How to Respond When God Says No According to John 3:27

Recently I spent some time meditating on John 3:27. When I come to my morning devotions I never doubt that what I will be reading in God’s Word will be true and relevant, but I wasn’t expecting how applicable this verse would be to my family’s current situation. If you’re on my email list, then you know that I recently sent out an email sharing some of my family’s struggles and stress causers, particularly our search for a place to live.  

A couple months ago we had to move out of our rental because my mom and I were reacting to it very badly. Since then we’ve been living in a couple’s house from our church while they are in Arizona for the winter. We are so, so blessed that this couple has let us stay in their house. But we know we can’t stay here forever. We are expecting the couple to return near the end of April, and right now, we don’t have anywhere to go once that happens. Long story short, we’ve looked into all kinds of housing options, from building, to renting, to buying, but just as soon as doors open, they close again, and we have yet to find a housing option that will work for our family. It seems there is a housing crisis all over the nation and our little town in Montana is no different. 

Our search for a place to live is made even more difficult by my family’s specific needs related to our chronic health issues and environmental sensitivities caused by toxic mold illness. Generally old houses are a no no, and we have yet to find one that is in our price range and that my mom and I do not react to (if you’re new to the blog and would like to know more about our health journey, you can read this blog post). As you can imagine, things have been pretty stressful around here lately. It’s been a struggle to trust God, and, especially for me, to be content in this uncertain season of life. 

After all, God is all-powerful and all sovereign. Technically, he could just snap his fingers and suddenly provide us with a place to rent that my mom and I wouldn’t react to. He could make the healthy, mold resistant home we’ve designed spontaneously appear.  Wouldn’t that be easier? Wouldn’t that be best? Why all this uncertainty and stress? Why all this waiting?

Maybe you can relate to these types of questions. Maybe you’ve asked them before in a stressful and uncertain situation that was just as hard on you spiritually as it was mentally and emotionally. Maybe you’re asking those kinds of questions right now. Maybe, like my family, you’re weary. You just want things to work out like you planned… for once. 

And let me make this clear, there’s nothing wrong with wanting circumstances to improve or praying for relief or healing. There’s nothing wrong with making plans… and wanting those plans to work. But it’s when our hopes or prayers aren’t fulfilled, when the answers to our plans and even dreams are “no,” that we as Christians must be especially vigilant. In the pain of our disappointment, we must hold on to Truth. We must fight to trust. 

I understand how hard it is. I understand the weariness, the pull of anxiety, the doubt, and the temptation to fall into discontentment and complaining. But when we do that, we have fallen into a dangerous sin…  the same kind of sin that was at the root of the complaint posed in John chapter 3. 

A Sinister Concern Posed

In John 3:22-24, we discover that John the Baptist (who I will here refer to as ‘JB’) and our Lord Jesus Christ were baptizing. Jesus was performing his baptisms in the Judean countryside while on the way to Samaria, and JB was baptizing quite a ways away at Aenon near Salim (you can look those locations up on the maps in the back of your Bible). But apparently, despite the distance between the two, word traveled fast. In verse 26 we find a handful of JB’s disciples approaching the Baptizer with an interesting concern. They say:

Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.

What JB’s disciples are saying here is more than an innocent observation. It’s a concern that, at its core, is a sinister one. In short, JB’s disciples are concerned that Jesus’ rising popularity is going to damage JB’s popularity and the pervasiveness of his ministry. They see what is happening. They see more and more people going to Jesus…  and they don’t like it.  

JB’s disciples are expressing discontentment, dissatisfaction, with the way things are. And it is this dissatisfaction that makes their concern so sinister. 

Now, let me say before we move on that I don’t honestly think JB’s disciples were trying to be, well, bad. They were probably not aware of the serious, and sinful, implications of what they were saying. But whether they consciously knew what they were doing or not, JB is about to expose their dissatisfaction for what it really is: A complaint against God. 

A Sinister Concern Exposed

JB’s response to these guys is pretty amazing. He brings up so many good points and perfectly emulates the humble, Christ exalting posture that should be at the very core of who we are as Christians. But for the purpose of this blog post, I am only going to focus on John’s very first statement–  his opening remarks, if you will. (And if you’re disappointed, well then, I guess you’ll have to go read and study John chapter 3 for yourself.) Here’s how JB opens his response. He says:

 A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.

John 3:27

Now if you’re like me, at first glance this response was pretty confusing. What in the world does this have to do with the dissatisfaction JB’s disciples were expressing? I’m glad you asked. Through this statement, JB is essentially communicating two main things:

  1.  The role that has been given to him is from God. 

Earlier in John’s gospel we learn that John the Baptist is the prophesied herald of the coming Christ (1:23). JB’s role in redemptive history was to prepare the way for Christ’s coming and point others to him. By stating that no one can receive anything unless heaven gives it to him, JB is saying that this role of herald has been given to him by God. This is logical. After all, if no one can receive anything unless it is given to him from God, then anything anyone does receive must be from God. Now, despite this being an amazing declaration of God’s sovereignty over our lives– even down to the specific details of what role we are to play in redemptive history, this statement has massive significance upon the concern that JB’s disciples are posing. This brings me to the second thing JB is communicating. 

  1.  If JB’s role is not to gather crowds but to send them to Christ, then what is happening, mainly more and more people going to Christ, is in line with his role. And since God is the one who has given JB this role, a complaint, a dissatisfaction with what is happening, is ultimately and truly a complaint against God.  

Did you catch that? JB’s disciples want something that God has not given them– mainly for JB to take the fullness of the spotlight and not Jesus Christ. By doing so, they are expressing a distrust in God and his plan. They are saying that their way is better than God’s way. 

Does this sound familiar? It should. Wanting something that God has not given, and mistrusting him as a result, is a sin that goes way back to the very beginning of time. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden display this same arrogance and distrust. Now why do I say arrogance?  

Because my friends, to presume that our way is better than the way of the good, almighty, all sovereign, all-knowing, all powerful, wise God is arrogance.  

Adam and Eve, by reaching for the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were saying that they thought their way was best and they reached for a role that they had not been given. 

A Kick in the Pants

By opening with a statement upholding the good and sovereign will of God, JB is exposing the seriousness of his disciples’ complaint, showing his disciples that to say such a thing is a rebellion against the way God has sovereignly ordered the world. 

The same goes for us.

When we complain or are discontent because we wanted things to go another way but they didn’t, when we presume to find a flaw in the way things are, we are in arrogant rebellion. We are putting ourselves in the place of God and assuming we know best. In short, we are drinking out of the same cup that cursed the entire world and all of humanity at the fall. 

This passage was a kick in the pants for me. Many times already, as my family has struggled to find a place to live, I have been discontent with where God has placed us. I have presumed to find a flaw in the way things are, even if my discontentment never verbally expressed itself as a complaint. And even beyond my family’s current difficulties, I can look back at countless moments throughout my life where I chose to despair and doubt rather than trust and hope in God’s guiding hand.

But a person cannot receive even one thing unless God gives it to him, and therefore everything my family has experienced, everything we are experiencing, every door closed, every obstacle, every rental we looked at that hasn’t worked, is from God. If God wanted us to have found a place to live by now, we would have. And since we have not, the only logical conclusion, and the only biblical conclusion, is that he has something far better planned. Because he knows what is best and we do not. 

How John the Baptist responded to his disciples in John 3:27 is the same way we should respond to those moments in life when what is happening around us seems to be a painful misconstruing of the way things should really be. We must recognize with John that God’s purpose and plan is intrinsically and inseparably woven into everything that has and will happen to us. And in that recognition, my friend, there is great comfort and great hope. Because we know who our God is. We know his promise that to those who believe in him, all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).

As I pondered John 3:27 last week I was reminded of Job. Job was a righteous man, who went through trials and tribulations far worse than anything my family has experienced or is experiencing. After many, many long days of darkness, Job was at last answered by God’s own voice– and was humbled and rebuked for how he had questioned and tested God in his time of trial.

God asks Job: 

Will you even put me in the wrong?

Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?

Have you an arm like God,

and can you thunder with a voice like his?

Job 40:8b-9

Friend, I am saying all this not to minimize the hardships you are going through– or to say that it is an easy thing to trust God and be content. I know how hard it is– not just from my family’s current difficulties but from the hardships I have experienced throughout my lifetime (as short as that lifetime has been). It is a hard thing to trust God and to humbly proclaim his ways are best in any circumstance, no doubt! But it is especially so in intense suffering. And it is a much, much easier thing to fall into the darkness of discontentment and complaining. But nevertheless, my friend, we must fight to trust. We must fight for light in darkness and joy in gloom. We must fight against our sinful arrogance, and confess before our Father that his ways are best– because they are. 

Let us say with Job: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know… Therefore I despise myself, and repent…” (Job 42:2-3, 6)

God is good. He is. And he does not only know what is good for his people, he knows what is best. Even when we do not understand. 

Will we put God in the wrong? 

Will we condemn him that we may be right? 

Do we have an arm like God? 

Can we thunder with a voice like his? 

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