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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Since self-deception is so easy, listen to the One who knows reality
Text:John 7:25-31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 47

Psalm 32:1,2 (after the law)

Psalm 32:3-5

Psalm 36

Psalm 119:40-42

Scripture readings: John 3:1-15, Romans 1:18-32

Text: John 7:25-31

* 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,

If you only know where to look, self-deception is all around us.  It’s in old 80s songs.  John Waite sang about lying to himself that he ain’t missing you.  It’s in literature.  One of my favourite examples is from C.S. Lewis.  The Magician’s Nephew is the first of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Narnia has just been created by Aslan.  The animals are meeting with Aslan and at a certain point Aslan begins singing.  All of this was observed by Uncle Andrew. This is what Lewis wrote next:

When the great moment came and the Beasts spoke, he missed the whole point; for a rather interesting reason.  When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song.  And he had disliked the song very much.  It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel.  Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (‘only a lion,’ as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make himself believe that that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing – only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world.  ‘Of course it can’t really have been singing,’ he thought, ‘I must have imagined it.  I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order.  Who ever heard of a lion singing?’ And the longer and more beautifully the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring.  Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.  Uncle Andrew did.  He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song.  Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.

That’s a classic example of self-deception.

Is it possible you’ve been lying to yourself, deceiving yourself?  Our passage from John this morning forces us to ask that question.  It’s about deceiving yourself about something super important.  This isn’t the kind of self-deception where you’ve convinced yourself that your blue eyes are actually brown.  No, this is the kind of self-deception where the lies you tell to yourself have eternal consequences.  This is lying to yourself about vital spiritual things.  This is lying to yourself about who Jesus is and particularly, who he is in relation to you.  That’s what this passage is about.  This passage is about God breaking us free from lies and fantasies and bringing us back to the way things really are.

This is the theme to summarize the sermon:  Since self-deception is so easy, listen to the One who knows reality.  We’ll consider:

  1. The self-deception in Jerusalem
  2. The reality proclaimed by Jesus

In our passage, Jesus is at the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem.  Jews came to Jerusalem from all over to celebrate this great feast.  Jesus was there too and earlier in chapter 7, we read that he went up to the temple and started teaching there.  As he was teaching, people were trying to figure him out.  How could he sound so educated when he’s never gone to school with a rabbi?  Jesus told them his teaching was not his, but came from the One who sent him.  He challenged them about their perception of him.  They thought he had no credibility.  In the face of that, he proclaimed his authority and showed how his law-keeping confirmed it. 

Now as we get to verse 25, we listen to what some of the people of Jerusalem are saying.  These are the residents of the city – they’re clearly distinct from any of the Jews who are visiting Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths.  These people know the atmosphere and they know the religious leaders and what they’re like.  They know what’s going on.  They know that the religious leaders want to end Jesus.  They want him dead. 

But in view of that they can’t make sense of what they’re seeing.  Jesus is speaking boldly in the temple.  He’s teaching publically and yet the Jewish religious leaders aren’t saying anything.  Earlier in the chapter, we do hear responses from the crowds, but it’s clear this doesn’t include the religious authorities.  They’re keeping quiet.  They’re not confronting Jesus as he ministers in the temple at this feast.  That leads these citizens of Jerusalem to wonder what’s really going on.  They ask the question at the end of verse 26, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?”  In other words, could the religious leaders actually know Jesus is the Messiah the Jews have been expecting?  Christ and Messiah mean the same thing – the anointed one of Yahweh, of God.  The Jews were expecting a Messiah who would come and deliver them, not from sin, but from the Romans.  Maybe the religious leaders know Jesus is that figure.

The possibility is raised here of self-deception on the part of the religious leaders.  Jesus has a history with them.  It’s not a good history.  It’s a history of conflict.  They hate him.  It started back in John 2 when Jesus cleansed the temple.  It continued in John 5 when Jesus healed the sick man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath.  John 5:18 says explicitly that the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him because they thought he broke the Sabbath, and because, worst of all, he made himself equal with God by calling God his Father.  They do want to kill him, but could it be that they actually know who he is and they’re just wicked men? 

In John 3, the religious leader Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.  He began with a startling admission, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”  From those words of Nicodemus, it seems at least the Pharisees knew Jesus was someone special.  At the least, they knew he had a divine commission.  Even though they knew this at some level, they still wanted to kill him.  If you say you believe in God, why would you want to kill someone whom you know has been sent by God?  There’s no rhyme or reason to it. 

As for the people of Jerusalem in our passage, they quickly discount the possibility that their religious leaders are being less than honest in how they deal with Jesus.  They conclude that Jesus can’t be the Christ.  He can’t be the Messiah.  Why not?  Because they know where Jesus comes from.  He’s Jesus of Nazareth.  Everybody in Jerusalem knows that.  But they also know that when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he comes from.  Therefore, Jesus can’t be the Christ or the Messiah. 

Now you might be wondering where they got this idea that nobody knows where the Messiah will come from.  It definitely doesn’t seem to be a biblical idea.  It appears to have developed as a folk belief amongst the Jews.  They had this idea the Messiah would be born of flesh and blood, and he would suddenly appear on the scene and deliver the Jews from all their enemies.  Aside from his human nature, his origins would be mysterious.  But not everybody thought this way amongst the Jews.  You remember from the Christmas story that Herod went to the Jewish religious leaders to discover where he could find the baby Jesus – they told him straight-away:  Bethlehem.  Later in chapter 7 of John, we’ll find that there are regular people among the Jews who also know that the Christ is supposed to come from Bethlehem.  But here, these people don’t seem to know their Bibles very well.

And still, they claim to know Jesus.  They think they know who he is and where he’s come from.  They raised the possibility that their leaders were self-deceived, but now the Holy Spirit shows us in Scripture that it’s actually these people who are self-deceived.  They’ve deceived themselves into thinking they know Jesus.  They’ve deceived themselves into thinking they know his origins.  Because they have this self-deception, they have their conclusion firmly in hand:  Jesus is not the Messiah, he is not the Christ.  But in reality, because the grounds of their argument are false, their conclusion is false too.  It’s just not objectively true.

Could something like that happen among us?  Maybe it wouldn’t be something so specific as rejecting Jesus as the Christ.  But maybe it would be more generally about claiming to know Jesus, but in actuality rejecting him as he’s revealed in the Bible.  There are many people who claim to be Christians.  The 2016 census showed that 52% of Australians identify as Christians -- over half the country.  I’m sure they’d all claim to know Jesus.  Yet we see people who claim to be Christians denying things that the Bible teaches.  They claim to be Christians, but they approve of homosexual relationships.  They claim to be Christians, but a man can say he’s a woman and everyone has to play along.  They claim to be Christians, but don’t believe anyone goes to hell.  They claim to be Christians, but don’t have a problem with abortion.  They claim to be Christians, but they live like the world, doing all the things worldly people do. 

What does it mean to be a Christian?  It means you’ve turned from your sin.  You’ve turned away from your rebellion against God and you’ve turned to Jesus Christ.  You’ve trusted him as both your Saviour and your Lord.  He has saved you from your sin and is now Lord of your life.  Now, if Jesus truly is your Lord, then you’re compelled to listen to his Word.  His Word is the supreme authority.  If you don’t follow what Jesus says, he says you’re actually deceiving yourself about being a Christian and your final destination.  Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  When we read Romans 1 and what it says about self-deception, we might think that’s just speaking about raw pagans out there in the world, maybe militant atheists.  But the reality is that even people who claim to be Christians can be those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness – deceiving themselves – and so also dishonouring God and refusing to give thanks to him.  It’s sad, but Romans 1 many times is the story of people who claim to be Christians.

Now that kind of self-deception is happening out there.  But what about here among us?  Loved ones, in the church too it can happen that people deceive themselves into thinking they know Jesus.  It happened in the Old Testament church in our text, it can happen in the New Testament church too, in this church.  So, let me ask you:  are you self-deceived?  Have you been lying to yourself about your knowledge of Jesus?  Telling yourself that you know him and have a relationship with him, when the things you’re doing and the life you’re living say something different?  If so, now is the time to wake up to the reality.  It’s time to wake up to the full reality of what it means to be a Christian, what it means to really know Jesus.  It’s time to turn from your foolish delusions and get into the real world.  I say that because the consequences of continuing in self-deception about Jesus are so terrible.  It makes your life miserable here and stores up an onslaught of wrath in the hereafter.  It’s so much better to pay attention and listen to what the Bible tells us.

Let’s do that now as we look at how Jesus proclaims the reality.  That begins in verse 28.  The first sentence that comes out of his mouth is ironic, maybe even sarcastic.  You have to hear it like this, “You know me, and you know where I come from?  Riiight.”  He’s saying:  “You don’t really know.  You’ve deceived yourselves into thinking you know, but you don’t.”

So what’s the reality?  First of all, Jesus reaffirms what he said earlier in John 7.  He didn’t come of his own accord, or you could say on his own authority.  Jesus has higher credentials.  His credentials come from above, from the One who sent him.  It’s the One who sent him that’s real, that’s true.  And not only do they not know Jesus, they don’t know the one who sent him either.  That adds another layer to the self-deception going on here.  They think they know God, but Jesus says, “You don’t even know God.  You think you do, but you don’t.”  The implication of that is their not knowing Jesus is because they don’t know God. 

They’re religious people.  Nobody’s going to question that.  Just like we go to church every Sunday, they went to the temple regularly.  They did religious things, just like we do religious things.  They called themselves Jews, just as we call ourselves Christians.  But they didn’t know God, and therefore they didn’t know Jesus.  What he means by knowing isn’t just knowing about God, but knowing him in a deep, relationship sense.  They have no good relational connection to him.  For us, you can know many things about God without actually knowing God in a relationship of fellowship.  They’re not the same thing.  One just means you’re religious or at least knowledgeable about religious stuff.  The other actually means you’re a believer, a true Christian.   Jesus says in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

In verse 29 of John 7, Jesus says, “I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.”  Jesus has that intimate relationship of fellowship with God.  He came from him.  Forget about his earthly origins.  Jesus has a heavenly origin.  He came from God.  God sent him into this world.  Which of the prophets in the Old Testament ever made a claim like that concerning himself?  With this unique statement, Christ wants to drive home the fact that he is the Christ after all.  God has sent him to be the Messiah who would lovingly lay down his life for sinners.  God has sent him to be the Messiah who would fully reveal what God is like in his grace and mercy.  This is the reality.  This is the truth.  Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God.  Jesus is the Christ. 

That was the implication everybody was supposed to take away.  And people did take that away, they got it, they understood what Jesus was trying to say about himself.  This can be seen in the fact that there were those who were looking for an opportunity to arrest him.  Somehow they were thwarted – they couldn’t lay their hands on him for some reason, and Scripture doesn’t tell us why.  It does tell us that there was a higher purpose at work.  At the end of verse 30, the Holy Spirit says, “because his hour had not yet come.”  What that means is that God was ultimately in control of this.  In God’s plan, Jesus had more earthly ministry ahead of him, before he would head into his final suffering, crucifixion and death.  In the meantime, there were more things for Jesus to preach, teach, and do.

Now verse 31 tells us something noteworthy.  Many of the people “believed” in him.  We’re not told much detail about the nature of this belief.  If we look at the context, if  we look later in the chapter, Jesus is going to make a prophecy for those who believe in him, a prophecy about the Holy Spirit.  That would seem to indicate a genuine faith.  Genuine faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It produces the fruit of the Spirit.  So it seems the faith described here is the real deal.  However, the basis of this true faith is the signs.  They believe Jesus is the Christ because he does so many signs or miracles:  “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”  They can’t imagine that the Christ (if Jesus isn’t him) would do more signs than Jesus has.  So the conclusion they draw is that Jesus must be the Christ after all, and so they believe in him.  Signs or miracles are not the greatest foundation for faith.  The best foundation for faith is the Word of Christ. 

Think about this with me.  What is the greatest miracle in the Gospel of John?  It would have to be the resurrection, wouldn’t it?  Do you remember what happened with Thomas after Jesus rose from the dead?  Thomas said he wouldn’t believe unless he could see the marks of the nails and touch Jesus’ wounds.  Jesus showed him, you could say he gave him the sign.  But then recall the words of Jesus in John 20:29, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Our Lord Jesus says that it’s far better to believe on the basis of the Word.

The Word of God is what has the power to break us out of lies and fantasies and ground us back into reality.  If you’re going to know God and know Jesus Christ and so have eternal life, the Word is the way.  God’s Word is the way all our self-deception gets stripped away.  With God’s Word we see light shining into our darkness.  We’re going to sing Psalm 36 in a moment.  Note how the first stanza speaks of how easily we’re self-deceived.  We all know the voice of evil in our own hearts and it lies to us.  But then notice the third stanza as well.  It’s in God’s light that we see light.  Where is God’s light?  Our last song for this morning is going to speak about that.  Psalm 119 says, “Your Word is a lamp for my feet.”  God’s Word is our light. 

Loved ones, if you’re awake to the fact that you can be easily self-deceived about God, about Christ, about your relationship with him, run to the light.  Run to the light of God’s Word and listen to the one who really knows reality.  In the Scriptures, you’ll find your Saviour revealed.  He’s the one who can break us free from every lie we tell ourselves.  He is the truth embodied.  He graciously exposes our need for him in the law.  And, loved ones, Jesus is the Christ, the one sent by God to be your Redeemer.  In his life, he obeyed God in your place.  On the cross he suffered and died as your substitute.  He rose from the dead, victorious over your sin and death.  Today he lives and works in heaven on your behalf.  The Bible proclaims this reality.  It calls each of you to flee lies and fantasies, and embrace the reality that Jesus is the Christ.  Jesus is Saviour and Lord.  AMEN.


Our Father,

We thank you for the light of your Word shining into our darkness.  Father, we confess how we’re so easily self-deceived.  Our hearts are so slippery and fickle.  We so readily get drawn away from you.  We quickly get distracted by wickedness and evil.  We love our fantasies, even though they will destroy us.  Father, hear our cry for mercy.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit, so we run to your Word for truth.  Break us free from any and all lies and self-deception.  Please open our eyes to spiritual truth and reality.  Through Christ, please forgive us our wilful self-deception and rebellion against you.  Help us to believe in him, each and every one of us.  Please help us to live in Christ, with him as both our Saviour and Lord.  Father, we pray that you would do all of that in love for us and for your glory.

* 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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