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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Christ causes division -- even amongst Gods covenant people
Text:John 7:40-44 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 66

Psalm 73:9 (after the law)

Psalm 89:1,2,12

Psalm 91:1,2,5

Psalm 92:1,2,6,7

Scripture reading:  Matthew 10

Text: John 7:40-44

* 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,

A few years ago, I saw this image on Facebook of a stairway in a Japanese subway station.  There were two directions on this stairway, up and down, and they were separated by a handrail.  It was obviously the morning rush hour.  The image showed a huge crowd of Japanese subway commuters diligently going up on the proper side and one lonely person going down on the other proper side.  The caption on the image said something like, “Only in Japan.”  I suppose if it was anywhere else in the world, people wouldn’t care about staying on the proper side.

That image is a good illustration for an important biblical concept we call the antithesis.  We’ve got two groups of people – one large and one small.  In the subway station, it was a massive crowd versus one person.  In the biblical concept, there are many people on one side and few on the other.  They’re going in opposite directions.  In the subway station, the crowd was going up to the street and the one person was going down to the train platform.  In the biblical concept, the many are on the easy way to destruction, and the few are on the hard way to life.  Many are going through the wide gate, and few are going through the narrow gate.  They’re divided from one another.  In the subway station, a handrail separated the commuters travelling in opposite directions.  In the biblical concept of the antithesis, God has created a spiritual barrier between human beings who are heading for quite different eternal destinations.

This concept of the antithesis is found straight through the Bible from beginning to end.  In Genesis, after the fall into sin, we see it straight away with Cain and Abel.  We see it later with Jacob and Esau.  There are many more examples.  It’s in our passage for this morning from John as well.  When we think about the antithesis, we’re often inclined to think of it in terms of the church versus the world.  It’s us in here versus them out there.  But our text challenges that way of thinking.  It does that by reminding us that the antithesis between belief and unbelief even runs in the church.  So I preach to you God’s Word from John 7:40-44.  I’ve summarized the message of our text like this:

Christ causes division – even amongst God’s covenant people

We’ll consider:

  1. What sort of division he causes
  2. How he causes it
  3. Why he causes it

Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths.  It was at the end of the feast, at the highlight.  Then Christ delivered a command for people to come to him and drink so they could have life.  He followed it up with a promise of the Holy Spirit – he would come in abundance and work through believers to bring more spiritual life into the world.  That was an amazing prophecy about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. 

Now when we get to verse 40, we begin to hear the reactions of the Jewish people to those words on the last, great day of the Feast of Booths.  There were three reactions.  Two of them were on the right track and one of them was completely on the wrong track.  Two were going in the right direction, one in the wrong.

Amongst the Jews there were those who concluded that Jesus really was “the Prophet.”  Now when you read that, you should ask yourself, “What does that mean?  What does ‘the Prophet’ mean?  Who is ‘the Prophet’?”  That’s referring back to the famous prophecy of Deuteronomy 18.  In Deuteronomy 18, Moses said that God would raise up another prophet like him.  The people would listen to him.  Most likely, when Jesus spoke about coming to him and drinking and living waters and so on, all of that made these people think about God giving water through Moses in the wilderness.  So they reach the conclusion that Jesus really is the prophet like Moses from Deuteronomy 18. 

When they reached that conclusion, they weren’t wrong.  They were on the right track.  In Acts 3, Peter was preaching near the same spot where Jesus was preaching in the previous verses.  He explicitly said that Deuteronomy 18 was speaking about Jesus.  Jesus really is the Prophet like Moses.  Of course, he’s more than that, but certainly not less.

Others among the Jews reached the conclusion that Jesus is the Christ.  You may remember that Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah.”  Both Christ and Messiah mean the Anointed One of God.  The Old Testament had prophecies about the coming Messiah, including what we sang from Psalm 89.  The Messiah was God’s fulfillment of his promise to solve the problem of our sin.  By the time of the New Testament, many Jews had a different idea of the Messiah.  They believed the Christ would come as a political Saviour, to deliver them from the occupation and oppression of the Romans.  But in this context here in John 7, it’s hard to tell how many of the Jews had that military/political idea of the Christ and how many had a more biblical conception.  The fact that earlier in the chapter, in verse 31, many “of the people believed in him” would suggest that their understanding was closer to the truth.  They too seem to have been on the right track, heading in the right direction. 

Before we go further, I should just note for a moment that we would combine those two understandings in verses 40 and 41.  The Prophet is the Christ.  The Messiah is the Prophet like Moses.  However, for some reason, the Jews of this time thought of these figures as two separate individuals.  From their perspective, these options were exclusive to one another.  However, from our perspective with a complete, open Bible, we can see they’re not.  We can see they’re both on the right track, both presenting truth about who Jesus is.  It’s not either…or.  No, he is both the Prophet and the Christ.

There was another conclusion that people reached that day.  He definitely couldn’t be the Christ.  They knew Jesus and they knew their Bibles.  They knew the Bible said the Messiah would come from the line of David.  They were right – Psalm 89 spoke about that.  They also knew the Messiah would hail from Bethlehem, David’s hometown.  About that they were right too – the Bible said that in Micah 5:2.  These naysayers had a correct understanding of what the Bible said about this. 

That understanding had been there for a while.  In the New Testament, we encounter it first in Matthew 2.  The wise men come to Herod looking for the new “king of the Jews.”  Herod goes to the chief priests and scribes to ask them where the Christ was to be born.  They tell him right away about the prophecy of Micah 5:2.  The place is Bethlehem.  Herod comes to know it too.  Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, the line running opposite to Jacob.  The Edomites always opposed God’s plan for salvation.  They might know biblical information, but it doesn’t matter.  They’re against God’s plans to bring rescue to sinners.

That happens here too, except here with Jews, descendants of Jacob.  They know what the Bible says and they think they know Jesus.  In their minds, Jesus is from Nazareth.  He’s from Galilee.  The Messiah doesn’t come from Galilee.  So Jesus can’t be the Messiah.  He has to not only be rejected, he has to be arrested, opposed, killed.  Their conclusion about Jesus is definitely on the wrong track.  They bear responsibility for that.  If they’d been fair-minded, open to Jesus’ teaching, they could have gone to him and said, “We appreciate what you’re saying and we see the truth in that.  But we don’t understand how you could be the Christ when you come from Galilee?”  He could then have told them that he was born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah 5:2.  He could have told them that about his Davidic family tree.  But they’re stubborn and arrogant.  In verse 27 they insisted, “we know where this man comes from.”  In their minds, he was from Galilee, full stop.  And as for his family roots, who knows?  Or, more likely, who cares? 

Loved ones, what this teaches us is that also people in the church can reach different conclusions about Jesus.  Remember these are God’s covenant people we’re reading about here.  They’re part of the Old Testament church.  We’re part of God’s covenant people today, part of the New Testament church.  People in the church can reach different conclusions about Jesus.  Some are on the wrong track and others are on the right track.  Some are on one side of the antithesis described here and others on the other side. 

For us, it’s probably not a question of whether Jesus is the Christ or not.  The Bible tells us all about his genealogy – we can trace it back to David, no problem.  The Bible tells us all about his birth in Bethlehem, no problem.  These are facts we can all agree on.  But there are other ways we can reach wrong conclusions about Jesus today.  One is that we reduce him to a concept.  He gets turned into an abstract idea.  One way this can happen is if we believe we’re not allowed to pray to Jesus.  That automatically puts him at a distance from us, makes him seem less real.  Another related way that can happen is if we get this idea that we can’t or don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus.  That too can make his personality evaporate.  He’s not a real person, but just a remote, nebulous idea.  We don’t think of him in real terms, but just theoretical terms.  It’s almost like he’s a myth.  When we do that, we’re on the wrong track.  Brothers and sisters, Jesus is a real person and to be saved, to be on the path going to life, you need to have a real relationship with him.  You need to see that he is real, love him as real, trust him as real, talk with him as real, walk with him as real.  For your salvation and your life right now, it’s really important that you understand the reality of who your Saviour is.  You got to be on the right track.

So in our passage there was that division between those on the right track and those on the wrong.  Now let’s spend a few minutes looking at how Christ caused that division and how he continues to cause that division today even.  The answer is right at the beginning of verse 40, “When they heard these words…”  It was the words of Jesus that caused division.  He preached and it divided the people.  That shows not merely the power of words in general, but more particularly the power of preaching endowed with the Holy Spirit.  The Word of God is like a sword cutting two ways.  Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…”  And in 2 Corinthians 2, the Word of God is compared to the burning of incense in a Roman victory parade.  To those who conquered in the battle, the aroma is beautiful, from life to life.  But for those on the wrong side, the aroma smells like death – after the victory parade, the defeated would often be killed.  It’s the faithful preaching of God’s Word that causes the antithesis, the division.

It’s important to see that in our passage this is taking place amongst the church.  It’s not Jesus going out there to the nations, but to God’s own covenant people.  He’s preaching to the Jews who were chosen by God to be his special possession.  They’d been circumcised on the eighth day.  They were publically announced to belong to the LORD.  God’s covenant mercy had been signed and sealed to them in that sacrament.  Then they heard preaching, preaching from the Son of God himself.  What did they do with it? 

You could think here of our reading from Matthew 10.  Our Lord Jesus sent the disciples out to do what?  To preach.  Jesus is real about what’s going to happen.  There’ll be those who hear and believe.  Some will.  But there’ll also be those who reject the preaching of the gospel.  This is going to happen amongst God’s people.  Jesus said in Matthew 10:6, “But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…”  Then he talks about persecution.  The persecution is going to come from within the covenant people.  Jesus is real about that.  He even says later in Matthew 10 that the division he causes with his Word will run through families.  All relationships are affected.  The preaching of the gospel is the sword Jesus came to bring and it’s a sword which divides.  We have to be real about that, just like he is.

But then we also have to listen to the warning of Scripture about being covenant people and hearing the preaching of the gospel.  The gospel is a sword, but that’s not meant to be lead us to a fatalistic view of all this.  It’s not as if you are meant to think, “Well, I guess I’ll just see where the sword falls for me.”  No, there’s personal responsibility.  Loved ones, when you hear the preaching of the gospel, God calls you to hear it and respond to it with faith.  And if you don’t, you are responsible for that.  We are responsible for all our sins, including the sin of unbelief in the face of the gospel.

If you look at what happens in John 7 in the light of what Jesus says in Matthew 10, you see the seriousness of this.  There are consequences.  If those covenant people in John 7 continued to stay on the wrong track of unbelief, they’d be faced with a horrible eternity.  Jesus says in Matthew 10 that for unbelieving covenant people, it will be worse for them than for Sodom and Gomorrah.  The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were abominations in God’s sight.  They still are.  But don’t miss the fact that Jesus says there’s something worse.  If God has called you as his child, if God has put his sign and seal on you, if God has given you wonderful gospel promises, if you’ve grown up with the preaching of the gospel and then if you reject him, that’s a worse abomination than any sin committed in Sodom and Gomorrah.  That’s a sobering thought.  It should lead us to be careful and attentive when it comes to preaching.  It should lead us to plead with God to help our unbelief, that he would help us whenever we hear preaching to respond in the right way. 

What about for those of us who have loved ones, family, friends, who grew up in the church and who seem to have turned their backs on the Lord?  Remember two things:  first, where there is life, there is hope.  If someone is still here on this earth, they still have the opportunity to hear your witness, to hear your love for them.  They still have the opportunity to be warned, to repent, to turn to Christ.  Second, remember the power of prayer.  Keep pleading with the Lord for them.  Plead for his Holy Spirit to work repentance and faith.  Plead earnestly.  Plead regularly.  Plead with tears.  But don’t give up praying for the salvation of those you love.  Let the warnings of Scripture drive you to do that with greater urgency.

Last of all, we want to understand why Christ causes division here in this passage.  There are at least two reasons.

First, there’s God’s plan for our salvation.  This is plan is hinted at in verse 44.  The Holy Spirit says that some of them wanted to arrest him but they couldn’t.  Why not?  The answer is back in verse 30, “because his hour had not yet come.”  God had an hour planned for Christ.  Preparations were being made for that hour, but it wasn’t quite there yet.  God had a plan whereby our Saviour would be crucified.  For him to go that road to the cross, there’d have to be a rising tide of enmity and opposition.  There’d have to be the humiliation of having all these people misunderstand him, misrepresent him, and hate him so much they wanted to kill him.  And eventually they would.  There was no other way to the cross.  This wasn’t a plan foisted upon Christ without his consent.  No, Scripture is clear that the Son of God knew this entire plan ahead of time and he agreed to it.  In his love, he chose to come and do all this for our salvation.  As we reflect on that, let our hearts respond in worship for our Saviour.  There was a plan and it involved horrible things for him.  But he was willing to go through it to redeem you, to turn God’s wrath away from you.  Think about that.  The love that will do that has got to be so profound, so powerful.  The love of our Saviour should leave us in awe and wonder, ready to love him, trust him with our lives, and live for him.     

Second, there’s the instruction for us as God’s people today.  We’re not supposed to look down our noses on the Jews on the wrong track in our passage.  Instead, we’re to see how easily our sinful human nature can lead us in the same direction.  Our covenant status doesn’t vaccinate us against this deadly disease.  You’re not in the clear simply because you’ve been brought into the covenant of grace and baptized.  To say it a different way, being a member of the church is not the same thing as being a Christian.  This is vitally important to understand.  Being a member of the church is not the same thing as being a Christian.  It should be the same thing, but sometimes it isn’t.  Let me indicate one way this needs to be taken on board.  When it comes to relationships, sometimes parents or others will say, “Oh, it’s all good, he’s with a church girl.”  Or, “She’s with a church boy.”  That kind of language could suggest that Scripture merely teaches it’s important for our children to find partners who are members of the church.  Church membership is important, but it’s not what Scripture stresses.  Scripture emphasizes how important it is to marry in the Lord, which means to marry someone who’s in Christ by faith, a genuine Christian.  It would be better to say, “Oh, it’s good, he’s with a godly Christian girl from the church.”  That would acknowledge better the reality found in our passage that the antithesis between belief and unbelief also runs in the church. 

Loved ones, people like to think of Jesus merely as the Prince of Peace.  But both John 7 and Matthew 10 reveal that he is also the Great Divider.  He divides with his Word.  There’s an antithesis between belief and unbelief in this world.  That antithesis runs everywhere.  It even runs in families and churches.  The question is:  which side of it are you on?  Listen, the best thing is to be on the side where there’s a narrow gate.  It’s a hard road and there are few travelling on it.  But the destination is going to make it all worth it.  The way is through Jesus Christ and through faith in him.  This morning, God’s Word calls you again to entrust yourself to him. 

Let’s pray it together right now, “Lord Jesus, you really are the Prophet.  You really are the Christ.  You really are my Saviour and my Lord.  No one else but you can save me.  I want to follow you down through the narrow gate and down the hard road that leads to life.  Fill me with your Spirit and help me to do it.”  AMEN.

* 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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