Stop Judging By Mere Appearances (AM)
In John 7 the challenge before us is grasping the true identity of Jesus in a world of competing and conflicting voices.
Stop Judging By Mere Appearances (AM)John 7:1-37
March 17, 2019
Are you a ‘black and white’ thinker or a ‘grey’ thinker? Is everything right or wrong for you? Or do you live with many shades of grey? You need to be both, but it depends on what the issue is. You need to know when to be ‘black and white’—and uncompromising. There is no ‘grey’ in paedophilia: it is always wrong! You hear about the mass shootings in a mosque in New Zealand, and you must say, “This is evil!” But whether Holden is better than Ford is a ‘grey’ issue.
When resolving conflict between friends, there may be two sides to a story. You can see how a person might take a different view.
John 7 is a difficult passage, but at its heart it is about the struggle to grasp who Jesus is. It is not a matter where you can be ‘grey’. Either Jesus is the Messiah or he is not. Your are either for him or against him. The problem for us is that we live in the same world as John 7, a world of competing ideas and conflicting voices as to who Jesus really is. And it’s not like the voices stop speaking once we come to Christ. We have already seen in John 6 that Jesus has crowds of over five thousand follow him because of his miracles. Then Jesus says that unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you can’t have eternal life. At this point, the crowd is offended, and leave Jesus in droves. Jesus goes from having five thousand following him to a dozen: from a mega church pastor to a Bible study leader in one day.
Jesus says to the twelve, “Do you want leave as well”. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69 NIV)
Three times as a young Christian, this verse kept me from walking away from Jesus. It told me, “If you are going to walk away from Jesus, then be clear about who or what you are walking to.” There is no better option. Jesus may not have answered all my questions, but he gives the best answers. As we heard last week, the world has many teachers, but only one saviour.
The rejection of Jesus runs deeper still. Jesus tells us that one of the twelve, Judas, who were hand-picked by Jesus himself, will betray him. Could it get any worse? Yes. The rejection of Jesus will happen within his own family. His own brothers, those who came from the same womb, reject him.
We are told that the Jewish leaders are still trying to kill Jesus. So Jesus avoids Jerusalem and Judea and spends a year preaching in the North, in Galilee. But his brothers say to Jesus:
“Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. (John 7:3-5 NIV)
Could it be that Jesus’ brothers want him dead? What is clear is that the brothers really don’t know him. They think that Jesus is in it for the fame: he is a celebrity seeker. They think he is driven by the applause of the crowd, that he is like everybody else. So the brothers say, “Go to Jerusalem, do you magic tricks, become famous, and we can bask in your glory”. But behind their sarcasm is the simple truth that they did not believe in him. Some like James would eventually follow Jesus. But for now, let the record show that his own brothers are not voting for Jesus as Messiah. This is one reason why I love the Bible. It is so open, so raw, so real, so exposed. There is no desire to cover up their rejection of Jesus.
We are in election season. Every bad story, every bad poll, will be either covered up or have ‘spin’. In a world that judges by appearances—that constantly presents to Facebook and Instagram a better version of our life—you won’t find that in the Bible. No ‘photoshopping’ happens there! We are confronted with the constant and ugly rejection of Jesus. It’s the only warts-and-all holy book.
I went to an Eagles concert recently. I got a free ticket. Their ‘greatest hits’ album holds the record for the most sold album. They perfectly played their many hits for two and a half hours. It was flawless. John could have given us a ‘greatest hits’ of Jesus for his Gospel. It could have been a ‘Jesus top 30 miracles with his 10 best sermons and for an encore a resurrection and appearance and ascension into heaven’. But instead he has left us with the messy conflict, doubting confusion, and bloody crucifixion. It’s there because of a commitment to truth. And it is in the conflict that we will see more of Jesus. By the way, that is why we in the West have a healthy self-critical culture.
The irony is that the brothers say that Jesus is driven by the need to be popular. But if that was his goal, Jesus wouldn’t say words like, “Unless you eat my flesh you can’t have eternal life”. He wouldn’t say, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me. Why? Because I testify that its works are evil.” That is not how you win the hearts of people. The only opinion Jesus cares about is that of his Father. His brothers want Jesus to go public, but it is clear that Jesus runs according to his Father’s agenda, not his brothers’. He says, “My ‘hour’—my time for dying—is not yet.” It is coming, but not yet. He won’t let anyone, including his family, set the agenda of his ministry. His ministry is determined by his heavenly Father not his earthly family.
In fact, this episode is like the wedding at Cana in John chapter 2. There, Mary says to Jesus that they have run out of wine, and wants Jesus to do something. But Jesus in effect says, “Back off mum! My time has not yet come.” He then turns water into wine: six hundred liters of Perrier into Don Perrignon.
I remember Sandy and I were visiting her parents. Her father had not been well. Sandy said to me, “Ray, I think you should mow my dad’s lawn.” I reacted to the tone and said, “No, I’m on holidays”. She was rightly concerned for her father, but it came out as a demand. I felt cornered. If I do what Sandy said, I would play into her demand. If I don’t do it, I would feel guilty. I loved Sandy’s dad, and I did want to do it for his sake. But I felt as if my choice was stolen from me. So I went to Sandy and said, “I will mow the lawn because I love your dad, not because you will be upset with me if I don’t.” I was free to do it, and Sandy felt loved that it came from my heart.
Jesus walks to the beat of his Father’s drum, and to that of no-one else. He loves his Father and his hour to die had not yet come. So Jesus goes to Jerusalem and faces even more rejection.
When I googled the distance from Galilee to Jerusalem I discovered it is 13,176 kilometers. What? That was Galilee Queensland, but Galilee Israel is only 184 kilometers away from Jerusalem. It was the feast of tabernacles: an eight day long festival, the most popular of the three Jewish feasts. We will talk more about this feast next week. The population of Jerusalem swelled by five times. It was packed. Jesus first goes up into the city of Jerusalem in secret, and then halfway during the feast he stands up in the temple courts and preaches to the crowd.
I want you to imagine that you are in the crowd. You don’t know much about Jesus except that the leaders want to kill him. You realize that you can’t sit on the fence about who Jesus is. You are surrounded by competing voices. You are struggling to understand who is right. Who do I believe? So John 7:12-13:
Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders. (NIV)
For some Jesus is a good man, and for others he is a good liar. Which one is he? I know there is a lot more to Jesus than he is a good man, but it is true: Jesus went around doing good. He completely healed a man on Sabbath. But the leaders turned something good into something bad. At this stage, they could not grasp how good he was. He is so good he gives his flesh for the life of the world. The world that hates Jesus is the world that he dies for.
Then you hear other opinions. Some say he is a learned man or a lunatic: either smart or satanic, John 7:15:
The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?” (NIV)
Jesus was always the smartest guy in the room, but he didn’t have the right degree from the right rabbinic university. Jesus did not speak to show of his brains: he wanted to speak his Father’s words. He was not in it for self-glory but his Father glory, John 7:16:
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.” (NIV)
Again, this theme runs through John. Jesus is neither original nor independent of his Father. What is true for Jesus at this point is true for us, John 7:18:
Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. (NIV)
This is so counter cultural. Our western is built on a ‘me-ism’, but if your authority lies in you, you have no right to speak. If your words are original to you, you have nothing to say. If your ideas have never been said before, you are not worth listening to. Truth does not reside in you. That is why I only speak the Father’s words with Jesus, or only with Jesus do I seek the Father’s glory. That is why Jesus is the man of truth. That is why I never come to this pulpit without the word of God. I have nothing to say without Jesus. I can share my views on politics, porches, and pop psychology, but you are not getting out of bed to listen to that. If we close our Bible, we close our minds, and truth escapes us. It’s not that we can’t know things about nature, medicine, and business. But ultimate truth, eternal truth, will slip through our hands.
The leaders of Israel created a culture of fear, where people had to whisper their views of Jesus. Let’s learn this lesson. MBM must have a culture where there is a freedom to discuss any idea. We must create a culture of open discussion. At MBM we say that every question is a good question.
We also believe Jesus who said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”. We want people to believe from the heart. That is why it’s a heart issue: do you or do you not want to do God’s will? The only way you know is by your attitude to Jesus, John 7:17:
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)
Lots of people claim to know and love God, but the true test is always the same: What do you think of Jesus? Your attitude to Jesus will expose your attitude to God. The ultimate reason why people reject Jesus is never lack of evidence. It is never the quality of the argument. The reason a person rejects Jesus as the Christ is never the reason: it’s the heart. You don’t really want to do God’s will. You are sleeping with someone you should not be. You are addicted to something you don’t want to let go. You need the approval of this person or you fear the rejection of that person. If your prime motive is to do with will of God, if loving God is your main goal, and if seeking his glory is your highest desire, then you will always know that Jesus and his words come from Father.
What is so crazy is that at one stage, the crowd think Jesus is crazy and demon possessed, because he says that they are trying to kill him. They think he suffers from paranoia and is mentally unhinged. He is lost in that world of conspiracies. Then a short time later they think that maybe he is the Messiah, and that he thinks he is the victim of the conspiracy, and the Jewish leaders are in on it. They talk themselves into believing that he is the Messiah, and then they talk themselves out of believing he is the Messiah, for this one reason: they don’t want to do the will of God.
But notice Jesus’ response to the competing voices. Jesus says that they may know him, but they don’t know his Father. But Jesus knows the Father, because the Father sent him. Jesus said:
I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come. (John 7:34 NIV)
Jesus is talking about his death and resurrection. They tried to arrest him but failed, and indeed, John 7:31 says:
Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?” (NIV)
There it is! Many in the crowd believed in Jesus. Would that be you? Really, when the saviour comes, when God becomes flesh, would we really expect him to do more miracles? Would we really expect him to be more wonderful? Would anyone be any more gracious and wise that Jesus? Hardly! Stop wondering and come and taste that the Lord is good. Listen to John 7:37:
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.” (NIV)
Great sinners are great drinkers. Come, see, eat, drink, taste, and believe. There comes a time to ask the questions, and there comes a time to stop talking and come to Jesus and drink. That is what a Japanese young man did last week after Kanishka preached. What is holding you back?
For some of you, it is like each week you’ve been sitting at the table surrounded by a banquet. You smell the food, you like the look of the food, you hear others talking about their love for the food, you see them enjoy the food, and you even play with the food, but until you eat the food, it’s all theoretical. Come and taste and experience that the Lord is good. I speak to you, a generation of non-committals: commit! You have sat on the sidelines long enough. You have asked enough questions. You have heard enough talks. Come, see, eat, drink, taste, and believe. The Lord Jesus is good and he is God.
I am so thirsty for your truth. I am so thirsty for forgiveness. I am so thirsty for you, Lord Jesus. I am so thirsty for your love. I surrender to you Jesus as my king. I surrender to you Jesus as my saviour. Use me for your glory.
In Jesus name,