Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE ROCK OF OFFENCE AND A STUDY OF RESPONSES”

John 3.22-36

 

To a degree not typically appreciated by most Christians who read the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ astonishingly fulfills predictive prophecy in ways that are both explicit and implicit. By explicit I refer to such predictions as Micah’s prophecy of our Lord’s birthplace being Bethlehem, Micah 5.2, and Isaiah’s prophecy of His virgin birth, Isaiah 7.14. Such predictions are plainly stated and dramatically fulfilled. Implicit fulfillments of predictive prophecy are less obvious, more subtle, and require reflection, contemplation, and sometimes a bit of distance to recognize. Such is the portion of Scripture we have before us today.

Allow me to explain. In Isaiah 8.14 the prophet wrote these words more than seven centuries before the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ: 

“And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” 

Remember that phrase “rock of offence.” We know from many passages in the Bible that both God and the Lord Jesus Christ are identified as a rock.[1]

While it is not so explicit during His earthly ministry except when He referred to Himself in Caesarea Philippi with the words 

“upon this rock I will build my church,”[2] 

the Apostles Paul and Peter pointedly identified the Lord Jesus Christ as the “rock of offence” decades after His resurrection and ascension to glory.[3] Listen first to what Paul writes in Romans 9.33 and then to what Peter writes in First Peter 2.8: 

9.33  As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 

2.8  And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. 

Both inspired writers recognized a feature of the Savior’s earthly ministry and identity that you and I sometimes overlook when not it is not directly stated in Scripture, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the “rock of offence.” Can evidence of this be discerned in His earthly ministry? I believe it can be, as you will see in John 3.22-36. Please make your way to that passage.

My text for this message from God’s Word is John 3.22-36: 

22  After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.

23  And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.

24  For John was not yet cast into prison.

25  Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.

26  And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.

27  John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.

28  Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.

29  He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

30  He must increase, but I must decrease.

31  He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.

32  And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.

33  He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.

34  For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.

35  The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.

36  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. 

The Lord Jesus Christ is the “rock of offence,” so identified by Isaiah and so recognized by two of the Savior’s apostles. In the passage before us I am persuaded there is evidence to be found showing by His identity and practice that He is the “rock of offence,” as well as by the proper and improper ways in which men respond to Him.

The Apostle John provides seven opportunities for us to observe both the Savior and men’s responses to the Lord Jesus Christ, the “rock of offence”: 

First, HIS DISCIPLE’S DELEGATED AUTHORITY 

Verse 22:  “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.” 

The phrase “after these things” translates the Greek phrase meta tauta, one of the Apostle John’s favorite ways of showing his readers in both his Gospel record and in the Revelation that a significant change in the narrative is taking place.[4] The events that took place in Jerusalem are now left behind for consideration of a new phase of our Lord’s earthly ministry.

The disciples He brought with Him to Judaea may be fewer in number than most people think. Our Lord has to this point only six disciples; Peter, Andrew, James, John, Nathanael, and Philip. And if the later interactions with Simon Peter and his brother Andrew are any indication, it may be that not all of the fishermen traveled with Him to Jerusalem and were with Him here in Judaea.[5] Therefore, He may have as few as two and no more than six chosen men with Him at this point.

Though we do not know how long the Lord and His men tarried in Judaea, it may have been several months’ duration. During that time He no doubt taught and preached, with those responding to His ministry being baptized. Two additional comments about the closing statement of verse 22, 

“and there he tarried with them, and baptized.” 

First, though most Christians these days are of the opinion that the Baptist’s baptism was not Christian baptism, and the Lord’s baptism most certainly was, 18th century London Baptist pastor John Gill shows very persuasively that John’s baptism was most definitely Christian baptism.[6] Second, observe that though this verse ascribes to the Lord Jesus Christ the act of baptizing, John 4.2 points out that 

“Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples.” 

How is this possible? When someone’s agent faithfully executes an assignment on his behalf, it is acknowledged in the Bible that person has indeed done what his agent has accomplished.[7]

The stage is now set for the “rock of offence” to demonstrate as He had just done in Jerusalem that He did not come to give peace on earth, but rather division.[8] It behooves each of us to prepare so as not to trip up on the stone of stumbling, the “rock of offence.” 

Next, THE DESCRIPTION OF JOHN’S MINISTRY 

23  And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.

24  For John was not yet cast into prison. 

These two verses provide two crucial pieces of information:

First, we see that John the Baptist’s ministry of preaching and baptizing is continuing. As well, notice that the apostle writes, 

“and John also was baptizing.” 

One might think that since John the Baptist had begun his ministry earlier, it might be said that the Lord Jesus Christ was also baptizing; but no. The apostle recognizes who must have priority, even if our narrative reveals that others seem not to recognize who must have priority. Our Lord must always have priority.

Second, we are informed that John the Baptist was not yet cast into prison. It is a mistake that I confess I have made on occasion to wrongly conclude that the Lord Jesus Christ’s ministry settled in Galilee immediately after the marriage feast at Cana. Not so. He went to Capernaum after the marriage in Cana, but for only a brief time before going to Jerusalem at Passover. In reality, He positioned Himself very near John the Baptist’s place of ministry along the Jordan River following Passover as a means of showing the contrast between the proper and the improper reactions of individuals to the “rock of offence.” 

Third, THE DISPUTATION OF JOHN’S DISCIPLES 

25  Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.

26  And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. 

The question that immediately arises is why John the Baptist still has disciples at all after he had twice identified the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God.[9] I have two responses: On one hand, it may be that some continued to follow John the Baptist for sentimental reasons who should have followed the Savior, much as the Corinthians displayed spiritual immaturity and carnality by claiming, 

“I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.”[10] 

Other followers of John the Baptist might include some who either came along after the Savior had left to travel north to Galilee or some who were only gradually becoming sensitive to their spiritual needs and had not yet been converted.

The question that arose about purifying was not in itself alarming. There were always those among the Jews who argued the fine points of religious practice without grasping the main spiritual issues that John dealt with. That discussion apparently degenerated into a jealous fit on the part of John the Baptist’s disciples when they informed him about the proximity of the Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples. Notice, First, John’s disciples seem unwilling to identify the Lord Jesus Christ by name: 

“he that was with thee beyond Jordan.” 

Next, they do acknowledge that John the Baptist bore witness to Christ: 

“to whom thou barest witness.” 

Third, they seem concerned, jealous, outraged, or something other than delighted that some of their number are going over to Him: 

“behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.” 

Think about this, beloved. Disciples of John the Baptist seem upset that some his disciples have begun to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, we have here some who entirely miss the point of John the Baptist’s life and ministry. For someone to listen to you and then become a follower of Jesus Christ is properly called success in ministry! To object to such success, to object to that happening, is a wrong response to the “rock of offence.” 

Fourth, THE DECLARATION OF JOHN’S CALLING 

27  John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.

28  Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. 

We see two different kinds of statements made here by John the Baptist:

First, he states a general principle: 

“A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” 

This reference to heaven is a way of referring to God. John the Baptist is essentially saying here what James writes about in James 1.17: 

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” 

John is acknowledging in his way what James asserted, that blessings and ministry opportunities and fruitfulness are gifts from God, something his disciples apparently did not fully realize.

Then in verse 28 he gets down to specifics and reminds them that his ministry message, as they knew all too well, is that he is not the Christ but is Christ’s forerunner: 

“Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.” 

Thus, we see that these disciples of John the Baptist are stumbling on the “rock of offence” while John the Baptist is responding in an entirely appropriate manner. 

Fifth, THE DESCRIPTION OF JOHN’S RELATIONSHIP 

Verse 29: “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.” 

Three things about this verse show John’s apprehension of his right relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ:

First, he recognizes that he is not the center of attention and that he should not be the center of attention. Picture a wedding in our Lord’s day, when everything about the wedding focused not on the bride but the bridegroom. Now consider the friend of the bridegroom, what we would refer to as the best man. Call him what you want, he is not to be the center of attention. John recognizes that even if some of his disciples do not.

Next, though John the Baptist was very much a preacher, he correctly appreciates that his high and holy privilege is more to stand by and hear the voice of the Bridegroom than to speak himself.

Third, John the Baptist’s joy is fulfilled. He is profoundly content with the outworking of God’s plan and the role that he plays in it. There is no stumbling on the “rock of offence” on John’s part because he knows his role and he responds to it with delight and satisfaction. What a lesson to us all. 

Sixth, THE DESCRIPTION OF CHRIST’S PREEMINENCE 

30  He must increase, but I must decrease.

31  He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.

32  And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.

33  He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.

34  For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.

35  The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. 

Six profound statements are made by John the Baptist that would serve us all well to embrace:

Somewhat surprisingly, we see John’s conclusion stated at the outset, before any of the reasons for his conclusion are provided. It’s as if John is saying, “Here is my conclusion, and here are the reasons why,” verse 30: 

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” 

Consider this declaration by a humble man who shows by his humility, that real humility is not an achievement or an accomplishment, but is a byproduct, the consequence of one’s view of the Savior.[11] Want to be humble? Set your gaze on the Lord Jesus Christ, high and lifted up. See Him exalted, and you will rightly see yourself low.

Verse 31: 

“He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.” 

Here John the Baptist contrasts himself with Lord Jesus Christ. He is of the earth, earthly, and speaks of the earth. The Lord Jesus, however, comes from above and is above all. This is an all-encompassing declaration of Christ’s preeminence.

Verse 32: 

“And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.” 

Here John contrasts himself with the Savior once more, pointing out that while John can speak only what has first been revealed to him, the Lord Jesus Christ speaks of what He has seen and heard. He then declares in essence what the Apostle John says in John 1.11: 

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” 

The reality is that most people stumble on the “rock of offence.” Another important thing to note is the observation of Arthur W. Pink. He writes, 

“How radically different was this word of John from that of the Jews who declared ‘all men come to him,” v. 26! One lesson we may draw from this is the unreliability of statistics which seek to tabulate spiritual results.”[12] 

What an astute observation. There is no way to ascertain by attendance figures, baptismal counts, or the number of professions in Christ what has taken place spiritually.

Verse 33: 

“He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.” 

If you consider the claims of Christ and receive those claims as true you admit and acknowledge that God is true. However, if you will not consider the claims of Christ, or if you consider and then reject the claims of Christ by dismissing or ignoring them, then you deny the truthfulness of God. All who do not receive Christ’s claims as true stumble on the “rock of offence.”

Verse 34: 

“For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” 

This verse speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ in two ways: First, by declaring that He speaks the Words of God. Second, by declaring that unlike the prophets of the Old Testament who were given a measure of God’s Spirit, the Lord Jesus Christ is given the Spirit without measure. This attests to the Triunity of the Godhead. Therefore, do not think you can possibly stumble over the “rock of offence” and have any hope of being right with God.

Verse 35: 

“The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.” 

The Father has given to His Son, Jesus Christ the Lord, everything. Think about that. Everything! 

Finally, THE DESCRIPTION OF MEN’S DESTINIES 

Verse 36:   “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see

“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” 

Three observations to close out:

First, with respect to the “rock of offence,” it is in the end entirely a matter of faith. However, it is not faith as a passive matter, but faith as a verb: 

“He that believeth.” 

Everlasting life or no, or the wrath of God abiding on you, is entirely a matter of “He that believeth on the Son” or “he that believeth not the Son.” It is that simple. As astounding as it is to consider, your eternal destiny boils down to this matter of faith in Christ, yes or no. That is the first observation about your response to the “rock of offence.”

Second, the person who believes on the Son has everlasting life. The word “hath” does not look to the future but speaks to the present, the here and the now. Thus, if you come to faith in Christ you have, the instant your faith lays hold of Jesus Christ, the eternal life that is Jesus Christ, my Lord. And though there are features of your salvation that you will not experience this side of heaven, your eternal life will already be owned, will already be possessed, and will already be yours.

Third, the person who does not believe the Son suffers two dire consequences: First, you shall not see life. Because it is spiritual life, after all, and because you are spiritually dead, your closest and dearest friend can come to Christ and you still will not see, will not recognize, will not grasp, what has happened to your friend. For, as the Lord Jesus Christ said to Nicodemus, 

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[13] 

Second, you must also suffer the consequence of God’s wrath abiding on you. As we have already seen from Romans chapter one, God’s judgment of you has already begun. However, the full weight of His wrath will not be felt by you until after you depart this life for eternity, first in Hell and then in the lake of fire. 

Of course, unsaved people do not think when it comes to spiritual matters and their relationship with God, but what if they did? What if a lost person reflected on the possibility of encountering the “rock of offence”? Can a sinner stumble at the “rock of offence” and come out ahead? Can someone face the demand of the thrice holy God to repent of his sins and turn to Christ by refusing and hope to prevail? Such is not possible, showing that unsaved people do not do a great deal of thinking about important things.

I leave this with you in closing. Do not think you can prevail if you stumble upon the “rock of offence.” Oh no. Your only hope is to trust Christ, so God will plant your feet firmly on Christ the solid rock.

__________

[1] Exodus 17.6; Numbers 20.11; Deuteronomy 32.4, 15, 18, 30-32; 2 Samuel 22.3, 32, 47; 23.3; Psalm 18.2, 31, 46; 27.5; 28.1; 31.2-3; 40.2; 42.9; 61.2; 62.2, 6; 78.20, 35; 89.26; 92.15; 94.22; 1 Corinthians 10.4

[2] Matthew 16.18

[3] Psalm 16.11; 110.1; Matthew 26.64; Mark 12.36; 14.62; 16.19; Luke 20.42; 22.69; John 3.13; 13.1; 14.2-4; Acts 2.33, 34-35; 7.56; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; 6.9; Colossians 3.1; Second Thessalonians 1.7; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 9.24; 10.12-13; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22; Revelation 19.11

[4] John 5.1, 14; 7.1; 21.1; Revelation 1.19; 4.1; 7.1, 9; 9.12; 15.5; 18.1; 19.1; 20.3

[5] Mark 1.16-20

[6] John Gill, A Complete Body Of Doctrinal And Practical Divinity - The Baptist Faith Series Volume I, (Paris, Arkansas: the Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., reprinted 1989), pages 896-915.

[7] The Christian’s service to Christ is shown to be God’s activity, 2 Corinthians 5.20, and those dispatched by the centurion on his behalf for his sick servant, Luke 7.2-10, are reported in Matthew 8.5-10 (the same event) as if the centurion himself had spoken to the Savior.

[8] Luke 12.51

[9] John 1.29, 36

[10] 1 Corinthians 1.12

[11] Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), Vol 1, page 149.

[12] Ibid., page 150.

[13] John 3.3

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org