John 5:36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Though Jesus is the focal point of Scripture and his glory is the greatest need of the human soul, sadly most sermons are not delivering him to hungry, broken people. What’s the reason for this and what’s the way forward? Thankfully Jesus both identifies the source of this problem and offers us a solution.
Here’s a look at the problem.
In the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus reveals something quite septic about the human heart as he addresses the religious leaders. In this moment he corrects them with respect to their motive for engaging Scripture. It’s an interesting passage, because he reveals their spiritual blindness even though they practiced an intense, faithful engagement with Scripture. It’s a scary passage because it reveals that people can diligently read the Scriptures, yet miss the point of it all.
Imagine staring straight at the blazing sun and somehow not seeing it’s fierce light. Though impossible in real life, consider staring at the sun and not having to squint your eyes, turn away or need sunglasses because somehow you simply don’t see what’s clearly right in front of you. In essence, this is exactly what happened to these religious leaders. Jesus tells them that they that ultimately missed the focal point of Scripture, which is the revealing of the captivating brilliance of Christ.
Think about that for a second. God’s gift of eternal life is only found in his Son the Messiah. All Scripture points to him, yet these religious leaders missed the centrality of Jesus as the main plot of Scripture. They didn’t miss this primary point of Scripture because their study habits were poor or lazy, actually to the contrary they were incredibly diligent in their engagement with God’s word.
It would be way too easy to be judgmental towards these religious leaders and create distance between the state of their hearts and ours, but we would be incorrect to do so. Though they lived in a different culture from ours, their hearts were no different from ours in that we too have a remarkable ability to miss God, even in the midst of our very pursuit of him. We carry the same theological disease as they did, namely a savior-less spirituality.
Weirdly, most sermons are similar to the analogy of staring at the blazing sun and somehow not seeing it’s light in that though we are teaching Scripture, we can easily end up not pointing to Jesus. Because of this disconnect it’s possible to be in a church for decades and become experts in our particular traditions, while remaining novices when it comes to actually encountering and knowing Jesus. It’s possible to read Scripture and even preach Scripture consistently and miss the focal point of it all, namely Jesus.
A question we need to wrestle with with respect to our sermons is: are we making disciples of Jesus or are we making disciples of our churches and traditions? As John 5 reveals, it’s possible to diligently study Scripture and be quite religious, yet discover that we are deriving our life from something other than Jesus.
Our preaching of God’s word should offer a similar corrective invitation that we see in John 5. If our sermons don’t confront the idols we trust in and call us to lay them down and fully embrace life in Jesus, then we will doom our people to build their lives on things other than Jesus. Good things perhaps, but ultimately not Jesus.
May God help us to keep our focus on Christ as we preach his word!
Kristian is the lead pastor of Hope Astoria in Queens, NY. He is the author of Beholding and Proclaiming and the founder of The Kerygma Group. He and his family live in Rockaway, NY enjoying the beach whenever they can. Coffee is probably his best friend, and reading books make him pretty happy. If laughing and finding humor in things were a crime, he would be sent away for life without parole.