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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Jesus revealed as the Know-them-all
Text:John 2:23-25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 122

Psalm 36:1 (after the law)

Psalm 139:1,2

Psalm 33:1,4,5,6

Hymn 80

Scripture reading: 2 Samuel 12:1-15a

Text:  John 2:23-25

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Have you ever had someone insist that you’re not a Christian?  Have you ever met anyone who told you straight up that you don’t believe?  I have.  Some time ago, I was in Hobart at St. David’s Park, near Salamanca Market.  I was approached by some people and told that I’m not a Christian because I don’t speak in tongues.  In the other situation, some guy was sending me e-mails about the Port Arthur massacre.  I told him that I wanted to be removed from his e-mail list.  I told him I wasn’t interested in his conspiracy theories.  He wrote back and told me that I was clearly not a Christian.  I’m not a Christian because I don’t buy his conspiracy theory about Port Arthur?  Seriously?   Maybe you’ve had similar experiences.

Who can really look into someone’s heart and know what’s there?  Who can really determine who’s a genuine believer and who’s not?  In the church, we aim to be charitable.  If someone says that they’re a Christian and they show the fruits of a Christian with a godly walk of life, we accept that at face value.  If someone professes faith in Jesus Christ and walks accordingly, we can regard them as a believer.  Even when there are sinful inconsistencies, if someone says that they hate their sins, repent of them, and look to Christ for the forgiveness of them, we accept that.  Does that mean that there are no hypocrites?  Of course not.  There will always be pretenders and frauds in the church.  Our Belgic Confession acknowledges that fact in article 29.  Yet none of us can pretend to look into the heart of another person and know for certain what lives there or not.  We don’t know it all and we should never pretend to.

However, in our passage this morning from John, we encounter someone who did know it all.  We meet someone who knew everything there was to know about what was living in the hearts of the people he met.  Of course, that person is our Lord Jesus.  The Holy Spirit reveals him to us here as the one who can provide a divine diagnosis.  He has eyes that pierce into hearts and souls.  As we’ll see, this revelation is both confronting and comforting.  I preach to you God’s Word as we see Jesus revealed as the Know-them-all

We’ll consider:

  1. Those he knew
  2. What he knew about them

Our text has our Saviour in Jerusalem.  In the passage before this one Jesus was cleaning up the temple.  The Lamb turned Lion when he saw his Father’s house being profaned.  He got angry when he saw the holy temple turned into a religious marketplace.  This was a righteous and holy anger, completely justified. 

Jesus was in Jerusalem for a specific occasion, the Passover Feast.  This was the feast which commemorated Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Jews came from all over for this feast.  They made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem as commanded by God’s Word.  During this time, the population of Jerusalem would swell.  The city would have many more people than usual.   The normal population of Jerusalem at this time was about 40,000.  But during feasts like Passover, this would explode to around 250,000.  A quarter of a million people would crowd the streets and alleyways of this ancient city and most of them were Jews.             

Jesus was there too.  And John tells us in verse 23 that he was doing signs.  Notice the plural there.  It says, “signs.”  Up to this point, John has only told us about one sign that he did in Jerusalem.  We’ve only heard about his cleansing the temple.  But now we’re told that there was more that Jesus did.  John doesn’t tell us the details.  All he says is that there were signs that Jesus was doing.  From elsewhere in John and the other gospels, we could fill that in for ourselves.  We know the typical things that Jesus did:  he healed the sick, he drove out demons, he made the blind see, he made the deaf hear, he made the lame walk.  His signs were of a miraculous nature. 

And what was the purpose of a sign?  It was to point to something.  His signs were meant to point people to the true significance of his person and work.  He had not just come to be a miracle worker and emergency room, but to be the Messiah, to be the promised Saviour of sinners.  All the signs he did were meant to point to the fact that he had come as the fulfillment of all of God’s promises for salvation.  In Jesus, the kingdom of God had finally come near with healing and redemption.      

So Jesus was doing all these signs.  We’re told in verse 23 that these signs had an effect.  When people saw the signs, “many believed in his name.”  When you first hear that, it sounds promising.  It sounds just like what would please God.  It sounds as though these many people placed their trust in Jesus and thus were saved from their sins.  Now if you were to only have verse 23 in front of you, you might be tempted to think that.  However, there’s an important principle of understanding Scripture that I want to put in front of you again.  The principle can be put in just one word:  context.  Whenever you’re looking at a Bible passage, you have to pay attention to the context.  There’s a saying that “a text without context is a pretext.”  A text without context can be manipulated to say something that God doesn’t intend it to say.  We want to understand what God is really saying to us in his Word, so we absolutely need to pay attention to context.

Whenever I study a passage while preparing for a sermon, I research at least two different types of context.  This is the bare minimum.  There’s the broader context.  Here we’re thinking of what the whole Bible says, ranging further out from our text.  Here at the end of John 2, we need to think about what the rest of Scripture says about the crowds of Jews and their attitude towards Jesus.  Is there evidence before his crucifixion that he had huge crowds of people who believed that he was the Saviour, and whose lives were transformed by saving faith in him?  The answer there has to be “no.”  No, if that was the case you would have expected an uprising in Jerusalem when the scribes and Pharisees arrested him and tried to have him put to death.  Instead, the crowds go right along with that.  If “believing in his name” in 2:23 meant “true faith in Jesus as a Saviour,” then they had a strange way of showing it.  So the broader context indicates that “believing in his name” here shouldn’t be understood as if these people completely grasped that Jesus was the Saviour from sin and that they trusted in him as such.

That’s confirmed when we look at the narrower context.  By narrower context, I mean the other verses of the passage itself, as well as what comes right before and after this passage.  As we’ll see in a moment, there’s something important that Jesus didn’t do because of his assessment of their “believing in his name.”  It’s a negative assessment.  He looks at this “believing in his name” and he evaluates it as something other than what God would be pleased with.  He knows what it is.  He knows it’s not what it should be and we have to take his word for it.  But then in the chapter following, we meet someone who seems to fit in this category of “believing in his name.”  That someone is the Pharisee Nicodemus.  We should note that this passage at the end of chapter 2 is an introduction to chapter 3.  It leads into it.  And in chapter 3, we meet Nicodemus and he understands that Jesus is “a teacher come from God.”  He admits that.  He understands that because he sees the signs and knows that no one could do those things unless he had God with him.  Does that mean that Nicodemus had a saving trust in Jesus at that moment?  Evidently not, otherwise Jesus would not have had to tell him about his need to be born again and about his need to believe the gospel.  Nicodemus is a specific example of what it means to “believe in his name” in 2:23.  His belief is something other than true, saving faith in Jesus Christ. 

So if it’s not true faith, what is it then?  Here we have to be careful because Scripture doesn’t give it a label.  We have to recognize as well that we’re talking about a large crowd of people.  Making up this crowd were all kinds of individuals and “believing in his name” might have meant one thing for one person and another thing for another person.  For one person, it might have meant that they saw the signs and believed that Jesus was a great prophet.  And perhaps for that particular individual that was a step along the way to a true faith in him as Saviour.  Maybe that individual ended up among the 3000 who heard the preaching of Peter on Pentecost and received the gospel with faith and were baptized.  But you could imagine another individual who thought that Jesus was a great prophet from God, but then later didn’t move on towards true faith in him as a Saviour.  Because we’re dealing with so many people and there’s so little detail, it’s very difficult to define precisely what “believing in his name” meant.  The only thing we can really say is what it was not.  It was not true faith.

This passage gives occasion for all of us to examine ourselves.  You don’t need to look at others.  You need to search your own heart.  Listen, what’s there in your heart when it comes to Jesus Christ?  Do you have a true faith in him?  Or do you merely have some lofty ideas about him?  Do you really place your trust in Christ as the Saviour from sin?  Or is he just a theological concept that has no real connection to your life?  Do you have a true faith in him?  What is true faith?  Here we could remind ourselves of what we confess from the Bible in Lord’s Day 7 of the Catechism.  True faith involves three things. 

First, true faith involves a sure knowledge.  You have to know what the Bible teaches about Jesus.  So, true faith is never ignorant.  It is informed and aims to be still better informed.  Second, true faith involves accepting what the Bible teaches as being true.  You have to not only have knowledge, but also believe that this knowledge is the real deal.  You see, you can know stuff that the Bible says without believing that it’s true.  But true faith says, “It’s all true, from Genesis to Revelation, everything in Scripture is trustworthy.  And so when it speaks about the gospel, I believe that’s true too.”  So, true faith involves knowledge, it involves assent, and third, it also involves confidence or personal trust.  True faith means that you say, “God has granted me forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”  Given to me.  True faith is always personal. 

Without true faith, no one will be saved.  Without knowing the gospel, without affirming the gospel as true, without embracing the gospel for yourself, you will not be saved.  Loved ones, you must believe, you personally, each and every one sitting here this morning.  The call of the gospel goes out here again from God’s Word.  It’s not enough just to know things about God and about Jesus.  It’s not enough even to say that those things are true.  It’s only enough when you take the gospel and believe it for yourself.  So do that – or keep on doing it.  Say it with me for yourself, “I believe that Jesus has done everything for me.  I’m not obedient to God, but Jesus lived a perfectly obedient life in my place.  He went to the cross for me and paid for all my disobedience.  He was raised from the dead as my victory over sin and death.  He is in heaven right now for me and someday will take me to himself.”  Loved ones, that’s the way true faith talks.

Moving on to verse 24 in our passage, we find something perplexing.  It took me a long while to understand exactly what this means.  It says, “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people…”  In the Greek original, there’s a word play going on here.  The same word for “believe” in verse 23 is used for “entrust” in verse 24.  The crowds believe in his name, but he does not entrust himself to them.  The word play is obscured in our English translations, and there’s nothing that can be done about that.  But the Holy Spirit is trying to make a point with it.  The point is to make a stark contrast between what the crowds do and what Jesus does. 

Now the perplexing part of that is exactly what Jesus is doing here.  What does it mean exactly that he did not entrust himself to these crowds of people?  Normally when we use that word “entrust” we direct that towards God.  We talk about people entrusting themselves to the Lord.  We pray that people would entrust themselves to God’s love and care.  But here we have Jesus refusing to entrust himself to people.  That suggests that, if things were different, if there were true faith in the picture, he would entrust himself to them.  It still sounds strange – what does it mean for Jesus to entrust – or not entrust – himself to people?

To understand this, it’s helpful to think in terms of the opposite.  What is the opposite of entrusting yourself to someone?  It’s to withhold yourself from them.  You keep back from them.  So when Jesus did not entrust himself to the crowds, he was withholding himself from them, keeping himself back from them.  You could think of that in terms of being a bit aloof, keeping some distance, but here it’s better to think in terms of revelation.  He withheld from them the full revelation of who he was and what he came to do.  Because he knew what was in their hearts, and what they would do if he revealed himself fully, he held back.  If he laid it all out to them now, they would stand in the way of his mission.  Maybe they’d put him on a throne when his real destination was the cross.    

The Holy Spirit says at the end of verse 24 that he knew all people.  He could and did look into the hearts of all these people in the crowd and he knew what was going on there.  He could tell that this “believing in his name” was something other than true faith.  Jesus knew the difference and therefore he could respond appropriately.

Verse 25 adds that Jesus didn’t need anyone to tell him about human nature.  Christ didn’t need an informant when it came to what people are like.  It says, “for he himself knew what was in man.”  That becomes evident in chapter 3 when “a man of the Pharisees” comes to Jesus and Jesus shows that he really does have x-ray vision into people’s hearts.  He is the master at diagnosing spiritual conditions.  He knows them all. 

This is a subtle way of telling us something important about our Saviour.  He is the all-knowing God.  In the Old Testament, God is the one who sees and understands everything about everyone.  Nothing escapes his notice.  In the beginning, in Genesis, Cain thought to kill Abel, thinking that God wouldn’t notice.  “Where is your brother?”  “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?”  Cain, did you really think that God wouldn’t know the truth?  What fantasy world are you living in?  And what about David in our reading from 2 Samuel 12?  David, did you really think that you could sleep with Bathsheba, get her pregnant and then cover it up by killing her husband and God wouldn’t notice?  Were you mad?  David, did you think that God was sleeping when you did this?  Despite what he wrote in Psalm 139, at that moment David was out of touch with reality – as we all are when we give ourselves to sin.  With David, God sent Nathan the prophet to bring him back to the real world here on Planet Earth.  In the real world, God is all-knowing, he is omniscient.  He sees everything; he also peers into human hearts and knows what lives there.  He knows what lives in all of our hearts.

The Holy Spirit is telling us here in John that this is equally true of Jesus.  Because he is God in the flesh, God incarnate, he has the capability to see what ordinary human beings can’t.  He knows human nature in general.  Christ was involved with creating human beings.  But he also knows individual human hearts.  He can see, analyze and evaluate what goes on in the heart of any man or woman, boy or girl. 

That means that he can also peer into your heart and see what’s going on there.  That can be either a comforting thing or a confronting thing.  It can be confronting if Jesus looks into your heart and sees something other than true faith.  If he doesn’t see a heart that embraces him as a Saviour, he will not entrust himself to you.  In other words, he withholds himself and the fullness of who he is and what he does.  You don’t want that, do you?  All the more reason to believe and pray for a true saving faith in Jesus Christ.  When you have a true faith in Jesus, what we read here about him is a comforting thing.  It is comforting because when he looks into your heart and sees true faith, he will entrust himself to you.  He will not hold back.  He will not keep himself from you in all the fullness of who he is and what he does.  Instead, he will take you deeper in relationship with him.  He will draw you closer to him. 

But whatever you do, don’t ever think that Jesus doesn’t notice.  Our text teaches us not to think that Jesus is out of touch with what’s going on in your inner life.  He sees it.  He knows it, just like he did with all the people in our passage, just like he did with Nicodemus in chapter 3, just like he’s going to do with the Samaritan woman later in chapter 4.  Jesus knew them all, he continues to know all. 

That leaves us each with a personal responsibility.  You might be tempted to say, “Well, Jesus knows it all, but he’s also sovereign over all.  If he wants me to believe, then he’ll give me the Holy Spirit.  If I don’t believe, there’s nothing I can do.  I’ll just sit and wait until he does something.  If he does, he does and if he doesn’t, oh well.”  No, listen:  that’s snake-think.  That’s what Satan wants you to think.  How can I be so sure?  It all comes back to that one word I mentioned earlier:  context.  Here the context that’s important is what’s found in John 20:31.  There the Holy Spirit tells us the whole purpose of this gospel.  It’s to lay Christ before us so that we would respond with faith:  “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have live in his name.”  You’re supposed to hear this and respond with faith.  That’s about personal responsibility, not about passivity and just sitting and waiting to see what might happen.  Satan wants you to be passive and use God’s sovereignty as an excuse to stay in sin and unbelief.  But God calls you, you personally, to hear that Jesus is your appointed Saviour, and have a true faith in him.  Turn from your sin and turn to him to be your Saviour.  By his grace, you can and you must.  Loved ones, as you look to Christ with a true faith, you can be confident that he will not ever hold himself back from you.    AMEN.


LORD God in heaven,

We are grateful to again see Jesus revealed to us.  Thank you for giving us the Word to show us our Saviour.  We’ve seen him revealed as the one who knows all.  We know that he peers into all hearts and knows what lives there.  Father, please give us all a true saving faith, so that when he peers into our hearts, he would see that we are wedded to him.  We pray that more and more our Saviour would entrust himself to us, that he would not hold back anything about himself from us, but instead would give the full revelation of who he is and what he does.  Let our union with him grow stronger, our fellowship with him grow deeper.  Father, with your Spirit living in us, please cause our faith in him to only grow. 


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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