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Nobody Ever Spoke Like the Incarnate Word

November 17, 2013 Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John

Passage: John 7:40–7:52

Sermon from John 7:40-52 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, November 17, 2013

The apostle John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has already prepared us in his Gospel for the circumstances we encounter in verses 40-52. This is the second time in chapter 7 where John reflects more extensively on the response of the crowd to Jesus’ teaching and the authorities’ mission to arrest Jesus because of his teaching. Earlier in chapter 7, Jesus teaches in the middle of the Feast, and John tells us it divides the people (7:14-24). Some are impressed with his miracles, but others, not so much; and they just debate with each other over who they think Jesus really is (7:25-31). All the while, the Pharisees commission their officers to arrest him (7:32).

We observe the same sorts of reactions in our passage this morning. It’s now the end of the Feast (7:37). Jesus has just finished teaching that he will give the Spirit to anybody that believes in him—that if your soul thirsts and you come to Jesus for drink, then “Out of your heart will flow rivers of living water” (7:38-39). And now, for a second time in chapter 7, we get a snapshot of the people’s reaction to Jesus’ words and the authorities’ mission to have Jesus arrested (7:40-52). The picture is the same as before: we see a divided crowd over whether Jesus is the Christ and hostile authorities who want this man arrested. The one thing that’s different is that now even some of the Jewish authorities begin to waffle in their convictions based on what they observe about Jesus.

Read with me, starting in verse 44: “Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers [the same guys sent by the chief priests and Pharisees back in verse 32] then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why did you not bring him?’ The officers answered, ‘No one ever spoke like this man!’” Isn’t that amazing? They say nothing of the crowd and their debating, nothing of anyone trying to stop them, nothing of a potential riot their actions might have caused. They only answer with how Jesus’ words affected them—“No one ever spoke like this man!”

Main Thrust: “No one ever spoke like this man”

I think this whole passage hinges on that statement—“no one ever spoke like this man”—so that what you have are two accounts of division over Jesus—one among the crowd and another among the authorities—with this statement stuck in the middle. And the point, I think, is this: the problem underlying the division among the people and the problem underlying the hostility of the authorities are the same problem, namely, they think Jesus speaks merely as a man instead of the incarnate Word. Now the officials who make that claim in verse 46 don’t get the full picture of Jesus either, but that’s part of John’s irony: they speak better than they know. These guys go to arrest Jesus, they hear him teach, they return without him. Why? “No one ever spoke like this man,” the point being “Precisely, because he’s not a mere man!”

Anybody reading John’s Gospel already knows that Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. He was in the beginning with God, was himself God, and through whom the entire universe came into being, John tells us in 1:1-2. And this divine Word, who eternally existed in glory with his Father (1:1), left glory (17:1-5), became one of us, in order to reveal to us the God we forsook and refused to know (1:14). According to John, if you want to know God, look at Jesus, because that’s who he is (1:18).

Jesus’ Spectacular Claims in John 1-7

Have you ever just stopped and considered some of the claims Jesus makes? The officials are right that “no one ever spoke like this man,” because he’s so much more than just a man. Let me just give you a sampling of Jesus’ claims from where we’ve been in John to this point. Jesus claims to know us exhaustively. He knows where we are and what we’re doing at all times, just as he did with Nathaniel in 1:48—“Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Jesus knows the state of our hearts—“[Nicodemus], you must be born again (3:7). Jesus knows the history of our sins—“You’re right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you’ve had five, and the one you now have is not your husband.” Jesus knows when we have a grumbling spirit or when murderous intentions arise within our soul, even as he called out the disciples in 6:61 and the Jews in 7:19. Jesus claims to know us exhaustively.

Jesus also claims to reveal God directly. Whenever he opens his mouth, divine revelation is coming out. He told the Jews at the Feast, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” And this is very much like what he’ll tell this same crowd in chapter 8, “I speak just as the Father taught me” or “[I tell] you the truth that I heard from God.” John interprets that to mean this in 3:33-34: “Whoever receives [Jesus’] testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God.” To receive Jesus’ testimony is to receive God’s testimony.

Jesus also claims that he is God and worthy of honor. Whenever he’s debating with the Jews about the Sabbath in chapter 5, he says, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” And the authorities get steamed because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” And it’s not too much further before Jesus tells them that part of God’s plan is that “all may honor [him] the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” Talk about a claim! That’s blasphemy, unless you’re truly God. C. S. Lewis is very helpful here: for a man to say he’s equal with God and worthy of worship either means he’s a lunatic, the devil himself, or truly God.

Jesus claims he is the final judge and life-giver. He tells the Jews he has authority to execute judgment and will raise all who are in the tombs with a word from his mouth (5:27-29). Jesus claims to be the bread from heaven that gives life to the world (6:51). He claims that his words alone truly satisfy the thirsty soul (4:1-11), that his words bring true healing to the whole person (4:53; 5:8), that his words gladden the heart when embraced (6:20-21), and that his words impart life where there is death inside (6:63, 68). And we haven’t even touched passages like “I am the way, the truth, and the life, nobody comes to the Father except through me” (14:6), or “Before Abraham was, I am,” or from Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus has authority to forgive sins (Matt 9:6).

The officials in verse 46 are right to observe that “nobody ever spoke like this man.” Jesus speaks as no ordinary man; he speaks as the incarnate Word, as God’s own self-revelation. John is telling us that when you don’t treasure that about Jesus—when your heart doesn’t worship that about Jesus—two very dangerous things happen, and we see them unfold with the Jews in our passage.

Danger 1: Speculating about Jesus instead of Drinking from Him

First of all, you’ll let earthly speculation keep you from coming to Jesus for eternal life—for true spiritual drink. When we come to verse 40, nobody’s casting themselves at the feet of Jesus, asking him for true spiritual drink, even though he’s just invited them to come and drink from the Fountain of Living Water. He just promised that should any one of them come to him, trusting that he is who he says he is, then he would give them what their own Bibles have for centuries told them they’ve needed—a new heart full, not of rebellion and death and covenant unfaithfulness, but of eternal life, of living water gushing from their innermost being like it will gush from the temple in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

But nobody’s coming to him for drink in verse 40. They’re still debating whether he fits into their mold. Read it with me: “When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ So there was a division among the people over him.” Now, it may very well be the case that John is using a bit more irony, here. That is to say, the people are arguing over whether Jesus is the Prophet or the Christ, and John’s smiling in the background saying he’s both the Prophet and the Christ. But I think John’s focus is on something else underlying all three of their comments.

The reason they’re debating over Jesus instead of coming to Jesus is that their concerns merely revolve around Jesus’ earthly origin despite the fact that he’s been telling them of his heavenly one. They’re wracking their brains, trying to fit Jesus into their traditional little molds of what the messiah should be, and he keeps blowing them up. They’re centering everything on genealogy and geography, and Jesus is telling them their categories are insufficient if they want to know him truly. Yes, yes, the offspring of David is definitely true; but they miss him altogether if they do not see that his Father is God. Even Matthew’s Gospel, which is very much centered on revealing Jesus as the “Son of David” (Matt 1:1), doesn’t waste any time before telling us the Christ-child is Immanuel, meaning, “God with us.” John’s concerns are the same, but even more so.

In fact, even when Jesus has great opportunity to inform them of his earthly origins when that question was raised already in verse 27, Jesus refuses and tells them of his heavenly origins instead. They say, “We know where this man comes from,” meaning Galilee; and all Jesus had to do is show them Isa 9:1-3: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light…” It’s true that he fulfills that text—Matt 4:15-16 tell us he does—but he doesn’t take them there. He centers them on his heavenly origins: “I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me” (7:28-29). He does the same thing in chapter 6. They say, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” (6:42). And what is Jesus’ answer there? Not, “Let me show you Joseph’s lineage back through David, etc.”—though that would be absolutely fine—but “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (6:51). That’s what John wants us to see about Jesus.

Again and again, John’s emphasis stays on Jesus’ heavenly origin. And his point is that when you miss his heavenly origin—when you miss that he’s been sent from the Father—you’ll resort only to pious-sounding speculation about him without ever coming to him for drink. And that’s a dangerous place to be. It’s dangerous because your soul will never draw from the wells of salvation. Unless you trust that Jesus himself is God and was sent from God to save you, you will never enjoy life in the kingdom with God. You will never taste the sweetness of what it’s like to have all your sins forgiven. You will never know what it means to live in peaceful fellowship with your Maker. You will never experience his word gladden your heart as the Spirit bears witness with your spirit that you are a child of God. Instead, you will find yourself empty, always thirsting but never satisfied, always seeking life in the world but only finding death; and God will finally condemn you on the Last Day for siding with the world that refuses to know their Maker (1:10). So that’s one danger we see here: when you don’t treasure Jesus as the Incarnate Word of God, sent from the Father, your heart will fill up with empty speculation instead of running to him for true spiritual drink.

But Written for Your Belief

But these words are written so that you might believe (20:30-31). This little snapshot of division among the crowd is to keep you from being divided in your heart over Jesus. It’s meant to draw your ear into the Gospel so that you say as well, “This man must really have something to say.” Not everybody in this Gospel remains in unbelief, remains in their speculation. Some of them drink the waters of life in Christ. For example, consider 1:11-12: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (see also 3:19-21; 6:41-69). So, some speculate while others believe, trust, treasure. Where are you this morning? The real danger is that you would believe your own earthly speculations over God’s words in Christ. Open your ear to him and see, “Nobody ever spoke like this man,” because he is God who has come for your rescue.

Danger 2: Self-Righteous Pride Blinds to the Curse-bearer

A second danger is this: your self-righteous pride will blind you to Jesus as your curse-bearer. When I say “self-righteous pride,” I have in mind that state of being in which someone flatters himself to think he measures up to God’s law, and he does so to such a degree that he even grows smugly intolerant of everybody else. It’s the kind of pride that’s often characteristic of the Pharisees, who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt, Luke 18:9 tells us. That same self-righteous pride is present in our passage; and we see it very plainly in the Pharisees. Verse 45: “‘Why did you not bring him?’ The officers answered, ‘No one ever spoke like this man!’ The Pharisees answered them, ‘Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.’”

You see what they’re doing? They’re elevating themselves as the ultimate measure of what the law does and does not say, and anybody who remotely crosses their interpretation of the law—like some in this crowd actually toying with whether this man could be the Christ—is accursed. This is self-righteous pride to the core—no rivers of living water coming out of their hearts; just a dry desert of religious pride. And the extent of their pride becomes even sharper when they indict the crowd as being “accursed.” That is way more than a bully on the playground doing some name-calling. It is some of the strongest language known to the Bible. To be accursed in Israel was to be cut off from all the privileges of God’s covenant people. More than that, it meant God was your enemy.

Deuteronomy 28:15-20 gives us the picture: “If you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments, then all these curses…shall overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me [the Lord].” Translation: in the Pharisees’ mind, the crowd is damned—they don’t know the law; therefore, they cannot keep the law; therefore, they are accursed.

O but not the Pharisees, right? They are the pure stock in Israel. They know the law frontwards and backwards. They wouldn’t miss their messiah. They search the Scriptures because they think that in them they have eternal life (5:39). They will know their messiah when he comes. “But this guy from Galilee? What-ever!” Then enters Nicodemus, and get what he says—the irony’s about to get really thick. Verse 51, “Does our law [Yes, the same law we’re all bragging about knowing and keeping so well.] judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” Ooof…he’s right. Several places in Deuteronomy show the people were to judge a man righteously, without partiality. They were to hear the small and the great alike (Deut 1:16-17; 17:4). It would seem that Nicodemus even modeled that practice himself when he went by night in chapter 3 to give Jesus a fair hearing. And now he’s just throwing the question out on the table for their consideration.

Okay, you know one of those situations when you’re on a team of folks and you’re all trying to dupe the opponents so that you can win something, and then one of your own teammates pipes up with a comment that totally ruins the whole agenda. Everybody’s just like “Aaah-man, you ruined it!” Okay, this situation is worse. It’s worse, because without missing a beat, the Pharisees accuse Nicodemus prejudice and favoritism. All he did was speak the truth from their own law, and they respond with “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” They totally blow him off: “Go home and read your Bible Nicodemus.”

Now the irony gets thick, doesn’t it? You tell me, is it just the crowd that’s accursed? No, it’s not just the crowd. The Pharisees are accursed and they’re totally oblivious to it. They think they know and keep the law so well, and Nicodemus’ comment just exposed the truth. They’re not about the justice of God’s law. They practice injustice when it comes to evaluating Jesus. More than that, we’ve already seen twice that they’re hearts are filled with murder toward him, a violation of the sixth commandment. The covenant curses I read off a bit earlier belong to the Pharisees as well, if not more so.

And really, if we use John’s assessment of the situation, the one who’s truly accursed is ultimately the one who reads the Law as an end in itself instead of reading it in light of the gospel. As he says in 1:17, “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” It’s the person who does not receive Jesus’ words for eternal life that’s accursed and cut off from the blessings of God’s promises. In 5:45-47, Jesus tells them straight up, “There’s one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” Moses accuses them before God for not believing on Jesus; the Law itself curses them. It’s the person who rejects Jesus, the Incarnate Word sent from the Father, who sits under the curse of God’s fierce wrath. 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

That’s John’s assessment of the situation: everybody in the world is accursed who does not trust and follow Jesus as the Christ. But the Pharisees don’t see this about themselves; they’re blinded by their self-righteous pride. They each need a new heart, which humbly admits its guilt under the law, and then new eyes that see Jesus as the one who came from heaven to bear the curse they deserved.

Jesus, Our Curse-Bearer & Spirit-Winner

Like the Pharisees, we needed the same, we needed a curse-bearer, one who takes away our curse for breaking God’s law, one who can forgive our sins, take away our guilt, remove our deserved wrath, and give us a right standing with God forever. Paul tells us in Gal 3 that Jesus is that curse bearer. He says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” [Deut 21:23].” And get this too, since Jesus mentioned the Spirit back in verses 38-39, Jesus did all that curse-removing work, “so that in [him] the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:13-14).

So Jesus takes care of both our problems—the curse and the speculation. He removes the curse through his death on the cross—so that we bear it no more—and he gives us the Spirit so that we’re not speculating anymore, we’re drinking from his fountain with delight. His words taste good, all of a sudden. His teaching gives us life. His cross reminds us that our curse is gone, and God is no longer angry with us, but for us in every way. His ways set the agenda for our days. His warnings keep us humble. His promises are pulling us to the finish line of glory. We want as much of his living water as we can get—“Fill up my cup again Jesus, I need it this morning!”

Again, Written for Your Belief

Ask yourself, “Is that how you respond to Jesus?” because this is who he is for us, people! He is our curse-bearer; he is our life-giver; he is our God who came down! “No one ever spoke like this man,” but that’s because he was more than a man for your sake! John hasn’t included us in all the debate and speculation about Jesus in Jerusalem just to leave us with the fact it happened; he includes us because he has an agenda, which he reveals very clearly in 20:31: “these [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” That’s his agenda—that’s the Holy Spirit’s agenda—when we read a passage like this: life in his name, life! So, “How are you responding to Jesus?”

Do you see him as your curse-bearer, or is your self-righteous pride blinding you to your need for a curse-bearer? Do you come to him for spiritual refreshment and renewal of your innermost being, or do you speculate whether the world offers something more satisfying than the Incarnate Word? Don’t let your earthly speculations or your self-righteous pride lead you away from the Incarnate Word. It’s eternally too dangerous. Turn away from your sins; come to Jesus; and gain true life with God.

And I mean that for everybody in this room, not just the unbeliever. Your self-righteousness likely just evidenced itself if you ignored my exhortation as if it wasn’t for you, but for someone else who really needs to turn away from their sins and come to Jesus. Have you sinned this week? Has the thrill of your heart been the glory of God this week? How did last week’s sermon on God’s purpose in the suffering of his people lead you to lay down your life for someone else’s eternal good? How did Jesus’ call to come and die last Sunday transform your living on Monday or empower your prayers on Tuesday? What caused you more grief last Sunday, identification with the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters or the length of the members meeting? What was easier to pick up this week, your Bible or the remote, your prayer journal or your iPhone? What’s been easier to criticize for you, the precious, blood-bought church of God, or your own lack of service in building her up?

Truth be told, our faith that Jesus is the Christ is not always as resolved as it should be. Speculation about Christ still raises its head, at least when we toy with other saviors that may bring us more comfort than Christ, more power than Christ, more life in this world than Christ, more joy than Christ. And our self-righteous pride is relentless as we carry high opinions about ourselves, and compare ourselves with others instead of Christ, or we indict others for not measuring up to expectations we’ve created. Does it not stand the cross upside down to say Christ took away our curse so that we can pompously curse others? And yet some of us feed on cursing others, instead of drinking from Christ. Does not the cross teach us a different way, that since Christ showed mercy, patience, and self-less love in bearing our curse, we can show the same toward others?

In some measure, we all need to turn away from our sin and come to Jesus for life. We all need to test ourselves, to see how we’re responding to Christ, to see whether we truly believe in him and find in him everything we need for life. If he really is who he says he is, God in the flesh who came to deliver us from the awful curse and fill us with an amazing Spirit, then how could we respond with anything less than giving ourselves over entirely to his worship and his rule and his mission and his love with every breath he gives us? And why, if he stands ready to nourish us with eternal life, would we not run to him moment by moment for drink as we seek to serve him?

Wherever you’re at this morning, Jesus stands ready to have you again. His words to the Jews are also words for us: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” It’s true, “No one ever spoke like this man,” but he came and spoke this way for your eternal joy in God. Come and drink.