An election took place this past week. Voters all across the nation made up their minds about who they wanted to represent them in office. The truth of the matter is that more people didn’t vote than those who did. Right here in Oklahoma the number of people who voted in the Governor’s race was lower than any election since 1978. Was the low voter turnout due to people not having made up their minds? Was it because people just didn’t care? Was it because they didn’t think their vote would make a difference? Well, I don’t have any idea about the answer to that question. What I do know is that there were people who voted for a variety of reasons on Tuesday. Some who voted are the hard-core party faithful who vote for their party’s candidate regardless. They are rock solid in their belief in the party, but it’s a blind allegiance. Some who voted are informed voters. They took the time to study the candidates and the issues and cast their vote according to their convictions. Some who voted were civic duty voters. They’re skeptics. They’ve become jaded by politics and politicians. They really don’t have any hope that their vote will change one thing, but they are convinced that as an American citizen it is their duty to vote in every election. Other voters were young, enthusiastic idealists who believe that their generation can make a difference and their vote might be the catalyst to change. There are all kinds of voters that made their way to the ballot box this past week.
I’ve thought about all of those who voted during the last election this past week as I’ve been studying John 7:40-52. There was a huge crowd in Jerusalem who had gathered for the Feast of Tabernacles. Like those who voted in the last election, there were people who held a wide variety of opinions about Jesus. There was the group who were the hard-core party faithful. The Pharisees wouldn’t listen to Jesus even if He was God Himself! Oh, I guess He was. Well, there you go! There were others who had listened to Jesus, watched Jesus, and concluded that He was the Prophet while others said He was the Messiah. Some listened and watched Jesus; they were intrigued, but dismissed Him because He was from the wrong side of the tracks. Then there were those who heard Jesus for maybe the first time and said, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” These folks spoke up, they cast their vote in the public opinion poll about Jesus, but there were many who had traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles who were silent, their minds weren’t made up.
I believe with all of my heart that those who offered their opinions about Jesus so long ago are still with us today. Many people’s minds are made up as to who they think Jesus is…a myth, a fraud, a great teacher, the Prophet, the Messiah. Whatever opinion you held as you came to worship today, whatever conclusions you’ve arrived at, it is my hope that you will lay them all aside this morning and allow the Lord to teach you through His Word. There are also many, many folks in our society whose minds are not made up. I hope that description applies to some of you who are here with us this morning and that our time in God’s Word will help you make up your mind about Jesus. What you decide about Jesus is the most important decision you will ever make in your life. What you decide about Jesus will inform and influence every other decision you make in life. Let’s read our Scripture and see what we can learn. Turn with me in your Bible to John 7:40-52 and let’s read together.
40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. 45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” 46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied. 47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law– there is a curse on them.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (John 7:40-52 NIV)
As I said earlier, what you decide about Jesus is the most important decision you will ever make in your life. It will impact and influence every other decision you make in life. With that said, let’s take a closer look at those who offered their opinions about Jesus in our Scripture for today.
John tells us that there were some in the crowd that day that heard Jesus and concluded that He was the Prophet: Not a prophet, but the Prophet. What does that mean? Well, I’m so glad you asked. In Deuteronomy 18, Moses had promised that there would come a prophet who would be like him. If you will, turn to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 with me.
15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” 17 The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-18 NIV)
The Jews have been looking for the Prophet ever since. In Jesus’ day they were open to the possibilities that the Prophet might be among them. When John the Baptist arrived on the scene some wondered if he might be the one. In John 1:21 we read where the people were trying to figure out just who John was.
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” (John 1:21 NIV)
John made it clear to the people that he was not the one they were looking for—He was merely a voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord.
In John 6, after Jesus fed the huge crowd of more than 5,000, the people began to draw their conclusions about who He might be. We read in John 6:14,
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14 NIV)
Jesus is indeed the Prophet, not a prophet in the line of Jeremiah, Zechariah, or Isaiah, but the Prophet, the One who both embodied and uttered the very Word of God. Jesus is the Prophet, but He is more than the Prophet.
There was another group present who said, “He is the Messiah.” The Greek word for “Messiah,” is “???????” (Christos) which literally means, “anointed.” The word is often translated in the New Testament as “Christ.” Jesus is the Anointed One of God. The Jewish expectations of Messiah predate Jesus by hundreds of years. There were many different ideas about what Messiah would be like, but there was one thing in common among all of those ideas: Messiah would restore Israel. Turn with me to Isaiah 49:5-6 and let’s read together.
5 And now the LORD says– he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength– 6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:5-6 NIV)
The Jew’s idea of Messiah was partially right—God’s Messiah would be more, much more than the Jews ever dreamed or imagined. He would be the Savior, the Anointed One of God, not just for the Jews, but for all of those who believe. When you read some of the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible, like the one we just read from Isaiah, you can see that God’s Messiah would be a light not just for the Jews, but “a light for the Gentiles” and through Him, God’s “salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”
There are many prophecies of the coming Messiah in the Hebrew Bible and Jesus fulfills them all. Lee Strobel graduated from Yale Law School and ended up as the legal affairs editor for the Chicago Tribune. Lee was an atheist, but when his wife became a Christian he decided to investigate Jesus for himself. His investigation led him to fall on his knees and accept Jesus as His Savior, His Messiah. In his book, The Case for Christ, Lee interviewed Louis Lapides, a Jewish man who grew up in a conservative Jewish synagogue, but through a turn of events drifted away from Judaism because he felt disconnected with God.
Louis was in Las Vegas when he ran into a group of Christians who brought up Jesus. Louis said, “I can’t believe in Jesus. I’m Jewish.” One of the men asked Louis, “Do you know the prophecies of the Messiah?” “Prophecies? I’ve never heard of them.” The man offered Louis a Bible, but Louis refused to read the New Testament. The man said, “Fine, just read the Old Testament and ask the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to show you if Jesus is the Messiah.” Louis said, “Pretty soon I was reading the Old Testament every day and seeing one prophecy after another.” As Louis progressed through the Scriptures, he was stopped cold by Isaiah 53. With clarity and specificity, in a haunting prediction wrapped in exquisite poetry, here was the picture of a Messiah who would suffer and die for the sins of Israel and the world—all written more than seven hundred years before Jesus walked the earth. He finally began to understand the paintings he had seen in Catholic churches he had passed as a child: the suffering Jesus, the crucified Jesus, the Jesus who he now realized had been “pierced for our transgressions” as he “bore the sins of many.” (Source: Lee Strobel, The Case for the Messiah. Sermoncentral.com)
Louis Lapides accepted Jesus as the Messiah. He became a student and then a Professor of Old Testament History and New Testament Theology at Biola University. It was Louis’ study of the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah that led him to Jesus. Louis says,
There are over forty prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, and Jesus fulfilled every one. Some say this is just coincidence. But, the odds of just one person fulfilling even five of these prophesies is less than one chance in one hundred million billion–a number millions of times greater than the number of all people who have ever lived on earth. (Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ, p. 183)
Pretty slim odds huh? Some of those in the crowd were right—Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the Savior of all of those who believe.
Get Your Facts Straight
There were others in the crowd that day that had their minds made up. They thought they knew all of the facts. They knew everything there was to know about the coming Messiah and that is what led them to the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t Him. They said,
41 …Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” (John 7:41-42 NIV)
They thought Jesus was from the Galilee when in actuality He was born in Bethlehem just as the Scriptures promised Messiah would be. They had their presuppositions and presumptions about Jesus. They didn’t ask questions, they didn’t inquire from the Source, they simply drew their conclusions based on false information as to Jesus’ birthplace and they would not be convinced no matter what.
Fascinated by Jesus
There were others at the temple that day as the people were offering their opinions about Jesus. Some gathered by their own freewill. Others, the temple guards, gathered around Jesus because they were sent to arrest Him. The temple guards were not like our police force today or like the Roman soldiers. These men were Levites, trained in the Scriptures, and given the task of “policing” the temple. John doesn’t tell us that the crowd prevented them from seizing Jesus. When they returned to the Sanhedrin they were asked, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” Turn to John 7:45-46 and let’s read together.
45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” 46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied. (John 7:45-46 NIV)
What a statement! “No human being ever spoke like this man!” And they were right weren’t they. John doesn’t tell us that they became followers of Jesus. They were amazed, fascinated, but no sign, no evidence, that they followed Jesus.
The First Church of the Admirers of Jesus are still with us today are they not? They are people who speak highly of Jesus, people who can repeat some of the things Jesus may have said, and people who might even pray when they find themselves in a pinch, but they’re not followers of Jesus. There’s a big difference between being an admirer of Jesus and a follower of Jesus. It’s kind of like the fable of the chicken and the pig. Do you remember the story? The chicken and pig were talking one day about opening a restaurant. The pig asked the chicken what they might serve on the menu? The chicken said, “How about bacon and eggs?” The pig said, “No way! I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.” Jesus isn’t looking for admirers, He’s looking for followers.
Another group who was at the temple were the ever-present members of the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the chief priests. These guys never cease to amaze me. There’s also nobody that serves as such a powerful reminder to me, and hopefully to you, that we should always be teachable. When we come to the point that we are unwilling to learn then we are in trouble. As I said, nobody knew Scripture better than the Pharisees and yet Jesus said,
39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40 NIV)
The descendants of the Pharisees are still with us. They are those who have their minds made up about Jesus and they will never budge regardless of the evidence. They will dismiss anything and everything that doesn’t fit into their understanding of Jesus.
I’m really fascinated by people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. They are highly respected in their fields of evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and journalism, but they are fixated on others not believing in God. Their most popular books have titles like, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” “The God Delusion,” and “The End of Faith.” These men are like the Pharisees in that if Jesus Himself walked up to them and introduced Himself, they wouldn’t believe.
We’ve spent a lot of time this morning talking about the kinds of folks who offered their opinion about Jesus in His day. Hopefully, you’ve also come to realize that those same folks are still with us today. Maybe you came here this morning with hard core beliefs one way or the other. I hope you’ve taken a step back and allowed the Lord to reveal some things to you today. I’m not just thinking about those who are skeptics or critics of Jesus, I’m also thinking of some folks who are Christians with hard core beliefs, but if you followed them around you’d never guess that they are followers of Jesus. Their connection to Jesus is merely theology and doctrine and not a surrendered life. If this describes you then I hope that this morning the Lord has revealed to you that the first order of business this morning is surrender. Ask the Lord to give you a burning passion to live for Him in everything you do. Arthur Pink once said, “Unless our hearts are affected and our lives molded by God’s Word, we are no better off than a starving man with a cook book in his hand.” Having correct doctrine, intellectual belief in Jesus without surrendering to Him and living for Him is empty faith.
There may be some of you here this morning who are indeed skeptics and cynics, even atheists or agnostics. I want you to know how glad I am that you are here. I hope you came with an open mind and that the Lord opened your eyes to the glory and grandeur of our great Savior this morning. There are many ideas about Jesus in our society today. You can be led to believe just about anything by listening to people on TV today. Was Jesus just a myth? A fraud? A Jewish revolutionary? A teacher? A martyr-style leader? You can even listen to preachers and be led to believe some crazy things about Jesus. You and I have to stick to the Book. We must go to the source to really learn what Jesus said about Himself. What He said and the question He puts before you and me this morning is this: Do you believe that Jesus is the long expected Messiah of God, the Savior of all who will believe?
Michka Assayas is not a follower of Jesus. He is a French author and music journalist. Over the course of several years he and Bono, the lead singer for U2, had conversations that eventually resulted in a book called, “Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas.” At one point in the conversation Michka asked Bono some questions about his faith. Bono spoke freely about Jesus and the marvel of God’s grace demonstrated in Jesus’ dying on the cross for our sins. Michka said, “That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?” Bono said,
No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was, the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. . . . I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched. (Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas [New York: Penguin Books, 2005], p. 227).
Bono is exactly right. You’ve got to make up your mind. I’ve got to make up my mind. Who is this Jesus? Won’t you confess that He is the Messiah this morning and ask Him to come in and be your Lord and Savior?