GIVE YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION TO JESUS.
“There was a division among the people over (Jesus)” (John 7:43). There always has been. You are either in the kingdom of God, or you are not. There is no middle ground. Jesus always produces a division, just as there is a division between light and darkness, between sin and righteousness, between life and death. You are either a believer or an unbeliever. You can’t be neutral, and you certainly can’t be both.
What caused this division among the people? Our reading begins with the phrase, “When the crowd heard these words…” (John 7:40). That begs the question, “What words?” So, let’s back up a few verses to hear what Jesus said. “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘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). What we might overlook in Jesus’ words is his claim of divinity. He did not say, “Whoever believes in God’s word.” He said, “Whoever believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water,” that is, the Holy Spirit. By these words, Jesus declared that he is the giver of the Holy Spirit, of faith, and of eternal life. And he who gives all of these is truly God.
The crowd who was at the festival caught it. There was a buzz as the people debated who this Jesus really was. “Some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ’” (John 7:40-41). Still others rejected the idea. They 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” (John 7:41-42)? Was Jesus the promised Messiah? Was he one to believe in or not? “There was a division among the people over him” (John 7:43)
You can credit the crowd for this much: They knew some of the promises about the Christ. He was to be a son of David, and he was to come from Bethlehem. They recognized that they did not get to pick a Messiah based on their own whims, but on what God had promised. Unfortunately, they relied on their presumptions, not on the facts. The fact is that Jesus of Nazareth has checked all the boxes and met the qualifications to be the Christ and the Savior of the world. Give your undivided attention to Jesus. He proves that he is the very one whom God sent to give us eternal life.
It is important that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled everything that God had promised about the Christ. In fact, it is necessary. If he did not, then he is not the Christ and we need to look elsewhere for our salvation. But Jesus is a son of David, as spelled out by St. Matthew. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as recorded by St. Luke. Give your undivided attention to all that the prophets had foretold about the Christ. We don’t believe in Jesus because he seems nice, because he taught an inspiring message, or because he did works of compassion. We believe in Jesus because through the prophets God told us what to look for centuries in advance, and because Jesus has fulfilled all that the prophets had foretold. The fact that Jesus’ life perfectly aligns with the words of the prophets is not an amazing coincidence; it is the intentional fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose. Therefore, give your undivided attention to Jesus.
The Jews who were at the feast had made assumptions about Jesus which were not accurate. They rightly recognized that the Christ must be the offspring of David. They assumed that Jesus was not. Either that, or they assumed that the Son of David would be more regal, more assertive, and more combative. They rightly recognized that the Christ must come from Bethlehem. But since Jesus was identified as “Jesus of Nazareth,” they assumed he was born there. As a result, they misidentified Jesus. The Christ had come, but they did not know it.
Give your undivided attention to Jesus. He has made the claim that eternal life comes through him alone. More than telling you to believe in God, Jesus demands, “Believe in me.” If he is a fraud, you can ignore him safely. In fact, if Jesus is a fraud, you should mock him relentlessly. However, if Jesus of Nazareth does what the prophets foretold and meets all the criteria of the Messiah, then you neglect his words at your own peril. Yes, it is that serious; and we aid and abet the devil if we fail to confess Jesus as the Scriptures reveal him, without apology, and without compromise.
Unfortunately, it still happens in Christendom that there are debates about Jesus and how his salvation comes to people. This is because many trust in their reason and their emotions more than God’s word. Their attention is divided between Jesus and their personal opinions and agendas. The results are no less disastrous.
Our emotions cause us to disregard parts of God’s word if God’s truth makes people feel bad. This is especially true when it comes to sexual morals. We defend what makes people feel good about themselves more than what God actually has to say. Some will even go so far as to acknowledge what God plainly says and reject it for various reasons: “The culture back then is different from now. St. Paul had issues with women and sex, so anything he wrote is biased and wrong. Love is love, and God is love, so there is no way God can fault anyone who loves whoever they want to. If God really forgives, does it matter what I do?” You get the idea. But add another layer on top of that. Those who engage in behavior that God calls wicked are often our friends or family. We don’t want them to feel bad, and we don’t want the strife. Would we really risk forfeiting a relationship over these things? We would rather have everyone go home happy now, even if they would curse us from hell later because we said nothing. So, our interests are divided; and our emotions usually outweigh God’s word. Beware, and repent.
Our attention also gets divided between God’s word and our reason. Like the Jews in Jesus’ day, our reason is not totally divorced from the Scriptures. All Christians acknowledge that Jesus has suffered and died for the sins of the world. Most of Christendom acknowledges that we are saved by faith in Jesus. The Bible is clear on these things: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). But, how does Jesus’ work of salvation get delivered to you? How does the payment Jesus made get delivered to your account? How does one get saving faith? Reason says that I decided to believe in Jesus. However, the Scriptures say, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9). So, faith is not my work, but God’s. Reason must be overruled by the word of God. This is why we must give undivided attention to Jesus and his word.
Reason’s assault continues on God’s word especially in regard to the sacraments. Reason looks at Holy Baptism and asks, “How can water do such great things?” Reason sees people go to the altar for Holy Communion and scorns, “How can eating and drinking do such great things?” Reason hears God’s minister say, “I forgive you all your sins,” and snarls, “How can a man forgive sins? That is God’s work!” Such arguments seem quite reasonable since the eyes don’t see anything amazing going on. This is why many Christian churches have turned the sacraments into purely symbolic acts in which the Christian does something for God rather than God doing anything for us.
Therefore, give your undivided attention to Jesus and his word. What does the Bible teach? “Be baptized, every one of you ... for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Forgiveness of sins is given in baptism; that is what is for. “Take. Eat and drink. This is my body and my blood, for you for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). Forgiveness of sins is given in the Lord’s Supper; that is what it is for. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23). Forgiveness of sins is delivered through the voice of Jesus’ ministers; Jesus himself said so.
Give undivided attention to Jesus. If you don’t, you end up forfeiting both comfort and confidence. This is why Jesus gave us the sacraments. If the sacraments don’t do anything, where do you find confidence for your salvation? In your faith. Again, that sounds reasonable and Scriptural. But if your confidence is in your faith, isn’t your confidence in yourself, then? What happens when you are particularly burdened by guilt and feel like a total failure of a Christian? When happens when you are struck with terror about death and judgment? What if your faith is shaken by disaster, disappointment, or even deception? Give your undivided attention to Jesus. He has acted upon you in the sacraments to save you. He has cleansed you and marked you in holy baptism, which is not based on how you feel about yourself. He feeds and strengthens you in the Lord’s Supper as he gives you the body and blood which atone for sin and conquer death. He does not leave you to assume you are forgiven of your sins; he sends his ministers to tell you so. While such things may offend reason, they are perfectly in line with God’s word. And since the sacraments are God’s works for you, it is not up to you to make them valuable or effective. Jesus lived the righteous life we need, and he clothes us with it through baptism. Jesus shed the blood which atones for sins, and he gives it to us in the Lord’s Supper. What Jesus won for you on Good Friday and Easter is bestowed to you in word and sacrament, as his words and promises declare.
Give your undivided attention to Jesus. He is the Son of David, born in Bethlehem. He is the Son of Man, obedient to all of God’s commandments and fulfiller of all of God’s promises. He is the atoning sacrifice for your sins, and he is the righteousness you need to enter eternal life. He is the word made flesh and points you to the word written in the Scriptures for your hope, your comfort, and your confidence. You do well to give your undivided attention to his words so that you will not be misguided by your emotions, misled by your reason, or mistaken because of your presumptions. Let there be no debate: Jesus is the Christ who has served you with an undivided heart and saves you through undeniable blessings.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.