Would you agree with me that we live in a rather divisive time? Even me saying the word divisive might be divisive to some of you as you might disagree with me and think that divisive should be pronounced divisive. But that’s exactly what it means to be divisive, you say saying that might cause an argument, something that people are divided over. If you want to have some fun sometime, walk into a group of your friends that lean left or lean right and just say the names “Donald J. Trump” or “Joe Biden” and sit back and enjoy the show. Or how about Coronavirus? Drop that bomb in a conversation and you’ll quickly find out just how extremely divided people can be. Now, none of those things I listed need to be divisive, but they are. Why?
Some of it has to do with emotions, but for the most part what makes something divisive is that you might see something one way (and believe it to be undeniably true) but then there is that person across from you who feels the exact opposite of you, and both of you refuse to accept that the other person might have some legitimacy, some truth. One of my new favorite thinkers, Jordan Petersen – who happens to be quite a divisive person himself– talks about this. He says the problem today is that people in their conversations aren’t looking to learn and to grow, they’re looking to win. They want to be right and to prove the other person wrong. You can then imagine how difficult that makes it to get along with someone who maybe thinks a little or a lot differently from you.
So, you and I are quite familiar with division. We see it almost every day, and, if I were to ask you, I bet you could make a list of topics that you generally avoid so as to avoid a confrontation with others. I do wonder though what you might put on that list. Politics makes sense. Cultural issues? Probably. Maybe if you’re a Chicago Bears fan you’ll keep that to yourself here in Wisconsin. What about Jesus? Would he make your list? Do you think of Jesus as being divisive? Jesus sure thought he was. He himself said in the book of Matthew, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.” So, we don’t have a true perspective of who Jesus is unless we see him, in part, as one who divides people. We see how Jesus divides in these three short verses from the Apostle John. And, maybe, some context would be helpful.
John records Jesus celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem and during that feast, Jesus spoke to the crowds gathered and made, really, quite a ruckus as the people marveled at his words and whom he claimed to be. And it all reached a breaking point right before our verses as temple guards were sent to arrest Jesus but stopped after hearing him talk about how those who believe in him will receive “living water.” It’s at this point we jump in to find that Jesus’ words created a mixed and mixed up response. Some thought that he was the promised Prophet. Others went so far as to venture that he was the Christ, while others disputed that idea. The Jewish leaders just wanted Jesus arrested, but the officers that they sent to arrest him came back empty-handed, saying in a later verse, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” The last verse of our lesson sums up the overall flavor of this section: “Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.” Let that sink in. Because of Jesus, the people were divided.
I think COVID is a great example of this. Imagine that COVID was this new religion that started up in the last year. It’s real and universally adopted. But there are numerous different denominations of this new religion and they definitely vary in what they preach, what they believe. They also will not tolerate any of the heresy that might come from one of the other denominations, it’s all or nothing, my way or the highway. And this new religion has changed everything, impacted everything in your life. You can’t run from it, so you have to face it. What will you do? Likely with the Coronavirus most of you already know where you fall on the issue, but apply all of this back to those during Jesus’ day.
Here is Jesus. This new guy on the block and, while all signs pointed to him as being everything he claimed to be, the people didn’t know what to do with him. His words trouble them. His presence divided them. And, if you break it down, there were three views about Jesus: 1) Jesus was the Prophet, meaning the prophet whom Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy, but was then not God nor the Savior. 2) Jesus was the Christ. He was whom he claimed to be. The people who confessed this saw behind Jesus’ humiliation and saw the glory of their Savior. You’ll notice those who thought Jesus was the Christ were quickly challenged, “How can the Christ come from Galilee?” And that leads to view 3) Many of the people didn’t want to believe Jesus and tried to explain him away by saying he didn’t fulfill the Scriptures. Except he did, and they were just too lazy or too scared to investigate his claims.
Now you and I can quickly look at the world today and see that these views about Jesus have not really changed, and so he remains a divisive character. So, what are we to do with him? Because you have to do something with him, and that right there is why he is so divisive. You either believe in Jesus as your one and only Savior…or you don’t. There is no middle ground. Jesus is the truth and truth necessarily divides Because, remember? We all want to be right, but Jesus drew a distinct line in the sand when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Or, when Peter boldly proclaimed, “That salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” There aren’t then many different ways to God. And all religions don’t in the end believe in the same God, that is patently false. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to God, and that is inherently divisive!
And I don’t think it’s fair to just point and say look at all those people who don’t understand Jesus and are too stubborn to believe that he is the Savior. In fact, I hope this lesson teaches us to do something completely different. Jesus standing there being himself being the Savior of all and offering forgiveness or living water to those present, him standing there doing all of this, exposes our inability to know him and therefore to believe in him. And by exposing this flaw in us, Jesus compels us to then rely on him to work in us so that our salvation may never be in question. For when God is the author and perfector of our faith, then it is a firm and certain matter from beginning to end. And, this is great for us, because without God creating a heart of faith in us, Jesus would be just as divisive to us.
As it stands, even with a heart of faith we often struggle to remain true to Jesus. That is clearly seen in our own daily sins and also our personal struggles with some of the teachings of the Bible that we might find difficult to understand or offensive even. So, it is by the grace of God we believe what we do…and that is incredibly frightening if you think about it, but also an incredible relief. It’s frightening because you need God, and, in our own pride and selfishness, you might not like that, but then the Law works in our hearts and reminds us that we don’t want to be on the other side of Jesus, divided against him. That’s not a pretty side to be on. So, it’s also a relief. The hard work is over. It started in a manger, roughly 40 years later it led to a cross, but then a tomb, empty, and finally it came to you as God united you to himself through that same Jesus.
So, what are you going to do with Jesus? You know he’s divisive. You know there are people out there who don’t like what he has to offer, who don’t like who he claims to be, and who don’t like the idea that they need him…but they do need him….and you know just how much. So, here is what you and I can do with Jesus. We can be those few in that divided crowd who speak up and say, you need to hear this, because this guy, Jesus, “He is the Christ.” He is your Savior and here is why we all need him. And maybe, maybe sometimes we need to remind each other of that. That the people of this world, and that includes you and me, don’t need to hear brilliant opinions and arguments about politics, COVID, culture, or whatever else, but we do all need to hear about Jesus. We all need the cross. We all need the resurrection. And, yeah, Jesus and his story might be divisive to some, but by God’s grace maybe not. Wouldn’t that be something? To see another person united to Christ who was once divided. And this is what we have been given to do, we share Jesus, and, in the end, he’s the only thing that matters. Amen.