Friday, July 05, 2013

Divided by Christ (John 7:40-44)

Most of us learned early in childhood to stand with hand over heart facing the flag of the United States of America and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In recent years, we witnessed great controversy over the Pledge, as numerous court cases have been heard regarding the wording of it. Irreligious families have protested their children having to recite the words “one nation under God,” and court rulings have come down on both sides of the issue, with the most recent ones upholding the phrase, but granting freedom to individuals to refrain from reciting the pledge. Yet, as the past few election cycles have shown us, and as we see in political rhetoric across the nation’s airwaves every day, perhaps the “under God” phrase is not the most controversial part of the Pledge. The most controversial element of the Pledge may well be the word “indivisible.” The very “liberty and justice for all” that the Pledge proclaims has become the basis for division between red states and blue states, people on the right and on the left, and in all sorts of other factions. It remains to be seen if America will continue to be “one nation under God, indivisible.” Whatever will happen to America is yet unknown to us, but it is fully known to God. Division may not be far off in the grand scheme of history, and God is not obligated to prevent it from happening.

Division is often unpleasant. We see it affect nations. We see it affect families. We see it affect churches and every other institution of society. Unpleasant as division may be, it is often a necessity, especially where truth claims are involved. People fall into opposing factions of those who believe the claims and those who do not. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once commented on a church, in which it was reported that there was no division and no quarreling. He said of that congregation that “there were no religious bickerings because there was no religion; there were no religious strifes because nobody had anything worth striving for. And that,” Spurgeon said, “is not a state of things over which I can rejoice.”[1] Where matters are of great importance, we must expect there to be great divisions. And there is nothing so important as the Person, the work, and the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must not be surprised to find the entire world divided over Him. After all, He promised that this would be the result of His coming. He said, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53). So we must not be surprised to read the words in our text today: “a division occurred in the crowd because of Him” (v43). The Greek word there is schisma. It is the same word that Jesus used to describe the tearing of a garment (Matt 9:16; Mark 2:21). The crowd is torn apart like a garment over the singular issue of Jesus of Nazareth.

What we see in this crowd of people is a microcosm of the entire world – people divided by Jesus. So, let’s look at the division that occurs in this crowd, and then draw some applications to how the world is divided by Jesus today.

I. Some think that Jesus is significant, but not the Savior (v40).

I can still remember the conversation I had many years ago with a Muslim in East Africa about who Jesus is. “He is merely a prophet,” the man said. I said, “That’s an interesting word, ‘merely.’ What do you mean by that?” He said, “Well, I believe that Jesus was a prophet, who came from God, to enlighten people about the truth. But I do not believe that He was God or the Son of God.” So I said, “Let me get this straight. You believe He was a good man?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “You believe He was a good teacher?” He said, “Yes.” I asked again, “You believe He taught the truth?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Then what do you do with the fact that He taught that He was Himself truly God, the Son of God, and the only way to know and access God?” Uncomfortably, the man’s only available recourse was to say, “Well, you say He said that, but He never said that. You Christians have corrupted Bibles. Jesus never said those things.” I said, “How do you know?” He said, “If He had said them, the Quran would tell us.” I said, “How do you know the Quran is not corrupted, or that the Bible is not true?” He finally conceded that He could no longer argue the point with me; he had run out of answers; but his mind was still made up. Jesus was significant, but not the Savior.

I think about that man, and many others like him with whom I have had similar conversations, whenever I read statements like this one in verse 40. Because of the things that Jesus said, some of the people were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” Now, they are not saying that Jesus was merely “a prophet.” He was a prophet, yes, but they are saying He was something more than just a prophet. He was not just another one in the line of Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so on. He is, they said, “THE Prophet.” This is a very specific and significant person in redemptive history. In Deuteronomy 18, Moses gave a stern warning to the people of Israel that they were to avoid the spiritual practices of the pagans from the surrounding nations. They were not to use divination or witchcraft, omens, sorcerers, spells, mediums, and the like. These were things that the pagans did in order to find some supernatural word to direct them. But God said that these things were forbidden for the Israelites. Instead of these things, God would speak to the Israelites for Himself. Now, previously, when He thundered audibly from Mount Sinai, the people said to Moses, “Please give us some mediator between ourselves and God for we cannot bear a direct confrontation with Him.” So the Lord had determined to provide for Israel a heritage of prophetic ministry. Moses tells the people, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” The Lord said “I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deut 18:15-18). This promise lays the foundation for the entire lineage of Hebrew prophets. But, there is a greater sense in which all of these prophets, from Moses to Malachi, were foreshadowing the coming of an ultimate prophet. He would be a “second Moses,” a deliverer of the people.

If you remember back in Chapter 6, when Jesus fed the multitude, miraculously multiplying two fish and five loaves of bread, the people “saw the sign which He had performed,” and they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Just as Moses had been able to provide bread miraculously for the people in the form of manna (though it was God and not Moses who provided it), the people concluded that Jesus must be the second Moses, because of His miraculous provision of food. But Jesus chastised those people and rebuked them because they were not interested in spiritual truth – they were just interested in filling their bellies. Thus, the bulk of Chapter 6 is devoted to Jesus expositing what the true bread of life is – namely that is Him. They should not come to Him expecting Him to give them food. They must come to Him believing that He is the food that their lives so desperately need. Most of that crowd abandoned Jesus because they could not wrap their heads around the truth He was proclaiming to them (6:66).

But now Jesus is surrounded by a different crowd of people. Among this crowd are some who are more wise, more discerning, more spiritual (we might say) than those others. They are not driven by the hunger of their bellies. They are not persuaded by signs and wonders that they have seen. They have heard Jesus speak. What did He say? “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water” (7:37-38). He said this on the day of celebrating that Moses had provided water from a rock in the wilderness on two occasions (though it was God and not Moses who provided it; Exo 17; Num 20). In the minds of some who heard him, since Moses could provide water from the rock, and since Jesus claims to be able to provide water as well, He must be the second Moses, the long-awaited Prophet who was to come. He is “the Prophet.”

You know, there are many in the world today who have nothing but good things to say about Jesus. They recognize that He is a significant person in the history of the world. He said important things. He challenged the status quo, confronted corrupt institutions, started an influential and important historical movement. He is on any short list of historical figures that a person needs to know about in order to be historically and culturally literate. Significant indeed, but not the Savior – that is how Jesus is viewed by many today. They view Him as an enlightened person, a prophet perhaps, who has come to enlighten us. But Jesus is so much more than this. He is not merely enlightened, He is the Light. He is not merely a prophet, but the ultimate prophet, not only speaking for God, but speaking as God in the flesh. And He can enlighten us, but He has come to do more than this – He has come to save us and rescue us from our sins through His life, death, and resurrection. So, if you or someone you know is one of those who believe that Jesus is significant, but not the Savior, I would like to challenge you to go back to the Gospel accounts in the Bible and read for yourself what He said about who He is and what He came to do. You are to be commended for recognizing that He is significant. But He is so much more than this. He is the Savior that all of us need to rescue us from sin and reconcile us to the God who made us.

II. Some think that He is the Christ, but not the Crucified One (v41a)

When we speak of Jesus Christ, we need to understand that “Christ” is not His last name. It is a title. We are saying that Jesus is “the Christ.” The Greek word Christos corresponds to the Hebrew word Mashiach, from which we get the word “Messiah.” Both words mean “the Anointed One,” and speak of a person who will be anointed by God to reign over His people. And apparently, one group of people who heard the words of Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles concluded that Jesus was this anointed Christ, or Messiah.

Now, to us, it would seem that these groups are saying the same thing, and so the division is unnecessary. One group says He is the Prophet, one group says He is the Christ. We say, “What’s the difference?” because we understand both titles to refer to Jesus. However, it is likely that Christians were the first to equate these two titles to one person, because Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of both promises. Prior to His death and resurrection, however, Jewish people believed that the Prophet would come, and that the Messiah would come, but they were not the same person. In fact, among the Dead Sea Scrolls, there was found one document which speaks of a coming prophet and TWO coming Messiahs – one who would be a priestly Messiah in the order of Aaron, and the other a kingly Messiah from the line of David.[2] Most people in Jesus’ day viewed the Messiah as a great political and military ruler who would come and deliver the Israelites from the oppression of foreign powers. Throughout Israel’s history, the nation had been dominated by one foreign nation after another – Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and at this time in history it was Rome. The heartcry of the people of Israel was that they might be liberated and set free from this oppression, and they longed for the coming of a deliverer who would make it happen. After seeing and hearing all that Jesus had done and said, there was one group of people at least who were convinced that He was the Christ, the Messiah!

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Revolution. Before this would-be Messiah could ever overthrow the Romans, He went and got Himself killed! Not only that, but it was almost like He tried to get Himself killed. He was going around telling people that He was going to get killed when He got to Jerusalem. They thought He was the Christ, and then He ended up crucified. And in their minds, there could be no such thing as a crucified Christ. Those two words go together about like the words “crash landing.” If it’s a crash, it’s not a landing; and in their minds, if its crucified, its not a Christ. And yet, it is through this crucifixion that Jesus accomplished the Messianic deliverance for which He came. He did not come to deliver from Rome or from any other nation’s oppression. Had they been set free from Rome, they would have still been enslaved. Just like the entire human race, we are all slaves to sin, captive under the oppression of Satan. This is what we need to be liberated from. And Jesus makes that liberation possible through His life, death, and resurrection. In living for us, He fulfilled the righteous demands of God’s law on our behalf. In dying for us, He took the penalty that our sins deserve upon Himself. In rising from the dead for us, Jesus has defeated our sins and their penalty of death and hell forever, so that we can be set free, saved, and secured to Him throughout this life and in heaven forever. They thought that Christ could not be crucified. Jesus demonstrated that He is the Christ by His crucifixion.

Was He the prophet, the priest, or the King? He is all three. The prophet who came as the Word made flesh; the priest who not only offered but became the sacrifice for sin; and the King who has established His Kingdom in the hearts of those who follow Him, but who is coming again in glory to put all nations under His feet. So Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:23-25).

If you look at Jesus as the victim of a tragic historical accident, a case-study in “what might have been,” a martyr who died for a noble purpose before He could achieve His ultimate potential, then you are sorely mistaken. The death that He died was the very reason for His coming and it is the very basis of our hope. Our only hope to be rescued is through His cross. If you think that He cannot be Christ because He was crucified, the fact is that He is Christ because He was crucified, and was crucified there for you and me and for our sins, to save us.

III. Some think He is a liar and not the Lord (vv41b-42)

Among the people of the world today there is a very small minority who have only negative things to say about Jesus. Most people who know anything about Him express something positive about Him, even if they come short of being a full fledged follower of Christ. But then there are those who, for whatever reason, have such hardened and bitter hearts toward the Lord that they just cannot stomach Him. They despise Him and want nothing to do with Him at all. They seek to discredit and destroy Him. We find such ones as these in the crowd around Him in our text. While some say He is the prophet and some say He is the Christ, we find this one group saying, “No, none of the above. He is a liar!” And they think they have proof. They’ve studied their Scriptures. They are more learned than many of their peers and they are able to say about this Jesus that He cannot be the Messiah for He is from the wrong place and the wrong people. They’ve searched the Scriptures and they know that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Micah 5:2 makes it plain. But everyone knows where Jesus is from, right? Is He ever called Jesus of Bethlehem? No, He is called Jesus of what? Nazareth! Everyone knows that Jesus grew up in the Galilean town of Nazareth, and what do the people say about Nazareth? “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). So these people say, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?” They are convinced He is a liar and a deceiver, so they want Him dead.

Not only is He supposed to be from Bethlehem, but also from the descendants of David. And who are Jesus’ ancestors? Well, the crowd doesn’t really know. They have heard stories, though. They’ve heard some stories about His mom, you know, that she wasn’t married yet when she got pregnant with Him. And they might have heard about His dad, some carpenter in Nazareth who hasn’t been on the scene in a long time. But every time they ask Jesus about His lineage and where He is from, He just keeps talking about God being His Father and Heaven being His home. They must think He is some kind of lunatic, but all questions of His sanity aside, He is definitely not who He says He is, because He’s from the wrong place and the wrong people. Or so they think.
It is a terribly tragic thing, and I have met numerous people who fall into this category, people who know their Bibles but do not know Jesus. Had they put as much effort into knowing Jesus as they had put into finding reasons to reject Him, they might have discovered that Jesus actually satisfied the very criteria they used to disqualify Him. We can chalk it up to laziness on their part. They went with things as they appeared on the surface without probing further. Do they want a Messiah who is from Bethlehem? Do they want one who is a descendant of David? In Jesus they could have both, for He actually did come from David’s lineage; and He was born in Bethlehem. Now, like David, Jesus left Bethlehem and never returned to it; but that was His place of birth. But the people were too lazy to investigate and discover these truths. John Calvin says, “Our nature is such that in small things we are ashamed of our laziness, but with the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven, we sleep on unconcerned.”[3]

I’ve often wondered, why didn’t Jesus just break out His birth certificate or something and show them that He really was a descendant of David, born in Bethlehem? The fact of the matter is that it wouldn’t have changed a thing. Their minds were made up to reject Him. It would have been no sure fire proof that He was the Messiah if He could prove He was a Bethlehem born descendant of David. We really have no sledgehammers when it comes to defending the claims of Christianity and of Jesus Himself. There is no card we can play that says, “Wham! There’s your proof!” Jesus didn’t do things that way, and we can’t either. The realization and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is a matter of faith, prompted by revelation from God, not by argumentation or debate.[4] When Peter confessed at Caesarea Philippi, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus did not say, “Well Peter, upon what evidence do you base this claim?” Nor did He say, “My, my Peter, you must have seen some pretty compelling proofs and heard some really convincing arguments.” No, instead Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16:17). He had heard the words of Jesus; He had seen all the signs. But it was the revelation of God the Father that accomplished the work of bringing Him to believe. And so it will be with you and your friends and loved ones. You can argue ‘til the cows come home, and present one evidence after another, but unless the Spirit of God moves upon a human heart that heart will remain dead in trespass and sin and will belligerently refuse to believe upon the Lord Jesus. Arguments and evidences have value – they take away excuses for unbelief. They provide assurance to those who already believe. But they will never compel an unbeliever to believe. If God moves upon his or her heart, that person will believe with or without evidence or argument. And if He doesn’t move upon their hearts, all the evidence and arguments in the world won’t change their minds about Jesus.

So, if you are like these folks and believe that Jesus is a liar and not the Lord, make sure that you haven’t taken the lazy way out – have you really investigated the basis of your unbelief? You might find that the very things you are claiming keep you from believing in Him will be the things that lead you to Him as God reveals His truth to your heart.  

Jesus divides people. He divided this crowd. He’s dividing up the whole world. He said He would. Throughout Scripture, He promises that He divides believers from unbelievers; those who walk in the light from those who walk in the darkness; the sheep from the goats; the wheat from the tares; the children of God from the children of the devil.[5] Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and He who does not gather with Me scatters” (Matt 12:30). There is no middle ground. “People confronted with the revelation of God in Christ do not have the luxury of remaining neutral” about Him.[6] We live in a world divided by Christ. But here’s the beautifully unusual thing about that: In the midst of this world, where people of one and the same nation, one and the same family, etc., who ought to find many reasons to be united, so many are divided from one another because of Jesus Christ. And yet, you have this thing, created by Christ Himself, for Himself, called the church. Within the church of Jesus Christ, you find those of different skin colors, different ethnicities, different places of origin, different languages, rich and poor, young and old, rural and urban, the well educated and the not-so-well educated, male and female. And the miracle is that with all of these things which would ordinarily be seen as dividing lines, there is this profound unity. There is a love for one another. There is a warm embrace and this one calls that one brother, and the other sister. In a world divided by Christ, there is this little haven, the church, where people of vastly dissimilar backgrounds are actually united by Christ. In spite of all their differences, they have this one thing in common: they have turned away from sin and trusted in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And the promise they have received is that they will be together, with one another, and with Him, forever as one indivisible nation (if you will), under God.

So as the lines are drawn between the entire human race, in the end, there will only be one great division. Those who are His and those who are not. Among those who are not, there will be any number of factions of those who have widely varying opinions about who Jesus is. What they will have in common is that none of them believe He is who He said He is. None of them have received Him as Lord and Savior. So, it may be that someone here is a part of that great mass of humanity. Have you really considered who Jesus is and what He has said and done, and that He has done it all for you? Would you be willing to read the Gospels with an open mind and ask the Lord each day to show you the truth about Jesus as you read them?

But, among those who do belong to Him, no matter what other reason they have to be divided from each other, they are bound together in unity in their faith and love for the Lord Jesus who has rescued them from sin and reconciled them to God forever. In a world that is divided by Christ, are you among those who have been united by Him? Are you willing to labor to preserve and defend that unity, and even to expand it to encompass others?  

[1] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John (Volume 2; An Expositional Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 2.589-2.590.
[2] 1QS 9:11. Robert Mounce, “John” in Expositors Bible Commentary (Revised Edition; Volume 10; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 466.
[3] John Calvin, John (Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994), 199.
[4] Mounce, 466.
[5] John 3:18, 36; 1 Jn 5:10; Jn 8:12; 12:35, 46; Eph 5:8; 1 Thes 5:5; 1 Pet 2:9; 1 Jn 2:9; Matt 25:32-33; Jn 10:26; 1 Jn 3:10; Jn 8:44. John MacArthur, John 1-11 (MacArthur New Testament Commentary; Chicago: Moody, 2006), 318.
[6] Mounce, 466. 

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