Two men were in a railroad station at midnight. [Keep that time in mind]. The men were discussing the difference between irritation, aggravation, and frustration. They couldn’t agree. One of them finally said, “I’ll show you the difference.” He went to the phone booth, circled a number in the phone book and called it. After ringing and ringing, it was finally answered. “Is Ned there?” “NO! There’s no Ned here,” and the phone was slammed down. “That’s irritation,” he said to his friend. After 20 minutes he called again. The phone rang and rang. Finally someone answered and the man asked again, “Is Ned there?” The answer came back, “There is no Ned here! I told you before!” SLAM. “That’s aggravation”, he said to his partner. Another 20 minutes went by, and the man said, “Now I’ll show you frustration,” and he made another call. Finally the phone was answered, “I told you before, there’s no Ned here!!!” “But this is Ned — any messages for me?”
If I was the man who was receiving those phone calls, I’d unplug or turn off my phone for the rest of the night, and then I would probably have a hard time getting back to sleep again. How about you?
You may have heard that story before, but I think it describes the situation in the passage of Scripture we are now studying: John 7:31-36. The leaders of the Jews are already irritated and aggravated by the words and actions of the Lord Jesus, and they are soon going to become frustrated as well. Let’s see what happens next.
I. RESPONSE FROM THE CROWD (verse 31)
Verse 31 begins with the words, “But many of the multitude believed in Him;”. Who would the “many” consist of? It wasn’t the people of Jerusalem. They had already expressed their feelings about Him, and they ignored the evidence and sided with the Pharisees and the rulers who were against Him. The apostle John must be referring to the pilgrims — the Jews who lived outside the nation of Israel and who had traveled a great distance to attend the feast. What would cause them to believe in Jesus when they hardly knew Him? This festival may have been their first opportunity to come in contact with Him. The rest of verse 31 gives the answer: “and they were saying, ‘When the Christ shall come, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He’?” They are saying that they believed because of the miracles He performed. But Jesus didn’t perform any miracles during the feast, did He? No, John doesn’t record any miracles during the feast. But don’t forget that many of these pilgrims have been in town for several weeks, living in their own “tent city” on the outskirts of Jerusalem. They composed most of the crowd that followed Jesus, watched Him heal the lame and the sick (John 6:1-2), and ate the loaves and fish that fed 5000 people (John 6:9-11). They are saying to each other — “after all the miracles we’ve seen, how can He not be the Messiah?” Jesus’ miracles may not seem like the best and strongest basis for one’s faith, but miracle-faith is good enough. Remember when John the Baptist had his doubts about whether Jesus was the Messiah? He sent messengers to Jesus to find out if He was the One. In Matthew 11:4-6, Jesus said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see; the blind receive sight, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” He chose to describe His miracles to them as part of the proof that He was indeed the Messiah. By saying those words, the Lord Jesus was also fulfilling prophecy.
The Jews knew the Messianic texts in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. They were eagerly awaiting their Messiah. One of those texts is Isaiah 35:4-6, which says,
“Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, but He will save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy.” This prophecy had been fulfilled before their eyes, and many realized it’s fulfillment. Rather than conform to the leaders and the Jews living in Jerusalem, and believe what they were told to believe, many of the Jews living outside of the nation of Israel decided to believe what they saw and heard, and the words of the prophet Isaiah.
II. A TIME OF DISCUSSION (verse 32)
There’s muttering or murmuring going on again, similar to what happened among the Jerusalem Jews in verse 12, but this time it’s different. Verse 32 reads, “The Pharisees heard the multitude muttering these things about Him; and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to seize Him.” These Jews weren’t speaking against Jesus, but were agreeing with one another concerning Jesus’ qualifications. They were supporting one another’s conclusions based upon the evidence. Verse 31 has already told us that many of these Jews believed in Jesus, and the number was growing as they discussed Him among themselves.
The Pharisees knew that these Jews were becoming convinced of the claims of Jesus so they made haste to send for the officers. They wanted to remove Jesus from the scene and disperse the people. In their frustration, they didn’t know what else to do, so they decided to join forces with the chief priests because they are the ones in the positions of power.
III. A WORD OF WARNING (verses 33-34)
When the officers of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, arrive on the scene, the Lord Jesus has some words of warning for them and for the crowd around Him. In verse 33, Jesus says, “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent me.” Notice that Jesus has now changed the topic of His conversation from where He came from to where He is going. He’s continuing the conversation where He left off in verses 28-29, where He told them that He was sent on a mission. Now He’s telling them that His mission will be accomplished soon and He’ll be going back to the One who sent Him. The completion of His mission is only about six months away. His mission is not impossible, but it is unfathomable — too amazing and wonderful for mankind to completely comprehend.
What Jesus says to them next, requires some explanation so that it is not misunderstood. Jesus continues by saying, in verse 34, “You shall seek Me, and shall not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come.” He is not rebuking nor condemning them by the use of those words. If you combine verses 33 and 34, you will find that Jesus is giving them a deadline and urging them to respond to Him by acknowledging Him as their Messiah and following Him before He returns to His Heavenly Father. I’m reminded of some of the end-of-summer sales that appear in the newspapers and in the mail in September and October. They say something like this: “Now is your last chance to take advantage of these end-of-summer deals. Soon this merchandise will be taken off the shelves to make way for winter fashions, and you won’t see these items again until next summer.” These stores are doing their customers a favor by letting them know this information and giving them one last chance to purchase the things they like.
The Lord Jesus is also doing His listeners a favor. His motivation is that of loving concern for them. Psalm 55 is one of the Messianic psalms, so everyone within the sound of Jesus’ voice is familiar with it. Verse 6 of Psalm 55 says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” That was their first warning, so you might say that Jesus is giving them a second warning. At that moment in history, Jesus had been found by them, and He was standing in their presence. How much nearer can you get?
With that information in mind, let’s take another look at verse 34. But first, let’s look at Matthew 23:37-39 because I think it’s the key to unlocking our understanding of John 7:34. Jesus laments [expresses His sorrow] over Jerusalem, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’ ” Jesus is telling them, “When you say those words, you’ll be saying them to Me upon My return, because I am the Messiah. He and I are the same Person.” With those words, and the previous information in mind, let’s examine Jesus’ words in verse 34.
Jesus is speaking about the future when He says, “You will seek Me and not find Me”. He’s saying, “After I go back to the One who sent Me, you are going to continue to seek after the Messiah and you are not going to find your Messiah because He and I are the same Person. He finishes His conversation by saying, “and where I am you cannot come”. Since they have rejected their Messiah, they can’t go where He is going. I believe that Jesus deliberately chose those words in order to cause anger, confusion and frustration to fill their minds because of their unbelief.
Jennice Vilhauer wrote an article in Psychology Today magazine and shared some observations about anger and frustration. She said, “The majority of the anger and frustration we experience in life occurs when we encounter someone who is not playing by our rules. . . . When things aren’t going our way, we can start to feel that we are losing our sense of control.” That’s a good description of what is happening in this encounter between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews. In verses 35 and 36 we’ll see what happens next.
IV. THEIR RESPONSE (verses 35-36)
Verse 35 reveals the following reaction on the part of the Jews: “Then the Jews said among themselves, ‘Where does this man intend to go that we shall not find Him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks, is He?’ ” Why didn’t they ask Jesus those questions? He would have given them clear and honest answers. How can they call themselves “teachers” and yet not be “learners”? You might think that they were too proud to ask, and there is certainly truth in that thought. But the real reason is their stubborn refusal to believe that Jesus is who He claims to be, in spite of everything they have seen and heard. As they talked among one another, the best excuse they could come up with was that Jesus was going to go on a missionary journey to all the countries where the Jews had been scattered throughout the Roman empire, where the Greek language was spoken, and that He was never coming back. It’s such a poor excuse in their own minds that they ask themselves the question again in verse 36 to see if they can come with a better one! The Jews are completely frustrated as their conversation ends. Jesus says nothing because their questions weren’t directed toward Him. In fact, He may not have even heard their words clearly. I presume that they didn’t even want Jesus to hear what they were saying.
The question is still in their minds and on their lips: “How could He go somewhere they could not go.” It didn’t fit within their own personal rule books of the way things should happen, and how they themselves should be treated. The conversation abruptly ends there, and the next verse begins on the following day and in a different situation. The leaders are left with some time to cool down their emotions, collect their thoughts, and get a restless night’s sleep before the next confrontation.
These Jews seem to have forgotten, or ignored the words of the prophet Isaiah, who said, “Seek the Lord while He may be found” (Isaiah 55:6). In contrast to His words to the Jews, Jesus later says to His disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). Jesus will make that possible through His own death and resurrection, and available to all who believe in Him and follow Him.
John 7:31-36 has been another study in contrasts. On the one hand we have the pilgrim Jews, many of whom have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, refusing to conform to the Jewish leaders and the Jerusalem Jews, and now their lives are filled with joy because they have found their Messiah. On the other hand we have the local Jews who are unwilling to believe, and are struggling to find more excuses. Augustine of Hippo, one of the early-church fathers, made this statement: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
The Lord Jesus is asking each of us today, “Are you with Me?” If you’ve chosen to believe in Him and follow Him, you’ll be with Him forever. The joy will never end, and you have the privilege of sharing that good news with others If you’re not with Him, is it worth the frustration and all the excuses? Don’t put it off until you “cannot come” — forever. That is the ultimate in frustration!
CONSTRUCTION SITE: COMPLETED
While you’re here, you’re welcome to visit other sermons on this blog site. I’ll be starting another construction site next door as soon as I put together an introduction.