When we meet new people, we all do this thing—we want to get them in a box with a label as quickly as possible. To do this, we try to quickly figure out who they are and what they’re like. Of course, we know that most people hate being labelled or put in a box. So we try and be as sneaky as we can be in our labeling activities. The weird thing is that the new person that we’ve just met is sneakily trying to put us in a box as well. It’s human nature and we all do it.
So when we meet new people, we each have a series of questions that we ask to try and figure out who they are. The first one is often, “Where are you from?” That question might mean, “Which country are you from?” In that case, it’s a “What’s your heritage?” question. People have always asked me where I’m from. When I tell them that both sides of my family came to Australia from England over 100 years ago, I can tell that they’re really disappointed. I know this because they then tell me, “Oh, that’s a surprise, I thought you were Greek, or Italian, or Lebanese, or Spanish, or Israeli, or whatever else. Now that I work at MBM, Ray and Grant both reckon that I should be Maltese! I was called a ‘wog’ all the way through school, and most people still think I’m some sort of Mediterranean!
But the question might mean, “Where are you from?” might actually be a, “What suburb are you from?” question. We have a whole list of assumptions that we make about different suburbs in Sydney. If someone says that they are from the Eastern Suburbs, we might think, “Oh well, you’re rich and you’re a bit of a snob!” If we find out someone is from the North Shore, we might think, “Well, you’re pretentious and very well educated.” If someone is from the Shire, we might assume, “Well, you’re a tradie or in finance, you have at least three tattoos and aren’t aware of any other suburbs in Sydney.” If someone is from the West, we might think, “Well, you’re probably a pretty hard worker, you’re practical, you like Triple M, and everyone else in Sydney is secretly a little frightened of you, but you’re quite ok with that.” If someone is from the Blue Mountains, we might then think, “Well, you’re not planning on moving anywhere, your parents live around the corner, and you married someone you went to school with, and they’re possibly a distant relation.” Those stereotypes aren’t always true of course, but we all know each different part of Sydney has a reputation.
We might also ask where people went to school. We’re trying to figure out if they’re from a private school, a public school, or a parent controlled Christian school. And we also have a list of assumptions that we plug into each answer.
Then we ask what work they do. Is the person blue collar, white collar, no collar, dog collar? And we have another heap of assumptions we make. We’re trying to put people in a box with a label so that we’re comfortable with them.
Now, all the way through John’s Gospel, people are trying to do this to Jesus. When Jesus meets people, whether they are regular folks or religious leaders, they all ask him questions. They are trying to figure out what sort of box to put him in. The religious leaders are especially uncomfortable with Jesus because they don’t know him. They can’t control him. They’re also used to religious ritual, that everything is ordered the way that they are used to, and anything out of the ordinary freaks them out!
But the trouble is that there’s no box for Jesus. Every time they think they’ve got him figured out, Jesus says something that smashes their stupid box to pieces. It frustrates them, it makes them angry, and ultimately, it makes them want to kill Jesus—which, in the end, is exactly what they do.
While the religious leaders are busy trying to put Jesus in a human box, Jesus is busy putting himself into the box that says, ‘God’. Jesus is saying, “I’m God in the flesh”. That’s what is happening here in John 7, and it’s fascinating stuff.
As often happens in the Gospels, here in John 7 we find a crowd of people talking to Jesus. Some of them are religious leaders, but others are just regular folks. And there are three questions that they ask here, but Jesus doesn’t give them the answers they’re expecting, so it’s confusing for them, but fun for us!
So here are the three questions Jesus is asked in John 7: First, “Where did you go to school?”, verse 15. Second, “Where are you from?”, verses 25-27. Third, “Where are you going?”, verses 33-39.
The context of John 7 is one of the big festivals in the Jewish calendar, the Feast of Tabernacles. There were three major festivals throughout the year—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles—and Jewish people were meant to go up to Jerusalem and worship God at each of these festivals. I’ll tell you more about the Feast of Tabernacles in a bit.
John 7 starts in Galilee, up in the north of Israel, with a conversation between Jesus and a few of his brothers. Mary and Joseph had plenty more kids after Jesus was born, and they turn up in a few places in the Gospels. But at this point, they don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They just think Jesus is full of himself.
Jesus’ brothers were about to go up to Jerusalem for this Festival of Tabernacles, but Jesus tells them that he’s not going, and so they have a crack at him. Jesus was always planning on going to the festival, but he was just going to do it quietly. See, he knows that the Jewish religious leaders want to kill him, so he doesn’t march into Jerusalem with any fanfare. He just slips in through the back door. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem will happen, but that’s still about 6 months away.
So Jesus gets to Jerusalem in verse 11, and there are whispers among the crowds when they see him that they know who he is and that they know he does miracles and teaches with amazing authority. But opinion is divided in verse 12. Some think that Jesus is a good man, some think that he is a deceiver, but no one says anything publicly, because they were afraid of the Jewish religious leaders. The Jewish religious leaders haven’t given their verdict yet on who Jesus is—and that’s what people are waiting for. But no one is sure what to make of Jesus just yet. No one has been able to put him in a box, and that’s what they’re trying to do. So here’s their first question. Have a look at verse 14:
Not until halfway through the Festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?” (NIV)
Where did you go to school? Jesus is preaching like no one they’ve ever heard, but they don’t know where he studied. Jesus didn’t go to any of the places they studied! So they ask, “Where did you go to school, Jesus?” Did he go to Moore College? Did He go to SMBC? Did he go to Dallas Seminary? Did he go to Hillsong College? What box can we put you in? The answer is, “None of the above.” Have a look at verse 16:
“My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me! Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (NIV)
Jesus went to ‘The Bible College of Heaven’, or BCH for short!
There are all these assumptions behind this question. Where did you go to school? It’s quite arrogant really. The Jewish religious leaders want to see Jesus’ degree, they wanted a piece of paper to tell them that he was legit! But Jesus doesn’t have a piece of paper, he just has his word, and in quite a confronting way, he says that anyone who chooses to do the will of God will know that Jesus speaks with God’s authority!
Jesus isn’t the establishment. The Jewish religious leaders are. They have authority. Jesus doesn’t. They look the part with all their long flowing robes and big hats. Jesus just looks like a regular bloke. He’s a tradie, and that’s not enough for religious people.
When we moved back to Sydney from Tassie to work at Menai, we met this large group of youth leaders, aged from say 19-23. They mostly didn’t look like they should be leading anything. Tassie was high Anglican. It was very religious and quiet, with beautiful old stone buildings, all kinds of colourful robes, and ornate pews that were empty. But the guys at Menai were surfers and skaters and footy players. They had long hair. They were grotty. They didn’t look right. But they led right. These young men and women were on fire for Jesus. They were passionate and they led with integrity and they were zealous to see people saved. They were outstanding. But they didn’t look right and it upset a few of the more conservative parents at church.
That’s what’s going on here. Jesus doesn’t look right. Jesus doesn’t look ‘religious’ enough to be legit. So that’s their first question. They judge Jesus, and they think “You don’t look right, Jesus!” So they ask him, “Where did you go to school?” And the answer was “heaven”.
The second question was, “Jesus, where did you come from?” Have a look at verse 25:
At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.’” (NIV)
So here’s what’s happening. In the Old Testament, Micah 5 tells us that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. But by the time Jesus turned up, a few Rabbis had said that no one will know where the Messiah comes from, and somehow this idea had been widely believed. But everyone knows where Jesus was from. He’s Jesus of Nazareth, isn’t he? Only, Jesus wasn’t born in Nazareth—that was just where he grew up. Where does Micah 5 say that the Messiah will be born? Bethlehem. Where was Jesus born? Bethlehem!
Now, I really don’t know what the crowd expected Jesus to say. Maybe they just thought that he’d say, “Nazareth”, or some other town, but I can guarantee you they weren’t expecting him to say this, in verse 28:
“Yes, you know me and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but He who sent me is true. You do not know Him, but I know Him, because I am from Him and He sent me!” (NIV)
Where are you from Jesus? The answer is heaven, the same as the answer to the first question.
From time to time you’ll hear people say that Jesus never claimed to be God. You can only think that if you’ve never read the Bible. He does it a bunch of times in John’s Gospel. He does it in John 5 when he says that God is his Father. He’ll do it again in John 10 when he says that, “I and the Father are one.” He does it again in John 8 and a few other places, and John 7 is one of them, for there he says that he was from God and that God sent him. In that culture a messenger had the authority of the one who sent him. That’s just how it worked. So when Jesus says that he’s from God and has been sent by God, the Jewish religious leaders understand exactly what he’s saying, that he is claiming equality with God.
That’s why some of them want to kill Jesus in verse 30. If they just thought Jesus was saying that he was a messenger or a courier or that he worked for ‘Startrack’, they wouldn’t care. But they know exactly what Jesus meant. Jesus claimed to be equal with God and so they wanted to kill him for blasphemy.
But there were others in the crowd who reacted differently. In verse 31, many in the crowd believed in him. Jesus just made logical sense. Everyone in Jerusalem knew Jesus was doing miracles. Everyone also knew the Messiah would do miracles when he came. Therefore, Jesus must be the Messiah! You see this all the way through John’s Gospel, that people are polarized by Jesus. Some believe him and love him, while others reject him and want to kill him.
We see the same thing here today in the conversations we have with people about Jesus. People either believe Jesus, worship him, love him, and trust him, or reject him. Some folks say they’re not sure, so they’re sitting on the fence. The bad news is that Satan owns the fence, and so if you’re unsure about Jesus, then you’re still rejecting him. But the good news is that Jesus is still calling you to change sides, to worship him and trust him and find mercy and forgiveness and a new life. That’s what Jesus is like: merciful and gracious, and he loves you.
So Jesus has been asked where he went to school, and the answer is heaven. He’s been asked where he’s from, and the answer is heaven.
They ask him where he’s going. And you might guess what his answer will be: heaven. From verse 33-36, this conversation happens between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus, and they ask where Jesus is going. Jesus tells them that he is going back to the one who sent him, and they aren’t going to be able to follow him. That’s interesting, of course, but it’s verse 37 that grabs our attention. Jesus is heading back to heaven for a reason.
Now, we need to understand the Feast of Tabernacles if we want to understand what Jesus is saying here. It’s autumn, it’s dry in Israel at this time of year. Wells are drying up. Cisterns are low. Springs aren’t flowing like they normally do. The grass has died off on the hills, so everything’s brown. The grass isn’t going to grow back without water. Their next crops aren’t growing without God sending rain on their dry land. The wells aren’t going to fill back up, and the springs won’t flow properly without new rain. Part of the Feast of Tabernacles was corporate prayer for God to send rain to refresh the dry land.
But another part of the Feast of Tabernacles was spiritual. God’s people weren’t just praying for rain to refresh the dry land, but they were also asking God to refresh them spiritually when they got spiritually dry. They would sing some of the Psalms that spoke about spiritual refreshment at this Feast of Tabernacles. Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for the water so my soul longs for you, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the living God, where can I go and meet with God? Or Psalm 63, “You, God, are my God; earnestly I seek you, my whole being longs for you, as in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”
The Feast went for seven days. On the first six days, the priests would walk out of the city along with the people, and go to a spring. One of the priests carried a golden pitcher. They would fill the pitcher with water and walk back to the temple. The priests would climb the steps to the outside altar and pour the water over the altar while the crowd of people sang some of the Psalms. They’d do this each morning for the first six days, and then on the seventh day, “the last and greatest day of the Feast”, they would do this seven times.
Partly, this ceremony was a plea to God to water the dry land with new rain so that their crops would grow. Partly it was symbolic. Back when God’s people were wandering in the desert in Numbers 20, they were thirsty and God brought water out of a rock. Also, both Zechariah and Ezekiel saw visions of rivers flowing out of the temple, symbolizing God’s blessing over His people.
Notice what Jesus does and says in verse 37:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. (NIV)
Understand that Jesus is using what is going on around him as a visual aid, but he’s reinterpreting it. He’s saying to the crowds of people who have come there to worship God and ask for Spiritual refreshment that they do not need religion or ritual or ceremony. Rather, they need him. They need the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit!
That’s what John tells us in verse 39. Jesus is talking about the time that will come only seven or eight months after this day, after Jesus has been crucified and raised back to life, after he has returned to heaven. That is the time when he will pour out his Spirit, and those who believe in him will be filled with the Holy Spirit in a way that God’s people have never experienced before.
With this festival going on all around him, with water being carried to the temple and poured on the altar over and over again, Jesus promises the fulfilment of all those Psalms they’d been singing and praying. Their souls will be refreshed. Their longing for God will be met with perfect intimacy. God himself will take up residence in their hearts by his Spirit. This is wonderful stuff.
But have you forgotten that feeling? Have you forgotten the joy that comes with knowing Jesus? Is that feeling of rivers of living water flowing through you only a distant memory? Sometimes, those rivers dry up a bit. Illness, problems within your family, persistent sin, laziness, relationship breakdown, separation or divorce, mental illness, there’s any number of causes, but from time to time, all of us forget the relationship we have with Jesus and we turn it into a religion. We just go through the motions and it gets dry and stale, restrictive, predictable.
That’s what religion is, isn’t it? Predictable. You know what’s going to happen and when, you know what’s going to be said and how. It’s a very controlled environment. A relationship with Jesus is none of those things.
Some folks in the crowd have just figured that out. It’s like they’ve been living in a black and white movie and someone just turned the colour on.
See if you can picture them. There’s the long line of priests carrying water from the spring, they are pouring it over the altar. There are crowds of people singing Psalms, yearning for God to refresh them, and you hear the commotion in the middle of the temple grounds. It’s Jesus. He’s speaking loudly. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. But you can’t not listen, because he’s offering that spiritual refreshing for which you’ve come to Jerusalem. For years and years you’ve sought it but never received it. And this Jesus is saying that all you have to do is come to him and believe in him, and rivers of living water will flow from within you. You just can’t ignore that, because that’s what you’ve longed for your whole life! Everyone does, we just look for it so often in all the wrong places.
It’s so easy to forget the difference Jesus makes. It’s so easy to slip into religion and forget relationship. We’re so used to reading the Gospels that we just miss the seismic shift that happens every time Jesus opens His mouth. This festival had been happening for hundreds of years and Jesus just turned it upside down. Most of us have read John 7 and maybe never noticed it.
In a world of people just ticking the religious box week by week, Jesus offers us something completely different.
Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for the water so my soul longs for you, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?”
Psalm 63: “You, God, are my God; earnestly I seek you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”
Friends, religion can’t fix that longing. It’s not designed to. Only Jesus can satisfy our spiritual thirst, when we come to him trusting in him, he takes our sin away. He changes our heart and he gives us his Spirit, and that changes everything.