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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Faced with hard-hearted opposition, Christ speaks words of comfort and warning
Text:John 7:32-36 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-07-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 97:1-4

Psalm 97:5 (after the law)

Psalm 95:1,4,5

Hymn 70

Psalm 118:1,2,6

Scripture reading:  Romans 11

Text: John 7:32-36
 

* 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,

As a pastor, I get to know a fair bit of medical jargon.  One of the terms I’ve learned over the years is cardiosclerosis.  Cardiosclerosis is the forming of hard fibrous tissue in and around the heart muscle.  The term “sclerosis” is actually derived from Greek and a form of the term can be found in the New Testament.  It’s not in Romans 11 where Paul writes about the hardening of the Jews, but it is found in Romans 9 where Scripture says that God “hardens whomever he wills.”  Sclerosis refers to hardening and it can refer to a hardened heart as well.  There’s physical cardiosclerosis, but there’s also a spiritual cardiosclerosis, where your heart is spiritually hardened against God. 

We see this all around us.  The world hates the gospel and hates biblical truths.  If you try to have a reasoned discussion about these things on the Internet, you’ll encounter a lot of name calling, cursing and swearing, and just emoting.  Sometimes that’ll happen in real world encounters with unbelievers too.  The opposition of the world to the gospel and to spiritual truths is often completely irrational.  It’s because of spiritual cardiosclerosis.

As I said, it’s out there in the world.  But we learn from our passage this morning that this kind of spiritual cardiosclerosis can get into the church too.  The people confronting Jesus here in John were part of God’s people, part of the Old Testament church.  Yet they show evidence of hardened hearts, hearts that are rock hard against God.  The Holy Spirit reveals this to us so that we would be alert to that possibility among ourselves too.  Not that we would look around us and wonder if someone else might have this condition, but that we would examine our own hearts for spiritual cardiosclerosis. 

This morning I preach to you God’s Word from John 3:32-36 and we’ll see how faced with hard-hearted opposition, Christ speaks words of comfort and warning.    

To set the stage for a moment, you’ll remember that our Lord Jesus is in Jerusalem.  He’s at the Feast of Booths.  He’s been at the temple preaching and teaching.  His words have raised questions – people are wondering if he’s the Christ.  There were some who believed that he was.  They believed that on the basis of his miracles or signs.  Prior to that, there were also those who were wondering why the Jewish religious leadership didn’t do anything about Jesus.  He was preaching openly and boldly in the temple, but they were nowhere to be seen.  That led to the question of whether the religious leaders actually knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but were wickedly deceiving themselves and others.

That’s the background to verse 32.  The Pharisees hear what the crowd is saying.  They’ve heard that some have concluded that Jesus is the Messiah.  But they’ve also heard others wondering why the religious leaders just let Jesus go on preaching in the temple.  So they decide to take action. 

To do that, they join forces with the chief priests.  There a couple of things to note about that.  Notice the use of the plural there – “chief priests.”  If you know your Bible, you know that there was only supposed to be one chief priest at a time.  It was that way still in the time of our text.  However, men who had previously served a term as a chief priest would retain the title.  They would be honorary chief priests, but they would still be regarded as part of the respected religious leadership. 

The more important thing is that these chief priests were Sadducees.  You have to remember that there were two main groups of Jewish leaders:  Pharisees and Sadducees.  The Pharisees were more theologically conservative, and the Sadducees were more progressive.  The Sadducees were known for not believing in angels or the doctrine of a general resurrection for all human beings.  Normally, the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t get along.  But now they have a common enemy in Jesus and it brings them together.  They’ll cooperate to end Jesus.  For both groups, Jesus was a problem.  He was a threat to their power.  If they were going to maintain their position and influence, the Jesus problem had to be addressed – he had to be taken out. 

Now again, realize who is doing this.  These are the leaders of God’s people.  These church leaders are supposed to be helping people to Christ, but instead they’re determined to kill Christ.  From a biblical perspective, it doesn’t make any sense.  From the perspective of God’s objective truth revealed in his Word, this is completely irrational.  From a human perspective, you might say it makes sense – after all, it’s our natural tendency to preserve our power and push away whatever threatens our pride.  But these are supposed to be spiritual leaders, they’re not supposed to be guided by sinful impulses, but by God’s Word.  The fact that they’re not is not a bit of trivia.  It speaks to us of the suffering and humiliation of our Saviour.  He comes to his church in the Old Testament era and the leaders don’t want him teaching and preaching.  They just want him gone, they want him dead.  That’s part of Christ’s humiliation, part of the curse he suffers to procure our salvation.  He has to endure this opposition from God’s own people.  Even the leaders of God’s people are acting like the world.

That’s why they do what they do in verse 32 – they send “officers to arrest him.”  You may remember that the Romans were in control of Judea.  However, the Jews had a special arrangement with the Romans.  They were allowed to police their own affairs to an extent and this included what happened in the temple.  So the Jews had their own temple police or temple guards.  Since Jesus was teaching in the temple, they didn’t have far to go to find who they were looking for. 

When they approached him, he had words for them.  Those words stopped them in their tracks and left them befuddled.  They couldn’t carry out their mission.  Later in the chapter, these officers or temple police go back empty-handed to the leaders who sent them.  They get confronted with their failure to arrest Jesus.  “Why didn’t you bring him?” they ask in verse 45.  The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”  It was the way Jesus spoke that prevented them from doing what they were sent to do. 

Some of the words he spoke are in our passage, in verses 33 and 34.  These are words of both comfort and warning.  The comfort is for Christ and those who follow him.  The words of warning are for God’s people who hard-heartedly oppose him.  Now, in what I’m about to say about these words of comfort and warning, I found the commentary of Matthew Henry to be helpful.  I’ve adapted his good insights for this sermon.

Our Saviour said, “I will be with you a little longer…”  It’s important to realize that Christ’s crucifixion is not far off in terms of time.  The “little while” means six months.  In six months from the time of our text, Christ would be on the cross.  Immediately after that, he would go to his Father in heaven.  On the third day, he would be raised from the dead.  He would then spend 40 days with his disciples, and then ascend into heaven for a longer period. 

It was a comfort for Christ to remind himself that his presence in this broken world would be only for a short while longer.  Only for a short while longer would he have to endure the opposition and hatred of God’s people.  His humiliation had an end in sight.  It was not going to be endless suffering of these people’s hard-hearted animosity towards him. 

The same comfort is there for those who are in Christ by faith.  If he is your Saviour, if you’ve rested and trusted in him, you can be encouraged to know that our time here on this earth is relatively short.  It might be six months, it might be six years, or even sixty years that we have left.  But the trouble and heartache that we experience in this world is not going to go on for ever.  Especially the opposition that we face because we’re Christians is not going to last forever.  As the Holy Spirit says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

Our Saviour said in verse 33, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.”  He was going to go to his Father in heaven.  As I said a moment ago, this happened first of all after his death.  Remember the words he spoke to the repentant criminal on the cross next to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”  Christ went to paradise.  When his heart stopped beating, he went to the one who sent him.  He went to the presence of his Father.  He was only there for a short while, but then he returned on a longer term basis with his ascension.  That’s where he is now. 

That was comfort for Christ as he endured the opposition of those who hated him and wanted him dead.  When he would leave this broken world, there would be an eternal weight of glory waiting for him.  He would have incomprehensible joy and satisfaction being with his Father in heaven again.  All of that would make the sufferings he experienced seem like a light, momentary affliction – to use the words of 2 Cor. 4:17. 

It’s the same for us who follow Jesus.  When we suffer, when we feel so acutely the brokenness of this world, we can be comforted with the knowledge that we are going where Christ is.  Our destination is glory.  Our destination is unfathomable joy.  First Corinthians 2:9 reminds us of what awaits: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him…”  This is true when it’s any kind of trouble and suffering, but also when we face mockery and other forms of persecution for our faith.  Our time here is short and soon we will go to our heavenly joy where all of this will be in the past.

Then in verse 34, Christ adds, “You will seek me and not find me.  Where I am you cannot come.”  What he’s saying here is that when he arrives in his heavenly glory, back with the Father, they won’t be able to touch him.  They won’t be able to do him any harm.  That was also a comfort to our Saviour.  Their opposition and persecution of him wouldn’t be able to follow him into heaven.  When he would be at the right hand of God, he would be out of their reach.  He would be completely safe, completely untouchable. 

A similar comfort is held out to those who are in Christ by faith.  We think of the fact that once we’re in glory, we’re untouchable.  Nothing will be able to harm or hurt us in any way.  But even as we live in this world, we’re preserved by our heavenly Father.  He promises to keep us and protect us from Satan and his attacks.  No ultimate harm can come to us.  Loved ones, if we are in Christ by faith, we are safe.

Now these same words of Christ also bear a warning to those who are hard-heartedly opposed to the Saviour and his message.  The warning was first of all to these Jewish people in our passage.  You can see the evidence of their hard-heartedness in the way they respond to Jesus’ words.  He clearly said he was going to the one who sent him.  But because they have hardened hearts, they don’t hear it.  Their spiritual cardiosclerosis has side effects:  cataracts in their eyes and ear wax plugging up their ears.  So they come up with this question of whether Jesus might be talking about going to the Jewish dispersion.  After the Babylonian exile, Jews were spread all over the Mediterranean world.  So was Jesus talking about going there and teaching the Greeks?  No, he said, “I am going to the one who sent me.”  But their hard-heartedness keeps them from seeing it and hearing it.

So what was the warning to them in his words?  First of all, there’s a warning when he says, “I am going to him who sent me.”  They want to drive him away.  They don’t want Jesus in the temple, in fact, they don’t want Jesus around at all.  They want him dead and gone.  Now think about what they’re really wanting.  They want God gone.  Jesus is God come in the flesh.  Jesus is Immanuel, he’s the Messiah.  Jesus has come to reveal God to them.  They don’t want him.  They don’t want God among them.  So Christ is saying, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get.  I’ll leave and you won’t have God with you any longer to bless you and teach you.  They’re not driving away a mere man, they’re driving away God who came to save them.  That’s a dangerous, soul-endangering thing to do. 

There’s also a warning when he says, “Where I am you cannot come.”  He’s going to be with the Father.  So long as they continue in their hard-heartedness and refuse to repent and believe in Christ, they cannot come to the Father.  As he says in John 14:6, he is the only way to the Father.  If they are opposed to him, the way to heaven is blocked.  If they don’t believe in him, if instead they think he’s the enemy, there’s no way for them to God.  Even if they are the church, even if they are God’s people, if they continue on their path of unbelief, they’re not heaven-bound.  Instead, they’re on the easy, wide road leading to destruction. 

Brothers and sisters, these warnings are relevant for us too.  The Jews in our text were God’s people – like us they had received the sign and seal of the covenant.  We were all baptized;  they (the men among them) were circumcised.  Baptism doesn’t automatically confer salvation as if it’s magic water, just like circumcision wasn’t magic surgery to give salvation.  The calling is always there to believe God’s promises.  You can only be saved through faith, through resting and trusting in the Saviour Jesus Christ.

The covenant people in our passage didn’t want to have Christ around.  If they’d gone to heaven and found Christ there, they wouldn’t have been happy with that.  They hated Christ and they would have hated to find him in heaven too.  Now here’s the thing.  If you haven’t loved Christ on earth, you’re not going to suddenly love him in heaven.  If you haven’t loved Christ on earth, you’re not fit for heaven.  Heaven is for those who have loved Christ and who believed in him and followed him.  The joy of heaven for Christians is the joy of being with Christ, the one whom we loved here on earth.  Christians love to be with Christ.  For us today on this earth, we think of how Christ promises to be present in our public worship.  Christ promises to be here when the Word is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered.  Do you love to be here with Christ?  Then you will love heaven even more.  Do you look at public worship as something that just has to be endured?  Do you find going to church a chore, a bore, a duty that gives no delight?  Then the Scriptures warn you that heaven is not for you.  Because heaven just intensifies and fulfills what we experience here already in public worship.  It’s all about fellowship with Christ.  That’s what makes heaven so awesome – a deeper, permanent, unimpeded fellowship with our Saviour. 

Brother, sister, when you think about heaven, what makes it the most appealing to you?  When you think about heaven, is the most appealing thing that you can be without physical pain?  When you think about heaven, is the most appealing thing that you can be without strife or tears?  Loved ones, for a Christian, the most appealing thing about heaven is Christ.  We can’t imagine being happy in heaven without our Lord Jesus there.  It’s got to be all about him.  We will have no pain, we will have no strife, we will have perfect peace and joy, but all our attention is going to be focussed on Christ who made it all happen.

Loved ones, the Jewish church in our passage was stubborn, hard-hearted, unbelieving.  They had a history of being that way.  We sang about it in Psalm 95.   In our reading from Romans 11, Paul notes that by and large they continued to be that way into the apostolic era.  There was a hardening of their hearts.  However, he also goes on to say that it’s not the end of the story.  God has a plan for the salvation of Gentiles and Jews – it all factored in.  But for our purposes, it’s important to note that these things are told us in Scripture for a reason directly related to our salvation.  God wants us to see that covenant status does not immunize you against spiritual cardiosclerosis.  God wants us to hear the warnings our Saviour issued and not just hear them with our ears, but respond to them.  Respond with faith in Jesus Christ.  See how the gospel is better.  See how our Saviour promises us comfort and a place with him where he is.  Rather than oppose him, or even just be indifferent to him, it’s far better to love him and follow him in faith.  AMEN. 

PRAYER

Our Lord Jesus Christ,

We thank you for loving us.  In your love, you warn your people about the dangers of being hard-hearted.  You’ve warned us again, and we thank you for that.  We also thank and praise you for speaking to us gospel comfort.  Thank you for enduring the humiliation and suffering brought on by the curse our sin deserves.  We praise you for assuring us that our suffering here is but for a little while.  We look forward to being with you, where you are, forever.  Please continue working in our hearts so that we love you and desire you.  Help us with your Holy Spirit so that we look forward to heaven most of all because it means being with you.  Help each one of us to genuinely trust in you and to grow in our faith.




* 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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