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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:How you honour Jesus shows the true difference between the church and the world
Text:John 4:43-45 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 78

Hymn 11:9 (after the law)

Psalm 103:1,4,5

Hymn 26

Psalm 124

Scripture reading:  John 2:13-25

Text: John 4:43-45

* 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 Christ,

Let’s say that someone hears that you’re a Christian.  What if they were to ask you, “What makes you a Christian?”?   What would you say?  Some might say, “I go to church.  Or similarly, “I’m a member of a church.”  But is that really what makes you a Christian?  You could think of it like this.  Think of a gym or a fitness club.  Are you an athlete just because you go to the gym?  It’s been a while since I’ve been to a gym, but I remember in Canada seeing a lot of people go to the gym more to socialize than to exercise.  There were always these people who seemed to do more talking at the gym than anything else.  Going to the gym doesn’t make you an athlete, and just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian.  What makes you an athlete is exercise and commitment.  Similarly, what makes you a Christian is the exercise of faith and commitment to Christ.     

You could think of what we confess from the Bible in Lord’s Day 12.  Question and Answer 32 in Lord’s Day 12 asks, “Why are you called a Christian?”  The answer isn’t, “Because I go to church.”  The answer isn’t, “Because I’m a member of a church.”  No, the answer begins with, “Because I am a member of Christ by faith…”  That’s a biblical answer.  Faith in Christ is what makes you a Christian, not church membership or church attendance. 

Now don’t misunderstand me here.  I want to say this as clearly as possible.  Listen, true Christians are going to want to be members of true churches of Christ.  A true Christian wants to attend church and meet with God every week to be blessed by his Word.  A true Christian listens to what it says in Hebrews 10:25 about “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…”  Jesus loves his church and those who love Jesus are going to love the church too.  They want to be where Christ is preached.  But these things are fruits of being a Christian -- they aren’t at the roots of what makes a Christian.  As our Belgic Confession says in article 29, there are those who are church members, who attend church diligently every week, and yet are hypocrites.  They may outwardly be church members, but as the Confession says, “they are not part of the church.”  Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian and, according to what we confess from the Bible, going to church doesn’t even really make you “part of the church.”  What matters above all is true faith in Jesus Christ. 

What matters the most is what we do with Christ as he is presented to us in the preaching of the gospel.  This is what we learn from our text from John this morning.  At first glance, you might look at these verses and wonder what we can get out of this.  What’s important to realize is the context.  These verses are not found in isolation – they’re directly connected to what’s happened prior with the Samaritans.  There’s a contrast being painted here between the Jews in Galilee and the Samaritans in Sychar.  As we’ll see that contrast confronts us today as well.  It all has to do with how you honour Jesus. 

So I preach to you God’s Word as we see how you honour Jesus shows the true difference between the church and the world. 

We’ll see:

  1. The honour the Galileans should have given him
  2. The “honour” they did give him

Earlier in chapter 4, Christ was travelling through Samaria.  He stopped at Sychar and met the woman at the well.  Later, because of her testimony, many people from the town came out to meet him.  They begged him to stay and teach them.  This was remarkable.  After all, he was a Jewish rabbi and they were Samaritans.  Samaritans and Jews normally don’t have anything to do with each other – in fact, they often despised each other.  But the Samaritans invite Jesus to experience their hospitality, and he agrees to stay with them for two days.  The result of his ministry there was amazing – many of the Samaritans believed in him.  They believed in him properly, in a saving way.  In verse 42, it’s plain that they acknowledged him to be the Redeemer, not only of Jews, but of Samaritans, he’s “the Saviour of the world.”  Those Samaritans became believers.  They were gathered by Christ into his church. 

Eventually his time in Samaria was up and it was time for him to move on.  He was heading for Galilee, north of Samaria.  Of course, Galilee is a Jewish region.  This is where you find Nazareth, and Nazareth is where Jesus grew up.  Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth, and though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Nazareth was considered to be his hometown.  Galilee was therefore his home region. 

Now the question is why did Jesus go to Galilee?  Way back at the beginning of chapter 4, it says that “he had to pass through Samaria.”  It was a common short-cut for Jews to take to get from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north.  But there was also a divine plan in that.  God had ordained that Jesus would preach the gospel to the Samaritans, they would hear, respond with faith, and be gathered into the church.  So it became clear why Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.”

But why did he have to go to Galilee?  The explanation is in verse 44.  John says that “Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honour in his own hometown.”  This is a mysterious saying to our ears.  Bible scholars puzzle over it.  What did Jesus mean?  There are at least 10 different explanations to choose from.  I’m not going to go over all of them with you.  Let me just lay out what I think is the best explanation.  The best explanation has to fit with the context here. 

There is no getting around the fact that his hometown is a reference to Galilee.  When people referred to him, they called him “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Have you ever noticed that?  Have you ever noticed that he was never called “Jesus of Bethlehem”?  He was considered to be a Galilean, not a Judean.  He was a Galilean who, in God’s providence had been born in the south in Bethlehem.

And so it’s in Galilee that he has no honour.  His having no honour there is the reason given as to why he goes there.  He deliberately goes to the place where he knows people do not respect him.  That’s where the question is:  why?  Part of the answer to that question has to reckon with what we find at the beginning of chapter 4.  At the very beginning of the chapter, we’re told that Jesus set off for Galilee when he learned that the Pharisees heard that he was making and baptizing more disciples than John.  Christ had gotten the attention of the Jewish religious leaders.  He was on their radar.  He was becoming a marked man.  But at this stage in his ministry, he wanted to avoid any open confrontation with them.  It was not yet his time.  God’s plan for him said that he still had ministry to do on earth.  So he went to Galilee where he would be among people with whom he wasn’t popular.  He would be with those who didn’t honour him, and thus he would be able to continue carrying on his ministry until the time was right for his final suffering and death.  This is an important reason why he travels to Galilee.

But there’s also the contrast that this creates with the people to whom he was just ministering.  Christ wanted to highlight this contrast.  I say that because he uses the word “prophet” here.  This is the first time in John that he explicitly refers to himself as a prophet.  The woman in Samaria said that she perceived that he was a prophet.  The townsfolk from Sychar recognized him as a prophet.  Now he himself confirms that he is a prophet.  What does he do as a prophet?  Sometimes we think of a prophet as someone who just tells what’s going to happen in the future, like a holy fortune-teller.  But in the Bible a prophet is someone who gives revelation from God.  That’s how Jesus is a prophet.  He reveals God’s plan for our salvation.  When the Samaritans encountered Jesus, they regarded him as a prophet.  He had revealed God’s plan for their salvation.  Christ showed them how they could be saved through faith in him.  When they heard this prophet, they honoured him by believing in him.  They trusted in the one who said that he was the Saviour of the world. 

That’s the honour the Samaritans gave him.  That’s the honour the Galileans should have given him too.  They should have acknowledged that he is a prophet who came to reveal God’s plan for their salvation.  They should have honoured him by believing in him.  But Christ knew that they would not do that and, by going to Galilee, he is going to draw attention to the stark contrast between the church and the world.  His going to Galilee highlights this difference.  Let’s explore this a little further.

Those people in Galilee were Jews.  The males among them had all been circumcised on the eighth day.  They were included in God’s covenant of grace.  The Galilean Jews had that special status.  They had been blessed with the Scriptures.  God’s written revelation had been entrusted to them.  They had so many privileges.  Yet when Christ would go to them and preach salvation, they would not honour him the way the Samaritans had.  They would not listen to him and most would not believe in him as their Saviour.  Though they were covenant people, most would show themselves to be of the world, rather than truly of the church.  It’s like Paul would say later in Romans 9:6, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.”  What Paul was saying is that just because you’re born into the covenant, that doesn’t mean you belong to the church as the “holy congregation and assembly of the true Christian believers who expect their entire salvation in Jesus Christ…” (BC 27).  You can be a covenant child and yet actually be a part of the world instead of the church. 

Loved ones, that reminds us again of what we call the antithesis.  What’s the antithesis?  A good illustration involves a divided highway or [for Australians] a dual carriageway.  There’s traffic going in two directions and they’re divided by a barrier in the middle.  That barrier is what we would call the antithesis, the dividing line between the opposing flows of traffic.  Well, in this world, Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 that there are two different roads that people travel.  They go in opposite directions, one leads to destruction and the other to life.  One road has a wide gate and an easy way.  The road to destruction is heavily congested with traffic.  On the other side of the antithesis is a road with a narrow gate and a hard way.  Every now and then you see a little traffic.  There are comparatively few on the road that leads to life. 

Now Christ tells us that this antithesis is not only out there, it’s also in here.  The antithesis exists among people God has publically claimed for his own in the covenant.  In the covenant, there are people like the Galileans who don’t honour Jesus by believing in him as their Saviour.  In the covenant, there are people who are baptized, but don’t have saving faith in Christ.  Listen carefully, in the covenant too there are people who are on the easy, wide road that leads to destruction.  Being in the covenant in itself does not put you on the narrow road that leads to life.  It’s Christ who does that, and he only does that for those who through the Spirit’s power truly believe in him.           

Loved ones, like the Galileans, we are God’s covenant people.  Our text puts the question to us, to you:  do you honour Jesus through listening to him as your chief prophet and teacher?  Do you honour Jesus through personally trusting in him as your Saviour?  If not, right now is the moment to do that.  Later might be too late.  Look, acknowledge the truth about yourself.  Recognize your sinfulness.  You’re a sinner and without Jesus Christ you’re on the broad road to destruction.  Your baptism doesn’t take you off that road, in fact it worsens your fate.  God holds covenant people more accountable for what they’ve been given and what they’ve heard.  Covenant people need to believe in Jesus Christ too.  We all need to trust in Jesus alone for our eternal life. 

For covenant people who place their trust in Christ, the call of our text is to continue doing that.  Whenever you hear Jesus proclaimed to you, actively take hold of him by faith.  Say in your heart, “This is my Saviour.  He’s the Saviour of the world, the Saviour for all kinds of people, he’s my Saviour.  He saved this sinner.  I’m going to continue holding on to him as my only hope for today and forever.”         

The Galileans didn’t honour Jesus the way the Samaritans had.  However, we find in verse 45 that they did give him a sort of honour.  The honour they gave was shallow and superficial, hardly worthy of even being called honour.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t call it honour in verse 45 or anywhere else, and so I would just call it “honour.”  It’s fake honour. 

Jesus arrived in Galilee and it says that the Galileans “welcomed him.”  That’s a fairly bland word in the original Greek, especially when compared to what happened with the Samaritans earlier.  Another way of translating it is that they “received him.”  Even if there’s much positive connotation in it, what follows tells us what’s really going on.  Their reception of him was tied to what they saw him doing in Jerusalem. 

That refers back to what we read from chapter 2.  There we read about the Passover Feast in Jerusalem.  Jesus was there, and so were the Galileans mentioned in chapter 4.  They would have likely seen or heard about him cleansing the temple.  But they would have also seen the other signs that he was doing.  He was healing and driving out demons.  At the end of chapter 2, we find that many “believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.”  But in what follows, we learn that this was not true faith in Jesus Christ as a Saviour.  Jesus knew what was in their hearts and therefore he didn’t entrust himself to them, he didn’t go further with them.  The belief that they had in Jesus was simply related to him as a miracle-worker, a healer.  They believed that he could heal people or perhaps drive out demons, but they had no time for him as the Saviour of sinners.  So that’s the background to what we read in verse 45.  The Galileans were there, and now they’ve returned home.

And when Jesus comes their way, they receive him, but it’s no different than before.  We don’t read that they hear him, and believe in him.  We don’t hear them talking like the Samaritans did.  In fact, later in John 6, we’ll hear the Galilean Jews grumbling about him.  Here they welcome him or receive him, but merely as the miracle-worker.  They’ll take Jesus, as long as he has something to offer them, something they want.  If he’ll be the emergency room, they’ll have him in their region.  That’s as far as their “honour” goes.  But they’re not going to honour him as a prophet, honour him for his preaching of salvation, and they won’t honour him by having faith in him.  

The Galileans had a fake honour for Jesus.  Even though they were covenant people, they didn’t honour Jesus the way that they should have.  The honour they gave was shallow, superficial, and inadequate for salvation.  Loved ones, is it possible for covenant people today to have that kind of “honour” for Jesus that really is no honour?  They thought that Jesus was helpful.  He did some good things, so he was okay to have around.  Eventually, however, his preaching gets to them and they get fed up with him.   But so long as he’s healing people, they’ll take him.  In what ways do people today find Jesus helpful, but they’ll just leave it at that?  I can imagine one situation and maybe you can imagine more.  Maybe something to think about on your own or discuss with others. 

I can imagine a situation where someone has grown up as a member of the church, a baptized member of the covenant of grace.  They live life without much regard for God.  They don’t take sin seriously, they don’t take Christ seriously as a Saviour or Lord, they don’t take holiness seriously.  They just carelessly muddle through life, having fun, serving themselves.  But then something terrible comes their way and they know that they should pray to God.  God is the last resort, he’s the 911 [Australia: 000] emergency line.   And of course, we’re all taught from a young age to end our prayers a certain way: “For Jesus’ sake, Amen.”  You might not have a living faith in Christ, but yet you know you need to add that at the end of your prayer.  Jesus is like a lucky charm added to the end of your prayer so you know you get heard.  You don’t want Christ as a Saviour or Lord, but you sure find him useful for trying to get what you want in prayer in your moment of crisis.  That’s a fake honour for Jesus.  You don’t really honour him, you just find him helpful for your own purposes.  But you’re not interested in his purposes for you.  Just like the Galileans. 

Look, the difference between the church and the world is not just about whether you’re religious or not.  The Galileans were religious people.  It’s not just about whether you talk about God or even Jesus or not.  The Galileans talked about God and Jesus.  The difference between the church and the world is not about whether your name is on a membership list.  The Galileans had their names enrolled in the synagogue.  The difference between the church and the world is in how you honour Jesus.  If you honour him with faith, with personal trust and confidence in him as your Saviour, you’re truly part of that body of believers we call the church.  If you refuse to trust in him, if you refuse to honour him by entrusting your life to him, you’re part of the world, even if your name is outwardly on the membership list of the church.  Loved ones, all of us are called to truly honour Jesus as the Saviour by believing in him only.  This is the only way to life forever in God’s presence.

So remember:  you’re not an athlete just because you go to the gym.  You’re not a Christian just because you go to church.  You’re a Christian when you honour Jesus by listening to his call to believe in him as the only Saviour.  So loved ones, let’s pray that the Holy Spirit would help each one of us to do exactly that.  AMEN.            


Heavenly Father,

We are your people and you have blessed us with so many privileges in the covenant of grace.  But the greatest thing you have ever done for us was to send your Son for our salvation.  You sent him to reveal your plan for our redemption.  We’ve heard about that plan again here this morning.  Father, we don’t want to be part of the world that fails to give Jesus the honour he deserves.  We want to be part of that holy assembly of those who expect their entire salvation in Christ alone.  Father, please help us with your Holy Spirit to honour Jesus as the Saviour of sinners, as our Saviour.  If there is anyone here who doesn’t yet honour Christ as they should, we pray that you would work your miracle of regeneration in their hearts and bring them to true faith.  Help us who believe to continue believing in Christ alone.  Father, we can’t do any of this in our own strength and that’s why we pray to you.  We ask for your help, your power.  Please be at work in all our lives so that we not only say with our lips that Jesus is the Saviour, but also believe that deep down in our hearts with the greatest conviction.   




* 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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