DEFENSE WITNESSES ARE SCORNED – John 7:45-53

critical spirit, criticism, Uncategorized

INTRODUCTION:

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.

THE WORDS OF A HUMBLE MAN – John 3:22-30

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An article in the Discipleship Journal in the mid-1990’s said that we live in an age of self-love.  There is even a popular magazine on the market entitled “Self”.  Words like “narcissism” (the love of self), and “hedonism” (the pursuit of pleasure) are being used more-and-more often to describe our society.  I had never heard of those words when I was growing up.  Focus on the Family magazine had a short article entitled, “Remember What’s Important to a Man”.  Here are a few of the things mentioned in the article:  1)  Men fear nothing more than failure.   2).  Men are motivated by feeling significant.  3)  Men want to manage their own problems and be “Mr. Fix-It”.  The apostle Paul warns us in II Timothy 3:2 that in the last days “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant . . . “.

A virtue that is fading among men and women in our society, and in our churches today, is humility.  Evangelist Billy Graham made this comment:  “Most of us suffer from spiritual near-sightedness.  Our interests, our loves, and our energies are too often focused upon ourselves.”  A man by the name of John Seldon made this  observation:  “Humility is a virtue that all men preach, but very few practice.”  In the passage of Scripture we are now studying, John 3:22-30, a man is being described by the apostle John, who not only preached humility, but also demonstrated it by his life and by his attitude.  That man is John the Baptist.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 22-24)

Verse 22 says, “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.”  Actually, according to John 4:2, Jesus wasn’t doing the baptizing Himself, but His disciples were baptizing under His authority and direction.  In that sense Jesus was involved in the baptism proceedings.  It appears that they were baptizing in the wilderness areas rather than near the city, and may have been moving around the area where they had begun to baptize.

Verse 23 says, “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized.”  For a short time, until John the Baptist was put in prison (verse 24), the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist overlapped.  From the description given of their locations, they probably weren’t very far from each other.  Since they weren’t far from each other, and were doing identical ministries at the time, it’s a natural tendency to make comparisons and “keep score”, as if they were competing with one another.

John the Baptist had a great deal of popularity because of his preaching and his message.  Luke tells us that “multitudes went out to hear John.”  Matthew tells us that people came to him from Jerusalem, and all of Judea, and all the region beyond the Jordan River.  Some of these people were journeying for several days just to hear John the Baptist preach.

II.  THE PROBLEM (verses 25-26)

The problem was that the crowds around Jesus were growing, and John’s disciples were becoming worried about it.  They didn’t want to see their teacher and leader take second place to anyone else.  Verse 25 reads:  “There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification.”  At first I wondered what this verse had to do with the verses that follow, but I think it’s beginning to make sense.  The Greek word, katharismou, refers to cleansing or removal of dirt.  To the Jew, baptism was considered a form of cleansing.  They may have been discussing with this Jew about which baptism made you cleaner.  Which baptism had the greater cleansing effect:  the baptism of John or the baptism of Jesus performed by His disciples?  The comparison about their baptisms would lead to comparisons about the two people, John the Baptist and Jesus.  You know how one thing leads to another when you start making comparisons!

Well, it’s time to pass the bad news on to John the Baptist and help him come up with a new marketing strategy.  Off they go.  It says in verse 26. “And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have born witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him’.”  They don’t even mention Jesus by name.  I don’t think they are being derogatory.  I think they still don’t know who Jesus is.  To them He is “the new Preacher on the block” who is taking away their teacher’s business.  They have forgotten, or overlooked the fact that John the Baptist had already encouraged at least two of his disciples to follow Jesus, and they did so (John 1:35-39).

III.  JOHN’S RESPONSE (verses 27-30)

A.  A Perspective (verse 27)

Instead of feeling sorry for himself and seeking their help, John the Baptist rejoiced at the popularity of Jesus, and is going to give them reasons to rejoice along with him.  He begins by looking at earthly abilities and earthly success from a heavenly perspective.  “John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.”  John is saying that all success ultimately comes from the same Source.  If God is the Giver, then we should rejoice, not only over what He gives to us, but also over what He gives to others.  If Jesus and His disciples are being successful, that should bring us joy because God is being glorified through them.

B.  A Reminder (verse 28)

Now John the Baptist reminds them of something he said to them earlier.  “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ’, but ‘I have been sent before Him’.”  Those words were recorded earlier in chapter 1, verses 20 and 23. 

Leonard Bernstein, the great music composer, arranger, and conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for many years, was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play.  He thought for a moment and then replied, “The second fiddle.  I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem.  And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.” 

Up until this time, John the Baptist was “first fiddle”.  Everyone was coming to listen to him.  But he is reminding his followers that he was called and gifted to be the “forerunner”, the one sent on ahead to get people ready for the “Master Violinist”.  John is saying that it is now his privilege to “change seats” and play alongside Him in harmony and with enthusiasm.  In so doing, the sounds of the Master will be all the more attractive and pleasing to the ears of their listeners as the two of them follow the direction of their Conductor, God the Father in heaven.

C.  An Illustration (verse 29)

John the Baptist now uses the context of marriage to give a very clear and beautiful illustration of his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The following are his words in verse 29.  “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.  And so this joy of mine has been made full.”  John the Baptist calls himself the “friend of the bridegroom”.  It is not his wedding.  His function was to serve the bridegroom.  The closest similarity in my culture would be the “best man”.  I’m going to compare the two roles so that you can see the differences and gain a better understanding of what John the Baptist has said.

Have you ever been the “best man” at a wedding?  If you are married, did you have a “best man” at your wedding?  Being a “best man” is quite an honor, isn’t it?   It is questionable these days just what the responsibilities of the “best man” are.  A classmate of mine was asked to be the “best man” at his friend’s wedding and he had no idea of what he was supposed to do.  So he borrowed a book on etiquette from the library.  He looked up the responsibilities of the “best man” and it said, “help seat the family and friends of the bride and groom, give the ring to the groom during the ceremony, protect the groom’s car”, and when he read the last responsibility he started laughing.  It read, “help the groom dress himself”.  Well, the glorious day of the wedding arrived, and as he and the groom were in the dressing room getting ready, he quickly found out why that responsibility was written in the book.  The groom was so nervous and his hands were shaking so much that my classmate had to button all the buttons on his friend’s tuxedo for him!

In the Jewish culture during the time of Christ, the “best man”  was called “the friend of the bridegroom” (the “shoshben“), and he was in charge of everything:  the preparations for the wedding ceremony, the ceremony itself, and the reception afterward.  With the exception of the bride and groom, everyone else in the wedding, as well as everyone making preparations for the wedding, answered to him and took orders from him.  The friend of the bridegroom was the most-trusted friend of the bride and groom, and had the responsibility of protecting them and acting as a liaison between them, delivering messages to them from each other.  He also sent out the wedding invitations or personally delivered them himself.  His objective, as he made preparations, was to make this wedding celebration a memorable time of great joy and rejoicing for the bride and groom, their families, and all who were invited.

The friend of the bridegroom’s last and most important responsibility was to protect the bridal chamber.  After the wedding the friend of the bridegroom would open the door to the bridal chamber for the bride to enter and make herself ready for her husband.  He would then station himself at the door to keep any false lovers from entering.  When it became night he would wait and listen for the sound of the bridegroom’s voice, and when he heard it and recognized it, he would let the bridegroom into the chamber and go on his way rejoicing.  The lovers were now together.  His responsibilities as the friend of the bridegroom were now finished.  He could now go to the wedding banquet and enjoy the feast,

D.  An Explanation (the Old Testament Prophets)

Now that we have a basic understanding of a first-century Jewish wedding, let’s see how it applies to John the Baptist.  If he is the friend of the bridegroom, then who are the bride and groom, and when is the wedding?  John the Baptist doesn’t give any details in answer to those two questions because there is no need to do so.  The prophets have already given those details, and because they are Messianic prophecies, his listeners know them very well.  Let’s take a look at them and you will see what I mean.

John the Baptist had already told his disciples that he was the forerunner, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy at the very end of his book.  Now He is telling them that the Messiah is no longer coming – He’s already here and He is the One they are complaining about!  I can just see their eyes widen in amazement as he gives them the news!  Now that marriage-illustration he just used is bringing many prophesies to their minds because the long-awaited Messiah is here.  In several places God refers to Israel, or alludes to Israel, as His bride.  For example, in Isaiah 54:5 says, “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts”.  Isaiah 62:4,5 says, “But you will be called ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘married’. . . And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.”  In Hosea, God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a harlot as a visual depiction of what Israel has done to Him.  In Hosea 2:19, God tells the people of Israel, “And I will betroth you to Me forever.  Yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice.”

It’s obvious from the illustration that John the Baptist uses in verses 28-29 that the groom refers to Jesus Christ.  There is debate, however, about whether the bride he refers to is Israel or the Church.  I’m personally convinced that the bride, in this case, is Israel because he is speaking to Jews, his ministry is to the nation of Israel, he is using the Old Testament as his backdrop, his purpose is to introduce the nation of Israel to their Messiah, and the church-age doesn’t begin until Pentecost (Acts 2).

AN APPLICATION:

Now we come to one of my favorite verses in the Bible:  John 3:30.  After I turned my life over to Jesus Christ, and was reading the whole New Testament once a week, this verse, John 3:30 was the first verse that I wrote down on the inside cover of my Bible.  To me, it described the essence of living the Christian life, and I wanted Christ to become more and more evident in my life.  John the Baptist gave that response in Aramaic, and we don’t know what Aramaic words he used.  But I believe that he said those words with a smile on his lips and his face beaming with joy!

In verse 30, John uses a particular word twice.  It’s the English word “must”.  We often think of that word as being negative and unbending.  As you were growing up, do you remember times when your parents used that term when speaking to you?  Was it used when telling you to do something you didn’t like to do or didn’t want to do?  Was the conversation something like this:  “Do I have to? . . . Yes you must!”  Was it one of those “end of conversation” conversations?  In order to keep from getting a wrong understanding of the apostle John’s reasons for using that word, we need to take a close look at the Greek word that has been translated “must”.

The Greek word that is used in verse 30 is dei.  Remember that John is writing these words to a Greek-speaking audience who are influenced by the Greek culture.  In the classical Greek writings the word dei was often associated with fate – an inner compulsion or calling that spurs a person on and brings personal fulfillment.  The word is sometimes used to describe the fulfillment of one’s destiny.  These descriptions may be closer to the meaning of John’s words.  In that case, it would not only be motivated by joy but produce greater personal joy as a result.

There is no clear Hebrew equivalent to this Greek word – no word or phrase that matches it exactly.  So what is the Christian equivalent of the Greek word dei, and the Greek concept of fate?  How do you translate it into Christian terms that we might understand?  Because the God of the Hebrews is an infinite, personal God who is sovereign over all, there was no need for such a thing as fate.  The word “dei” meant the divine plan of God in a person’s life –  “That’s my calling from God”; “That’s the fulfillment of God’s plan for my life”.  God’s plan for John the Baptist was very clear and specific.  It was written in the Old Testament scriptures and it was described to his parents before his birth.  So it was very clear to him that he had now fulfilled his God-given privileges and responsibilities, and that brought him great joy.

We don’t get much of a look at John the Baptist.  There aren’t many words written about Him, but what is written gives us a clear picture of his role in God’s plan of salvation, and his enthusiasm in fulfilling that role.  As the result of studying the person of John the Baptist, I believe that a truly humble person is not a person who tries hard to be humble.  He is not a person who makes it a point to be humble by wearing humble facial expressions, saying humble words and doing humble deeds.   A truly humble person is definitely not a person who considers himself to be humble!

I sincerely believe that a truly humble person doesn’t even think about humility.  The focus of his thoughts and attention is on God and others.  John the Baptist would never admit it, but by his words and his actions he has demonstrated that he is a remarkably humble man.  No wonder the Lord Jesus praised him so highly!

May we find rest for our souls from the One who is “meek and humble in heart” – the Lord Jesus Christ.  May we also learn from the example of the man whom the Lord Jesus praised above every other man:  John the Baptist.

Please visit other sermons on this site if this message has been of instruction and encouragement to you.  The next construction site, John 3:31-36 will be underway soon.  I hope to see you there.