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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:A Sahhedrin discussion reveals the irrationality of sin
Text:John 7:45-52 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Pride
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-07-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 100

Psalm 38:1,2,7,8 (after the law)

Psalm 53:1,2

Hymn 29

Psalm 136:1,2,12,13

Scripture readings: Deut. 1:1-18, Proverbs 5

Text: John 7:45-52

* 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,

Do you ever think about how sin is so ridiculous?  Do you ever look at your life and some of the choices you make and ask yourself, “How does that make any sense at all?”  When we see things clearly, we see that our sin is irrational. 

It’s illustrated in the Bible in numerous places.  One of those places is our reading from Proverbs 5.  In that passage, a father is warning his son against adultery.  When people are not careful, adultery is an easy thing to fall into.  When you’re in the heat of the moment, you lose your mind and do something sinful.  You tell yourself, “How can it be wrong if it feels so right?”  “The lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil,” says the father in Proverbs 5.  You think you’re getting something good.  But then God’s Word tells us the reality:  “…in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.  Her feet go down to death…”  The reality is that the choice to commit adultery is self-destructive.  So why would you do it?  Why would you destroy yourself and others for the sake of that sin?   It would be completely irrational.  There’s no sense in it. 

Sin has always been this way.  Think back to the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve had everything.  Above all, they had a special fellowship with God.  Yet they destroyed it all for the sake of a lie.  It made sense to trust God.  It made no sense to believe Satan.  Yet that’s what they did.  Whenever we sin, it’s what we do.

This morning’s passage from John is teaching us more about the senselessness of sin.  It’s revealing how foolish sin really is.  It does that to wake us up to this reality and drive us to God, the one who restores sanity to us.  It drives us to our Saviour Jesus, who bought us from the curse on our irrational rebellion and whose Spirit helps us live sensibly.  Where sin turns things upside down, Jesus turns things right side up for those who trust in him.      

As we turn to our text, we’re going to listen in to Jewish religious leaders who made up a body known as the Sanhedrin.  I’ve summarized our passage with this theme:

A Sanhedrin discussion reveals the irrationality of sin

We’ll see it in:

  1. Their response to the officers
  2. Their response to Nicodemus

Our Lord Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths.  Earlier in chapter 7, in verse 32, the Pharisees sent “officers” to arrest Jesus.  Now who were these “officers”?  They were guards assigned to the temple.  They were Levites.  As men working in the temple each day, they would have heard many Jewish rabbis teaching.  They had been sent by the Pharisees to grab Jesus so he could be silenced.

But in verse 45 these officers go back to a meeting of the Sanhedrin (all the Jewish religious leaders) and they’re empty-handed.  That leads to the question, “Why did you not bring him?”  They had a simple mission and they failed.  What’s wrong with these guys?

The officers could only answer one thing.  They didn’t say anything about the crowds and their admiration for Jesus.  They didn’t say anything about the timing or the lack of opportunities to arrest him.  The only thing they said was that, “No one ever spoke like this man!”  It’s an answer that deserves a closer look. 

Their answer focusses on the way Jesus taught.  It’s not about the content.  It’s not about the message itself.  If you ask me how we can know that, the Greek word for “this” is a word that points to the manner in which he taught.  So they’re not speaking about the uniqueness of his message, but about his presentation.  You can think of other passages like Mark 1:22, where the Jews were astonished at his teaching “for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”  Jesus had an air of authority and confidence that they had never encountered before.  Of course, this was absolutely true.  They could see and hear for themselves that there was something radically different about Jesus.  They couldn’t deny it. 

Yet their answer also contains a half-truth.  They said, “No one ever spoke like this man.”  Do you see the half-truth there in verse 46?  They look at Jesus and they only see a man.  He’s a well-spoken man, but merely a man.  Of course, that’s not the complete picture of who Jesus is.  Certainly he was and still is a true human being.  But he is also God.  His authority and confidence stem from the fact that he is God come in the flesh.  He speaks with authority because he is God.  These officers don’t see that about him, they couldn’t see his glory as the Son of God, even though they recognize that there is something unique with him.

That recognition should have gotten the attention of the Pharisees.  They should have asked, “Why does he speak with such unprecedented authority and confidence?  We should look into this.”  But in their minds, they already had the answer.  They had Jesus pre-judged.  They had blindly judged him ahead of time to be a false teacher and fraud.  And that’s behind their response to the officers. 

They first say, “Have you also been deceived?”  The way the question is asked, it expects a negative answer.  They couldn’t be deceived, could they?  These Levite officers they hear so much good teaching in the temple, how could they be led astray by this Jesus character?  With this question, the Pharisees immediately challenge the claim that there was something different about Jesus.  Even though so many others see it, they refuse to acknowledge it.  It’s like just about everybody saying that the sky is blue, but they say it’s pink because it just can’t be blue.  Jesus just can’t be a unique preacher in any way.  Anyone who says otherwise must be deceived.  Of course, the irony is that they’re the ones deceived.

Then they ask another rhetorical question, “Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?”  In their minds, the answer is “no” and for good reason. Obviously, the authorities and Pharisees are right-minded enough to see that Jesus is a fraud. These are the smart people and they would never be fooled by a false teacher.  They’ve got all their biblical learning.  Meanwhile, in a moment, we’re going to hear from a Pharisee who, at the very least, has a more positive view of Jesus.

Then they make that bold statement in verse 49, “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”  The Sanhedrin looks down on the regular people gathered at the temple.  These ordinary Jewish people are so stupid.  They don’t know the law the way the Pharisees do.  Remember, the Pharisees prided themselves on their knowledge of the Scriptures.  They knew all 613 laws of the Old Testament.  They tried to keep them rigorously.  They even set up extra fences around those laws so that they wouldn’t even come close to breaking them.  These men, they really knew the law.  But the crowds?  The crowds made them think of Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”  The Pharisees knew everything and did everything – in their minds, they were good law-keepers.  The crowds were ignorant of the law, disobedient to the law, and therefore under the curse of the law. 

The irony is so thick here.  God’s Word warns over and over again about pride.  It’s in the New Testament, but it was certainly emphasized in the Old Testament too.  For example, Proverbs 3:34 says about God, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favour.”  These Pharisees were scorning the crowds, treating them with contempt.  God had warned them against doing that.  It says in Scripture that God will treat scorners with scorn.  He opposes the proud.  So why be proud?  Why do something that will have God lined up against you?  That makes no sense.  They thought the crowds were accursed, but in reality they were the ones bearing the curse for their sin of pride. 

The worst thing we could do here would be to look down at these Pharisees and scorn them.  The worst thing we could do would be to see ourselves as better than they are.  They’re prideful, but we’re not.  We’re way more humble than they were.  Do you see how ridiculous and irrational it would be to start thinking like that?  We would be proud of our humility, thinking we’re far more humble than these tall poppies in our text. 

Brothers and sisters, the reality is different.  We’re just as prone to pride and looking down on others with contempt.  We can get this idea in our heads that we’re biblical experts.  After all, many of us went to a Christian school.  We went to catechism and pre-confession classes.  We go to church every Sunday.  So we must be doing pretty good.  We start to exalt ourselves in our own minds.  But the irony is that if we really were such good biblical experts, we would see our pride for the sin that it is.  We would repent of it and ask God to forgive us through Jesus Christ.  Because the reality is that it doesn’t make any sense.  The Bible teaches in James 4:6 that God opposes the proud.  Notice:  he not only opposes pride, he opposes the proud.  Why be proud when Scripture says that God not only opposes the sin, but even the unrepentant sinner?  God’s curse is on the proud.  Why would you ever want God against you?  No, loved ones, it’s better to humbly admit that we’re all disciples.  That means we’re students.  We’re students who still have a lot to learn at the feet of our Master.  Let’s turn away from all our irrational pride, look to Christ, find forgiveness in him, and walk with him as our Lord and Teacher.   

There’s more sinful irrationality in our passage as it goes on in verse 50.  We meet Nicodemus again.  I’m sure you remember him from chapter 3.  He came to Jesus by night, met with him, and was taught by him.  Jesus specifically taught him about the new birth, about being born again, about regeneration.  Nicodemus was evidently interested in what Jesus had to say.  Later on, we’re going to meet Nicodemus again.  In chapter 19, he appears with Joseph of Arimathea.  Joseph and Nicodemus take the body of Jesus to be buried in the tomb.  But here we meet Nicodemus in the Sanhedrin.  He’s there because he’s a Pharisee -- he’s one of the Jewish religious leaders. 

They’d just mentioned the law.  So what about that law anyway?  That’s the thought that goes through the mind of Nicodemus:   “Since we’re talking about God’s law, what does God’s law say about how we should treat Jesus?”  Specifically, in verse 51 Nicodemus asks about a key principle of biblical justice:  “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”  That’s not a reference to any one verse in particular, but to a principle that’s derived from several places in the Old Testament.  One of those places is in our reading from Deuteronomy 1.  In verses 16-17, the judges among God’s people were commanded to hear cases and judge righteously.  They were not allowed to be partial.  All this means that matters had to be carefully investigated.  The idea that you would judge and condemn someone ahead of time without hearing them out was regarded as wicked and unjust.  Nicodemus draws attention to this fundamental principle of biblical justice.  You have to hear someone out before you judge them.  Of course, that’s something that Nicodemus secretly did himself.  But what about the rest of the Sanhedrin?  If they know God’s law, shouldn’t they abide by God’s principles of justice found in his law? 

We see more irony in their response.  They look down on the crowds for their ignorance of God’s law, but now when one of their own brings up God’s law and what it says to how they should treat Jesus, they completely shut him down.  Look at their reply in verse 52 and see how irrational it is.  Nicodemus had asked a completely legitimate question.  But they don’t reply to it.  Instead, they throw ridicule at him.  “Are you from Galilee too?”  It’s not a real question.  It’s an insult.  Galilee was where all the stupid, low-class, most ignorant people came from.  Jesus came from Galilee.  Nicodemus is trying to speak in Jesus’ favour, so they throw the worst insult at him that they can – you’re talking like a Galilean, you’re talking like one of those idiots from up north. 

Notice what’s happening here.  He’s directing them to what Scripture says and they respond with an insult.  They not only treat the crowd with contempt, they also treat a fellow Pharisee who points them to biblical teaching with contempt.  They ridicule him. 

They ridicule his knowledge of the Bible too.  They say at the end of verse 52, “Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”  In other words, “Nicodemus, get your Bible act together.  You should know your Bible better than this.  What’s wrong with you?  Obviously Jesus can’t be a prophet or anything great.”  Now here’s where the greatest irony is in this passage.  First of all, if they’d taken the time to investigate, they would know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in Micah 5:2.  Second, prophets had arisen from Galilee.  In Second Kings 14, we find that Jonah came from that region, from Gath-Hepher.  Probably Elijah and Nahum did too.  So even otherwise, who’s ignorant of the Bible here?  The way they’re trying to shut Nicodemus down is irrational.  They’re not even making any sense. 

Now let’s think about what’s at the heart of this irrational reaction to Nicodemus.  At its roots, all of this is about hard-hearted unbelief.  They do not want to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  They have heard his teaching before and their hearts are dead set against it.  Specifically, they refuse to believe that he is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises for the salvation of his people.  The sin of unbelief is why they have this irrational response to Nicodemus. 

In the introduction, I mentioned Genesis 3 and the fall into sin.  The sin of Adam and Eve at the beginning made no sense.  It was insane for them to rebel against God.  But in his goodness, God came to them with a promise for rescue.  In his love, he was going to send someone to smash the skull of the serpent and do something about the senselessness of our sin and the curse on it and us.  Then he did.  Jesus came into the world.  In his love, he came with the news that he was going to rescue us from sin and its consequences.  He would bear our curse and shame.  Jesus would live perfectly in our place.  Now what would be the sensible thing to do when you meet Jesus?  The sensible thing would be to say, “Thank you, Lord.  Thank you for your love, for your grace.  Thank you for coming to rescue me.  I need your rescue and I’m glad you came for me.  I’ll trust in you.”  But instead, what do we see here?  We see these people who are just so rabidly and irrationally opposed to Christ.  They go ballistic when there’s anyone who says anything remotely good about him.  Nicodemus didn’t even say that Jesus is the Christ, or that he’s a prophet.  All Nicodemus said was, “Let’s hear him out.  Let’s follow that biblical principle of justice with Jesus.”  Just that little bit of positivity results in this completely overblown, unreasonable reaction on the part of the Pharisees.  And it shows you how irrational the sin of unbelief can be.

We’ve noted several times before that these people we’re reading about in John 7 are not just any old people out there in the world.  We need to note that here too at the end of the chapter.  These are God’s covenant people.  But they’re caught up in this irrational sin of unbelief with regard to Jesus.  That stands as a warning to us.  If it was irrational and senseless for them to reject Jesus as the Saviour promised by God, how much more irrational and senseless would it be for us to do that?  I say that because we have even stronger warnings about such unbelief in the rest of the New Testament.  For example, in Hebrews we have several powerful warnings to God’s people that they would not disbelieve.  Let’s read one of those warnings in Hebrews 3:12-4:16.  Please turn with me there and let’s read that

Brothers and sisters, do you see how sin is irrational?  Our pride is irrational and so is unbelief.  Because these things are cursed by God, nothing good can from them, absolutely nothing.  Only harm and destruction will come from these sins.  So instead of pride, why not humble yourself before God and your neighbour?  Instead of unbelief, why not entrust yourself completely to Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour?  God’s ways are the ways that make the most sense.  His ways are the ways of blessing, flourishing, and life forever.  AMEN. 

PRAYER

Gracious God,

We confess to you how prone we are to wander.  We confess that even though we know it’s irrational, we’re inclined to sin.  We have prideful hearts and it’s so foolish.  Sometimes we even struggle with believing your Word.  It doesn’t add up.  It doesn’t make sense, but yet we do it.  Father, save us from our irrational sins.  Cleanse us with the blood of Christ.  Forgive us through the cross.  Please work in our hearts with the Spirit of Christ.  Let the Holy Spirit apply your Word to our hearts so that we’re more and more set free from our stupid and senseless sin.  Make us humble and teachable.  Help our unbelief and strengthen our faith in Christ each day.  Father, it makes sense to listen to you and to follow your Word.  We know that right now, but help us to know that and to see that each and every day.




* 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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