6th Sunday of Easter May 9, 2021


A Little Knowledge

John 7:40-53

Scripture Readings

Jeremiah 28:5-9
1 Corinthians 8:1-13


394, 421, 334, 401

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

+ Christ Is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! +

From Psalm 100: Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (v.3-5) Amen.

Dear Fellow Christians, and especially this morning our confirmands:

My guess is that if I were to begin a sentence with: “A little knowledge is…” most would be able to finish it with: “a dangerous thing.” That’s the expression.

It is not a particularly nice expression. It’s usually used to put someone down. This morning we are going to examine that saying with a bit more charity or sobriety than is usually associated with those words. We will look at how, especially in the spiritual realm, that simple saying can be both absolutely right and tragically wrong. The God-inspired words that will guide our thoughts this morning are found in the Gospel of John, the Seventh Chapter:

When they heard these words, some of the people said… “This is the Christ.” But some 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?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” They went each to his own house.

These are the very words of our God—gifted to man to bring about our rebirth and preservation. Having already used the power of his Word to bring about our rebirth or conversion, we now ask that our God would use that same power to increase our wisdom and understanding, and to preserve us in that saving faith until he calls us home. So also we pray: Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.

It’s actually quite startling how the highly educated Jewish leaders rationalized their rejection of Jesus. It’s also sadly fascinating how they justified their denial in their own minds. This man was clearly saying and doing things of which no ordinary man was capable, and yet they adamantly refused to admit that he was anything but a deceiver. What is more, they publicly ridiculed anyone who pointed out even the basic facts concerning Jesus. As the Jewish leaders struggled to explain away the solid evidence Jesus presented to them, they demonstrated the same silliness we see today in the evolutionists and atheists. Remember that our merciful God made allowance for man’s natural skepticism in Jesus’ day through the performance of signs and miracles. At one point even Nicodemus the Pharisee had to acknowledge: Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him. (John 3:2) Still they refused to acknowledge that Jesus was who he said he was. Such is the nature of unbelief. It is fully capable of blocking out even irrefutable evidence if that is what is necessary to justify their unbelief. Make no mistake. Unbelief is, in large part, a choice—a tragically bad choice.

In our text the Jewish leaders struggle with the facts. Did you catch their basic justification for refusing to believe that Jesus was who he said he was? He was a Galilean. Why should that have made any difference? Was it just some petty prejudice on their part? Actually no, for here is where the “little knowledge” part comes in. The Jews knew from Micah 5:2 that the Savior was going to come from David’s line and that he would be born in Bethlehem. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. These men knew their Old Testament Scriptures. We are told that many memorized entire books and could recite them at will. Remember how Herod inquired of these same men when questioned by the Magi as to the birthplace of the Messiah, and how those Jewish scholars were able not only to give Herod a Scriptural answer, but Herod believed and acted on that information.

The problem was that Galilee was not part of the territory ceded to the Tribe of Judah, and the Prophet Micah had clearly foretold that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, a city of Judah. Nazareth, the city where Jesus was raised, lay far to the north and was part of the territory given to the Tribe of Zebulun. Jesus probably even carried with him a Galilean accent. To the Jews, such facts simply made it impossible for Jesus to be the Messiah. End of discussion. Unbelief is not only blind, it is also very stubborn.

Part of the problem we have in understanding this line of reasoning today is the fact that we don’t really understand the general perception of Galilee in general, and the City of Nazareth in particular, in Jesus’ day. We today associate Jesus with Nazareth, and therefore the city takes on a certain majesty it didn’t otherwise possess. To get an idea of what we are talking about, think of a weedy, seedy little town and add the words “Jesus of…” before it and you begin to get the idea. Jesus of Tumbleweed Junction, Jesus of Beaver Dam, Jesus of Bloomer—you get the idea. The Jews of Jesus’ day just did not believe that anything good could come out of the region of Galilee. One of Jesus’ own Apostles agreed. Remember how Nathanael, before he was first introduced to Jesus, said to his brother Philip, Can anything good come out of Nazareth?? What did his brother reply? Come and see.

That was the key, wasn’t it? That was where the religious elites of Jesus’ day went wrong. It’s where the educated of today go wrong but where our confirmands get it right. Those who today refuse to go to God’s Word to find their answers, find none. For the simple men who were invited to follow Jesus the question about Jesus’ hometown and lineage was easily answered. The scribes and Pharisees refused to do that. They were content with their “little knowledge" because it was what they wanted to believe. Their misgivings could have been easily answered by a visit and a question: “Jesus, the Prophet Micah told us to look for a man from Bethlehem. How can you be that man when you are a Galilean?” Simple question, and Jesus would undoubtedly have given them a simple answer: “I was born in Bethlehem and moved first to Egypt and then to Galilee.” The Jewish leaders would undoubtedly have also been familiar with Hosea 11:1, Out of Egypt I called My son. Matthew reveals to us that this too was a prophecy about Jesus, but the Jews didn’t want to hear it. In Matthew we are also taught that there were well-known prophecies that foretold that the Messiah shall be called a Nazarene though those prophecies are not recorded in the Scriptures. The bottom line is that unbelievers just needed any old reason to “justify” their unbelief, and they were perfectly content to dismiss Jesus based on their “little knowledge” of one passage.

All of us today, but especially young Christians, face very similar temptations which can actually look rather appealing at times. On the one hand we are tempted towards spiritual laziness—which we justify on the basis of “All I need is simple faith in Jesus” and “The more I learn the more questions I have—so it is less confusing to remain ignorant.” Sound familiar? We are also tempted, on the other hand, to assume too much from the little knowledge we do possess. One of the expressions that young people probably get tired of hearing was that “we don’t know what we don’t know.“ Confirmation class is all about learning first what we don’t know, and then going to God’s Word to fill in those blanks. It is a lifelong process.

A great balance is needed if we are to appreciate both the danger and the joy of the knowledge that God has given us—and continues to offer us through the study of his Word. So what then are the specific dangers that young and old alike face in the days and years to come in modern-day America? What are our specific dangers when it comes to “a little knowledge"?

We live in the information age where doubts and questions spread with shocking speed to all corners of the planet. These errors need to be refuted, both in your own heart and mind, and in society. A thorough understanding of God’s Word will therefore not only help to protect each individual Christian from faith-destroying error, it will help to equip every single Christian in his or her calling to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Each one of us therefore has an equally tremendous opportunity to serve as an informed spokesman for God’s Word in an era of rampant skepticism and uncertainly. How can we serve our Lord faithfully if we do not know, and how can we know if we do not study his Word? A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but knowing little or nothing about God’s Word has far worse consequences, both for us and for those who do not know their Lord. If too little knowledge was a dangerous thing for the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus day, it is certainly also a dangerous thing for us today.

So, the saying still applies to each one of us today. Yet in another sense this same saying is also tragically wrong. In other words, “a little knowledge” can also be a most blessed and joyful thing. How so? Saving faith is not a matter of how much we know, it is a matter of what we believe. Saving faith is not complex, it is amazing in its simplicity. The greatest part of Confirmation is not so much hearing how much our young people have learned, it is hearing what they have learned, what they believe. What joy in hearing, from their own mouths and hearts that the simple truth that saves is their truth, their conviction.

Do you recall how earlier we said that the scribes and Pharisees refused to just go to Jesus and ask him about the fact that he was from Nazareth. One actually did go— Nicodemus, the same Nicodemus mentioned in our text. To this man Jesus summarized the “little knowledge” that brings us Life eternal: God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. There’s the proof that, in the case of Jesus, even just a little of the right sort of knowledge can be the most incredible, life-saving, life-changing thing anyone will ever hear.

While there is much to learn in God’s Word, thanks be to God for the profound simplicity of the Christian faith. Our sins have been erased from God’s sight forever. Jesus did that for us. Full and complete salvation is ours because of what Jesus did, not because of what we now do or don’t do. No one can change that simple fact, and it is through faith or trust in that simple fact alone that we are saved— faith that has also been given to us by the Holy Spirit. That means that the very same heaven that we should have earned by perfect obedience to our God is now ours because of Jesus’ perfect obedience. We failed, Jesus succeeded. We sinned, Jesus paid for our sins. We ruined our relationship with our God, Jesus restored that relationship.

These are facts. Do not be afraid to let these facts fill your heart with all of the joy and peace and relief our God intended this simple message to create. That is exactly why Jesus did what he did for you. That is why he died to save you. Thanks be to God for the “little knowledge” that brings us eternal life, and for the simplicity of that message. We ask just one other thing of our God this morning. We ask him to help us to grow daily in the knowledge of his Word that not only we might be strengthened, protected, and preserved in that simple, saving faith, but that we too might be perfectly equipped to give to others that simple reason for the Christian hope that is in us. “Continue to equip us for this great calling, O Holy Spirit.” Amen.

—Pastor Michael Roehl

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Bismarck, ND

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