by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: John 7:14-24
I. It seems you can’t listen or read the news with yet another person being accused of inappropriate behavior.
A. People readily accept the bad news. The assumption that the person is guilty and so he is pressured to leave his job or be fired.
B. What happened to the idea that people were innocent until proven guilty?
1. But if people bring credible sounding stories, isn’t that proof?
2. Shouldn’t we give sympathy to the victims?
C. Jesus said, to judge righteously - John 7:24
1. In our reading Jesus was accused of:
a. Being uneducated
b. Having a demon
c. Breaking the Law
2. For that people had already decided that he should be put to death – and there wasn’t even yet a trial!
II. What constitutes evidence?
A. Suspicion is not proof - Numbers 5:29-31
1. In this case, the matter is brought to God
2. Because it would have been done in secret and those involved would not be expected to admit it
3. Making a conclusion without evidence is foolish - Proverbs 18:13
B. Accusations in the public arena is not proof
1. People can slander another person because of hatred and a desire for revenge - Leviticus 19:16-18
2. Jeremiah faced this problem - Jeremiah 20:10
3. Spreading slander is foolish - Proverbs 10:18
4. Public leaders are especially vulnerable to accusations - I Timothy 5:19
C. It required multiple witnesses - Deuteronomy 19:15
1. A single witness was not considered truth - John 5:31
2. It especially needful in the case of a death penalty - Deuteronomy 17:6
3. Witnesses had to have personal knowledge of the facts being testified about - Jeremiah 32:9-12
4. The witnesses had to be independent
a. Three people testifying that Jack said that Jill stole the watch only establishes that Jack believed Jill stole the watch. It isn’t proof that she did do so. This is only one witness - Jack.
5. Implied is that the witnesses agree - John 8:17
6. Each fact of evidence had to be confirmed by multiple witnesses - II Corinthians 13:1
a. So witness A says he saw the defendant get out of a red car and walk into the bank and witness B says he saw the defendant walk out of the bank with a sack
(1) All that was established is that the defendant was in the bank
(2) The car and the sack were not verified.
D. Witnesses have to be credible - Deuteronomy 17:2-6
1. Nothing is accepted at face value. You have to inquire thoroughly
2. Only accepted if it is true
3. Remember you can be swayed if you hear only one witness and there is no examination - Proverbs 18:17
E. Things can also be witnesses
1. A carcass - Exodus 22:13
2. A heap of stones - Genesis 31:48
3. A blood stained cloth - Deuteronomy 22:17
4. If we were living under a similar set of laws, DNA would count as one witness, but it wouldn't be enough by itself to trigger a death penalty. After all, all it says is that material containing the DNA was found at the scene of the crime. It doesn't testify as to how it came to the crime scene.
5. Even a song - Deuteronomy 31:19-21
6. Thus, God has witnesses of Himself - Acts 14:17
7. Even death can become a witness - Revelation 12:11
a. Our word “martyr” derives from the Greek word for witness (marturia)
F. It was against the law to bear false witness - Exodus 20:16
1. What a witness states has to be consistently truthful - Proverbs 12:17; 14:5
2. Contradictions on important points would cause the evidence to be thrown out
3. This explains Jesus’ trial - Matthew 26:59-61
G. You cannot be partial to someone because they are disadvantaged - Exodus 23:3
1. In other words, there can be no partiality toward the apparent victim
III. Witnesses could lie
A. David faced false witnesses - Psalms 27:12
1. It should not be surprising that public figures will draw detractors
2. False witnesses have motivations to destroy public figures
B. A common tactic is to accuse a person of things he knows nothing about - Psalms 35:11
1. It makes the person defending himself look weak because he has nothing assertive to counter the accusation
C. False witnesses often happen by following the crowd - Exodus 23:1-2
1. There is a tendency to believe the bad about others - Proverbs 18:8
2. Do not witness without a cause - Proverbs 24:28
D. Wicked people tend to pay attention to evil news - Proverbs 17:4
E. When witnesses disagree, then it must be investigated - Deuteronomy 19:16-21
1. Under the Old Law, a witness found to be lying received the punishment that would have came to person testified against if the lie was believed
2. Notice again the need for careful inquiry into the matter
3. There was no escape from the punishment - Proverbs 19:5
IV. Responsibility of witnesses
A. To not give evidence when charged to testify makes the would-be witness liable - Leviticus 5:1
1. You become a partner in the crime - Proverbs 29:24
2. But this law was used against Jesus to force his testimony - Matthew 26:62-66
B. Yet, in a murder trial
1. The witnesses had to lay their hands on the criminal - Leviticus 24:17
2. It was the witnesses who had to cast the first stones - Deuteronomy 17:7
V. What does this mean for you and I?
A. When someone brings an accusation, especially against a public figure, don’t jump on the bandwagon condemning the person
1. If the accuser has a case, then it ought to be tried
2. As much as you might want to sympathize with the accuser, proper evidence must be gathered and examined
B. The example of Matthew 18:15-17
1. A private problem is first attempted to be settled privately
2. If it can’t, a few others are asked to both try to help solve the problem and to serve as witnesses to what was said if it can’t be solved
3. Only if it remains unsolved does it go before the church, which now has evidence to examine
C. We need wise judges not accusers - I Corinthians 6:5