UNCERTAINTY John 7
“Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about Him. Some said, ‘He is a good man.’ Others replied, ‘No, He deceives the people’” (John 7:12).Amid growing uncertainty one basic truth emerges. We each must listen to Jesus, and decide.
Jesus anonymously joined the crowds at the Feast of Tabernacles, where speculation about Him reached fever pitch (7:1–13). His public teaching aroused opposition (vv. 14–24) and debate over His true identity (vv. 25–44). The rulers, however, remained antagonistic and unbelieving (vv. 45–52).
Understanding the Text
“No one who wants to become a public figure” John 7:1–4.
These words of Jesus’ brothers drip with sarcasm. They impute contemptible motives to one who wanted only to do the Father’s will. And they seem to cast doubt on Christ’s miracles as well. Smirking, the brothers said Jesus ought to go up to Judea and join the festivities, so everyone can witness His miracles rather than simply hear rumors about them. Unbelief has a habit of imputing the worst of motives to the best of acts. Christ’s works of compassion—His healings and feeding a hungry crowd—were dismissed as the publicity-seeking acts of a man hungry for recognition. Jesus found only skepticism and raised eyebrows in His own family! Don’t be surprised if the things you do to serve the Lord are similarly misunderstood. And don’t let the veiled attacks of those who should be supporters deter you. Like Jesus, you and I serve the Lord and seek to please Him. If what we do is motivated by a desire to serve the Lord, what others think is irrelevant. God knows our hearts. “Even His own brothers did not believe in Him” John 7:5. There is a note of encouragement to be found here, in the fact that we can rightly add, “then.” Later Christ’s brothers did believe, and were with the little company of believers when the Spirit fell that first Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Keep on serving the Lord. In time even your critics will understand. “The right time for Me has not yet come” John 7:6–13. Jesus’ purposes were not political, but spiritual. The crowds had already tried once to “make Him King by force” (6:15). There was the distinct possibility that if Christ had gone to the festival publicly, with marching bands of disciples cheering Him along His way, that a populace hungry to throw off Rome’s yoke would have burst into spontaneous rebellion. This scenario is not mere speculation. The history of the time reveals that a number of rebellions and revolts led by pseudo-messiahs had already broken out! Modern political figures realize that most of their supporters actually want to use them rather than follow them. That’s why the reliance on polls. The candidate checks carefully on the strength of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” feelings in his district, or comes to the religious rally and announces his support of a bill guaranteeing the rights of Christian schools. The supporters cheer. They’ll vote for him because he’ll support their cause. The honest politician supports a cause because he or she believes it is right. The rest cynically consult the polls, and sell themselves for votes. Jesus sought no such supporters. Jesus leads, and calls us to follow. He sets the agenda, and His refusal to go up publicly to the feast was a refusal to let Himself be used for political purposes. “Such learning, without having studied” John 7:14–16. This is one verse we had better not apply to ourselves! Of course, in context “the Jews” (e.g., Christ’s “opposition”) were speaking of the well-established system by which one gained recognition as a rabbi, or teacher. This system called for the learner to attach himself to a recognized authority in Jewish Law, and study with him for years. Christ had not gone through this discipling process: yet Christ displayed an amazing mastery of Scripture. Jesus explained that He received His teaching directly from “the One who sent Me.” This was a dual claim: to have been “sent” from God meant to speak with His authority. To have been taught by Him meant that Jesus was a channel of revelation! You and I must settle for study of what has been revealed. Christ had learning “without having studied,” but you and I will never learn unless we apply ourselves to study the Word of God. “If anyone chooses to do God’s will” John 7:17. The word “chooses” here is a strong one. It represents a settled determination to do God’s will. Only such a determination will lead to spiritual understanding and settled faith. If you’ve ever wondered why so many intelligent people can know so much about the Bible, and still not believe in either Christ or the Scriptures, here is one explanation. Finding out that Jesus’ teaching comes from God depends on our commitment to do God’s will. We discover the truth of Scripture not by intellect, but by obedience. Man’s approach to spiritual life has always been learn, that you may do. The divine formula is, “Do, that you may know.” “You are demon-possessed” John 7:18–20. Much in John relies on background found in the other three Gospels. As the last to write, it seems likely John felt no need to restate material in the other, widely distributed, works. We see this reliance on background here. The accusation of the crowd, “You’re demon-possessed,” reflects the charge brought against Jesus by the Pharisees and rulers in an attempt to explain away His undeniable spiritual powers (cf. Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15). While Jesus knew the opposition was determined to kill Him, rumors to this effect had only begun to circulate among the people (cf. John 7:25). If only folks would stop to think today, they would realize that they must make some decision about Jesus. In the first century His miracles demanded an explanation. Today 2,000 years of the persistent faith of millions that Jesus is the Son of God also demands explanation. How can an obscure carpenter in a tiny, backward district of an empire long turned to dust continue to affect so many human lives? This is perhaps the greatest miracle of all, and any thinking person must be driven to find some explanation. “I did one miracle” John 7:21–24. Jesus had done more than one miracle. But the one that stuck in the craw of the opposition involved the healing of the paralytic on the Sabbath. John gives us another line of biblical reasoning that Christ used to show up the fallacy of strict Phariseeism. Sabbath observance was rooted in the Creation account, and thus was in effect long before the Mosaic Law was given. Yet a child was circumcised on the eighth day, even if that day was the Sabbath! And so, Jesus said, if a rite that marks a person’s purification is permitted in one member of the body on the Sabbath, why should Jesus be criticized for making a sick man well on that day? “Stop judging by mere appearances” is both a rejection of the rulers’ right to stand in judgment on Jesus, and an expression of contempt for their superficial grasp of God’s Word. “The chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest Him” John 7:25–47. Jesus’ teaching had its impact. While many remained uncertain, some “put their faith in Him” (v. 31). Afraid that the Jesus movement would gain momentum, the members of the Sanhedrin sent temple guards to arrest Him. These were Jewish rather than Roman soldiers: Levites, who were trained to keep order in the temple area and to guard its purity. Yet when the detail sent to arrest Jesus heard what Christ said, they “went back to the chief priests and Pharisees” without Him (v. 45). It took courage for these soldiers to disobey orders. They may not have been sure who Jesus was. But their stand, and the Pharisees’ furious response, implies some level of faith. We need to honor these temple guards, and all military men like them, who through the ages have refused to obey orders that violated their beliefs and consciences. And we need to model ourselves on them. Civil disobedience was praised in the ’60s, when the issue was civil rights. The same folks who praised it then now condemn civil disobedience by pro-life forces who picket abortion clinics, and then willingly accept any penalties imposed by the law. The temple guards remind us that, whatever the issue, the believer is responsible to obey conscience first and legally constituted authorities second. “The Pharisees retorted” John 7:47–52. The contempt the Pharisees felt for everyone but themselves comes through clearly. To the rulers, the temple guards, though recruited from the tribe of Levi, weren’t smart enough to listen to Jesus and make up their own minds. The average Jewish person was part of a mob “that knows nothing of the Law—there is a curse on them” (v. 49). And when Nicodemus made a feeble attempt to bring up a point of law in defense of Jesus, the other Pharisees silenced him with ridicule. Note well these characteristics of Christ’s opposition. They still appear today in those who falsely claim spiritual authority. When you sense arrogance, contempt for the spiritual insight of others, dismissal of ordinary folks, and see the use of ridicule to silence others, you can be sure that such leaders do not represent Jesus Christ.
Grab a Yellow Pad(John 7:25–43)
One of my most important tools is a pad of yellow, lined paper. I use it to make lists of things I have to do each day. And I use it to help in making tough decisions—pros on one side, cons on the other. Listing on yellow pads helps me sort through almost any issue. The folks who listened to Jesus speak at that Feast of Tabernacles seem to have needed one of my yellow pads. Or maybe they were using one mentally, totaling up pros and cons and options. Pros? Well, Jesus was out there preaching, and the authorities had done nothing to stop Him. Maybe the rulers knew He is really the Christ (v. 26). And those miraculous signs: Jesus sure had performed a bunch (v. 31). And His teaching: what power and authority (vv. 40–41). Cons? Some said the authorities were trying to kill Him. They wouldn’t kill a real prophet, would they? (v. 25) Isn’t the Christ supposed to appear suddenly, out of nowhere? (v. 27) And look, this Jesus is from Nazareth. Micah said the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem (v. 42). Options? What choices do we have? Well, Jesus could be demon-possessed (cf. v. 20). He could be a charlatan; a deceiver who deserved death (v. 25, cf. v. 12). He could be nothing more than a good Man (cf. v. 12). He could be the prophet predicted by Moses (v. 40). He could be the Christ (vv. 31, 41). And it really was just like this, as most people of Judea struggled with uncertainty that Tabernacles week, and endlessly discussed pros and cons. But there were a few people who threw their yellow pads away. These folks listened to Jesus “and put their faith in Him.” I suspect this is the best pathway to faith, for us and for those we witness to. Put away the yellow pad. Abandon listing pros and cons and options. Instead, simply listen to Jesus. And let our hearts tell us who He is.
To find freedom from uncertainty, always listen to God’s Word with your heart.
“In all my perplexities and distresses, the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength.”—Robert E. Lee