Arguments are started in a number of ways, as I’m sure you know. Just think back upon your life and bring to mind some of the arguments you’ve participated in, or have observed. Can you remember the last time you started an argument? What was the topic of conversation? If you can’t remember, there is a sure-fire way to start an argument: pick a controversial topic and take a firm stand on one side of the issue while in the midst of a large group of people. Then be prepared to defend yourself!
In the previous passage of Scripture, John 7:37-39, Jesus shouted in the temple, encouraging the people to come to Him and find new life through believing in Him. Here in verses 40-44, we are going to take a look at the altercation that ensues after those words were spoken.
I. THE INITIAL RESPONSE: STATEMENT OF FACT? (verse 40)
Verse 40 reads: “Some of the multitude therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, ‘This certainly is the Prophet’.” They are very sure of themselves, aren’t they? Their conclusion is stated as a fact. Do we have any idea who these people were who made that statement? If appears to me that they must have been some of the pilgrim Jews who came a great distance to attend the feast of Tabernacles. They didn’t know the negative attitude of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus or they wouldn’t have made that statement aloud with such conviction. They’ve made that statement without bias, based upon what they have heard Jesus say and what they have watched Jesus do. Nevertheless, they have jumped to that conclusion with very little evidence to support it.
Were they right? What do they mean when they call Jesus the Prophet? Which prophet are they referring to? In Deuteronomy 18, Moses is telling the people of Israel not to listen to the spiritists, the diviners, and those who practice witchcraft among the people of the land they are about to enter. Then, in verse 15, Moses spoke these words from God: “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 Jews here in verse 40 were stating that Jesus was definitely that Prophet. Psychologists have names for the various kinds of statements used to start and continue an argument. This first statement might be called the “expert witness”. These Jews have stated their belief as a fact and are expecting everyone else to agree with them.
II. THE IMMEDIATE REACTION – A “BETTER IDEA” (verse 41a)
Verse 40 tells us that those expectations weren’t met. It begins with these words: “Others were saying, ‘This is the Christ’.” Once again, it was probably some of the pilgrim Jews who made that statement. Obviously, the Jews at that time considered the Prophet and the Christ to be two different people. About two years earlier, John the Baptist was asked to reveal his identity. Let’s take a look at that conversation. John 1:19-21 reads, “And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you’? And he confessed, and did not deny, and he confessed, ‘I am not the Christ’. And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ And he answered, ‘I am not.’ Are you the Prophet? And he answered, ‘No’.” Did you notice the descending order – Christ … Elijah … the Prophet. In their minds, Christ was the highest, Elijah was second, and the Prophet was third in their ranking. Yet the Prophet was held in high regard and his appearance was awaited.
Speaking of ranking, there is a word used in the psychology of crowd behavior called “rankism”. It’s not related to the slang word, “rank”, which means “foul smelling”. This word is an assertion of superiority. By saying the words, “This is the Christ”, the second group may be saying to the first group, “You have no idea what you are talking about. This man is much greater than who you think He is. He’s the Christ.” By raising Jesus to a higher position, they may be rebuking the other group in the hope of making them feel ashamed for making their statement. At the same time, they would also be asserting their own superior discernment. We don’t know for sure, but the argument it is causing points to that motive. Neither this group, nor the previous group, has the insight and personal commitment to Jesus Christ to make such authoritative statements about Him. Proverbs 13:10 says, “By pride comes nothing but strife” (NKJV).
Have you ever argued with someone only to discover that you were actually in agreement? Your use of terms and their meanings, your voice tones and your attitudes kept you from focusing on the content of your claims and working together to solve the disagreement. There is a question I asked earlier in this sermon and I haven’t answered it yet. That question is: “Who is the Prophet?” It is my conviction that the Prophet foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, and the Christ are the same Person. Jesus is described in the Scriptures as both prophet, priest, and king. I guess the saying is true in the case of these Jews: “Don’t confuse me with facts. My mind is made up!”
Arguments occur, not only between people, but also between countries. Years ago, a large statue of Christ was erected high in the Andes mountains between Argentina and Chile. It was named “Christ of the Andes”, and it symbolized a pledge between those two countries. For as long as the statue stands, there would be peace between Argentina and Chile, and there would be no more border disputes. Shortly after the statue was erected, the Chileans began to protest that they had been slighted – the statue had its back turned to Chile. Just when tempers were at their highest in Chile, a Chilean newspaperman saved the day. In an editorial that not only satisfied the people but also made them laugh, he simply said, “The people of Argentina need more watching over than the Chileans.” (Bits and Pieces, June 25, 1992)
III. ANOTHER REACTION: THE USE OF FALSE EVIDENCE (verses 41b-42)
A third group enters the argument using these words, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” The reference is probably to Micah’s prophesy in Micah 5:2. This group may be composed mainly of local residents because they know where Jesus is presently living. Their form of argument is sometimes called the “strawman” argument, and it is used often to try to convince people to take their side in an argument. These Jews have directed the focus of the conversation away from the Person of Jesus Christ and are basing their argument on where He was born. They have created a “straw man” because the details they are giving about Jesus are untrue since they are based on false assumptions. Just because a person lives in a particular town as an adult doesn’t mean that he was born there. If their claims about Jesus were investigated, they would fall to pieces like straw. The purpose of such an argument is not to communicate truth but to win the argument by making the opposing arguments appear to be ridiculous in the light of their “evidence”. Someone has said: “You can come up with an excuse for anything you don’t want to believe.” It’s like the story of the farmer who asked his neighbor if he could borrow a rope.
“Sorry,” said the neighbor. “I’m using my rope to tie up my milk.”
“Rope can’t tie up milk.”
“I know,” replied the neighbor, “but when a man doesn’t want to do something,
one reason is as good as another.”
This passage of Scripture gives us a picture of strife. It is no longer a difference of opinion. The dust is now flying. Voices are getting louder. Accusations and threats are being made. Pointing of the finger has progressed to nudging or pushing one another. The argument keeps on going because everyone wants the last word, the final say. The focus of contention has now become directed inward – upon one another rather than Jesus. Can you relate to this description? Have you seen something like this happen from your own personal experience? Have you read about it or watched it on the television? It’s happening all the time, isn’t it?
IV. THE AFTERMATH (verses 43-44)
Let’s see what happens next. Verse 43 says, “So there arose a division in the multitude because of Him.” The argument isn’t over yet. The people are taking sides on the issue and the shouting contest must be getting louder. The Greek word translated “division” carries the meaning of “dividing into parts” or “breaking into pieces”. I personally think that the pilgrim Jews wouldn’t have turned this into such an argument. They were questioning Christ’s identity out of ignorance and a desire to know the truth about Him. I think they may have allowed the differences of opinion between them if it had not been for the negative response of the Jewish leaders, the scribes, and Pharisees in verse 42. They have been trying to kill Jesus since the beginning of His public ministry, and they don’t want this crowd’s discussion to lead them to believe in Him and follow Him. The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, is becoming more united in their opposition to Jesus with each new exposure to Him. Verse 44 says, “Some wanted to seize Him, but no one laid a hand on Him.” They wanted to take Him by force, arrest Him, and kill Him. But it was not yet His appointed time to die, and God restrained them.
This passage of Scripture has been a true example from the life of Christ, showing how contention begins, and the ways in which it is handled. As we’ve observed, some people choose not to disagree agreeably. Proverbs 13:10, which I quoted earlier in this message says, “Only by pride comes contention.” Pride is not the leading cause of contention. It is the only cause of contention. The second half of Proverbs 13:10 says, “but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” To disagree well, we must first understand well. This involves listening, seeking to understand, and reconsidering, in the hope of removing the source of contention and bringing new understanding and peace of mind and heart. Listening and reconsidering are rare commodities in this world today. Maybe it’s because they are the outward evidences of humility. Solomon also adds another bit of advice in Ecclesiastes 7:9, saying, “Do not be eager to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools.”
Do you personally have disagreements about Jesus Christ – His identity, His teachings, His purposes and His accomplishments? Unlike the people in that crowd, we have the whole story. It’s written in the Bible. Would you be willing to lay aside your views and seek to understand the Bible by reading it with an open mind and a desire to know the truth. You will find, as I did, that your conceptions of Christ will change as your knowledge of the Bible increases. The proper response to Jesus Christ is that of faith, worship, and joyful obedience.
CONSTRUCTION SITE: COMPLETED
Welcome to another construction site: John 7:40-44. In this passage of Scripture we have put together the makings for an argument. The building materials used are controversial, the builders are disagreeable, the blueprint is questionable, but the finished product will be predictable.
Please come again, and invite your friends to take a walk around the block.