“Fools for the World and Fools for Christ”
January 12, 2020
Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service
We return this morning to the Gospel of John, and we drop in right in the middle of a narrative which we left back in October.
At the beginning of chapter seven we were told that the leaders of the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus, and so he withdrew to Galilee. But then, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, and began to teach in the temple. Once the chief priests and the Pharisees heard that Jesus was teaching, and that some in the crowd were wondering if he might be the Christ, we are told in verse thirty-two that the leaders sent officers to arrest Jesus. Which brings us to our text.
Our text this morning tells us how people responded to Jesus’s teaching – that’s what “these words” is referring to in verse forty – to the teaching of Jesus.
So, with that in mind, John chapter seven, verses forty through fifty-two.
Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning.
7:40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]
Let’s pray …
Lord, we call to you, and we ask you to save us,
so that we might be your faithful servants,
and live in light of your testimonies.
We cry out to you,
and we put our hope in your words.
We gather here now,
that we might meditate on your promises.
Hear our prayer, according to your steadfast love,
according to your justice in your covenant, give us life.
And as we face opposition from those who oppose you,
Help us to know how to root ourselves in you.
Grant this, we ask, for Jesus’s sake. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:46-151]
It is good to be back in John today, and our passage this morning drops us right into the middle of the brewing conflict between the people over who Jesus is, and how to respond to him.
In verses forty through forty-four we get the general divisions over who Jesus was and what to do with him.
And then, from those general categories, we zoom in in verses forty-five through fifty-two, and see those same divisions play out in the conversations that the chief priests and Pharisees are having with the temple officers and Nicodemus.
And as those conversations play out, we see two different kinds of people come into conflict with each other. And each group seems, either by open confession, or by implication, to think that the other group is foolish. We might think of one group as the fools for the world, and the other as the fools for Christ.
And the closer we look at those two types of people in this text, we see first what fools for the world have for Christ, and then we see second what fools for Christ must be for the world.
So: First we will see what fools for the world have for Christ, and then second we see what fools for Christ must be for the world.
The first thing that becomes apparent in our text, is what fools for the world have for Christ. And we see that primarily in the chief priests and the Pharisees.
And we see three things that the fools for the world – that the chief priests and Pharisees – have for Jesus: They have drivel, derision, and denunciation. Drivel, derision, and denunciation.
There were better words for some of those … but I don’t know why … sometimes I get going on the alliteration and I just can’t help myself. And that happened this week. So we have drivel, derision, and denunciation.
Let’s take a look at each of those.
The first thing we see that fools for the world have for Christ is drivel. Or another term might be “malarkey.”
Now, I need to explain what I mean by this.
In 2005, Harry Frankfurt, a philosopher at Princeton University, published an essay in book format that was titled On Bull[manure]. Well … he actually used a different, much less “pulpit-friendly” word than that. Helpfully, Frankfurt lists some other words that the English-speaking world has used for the same concept in the past – quaint words like “humbug,” “balderdash,” and “drivel.” [Frankfurt, 5] For the rest of this sermon I’ll use “malarkey” or “drivel,” and I’ll substitute one of those in when I quote Frankfurt and he uses the less family-friendly term by which he titled his essay.
In the essay, “Frankfurt notes that there has been a lot of philosophical attention [paid] to truth and lying, but very little to [malarkey – to “bull manure”], even though our society is awash in it.” [Leithart]
But key to understanding the importance of this, is that “drivel” – that “malarkey” – is different from lying. One commentator on the essay summarizes it like this – he says: “Both the truth-teller and the liar have it in common that they care about the truth. The person who aims at the truth tries to figure out what the world is like and to communicate that to others; the liar attempts to deceive. But by his very attempt to mislead others, the liar betrays his own concern, however perverse, with how things are. As Frankfurt puts it, the truth-teller and the liar are playing opposite sides of the same game.” [Lear]
But, Frankfurt says, the one who speaks drivel, is playing “a different game altogether.” [Lear]
Because drivel is “unconnected to a concern with the truth.” [Frankfurt, 30, 33] Therefore, drivel – malarkey – has as its essence “indifference to how things really are.” [Frankfurt, 34]
And so, the odd thing is that malarkey can be true … but even if it is, it’s still malarkey … because the one saying it isn’t saying it because it is true, they are saying it because it gets them what they want. They would be just as likely to say the same thing if it were false. The truth or falsehood of the statement is irrelevant to the one making it – and that is what makes it malarkey. [Frankfurt, 47-48]
So – the truth-teller has a principled concern for speaking the truth – for “figuring out what the world is like and [communicating] that to others.” The liar, in order to lie, must know the truth. If he is to deceive, he must know what truth he doesn’t want someone to know. And so, even as he battles against what is true, he still is concerned with knowing what is true, in order to deceive.
But the one who engages in malarkey – in drivel – does not care what is true. They are unconcerned with it. They say what they need to say to get what they want. And whether their words are true or false are no matter to them at all.
All of that said, Frankfurt begins his essay by saying “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much [malarkey – so much bull manure]. Everyone knows this.” he writes.
And of course he is right. We see it in our politics –advocates for the party in the minority so often seem to be concerned with balancing the budget and checks and balances … until they get into the White House and then suddenly they are in favor of deficit spending and executive power. Or, as moral scandals alternate between members of different political parties, the followers of each party so often seem to take turns between being in favor of moral integrity for politicians or being in favor of personal privacy for politicians. And we can go on and on. When political advocates do this, half the time their words may be true, and half the time they may be false – but in both cases the words seem to be spoken not out of conviction, but with indifference to their truthfulness. They are spoken as an act of power, not of truth telling. They are spoken as drivel – as malarkey.
But beyond the media and our civil dialogues, we also see the same thing in our personal relationships and interactions. We can say what people want to hear, in order to get what we want – and we can be indifferent to the truth.
And what our text reminds us, is that malarkey – that drivel – is one of the key things that fools for the world have for Christ.
We see it first in verses forty-one and forty-two. There we read that some in the crowd 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?”
As one commentator puts it, this statement in verses forty-one and forty-two “is an instance of superb irony. John knows, and any of his readers who have been in touch with Christians at all knew, that Jesus ‘as to his human nature was descended of David’ (Rom. 1:3), indeed that he was born in Bethlehem.” [Carson, 329-330]
Those facts were no secret at all, but, as Calvin points out, if those in the crowd “had taken the trouble to inquire, they would have seen that [Jesus] was adorned with both titles; that he was born in Bethlehem, and that he was the son of David.” [Calvin, 312]
What we’re struck by then, is that those in the crowd who made this argument didn’t really do much work to discover if their claims were actually true. They don’t seem committed enough to the truth to investigate it. And so they blurt out this foolish argument. They speak drivel – they speak malarkey.
And that pattern then intensifies in the chief priests and the Pharisees.
The chief priests and the Pharisees have sent the officers to arrest Jesus, and they are indignant when the officers come back without him. And they begin to rant about their confidence that Jesus is not the Christ – that he is not the Messiah.
They start by pointing out that their expertise in the law shows the superiority of their judgment. They have not believed in Jesus, they point out in verse forty-eight, but it is only the crowd – only those who do not know the law – that have been deceived. The chief priests and Pharisees boast that their actions are rooted in the law of the Hebrew Scriptures, while the crowd’s is not.
But then, in verse fifty-one, Nicodemus asks a simple question – he asks: “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”
And this brings out two different ways that the chief priests and the Pharisees are acting in indifference to the truth.
The first is that, like the crowd, they too could investigate who Jesus is before drawing their conclusions – but they are choosing not to. They are neither committed to knowing the truth, or committed to covering up the truth. They are just indifferent to the truth.
But second, along with that, the chief priests and Pharisees have just argued that their judgment is based on the law, but Nicodemus is pointing out that the very way they have made their judgment is contrary to the law.
Moses says in Deuteronomy one that those in authority are to “hear the cases between [their] brothers” and to “judge righteously” between all people, without being “partial in judgment,” but instead hearing both “the small and the great alike.” [Deuteronomy 1:16-17] Then along with that, the book of Proverbs urges rulers that “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” [Proverbs 18:17] The chief priests have declared that the law is on their side, but Nicodemus points out that they haven’t even bothered to consult the law in how they have proceeded. Again, it’s not that they are lying about the law – it’s just that they are indifferent to what it actually says. They only claim it in order to get what they want – not in order to grasp at the truth.
And so, in response to Nicodemus, the chief priests and Pharisees blurt out in verse fifty-two: “Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
But here’s the thing … at least a couple prophets in the Scriptures did arise from Galilee. Both Jonah and Nahum, and probably other prophets as well arose from Galilee. [Carson, 332]
And if they’d stopped and thought about it, the chief priests and Pharisees would have known that. They weren’t really lying about it … they just blurted it out without thinking because again, they weren’t particularly concerned with the truth. They were willing to throw whatever arguments out they could to get what they wanted – to oppose Jesus. Whether or not those arguments were true was not that important to them.
Repeatedly in this passage, the chief priests and Pharisees used words not to find or to communicate truth, but as a means of grasping at power.
And so, when Jesus Christ – the Messiah – came to them, what they had for him was malarkey. What they had for him was drivel.
And we might scratch our heads and wonder how they could be that way – how they could fail to investigate who Jesus was more rigorously than they did.
But Calvin points out that we are not so different from them. That just as they and some in the crowd failed to take the trouble to understand who Jesus was back then, so people continue to do today.
“Such is our natural disposition;” Calvin writes, “in matters of little consequence we are ashamed of being indolent [ – of being lazy in our investigation], while, in the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom, we slumber without any concern.” [Calvin, 312]
If you have not committed your life to Christ … if you have rejected him, or been indifferent to him … then you need to ask yourself whether it has been the result of a careful and thorough investigation, grown out of a deep concern with the truth regarding the most important issues of human life … or whether it has looked a lot more like the pattern of the chief priests and Pharisees in our text. Has your position on who Jesus is been the result of a quest for truth, or a grasping at what would be convenient? Or to put it another way: have you spent more time and effort, as Calvin says, investigating relatively insignificant things – elements of a hobby you have, or a sport you follow, or the quality of the products you buy – have you spent more time investigating things like that than you have spent investigating the ultimate truths of the universe and of human life?
Put bluntly: Is your spiritual outlook indifferent to the truth? Is it malarkey: something you have adopted because it “works for you” – just as a certain claim might “work” for a politician, or an argument here “works” for the chief priests?
If so, this text is a call for you to wake up and shake off your indifference to the truth – to ask the questions the crowd and the chief priests and Pharisees failed to ask – to do the due diligence Nicodemus called the Jewish leaders to do. This text calls you to treat the question of who Jesus is with the seriousness it deserves.
The first thing we see is that what those committed to the ways of this world have for Christ is drivel – malarkey – an indifference for the truth.
The next things we see is that that drivel leads to derision and denunciation.
First, there is derision.
We see this in the chief priests and the Pharisees as well. When the officers come back without Jesus – when they are struck by the words of Jesus – the chief priests and Pharisees respond with derision – with mockery.
We read, starting in verse forty-seven: 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”
The Pharisees begin by mocking the officers. And to appreciate that fully, we need to understand who the officers were.
As one commentator points out, the officers were not just soldiers, but were drawn from the Levites, and therefore were religiously trained. They knew the Scriptures, and now they were deeply affected by the words of Jesus.
The mockery of the chief priests and Pharisees therefore implies that the Levitical officials were idiots, since they failed to share the same perspective of those above them. [Carson, 330-331]
The masses of religious Jews, know nothing, they say. And the Levitical officers are just as dumb as them.
And then, when one of their own number – when one of the Pharisees who they just claimed were not following Jesus – when one of them speaks in Jesus’s defense, they turn their scorn and derision on him. Nicodemus questions their actions, and their response is “Are you from Galilee too?”
This world’s response to Jesus is drivel, which, when frustrated, leads to derision. And then finally it becomes denunciation.
The third thing that the chief priests and Pharisees have for Jesus and those who would follow him is denunciation – condemnation.
They are remarkably quick to condemn Jesus – remember, we were told that they were seeking to kill him all the way back in verse one of this chapter.
They have condemned Jesus – and they have done it, as Nicodemus points out – before they have even heard him out.
And their condemnation also extends to others. They pronounce that the crowd that’s listening to Jesus is also “accursed” – and the form of the word used, one commentator writes, “put some emphasis on the thought that each and every individual is included as accursed” – as “damned” as one translation puts it. [Morris, 433, 433 n.104]
The chief priests and Pharisees have pronounced their verdict on Jesus and any who would consider his claims.
With all of that taken together, we see that what the world and those committed to the ways of the world have for Jesus is drivel, derision, and denunciation.
And on some level, we see those elements all around us. All around us is drivel – malarkey – a general lack of concern for the truth.
All around us is derision and mockery, as people of different cultural tribes scorn one another.
All around us is denunciation and condemnation – swift social movements to condemn, cancel, or dismiss others.
And that being the case, it can be easy to see the drivel, derision, and denunciation directed at Jesus or his people as just one more occurrence among many.
But if we see it that way, we miss the spiritual core of these response.
The Bible reminds us that the root problem in all of this is that this world has set itself in rebellion – in opposition to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the king of the universe.
Drivel, derision, and denunciation are how an unbelieving world responds to those who oppose them – those whom they see as threats, and those who just get in their way.
And there is nothing that threatens this world in rebellion against God more than Christ – God’s appointed king. And so, at a heart level, Christ elicits the unbelieving responses of drivel, derision, and denunciation like no one else.
Or, to put it differently: humanity’s core response of drivel, derision, and denunciation is directed at Christ, the king, and every other instance of those reactions in other settings is in many ways just an echo – a ripple – that emanates out from that core rebellion against Christ.
And there are a couple implications of this.
One is that if you have responded to Christ or his Word, or his people, with drivel, derision, or denunciation, then you need to see how weak, and ultimately pathetic, that response is. The hollow words of the chief priests – the nonsense or the mockery or the condemnation – these words are empty. And if Jesus truly is the king of this universe, then those empty words will have no power against him. The call of this passage is to see those responses towards God for what they are, and reject them. That’s the first thing it means.
The second thing it means is that if you’re a Christian, then you need to see how these responses are rooted in unbelief, how ugly they are … and how prone you are to them as well.
Which leads us to our second point.
First, we see that what fools for the world have for Christ is drivel, derision, and denunciation.
Second, we see that what fools for Christ must be for the world: principled in our commitment to the truth, prudent in our words, and patient for fruit.
I did the alliteration thing again. Sorry.
But still, the second thing we see is that fools for Christ in this world must be principled in our commitment to the truth, prudent in our words, and patient for fruit.
We will see those first two things in Nicodemus, and the third one through Nicodemus.
But first, the thing at the outset that we must acknowledge and reflect on is that the temptation for us, and the very thing we must not do – the very thing Nicodemus does not do – is that as Christ’s people, we must not respond to the world as the world responds to us.
It is tempting, and you see it all the time. We Christians are tempted to wage spiritual warfare as the world does – and we often succumb to that temptation.
Which is why we need to be especially attentive to what this text has for us.
And the first thing it shows us is that fools for Christ are called in this world to be principled in our commitment to the truth.
And we see something of that in Nicodemus in our text.
And to appreciate that, we need to remember Nicodemus’s arc over the Gospel of John.
Back in chapter three of John’s Gospel, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to talk with him and ask him questions.
Then, towards the end of John’s Gospel, in chapter twenty-one, John seems to count Nicodemus among Jesus’s disciples, along with Joseph of Arimathea.
The events of our text this morning lie between those two statuses. Nicodemus is somewhere on his way to becoming a disciple of Jesus. He is certainly not a perfect picture. But still, in him and through him the Apostle John instructs us.
And the first thing we see is that Nicodemus is principled in his commitment to the truth concerning Jesus. In verses fifty and fifty-one we see that Nicodemus wants to sincerely get to the bottom of who Jesus is and what he is really saying. He is not satisfied with half-truths for or against Jesus, but if they are to evaluate Jesus, he wants himself along with the chief priests and the other Pharisees to grasp the reality of the situation. Nicodemus is principally committed to the truth.
And we, as Christ’s people, are called to the same thing. Fools for Christ are called to be principled in our commitment to the truth.
And that might seem obvious. But it’s really easy … and really common, for us not to be.
On of many things I appreciate about Pastor Rayburn and his approach to preaching is his commitment to accuracy in the quotes and illustrations he uses in his sermons. On more than one occasion Rob has told stories of quotes or illustrations that he had looked for the original sources for and found nothing. And then, in addition to that, when Rob uses a quote or an illustration himself, you always know it is genuine – it is real. His manuscript, posted online, even cites what book and page number it comes from in many cases.
It’s one great feature of many in Pastor Rayburn’s preaching. But here’s the thing. It’s way too easy to view it the wrong way. It’s way too easy to see it as a quirky thing that Rob does because he’s such a scholarly minister. And he is a scholarly minister. But that’s not the central reason he does it, I don’t think.
Pastor Rayburn is a man with a principled commitment to the truth. He is radically committed to truth. And if he is to be a man so committed to the truth, how could he be careless with the claims he makes from the pulpit – whether big or small. And how could you trust him in the big, life changing claims he has made about your life, if you know you can’t trust him to make sure the little things in his sermons are true. Because you know of his deep and principled commitment to the truth, people of this congregation have continued to trust him for over 41 years.
And I take on that commitment for myself. It can be tempting to throw a fact, figure, or illustration into a sermon without really verifying that it’s real. But I know I can’t do that. Because if you don’t trust that I, as your pastor, am deeply committed to the truth … then this is done … then I need to move on. If I don’t mind being indifferent on the truth of the small things I say … then how can you trust me on the big things?
And those realities are not just true for ministers.
Brothers and sisters, we are all tempted to drivel at times – we are all tempted to fudge our way through something, to speak malarkey to others … but when we make peace with that, when we accept that, I want you to appreciate what that does to you and to your ministry.
Because when you are loose with, or indifferent towards, the truth in any other area of life … then you quickly lose your authority to speak into the big areas of life.
And there are all sorts of areas we are tempted to do this.
Every time you repeat a rumor – a piece of gossip that you don’t really know is true – you are telling those around you that you can be indifferent to the truth … and you make yourself just a little bit more indifferent to the truth.
And every time you post something on social media, or pass on a claim about current events in person, and you do it without really checking that it’s true … whether it’s about politics, or culture, or ethics, or something else – every time you rely on a source that everybody knows is of questionable integrity, you are showing those around you that you are a person who is somewhat indifferent to the truth … and you are becoming just a bit more indifferent to the truth.
And that’s the case even if what you share ends up being true! Because again – the point is not first whether it is true or false. The point is whether you cared about that when you communicated it to others.
We can be tempted to be indifferent about the truth when it comes to how we view others, but we can also be tempted to the same thing when it comes to how others view us.
Here it can often be self-protective. It’s tempting, when we mess something up – whether at work or at school or at home – to start to spin it. To spread drivel about what really happened. To give a bunch of reasons why it happened – whether they are true or not – in order to keep others from seeing the truth that we made a mistake.
Or when we are asked a question, and we have no idea of the answer, it is easy to start spurting malarkey … in order to shield ourselves from the shame of having to say those terrible words: “I don’t know.”
When we are tired, and we don’t want to deal with the hard work of truth finding or truth telling, it’s easy and a relief to be handed something we want to believe, and to accept it without any real concern for confirming whether it is actually true.
We could go on. But my question is this: Where do you do this? Where are you tempted toward indifference to the truth? Not where is someone else that you know guilty of drivel and malarkey, but where are you tempted towards it.
Because in whatever area it may be that we do that, when we act and speak with indifference to the truth, we can begin to destroy our witness to the unbelieving world around us.
How can you expect your coworkers to take you seriously when you tell them about the gospel, if they know you’re also the person who, when you don’t know something, will say all sorts of things that may or may not be true, to make it sound like you do?
How can you expect your children to give real weight to the spiritual truths you teach them, if they know you’re also the parent who, if you make a mistake will blurt out all sort of reasons – whether true or not – about how it wasn’t really your fault?
How can you expect your friends to believe what you have to tell them about Christ, when they know you’ll spread anything you hear about other people – without concern for whether it’s actually true or false?
How can you expect your extended family to take seriously the things you post online about your faith, when they also know that you share articles again and again from sites that everyone knows are more concerned with spin than with truth?
Brothers and sisters, if we are to be a witness for the truth of Christ in this world, then we must be a people who are principled in our commitment to truth in all areas of life.
Nicodemus did not believe the drivel of the chief priests and the Pharisees. And he also didn’t produce any counter-drivel of his own. Instead, he was principled in his commitment to the truth.
That’s the first thing that Christ’s people are to be for the world.
The second thing we see that Christ’s people are to be for the world is prudent with our words.
We are to be prudent with our words.
This of course goes hand-in-hand with the commitment to the truth we have been speaking about, but it is also more than that.
I find Nicodemus’s interaction with the chief priests and the Pharisees interesting, in verses forty-seven through fifty-two.
Because the Pharisees first misrepresent their commitment to the law by their actions, and in verse fifty-one, Nicodemus calls them out on it. He sees malarkey, and he says so.
But then, when the chief priests and Pharisees counter with more drivel – with the false claim that no prophet comes from Galilee – then Nicodemus says nothing.
We’re not told why. Some critique Nicodemus for his lack of courage in not defending Christ more vigorously. [Augustine, 525; Calvin, 316-317]
But I wonder.
As I reflected on his answer in verse fifty-one and his silence after verse fifty-two, I could not help but think of Proverbs 26:4-5. There it says:
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs here, in giving us these opposite directions, side-by-side, is reminding us that we need to be shrewd when dealing with those who are not really committed to the truth. We need to know when to speak, and when to be silent.
There are times to speak, of course.
But there are also times for silence. There are times when a person is so indifferent to the truth that you know they won’t hear you, that you know a good answer will not really be considered or pondered … and sometimes, in those moments, the best response is no response.
I suspect that Nicodemus recognized, after their answer in verse fifty-two, that the chief priests and Pharisees were not going to hear him. And so he says nothing.
The second thing we see in Nicodemus is that fools for Christ are to be prudent with their words.
Third and finally, we see through Nicodemus that fools for Christ in this world are to be patient for fruit.
The world, we said, is quick to condemn and denounce. Condemnations are quick fixes.
But real growth – real change – real fruit – takes patience.
And John reminds us of that when he shows us Nicodemus.
Nicodemus is not all he should be here. We are instructed by what he is here, but we also wish he was more – we wish he had done more. But maybe that’s part of the point as well.
John Calvin comments that in Nicodemus we do not see faith in full bloom, but only in seed form. It was later, after the death of Jesus, that “the faith of Nicodemus acquired new and sudden vigor.”
God was still at work in Nicodemus, cultivating his heart so that he would produce the fruit we see later on.
And it is a good reminder to us to have patience, because the fruit of the gospel takes time to grow – both in us and in others.
Now – saying that is not a call to passivity. In some ways it’s the opposite. Passivity is rooted in laziness. In that way, passivity is closely related to the quick and easy condemnations of the world. But God is not calling his people to laziness. God is calling his people to patient and persistent work.
We, like the world, can be tempted to write people off – to casually condemn them or disparage them. We can be tempted to do this with other Christians. We can be tempted to do this with our children. We can be tempted to do this with our church. We can be tempted to do this with non-Christians. We can be tempted to condemn others, or to just casually write them off.
But in Nicodemus, God reminds us that usually fruit grows slowly. And the farmer, even as he cultivates, even as he weeds, even as he waters, must be patient. Patient – not passive.
Fools for the world may reach for quick fixes in the form of quick condemnations. But fools for Christ are called to be patient and persistent in looking and working for fruit.
We see in our text what fools for the world have for Christ, and what fools for Christ are called to be in this world.
Maybe the use of the word fool has bothered you. But I think it’s important. Because both groups look like fools to the other. And at least one of them actually must be.
In a world in rebellion against God, allegiance to Jesus Christ and his truth will look like utter foolishness to those who have embraced the ways of this world. It’s so impractical. It’s so unnecessary. Which is why the Apostle Paul said of Christians “We are fools for Christ’s sake,” [1 Corinthians 4:10]. The ways of Christ will always look foolish to a world in rebellion against God.
But … if the Bible is true (and it is) … and if Jesus is the true king (and he is) … then it is the ways of this world that are truly foolish. How foolish to live your life by drivel when it is the truth that will set you free! How foolish to condemn and scorn the One who has come to save you! How foolish to choose the path that leads away from God for eternity … just because it’s the easier one right now.
Our text this morning calls you to abandon that path, and to pursue the truth.
And then, as we commit ourselves to Christ, our text calls us to be committed to him with all that we are, and with every word that we speak – even if it leads to mockery and condemnation from this world.
Either way, in any case, we will be fools for someone. Let it be for the King of kings, and the Lord of lords.
This sermon draws on material from:
Augustine. Homilies on the Gospel of John 1-40. Translated by Edmund Hill. Edited by Allan D. Fitzgerald. The Works of Saint Augustine. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2009.
Baker, Hunter. “Spiritual, Not Religious.” A Review of Pagans & Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac by Steven D. Smith. Touchstone. January/February 2020 Issue, p.45-47.
Calvin, John. Commentary on the Gospel According to John. Vol. 1. Translated by William Pringle. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1847 (2005 Reprint).
Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.
Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bull****. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.
Lear, Jonathan. “Whatever.” A Review of On Bull**** by Harry G. Frankfurt. The New Republic. March 20, 2005. https://newrepublic.com/article/68113/whatever
Leithart, Peter J. “Bulls***” March 19, 2005. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/leithart/2005/03/bulls/
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971.
Wright, N.T. John for Everyone: Part 1. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.