18 March 2010

John 5:31-47

"He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John's." (v.35-36a)


These verses of commentary upon Jesus' mission and action, offered by the Gospel writer as coming from Jesus himself, revolve around the reliability and single-mindedness of various sources of testimony. They point to a number of things that 'bear witness' to the truth in Christ. We are presented with:

  • his own words and declarations;
  • his actions - such as the healings that have caused such upset;
  • the witness of John the Baptist - a burning and shining lamp;
  • the witness of God the father who has spoken and revealed himself;
  • the Jewish Scriptures - the words of Moses and the great stories of faith which point forwards in time to the Messiah.

None of these sources of testimony are in conflict with each other, claims Jesus.

The truth of Jesus, made known in all of the above, is presented as something that people can either choose to believe and receive within themselves, or refuse to accept. Believing Jesus in person and believing the word of God in the Scriptures are presented as indivisible from each other. So here we have Jesus - the Word of God - embodying God's words to the people of Israel.

The emphasis upon the hearer's ability to choose how they (we) respond, echoes Jesus' question to the paralysed man  earlier in this chapter: "Do you want to be made well?"

John seems to be saying that just as the paralysed man could not be made well whilst he remained in a passive state, so those who hear the word of God are challenged as to whether they really desire to see things afresh and to receive the truth.


To Ponder

Think of a time when you changed your mind or had your perspective on something challenged. What choices did you have to make?

In what ways does 'truth' still challenge us as a "burning and shining lamp" - in Scripture, and in the lives of people around us?

What differences and similarities do you see in John the Baptist as 'a burning shining lamp for a while', and Jesus "the light of the world" (John 9:5)?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Liz Smith

Liz is currently chair of the Leeds Methodist District. She has conducted research into the Church as a learning community, with particular reference to the experience of women.