Sunday, January 17, 2016
"Scripture & Reality" Sermon: John 7:40-52
“Scripture & Reality”
January 17, 2016 Second Reformed Church
How do people respond when we tell them the Gospel?
When you and I tell people that they have a problem – that they are alienated from God by their sin, and they are bound to suffer eternally in Hell – unless they get right with God – through Jesus Christ alone – through Who Jesus is – the Incarnate God – and what He did in living to merit us righteousness, dying to pay the debt for our sin, and physically rising from the dead to secure the eternal salvation of all those who will ever believe – how do they respond?
Jesus spoke to the people at the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem about six months before His crucifixion, and He told them that He is God the Savior – that salvation – abundant everlasting life – was only to be found through Him.
And the people were confused – if Jesus was an imposter, why weren’t the Pharisees stopping Him? And if He really was the Christ – the Savior – the Messiah, why weren’t the Pharisees telling everyone? The Pharisees failed to address Who Jesus was, and the crowd was left to try to figure it out themselves.
And we see that the people came to one of three conclusions: Jesus is the Prophet – the successor to Moses. Jesus is the Christ – the promised Savior. And, Jesus is not the Savior.
These are the responses we get as we tell people about Jesus: People will say they believe Jesus is a great moral teacher. People will say they believe in Jesus as God the Savior. And, people will say that Jesus couldn’t be the Savior for any number of reasons.
Our text begins with the first group of people: those who believe Jesus was a prophet – a great teacher.
“When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’
They were most likely thinking of what God promised to Moses, as Moses said:
“’The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, “Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.” And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him’” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19, ESV).
“Is Jesus God in the flesh? No, but He is a great prophet – One Who comes to teach us the moral law, as Moses did.”
This is, perhaps, the most difficult type of person to talk with about Jesus, because they are willing to accept Jesus as a good and wise man, but nothing more. They are willing – to some degree – to hear His teachings and say that they are good and wise for society to follow. The Golden Rule – who can argue with that?
These are the kind of people who will tell us that God doesn’t care what we believe, He just wants us to be faithful – good people.
This is a concept of a God Who is a cosmic grandfather who reads all the fairy tale books to all His children and just wants them to play nice. “Call Me whatever you will, just call Me!”
But there are insurmountable problems in thinking this way:
First, you have to ignore the fact that God says all humans are sinners and in need of salvation. Something must happen, besides being “average” to reconcile a person to God. There is a general disbelief in the severity of sin and the width of the chasm it has made between humans and God.
Second, you have to ignore the fact that God has told us that He is Holy, Holy, Holy – utterly other – infinitely perfect in every way – and He cannot stand any sin in His presence. You have to diminish what it means for God to be holy to think Jesus being a good and wise guy is enough.
And third, you have to ignore Jesus saying that “no one comes to the Father but through Him” – that there is One and Only One Way to salvation and no other – ever and forever. All ways do not lead to God. God said there is One Way. Jesus said He is the One Way. You have to ignore what Jesus taught to say you believe what Jesus said and not accept it, or vice versa.
Consider if Jim, or Carol, or Maria stood up and said, “I am God in the flesh. You have to believe in me by faith if you are to be saved from God’s Wrath.” Would we say that either of these people was a great teacher? Or would we say something else?
C. S. Lewis, in his famous book, Mere Christianity, explained why this view is impossible to hold. (If you have not read Lewis’ book – let me strongly recommend it to you.)
Lewis wrote: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg--or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us” (http://www.whoisjesus-really.com/english/claims.htm).
As we encounter people who say they believe Jesus was a great teacher – and that’s all, we have to show them that that is just not possible. We have to show them what He said and did, as it is recorded in the Bible. We must call them to consider what Jesus actually taught – if they consider it all together, they must conclude that He was not merely a great teacher: He was either God in the flesh or He was a madman – perhaps possessed by the devil – those are the only possible options to hearing what Jesus said.
A second group of people will hear the Gospel as we proclaim it – they will hear the Bible read and preached and believe savingly:
“Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’
As God is so pleased to open the hearts and minds of people, they will hear – as they did that last day of the Feast of Booths – and they will conclude that Jesus is God the Savior, the promised Christ.
As we have people respond in that way, we must not leave them alone – Christians need to be in community to live and grow and mature and find support in the faith. Bring these people to a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church – as I pray this one is.
Those who have come to faith need to be in the company of other Christians – in the communion of the saints – so we can learn together and be there to support each other as we live in this fallen world and look forward to the coming restoration when Jesus returns.
We need to encourage those who have believed to be involved in a church. Jesus has saved a people for Himself and He is growing a people for Himself as His Bride, the Church. We cannot be the Church – we cannot even be Christians – completely apart from other Christians. We cannot be healthy if we only read our Bibles alone or if we only listen to TV preachers, or radio preachers, or preachers on Cd or tape or record. We need to be together – we are all important members of the Body of Christ – we need each other.
Hear what Paul explains:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, ESV).
So, let us bring any who believe straightaway to a Bible-believing and Bible-preaching church that they can grow and be involved in.
A third group of people will have reasons not to believe:
“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.
This third group remembered that the Savior that God promised to send was going to be of the line of David, born in Bethlehem – and they pointed out that Jesus was a Nazarene. Jesus was known as Jesus of Nazareth – Nazareth is in Galilee. So, they concluded, He could not be the Savior, because He was not a Judean, which He would have been if He had been born in Bethlehem in Judah.
Well, what do we do with that? It’s true: Jesus lived in Galilee, and He was called Jesus of Nazareth.
But He was born in Bethlehem in Judea.
These critics weren’t lying, but they were only focusing on one part of Jesus’ history. As we look that the history of Jesus – in all He said and did, we must take the whole of Scripture together for it to wholly make sense. Taking facts or parts of facts out of context will not – usually – give a true picture of what is being talked about.
There are critics of Christianity and Jesus as the Only and Necessary Savior – who will argue by saying things that are not lies – but, maybe only part of the story, or an overemphasis of one thing, or a reinterpretation of the facts, and so forth. These men and women are very persuasive, very well-spoken, and very dangerous.
Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Archdiocese of Newark, now retired, made a career of writing persuasive books arguing against God, Salvation, the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, etc.
Dr. Bart Ehrman is a current prolific professor of religion who works hard to show that the Bible is full of errors and that Jesus was never God the Son and Savior.
People like Spong and Ehrman are very convincing and very dangerous because they take truth and twist it and present it in such a way that it seems like what they are saying must be the truth.
They are the smooth-talking used-car salesmen of the world – excuse me – pre-owned car salesmen – sounds much better, doesn’t it.
These people are another reason we need each other: if we are confronted by an argument that seems to show that Christianity is not true – that Jesus is not God the Son and Only Savior, and we find ourselves stuck, not understanding how to get beyond it, we ought to bring it to others in the church – let us see if we can help each other to see where these satanic salesmen have failed in their arguments about the Truth – Jesus Christ, our God and Savior.
Some of this third group included the chief priests and the Pharisees, and since their argument about Jesus being a Nazarene was not convincing everyone, they turned to patronizing those who questioned whether Jesus might be the Christ:
“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!’
First, the chief priests and the Pharisees asked the Temple guards why they didn’t do their duty and arrest Jesus for speaking what the chief priests and the Pharisees said was not true.
And they said that they didn’t arrest Him because what He said was so compelling.
Mark tells us that from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, this was the response to Jesus’ preaching and teaching: “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22, ESV).
The scribes taught by quoting authorizes on a subject – they would say, “This is the text of Scripture, and it is interpreted this way because Rabbi so-and-so and Rabbi so-and-so agree that this is what the text means.”
However, Jesus spoke with an authority that came from Himself – the word that Mark uses means “out of His being.” Jesus didn’t rely on any other authority for the interpretation of God’s Word. He was the Authority for interpreting God’s Word – because it was His Word.
So, when the chief priests and the Pharisees asked why the Temple guards didn’t arrest Jesus based on what He had been saying, they said that Jesus had an authority that they did not see in the chief priests and the Pharisees.
That didn’t sit well with the chief priests and the Pharisees, so, second they demeaned the education of the Temple guards and the crowds:
“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.’
The chief priests and Pharisees asked, “Have you been taken in with the crowd? The crowd is uneducated; the crowd does not know the Law, so they are misled by Jesus and accursed for believing Him. Are you saying that you know better that we do – the teachers of the Law – the ones who have been educated so we can understand what the Word of God is saying?”
Brothers and sisters, please understand what I am about to say: holding a high position or having a good education does not mean that you are right. If someone has four PhDs, thirty-five years in ministry, a church with sixteen thousand members, and a television ministry around the world, that does not mean that that minister is always right.
The chief priests and Pharisees were saying that they were educated, the crowd was not, therefore, the chief priests and Pharisees were right. That’s not the case.
Now, I did not say that we should be disrespectful of authority or people who hold the office of minister or anything like that. Also, no matter who we are or what call we have been given, we must remain humble enough to know that we don’t know everything, we continue to learn and continue to be made holy as we live this life in Jesus and through the work of God the Holy Spirit.
So, we hold these two in tension: we are to be respectful of those in authority, and we are not to assume that everything an authority says is true, but we are to look back to the Scripture to see if what they are saying agrees with the Scripture.
Finally, as Nicodemus asks for civility, the chief priests and the Pharisees lower the bar: not only is Jesus not the Christ, they say, but He is not even a prophet, because there has never been a prophet from Galilee or prophesied from Galilee.
“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.
Scholars believe that they were wrong about there never being a prophet from Galilee, but the point is that they were behaving like children, and no one was standing up and stating the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Just as the crowd reacted in different ways as Jesus presented Himself to them at the Feast of Booths, people will react to our proclaiming of the Gospel in the same way as we speak to them today.
Some of the people we speak to will say that the believe that Jesus is a good man and a moral teacher. We must show them that saying that does not take into account what Jesus said and did; Jesus cannot merely be a good man with the things He said and did. He must be a deranged lunatic or worse, or He must be God Himself.
Some of the people we speak with will believe that Jesus is God the Savior – the Christ. These we need to guide into a church so that we and they may grow together in Christ. There is no such thing as a healthy, lone-ranger Christian.
And then there will be people – “regular people” and “professionals” – who argue against Jesus being God the Savior for many different reasons. We must engage them respectfully for who they are and show them that what they are saying does not match up with the testimony of the Scripture. And if God is willing, they will see that they are wrong and reconsider their belief.
Let us be ready for all kinds of people and all kinds of responses as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us be in prayer for those we meet and for each other as we proclaim the Gospel. And may God be pleased to cause many to come to Christ through our efforts.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, You have chosen a people for Yourself, and not one that You have chosen will be lost – each one will believe and be received into Your Kingdom through the Word of Jesus Christ alone. We ask as we proclaim the Gospel that You would help us to speak well and have answers for those who have questions. Help us to be knowledgeable and respectful, helping each other to know all of Your Truth and to stand strong against the wiles of the enemy. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.