The Bible can kill you.
Or it can bring you to eternal life. The apostle John knows this. And certainly at least one of the reasons that he wrote this gospel is to try to help us understand this. In this morning’s gospel we hear Jesus say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (5:24). Eternal life is a gift that we receive when we believe in Jesus. Believe in Jesus as Son of God. Love Jesus, let Him be your Lord and your Savior and your friend—and He will, as we read in John 14, He will “take you to Himself.”
Yet for the past 2000 years, the church has been inclined to turn salvation into a matter of correct doctrine. We’ve battled over the right way to baptize, the right way to deal with the communion meal, the right way to understand miracles and works … the list goes on and on. And not just battled—we’ve actually killed one another over doctrine.
Reformation, Barry Anderson
People in the church, people who claim to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, have killed other people over matters of doctrine.
The Bible can kill you. In fact, it’s the Bible that killed Jesus. In John’s gospel, we read already here in chapter 5 that the Jews were seeking to kill Him. Seeking to kill Him “because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5:18).
The Jews were so obsessed with rule keeping that when Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years simply by saying to him, “Get up, take your bed, and walk,” all they could see was that He had broken the law—their law, not God’s law. Jesus had healed someone on the Sabbath and they were so angry that they wanted to kill Him.
Have you ever been furiously angry with another believer because they didn’t agree with you on some point of doctrine? Absolutely certain that you’re right?
I have—we’ve had some pretty heated debates right here in this church about certain points of doctrine. And really, when it comes right down to it, most of the time these debates, these arguments, are all about pride. About our wanting to be right.
We forget that, in the words of the apostle Paul, “we see as in a mirror dimly.” We look into the Bible and we see our own ideas, our own interpretations.
Be careful—the Bible can kill you.
In the 7th chapter of his gospel, Matthew records Jesus’ words, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). Many people over the past 2000 years have taken the narrow gate to be correct doctrine. To be about believing all the right things about baptism and communion and what we can or can’t do on Sunday. About whether God allows us to dance or play cards or drink alcoholic beverages.
But the narrow gate isn’t about doctrine. It’s about obedience. It’s about placing our trust in Jesus. And the fact is that many people who don’t even understand correct doctrine have placed their complete trust in Him.
The Bible can kill you.
Nowhere are we ever called to choose Scripture—we’re called to choose Jesus. He can heal our physical problems, He can feed us and bring provision of all kinds of things. But what we need most is just to be with Him. This is what John wants us to know. The purpose of Scripture isn’t to make sure we know all the rules; the purpose of Scripture is to show us Jesus. We love the Bible because where His Word is, there Jesus is.
We live in a culture where education is all about knowing the right answers. Belief is not required. But it is belief that controls your life. And following Jesus isn’t about right answers—it’s about belief.
Jesus, in the gospels, speaks truth, but few believed Him. And John makes it abundantly clear that knowing correct doctrine wasn’t what caused people to either believe or disbelieve. Jesus went to Samaria, and many of the Samaritans believed—people who were scorned by the Jews because they didn’t live the ways the Jews thought they should live. Because they were people of mixed race, people who didn’t follow all the laws that the Jewish leaders insisted on. And yet John tells us that many Samaritans believed in Jesus—believed because a woman who had had five husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband, told them about Jesus.
Then there was the royal official—somebody else who wasn’t following the laws imposed by the Jewish leaders—and yet after meeting Jesus, not only the official, but “his whole household” believed.
Then there’s the invalid at the pool; despite the fact that Jesus healed him—healed him from a condition that had existed for 38 years, he didn’t believe. He was so concerned about offending or upsetting the Jews who thought they were in charge that he hardly seemed to even notice that it was Jesus who healed him. The Jewish leaders didn’t believe Jesus; they were so focused on what they were sure was right behavior that they couldn’t even see the miracle that had taken place right in front of them.
Now these Jewish leaders had the Old Testament Scriptures, which point to Jesus on every page. They’d been studying them all their lives—most of them would have memorized much of the OT. They knew that God had promised to send a Savior—promised it over and over again. But they were so certain that they knew exactly what that Savior would look like that they were completely blinded to the truth—even when it stood right in front of them.
The Bible can kill you.
The apostle John knows that it’s not about rules—it’s about Jesus. And it’s not just knowing about Jesus—it’s about believing in Him. It’s about putting that belief into practice. Because to live the life that Jesus calls us to live is to create a life that will be eternal. It’s putting His teachings into practice in the life we have been given that gives us life built on solid rock. It’s putting His teachings into practice through the time, place, family, neighbors, talents, and opportunities we have been given.
Jesus told the Jews, “truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (5:24).
John will later write in I John 5:11-12, “This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
John’s purpose in writing his gospel and his letters is to help unbelievers come to faith in Christ, and to help believers keep on believing and growing in Christ.
When Jesus said “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He’s talking to you; He’s talking to me. He’s talking to all those people who were more interested in Easter baskets than they are in knowing Jesus; He’s talking to people who are persecuting Christians and people who are being trafficked. He’s talking to people who think they have it all figured out and people who haven’t a clue. He’s taking to everybody in every time and every place.
Nobody is excluded because they haven’t learned the right doctrine.
Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (5:19).
The Jews have accused Him—and rightly—of making Himself equal with God. Because that’s what He’s done. And everything they know tells them that this is wrong. The very first sin in the Garden happened because the serpent convinced Eve that she could be equal with God.
In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes about this passage: “In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as silliness and conceit unrivaled by any character in history … 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.”
Jesus is claiming to be equal to God—and a lot of people didn’t like that. They didn’t like it at all. A lot of people still don’t like it. A lot of people are fine with Jesus as a good man, even as a prophet. A lot of people think He taught some good things that we should pay attention to. But God?
Jesus is telling them that they’ve already see His works—works that He does for the purpose of showing them who He is. He’s turned water into wine; He’s j
Either Jesus is who He says He is, or He’s nuts. The Jews don’t believe Him—they don’t seem to even consider that He might be exactly who He says He is. They are outraged at what they see as the sheer audacity of Jesus’ claim.
This isn’t good—for them. Because next Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (5:24).
This is now the fourth time in John’s gospel that Jesus says that anyone who believes in Him will have eternal life—but the Jews ignore this. In fact, they seem to be so focused on what they see as Jesus law-breaking that they don’t really even seem to realize what He has done in healing this man.
Whoever believes in Jesus will “pass from death to life.”
What Jesus is saying is that whether we live forever or whether we someday face “the resurrection of judgment” depends on one thing—and one thing only. It depends on what we do with Jesus. If we hear His words and believe, we will have eternal life. If we ignore His words, or if we refuse to believe, we will not have eternal life.
And He’s the one who decides—not us. He’s the one who will determine our eternal future. Because, according to v27, the Father “has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”
What do I have to do? I have to believe.
Ah… but believe in what? The Jews who were persecuting Jesus believed. They believed that the Bible was true. They believed in the Scriptures absolutely! In fact, they used their belief in the Bible as evidence to condemn Jesus to death on the cross.
Jesus goes on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear him will live” (5:25).
Jesus is telling them that the day will come when the dead will be raised from the dead—raised when they “hear the voice of the Son of God” (5:25). He’ll demonstrate this later, when He calls out to Lazarus to come out of the tomb—and Lazarus comes.
“The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and will live”—all the dead. Including all the spiritually dead people standing around Jesus in this morning’s gospel passage.
This is the Easter message. “Do not marvel at this”—don’t be amazed—“for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (v28-29).
How do we do good or how do we do evil? How do we know the difference?
We do good when we believe—believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God. We do evil when we refuse to believe in Jesus as Son of God.
We have a lot of information about God, Jesus, and what we ought to do. But most of us don’t actually believe what we know in ways that affect how we live.
Think about it—what we really believe really does affect the way we live: electricity, sun rising, mathematics, running water.
The advantage of believing that 2+2=4 isn’t that we can pass a test—it’s that we can better deal with reality, as we count apples or dollars.
We know, because the Bible tells us, that Jesus heals the man who’s been an invalid for 38 years. He’ll raise Lazarus from the dead when he’s been in the tomb for four days. But that’s just the warmup. On Easter Sunday, Jesus Himself rose from the dead. Jesus, who went to the cross for you and for me. Went to the cross because He knew that, like Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons, like Nicodemus who knew all the rules but didn’t understand at all about just believing in Jesus, like Peter who had denied Him three times—He knew that there was only one way for us to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
The reason that Jesus could do this is because He allowed Himself to be stripped naked, to be a prisoner, to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s the answer. Jesus is able to heal you and me and every other broken person, including the invalid at the pool and the Jewish leaders who thought they had all the answers, because He exchanged places with us.
This is the Easter story—this is what we’re called to believe. That Jesus loved us enough to die for us, loved us while we were still sinners.