Jesus told Thomas “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He later told Pilate “For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice” (John 18:37). So what is the truth? Is it the same as popular thinking or belief? How do we testify to the truth?
God truly works in mysterious ways. Sometimes it is hard to believe who He uses to testify to the truth. Let us take a look at John 7:45-53 to have a better idea of what I mean: “45 Then the officers returned to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring Him in?” 46 “Never has anyone spoken like this man!” the officers answered. 47 “Have you also been deceived?” replied the Pharisees. 48 “Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed in Him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the Law, they are under a curse.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier, and who himself was one of them, asked, 51 “Does our Law convict a man without first hearing from him to determine what he has done?” 52 “Aren’t you also from Galilee?” they replied, “Look into it and you will see that no prophet comes out of Galilee.” 53 Then each went to his own home.”
The chief priests and Pharisees are here in a conspiracy, contriving how to suppress Christ; though this was the great day of the feast, they attended not the religious services of the day, but left them to the common people, while they thought themselves better employed in the affairs of church-policy. They sat in the council-chamber, expecting Christ to be brought a prisoner to them, as they had issued out warrants for apprehending him, v. 32. Now here we are told,
I. What passed between them and their own officers, who returned without him. Observe,
1. The reproof they gave the officers for not executing the warrant they gave them: Why have you not brought him? He appeared publicly; the people were many of them disgusted, and would have assisted them in taking him; this was the last day of the feast, and they would not have such another opportunity; “why then did you neglect your duty?’ It vexed them that their subordinates, who depended on them, into whose minds they had instilled prejudices against Christ, should thus disappoint them. Note, Mischievous men fret that they cannot do the mischief they would, Ps. 112:10; Neh. 6:16.
2. The reason which the officers gave for the non-execution of their warrant: Never man spoke like this man, v. 46. Now,
(1.) This was a very great truth, that never any man spoke with that wisdom, and power, and grace, that convincing clearness, and that charming sweetness, wherewith Christ spoke; none of the prophets, no, not even Moses himself.
(2.) The very officers that were sent to take him were taken with him, and acknowledged this. Though they were probably men who had no quick sense of reason or eloquence, and certainly had no inclination to think well of Jesus, yet so much self-evidence was there in what Christ said that they could not but prefer him before all those that sat in Moses’s seat. Thus Christ was preserved by the power God has upon the consciences even of bad men.
(3.) They said this to their lords and masters, who could not endure to hear any thing that tended to the honour of Christ and yet could not avoid hearing this. Their own officers, who could not be suspected to be biassed in favour of Christ, are witnesses against them. This testimony of theirs should have made them reflect upon themselves, with this thought, “Do we know what we are doing, when we are hating and persecuting one that speaks so admirably well?”
3. The Pharisees endeavour to secure their officers to their interest, and to beget in them prejudices against Christ, to whom they saw them begin to be well affected. They suggest two things:-
(1.) That if they embrace the gospel of Christ they will deceive themselves (v. 47): Are you also deceived? Christianity has, from its first rise, been represented to the world as a great cheat upon it, and they that embraced it as men deceived. Those that looked for a Messiah in external pomp thought those deceived who believed in a Messiah that appeared in poverty and disgrace; but the event declares that none were ever more shamefully deceived, nor put a greater cheat upon themselves, than those who promised themselves worldly wealth and secular dominion with the Messiah.
(2.) That they will disparage themselves. Most men, even in their religion, are willing to be governed by the example of those of the first rank; these officers therefore, whose preferments, such as they were, gave them a sense of honour, are desired to consider,
[1.] That, if they become disciples of Christ, they go contrary to those who were persons of quality and reputation: “Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on him? You know they have not, and you ought to be bound up by their judgment, and to believe and do in religion according to the will of your superiors; will you be wiser than they?”
[2.] That they will link themselves with the despicable common sort of people (v. 43): But this people, who know not the law, are cursed, meaning especially those that were well-affected to the doctrine of Christ. Observe,
First, How scornfully and disdainfully they speak of them: This lay-people, distinguished from them that were the clergy, this rabble-people, this pitiful, scandalous, scoundrel people, whom they disdained to set with the dogs of their flock though God had set them with the lambs of his. If they meant the commonalty of the Jewish nation, they were the seed of Abraham, and in covenant with God, and not to be spoken of with such contempt.
Secondly, How unjustly they reproach them as ignorant of the word of God: They know not the law; as if none knew the law but those that knew it from them, and no scripture-knowledge were current but what came out of their mint; and as if none knew the law but such as were observant of their canons and traditions. Perhaps many of those whom they thus despised knew the law, and the prophets too, better than they did. Many a plain, honest, unlearned disciple of Christ, by meditation, experience, prayers, and especially obedience, attains to a more clear, sound, and useful knowledge of the word of God, than some great scholars with all their wit and learning.
Thirdly, How magisterially they pronounce sentence upon them: they are cursed, hateful to God, and all wise men; epikatartoi-an execrable people. It is well that their saying they were cursed did not make them so, for the curse causeless shall not come.
II. What passed between them and Nicodemus, a member of their own body, v. 50, etc. Observe,
1. The just and rational objection which Nicodemus made against their proceedings. Even in their corrupt and wicked sanhedrin God left not himself quite without witness against their enmity; nor was the vote against Christ carried nemine contradicente-unanimously. Observe,
(1.) It was Nicodemus that appeared against them. Observe, concerning him,
[1.] That, though he had been with Jesus, and taken him for his teacher, yet he retained his place in the council, and his vote among them. We must in no case deny our Master, yet we may wait for an opportunity of confessing him to the best advantage. God has his remnant among all sorts, and many times finds, or puts, or makes, some good in the worst places and societies. There was Daniel in Nebuchadnezzar’s court, and Nehemiah in Artaxerxes’s.
[2.] That though at first he came to Jesus by night, for fear of being known, and still continued in his post; yet, when there was occasion, he boldly appeared in defence of Christ, and opposed the whole council that were set against him. Thus many believers who at first were timorous, and ready to flee at the shaking of a leaf, have at length, by divine grace, grown courageous, and able to laugh at the shaking of a spear.
(2.) What he alleged against their proceedings (v. 51): Does our Law convict a man without first hearing from him to determine what he has done? By no means, nor does the law of any civilized nation allow it. Observe,
[1.] He prudently argues from the principles of their own law, and an incontestable rule of justice, that no man is to be condemned unheard.
[2.] Whereas they had reproached the people, especially the followers of Christ, as ignorant of the law, he here tacitly retorts the charge upon themselves, and shows how ignorant they were of some of the first principles of the law.
[3.] Persons are to be judged, not by what is said of them, but by what they do.
2. What was said to this objection. Here is no direct reply given to it; but, when they could not resist the force of his argument, they fell foul upon him, and what was to seek in reason they made up in railing and reproach. Note, Whoever are against reason give cause to suspect that reason is against them. See how they taunt Nicodemus: Aren’t you also from Galilee? v. 52. We may observe,
(1.) How false the grounds of their arguing were, for,
[1.] They suppose that Christ was of Galilee, and this was false.
[2.] They suppose that because most of his disciples were Galileans they were all such, whereas he had abundance of disciples in Judea.
[3.] They suppose that out of Galilee no prophet had risen, and for this appeal to Nicodemus’s search; yet this was false too: Jonah was of Gath-hepher, Nahum an Elkoshite, both of Galilee.
(2.) How absurd their arguings were upon these grounds.
[1.] Is any man of worth and virtue ever the worse for the poverty and obscurity of his country? The Galileans were the seed of Abraham; barbarians and Scythians are the seed of Adam; and have we not all one Father?
[2.] Supposing no prophet had risen out of Galilee, yet it is not impossible that any should arise thence. If Elijah was the first prophet of Gilead (as perhaps he was), and if the Gileadites were called fugitives, must it therefore be questioned whether he was a prophet or no?
3. The hasty adjournment of the court hereupon. They broke up the assembly in confusion, and in haste, and every man went to his own house. They met to take counsel together against the Lord and his Anointed, but they imagined a vain think; and not only he that sits in heaven laughed at them, but we may sit on earth and laugh at them too, to see all the policy of the conspiracy broken to pieces with one plain honest word. They were not willing to hear Nicodemus, because they could not answer him. As soon as they perceived they had one such among them, they saw it was to no purpose to go on with their design, and therefore put off the debate to a more convenient season, when he was absent. Thus the counsel of the Lord is made to stand, in spite of the devices in the hearts of men.
Let us praise God with the song “In Christ Alone”: