Can you remember saying something and then you wished you had never said it? Was it because of the negative response you received afterward? Have you ever heard or used the phrase, “You’re gonna eat those words!”? The intent was that you were going to have to admit that what you said was wrong, and suffer humiliation because of it. There’s a saying that goes like this: “Keep your words sweet. You never know when you might have to eat them.”
In this passage of Scripture, John 7:45-53, Jesus is not present. We are going to examine two incidents that occur in the meeting room of the Sanhedrin and consider the responses that follow and the reasons for those responses.
I. INCIDENT #1: THE TEMPLE GUARD RETURNS (verses 45-46)
Earlier, in verse 32, an order was given: “the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him.” Those officers were under orders to arrest Jesus, take Him prisoner, and bring Him to them so that they could pass judgment on Him and have Him killed. The leaders must have been in their courtroom, seated and ready to pass judgment, and wondering why it was taking those officers so long to accomplish their mission. Finally the posse arrives, but they are empty-handed. What’s going on? Verse 45 describes the scene. “The officers therefore came to the chief priests and Pharisees and these said to them, ‘Why didn’t you bring Him?’ ” The leaders were angry and probably shouted at them, demanding an explanation. What they heard in reply must have startled them. Verse 46 says, “The officers answered, ‘Never did a man speak the way this man speaks.” They were saying that Jesus was more than a man, otherwise they would have said, “No OTHER man speaks the way this man speaks.”
I don’t detect any fear on the part of these officers. They could have come up with excuses but they chose to tell the truth. Their sense of awe, amazement and bewilderment was so strong that there was no room for any fear of punishment. Can you imagine what it would have been like to listen to Jesus face-to-face? What words did they hear from Jesus’ lips that would have evoked such a response? Among other things, they heard Jesus say, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). It was the Word of God spoken by the Son of God.
II. THE RESPONSE (verses 47-49)
The leaders and Pharisees respond to these remarks with anger and sarcasm. We find their initial words in verse 47 where the Pharisees say to them, “You have not also been led astray, have you?” Can you feel the sting in those words? They are telling the officers that they are no better than the common people – the uneducated “nobodies” who were following Jesus. Once again, the leaders refused to face the facts. Instead, they directed their criticism at the officers and the crowd.
Sarcastic remarks tell us something about the person or people who made them. Such remarks are often made by egotistical people who put others down in order to exalt themselves. The following story is a case where sarcastic remarks cost a person his life. Kondraty Ryleyev was sentenced to be hanged for his part in an unsuccessful uprising against the Russian Czar Nicolas I in December 1825. But the rope broke and Ryleyev, bruised and battered, fell to the ground, got up and said, “In Russia, they don’t know how to do anything properly, and even how to make a rope.” An accident of this sort usually resulted in a pardon, so a messenger was sent to the czar to know his pleasure. Nicolas asked, “What did he say?” “Sire, he said that in Russia they don’t even know how to make a rope properly.” “Well, let the contrary be proven,” said the czar. That broken rope might have won him a pardon, but his remark cost him his life. It was the last sarcastic remark he ever made! Here in verse 47, they are criticizing the King of heaven and earth. That could have everlasting consequences!
Now the Pharisees draw attention to themselves when they say in verse 48, “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?” They have set themselves up as the standard for truth and are berating the officials for not following their example. By their words, these leaders are denying the teachings and the authority of God’s Word and revealing the size of their egos. It’s as if they are saying, “How dare you believe in Him in defiance of us and our superior authority and knowledge of God’s Word!” The leaders couldn’t prove to these officers that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah. The evidence was too strongly in His favor; so they used diversionary tactics in order to maintain their prejudice against Jesus.
In college, I took a course in Classical Greek and Roman Mythology. One story that fascinated me was that of Narcissus. This young man was so beautiful in appearance that many women were attracted to him but no woman was good enough for him. One day he saw his own reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with himself. Since he could not have himself as a partner, and no one else met his standards of beauty, he eventually killed himself. Psychologists use the term “narcissistic” to describe someone who is extremely selfish with a grandiose view of one’s own appearance and talents, and a craving for the admiration of others. Is that an accurate description of the religious leaders in this passage of Scripture? I think so.
In verse 48, the leaders were implying that the officials were just like the crowd. Now, in verse 49, they describe their own attitude toward the crowd by saying, “But this multitude which does not know the Law is accursed.” This is the only place in the New Testament where the Greek word translated “accursed” is used. By using that word to refer to the multitude, the Pharisees are once again demonstrating their ignorance of the law. They are telling God to put a curse on the multitude, whereas in Matthew 25:41, Jesus says that He will be the King on the throne passing judgment. He will be the one who says “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” Their pride, critical spirit, and prejudice toward the common people will be their undoing.
III. INCIDENT #2: THE QUESTION RAISED BY NICODEMUS (verses 50-51)
In verses 50 and 51, Nicodemus, who secretly visited Jesus one night, asks them a question. Verse 50 tells us that he was a member of the Sanhedrin also. He said to the rest of the group, “Our Law does not judge a man, unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” Nicodemus knew the answer to that question. It’s found in Exodus 23:1-2; Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 19:15 and 19:18. The Law of Moses states that every man is entitled to a fair trial, and is considered innocent until proven guilty.
I have heard this verse used as a negative example of sharing one’s faith in Jesus Christ. The lesson was: “Don’t be like Nicodemus”. I disagree with that interpretation and conclusion. Nicodemus was not a follower of Jesus Christ yet. He knew that he was going to get a sharp negative reaction toward himself if he said anything in defense of God’s Law and in fairness toward Jesus, but he said it anyway! He could have taken back those words and apologized, but he didn’t. This was his first step toward publicly identifying himself with Jesus Christ.
IV. THE RESPONSE (verse 52)
As expected, the leaders respond by ridiculing Nicodemus and belittling him. Here are the words they shouted at him: “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” They treat him like they did the officers, and accuse him of not knowing the Scriptures. In reality they were the ones who didn’t know the Scriptures. They were wrong when they said, “No prophet arises out of Galilee,” The prophet Jonah was from Gath Hepher, which is a village in Galilee. Not only that, but the prophet Nahum was from Capernaum, a city in Galilee. Capernaum means “Village of Nahum”. The leaders were wrong on at least two counts. and yet they criticized the multitude as being ignorant of the Law! They were bluffing in order to protect their huge egos and maintain their sense of authority. These leaders may not have realized that by criticizing the multitude, they were also criticizing themselves because it was their responsibility to educate the people in the law, the prophets, and the writings.
Former British statesman, Benjamin Disraeli said, “It is much easier to be critical than correct.” The following poem, written by Charles Franklin Benvegar, depicts that statement clearly and accurately. It is entitled: THE WRECKER
I watched them tearing a building down
A gang of men in a busy town,
With a yo-heave-ho and a lusty yell
They swung a beam, a side wall fell.
I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled
As men you’d hire if you were to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No indeed!
Just common labor is all I need;
I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken a year to do.”
And I thought to myself, as I went my way,
Which of these roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by the rule and square?
Am I shaping my work to a well-laid plan
Patiently doing the best I can?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
We are faced with that choice every day, aren’t we? There is a question we need to continually ask ourselves in our relationships with others: “Am I part of the building crew or am I part of the wrecking gang?”
V. THE RESULT (verse 53)
Verse 53 tells us, “And everyone went to his home.” All that time they spent criticizing didn’t accomplish anything. The leaders went home satisfied that they were right, and that they had their say and had their way. Even Nicodemus couldn’t stand in their way. Nicodemus went home humiliated but one step closer to following Christ and publicly identifying himself with Him. He knew he had done what was right in God’s sight.
CONCLUSION AND LESSONS:
There are many lessons to be learned from this passage of Scripture. We’ve seen how easy it is, and how tempting it is to criticize others. It’s been said that criticism is the one thing most of us think is more blessed to give than to receive. But in reality, criticism is not necessarily a negative thing. Constructive criticism can accomplish many positive things in a person’s life if it is coupled with love and encouragement.
Many years ago a boy complained to his father that most of the church hymns were boring to him because they were too far behind the times. The tunes were tiresome and the words were meaningless. The father saw his son’s earnestness and knew his son’s abilities, so he answered his 18-year-old son’s complaint by saying, “If you think you can write better hymns, then why don’t you?” The boy went to his room and wrote his first hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” The year was 1690 and the teenager’s name was Isaac Watts. “Joy to the World” is also among the almost 350 hymns written by him. His father’s encouragement ignited the fires of enthusiasm that helped launch his son’s career as a hymn writer.
In the passage of Scripture we have been studying, the leaders of the Jews were only interested in giving destructive criticism, and refused to accept any criticism of themselves. They were proud enough to give criticism, but not humble enough to accept it. Edward Wallis Hoch offers the following observation in his poem:
“There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it hardly behooves any of us,
To talk about the rest of us.”
From this study of John 7:45-53, there are two questions that each of us needs to ask himself and answer for himself honestly: “How well do I give criticism” and “How well do I take criticism?” If you are a Christian, you can expect to receive criticism, but you ought to live in such a way that no one will believe your critics.
There is one more lesson and I’ve learned it from the temple guards who were sent to arrest Jesus. Like them, may we be so filled with awe and worship of our Lord Jesus Christ as we behold Him in His Word and spend time with Him in prayer, that we are honest and straightforward about our beliefs, and unafraid of criticism.
CONSTRUCTION SITE: COMPLETED
Thank you for visiting this construction site: John 7:45-53. It’s time to gather the tools and begin the building project next door. The new address is John 8:1-11.