Total Pageviews

Saturday, February 5, 2011

John 7:1-13, Additional Thoughts

Jesus was not very impressive. In fact, he got it wrong much of the time. The whole resurrection was a big deal. It’s good that he pulled that off. But he could have been so much better overall if he had had a publicist, someone to make the most of his shining moments. He needed a top-quality PR person to get the most mileage out of the miracles, the wise and exceedingly counter-cultural teaching, and the relationships. Jesus was great, but could have been so much more.

This passage in John 7 is a case in point. He’s in Galilee, the northern part of Israel, and it is time for the Festival of Booths, which happens in what would be October on our calendar. Jews would go to Jerusalem in the south and re-enact the wilderness wanderings when Moses led the nation out of Egypt and into the Sinai desert for 40 years.

During the Festival of Booths, the nation converged on the capital city. Jesus’ miracles would gain no traction in Galilee. He needed to be seen where the people were.

His brothers told him as much. They probably heard Jesus when he gave the Sermon on the Mount. So they heard him say, “Let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works” (Matthew 5:16). They knew no one was seeing his good works in Capernaum or Nazareth. Jesus needed to be in the south, in Judea, in Jerusalem.

Last week, I talked about the good relations between Jesus and his brothers, that seem to be a part of the story in John’s gospel that is missing in the others. That good family feeling started to break down when Jesus invaded the temple wildly as reported in the chapter two. Further erosion of his relations with his relations came as his brothers realized he wasn’t trying to make the family look good. Jesus’ mission was not to provide social success for his earthly family. His mission was to seek out and save the lost and to bring glory to God.

Turning the page to John 7, we see the relationship has become tense. His brothers confront him. “Go to Judea,” they say, “so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world” (v.4).

Maybe, they had a point. Jesus fed a crowd of thousands by the Sea of Galilee. His disciple, Philip, told him six months wages would not be enough to give each person in the crowd even a little bread. Jesus fed them all. The throng was so full of bread and fish, there were 12 baskets of leftovers (John 6:13).

The story of such a miracle would surely travel to Jerusalem. People would be talking about Jesus. They would remember the incident of a few years back where he turned over the money changing tables and drove animals out of the temple. Some might remember the miraculous healing in Jerusalem. A man had been a complete invalid for 38 years and Jesus gave him health, including the ability to walk. People remembered such stories and put two and two together. All over Israel people spoke about and wondered about Jesus.

If he could transport such a massive miracle, the feeding of 5000, from Galilee to Jerusalem; the talk of it would go all the way to Rome. People with real power notice Jesus. He’d be known everywhere. His brothers said, go to Jerusalem. Show yourself to the world.

“The world,” Jesus said in response, “hates me because I testify against it” (John 7:7).

Sometimes, it’s easy to see the rub. Where the tension lies is obvious. Jesus’ brothers say, “Show yourself to the world.” Work your miracles, impress people, do good, and gain a name. Jesus will have none of it. Not only he does not care about impressing the world, he sets him self in opposition to the world. The world hates him because he judges it.

We are drawn back to John chapter 1, where Jesus is the eternal word who leaves the eternal Heavens to enter the confines of our finite, time-locked world. “He was in the world and the world came into being through him; yet, the world did not know him” (John 1:10).

His brothers, unnamed in John 7, don’t know anything about his pre-existence at the beginning. They know they have seen miracles. He’s unlike anyone else. But the miracles are not enough to inspire them to listen when he teaches about God. Even in Jesus’ presence, his brothers are still worried about what the world thinks. They want him to either conform or do something so massively impressive that the world will have to conform. When and more importantly if, Jesus does that – some super miracle – then his brothers will buy in and follow him. Until then, he needs to put up or shut up.

Jesus cares about what the world thinks, but not because he wants to be liked. Jesus cares about how wrongly the world thinks about God. When John says, ‘the world,’ here, he means the people of the world – people who are fallen, lost in sin, separated from God. Jesus testifies against the world, drawing the world’s hatred, because he tells the truth. He speaks judgment. People don’t want to hear that by their own choices, they are cut off from God, cut off from eternal life. It’s as true now as it was then.

At this point, we might be tempted to set the choices. Are we with Jesus’ brothers, seeking the accolades and acceptance of the world? Or are we with Jesus, affirming his judgment of sin? We nod approvingly when he says that the world hates him because he testifies against it. Are with Jesus or with his brothers?

This is church, the church of Jesus Christ. So the answer is obvious. We have to take Jesus’ side in this family dispute. The world really is a terribly corrupted place. With Jesus we testify against the it.

Of course that’s the answer, but we better make sure we understand everything before we jump on board with Jesus. His is a lonely path. He said as much to his brothers. “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me” (7:7).

So they went to Jerusalem without him. The Festival of Booths was incredibly important, especially for Jewish men. Jesus was cut-off from family. They were doing what brothers did together – traveling to the city and bonding as they walked the many miles, celebrating there together for many days, and coming home again - together. Jesus missed all that. He missed the relation-building that took place.

If we say, “Well, Jesus didn’t need them, he had his perfect relationship with the Father,” then we are missing Jesus’ humanity. The Word became flesh. Jesus was fully human and humans are at a loss when cut off from the most important relationships. In the garden before he was arrested, Jesus told his disciples how much he needed their companionship (Mark 15:33-34). To follow God’s lead and turn against his brothers was to accept social ostracism. It was very lonely for Jesus.

I have friends who follow Jesus and who are from non-Christian families. One friend, whose parents are Buddhist, has told me of lying in bed at night, weeping because he wanted his family to share the joy of Jesus and the celebration of baptism with him. But they will not and in fact they oppose his decision to express his love for God. For him to walk the way of Jesus is to walk a lonely path.

If we sit in church, together with 100 or so Christian friends, and courageously say, “Yes, the world is corrupt and with Jesus we testify against it,” we need to know there will be days ahead when our friends are not with us. The time comes when we are called to speak out against cruelty and injustice, and the time comes when we have to choose to not participate in something. Making a stand is a part of our testimony against sin. In those moments, we pass up something inviting, something fun, and something everyone else is into. We pass it up because we are following the Jesus who refused to work miracles for the sake of popularity. We speak Jesus’ words against sin and we become unpopular, unloved, and on the outside.

There’s more. When we join with Jesus in testifying against sin and against injustice in the world and against immorality in the world (and if we testify against one we better testify against both), it is crucial that we remember something else said about the world in the Gospel of John.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).

Why does the world need saving? Because it is a mess. I won’t go into specific examples. We could each pick our favorite sin set whether it be related to some immorality or injustice. There’s so much bad in the world it is quite easy for preachers to rail against it. There’s enough sin to preach against 52 Sundays out of the year. Overdoing it in damning sin ignores the good in the world both in God’s creation and in human culture, which does a lot of things right. The bottom line is John 3:17 says Jesus came to save the world because God loves the world. God’s plan for us is salvation, not condemnation.

When we come to John 7 and read Jesus saying “I testify against the world,” and we shout “O Me too,” we have to remember John 3. Following our Master we know our testimony against sin is for the sake of love that the world would come to see Jesus, believe in Him, and be saved.

Rejecting popularity and testifying against sin is the right thing to do. We are called to live a testimony of righteousness. We have to keep in mind that living in truth leads to very scary, very lonely moments far from the safe confines of church were we stand up for what’s right without support from anyone around us. The only thing bolstering us in those moments is the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. To follow Jesus is to walk a lonely path.

Followers of Jesus love the world. Our testimony is not a triumphant “I am bound for Heaven and you can go to Hell.” Our testimony is love and prayer for the meanest most criminal people we know because God loves them. Jesus came that they might believe in Him and be saved. His message of salvation is our counter-cultural, love-filled testimony and our dogged willingness to walk alongside people not that we might be accepted, but that we might show Jesus to them.

Ironically, after Jesus told his brothers he would not go and impress the temple hierarchy in Jerusalem with miracles, he went, secretly. Once there, his love for sinners spilled out. He said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).

Even more ironically, Jesus eventually did exactly what his brothers wanted him to do. He went to Jerusalem and performed a most spectacular miracle on the most public of stages. He was crucified on a Roman cross. He died for the very sins of the people of the world that he testified against. His judgment was for the sake of salvation.

And his brothers, James, Jude and the rest, believed.

He didn’t go in chapter 7 for the Festival of Booths because it wasn’t God’s time and he wasn’t out to impress anybody. Jesus consistently lived God’s plan for his life and Jesus consistently loved with the love of God.

We are called to do the same. We are called to reject popularity and acceptance and instead in Jesus’ name, speak the courageous truth about sin in the world. That call is tough to answer. But he walks with us. And only walking with Jesus can one meet God, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and receive peace that passes all understanding.

We are called to walk the lonely path. We are called to speak the Gospel truth that the world might see Jesus, believe, and be saved.

1 comment: