Al Mohler: Studying the Scriptures and Finding Jesus #TGC11

R. Albert Mohler is the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His session centers around John 5:31-47, the only New Testament passage to be expounded today.The following are a few of my notes.

Update: The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:


It’s interesting in this day that a frighteningly large number of young people are leaving. And we have to ask ourselves why?

Christian Smith and his team have named the belief system of emerging adults today Moralistic Therapeutic Deism—that God wants His creations to behave, to be happy and He doesn’t want to be involved.  And one author suggests that these young people aren’t really Christian at all, but they’re Christian-ish. And we quickly realize that they’re not the only ones.

The absence of biblical preaching, of gospel preaching has led the way to preaching that encourages moralistic therapeutic, practical deism.

We meet with the context of very real challenges. Protestant liberalism, something that is 2 centuries old is back. The denial of essential doctrines, the denial of the Christian meta-narrative and the call for a new kind of Christianity altogether.

John 5:31-47:

If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, this form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and wit is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come bin my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

The crucial issue of hearing and believing is essential to this text.

There must be witnesses—and Jesus brings out these four witnesses.

John the Baptist. “A burning and shining light.” What John represented was the gift of the Father than they would know the identity of Him whom the Father sent. c.f. Psalm 13:71-72

“The Father prepared the lamp, you sought him out, you even enjoyed him for a moment, but you did not receive him, you did not accept him though you should have as the one who would point the way.”

There’s an OT Background to this that they should have understood. John testified but they did not receive him.

Jesus’ Miracles. They refused to see the acts and signs for what they were. They were to bear witness to the fact that Jesus is the Anointed One, but they did not receive it. After the feeding of the 5000, those who come to find Jesus ask Him, “what sign will you give… what work will you do that we may believe?” This was AFTER the feeding of the 5000. After the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda, where they complained

The Father Himself. There are several indictments and rebukes in the passage; He tells them that they do not have God’s Word in them, that they have never heard. Contrast that with Deut, where Moses says that while they’ve not seen they have heard. The Father spoke at the baptism of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”

The Scriptures. The text is hauntingly clear. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life… it is they that testify about Me.” Searching the Scriptures is a good thing to do, the right thing to do, but the humbling thing about this text is that people can spend their lives studying the Scriptures and miss the point. And not be saved.

You search the Scriptures, a very good thing, but they bear testimony of Me. You cannot read those words without reading me, you cannot read the histories without reading me, you cannot read the psalms without reading me, you cannot read the prophets without reading me.

This is the climatic witness. They should have been looking for him and yearning for Him…

We do not look to the Old Testament to find the background for Christ, but to find Him there. Everywhere. He’s not speaking to Scriptural illiterates. He’s not speaking to those who do not devote themselves to study, who treat the Scriptures with frivolity.

He’s not talking about a lack of knowledge. It’s a rebuke that is moral, theological, philosophical. Moses is described as the one on whom they have set their hope, but Jesus makes it clear that Jesus is the one on whom Moses set his hope. He is indicting them for their absolute refusal to hear what the Scriptures told them, taught them and to be ready to receive and believe.

The witnesses were not hidden, they were right before them. And they testified, but they did not hear, and they did not see, and they did not believe.

Their denial betrays a willful ignorance.

These words from John 5 especially rebuke those who will not hear, who will not believe and will not be saved. But they also speak to our use of the Old Testament and so become guilty of the same sin.

The Old Testament is a problem:

Some, particularly in higher scholarship, they call the OT the Hebrew Scriptures, as though they belong to someone else.

There is the Marcionite tendency, to ignore the OT outright, as revealing another God.

There are those who suggest that the OT should only be read on their own terms, without any reference to the NT. It comes down to the idea that Christians should do synagogue readings when it comes to the OT.

There’s an updated Marcionite temptation; the idea is that there is no point in trying to reconcile the OT with the NT, just need to ignore it. “It’s devastating to human morality.”

But, our biggest problem is our ignorance of the OT. For many Christians, “the OT is a foreign book, they do things differently there.” They do things differently there, but it’s all pointing to Christ. It should all help us recognize the Christ.

So what to preachers nevertheless do?

Some avoid it at all costs. Practical Marcionism, robbing their people of richness of God’s Word.

Many will teach and preach it, but as background, as though it’s a different story, but one you need to know so you can get to “our” story.

Moralize. We know we ought not to do that. It’s bad to moralize, but it’s second nature to us. We’re moral creatures, and we’ll moralize moralizing preaching. We’re taught from the very beginning to moralize (see most, but not all, children’s books and programs).

And then we arrive at the place what Christian Smith called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and that’s what they’ve gotten from all of this—AND from most of our preaching.

But that’s just not what the text is about; it’s not the redemptive purpose of the text.

It’s wrong to ignore the moralistic teachings of the Bible, but it’s wrong to miss the greater point.

It’s not wrong to recognize David as a boy who exhibits courage because of his faith in God, but it’s not the whole point.

Moralizing tells people basically what they want to hear—that through basic moral improvement they can please God.

We must do more than this if we want to escape the rebuke of Christ.

This is not a new problem, its been there from the beginning, from the patristic fathers, through the Reformation.

John Calvin represents a fountain of health on this. It’s hard to imagine better than what he teaches us. The title of book 2 of The Institutes, “OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD THE REDEEMER, IN CHRIST, AS FIRST MANIFESTED TO THE FATHERS, UNDER THE LAW, AND THEREAFTER TO US UNDER THE GOSPEL.”


We need to know our need for the gospel, and the Christ promised in the gospel, because of the Law.

We need to let the New Testament teach us how to read the Old Testament, and where better to look to the Book of Hebrews. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb. 1:1-2)

What about Moses? Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later (Heb. 3:5)

What about Joshua? For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:8-10)

What about Abraham? For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. (Hebrews 6:13-16)

The High Priest, The Tabernacle and the Sacrifices?

Christ has appeared. And looking at the sacrificial system and the high priests coming one after another after another should have seen that this doesn’t bring us to eternal life.

All of these things can only be accomplished only by the blood of Christ.

We preach Christ from all the Scriptures and find Christ in the gospel of the Old Testament, as well as the new. We allow the New Testament to teach us how to read the Old Testament. And we pray that that “our hearts would burn within us.”

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