Summary: God calls us to decide for Jesus, even when doing so divides families and friends.
Two snowflakes drop softly from a dark cloud. The wind twists and twirls these “friends,” so that appear to play “Tag, you’re it!” One bumps the other, then jumps away; the second chases and almost reaches his “opponent.” They bounce up and down, giggling as they swing around one another. Eventually they land, separated only by an inch, where they will lie until the summer thaw. But what an inch it is. In God’s providence, they lie on opposite sides of the “Continental Divide.” High in the Rockies, they are close enough to “see” one another. But the small division leads inexorably to a vast separation. One will travel to the Atlantic Ocean, the other to the Pacific.
Jesus separates all people—he is the divine Continental Divide. Where you fall may not seem far from another, but differing allegiances flow to an ocean of separation. We are reading today of responses to Jesus’ teaching. This asks us: where are we in the process? What do we really believe? Will we pay the cost of division?
[Read John 7.40-52. Pray.]
The story is told that John Wesley, a founder of Methodism, changed his view about church division after a dream in which he was first transported to the gates of Hell. He asked, “Are there any Presbyterians here?” “Yes,” was the reply. “Any Roman Catholics?” “Yes.” “Any Congregationalists?” “Yes.” He hesitated, then said, “Not any Methodists, I hope!” To his dismay the answer was “Yes.”
Suddenly in his dream he stood at the gate of Heaven. Once again he asked, “Are there any Presbyterians here?” “No,” was the reply. “Any Roman Catholics?” “No.” “Any Congregationalists?” “No.” Then he asked the question which most interested him: “Are there any Methodists here?” He was shocked to receive the same stern reply, “No!”
“Well then,” he asked in surprise, “please tell me who IS in Heaven?” “CHRISTIANS!” was the jubilant answer. From that dream Wesley determined that unity was essential to the church’s success in her mission.
What are we to think of division? Some today agree with Wesley: division is one of our greatest sins. We must unify at any cost. Others believe any effort toward unity necessarily involves compromise; therefore we must avoid it. Jesus prayed for unity; yet he preached that we must leave even father and mother for his sake and the gospel. When shall we divide?
Whether knowingly or not, the people who heard Jesus illustrate for us Biblical principles for unity and division. God describes reactions to Jesus so that we will bring into our lives two responses: first, we must divide over Jesus; second, we must decide about Jesus.
1. We Must Divide Over Jesus (John 7.40-44)
The key word in the first paragraph is in verse 43: “So there was a division among the people over him.” Some (v. 40), think he is “the prophet.” Moses promised Israel (Deuteronomy 18.15 ff): “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…. And the LORD said to me, ‘…I will raise up for them a prophet like you…. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’” Earlier in his ministry, Jesus multiplied a few loaves of bread and two fish into a feast for thousands. Because this miracle looked so much like Moses’ manna, people immediately began to say, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6.14).
Others (v. 41) disagreed. They thought Jesus might be the Christ, the Messiah, the One expected to grab the throne of David and rescue and restore Israel to her former glory. Jewish expectations at the time of Jesus never imagined the prophet and the Christ being the same man.
“No way!” was the response from those who disbelieved Jesus could possibly be the Messiah: “The Christ would be born in Bethlehem of the line of David,” (and they were correct). But since Jesus grew up in Nazareth of Galilee, they assumed he did not meet either criteria.
Some, of course, agreed with the church leadership—they wanted to arrest him. Nor were these the only negative opinions. Some said he was out of his mind, and others were sure he was demon-possessed. God accurately records this diversity of opinions to get you to verse 43: “There was a division over Jesus.”
The word “division” translates the Greek word, [schisma], from which we get the English word, "schism." [schisma] is used 6 times in the New Testament.
Matthew and Mark both record Jesus’ explaining that if you sew a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, the patch will shrink and make a worse tear [schisma]. So we know a [schisma] is a ripping apart, hence a division.