THE BUSINESS OF FORGIVENESS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 26, 2020
They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
— John 8:1-11, ESV
I miss John Prine. Outside of the Psalmist, and Isaac Watts, and Bob Dylan, He is the most honest, gracious, and redemptive songwriter to ever pen a tune. Due to his age and preexisting conditions, he succumbed to Covid-19 on April 7.
Prine is also one of those rare artists who saved his best for last. “The Tree of Forgiveness,” his final album, is far and away his best. It earned his highest ranking ever on the charts and garnered for Prine his tenth and eleventh Grammy nominations, plus his third Grammy Award, for lifetime achievement. The title of the album came from a line in its closing song, “When I Get to Heaven.” When he gets to Heaven, Prine wrote,
Then as God is my witness, I'm gettin' back into show business,
I'm gonna open up a nightclub called “The Tree of Forgiveness,”
And forgive everybody ever done me any harm.
All of us should aspire to have this final song in life, “When I Get to Heaven.” But you cannot get there unless you climb up the “Tree of Forgiveness” and taste some of the free and un-forbidden fruit. I’m not sure God has a nightclub waiting for us in Heaven, but I do know He is in the business of forgiveness.
The business of forgiveness is pictured here in a spurious text, John 8:1-11. It presents us with a scandalous sinner. And, it centers on the sublime Savior who owns this business of forgiveness. He is a controversial character Himself, who under the greatest of pressure and nearing an appointment with His own death, somehow found the perfect words to say to diffuse a deadly situation and bring peace, and forgiveness, to all who will have it.
The Questionable Story
Those of you who use any kind of Study Bible will notice the notes that call this text into question. There is only scant evidence of its inclusion in early editions of John, and also in Luke. The text disappears from the copied manuscripts of the Gospel of John until it emerged in the second millennium. If you understand the Feast of Tabernacles, with its great emphasis on water and light, then you can see how John 7:37-52 should be immediately followed by John 8:12ff. Also, John never used the combination “scribes and Pharisees” elsewhere in his Gospel, although it is found often in Luke.
On the other hand, it was a Judean story, which primarily interested John as opposed to the Galilean domination of the Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It painted the Pharisees in a bad light, the only color John used when discussing the group, Nicodemus excepted. The character, courage, and compassion of Jesus is spot on with everything else we read about Him in the rest of the Bible. Furthermore, great saints like Augustine and Calvin attest to the genuineness of this text.
So while the placement of the story may be questionable, it is unquestionable to me that this is an inerrant account of the nature of sin and the character of Jesus. It most likely occurred not at the Feast of Tabernacles, but at the subsequent Passover, which would be Jesus’ last. The motif of sleeping on the Mount of Olives and rising early to go to the Temple and teach matches nicely with the other biblical narratives surrounding Passion Week.
In the story a woman’s life is on the line, but so is Jesus’. He is the one the Pharisees really wanted, and they orchestrate these events to put the Lord between a rock and a hard place, between Jewish customs and Roman jurisprudence, between Old Testament law and New Testament grace, between the death penalty and lifesaving mercy. This so-called spurious story is a spiritual story of a scandalous sinner and a sublime Savior.
The Apprehended Sinner
We do not know her name, we only know what she did. Actions do speak louder than words. Because of one action and in a few words, this person is known to us only as “a woman … caught in adultery.” How would you like to have that written on your tombstone?
Perhaps this was an original story in John that got cut out because the church did not want to be seen as going to easy on adultery. After all, adultery breaks one of the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. It is forbidden in the New Testament as well. Adultery does more to break down virtue and break up families than almost any other sin. It is a serious transgression and the wounds it causes should be taken seriously; but, not with a pharisaical attitude.
The Pharisees … boo! Even though adultery is terrible and the woman is culpable, she does not seem to be the worst sinner in this story. When a little boy is cheating on a test in school and a little girl points it out in public to the teacher, who is wrong and who is right, and who gets our sympathy and who gets our disdain? It is our fallen human nature, or is it the vestige of imago deo, or a little bit of both, that causes us to pity the criminal and punish the police?
But the Pharisees were not the police. They were perpetrators, having conspired to set the whole thing up to shame the woman and corner Christ into a no-win situation. They were chauvinists, too, for where was the man caught in adultery? They were abusers of Scripture, for not all adultery is commanded to end in stoning, otherwise how did King David die of old age? They were cruel, without compassion, trying to make themselves look spiritually rich at this other sinners’ expense. They, not the woman, were the most scandalous sinners in this story.
All to often we team up with them, the woman and the Pharisees. Anytime we if we have lust in our hearts, or anytime we have been unfaithful to God, we are the woman caught in adultery. Anytime we think someone else’s sin is worse than our own, or we want someone punished for a sin we too are guilty of, we are Pharisees.
So who is the scandalous sinner now? Who desperately needs forgiveness now? We all do. We all need to go shopping in the business of forgiveness.
The Merciful Savior
The business of forgiveness is run by the ultimate Joe Cool. Jesus is His name, and grace under pressure is His game. The way He was born, the way He slid in and out of the Temple at age twelve, the way He came on the scene and conducted Himself during His three years of public ministry, were supremely sublime. I especially love this story, spurious or not, for He was never more cool, calm, and collected than right here.
Christ did not answer them at first, which means that He, the God-man, took time to think before He spoke, a practical lesson for us all. When He did speak, Jesus correctly applied Scripture where the Pharisees had misinterpreted it. When stoning is to be carried out, it has to be instigated by the witnesses to the capital crime, and it is stipulated that said witness cannot be in any way party to or guilty of the same crime (ref. Deuteronomy 13:9, 17:7). Therefore, the Lord’s words based on God’s word came out this way:
Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.
This devastated and disarmed the Pharisees, who were no doubt already collecting rocks. They were guilty of spiritual, mental, and in some cases physical adultery themselves. Their murderous plot was foiled, both to kill the woman before the Jews and to kill Jesus before the Romans (though they would succeed on another day). So they crawled back into the hole they came out of and went away, at least for a time, leaving Jesus and the woman alone, to conduct the business of forgiveness.
The Business of Forgiveness
The business of forgiveness begins with just you and God, alone. You must stand before him, guilty of a multitude of sins, the greatest of which is unfaithfulness to Him. You cannot hide your guilt from Him, for He has seen it all. And you must know He has the power and authority to punish you, capitally and eternally.
The business of forgiveness is run by God, and God alone. God alone has the power to forgive sins, which Jesus claimed during His ministry, thereby claiming to be God. The woman caught in adultery would not have known Jesus as God, at first, but by the end of the episode she did call on the name of the “Lord.” I think the woman saw something in Jesus’ eyes that she had never seen in another man. Instead of lust, she saw love. Instead of arrogance, she sensed forgiveness, which was confirmed when Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” Perhaps she saw in His eyes a reflection of her past self, sinning in a bed in which she did not belong. Perhaps she saw in His eyes an image of His future self, condemned by Pilate, nailed to a cross, buried in a tomb. The business of forgiveness requires such a sacrifice.
The business of forgiveness deals in currency issued by God in a two-sided coin. On one side of the coin is faith, the faith that recognizes the Lordship of Christ and calls upon His name, His grace, and His mercy. On the other side of the same coin is repentance, the gift and the will to “go, and from now on sin no more.” Without faith in Jesus and repentance from sin, you cannot receive anything from God’s business of forgiveness.
The business of forgiveness is open to everyone. However, people do not usually come on their own. They have to be brought, or in the woman’s case, caught. Those Pharisees unintentionally did this woman a favor, for they brought her to Jesus, and His business of forgiveness. Have you been caught? Or, is your sin known only to you and God. Either way, come on in. Enter into God’s business of forgiveness, where amazing grace and abundant mercy are absolutely free.
THE TRINITY FROM GALILEE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 19, 2020
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
— John 7:37-52, ESV
The Gospel of John sets out to prove at least two points about Jesus of Nazareth. Number one, He was, is, and always will be the Lord God (ref. 1:1-14, 10:30). Number two, He was, is, and always will be the promised Messiah, the Savior of God’s people (ref. 20:31, 4:42, 3:16). Jesus is Lord and Savior!
These points are hardly proven more plainly as on the last day of Jesus’ last Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus says things and things are said about Jesus that prove Jesus is Lord and Savior. They also provide a wide open window of opportunity to believe, to be saved, and to be sure of it.
The Trinity from Galilee
Part of the closing ceremony at the Feast of Tabernacles was the water ritual. The high priest would fill a golden bucket with water from the Pool of Siloam, then take it to the Temple and pour it out upon the altar. The celebration of water was a celebration of God, past and present and future. It remembered God’s past provision of water from the rock during the Exodus, it thanked God for the present water in the pools, rivers, and seas, and it trusted God for future water from the upcoming rains. Life depends upon water and water depends upon God; therefore, God is the giver of life, which is what the Jews celebrated at the Feast.
Now imagine yourself there, at the water libation ceremony, and this rumored Messiah or mad man, Jesus of Nazareth, stands up and shouts that He, the carpenter’s son from Galilee, is the supreme source of life-giving water. What was Jesus saying? He was saying that He was, is, and always will be God.
Jesus was saying He is the same as the Father. He gives life to those who believe in Him (ref. 10:30, 14:9). During the Exodus from Egypt to Israel, God gave the Jews water from the rock to keep them alive, otherwise they would have perished. Jesus is that God and that Rock. Now, He offers the living water of spiritual salvation so that people will not perish but have everlasting life.
Jesus was saying He is the same as the Son, the Savior of the World. He saves those who believe in Him (ref. 3:16). The “thirst” Jesus mentions is soul thirst. J.C. Ryle described it as “anxiety of soul, conviction of sin, desire of pardon, and a longing for peace.” It is the desperate need for salvation, and Jesus’ name literally means “God saves.” This is why God sent His Son, to Israel, to the Feast, to the cross, and to the whole world.
Jesus was saying He is the same as the Spirit. And, He gives the Spirit to those who believe in Him (ref. 16:7ff). The text here does not say the Spirit is yet to exist, because the Spirit is God, and God has always existed. The Spirit was alive and well in the Old Covenant (ref. Psalm 51:1) and in the early days of the New Covenant (ref. Luke 1:15, 1:41, 2:25; John 1:32, 3:5, 3:34, etc.). Jesus was preaching evangelistically to unbelievers who had yet to receive the Spirit, because they had yet to glorify Jesus by acknowledging that He was, is, and always will be God.
You see, God has always been a single, supreme being who reveals Himself to man as a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Creation, the Father ordained it, the Son spoke it into existence, and the Spirit hovers over and maintains it. In re-creation, or salvation, the Father ordained it, the Son accomplished it, and the Spirit applies it to the human heart. The three work as one, and the three are one, and when you see, hear, or believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are receiving and putting your faith in the one, true, triune, and living God.
Jesus is God. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the Trinity, from Galilee. Only, He was not actually born in Galilee, was He?
The Division over David
Of all of the men of God in the Old Testament, only one was prophet, priest, and king. His name was David Bar-Jesse, from the tribe of Judah. He prophetically preached the word of God and penned Holy Scripture. He provided priestly intercession for the people of Israel and was privy to the sacramental bread. And, he was the second and greatest King of Israel who led them to occupy all of the promised land (which was held only during his reign and that of his son, Solomon).
So great a man after God’s own heart was David, that God promised a descendent of David’s would be the promised Prophet, Priest, and King over Israel, the people of God, forever (ref. 2 Samuel 7:16-17). Of the three major Jewish feasts — Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles — the latter was infused with the most Davidic-Messianic fever.
So after Jesus’ bold pronouncement, the people speculated and separated. Some said Jesus was “the Prophet,” which is synonymous with others’ statement that Jesus was “the Christ,” the Messiah. Others, especially the religious rulers, said Jesus was an imposter and deceiver. After all, Jesus came from Galilee, and David was clearly a Judean, born in Bethlehem and died in Jerusalem.
In reality, so was Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem (ref. Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1ff; Luke 2:1ff) and He died in Jerusalem. And He was, according to the flesh, a descendent of David (ref. Matthew 1:1; Luke 3:31).
Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Son of Man, a man named David. This makes Jesus the Messiah. This makes Jesus Lord and Savior. This makes Jesus Prophet and Priest and King. Jesus preached the God-honest truth, Jesus intercedes for sinners like you and me, and Jesus saves all those who crown Him king of their lives. But in our short lives there are small windows of opportunity to believe.
The Window of Opportunity
Jesus certainly stuck out His neck to preach the gospel at the Feast of Tabernacles. Already the plot was thick to have Him arrested and killed. It would have to thicken another six months before it could be accomplished.
Some at this Feast would not make it to the next Feast, the Passover. Some would never see, hear, or meet Jesus again. Nicodemus, the Pharisee who came to Jesus by night in the early days of Christ’s ministry, and who will appear again after His death on the cross, encouraged the leaders and the laypeople to give Jesus a hearing, now.
Thus says the Lord: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
— Isaiah 49:8
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
— 2 Corinthians 6:2
I believe in the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. I believe faith and repentance are gifts and commandments. I believe in election and evangelism.
And I believe when one hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, he or she must act with great urgency. It is a window of opportunity, and one never knows when the window will be closed. Today, you’ve attended the last day of the Feast with Jesus. There may not be another day.
Jesus Christ is either a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord. Jesus Christ is either a mere mortal man with delusions of grandeur, or He is the promised Messiah and only Savior of the world. He speaks to us today as the embodiment of God and the giver of the Spirit. Listen to Him. Believe in Him. Accept Him as the Lord and Savior of your life and it is life you will have, forever, with the Trinity from Galilee.
WHY SHOULD ANYONE BELIEVE IN JESUS?
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 12, 2020
25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? 26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? 27 But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” 28 So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” 30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” 32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. 33 Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. 34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” 35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? 36 What does he mean by saying, You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?”
— John 7:25-36, ESV
Why should anyone believe in Jesus?
This is the second negative question “The Jews,” the religious rulers of Israel, were planting in people’s brains as Jesus’ public ministry began to wind down. The plot against Him was thickening, the accusations made against Him were sickening, and the end to their means was life-threatening. “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? (vs. 25)”
The powers that be had labeled Jesus a demoniac and libeled Him as a false prophet. They did not want anyone to listen to Jesus. As the great pastor and writer Warren Wiersbe said, “It is much easier to label and libel people rather than listen to them.” This is good wisdom when it comes to listening to the Lord, and to other people as well.
They not want anyone to listen to Jesus because they did not want anyone to believe in Jesus.
Though they tried to silence Him, the Word of God would not be stopped. Thought they dissuaded people from believing in Him, the Son of God continued to preach and plant seeds of faith in His future followers. Are you listening to Jesus? Do you believe Jesus is the Christ? You should believe in Him!
Jesus is the Expected Messiah
“But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from” (vs. 27).
The religious rulers who opposed Jesus were wrong where it matters most. They were incompetent interpreters of the inerrant word of God. Therefore, they were wrong in their conclusions about the expected Messiah, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Messiah, as predicted by Old Testament prophecy, would indeed be a mystery man, but His origins and arrivals would not be unknown. He was to be born in Bethlehem (ref. Micah 5:2), raised in Nazareth (ref. Matthew 2:23), minister primarily in Galilee (ref. Isaiah 9:1-2), and in Jerusalem be crucified, resurrected, and ascended into Heaven (ref. Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Holy Scripture reveals these and hundreds of other reasons why you should believe in Him!
In these fulfillments and more, Jesus proved to be the Messiah, and the Messiah proves to be the Son of God, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” (ref. Colossians 2:9), sent to mankind. The Gospel of John will have much more to day about the deity of Christ (ref. 10:30, 14:9, all seven “I Am” statements, etc.). But Jesus clearly claimed to be the Christ, a man sent from God and God sent to man. You should believe in Him!
We all make errors in judgment, and minor mistakes can be overcome. But erroneous interpretations of Scripture lead to fatally flawed conclusions about God. The worst mistake in the world is to judge Jesus wrongly, as the Jews were doing in this text. He is the Christ, He is the Messiah, He is the man sent from God and the true and living God sent to man. You should believe in Him!
Jesus is the Incarnation of God
“And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?” (vs. 26)
“Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (vs. 31)
Jesus’ speech and signs were performed perfectly, although the religious rulers did not believe it. Recently, CNN’s Don Lemon’s claimed, “Jesus admittedly was not perfect when he was on earth.” He fits right in with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other blind guides of Jesus’ day. Idiots know no historical bounds. Jesus, however, proved the losers and the lemons wrong, by being perfect (and humble) in every way.
Jesus was perfect in speech. In His sermons He never said anything that contradicted Scripture, scientific evidence, or the right sensibilities of mankind. He was honest, He was loving, He was courageous, and He was kind. From the sermon on the mount, to these sessions at the Feast of Tabernacles, to His last Passover, Jesus spoke with the ability and authority of God. Even unbelievers marveled. You should, too, and you should believe in Him!
Jesus was perfect in power. The signs pointing to His deity were bonafide, organic, verifiable miracles that created powerful and positive changes that only God can make. He made food multiply and walked on water. He made the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. He made dead people come to life, and gave His life in death so that spiritually dead people can live forever. No one can do these things except God. Jesus is God. And you should believe in Him!
If I could speak without ever making an error, then you should believe in me and follow me and do whatever I command. But I can’t, and you shouldn’t. If Bennie Hinn would walk in here right now and take heal my myopia, my arthritis, and make my hair grow back, I would believe in him and follow him and do whatever he commands. But he can’t, so I won’t. But the Lord Jesus Christ spoke the perfect and pure word of God, and touched people with the power of God, you should believe in Him!
Jesus is the Only Way to Heaven
Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come” (vs. 33-34).
As God, Jesus is omniscient and sovereign. As Messiah, He was a gentleman, with no intention of staying where He was not wanted, nor forcing people to follow Him against their will. So before the finale of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus told His largely unbelieving audience He was leaving and going to a place where they could not come.
Jesus returned to His earthly home in Galilee, but anybody could have gone there. In a few months, He would return to Jerusalem for the Passover, the last Passover. A million or more would be there. But after that, Jesus was going to His real home, above the realm of sight, where only the faithful can follow.
In the person and work of Jesus Christ, God brought Heaven to earth for the purpose of bringing people on earth to Heaven. But “you cannot come” if you do not believe in Him. Pharisees and Sadducees do not go to Heaven. Unbelievers do not go to Heaven. Adherents of alternative or false religions other than true Christianity do not go to Heaven. Rejectors of religion altogether do not go to Heaven. Good people who ignore the good news, or gospel, of Jesus Christ do not go to Heaven. The only people who can follow Jesus into Heaven are those who follow Him on earth in true repentance and genuine faith. This is why you should believe in Him!
I know such talk sounds offensive in this enlightened age in which we live. Actually, claiming Christ’s words, “I Am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (ref. John 14:6), in any age or culture is dangerous, as it got Jesus killed in His own day. But the gospel is true, and it is the only path to walk if you want forgiveness of sins, real meaning in life, and Heaven everlasting. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is why you should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!
WHY SHOULD ANYONE LISTEN TO JESUS?
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 5, 2020
14 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. 15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” 16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” 21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
— John 7:14-24, ESV
Why should anyone listen to Jesus?
That was the question “The Jews,” the religious rulers of Israel, were putting forth to the people as Jesus’ public ministry began to wind down. It was a negative, rhetorical question lodged against the most positive rhetoric ever preached, the good news of the kingdom of God delivered by the Son of God.
Christ’s critics claimed He was no King, just a nobody from the peasant class of Galilee. They said Jesus was no Messiah, merely a megalomaniac trying to pull people away from the Jewish religious establishment. They said Jesus was not the Lord sent from Heaven, but a demon-possessed pawn in the palm of Satan.
The critics today are a little kinder. They say Jesus was a good man, but not the God man. They say He preached the truth, but the religious truths of yesterday are not practical for the prerogatives of today. They say He showed people the way to God, but today there are many ways to God of which Jesus is only one, not the only One.
So why in this present age would anyone want listen to Jesus? This passage in the Gospel of John would like to give us at least three reasons.
The Teaching of Jesus is of the Finest Quality
Teachers, preachers, and other public speakers have about thirty seconds or less to compel someone to listen to what they have to say, then about thirty minutes or less to tell them what they have to say. The ways to make first impressions and hold attention spans have changed throughout the centuries, but Jesus faced the same public pressures that preachers have faced throughout history.
How did Jesus do? It seemed people could not take their eyes, or ears, off of Him. His preaching and teaching was other-worldly, yet at the same time it contained this world’s finest intellectual, emotional, and volitional quality.
In terms of intellect, Jesus is the one man in human history who really knew everything. His perfect mind was put on display every time He preached. Even His contemporary critics marveled that Jesus had “grammata” (“learning” in vs. 15), which would have been unnatural for a mere carpenter’s son from Galilee, but not surprising for the supernatural Son of God.
In terms of emotion, Jesus preached not only from the head, but straight from the heart. His great, heart-felt messages were the only explanation for the great range of emotions that were returned to Him, either in loyalty or loathing. Passion begets passion. Jesus’ emotional range could climb to the highest form of love for God and then descend to the hottest form of indignation for the enemies of God. There was not much middle ground at the feet of Jesus.
In terms of volition, or will, God’s will was Jesus’ sole ground and goal in preaching. “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will,” He said in vs. 17, they would acquiesce to the life-changing quality of Christ’s words. This is what excellent preaching and teaching does, it informs the mind, inspires the heart, and it moves the will to conformity with God’s will. No one has ever preached or taught as perfectly as the Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, more than eleven people should have listened to Jesus then. Many more people should be listening to Him now. And we can! The Bible contains four Gospels, each Gospel contains passages which some editions color in red.
The red words cut the deepest,
The red words are the call.
The red words come from Jesus,
And they mean the most of all.
— Vince Gill, “The Red Words”
I challenge you to read the red words of Jesus, then tell me who is more intelligent than Him? I beg you to hear the words of Jesus, and tell me who loves you more than Him? I charge you to read the commandments of Jesus, and tell me who is more worthy of Him of being followed and obeyed. All people should listen to Jesus, because of the sheer quality of His words, and because they are the words of God.
But the red letters are not the only words from God. There is quality, authority, and gravity in the black letters, too.
The Teaching of Jesus is of the Highest Authority
There are two mentions of the word “authority” in this text. Also, two sources of God’s authority are revealed. One, of course, is the word of Jesus Christ, who plainly speaks with the beauty, quality, and the authority of God. The other, mentioned by Jesus, is the “law of Moses.” Here is where the black letters come into important view.
God is one, but He reveals Himself to us in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has one voice, but He channels His voice through all three persons of the Trinity. There were times, albeit rare, when God the Father spoke audibly. There was a season, of some thirty years of life which included three years of public ministry, when God spoke through the person and work of the Son, Jesus Christ. And through many years in many ways through many authors, the Holy Spirit has spoken through Holy Scripture, beginning with “the law of Moses.”
The Pentateuch (five books of Moses) is known to the Jews as the “Law.” People of faith in the Old Covenant also recognized God’s hand and authority in the “Writings” (Joshua through Song of Solomon) and the “Prophets” (Isaiah through Malachi). Early Christians received and revered the New Covenant through the writing of the “Gospels and Acts,” the “Epistles,” and the “Revelation.”
“All Scripture is breathed out by God …”
— 2 Timothy 3:16
Jesus is clearly claiming here that His spoken words and the written word of God, now known as the Bible, both carry the highest authority possible, the authority of Almighty God. When the Word of God, Jesus Christ, speaks, people should listen. When the word of God speaks, the Bible, speaks, people should listen. But, they don’t.
“Now I think I know,
What you tried to say to me.
And how you suffered for your sanity,
And how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they're not listening still,
Perhaps they never will.”
— Don McLean, “Vincent”
And this is where the controversy comes in.
The Teaching of Jesus causes the Greatest Controversy
If the teaching of Jesus and the right interpretation of Scripture is true, then the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day were wrong. He is, and they were. So, they killed Him.
Jesus scolded them for not listening to Him and for not interpreting and obeying the Bible correctly as well. The Old Testament had a lot to say about honoring the Sabbath, but Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath, the “one work” (ref. John 5:1ff) referred to in the dialogue, in no way violated the word of God. It violated some of their man-made misinterpretations and additions to the word of God.
If the teaching of Jesus and the right interpretation of Scripture is true today, then every other religion is wrong, and the whole of mainstream culture — politics, courts, media, entertainment, etc. — is going the wrong way. So, what will our present world do with Christ, and Christians? This is a fight for which you want to go down with the Lord Jesus Christ, dying to self and taking up your cross and following Him.
Remember that Jesus’ words in this text arise at the peak of His unpopularity. In six months, He will be hanging on a tree. He offered His teaching, but the people would not listen. They wanted a different kind of Messiah made in their own image. So, they used their influence to persuade people not to listen to Jesus.
The world today is doing the same thing and asking the same question. Why should anyone listen to Jesus? Why should anyone honor and obey the Holy Scriptures? Whey should we obey God, when we can all just go our own way?
“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned — every one — to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
— Isaiah 53:6
We stand today, as they did in Jesus’ day, at a great crossroad. Go your own way, listen to the sirens of the world, or listen to your own autonomous voice, take pleasure now and punishment later. Or, go the Jesus way, repent and believe, trust and obey, live your life according to the gospel and the word of God. They road you choose will determine your destiny for eternity.
“Judge with right judgment,” Jesus said. Listen to Jesus. He is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org