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. – John 7:40-43 (ESV)
One of the issues that plagues the church today is the divisions and wounds that occur due to God’s people quickly making judgements and assumptions of one another. It is grievous at how often God’s people assume the worst of each other. With social media and the internet this scenario plays out in front of many eyes and does great harm not just to the church but it also jades the watching world’s view of those who profess to love Jesus. There have been more times than I can count where I have witnessed a follower of Christ use their online platform to “righteously” hurl stones at another christian, oftentimes misinterpreting what the other person did or said or misapplying biblical passages to justify their own opinions. These scenarios also play out within the less visible context of a local church where assumptions and judgements devolve into slander, gossip, and avoiding those who we are called to love and bear with.
The account recorded in John chapter 7 gives us some great insight into the dangers of jumping to conclusions about others and serves as a reminder of how misguided our perceptions of others can be.
We see in this passage that there are some people who are convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. However, others object, and use the scriptures to justify their opinion.
The objectors argue that the scriptures said that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, and because Jesus had come from Galilee he could not be the Messiah. The result of their argument was that the people were divided. Interestingly, no one asked Jesus if he had any connection to Bethlehem or if he was a descendant of David. They just assumed and jumped to a conclusion that fit with their own narrative which was likely influenced by their own subjective prejudices.
If Jesus had been asked, He could have easily addressed their concerns. They did not ask, so He remained silent. It is important to recognize that Jesus did not have a problem answering questions or clarifying concerns when people came to him. However, Jesus didn’t pursue others for the purpose of defending Himself.
It is also alarming that those who appealed to Scripture misinterpreted what it actually stated. The Bible does not say the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. It says He would be born in Bethlehem. Jesus grew up in Galilee but He was not born there.
They rushed to make a judgment, and in doing so came to a wrong conclusion.
Nicodemus gives us a great example of how we should respond to another believer when we may have concerns about what they are saying or doing. Nicodemus confronts the danger of quickly judging without knowing all the information in John 7:50-52.
Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” ~ John 7:50-52
Nicodemus is the voice of reason. He is saying, before we make a judgment, why not ask Jesus where He is from and His relationship to the Davidic line?
The closed-mindedness of the Pharisees is put on full display as they rebuff his advice. Interestingly the Pharisees were also wrong in saying that a prophet cannot come from Galilee as the prophet Jonah was from Galilee. Considering that these were the religious elite who prided themselves on their knowledge and understanding of the scriptures should be a warning for us today. They were closed to the idea of asking Jesus to clarify and instead stood by their wrong assumptions including misapplying scriptures to justify their opinion.
Based on what we see in this passage, here are some important takeaways for us:
- When you witness people arguing over doctrine and using the Bible in order to disqualify the other person or their doctrinal beliefs, do not assume that just because they use God’s Word they have all the facts. They may very well be misapplying the Bible or misinterpreting it.
- When a person speaks truth, some will reject and attack it (and the truth-bearer), and will even misuse the Bible to justify themselves. Be aware that this does happen even amongst those who profess to be followers of Jesus.
- Jesus demonstrates that when attacked it is best to not defend oneself. If asked or confronted, then answer. But if not, remain silent and let people live with their misconceptions. Trust God to sort it all out. (This is much easier said than done!)
- Being highly critical or making judgements based on assumptions of other believers results in God’s people being divided. We must guard against this type of behavior.
- Often no one goes to the person who is being criticized or misunderstood. Instead people make assumptions and jump to conclusions. Break this cycle by seeking the truth and going to the person directly.
We need to be a people who are peacemakers. Part of being a peacemaker is giving the other person the benefit of the doubt and ensuring you know the facts before making a judgment. There will be times when even after knowing the facts you still disagree but that does not mean it needs to be a point of division. We need to be careful to not major on minor issues. This is especially true when it comes to doctrinal issues. Fixating on minor doctrinal issues has caused much harm in advancing the Kingdom of God. Church history is littered with divisions over minor doctrinal differences that damaged the testimony of the church and disrupted the church’s God given mission. At the end of the day our goal should always be to seek the truth and we can only do that when we are fixated on the one who is the Way, The Truth, and the Life, our great King, Jesus.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)
Written By Sam McKeen