What I want to do in this message is give a quick overview of the double division that happens in response to Jesus in John 7:40–52, and then focus on the words of verse 46, “No one ever spoke like this man!” and then, with the help of Bono and C.S. Lewis, show why the portrait of Jesus in the Gospels is so offensive and so compelling. And all of this in the hope that many of you will climb down off the fence of your wavering, and give yourself totally to Jesus.
A Double Division
So first, the double division: the division of verses 40–44 and the division of verses 47–52. In verses 40–44, we see that in the crowds there is a threefold division.
Verse 40: “Some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet’” — referring back to Deuteronomy 18:15 that in the last days, God would raise up a prophet like Moses.
Then in verse 41: “Others said, ‘This is the Christ’” — that is, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.
Then in verses 41–42, others didn’t see how he could be the Messiah because they thought he was from Galilee and didn’t know he was born in Bethlehem. “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 verses 43–44 it sums up: “So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.” This is the way it happened in Jesus’s lifetime on earth, and it’s the way it keeps happening wherever he is presented faithfully today. Pray that in this very moment you won’t be on the wrong side of this division.
The Officers’ Report: No One Speaks Like Jesus
Then in verse 45, the officers whom the chief priests and Pharisees had sent to arrest Jesus returned empty handed. “The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why did you not bring him?’” This is the hinge of the text; it divides the double division in the text. Verse 46 says, “The officers answered, ‘No one ever spoke like this man!’”
Of all the things they might have said about the volatile situation in the crowds and how an arrest might have caused a riot and gotten the Pharisees in big trouble, they did not cover their backsides that way. They said: “No one ever spoke like this man.”
This is the fulcrum of the text: this fact — the uniqueness of Jesus in the world — causes a double division. We’ve seen the first division: the crowds have splintered into three different views about Jesus. Now comes a second division, this time defined by the Pharisees — only this time, there is an intensification because the Pharisees give their diagnosis for each of the three positions. And every time they give the diagnosis of what they think is a false view of Jesus, they dig a hole deeper and deeper for themselves and their own blindness.
The Pharisaical Diagnosis: Everyone Else Is Wrong
First, they say the officers are deceived. Verses 47–48: “The Pharisees answered them [the empty-handed officers], ‘Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?” So the officers have a positive impression of Jesus, and the Pharisees explain it away as deception. But who is really deceived?
Second, the crowds are cursed. Verse 49: “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” The crowds are in a confusion about Jesus not only because they don’t know the law, but because they are under God’s curse, so they say. This is astonishing. They write off the whole Jewish populace as missing the law, and put themselves forward as the non-cursed who get the law right. But who is really cursed here?
Third, Nicodemus, they think, is blinded by his bias. Nicodemus was himself a Pharisee, and had come to Jesus at night back in John 3, and had been told he needed to be born again. He gives a word of caution. Verse 51: “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” And to this word of justice and caution his fellow Pharisees accuse him of bias. Verse 52: “They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.’”
Rather than be open to Nicodemus’s concern to know the facts before they condemn Jesus, they say, in essence, the only reason you would want to give him that kind of chance is that you’re part of his clan — you Galileans must all hang together.
Tables Turned: The Pharisees Are Deceived, Cursed, and Biased
So the officers are blinded by deception. The crowds are blinded by a curse. And Nicodemus is blinded by his Galilean bias. But John means for us to see that in fact the tables are totally turned. All of these indictments are going to show the Pharisees themselves to be the really deceived, cursed, and biased ones.
“No one ever spoke like Jesus.”
And at the center of all this division and condemnation is Jesus and the words, “No one ever spoke like this man.” That’s the hinge and the fulcrum of this passage. John means for us to see that it is this uniqueness of Jesus in the world that is causing all the divisions and all the recrimination.
Jesus’s Division-Causing, Utter Uniqueness
When Jesus was born, the old man Simeon said to his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (Luke 2:34). And Jesus confirmed this destiny when he said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). And he meant just what we are seeing in this text. It was his utter uniqueness that was causing this division. No one ever spoke like this man.
What did the empty-handed officers have in mind when they said that? What should we have in mind? Well, the last thing Jesus had said before they returned empty-handed to the Pharisees was in verses 37–38, “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.’” What kind of human being talks like that? Come to me and drink. And if you do, rivers of living water will flow from your heart.
It seems to me, therefore, that the kind of thing John wants us to have in mind when we say, “No one ever spoke like this man,” is the breathtaking claims Jesus made about himself. It wasn’t only or mainly his wisdom or his intelligence or his forcefulness or meekness or courage or clarity. It was the over-the-top claims he made about himself. No man ever talked like that!
Eight of Jesus’s Spectacular Claims
Let me give you eight examples of Jesus’s spectacular claims from this Gospel. And we could give more. No one ever spoke like this.
1. He claims to be God.
I am telling you this now [Judas’s betrayal], before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. (John 13:19)
Literally, “that I am.” I tell you the future to show you that I am the incarnation of Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament who identifies himself in Exodus 3:14 as “I am.” “Tell them ‘I AM’ sent you.” Or as he says in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”
2. He claims to exist before he was born.
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
Not only does he claim to have existed before he was born, but that he existed as “I am.” He is Yahweh.
3. In this deity, he claims to have come as a shepherd to die for his sheep.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:10–11)
He claimed his death would be the key to the eternal life of his sheep.
4. He claims to be the only way to God.
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
“If we don’t believe in Jesus, we remain in darkness — forever.”
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)
The way, the truth, the life, the light. If we don’t believe on him, he says, we “remain in darkness” (John 12:46) — forever (John 5:29; Matthew 18:8 25:42, 46).
5. He claims to be the bread and water that impart eternal life.
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27–28)
6. He claims that we can do nothing without him.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. . . . I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1, 5)
7. He claims to be the one who raises people from the dead at the end of history.
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. (John 11:25)
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40)
8. He claims to be the supreme glory that will satisfy us forever in the age to come.
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)
And of course these are just a few from the Gospel of John. There are many more here, and many more in the other three Gospels — like claiming to forgive sin, and return to earth in glory, and fulfill the whole law. But we turn now to draw out some implications of the fact that “no one ever spoke like this man.”
Listening to Lewis
I want you to listen to C.S. Lewis and Bono. You’ll see why. Lewis is famous from this quote about how you simply can’t have Jesus as a great moral teacher while rejecting him as God:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Mere Christianity, 55–56)
In other words, the way Jesus spoke — like no one else ever spoke — makes it irrational to speak nice things about him while rejecting his deity. He was not nice, if he wasn’t God.
Listening to Bono
C.S. Lewis’s fellow-Irishman, Paul David Hewson, otherwise known as Bono of the rock band U2, seems to have read Lewis and been persuaded. A few days after the Madrid terrorist bombing in 2004, Bono did an interview with a French journalist named Michka Assayas. When the subject of religion came up as the cause of terrorism, Bono turned the conversation to Christianity and the theme of grace.
When Bono said, “It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven,” the journalist replied,
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’s answer is really quite remarkable, and makes Lewis’s point again, only perhaps more forcefully for our day in view of who he is and the context where he said it. Isn’t all that “Son of God” talk farfetched?
“Believing on Jesus means more than being persuaded that he is God.”
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, 227)
Is Bono born again? I don’t know. If he’s not, I pray that he would be. And I call attention to my uncertainty because I want to make sure something is clear: It is possible to be persuaded by the logic of Lewis and Bono and not be saved — not be born again and have eternal life.
More Than Being Persuaded He Is God
Which brings us back to our text and last week’s message. The last thing the empty-handed officers heard Jesus say, before they said, “No one ever spoke like this man,” was this: “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’” (John 7:37–38).
In other words, believing on Jesus, means more than being persuaded that he is God. The devil is totally persuaded by Lewis and Bono. But believing on Jesus means coming to him to drink. That is, if you and I and Lewis and Bono are going to have eternal life, we must come to Jesus as our supreme and all-satisfying Treasure. Our thirst-quenching Water, our hunger-stilling Bread, our ever-guiding, all-illumining Light, our infinitely precious substitute, sacrificed Lamb of God.
No man ever spoke like this man. He is true. He is who he said he was. But don’t leave it at that. Come, eat, drink, trust, find in him eternal joy.