biblestudy: John (Part 13)
The Need for Removing the Blinders of Tradition
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 23-Dec-86; Sermon #BS-JO13; 89 minutes
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' calculation upon the time of arrival at the Feast of Tabernacles, indicates that Jesus carefully took into account many variables to maximize His effectiveness at this event. The myriad opinions of the crowd concerning Jesus were all conditioned from their perspectives and traditions, but hardly ever from God's perspective. Jesus demonstrated that the only way to learn the doctrine of God is by doing it. He also taught us to look for God not only in the extraordinary, but also in the ordinary. Jesus warns the crowd [and us by extension] that the time to seek God is now, while we still have a sense of spiritual need (or hunger) lest we permanently miss out on the opportunity. Cuing in on a water ceremony performed daily at the Feast, Jesus drew a spiritual lesson, dramatizing the need for God's Holy Spirit without measure. Amazingly, throughout these dramatic encounters with the public, Jesus had deliberately chosen a course that would lead to His death rather than to immediate power and adulation.
Academic credentials Blasphemy Cast out of synagogue Circumcision Concision Galilee Healing on the Sabbath Hora Judge with righteousness Mutilation Nicodemus Opportunity Pharisees Pharisee's attitude toward common ordinary person Rabbinic law Water ceremony Yentil
We are going to move right along in the book of John and pick up where we left off, at the beginning of John 7. We got to verse 8 or 9 the last time, but I want to go back to the beginning of the chapter so that we can get a running start for what we will cover in more detail.
At the beginning of John 7, there is a statement by Jesus that some have taken exception to—that He actually lied regarding His intentions about going up to the Feast (John 7:6-10). He really did not lie. A great deal of misunderstanding comes in the statement that He made about the time that He would arrive there. He said that “My time is not yet come.”
There are those who feel that He meant something that God had set, something that was foreordained, something that was a destined time, something that was unavoidable. That is not what He meant at all. There are two different words that are used to indicate time in the New Testament. One is used very frequently, the other was only used once, and this is the one time that word is used. The normal word for “hour” is hora, very similar to our word “hour,” and that is the one that was not used. The word that He used here, kairos, means “opportunity.” “My opportunity has not yet come," or “the best time to do something.”
I think that what He was waiting on was the right psychological moment to appear. Now when would be the best time for Him go up to the Feast? Remember, He was in Galilee at the end of the previous chapter, and the Feast was going to be held in Jerusalem. The last time that the Bible shows that He was in Jerusalem, in chapter 5, He was in a hurry to get out of there because pressure was building against Him. If He was up in Galilee, and was thinking of going down to Jerusalem, as He was commanded to do by God in the Old Testament, when would be the best time for Him to show up?
That is all He was calculating. The people in Galilee were certainly aware of Him. And certainly the people in Jerusalem were aware of Him. They would be anticipating that He was going to come. We are going to see that very clearly when we go into the next few verses. Jesus just “played things” right. He arrived when the suspense would be at its peak, in the middle of the Feast, because they would be wondering, “Where is He? How come He’s not here? Has anybody seen Him yet?”
The first day goes by. T, the second day goes by. So the third or fourth day, Jesus shows up, and by this time, everybody is looking all over, and they are beginning to ask the question, “Will He ever show up?” So He hit things at the Feast of Tabernacles just at the right time.
I mentioned that there are two things that are good to understand about Christ. The first one is, Jesus was his “own man,” if I can put it that way. He was “God’s man,” but no man could force His hand. He did not take the blandishments of His brothers. We understand that His brothers did not believe in Him, and yet, the arguments that they gave to Him are all carnally good arguments. “If you’re really going to make it, Jesus, you have to do it in Jerusalem. You have to show your powers there. To do it up here in Galilee isn’t going to cut the ice. But if you do it down in Jerusalem, where all of the authorities can see you, and where all of the important people are—you’ve got to go down there and do it. Jesus, go show your supporters what you can do!”
Anybody with vanity would fall for that. But His hand was not going to be forced. He did not take the dare, the temptation to do that. He waited until He felt that He had calculated properly the right moment to arrive.
The second thing was, and we are going to see this more forcefully as we move into the seventh chapter, nobody can be indifferent to Jesus Christ. He is the greatest personality that has ever lived. He was in a small nation, and that nation was not one of the great nations of that time. They were not recognized for having produced a great deal, like the Greeks or the Romans, who were noted for their armies or their culture. Yet, there is nobody who has had an impact on all of mankind’s history as Jesus did. What we are going to see is that wherever He was, He had an impact on people. People arrived at decisions regarding Him. They reacted to Him. The reaction was not always good, but they reacted. Their opinions of Him are very divergent.
His brothers could go the Feast and nobody would ever notice them. Why? There are two reasons. Number one, they had never done anything to make them noticeable. It seems as though everywhere Jesus went, He did something that attracted people’s attention. It was either what He said or what He did, that is, in performing an act of mercy for someone. The second reason was, they completely blended with the world, in that they were a part of the world. Their traditions, their habits, their way of life—everything just fit right in with what everybody else was doing. So who would ever notice them?
But it seems as though everybody knew that Jesus was different. So if He went, you would expect things to begin to happen. So it did make a difference to Him, when He showed up.
Suppose He showed up early to the Feast. Being what He was—considering His notoriety; knowing that He was going to attract the attention of a lot of people; knowing that the Feast was going to be seven days plus the Last Great Day, eight days that people could question Him, and eight days that He could preach—do you not think that things would have been at a fever pitch by the end of those eight days? The authorities would have been out to string Him up. We are going to see by the time that we get to the end of the chapter that it is already getting that way, and He was only there half of the Feast.
So it did make a difference when He showed up. He had to calculate, “put all of those things into the computer,” which was His mind, be led by God’s Holy Spirit to say “I’ll figure out when the best time is going to be to come.” He might have added as an afterthought, “...So that I can escape with My life and still do the work.” He had to calculate that as well as He possibly could.
John 7:10-13 But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, “Where is He?” And there was much murmuring among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews.
There are a couple of reasons why He did what He did. He was a topic of conversation, practically on everybody’s lips by this time, because of the things that He was teaching and because of the things that He was doing. These verses show that the people were expecting Him, and also begin to show their different perceptions of Him. We are going to be spending a good deal of time on those perceptions, because they are very interesting.
It says here that they were talking to each other. My Bible has that translated that they were “murmuring.” The word is actually closer to our English word “muttering,” rather than murmuring. Murmuring is close enough, but muttering has a stronger sense of caution, maybe even a stronger sense of negativism. What it indicates is that most of the talk that was going on about Him was not necessarily all that good. It is one of those words that actually indicate a sound, that is, the sound of the word indicates the attitude in which the word was said. It is actually close to the word “growl”; the people were growling. It begins to show their perceptions of Him.
It also shows the people’s fear of the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. It also gives an indication of why the people were muttering in the way that they were. It was not so much that they were against Jesus, as they were fearful of the authorities. Nobody wanted to talk openly as being in favor of Him or for Him, for fear that would be held against them. They might even be cast out of the synagogue. We will get to that a little bit later. Being cast out of the synagogue was a very serious thing. In a sense, it was more serious for them socially and economically than it is for us to get disfellowshipped from the church. There is a great deal to being put out of the synagogue.
Let us look at their verdicts regarding Christ and some of their reactions to Him. It says in verse 12 that some of them said that He is good, that He is a good man. He was more than good—He was the mind of God. We can look back on this now and understand that when He speaks, it is not one man speaking to another. It is God speaking to man, because that is what He was. He was God in the flesh. So the perception of those who said that He was a good man was right, but His goodness far exceeded anything that they were aware of.
The next thing was that He deceived the people. That is very interesting, because you know very well that He was not deceiving anybody. Rather, He was telling the truth. They were making this verdict, or this judgment, regarding Him from their perspective. So how would an ordinary Jew, and especially a scribe, a Pharisee, or a Sadducee, look at Jesus? They had to, because of their tradition, because of what they grew up with, and because of what they believed. Remember the time we spent on how important what you believe is to you, because it determines what you do. Now we are going to see that it also determines what your judgment is going to be. They could not help but come to the conclusion that Jesus was deceiving people and He was leading people away from the true religion.
You can see that very well, any of you who have come out of another church. Maybe before you came out of that church you had a confrontation with the minister, and you told him that you would like to withdraw your letter from the Methodist church, for example. You did not want to be any longer considered to be a part of that church. So you had a meeting with the minister, and what did he think? Well, he thought that you were being led away into something that was false, something that was cultish, and that you were being taken away from the true religion.
That happened to my wife and me. We were coming out of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. The assistant pastor came to visit us at our house. I am sure that he did that at the behest of several of our relatives who were also members of the church. And here we were being led away by Herbert W. Armstrong. So Mr. Godwin shows up at the house and talks to us. He was not real argumentative or anything like that. He talked to us and tries to get us turned around again, to be back in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. But before he left, he knelt down on the floor and asked God to deliver us from the hands of devils!
That is what these Jews were doing. They thought Jesus was leading them away from the true religion. In addition to that, you can see places where they accused Him of gluttony, and of drunkenness, and of blasphemy, and of Sabbath breaking, and also, of having awful, terrible, poor, bad friends. He ate with publicans and sinners. You can understand why those people reached that verdict. It was because of what they believed.
In a sense, by their standard of judgment, there was an element of truth in everything that they said. He did eat, probably more freely, than many of them would eat. I do not mean that He really was a glutton, because He was not. But maybe He would drink in circumstances, or maybe in a more public way, than they would permit themselves.
Suppose that you were a tee-totaling Baptist or Pentecostal and somebody that you knew took a drink of wine. What would your judgment be? You would think that they were bad and evil. Again, they are looking at this from their perspective. Their judgment was that He was a deceiver.
Each one of these groups—the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the scribes—had their own particular ax to grind. Each one of them had a certain amount of influence with some of the public. The Sadducees hated Him for political reasons. They occupied most of the political power in the nation, and they got that power from the Romans. Now here was this man claiming to be the Messiah, and certainly He would be a threat to their political power.
What about the Pharisees? They did not occupy much in terms of political authority, but they did have religious authority. Here was this man challenging their religion’s ideas, their theology.
To the Sadducee, Rome was being threatened, and thus their positions of power and influence were being threatened. To the Pharisees, the Temple was being threatened, and with it, their theological position and authority.
So each one judging from his perspective, but nobody judging from God’s perspective. It was all because of what they believed.
We can reach a conclusion here. If we prefer our religion to His, even God is going to look like a deceiver. We always have to be open-minded in regard to whether we are practicing the true religion, even though we are part of the church. Are we practicing the true religion, or are we practicing the true religion plus what we think is right? As Mr. Armstrong said, the hardest thing in the world is to admit that you are wrong. And it is.
John 7:15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?”
Here comes another verdict. “What is His academic standing?” Actually, that phrase “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” indicates more “He has never read,” that He could not read. I do not mean to indicate that is wrong in the King James or the New King James, because that is certainly the implication.
John 7:16-18 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.”
Now this beginning in verse 15 is a taunt that has come from the crowd. They are challenging His right to say and do the things that He does. What we see is a great deal of arrogance and contempt. “What right does He have to lay down the law? Why, Jesus, you have no cultural background. You come from Nazareth, up in Galilee. Where’s the university up there? All of the rabbinical schools are down in Jerusalem.” What they were implying is that “Jesus, at the very best, you could have done nothing more than go to Sabbath services at a little backwater synagogue up there. Where’s your right, where’s your authority, to lay down the law like that?”
You remember reading that in Luke 4, where the people said that He was not like the scribes and Pharisees; that no man ever taught like He did.
Did you ever see the movie Yentl? It gave a good example of why the Jews had this reaction to Christ. Did you notice that every time that they displayed an argument [in the movie], they were always quoting someone else. “It says in tract 8, number 643, paragraph 3, column 1,...” and then Yentl would say something, and the other guy would say something back and he would quote another authority. “But Rabbi Yeshiva, or Rabbi Akiba, or somebody said in such-and-such or so-and-so,...” and then they would give an argument, based on something this other person said.
That was the Jewish way of presenting evidence. They always quoted somebody else, some recognized authority. They did not dare present anything as being an idea of their own. That way, they could always be safe in their argument.
Jesus did not do that. What did He say? He did not even say “Thus says the Lord.” He said, “I say unto you.” That was offensive to those people, because they understood the implication. He was putting Himself way above all of those authorities that these other rabbis, and teachers, and Pharisees were quoting. He was putting Himself up on the level of God. He was not even claiming to be a prophet who said “Thus saith the Lord.” He was saying, “I am the Lord.”
How could they judge but by saying, “Aren’t You the carpenter’s son? What school did you go to?” They really were not judging what He said, but rather what He appeared to be, from their perspective—a carpenter’s son. Their spiritual perception apparently went no further than that.
Jesus came right back at them, and said “Look, My authority is God!” He could have fallen into a trap there. He could have said, “Well, yes, I didn’t go and learn under Gamaliel, at such-and-such a yeshiva.” He could have said, “I taught myself out on the desert.” He did not even say that. He just simply said, “God taught me.” He did not claim any authority based on His own study, like “I figured this all out myself.” He did not even claim that. He just said, “God is My authority. My doctrine isn’t mine; I didn’t think this all up. I didn’t put it together because I was careful to search the Scriptures, but you see, it was given to me by Him who sent Me.”
Verse 17 is a key to understanding how to understand the Bible. “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know the doctrine.” We learn by doing. Christianity is not an “academic religion.” It is not something to be learned from books, and then argued about. I do not mean that learning from books is not necessary, but learning from books will not cut it. Certainly, there has to be the reading material available to us, to get us started, and to continue to be a source of information, because we do not learn everything when we read. But what Jesus is saying is, even though we read and study, it is going to take doing it to really understand it.
Back to that principle that we can learn from anything that involves the mechanics of using our body, whether it is ice skating or playing the piano, you learn by doing. You get a recipe out of a book, or somebody tells you the mechanics of something, but you never become skilled at it until you practice, practice, practice, practice. Then you not only know it out of a book, you know it by experience and you know that you know! It is a part of you; it is your character. It gets to be so that you can do these things without even thinking, because your mind and your body have been so programmed.
We even say things like, “You never forget how to type.” Or “You never forget how to play the piano.” You get a little bit rusty mechanically, but you never forget. That is what Jesus is talking about. You learn by doing. If you do His will, you are really going to know that this is the doctrine of God.
John 7:19-24 “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” The people answered and said, “You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You?” Jesus answered and said to them, “I did one work, and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
All of those things, beginning in verse 10, are leading up to this final statement in verse 24. Jesus understood that they were receiving perceptions of Him, or forming conclusions or verdicts, which were going to lead to them reacting. He could see how they were judging, by the questions that they asked, by the statements that they made. They were coming from what they believed, from the traditions that they had received from their fathers. They were judging according to their senses.
“Well, this is the carpenter’s son. You’ve never gone to a rabbinical school.” That was a judgment and an accusation at the same time. What they were saying is, “Who gives you the right to say these things?” They were actually defending their position.
Back in verse 19, it is kind of unspoken, but it comes out in verse 20. They were accusing Him of being a madman. That is what they meant by being a demon. They thought that He was not all there, that there was something missing from His brain. In a way, again carnally, their judgment had a basis to it. We need to think of it from that point of view, because Jesus makes audacious claims about Himself.
How many people have you ever run into in your life who claim that they are God? I have only run into one, and it was obvious that there was something wrong with him. Sometimes we run into people who claim that they are Elijah. The same man that claimed that he was Jesus Christ to me also claimed that he was Elijah. You know he had a split personality already; he could not make up his mind which one he was. You cannot be both. He claimed that he was Jesus Christ one time, and Elijah another time.
They accused Him of being a madman, a demon, and they said, “Who is seeking to kill you?” That is an interesting statement, because some of those people were unaware of the malignant hatred that was beginning to build, in the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who were plotting to kill Him. They were trying to nail Him with some statement that would make it possible for them to carry out a death penalty. What they were mainly looking for was blasphemy. So here He is, making these audacious statements that could not help but be interpreted that He was saying that He was equal with God, and He was providing them with all of the information that they needed.
How many people do you know that put themselves directly in line to be killed? That is why they could come to the conclusion that He was a madman. “Nobody would say the things that you do, without being somewhat off-kilter.”
So He either is or He is not a madman. That is the conclusion that you and I have to reach. If He is a madman, then we do not have to worry about what He said. But if He really is what He said, then we had better do what He said. If He really is God, then that puts the ball in our court, and we have to do something with it. What He is saying here is, we have to react. What is our verdict? We will react according to our verdict. Is He a deceiver, or is He a good man? Is He a madman? What is our reaction going to be? It is going to be based on the verdict. If He is everything that He claims that He is, then we had better react by being obedient to Him.
Now look at what Christ did. It would seem to indicate that maybe He was mad. I already mentioned one thing: if there was anything that the Sanhedrin could nail Him on for the death penalty, it would be blasphemy. It was already said, I do not know how many times, that He is God. But look at what else He did, not just here, but I mean in looking at His ministry overall. He chose death when He could have had power. Just a few days after He was hailed "King of the Jews" by all of those throngs of people just before Passover in 31 AD—when He came riding into the city on the colt of an ass—all of those people were yelling, “Hallelujah!” (they were greeting their king), He turns right around and presents Himself to be crucified.
Now would not a normal person, at the height of his power, continue to use the power to confirm his power in office? Instead, He just gave it all up and died. Do you think that with what He was able to do, he could not have turned that crowd of people against the Sanhedrin, against the scribes and the Pharisees? Thousands of people against 70? But He did not. He chose death rather than take advantage of His popularity.
Right along with that, He could have used His power to conquer in other areas as well, such as over men’s minds. He could have used His power to have people serving Him. Instead, He was the Servant. He knelt down and washed people’s feet, when He could have had the adulation of tens of thousands of people and all of the services that would come with that.
He was either a madman, or He was exactly what He said. He is forcing you and me to make a choice. Which way is it going to be in our life? He succeeded in turning the world’s standards upside-down by His life. It seems that He did everything backwards to the way a leader, someone seeking power, would have done. It is a good thing to think about.
Let us look at Jesus’ argument regarding circumcision. Up until that time, He had only done one miracle in Judea, the one that was given in John 5 where He healed what the Bible calls “the impotent man,” who was at the pool of Bethesda. The fellow said, “How am I ever going to be able to get into the water?” He could not move fast enough, somebody always beat him into the water whenever the angel stirred the water.
All of the other miracles had been done outside of Jerusalem. In His speech here, in verse 21, He says, “I did one work, and you all marvel.” That is what He is referring to. The work that they accused Him of breaking the Sabbath in doing. That is why the Sabbath comes up here again. He is referring back to that. What He is giving here is another justification. Remember back in John 5, that His justification at that point was that “I am doing the work of God. My Father works, and I work.” Of course, they immediately said, “Wow, you’re making yourself equal with God.”
This is the second argument regarding His justification for doing that healing on the Sabbath day. What He uses as a basis is the fact that the Jews, in order to keep another portion of the book of Deuteronomy (that a boy was to be circumcised on the eighth day), would use the Sabbath in order to perform that circumcision, so that that law would be fulfilled. So they considered it justifiable to do that kind of work on the Sabbath even though it was far beyond the normal regulations that they had in their traditions regarding what could be done on the Sabbath.
One of the things that they stipulated in their regulations was that a person who was sick could not be made better on the Sabbath. You could take steps to keep him from getting worse, but you could not do anything to heal him. That is kind of interesting. How do you do that? I do not know whether or not they bothered with that question.
Jesus leaped on that as part of the weight of His own argument. What they did in circumcising had nothing at all to do with healing. As a matter of fact, it was in a sense a surgical operation, or if we really wanted to get crude about it, we could say a form of mutilation. In a sense, one part of a boy’s body would be somewhat mutilated.
Paul also leapt on this in the book of Philippians, when he said, “Beware of dogs, beware of the concision!” That is what he is calling them, “mutilated ones.” It is a reference to circumcised people. Paul used a derogatory term, indicating that these people were somewhat mutilated.
What Jesus is saying is this: “Since you mutilate somebody on the Sabbath day in order to keep a portion of the law of Moses, don’t you think it’s right that I should make someone whole?” Is that not far more merciful? That was His argument. He concluded it by saying, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” What He is saying is, “Look below the surface. Judge fairly. Understand the intent of God’s law.” When we get into chapter 8, we are going to explore that a little bit more thoroughly, because it comes up again. The explanation about “judging righteous judgment” fits a little bit better in that place.
John 7:25-30 Now some of them from Jerusalem said, “Is this not He whom they seek to kill? But look! He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ? However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one know where He is from.” Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, “You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.” Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.
Do you see the word “hour” there, and the context in which that appears? That is the other Greek word that is usually translated “hour,” and it means “something that is unavoidable, something that is predestined.” It does not mean the same as the term that is at the beginning of the chapter, which means “opportunity.” It is not something that is fixed.
Back to verse 25. The Pharisees and the Sadducees would be saying things from time to time, and you know how the gossip gets all around the place. There were some who were aware of the attitude of those who were in authority. They were wondering how He was able to get away with what He was saying and what He was doing, without somebody doing something about it. Part of the reason for that statement is that it was well within the responsibility of the Sanhedrin to take care of such matters. In fact, it was part of their responsibility, as established in earlier generations, centuries before. They would have the authority to cross examine and get testimony from those who appeared to be setting themselves up as teachers, and ministers, and preachers, and thus either accept or reject as real or fraud.
So they are wondering, since this man is doing these things, why have not the Sanhedrin done something about it? Now how often have you said that yourself? You are tooling down the Interstate, and you are going 55 (I hope), and somebody screams by you at 70, and you think, “Where are the police when you need them? Why doesn’t somebody do something about that? Look at what that person is getting away with, why don’t they do something?” That is what these people were saying: “Look at what He’s doing. Look at what He’s saying. Why aren’t they doing something about it?”
Again, look at their judgment. It was based on the idea that He could not possibly be the Messiah, because we know who Jesus is! They were basing that judgment on what they believed about the Messiah. The popular belief in that time was that the Messiah would suddenly appear. There is some justification for that, in that they misapplied scriptures that pertain to His second coming to His first. They believed, even to the extent that when the Messiah was born, that He would not know He was the Messiah until Elijah would lay hands on Him. They believed that it was Elijah’s responsibility to recognize the Messiah and kind of ordain Him to that position. In the meantime, the Messiah would be growing up, not knowing who He was, until suddenly Elijah appeared to Him and said, “You’re the Messiah.” Then He would begin preaching.
That basically is what their belief was. There was an element of truth in that, because God indeed did show John the Baptist who the Messiah was—except the Messiah already knew who He was! But John the Baptist needed to know who He was, and then John the Baptist continued to be the one who “beat the drums,” saying “That’s the Messiah.” So he prepared the way.
They came so close, but it did not count, because they were wrong. They judged that because He came from Galilee, and they knew that He was the carpenter’s son, that He could not possibly be the Messiah. What you believe makes all the difference in the world.
There is something very important here to us every day. I think that you will agree that most of us tend to look for God in the extraordinary. We look for God in miracles. We look for God in healings, things that are spectacular. We can look at the miraculous birth of Christ and say, “Yes, God was involved in that.” We can look at the things that were done through Elijah and Elisha, and say, “Yes, God was involved in that.” “Yes, God was involved when the Red Sea was split, and God was involved when water came out of the rock. And God was involved whenever manna came from heaven. But can God be involved in that which is ordinary? Can God be involved in that which is commonplace?”
Yes, He can! That is one of the things that He wants you to learn from this. God came to man as the carpenter’s son! You cannot get any more common than a tradesman! And it was this tradesman who did the miracles.
Now let us translate that into your life. Can God be involved with you because you are a widow? Is God concerned about your life because you happen to be young marrieds and have a couple of small children? Can God be involved in anything that is as common as the rearing of a child, or some individual that lives in Podunk, California, in his marriage? He is showing you, by the life of Christ that He indeed is. His Son did not come out of Athens, the great cultural center. His Son did not come out of Jerusalem, the great religious center. His Son did not come out of Rome, the great military center. He came out of very ordinary and common circumstances. God indeed is involved in that which is ordinary.
True Christianity looks upon God as a great Being, the Creator, who is never absent from His creation. We are His creation, and we are very ordinary—and He is involved. It does not matter who we are, if we are His child, He is involved. It does not matter where we live, He is involved. He wants you to glorify Him wherever you are: at work, at play, in your home, because He is creating Himself in you. He is a part of that life.
Jesus made another astounding statement. These things just roll off. I know that we do not appreciate it, because we do not stop to think about some of the aspects of what He is saying. Look at what He said in verse 28.
John 7:28 Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, “You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.”
Hey, brethren! He was talking to the true church at that time. What it says there in Acts 7:37 is that Israel was the church in the wilderness. They were both church and state. Can you imagine Him standing in front of the Jews, God’s own people, His chosen people; the people of the temple, the priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees; and telling those people that they did not know God? You cannot get bolder than that! You just have to admire His courage. It is a wonder that they were not seething and foaming at the mouth at what He was saying here.
Now you can understand why they said, “Isn’t this He, whom they seek to kill?” “Why aren’t they doing something? This man is a threat! Look at what He’s saying, and He gets away with it!”
That is why that is added in verse 30 that they sought to take Him, but no one laid a hand on Him. God intervened. His time was not yet; that which had been foreordained, that which was appointed. We can see by that, on the one hand, Jesus did have to use wisdom in what He said and did, but there also times that He called a “spade a spade.” Things had to be done, and God would intervene to keep Him from being killed before His time came, because a more complete witness had to be made.
So either Jesus is what He says what He is, or He is a fraud; there is no middle ground. He is either a lunatic and a liar, or He is the Messiah.
John 7:31 And many of the people believed in Him, and said, “When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?”
That was a good question. Could anyone possibly do more than what He was doing? Notice the word “signs.” It was not just a matter of miracles; the signs also included His preaching. They were indicating, they were pointing to, they were advertising what He was: He was the Messiah.
John 7:32-36 The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him. Then Jesus said to them, “I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.” Then the Jews said among themselves, “Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What is this thing that He said, ‘You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come’?”
Verse 31 is the prelude to the next series of verses. Because the people were beginning to be persuaded by what He was saying, it finally spurred the authorities to begin to take action more directly to cut Him off, and to arrest Him to stop Him from saying and doing the things that He was doing.
Jesus met that with an interesting statement that involves again you and me. He said that He would go back to the Father. “I will go back to Him who sent Me.” But they did not understand what He was getting to, because they did not believe that He came from heaven, from our spiritual Father. They still had in the back of their mind that He was the carpenter from Nazareth. The next argument that came into their mind was, “Well, He must be going to those Israelites who are scattered,” the dispersion, diaspora. “Are you going to go there and teach them?” He was not going to go there and teach them, but it is interesting that after He was crucified, and He put the apostle Paul in that position of authority, that indeed Christ did go to the Gentiles through the apostle Paul, but that is another story.
What is interesting for you and me is what He said in verse 34: “You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.” That is a warning, not only to them, but to you and me. We are to live by every word of God.
Isaiah 55:6-7 Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
When we put these two verses together, that we are to seek the LORD while He may be found, the warning becomes very personal to you and me. Remember what He said just a little bit earlier, that no man can come to the Son except the Spirit of the Father draw him. Until that time, we cannot find the Son. He has to be pointed out to us. What is given in Isaiah 55 is something that is directed at a person after he is called. Does He not say in Psalms and in Romans the third chapter, that “There is none that seeks God, no, not one.”?
God does not lie. There are people looking for God, but they are not looking for the God of the Bible. They will never find Him, because they do not know what to look for. They have been so blinded by Satan. God removes that blindness and now we can find God, because He reveals Himself to us. Isaiah 55:6 is directed at Christians, people after they have had their eyes opened. So what does He say? You seek Him and repent. You seek Him and forsake your wickedness.
Back in John 7, we get the warning to us. What He is saying to you and me is that time is limited. Life is going to run out. It is given to all men once to die. We have one opportunity to be in the Kingdom of God. There are no second chances, so we have to take advantage of the time that is given to us after we are called.
If I can make an analogy with exercise, if we are seeking God, we can stay in good spiritual “muscular” tone. We are taking advantage of the time that has been allotted to us to succeed, as much as possible, within the way of God. Physically, if we do not keep ourselves in shape, what happens? The body begins to decay. As we get older, our resolve and our vigor tends to deteriorate. The same thing will happen to us spiritually.
Understand that the major theme in the book of Hebrews is one of addressing neglect. You can see that as early as the second chapter. “Let us not neglect so great a salvation.” The whole book is about addressing the problem of neglect, of Christians who were sitting. They were a part of the church, but they were not really seeking God. They were floating. That is what He is talking about. He is saying, “Don’t float! Seek Him, vigorously! Keep yourself in good shape, spiritually.”
Seek Him while He may be found, because as you get older in the faith, unless you are keeping yourself in good shape, you are going to find that your spiritual vigor and spiritual strength begins to dissolve away. The tendency, brethren (again this is in Hebrews the first chapter), it is the law of the universe, the second law of thermodynamics, that everything in the universe is tending toward disorganization—which flies in the face of evolution, which tells you that everything is improving and coming together. But the second law of thermodynamics is stated there in Hebrew the first chapter, beginning in verse 10, in very simple terms. Everything is tending towards disorganization.
If we put that same principle into spiritual life, we cannot afford to rest on the oars for very long. The current will begin (I am talking about the current of human nature, and of the world, and of Satan the Devil) to sweep us downstream. We will tend toward spiritual disorganization, spiritual deterioration.
Then He says, “You will seek Me and not find Me.” What is He saying there? He is saying that it is possible for us to awaken to a sense of spiritual need too late to do anything about it. Do you want proof of that? Look in Matthew 25, the parable of the ten virgins. Too late, they realized that they did not have any oil! It is a powerful warning here, “You will seek Me and not find Me. And I go where you cannot come.”
Let us turn to Luke 16 at the end of the chapter, the parable about Lazarus and the rich man. In verse 26, the rich man is looking on, and he sees Abraham with Lazarus in his bosom:
Luke 16:26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot. . .
Too late! Where are they in this picture? God is giving us insight into those about ready to be engulfed in the Lake of Fire. They have awakened to their need too late. They want to go over to where Abraham and Lazarus are, and they cannot. They blew their opportunity to seek God.
Luke 16:26-28 . . . nor can those from there pass to us. Then he said [the rich man], ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’
That is what I am doing to you: I am testifying to you of what Jesus said here. This is not in any way intended to discourage you, but I hope that it will stir you up to seek God while He can be found. That is right now. It does not have to be a frantic and desperate search; it just needs to be something that is done consistently, every day, day in and day out, plodding along, one step at a time, growing, overcoming, in our relationship with God.
Luke 16:29-30 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
Look, they see a miracle! Is God in miracles, or is He in the commonplace? He can be in either, but for you and me, it is mostly just commonplace things, ordinary things, everyday things.
Luke 16:31 But he [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets [if we do not hear the Word of God], neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’
In John 7, He is warning you and me that there is a time when we can awaken to our spiritual need too late. Luke 16 nails it down: apparently, those who are going to be cast into the Lake of Fire recognize their need before they are thrown in. But it is too late; the character is set, and nothing can be done.
John 7:37-39 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
We recognize this from the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day. This is mentioned back in Leviticus 23:40. It fits right in with what preceded it. The connection is in the Feast of Tabernacles and in its meaning, “booths”, what the booth indicates. They indicate temporariness, the vanity of this life. They indicate to you and me that there is something more important than life than what is here and now. What is stated beginning in verse 37 is actually a reinforcement of what is said in the verses previous to it.
There is a way that we can take advantage of this temporary life. The time to take advantage of seeking God is now! Even though life is temporary, there is something coming that is permanent, and that is where the emphasis in our life has to be. We cannot abandon the fact that we are temporary, but we can make right use of it. That is one of the major lessons here, to recognize that what we are involved in is temporary, and to throw the emphasis in our life towards those things which are permanent.
Part of the purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles is to teach us that we cannot remain as we are. There has to be a change. For example, in John 3, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” In I Corinthians 15:50, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” In Hebrews 11, it is made very clear that we “heirs of salvation,” that we have not yet inherited, that we are a part of the group that includes those great names that are mentioned there: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Abel, Enoch. They are heirs of salvation. They have not inherited yet.
Where does that put you and me? We are in this temporary life, this temporary existence. But we are having the only opportunity that we will ever have for salvation. It becomes incumbent upon us to take advantage, and seek God while He can be found. So the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day fit right in with the teaching that the apostle John is attempting to get across.
Why would Jesus state what He did here? What does the Holy Spirit have to do with the Last Great Day? He probably said what He did because the Jews had a ceremony that they performed, and it is possible that He had just witnessed the ceremony, and He used it as a backdrop for this thing about water. What the Jews did was this—and it had nothing to do with the Bible, it was something that they had come up with through the years. I guess it was quite meaningful to them.
Every day of the Feast, a priest would go down to the pool of Siloam with an urn, a pitcher. He would fill it with water and go back to the Temple. Apparently, this thing would always be done somewhat spontaneously, in the sense that the crowds would begin to gather while he did this, marching from the Temple to the pool, and back to the Temple. While he was going and coming, they would recite Isaiah 12, which is just a short chapter of six verses. They would also sing several of the psalms, beginning I believe with Psalm 112 and going through Psalm 118. Just little, short psalms that had been set to music, like we do. When he got to the Temple, he would go up to the altar and make an offering of the water on the brazen altar, the one that they sacrificed the animals on.
They did that once a day, then on the Last Great Day, they extended the procession out until I believe that when he got to the altar, he marched around the altar seven times, making it a little bit different, then the water would be poured on.
They had undoubtedly done this as an expression of thanks to God, because of the life-giving properties that are in water. Remember, the Feast of Tabernacles was also a harvest feast, a feast of ingathering. It was a way of acknowledging to God that they had their harvest because He had supplied the water that they needed.
You have to understand a little bit of the geography of Palestine to get this. There are no rivers in Palestine, except the River Jordan. There are a couple of small ones. They could not even irrigate. Do you get the point? All of their crops depended upon rainfall. Their crops depended upon whether God gave them the rainfall. No rain, no crops. Not like us today, where we turn on a spigot and we can irrigate whole fields, hundreds of acres at a time. They could not do that; they had to wait for it to rain.
God did that on purpose, do you realize that? He purposely chose a land for His people that had no rivers in it, so that they would come to recognize that everything in life depended upon Him. When they had good crops, it was because they had good rain. The offering of the water on the altar was an acknowledgment by them of their dependence upon God, and the providence that He had supplied in making the water available.
With that as a backdrop, Jesus said, “Hey! There’s a good spiritual lesson there! How would you like to be an individual who has rivers of living water flowing out of you?” We understand that God uses water as a symbol of His Holy Spirit. Even as water has life giving properties physically, the Holy Spirit is eternal life to you and me. It is access, if I can put it that way, not only to eternal life, but to the abundant life that God wants us to live here and now.
Do you remember what He said to the woman at the well? “Would you like to have water from a well that never runs dry, so that you never have to thirst again?” Certainly, He did not mean that she would not thirst in this life; He meant that the time was going to come that if she drank of that spiritual water, which was His Holy Spirit, the time would come when she would, maybe quite literally, never ever have to drink water again—when she was spirit.
That is what He was talking about here. Let us add one more factor to it. The reason the world is the way it is now is because Adam and Eve rejected the Tree of Life, which was access to God and represented His Holy Spirit. What is it, then, that is going to make possible the World Tomorrow, not only the Millennium, but that period of time beyond, the Last Great Day, is that God is going to make the Holy Spirit available to all of mankind. So Jesus seized upon that ceremony to teach them that this is what is going to make the Millennium and the Last Great Day possible—water, the Holy Spirit.
That is the lesson there. That is why He spoke about the Holy Spirit on the Last Great Day. There would not be any Last Great Day without the Holy Spirit. You could resurrect billions of people, but if you did not give them the Holy Spirit, what would be produced? Another world just like this one. Who needs it? So that is why He spoke about the Holy Spirit on the Last Great Day, because that is what is going to make that day, that period of time, the great day that it is going to be. He said that the Spirit was not yet given, and that came on the day of Pentecost, a few years later.
John 7:40-43 Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet.” [Deuteronomy 18 again.] Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” So there was a division among the people because of Him.
See the reaction? Nobody could be neutral in Christ’s presence. He just divided people up. It was not something that He intended to occur, but nobody could stay still—mentally, spiritually—when He was around. They were either for Him or against Him, and most were against Him.
John 7:44-47 Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him. [They were trying to get Him.] Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why have you not brought Him?” [They had sent them out to get Him.] The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” [You just could not remain neutral around Him.] Then the Pharisees answered them, “Are you also deceived?”
Immediately ridicule came. It seems like they never stopped to think, “Maybe He’s right.” So they used the old argument:
John 7:48 “Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?”
Do you know why they said that? First of all, there is the natural tendency always look to the authority. Here it means the academic authorities, or the political authorities, as being the ones who are “really in the know.” There is an additional thing that is kind of hidden here, because it does not say this, but we understand from writings at that time the way the scribes and Pharisees looked at the common man. There was such contempt for the working man and woman, the “man on the street,” from these people, I think far greater than it is today. Almost like a caste system.
I can give you something that I wrote down in my notes, six things that the rabbinic law says about the common man. They were to entrust no testimony to them; in other words, their word was no good. They were to take no testimony from them in a court of law. They were to be trusted with no secret. They were not to be appointed as guardians of an orphan. They were not allowed to be the custodians of a charitable fund. And the rabbis were not even to allow them to accompany them on a journey.
The scribes, and the Pharisees, and the rabbis were walking in a world of their own. That is why they said, “Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?” They are saying, “The only people who believe in this man are the rabble.” That is another major reason why Paul says that God calls the weak of the world, because of the attitude that is in these leaders.
John 7:49 “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”
See that? That was their response: the people were accursed. That is why they said, do not entrust any testimony to them and do not take testimony from them.
John 7:50-51 Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them [that is, of the Sanhedrin]) said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?”
Nicodemus was one out of 70. One out of 70 who lifted his voice in defense of Christ.
John 7:52 They answered and said to him, “Are you also from Galilee? [Are you part of the rabble?] Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.”
Nicodemus probably said what he did in order to defend Him, but it was a timid reaction, at least from what we are able to see here. I know that I have been in this position, and I know that you have been in this position as well. Your heart tells you to speak up, and say something. Not necessarily in defense of Christ, but in a situation where you feel that there is an injustice. Maybe an injustice done to a relative of yours, or a fellow employee, and you feel that what has been done by those in authority has been wrong, or it has been too harsh. So your heart goes out to the person who you feel has been abused or maligned. So you say with your heart, “I’m going to go defend that person! I’m going to put my two cents worth in!” And your head says, “If I do that, I’m liable to get fired. If I do that, I’m going to get in trouble, too. If I do that, my name is going to be mud. Maybe I won’t do that, I’ll just pray about the situation.”
That is what Nicodemus did. His heart said, “This is a good man. He’s being maligned. He should be defended. I’m going to stand up for what the law says.” And then his head said, “I have to live with these 69 other fellows.” So he backed away. We have all been there. When we should have stood up and been counted, we backed away.