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Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we ask now that you would give us ears to hear and hearts to feel and wills to obey. Deal with us according to your steadfast love, and teach us your statutes. Show us Christ that we may love and worship Him, with all that we have, in light of all that He is for us. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
We are back in the Gospel of John. Please turn there in your Bibles to John, chapter 7. John, chapter 7, the end of the chapter, beginning at verse 40. We are rearranging things a little bit because of the weather and then the holidays, so next Sunday morning, actually, will be our choral concert that we were hoping to do last Sunday evening, and so we’ll be having a lot of choir numbers and a lot of extra music on Sunday morning, and I will be preaching, well should I say, slightly abbreviated, that’s putting the pressure on me, but hopefully slightly abbreviated message from 1 Timothy and then in the evening next week we’ll be going on to John chapter 8. And if you see John chapter 8 in your Bibles, you notice it says the earliest manuscripts do not include John 7:53 through 8:11, the woman caught in adultery. So if you’ve ever wondered about that, should that be in our Bibles or not, should we have a sermon that, then you’ll want to come back next Sunday evening.
But this morning we are in the end of John chapter 7. Follow along as I read:
“When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’ Others said, This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest Him, but no one laid hands on Him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why did you not bring him? The officers answered, No one ever spoke like this man! The Pharisees answered them, Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Him before, and who was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’ They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.'”
Think about Luke, chapter 2, fresh in many of our minds in this Christmas season. In Luke chapter 2, after the shepherds, after the angels, after the birth and the manger, we meet an old man named Simeon. After blessing Jesus and his parents in the temple, Simeon, you recall, turn specifically to Mary and he gives her a solemn word of warning: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed.”
Now up to that point in Luke’s gospel things have been fairly chipper. Yes, there was no room for them in the inn, and Zechariah couldn’t talk for a few months, but for two chapters things have been on a good Christmas roll: Babies are being born and songs are being sung and angels are praising God and shepherds rejoicing and the, the Holy Spirit seems to be everywhere in those first two chapters. But then that pervasive note of joy takes a solemn twist. Your baby boy, Simeon says, is going to divide people and a sword will pierce your own soul.
I’m thinking about this even in new ways again this week, having held our new baby boy and all of the joy that comes with that and all of the potential and all of the hopes and dreams, and if a prophet were to say to me, “You see that special boy? That one you’re oohing and ahhing over? He’s going to cause a great division, and a sword will piece your heart, too, precious mom.”
That’s what Simeon says. There is going to be, we see throughout Luke’s gospel in particular, a great reversal. Those on top wind up on the bottom, those on the bottom end up on top. The bigshots fall, the lowlifes rise. Some will believe, and to them Jesus will be precious, but others will not believe, they will stumble and fall and they will speak against the sign, “And this will be a sign unto you, you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger,” and they will hate that sign.
It sounds harsh to say this, with Christmas right around the corner, but Jesus did not come to bring peace on earth. Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement. He did, and He didn’t. That’s what they sing, “peace on earth” to those with whom God is well pleased. But He did not come to bring the kind of peace on earth that just makes everyone happy and unified and we all just get along. Now I’m all for world peace, but Christ did not promise world peace, not on this side of glory.
It reminds me of a TV show, and this is going to immediately set me in a certain generational context, and some of you will, will say I know exactly what you’re talking about and others will, will have to look it up elsewhere, but it reminds me of an episode of that great television show Saved by the Bell. [laughter] And I remember Kelly Kapowski’s dad lost his job, very, very, heart wrenching episode, and she says something like, and this was with a straight face, “My dad works in the Defense Department and he lost his job, world peace broke out.” Hmmm, yes, I’m sure that has happened many times, all of the Defense Department losing their jobs because world peace has just broken out. Sorry, everyone’s at peace, no more war, everyone’s getting along. These things happen in the world of Saved by the Bell, but they don’t happen in the real world.
Remember what the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men on whom His favor rests.” So it is a peace particularly and there exclusively for those on whom God’s favor rests. It’s a peace for those who follow Jesus.
And when you hear the beautiful propaganda in the mall this time of year, with all of these wonderful Christmas songs and all of the Christmas specials on TV, and all of the people saying “Peace on Earth.” They do not know what they are really saying. Well, to a degree that’s okay, let ‘me keep saying it. But we think in our world, “peace on earth,” Christmas if the time of peace on earth. And just peace, just the time when if we just would get in the Christmas spirit, we’d all just give each other a big hug, and just love each other.
Well, that’s a beautiful vision, unless you don’t like hugs, I guess, but it’s not exactly what Christmas is about. Jesus never promised utopia. He never promised to make the world a universally safe, friendly place where everyone likes everyone else. He did promise peace, but in another sense just as authentically He promised division. Father will be against son, daughter against mother, children against their parents, on account of Me. Sometimes Jesus makes things worse. Not because He’s for family strife or because He demands people to be fighting, far from it, but He does demand absolute allegiance to Himself, and that’s bound to be divisive. And He makes astonishing claims that are bound to cause rifts in families, and some of you experience that every time you get together for the holidays. There’s an uneasy sort of tension. Whenever the Gospel is preached, with great power, with all of its edges and boldness and glory, it will upset things. Read through the book of Acts. Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in power, two things happen: Some people believe and rejoice, saying this is the best thing that’s ever happened, and other people hate the message and with that, they sometimes hate the messenger.
Jesus is both a precious cornerstone and He is a rock of offense. A sign that will be spoken against, which is why Simeon said to precious Mary there, “This child of yours is going to cause the rise and the fall of many, and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
We see it here in this test, in John chapter 7, division. You see it very plainly in verse 43: “So there was a division.” Now the first thing to notice about this division in John 7 is that it involves people who otherwise you would think have a lot in common. Notice we’re not talking about Jews and Gentiles, while that happens many other parts in the New Testament, but that’s not the issue here. We’re not talking about supposed secular people and spiritual people. We’re not talking about oppressors and the oppressed, the Roman lords and Jewish vassals. We don’t have any record that the division fell along generational lines, it’s just something between the boomers and the millennials, or socio-economic lines, or gender lines.
No, think of who we have in these verses. We have first century Jews. Probably all males, speaking in this passage, though I’m sure they represent the opinions of men and women. Think about it, the people in this passage share the same geography, the same history, the same language, the same culture, the same ethnic heritage, and the same religion. So that’s a lot.
That’s like somebody, you know, I’m from Mecklenburg County and we went to the same schools and we speak the same language, English, sort of, and we eat the same foods, and we watch the same television shows, and we come from the same place, and we see each other at the family reunion, and there is division.
They’re divided over Jesus. In some families, in some schools, in some parts of the country, Jesus brings people together. He’s the one thing everyone has in common. Hopefully, that is the reality in a church. And if that’s your situation with your family, then praise God, that is an amazing gift. If you get together over the holidays and it’s a sweet time because everyone there loves Jesus, belongs to a good church, you sing the Christmas songs, that is an amazing gift, because that is not the situation for most people in the world. I know it happens, but it’s not the norm throughout history and throughout the world, in many families, many of your families, and in many places, Jesus separates people. It may be said that the division is over religion or spirituality or the church, but really the division is over Jesus. Who is this man?
Verse 43, “There was a division among the people.” The Greek word for division there “schisma,” you can hear our word “schism.” There’s a party, a faction, a pulling apart, a tearing, a sense of confusion and conflict. It’s what we see in Acts, it’s what we see here, it’s what we see so often in our own world. When Jesus is murky and muddy, nobody divides. He’s a Jesus of our own making, and He’s just sort of plastic and He’s sort of frosted over with, um, fake snow and just wears a Santa hat and He’s, you know, He’s just sort of Jesus how we make Him in the Christmas season. That doesn’t divide anybody, that’s just sort of a mascot for Christmas.
But the real Jesus, the Jesus with clarity, this Jesus we’ve been seeing in John’s Gospel, when this Jesus speaks, when this Jesus acts, people who otherwise would be together find themselves diametrically opposed.
We see a division here among two broad groups of people. The first paragraph, verse 40 through 44, we could call “the laity.” That’s not really technically the right term, but we mean here the crowd, the ordinary people, the crowd of pilgrims who are here for this Feast of Tabernacles, who probably come from all over Israel. And then in the second paragraph we have “the leaders,” so the laity in the first paragraph, the leaders in the second. And we are going to see divisions among both groups of people, both among the laity, the crowds, the ordinary people, and among the leaders, the priests, the pharisees, the officers. And in each of these groups, we see three different opinions about Jesus. You following? Two paragraphs, each one three different opinions about Jesus.
So let’s look at the first paragraph, 40 through 44, the division among the laity. You see the three different opinions, they’re spelled out rather clearly. Verse 40: “Some,” so here’s the first group, “some say He is the Prophet.” And you notice the ESV has a capital P, I think that’s right because they mean not just a prophet, but the Prophet, capital P, Deuteronomy 18:18, “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brothers.” They were expecting a Prophet like Moses. And so they understand, this first group, well, here He is. This is the heir to the mantle of Moses. After all, haven’t we seen Him give bread like Moses gave manna? Haven’t we seen him provide living water, like water came out of a rock in Moses’ day? And haven’t we seen Him stand up here and declare that this feast is fulfilled in His person? Yes, this is the Prophet, this is the One we expected, just like Moses. That’s what some people think.
Others, verse 41, here’s the second group, this is the Christ. So Christ is simply the word, Greek word, for “mashiach,” messiah, the anointed one. Now we know from a New Testament lens that the expectation of the capital P Prophet and the expectation of the Christ were actually looking for the same person, but in first century Israel, they did not tend to lump these two together under one prophetic expectation, but they were looking for the Prophet like Moses and they were looking for the Messiah. The messianic expectation was a constellation of ideas, but most prominently that He would be a son of David. So they were looking for an anointed one like David and they were looking for a Prophet like Moses. A king like David to sit on Israel’s throne, to restore Israel to the glory days of yesteryear.
So, we can applaud these first two groups, that they are very close to getting things right. Jesus is, in fact, the capital P Prophet. He is, in fact, the Christ, the messiah. But clearly they haven’t put everything together yet, because some think He’s one and some think He’s the other.
You could think of it like this – there are at least three kinds of prophecies about the deliverer to come, that they were expecting. And these three types of prophecies line up with the three offices of Christ. If you were here back in September, and heard Dr. Mohler at our Faithful conference speak about the offices of Christ, you know they are prophet, priest, and king. Where there are certain words of expectation that were prophetic: He was going to be like Moses, He was going to speak the truth, He was going to perform miracles like the prophets did. And then there were priestly expectations, that He would be a suffering servant, though they hadn’t yet understood that fully. And then finally that there were kingly expectations: He would be the Messiah, to sit on the throne, and to lead God’s people to victory. Prophet, priest, and king. They had yet to see that this whole constellation of ideas were going to be fulfilled in one person.
So some say He’s the Prophet, others say He’s the Messiah, and then here’s the third group, verse 41, second half of the verse: “But some,” so here are some others, we have “some,” “others,” and “some others,” they say “uh uh uh, no no no, He’s not anybody because He’s from Galilee, right? Isn’t he? He’s from Nazareth, and Galilee, this little Podunk town.” Remember, we said it’s like Rosman, North Carolina and after I said that, I got, I got everyone who had ever been there send me t-shirt and I was, you know, the Chamber of Commerce contacted me, it was big time.
But that’s what they think of Nazareth. “Have we been there? Have we heard of that? Do we know Nazareth? Because I don’t remember that the Messiah was supposed to come out of Galilee.” Remember the question that they asked in John chapter 1 – “Can anything good come of, (cough cough) Nazareth? Are you serious? I mean, come on, it’s not like, um, it’s not like he’s from the Triangle, or from Charlotte. Okay? I mean, he’s not even, you know, he’s not from a town that we might go vacation at. This is from Nazareth.” That’s what they think of… Galilee?
Well, and they’re right that the Messiah, Micah prophesied, would come out of Bethlehem, the city of David. But John in his gospel often writes with a sense of irony. You find this often. People are saying more than they know. And in this case, they’re right that where Jesus actually came from was not Galilee, it was Bethlehem where He was born, but even beyond that actually, He came from heaven. That’s the main point in John’s Gospel. John does not make a point like some of the others that He came from Bethlehem. You notice, in fact, that Jesus has been very loathe to discuss His earthly origin.
Remember John 1:46? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” What does Jesus say? “Well, excuse me, technically, okay, I was raised in Nazareth, but technically I was born in Bethlehem. Check the Scriptures, fulfills prophecy… ” He doesn’t do that. What does He say? “Come and see. Why don’t you find out.” John 6:42: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose mother we know? How does he now say I have come down from heaven?” Again, they’re saying “we know this guy,” and Jesus is not quick to correct them. John 7:28: He says you know Me, you know where I am from, and I know Him for I come from Him and He sent Me.
Jesus is, is not quick to correct their misunderstandings about His earthly origin. What He wants to challenge them with is that His earthly origin isn’t really His real origin at all. But He comes from His Father in heaven. And so here there is a division. He’s a Prophet, He’s the Christ, no no no, he’s a nobody because he comes from Galilee.
Some want to kill Him. Some want to arrest Him. But you see verse 44: No one lays hands on Him. Why? “Because He’s too popular, He’s too mysterious, He just spoke too authoritatively, and we don’t know, some of the crowds like Him. If we rush in there and we try to arrest Him or we… It’s too soon. We might have an insurrection on our hands. The crowds might turn on us.” So they don’t do anything…yet.
Now you may at this point say “well, that’s all very interesting, I see the division there, and some people wanted to kill Him at this point and some people wanted to arrest Him, but listen, I may not be fully on board with this Christianity or the friends that I have may not be Christians, but I don’t want to kill Jesus. I like him.” Well, think about it. Why do you want to arrest Him? Why did that want to kill Him? Was it that they wanted to make Him suffer? Well, maybe, maybe some of that came out in the cross. But really, they want Him to disappear. You’re making my life difficult. You’re questioning things I don’t want you to question. You’re challenging me in areas I don’t want you to challenge me, and I don’t like the things you say about yourself. Jesus, dis-a-pear.
See, we don’t have to want to kill Jesus, murder Jesus, arrest Jesus. To be like these crowds, we simply want Him to go away. Leave me alone, Jesus, stop pressing in on my life. Stop making things more difficult. Stop causing tension and strife. Stop calling me to pick up my cross when it’s gonna cost me a job or, or a grade or career. And many people just want Jesus to be gone. Stop talking about this Jesus. Enough already.
There’s going to be division. We see that here and it will always be the case. Sometimes we make evangelism even more difficult for ourselves because we think if we just had the right method, if we just had the right apologetics, if we just, if we just had, um, you know, reasons that demand a verdict and then more reasons that demand a verdict, and then more and more and more and we just… If we could just, you know, get them Josh McDowell and if we could get them Tim Keller, and if we could just get everybody and just if they would read our ten top apologetics, they would all become Christians.
Well, I’m all for good apologetic resources and being trained to do that, but you have to realize they had Jesus right in front of them. They had miracles that they could see, and they still didn’t want anything to do with Him. Don’t expect that you’re going to just argue people into heaven, and that you’re going to say “well, x-y-z, Messiah,” and they say “that’s right.”
Now people have different categories today, but people are still divided. They may not be divided over whether He’s a prophet, He’s a Christ, He didn’t come from Galilee; that was their context. But today they would say well, He was a good man, or you know, He was an invention of the early church, He wasn’t God until Nicaea said He was, or “I like Jesus but He’s just a social reformer, He’s a guru, He’s a holy man.” Same division. You put Jesus right in front of someone’s face, and some say “well, He was a nice guy and He did some good things for people,” and other people say “well, I think He was a holy man,” and maybe the Muslims say one thing, maybe the Mormons say another. And there’s division. Division among the people.
Now look at the second paragraph. Also division among the leaders.
So we had three groups: The “some,” the “others,” and then the “some others” in the first half. And now we have three more groups. We start with the “officers.” Now back in verse 32 we read the “pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about Him and the chief priests and pharisees sent officers to arrest Him. So the officers already have an official arrest warrant. They’ve already said “Okay, you go, you have it, in writing, here it is, our authority. You go, you arrest this man, because he is doing and saying things that no man should do and say. He’s a blasphemer.”
So now when the officers come back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, they’re a bit dumbfounded. “Where is he? I don’t… There’s no Jesus! Didn’t we send you to arrest him? You have one job. You couldn’t do it. He’s right there. It’s so obvious, he’s standing up in front of everyone. There’s one of him, there’s many of you. Arrest him! Why is he not with you?” And they say, “Listen, no one ever spoke like this man.”
Now you have to remember the officers. You think, you hear officers, you may think well, they’re military officers, or this is the Gestapo or something, but officer simply was a task that had been given to some of the Levites. These are Israelites. They’re of the Levitical clan, they’re part of the priestly apparatus, not priests themselves, but given this task to be officers within the temple precincts. So you think these are, this is part of the church staff, so they’re undoubtedly torn. You know, they’re, they’re not military Rambos, they’re church staff people. The Pharisees and the chief priests say “go arrest him,” and then they go and then they listen. Now they’re not believers, they haven’t crossed that bridge of faith, but they recognize this man speaks like no one else has ever spoken.
You remember, of course, what it says at the end of the Sermon on the Mount? They marveled… Why? Because Jesus was funny? Because He told a good story? Because He was so smart? Because He was such a nice guy? It says “they marveled because He spoke as One who had authority, and not as the scribes and the Pharisees.” These Levites, these officers, recognize it. “I don’t know who He is, I don’t know where He ends up, I don’t know what He’s about, but we’ve never heard anyone speak like Him. That’s why we didn’t arrest Him.”
There’s an emphasis, and you see it here in the ESV, it’s the same in the Greek. It ends with that word “man.” “No one ever spoke like this man!” He’s a man, but He doesn’t speak like a man, He doesn’t sound like a man. There’s, there’s something other worldly about Him.
And so they stopped short of fulfilling their task. The officers say “we don’t know who He is, but we know we’ve never heard anyone speak like Him before.”
Then you have a second group. You have the chief priests and the Pharisees. If you know first century Jewish context, you know that politics makes strange bedfellows. Chief priests and Pharisees, they’re often lumped together, but they really did not get along together. We think of them as the “bad guys” in the gospels, but the priests were the clergy and the Pharisees, actually, were, were laity. And often the Pharisees faulted the priests for being too lax and being in cooperation with the Romans. The Pharisees were generally more popular with the rank and file people, they took the law more seriously, they were calling out their oppressors, where they thought the chief priests were sort of the elites. Well, here they come together, the chief priests and the Pharisees. And they’re flabbergasted.
You see in verse 47: “The Pharisees answered them, ‘Have you also been deceived? How could you be so foolish? Arrest him! And now you come back and you’re saying nobody speaks like this.” And you can see the utter disdain they have for these officers and for the crowds.
Verse 48: “Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd..” Okay, some of the crowd who they’re all ga-ga for Jesus. They don’t know the law, they are accursed, that’s what they think of these people. They probably have in mind this phrase which became a popular phrase: The people of the land, hadam ha’aretz, the people of the land. It was used to distinguish the run of the mill Jews from their leaders, the hoi polloi which just means the, the many, the masses, the crowds, the people of the land.
Jeremiah 1:18: “And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, bronze wall, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land.”
So they, the elites, would take something like that.. Okay, we have officials, we have priests, and we have the people of the land. Now that’s not what Jeremiah meant, but that’s how they read it.
Or Ezra 10:11: “Separate yourselves from the people of the land and from the foreign wives.”
So the people of the land were thought to be something sort of dirty, or just the regular people. Wasn’t it Abraham Lincoln who said “God must really like ordinary people or He wouldn’t have made so many of them”? Well, they sort of think the opposite. God must really like us, which is why He gave us such high titles and such important positions than the people of the land.
So they are digging as deep as they can dig to these Levites: “What, are you like, you’re like the crowds? You’re like the ordinary people? You’re like the people of the land? They don’t even know the law, okay? They can barely read and write. They don’t understand the Torah. They’re lawbreakers, they’re accursed. And you’re gonna side with them? How could you be so gullible?” It’s as if they’re saying “look, no one who really matters believes in this man.”
Now, we wouldn’t put it that way, but some of you feel that pressure. You’re in high finance, or you’re in banking, or you’re in academia, or you’re in medicine, or some corporate America. There could so easily be this sort of pressure. Nobody even has to say it. You can just feel it, sort of sense of nobody who thinks with half a brain thinks this way.
We would get that when we lived in East Lansing. Nice place, nice people. Very liberal place. Very anti-Christian in some ways. People were very happy if you went to church, that’s fine, you like Jesus. We’d have so many conversations with people at baseball games or soccer games, just assume that we thought the same way they did with everything, talk to us about whatever it might be. Usually it’s the hot topics, about abortion or gay marriage, and just kind of go on like “can you believe these dumb people?” and you sort of like “well, I might be one of these dumb people.”
But the thought was “we’re smart people here, we’re in a college town, we’re educated, we all know that we think like smart people.” Some of you inhabit that world for sure.
And these chief priests and Pharisees are saying to the officers, “What? Are you like them? Listen, we know no one who is significant, no one who is academically credible, no one who is professionally important, believes in Jesus.”
And what was interesting, lots of different cultural similarities and differences when we were in Australia. One of the things that they just said “we find it amazing,” they would say, and they said “refreshing, your athletes are always thanking Jesus.” Now, we could say “well, is this sincere?” Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, but they said “we just think it’s so cool. We have nobody. There’s like one guy who did that and he just got, you know, put through the wringer. But you guys, every day, you know somebody scores a touchdown and Jesus through the pass. It’s just everywhere.”
In all different ways, depending on your context, your family, your profession, you can feel that sort of pressure: “If you are a thinking person, you don’t believe in this Jesus.”
And then we have one final person: Nicodemus. Now we’ve seen him before. Of course, we remember in John chapter 3, he’s the one who does not understand what it means to be born again. How do I get back in there? That’s the thing about babies…once they come out, ya can’t put ’em back in. And Jesus says “you’re Israel’s teacher, you’re an important person. You know your Bible, but you don’t know this.”
Now we’re going to encounter Nicodemus one more time at the end of the Gospel, so we’ll save our Nicodemus sermon for later, before we make any conclusions, because some people say poor Nicodemus, he was always close and he never got it, and some people say what a story Nicodemus, he by inches and feet finally makes it where he believes in Christ. So we’ll save that for later, but here he’s in a sort of neutral position. He’s one of them, you see that almost underlined in verse 50. Nicodemus, who had gone to Him before and who was one of them, he’s one of these important people, he’s one of these elite, he’s one of these upper crust, top dogs. He says, clearing his throat, verse 51: “Just, excuse me, one quick point. Doesn’t our law say we should, you know, give somebody a hearing before we condemn them?”
It’s sort of akin to what Gamaliel does in Acts, say “hey, just time out before we’re going to, you know, condemn all these people, let’s just slow down and let’s just think about this.”
Nicodemus, very cleverly, really, they just got done saying “well, the crowds, they’re accursed because they don’t follow the law,” and now Nicodemus is trying to point out subtly “well, you don’t really know the law because our law says we must treat a man fairly.” Deuteronomy 1:16: “You hear the case between your brothers. Not just one case, but both.” Deuteronomy 19:18: “The judge shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he meant to do to his brother.”
So clearly, the Old Testament law says you have to give a man his hearing. You don’t condemn somebody just because accusations are made. And how important it is for us to realize this especially in our social media age, where shame just gets dumped on people and somebody gets accused and, you know, can’t have anything to do with them. The Bible tells us something different. And Nicodemus says “okay, well, shouldn’t he at least get a hearing?” Well, they don’t want a hearing. They’re not interested in due process. They shoot back at him, verse 52: “Are you from Galilee? That’s the only explanation. Why would you care a rip about Jesus? You must be one of them. You’re, it’s just a hometown favoritism. Home court advantage, you’re from Galilee.” And they say “check, you check it out, no prophet comes from Galilee.” And they’re even needling Nicodemus more because implied in that is “hey, no prophet comes from Galilee, and if you’re from Galilee, then you’re not a prophet either. Not you, not Jesus. We’re not interested in what you have to say.”
Now, of course, in their zeal to condemn Jesus, they overlook that Jonah, that Nahum, come from Galilee, but that’s not really the point. They want nothing to do with Nicodemus and nothing to do with giving Jesus a fair hearing. Nicodemus may not have faith yet, but he at least is arguing for a good bit of human decency.
So notice what we have here: We have three groups in each half, three groups laity, three groups of leaders. And in each half, you could say we have a group that is far, a group that is close, and a group that is closer.
So the first half. Obviously those that want to kill Him, those that want to arrest Him, they’re the farthest off. Then you have the those who think He’s a prophet; well, they’re pretty close. Then you have those that think He’s the Christ; well, they’re really close. They’re right, but they don’t fully understand what they mean by that, so you have far, close, closer.
Same thing in the second paragraph. Those chief priests and the Pharisees, they’re the farthest. Then you have the officers who won’t arrest him, at least they recognize there’s something unique about Him, and then you have Nicodemus, who’s closer still, perhaps he’s inching his way towards some sort of faith in Christ.
Two halves, three groups: Far, close, closer.
So let me give you three points of application as we close.
Number one. Given all that we’ve seen here, and these three groups that are far, close, closer, in both halves, here’s the first point: Do not be surprised if there is division when you share the Gospel. Don’t be surprised. In fact, I’d expect it. But share. Speak. If you think I’m a terrible evangelist, and, uh, you know, I, I shared about Jesus and it just made people mad, I must be doing something wrong… No. Look at Jesus. Jesus, I’m willing to argue, was not bad at evangelism. Jesus probably gave a pretty good representation of Jesus, and yet wherever He goes, people say “I don’t, no, I don’t guy that. I’m not interested in that. In fact, I wish you would go away, I wish you would disappear, I wish you would shut your mouth.” So don’t be surprised. Don’t let that stop us from, from sharing, from whether it’s a comment online or something at the office or across the dinner table or opportunity with your neighbor. Pray for those opportunities to share and don’t be surprised if they don’t like it. Evangelism is not like donut day; everybody likes donut day. “I got donuts!” I want donuts. “I got Jesus.” Now He’s better than donuts, but people don’t know it. He’s actually better for you, too. [laughter] And He’s 100% gluten-free. So don’t be surprised, but just share.
Here’s the second point of application: Have you counted the cost? Division by itself is not necessarily a scandal. Now sometimes it is. The division we don’t want is when we’re divided over things that shouldn’t divide us. We’re divided because rich people and poor people, black people and white people, even Republicans and Democrats. But things that should divide people should divide people. Have you counted the cost? Have you counted the cost in following Christ, and what it may mean? Yes, if we were all perfect and we all saw things clearly, we would all agree, but the answer is not just “get along,” the problem is that people reject the truth. People sometimes divide over things that really are sources of division. And so as you set out to follow Christ, as I follow Christ, we must be prepared. At some point in our life, following Jesus is going to make life harder. In fact, I think we can safely say from Scripture, if your faith never costs you anything, it’s probably not real faith. Because even if you’re in the most Christian part of the most Christian city in the most Christian country in the world and you’re family is all Christian, there still will come a point, Paul told Timothy that you can count on whoever desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. There will come some point where true Christian faith is going to rub up against the old nature of men and women and they won’t like it, and you need to be prepared for that. Young people, you need to be prepared, whether it happens in school or happens in college or it happens in a job someday, you need to be prepared. People aren’t going to like all the things that the Bible says. Now it doesn’t give us an excuse to be jerks about it, but we have to be prepared. We have to count the cost.
And here’s the final question for you: Where are you? That’s the final point of application. Ask yourself that question. Because might it be possible that there are some people in this room, you may say “well, I’m not far, I don’t want to kill Jesus,” you might be close, you might even be closer… But close only counts in hand shoes and horse… Horseshoes and hand grenades… It’s been a long week… [laughter] or horse grenades, that’s messy, [laughter] but it counts there, too.
It doesn’t matter if you’re close if you’re never in.
Here’s what Calvin says about these officers. You know, the ones who said “never spoke a man like this before”? He says “even in the present day, we see many persons who too much resemble those officers, who are reluctantly drawn into admiration of the doctrine of the Gospel, and yet are so far from yielding to Christ that they still remain in the enemy’s camp.”
Might that be some of you? You have an admiration for this Christ, you have a sense of wonder at this gospel message, but halfway isn’t there. Maybe you’re like the officers – you’re torn and you can’t quite bring yourself to arrest Him, but you can’t quite bring yourself to bow the knee to Him.
It would be a pity this Christmas, in all of the pageantry and all of the songs and all of the lights and all of the aura, if you allowed yourself to just be close, or closer, but not really in. If you’re not there, and you know it, take a good look at this Jesus, who beckons you to come, who invites you to come, who draws you to come, that you might have your sins forgiven, and have real lasting joy.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we pray that you would so work in our hearts and the hearts of all that we love, that they may not simply marvel that Jesus spoke with authority, or simply come to correct doctrinal conclusions about Him, but they would embrace Him in wholehearted saving faith, and so be among those when He returns, who are not given to regret in recrimination, but to rejoicing. Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King. We pray in His name. Amen