more and more. But the pride of using the Bible to impress others will keep you from loving God. It will keep you from believing in Christ for eternal life.

Secondly, unbelieving pride shows up in people,

2. Wanting God on their own terms (5:43).

John 5:43: “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.” Jesus came in His Father’s name, which means that He came in the Father’s authority and He proclaimed who the Father is. He never played to the crowds by being the kind of Messiah that He knew they wanted. Most Jews wanted a political Messiah who could deliver them from Rome and provide peace and prosperity. If He had pandered to their tastes, Jesus could have been a popular Messiah. In the next chaper after Jesus fed the multitude, He knew that they wanted to come and take Him by force to make Him king. But rather than accept that superficial allegiance, Jesus withdrew to the mountain by Himself alone (John 6:15). Jesus would not falsely convey who God is or who He is to gain a following.

Jesus didn’t fit their own description of the Messiah.  Jesus was too humble, poor, and plain.  They were looking for a Messiah whom they considered to be worthy of being followed – a Messiah who would come in royal robes; a stately figure with awesome physical and political power who would crush the power of the Roman Empire. They wanted a Messiah who would recognize their devotion to God and their leadership abilities, and Who would put them in positions of authority in His kingdom on earth.  Jesus was the total opposite of what they had in mind.

Keep in mind that Jesus is here addressing a group of Israel’s religious leaders. They knew the Scriptures well. They were devoted to their religion. Yet Jesus is warning them that their rejection of Him made them susceptible to follow false Messiahs who come in their own name. When people reject the truth, they will always follow a lie. When people refuse to believe in Jesus, they will believe in a God of their own making.

Why were these religious leaders prone to follow false teachers? They wanted God on their terms. People will follow false teachers who tell them what they want to hear. After telling Timothy to preach the Word, which included reproving, rebuking, and exhorting, Paul warned (2 Tim. 4:3-4), “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” We see the same thing today: Focus on the positive, never confront sin, and you’ll have a large congregation. People still want God on their own terms.

When you’re reading the Bible, make sure you read all of it, not just the parts you like! When you’re looking for a church to join, look for a church that teaches all that the Bible teaches about God and Christ. Don’t just settle for the popular cultural church trends. Sinful pride shows up when we try to define God, or know God, or serve God on our own terms rather than as Jesus did, “in the Father’s name.”

Thirdly, unbelieving pride shows up in people,

3. Seeking honor from men (5:44).

John 5:44: “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” The word can in that verse means to be able, to have the power to do something. When Jesus asked “How can you believe?” He was saying that they were not able to believe, they had no power to believe.

And why was it impossible for them to believe? Because they sought glory from one another, rather than seeking God’s approval. In chapter 12 John mentions that some of these Jewish leaders “believed,” but their faith was not genuine because they had the same problem that Jesus uncovers here: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God,” (12:42-43).

For most of these Jewish religious leaders their religion was merely an outward show to impress others and to gain applause from each other. In Matthew 23:5-7, Jesus unmasks these religious hypocrites as he denounces them saying, “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’” He charges (Matt. 23:27), “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness..” They outwardly appeared to be righteous to men. But the Lord was not fooled. He knew their hearts. Inside these religious men were full of sinful pride.

The pride that seeks the honor of men is the enemy of true faith in God. And all of us are susceptible to it. How often do we want others to think that we’re better than we are? So we put on a good outward appearance. We’re concerned about what others may think of us and we forget that the most important thing is what God thinks of us.

William Barclay writes (The Gospel of John, The Daily Study Bible [Westminster Press], rev. ed., 1:199-200):

So long as a man measures himself against his fellow men he will be well content. But the point is not: “Am I as good as my neighbor?” The point is: “Am I as good as God? What do I look like to him?” So long as we judge ourselves by human comparisons there is plenty of room for self-satisfaction, and that kills faith, for faith is born of the sense of need. But when we compare ourselves with Jesus Christ, we are humbled to the dust, and then faith is born, for there is nothing left to do but trust to the mercy of God.

Don’t use religion to try to impress others. God is not impressed with that. God is repulsed by it. Stop trying to impress others and simply do business with God on the heart level. He sees and knows all about you. And He loves you and wants to save you.

So unbelieving pride reveals itself in a lack of love for God, in wanted God on our own terms, and in seeking honor from men rather than from God. Finally unbelieving pride shows up in,

4. Trusting in outward religious performance (5:45-47).

John 5:45: “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you–Moses, in whom you trust.” The men standing around Jesus claimed to be disciples of Moses. That statement of Jesus must have raised some eyebrows and evoked some angry responses. They’ve put their hope in the wrong person because Moses is not going be on their side!

Ironically, these Jews claimed to believe in Moses and they studied Moses extensively, but they missed what Moses was writing about! Jesus says in verse 46, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.”

Where did Moses write about Jesus?  Moses does not use the name “Jesus”, but he refers to the Messiah in several places using a variety of names to describe Him.  In Genesis 3:15, Moses wrote down the words that God said to the serpent in the hearing of Adam and Eve after their disobedience:  And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” The “seed of the woman” is the Messiah. Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. “

In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses refers to the Messiah as a prophet when he says, The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.”

Christ is on every page of Moses’ writings. God’s promise to Abraham that in his seed, all the nations would be blessed, was about Christ. His command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and then providing the ram was a picture of God sacrificing His own Son as our atonement. The Passover was about Christ. The tabernacle is an elaborate picture of Christ. The rock that provided water in the wilderness and the manna for food were pictures of Christ (1 Cor. 10:3-4; John 6:31-35). We could go on and on.

The Law of Moses, in which these Jews professed to believe, should have convicted them of their sins and caused them to long for the Savior who save them from their sins. It should have served as a tutor to lead them to faith in Christ (Gal. 3:24). But because they focused on their outward performance of the law rather than on knowing and loving the God who gave the law, they missed Jesus their Messiah. The very Law, which was one of their greatest privileges (Rom. 9:4) and in which they took great pride, became the source of their condemnation at the judgment.

Jesus closes His rebuke with the words “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?.” Jesus was saying to them, and He says to us today also, that belief is a matter of the will. They knew those Messianic texts, but they were unwilling to ascribe them to Him. They refused to believe Moses, and they refused to believe Christ. They loved themselves rather than God, and in their pride they chose to be their own gods, doing their own will instead of God’s.

Don’t let pride separate you eternally from the One who loves you sacrificially and wants you to experience the joy of submitting yourselves to Him as your Lord and King; a joy that will change your life forever, giving you a new purpose for living as you enjoy doing His will and experiencing His power and presence.  Let God “remove the paint” and let’s “be real” in Christ Jesus our Lord!


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