Monday, June 03, 2013

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found (John 7:31-36)


Have you ever put off something, thinking, “Oh, I can always do that later,” only to find that the opportunity vanishes, never to come around again, or that you have waited too long? Procrastination is something that all of us are prone to do, and sometimes those missed opportunities are not a big deal, while other times, it matters significantly. So, maybe you decided to sleep in rather than taking advantage of the big door-buster sale on the day after Thanksgiving, big deal. On the other hand, maybe you decided to wait a little while to get that clanking sound in your car’s engine checked out, and then your engine blew up. Or maybe you put off seeing a doctor about that little pain that you were experiencing, only to find at long last that you had a serious medical condition that could have been easily remedied had you gotten it checked sooner. Maybe you never got around to telling a loved one how special they were to you before they died. Maybe you put off making something right with someone you had wronged. That happened to me once. When I was a teenager, before I knew the Lord, I did a lot of things that I am not proud of. Once, I was caught doing something I shouldn’t have been doing at work by an older man who worked with me, and he reported me to the boss. When the boss confronted me about it, I lied, and I said the old man was senile, and he really didn’t know what he was talking about, and besides that I didn’t think the guy liked me very much and he was trying to get me fired. A few years after I became a follower of Jesus, I was praying one day, and that whole incident just flooded my mind. I knew that God was telling me that I needed to make things right. So, I wrote a letter to my old boss, telling him what I did and apologizing for it and for the lies I told about it. Then I wrote a letter to that older man to apologize for dishonoring him. I shared with him that I had become a follower of Jesus, and that I had sought God’s forgiveness and wanted him to forgive me too. A few weeks later, I received a letter from his wife – his widow. She told me that he had died a few years after the incident happened, but she remembered him talking about it. She said that she and her husband were Christians, and that they had prayed for me during all of that, and that she was overjoyed that God had taken control of my life. I was heartbroken. I waited too late to make it right. But I wrote her back to tell her that I was overjoyed to know that I would see him again in heaven, and that I was so grateful to know that he had prayed for me. See, sometimes putting something off, on the assumption that you can always take care of it later, could be a really big deal! And it is never a bigger deal than when it comes to doing business with Jesus.

Chances are, you know someone, maybe you are someone, who thinks, “You know, I can go through life doing my own thing, and Jesus will always be there, so I can just deal with Him later. Sometime, you know, when I get to be an old man, or when I get sick, I can turn to Him then, when I really need Him.” But the thing is, we never know what a day may bring. You never know when it might be too late. When the nation of Israel was threatened with invasion from enemies on every side, they were strongly tempted to depend on treaties and tributes and foreign alliances to secure them. But God had raised up the prophet Isaiah to awaken the people to their need to seek security in the Lord and in Him alone. The Lord spoke through Isaiah, calling the nation to “seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isa 55:6). God had given them a great and gracious opportunity to experience salvation and deliverance under His strong hand, but this opportunity was limited – it was vanish at some point in the future, so they must not delay in turning to Him.

The Lord has spoken the same message to all human beings since Isaiah’s day. In our text today, it is this very urgent call that the Lord Jesus issues to those who heard Him. With animosity and conflict toward Him rising, the Lord Jesus speaks all the more clearly to the people of His own day calling them to turn to Him in faith and trust in Him to save them from their sins. While some, like those described in verse 31, “believed in Him,” understanding Him to be the promised Messiah that the world had been awaiting, others were angered by His words. His exclusive claims and radical denouncements of the religious façade that had evolved in Israel were a threat to the prominence and power of the religious leaders in Israel. The seat of power in Jerusalem belonged to a group of people known as the Sanhedrin. This group consisted of leaders from the prominent religious groups – the Pharisees, the Sadducees (who were the priestly party), and the elders of the nation. Under normal circumstances, these various groups were at odds with each other, having differing theological convictions and political interests. But the presence of Jesus Christ, and the works He did and the words He spoke, were a threat to them all. So, as is often the case, a common enemy has a way of uniting strange bedfellows, and these groups conspired together to eliminate Jesus and secure their own power and prestige. Knowing that Jesus is already turning the hearts of many toward Himself and away from them, they conclude that the time for action is now. They issue an official arrest warrant and commission the temple guard to seize Him. In the face of this escalating scenario, the Lord Jesus remains confident and secure in His own identity and mission. The word “therefore” in verse 33 indicates that it is precisely because of His own impending circumstances that He utters these urgent words in verses 33 and 34: “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come.” Before them stands an open door to eternal life – through which they can find forgiveness of sins and be reconciled to God. But this door will not remain open forever. It is closing soon, and when it closes, it will be closed forever.

The words of the Lord Jesus ring throughout the centuries and make their way to our ears today. If you do not know the salvation that Jesus Christ has come to secure for you through His life, His death, and His resurrection, you have this opportunity to know Him. It is a gracious opportunity, one that none of us deserve and none of us can earn. It is presented to us because God loves us, and in His grace does not desire that any of us should perish. But, this opportunity is limited. You have it now, you will not have it forever. So, the urgent need for anyone who does not know Him by faith is to commit themselves to Him even now! And the call to those of us who do know Him is to see to it that all those we know who don’t know Him understand the gracious opportunity that is set before them, before it is too late. It is a gracious, but limited opportunity. Let’s see this in the words that Jesus speaks here in the text:

I. The Lord Jesus presents a gracious opportunity to us (v33)

A few months ago, we were sitting along the sidewalk at in Frontierland at Disney World right in front of the shooting gallery waiting for the evening parade to begin. The kids had been wanting to try out the shooting gallery, but we’d been telling them, “No, its just a waste of money, and we’ve already spent so much to be here, we just don’t want to do that.” We are thankful to have such appreciative children; they had accepted our answer without complaining. Well, all of a sudden, a couple of Disney employees came up to us and said, “Which one of is the best shot with a rifle?” That’s kind of an odd question, so I really didn’t know how to answer. So, I did what any responsible father would do: I said, “My son is.” They said, “Well, how about we prove that? We’ve loaded up four rifles in our shooting gallery over here and you can all try it out for free and take as many shots as you want.” Now, you understand, this was not something we signed up for or paid extra for. We were just sitting there minding our own business, when these two people offered us something for free that we had not earned or deserved. There is a word in the Bible for something that is offered to you for free when you don’t deserve it or haven’t earned it. That word is grace.

You see, all of us, because we are sinners, are separated from God, and there is nothing we can do about that. We cannot do enough good works to make up for the wrongs we have done; there aren’t any rituals or payments we can make to reconcile ourselves to God. We are cut off. The Bible says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isa 59:2). And that separation threatens to bar us from God’s presence forever – there is an eternal hell where all humanity would perish apart from God, if it were not for His grace. Because God loves us, He has graciously offered us salvation. In 2 Corinthians 5:19, we read that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” John 3:16 says it best: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is a free gift that God has given us. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus came to dwell among us – God in flesh as a man – to live the sinless and righteous life that we cannot live, to satisfy the righteous demands of God’s justice on our behalf, and to die in our place, receiving the full penalty of our sins in Himself, so that we can be forgiven, saved, reconciled to God, and have eternal life with Him. That was the mission for which Jesus came, and that was the message that He proclaimed.

On the Temple Mount during the Feast of Tabernacles, the Lord Jesus stood before the people offering them the gift of eternal life through faith in Him. He said, “I am with you.” Many of you are aware that the name of our church comes from a precious promise of God’s word. In Isaiah 7:14, it is promised that a virgin would bear a Son and He would be called Immanuel, and that name means “God is with us.” He is with us in the person of Jesus Christ. God has come to dwell among men in the person of Christ. We didn’t ask for it; we don’t deserve it; we cannot earn it. But God in His grace has come to us. He is with us. Notice Jesus says to those who are present with Him on that day that He is with them “for a little while longer.” The Feast of Tabernacles took place in the fall: it may have been September or October. Six months later (in the spring, maybe March or April), it would be Passover, and Jesus would be crucified. But death would not mark the end for Him. It would not be a tragic thing that took Him away from life too soon. It would not take Him by surprise. He knew it was coming, and He knew when it was coming. His death on the cross was part of His divine plan to save the world, as He died in the place of sinners so that we can be forgiven. It is not the sorry end to a sad and tragic tale; it is the completion of His mission. When Jesus died, He could say with confidence, “It is finished.” And so He says, “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me.” He would return to heaven, from whence He came, and to His Father who sent Him. When He prayed on the night before His death, He said to His Father, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

Even in the face of murderous threats, the Lord Jesus can speak at the Temple on that day of the gracious opportunity that God had set before the people. He could speak of the grace in His coming to dwell among us: “I am with you.” He could speak of the suffering and death He would endure on our behalf: “For a little while longer I am with you.” He could speak of the glorious resurrection and ascension by which He would defeat death and return to His Father having accomplished the mission of redemption for which He came: “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me.” Did they even realize what grace was being extended to them? Surely some did, while obviously others did not. But more importantly, do you realize it? Do you realize that it was for you that the Lord Jesus came, and for you that He died, and for you that He has risen from death and ascended back to His father? Do you realize that none of us deserve this? Because of our sins, we deserve to be separated from God. But because of God’s grace, the Lord Jesus stands before us, as it were, today saying “I have come for you. I have come to save you through My life, through My death, and through My resurrection. Come to Me and be saved!” Do the people in your life realize that it was for them that Christ came, and died, and rose again? My neighbor walked by the house the other day and said, “Hey Pastor, have you heard any good news lately?” Oh friends, this is the greatest news there is to hear, and the greatest news to tell! In the Lord Jesus Christ, God is with us, and He is with us to save us! What a gracious opportunity we have to cast ourselves on Him in faith and trust to be saved!

II. The Lord Jesus presents a limited opportunity to us (v34)

Several years ago, you might recall a really clever ad campaign for Doritos that showed people crunching into their chips, with the tagline, “Crunch all you want, we’ll make more.” No one has to fear that we’ll ever run out of Doritos. You can always just go to the store and buy more of them. They’re here to stay. Every year, McDonalds rolls out their McRib sandwich as a “limited time” item, and people go flocking to the golden arches, because we never know when the McRib might go away for good. Marketing geniuses know that the idea of missing out on something that is only available for a limited time can be a strong sales motivator. But, a lot of folks are getting wise to the plan, and they know that though the McRib may disappear for a little while, it will come back around. And even if it doesn’t, we’ll always have Doritos. But the Lord Jesus says here that His offer is a limited time offer, and once it is gone, it is gone for good. The opportunity is not rolling around again, and if you miss it, there is no consolation. Though they will keep rolling the McRib out from time to time, and they’ll keep making Doritos no matter how many you crunch, there will come a time for every person when it is too late to turn to Jesus.

Notice that in v34 He says, “You will seek Me, and will not find Me.” Now, this isn’t like Richard Nixon’s so called “goodbye speech” in 1962 after he lost the race for governor of California, when he bitterly said, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” No, Jesus wasn’t spewing out in bitter anger over the way He had been treated by the world. He was merely stating a fact. “You will seek Me, and will not find Me.” Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord had declared centuries before, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Here He stood in their midst saying, “I am with you,” but they didn’t want Him. Their hearts were hardened against Him. They were not seeking Him with all their hearts, and the only way they wanted to find Him was dead. So, rather than saying, as He had said through Jeremiah, “You will seek Me and find Me,” He says that days are coming in which they would seek Him and not find Him. The times would come for some of these folks when they would realize that they needed Jesus; and they would realize it too late. The reason was not because He was leaving the earth and returning to heaven. The reason, Jesus says, is that “where I am, you cannot come.” If they would seek Him with all their hearts, they could find Him still, even after He had died and risen and ascended back to heaven. But they would not find Him because they could not access Him. They would not turn from their sins and seek after Him by faith. So in John 8:21, Jesus says, “I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.” They would not be able to find Him when they needed Him most because they will have died in their sin – unrepentant of the spiritual rebellion that had separated them from God since birth. And at that point, it would be too late. The door of opportunity will have closed at that point.

As was so often the case, here again, the crowd of people grossly misunderstood Jesus’ words. In v35, they say to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find Him?” Notice the error of their ways here. Jesus has spoken a plain truth to them, and they misunderstand. But rather than asking Him to clarify what He means, they are asking this of each other. Had their hearts been set on seeking truth, they would have asked Him what He meant. But instead, you have the pooled ignorance of all these confused people trying to sort out Jesus’ words among themselves. Try as they may, they could not discern His meaning. They said, “He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is He?” The Dispersion (or Diaspora) referred to the places where Jews lived scattered around the world since their return from the Babylonian captivity. They think He must be planning to run off to those far away places and surround Himself with Gentiles. That was the best they could come up with. If He stayed in Israel, He could run, but He couldn’t hide. But if He went to the Gentiles, no pious Jew would chase Him there, because they wanted to avoid all contact with the Gentiles. Yet, even this marks a gross misunderstanding of God’s intention for them. Though they prided themselves on being God’s “chosen people,” they seemed to never pause to consider why they were chosen by God. God had declared time and time again that He had chosen the nation of Israel to be His missionary people in the world to take the message of His truth to all nations. But they failed at this task, and instead of taking God’s truth to the world, they isolated themselves from the world and kept the knowledge of God to themselves. Ironically, in Jesus’ last words to His disciples – the Great Commission – He gave them the mandate to take the good news of the salvation that He had accomplished for the world to all peoples, beginning in Jerusalem, and extending to the ends of the earth, yes, even among the Gentiles. The church would be commissioned to be the people that God had called Israel to be. Like Israel, the early church was reluctant to go among Gentile peoples with the Gospel, until the very authorities that put Jesus to death also began to persecute and scatter the church to lands far and wide. And as they scattered, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and through the proclamation of the message of Jesus Christ, the church would see countless Gentiles come to know the Lord, while Israel remained separated, spiritually blind, hard hearted, and dead in sin. But, no, Jesus wasn’t going to the Gentiles – that’s not what He meant. He would go to the Gentiles later, after His death, through the witness of the church. But here His words mean something far more severe. He is returning to His Father in heaven, and they would not be able to join Him there, because they would die in unbelief and sin. Then it would be too late to find Him, too late to join Him in that place of glory. Their opportunity to call upon Him while He is near was limited, and Jesus is telling them that door would be closing very soon.

But compare what Jesus says to this crowd of unbelievers to what He says to His own followers. In John 13:33, Jesus says to His disciples, “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” Now, unlike those unbelievers, the disciples did the right thing. Rather than trying to sort it all out themselves, Peter spoke up and asked the Lord to clarify what He meant. Jesus said, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later” (13:36). Thank God for those words, “you will follow later.” This is a promise to all those who believe in Him. Though He is not with us in the flesh any longer, His promise is that we will be together with Him again. And as a guarantee of that promise, He has sent His Spirit to live within us. He remains “God with us”, living in us, reminding us, assuring us that heaven awaits us because of our faith in Him. He said in John 14, “I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” This time, it was Thomas who spoke up, asking the Lord rather than his fellow disciples what Jesus meant. He said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” And Jesus said these wonderful words to Him: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (14:2-6). What a vast difference there is between the promise to those who believe on Him and the promise to those who do not. To the former He says, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now, but you will follow later.” To the latter He says very matter-of-factly, “You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come.” The gates of heaven stand open to those who have been cleansed of their sin through the blood of Jesus. But to those who die in unbelief and sin, those gates are barred shut forever. There will be no second chance once life has come to an end. As Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment.”

So, what must we do? We must heed the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” A gracious opportunity has been set before you. Jesus says, “I am with you.” In God’s grace He has come to us to redeem us from our sins. He has done this through His death where He took upon Himself our penalty. This would occur, as He said, in “a little while” after He spoke these words. And having conquered sin and death and hell on our behalf, He has gone to Him who sent Him. What a gracious opportunity to be reconciled to God and saved from sin and death. We don’t deserve this. We cannot earn it. It is ours because God loves us and because He is good and gracious. But let us not be deceived: it is a limited time offer. The day will come when we leave this life and this world and set foot into eternity, where we will stand before the judgment bar of God. None of us knows when that day might be. And if it comes before we have made things well with our souls by turning unto Jesus for salvation, though you may seek Him on that day, you will not find Him. He will not be there to plead your case before the Father on the basis of His wounds and His blood. Where He is, you will not be able to come. You will have sinned away your opportunity for grace, and it will be too late. As Hebrews 2:3 says, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.” So, to any who do not know Him, be they here in our midst today, or elsewhere in your journeys this week, or in your home and family, your neighborhood, your workplace, even if they be at the ends of the earth, the message is the same: Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.

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