Holy Spirit

The Gospel of John – ”Right Judgement”

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A strong spiritual challenge issued by Jesus against the religious leaders of Jerusalem is the theme of the next section of John chapter 7. Jesus makes the point that obedience is a necessary aspect of learning. The resistance of the scribes and Pharisees is ultimately a matter of rebellion, not knowledge. In the same way, Jesus criticises their hypocritical attitude towards His miracles – constantly trying to trap Him or pass judgement on Him.

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Jesus Teaches at the Festival

14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”

16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 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. 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. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

20 “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” John 7:14-24

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Jesus’ knowledge

The Festival lasts seven days. Jesus’ appearance in the temple is after at least three days of silence. There, He once again amazes those in attendance with His knowledge (Luke 2:41–52). Key to this amazement is their knowledge that Jesus has not studied in any of the rabbinic schools (John 7:15). This would be like a person who has never been to university discussing high-level physics with a group of professors. This surprise ties to the arrogance of the Pharisees. In their view, the education and knowledge they had received made them superior to others, and especially to someone like Jesus. Convincingly to themselves their knowledge means they are obedient to God.

Jesus will clarify that the exact opposite is true. In fact, a person’s willingness to obey comes before their ability to understand truth (John 7:17). Those who refuse to believe (John 5:39–40) will not come to the truth, no matter how much knowledge they have.

The Pharisees arrogance

In Jesus’ day, common people would hear, read, and discuss the scriptures in a synagogue. However, for most of those common people, this was an occasional practice. Only those dedicated to formal study, such as the Pharisees, had the time to deeply study the Word of God. This makes Jesus’ profound expertise something incredible to the religious leaders. If a modern factory labourer began debating high-level physics with a group of professors, it would produce a similar reaction. And yet, this is not the first time Jesus has surprised people at the temple with His knowledge (Luke 2:41–52).

This surprise on the part of Jerusalem’s spiritual leaders gives insight into their arrogance. Much of their rejection of Jesus’ message is based on this assumption: nobody knows better than they do. No matter what Jesus says, they will reject it since it does not agree with their own study. Unfortunately, this study is not sincere (John 5:39–40). Later in this response to these religious leaders, Jesus will point out that obedience comes before understanding, not as a result of it (John 7:17)!

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Divine authority which Jesus

In John 5:17, Jesus claimed to be equal to God in His works. In John 5:30, Jesus claimed to be equal to God in His judgment. Here, Jesus claims to be equal to God in His teaching. Jesus receives His grounding directly from God the Father rhater than a school of religious knowledge or self-teaching. This makes Jesus able to discuss the Word of God with such skill, despite having no formal training (John 7:15).

This represents an interesting and important distinction between Jesus’ ministry, and that of Christians today. Jesus here claims that His teachings, specifically, are those of God Himself. Scripture makes sense. This also provides context for Jesus’ later comment that only those who are willing to obey God can successfully determine whether or not these teachings are valid (John 7:17). Christian believers, on the other hand, can only appeal to the spiritual authority of the Bible, and not to our own teachings. While we have the Bible—the Word of God—we don’t have the same divine authority which Jesus possessed.

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True knowledge through obedience

The phrasing used here by Jesus is unmistakable; He literally says, “If any man is willing to do His (God’s) will, he shall know…” We have to obtain true knowledge through obedience to God. Satan tempts man with limited knowledge based on disobedience (Genesis 3:5). Jesus essentially turns His era’s assumed relationship between knowledge and morality backwards. Ancient philosophers believe that morality is something that is produced by knowledge. Under that assumption, moral behaviour and the ability to do “good” was based on whether or not a person understood moral and philosophical truths. Only those who could understand could obey, they thought. In other words, misunderstanding causes disobedience, per ancient philosophy.

According to Christ, disobedience causes misunderstanding. Rather than knowledge of the truth leading to obedience, Jesus claims that whether or not a person is willing to obey God is what affects their ability to learn the truth!

An echoe can be read elsewhere in Scripture, both by Jesus and others (John 18:37; Romans 1:18–20; Hebrews 11:6). In fact, Jesus laid the groundwork for this idea when preaching in Capernaum, after feeding the thousands (John 6:29). The fact that Jesus was noted to be sinless (Hebrews 4:15), even by many of His own critics (John 8:46), demonstrates how a person’s spiritual life says a great deal about their knowledge (or ignorance) of God’s Word.

Obedience must come before knowledge

Wisdom from God

Rather than being educated in some Rabbinic school, or generating knowledge on His own, Jesus credits His amazing wisdom to God (John 7:16). In context, this is what Jesus means by those speaking on “his own authority.” While Jesus is fully man, and fully God (Colossians 1:19), His earthly mission is to follow the will of God the Father. Since the message Jesus brings is that of God, God is to be given credit for it. Even further, Jesus claims that a person’s willingness to obey God is what determines his or her understanding—rather than the reverse, where understanding enables obedience.

Even Jesus’ critics were forced to take note of His honesty and moral perfection (John 8:46). This very fact made Jesus’ claims difficult to dismiss out-of-hand. This, again, is a common theme of Christianity. When we give critics of the faith no cause to criticise us (Titus 2:7–8; 1 Peter 3:15–16), or to seek revenge (Romans 12:17–19), we make the Gospel all but inarguable.

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self-righteous, self-confident, self-centered

Here, Jesus once again attacks the self-righteous, self-confident, self-centered religion of Jerusalem’s spiritual leaders. To the people of Israel, there was no more important figure than Moses, and no ideal higher than following the laws given to Israel by Moses. For Jesus to criticise their adherence to the law was an attack on their very sense of identity. This is a criticism Jesus has posed in the past (John 5:39–47), and will bring up again (John 8:39–44). This meshes with the point Jesus made in verses 17 and 18, that those who refuse to obey God will not understand the truth. Worse, their refusal to accept Jesus is, in effect, a rejection of the very Scriptures they claim to uphold.

Despite the crowd’s skepticism (John 7:20), Jesus is well aware that the religious leaders of Jerusalem have sought to kill Him as a blasphemer (John 5:18). He is well aware that their rejection of Him is not superficial—it is deadly serious (John 7:1). And, it proves the very prediction made by Jesus in the early verses of this chapter: convicting the world of sin earns the world’s hatred (John 7:7).

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Trying to silence Jesus

In the terminology of Jesus’ day, telling someone they “had a demon” was the equivalent of saying, “you’re crazy.” The crowd, at this particular feast, was composed of people local to Jerusalem, as well as those who had arrived from remote regions. Some of those people would not have been as familiar with Jesus’ clashes with Jerusalem’s religious leaders. For this reason, when Jesus claims that some are seeking His death (John 7:19), a portion of the crowd brushes the claim off as nonsense.

Even so, some in the crowd know that Jerusalem’s religious leaders desire exactly that: Jesus’ death (John 5:18; 7:1; 7:25). This was one reason why gossip about Jesus was mostly kept private until His appearance mid-way through the feast (John 7:13). In fact, those more aware of the clashes between Jesus and Jewish leadership will begin to question whether the Scribes and Pharisees can, or want, to silence Jesus at all (John 7:25–26).

Invalid criticism

Here, Jesus refers back to the prior year’s Feast, where He healed a man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9). The reaction of local religious leaders to that sign was extremely hostile (John 5:10–17). Most of that hostility was focused on the fact that Jesus had healed the man on a Sabbath day, contradicting the Pharisees’ traditions. This controversy led Jesus to claim that the Pharisees had all the required knowledge of God, but refused to come to Jesus in the way God intended (John 5:37–40; 6:29). This was also a reason Jesus stayed away from Jerusalem—and the direct influence of her religious leaders—for quite some time (John 6:1; 7:1).

In the next verses, Jesus will point out that even the Pharisees believe in performing certain spiritually-based works on a Sabbath, such as circumcision. Jesus will develop this example to show how their criticisms are ultimately invalid.

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Working on the Sabbath

Circumcision was originally mandated under Abraham, but it was part of the law which Moses established for the people of Israel. Jesus’ use of Moses has more to do with the religious leaders’ pride than anything else. In their own eyes, they were the only ones knowledgeable enough about the law, given by Moses, to make spiritual judgments. They felt this knowledge made them spiritually obedient, though in reality, they were rejecting God (John 5:39–47). One year prior, Jesus had healed a man during the Feast of Booths, on a Sabbath day. This earned Him condemnation from the Pharisees, since this conflicted with their man-made traditions.

In verse 22 and 23, Jesus points out that in order to follow the law—those given by the vaunted Moses—these same men would approve of a circumcision ritual on a Sabbath day. The question asked by Jesus in the next verse is one the hypocritical religious leaders cannot answer: if it’s alright to perform a minor “work” such as circumcision, in order not to break the law of Moses, how can they criticize Jesus for healing a crippled man on the Sabbath?

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Judge Correctly

“Judge not” is one of the most over-used clichés in discussions of Christianity (Matthew 7:1). Unfortunately, it’s almost always stated out of context. This gives the impression that Jesus simply said, “Do not judge.” In fact, Jesus often made a point of telling others that they should judge, but only “with right judgment,” as stated here (Deuteronomy 1:16; Matthew 7:2–12). Jesus’ frequent teaching was that we should not be superficial in our assessment of other people. However, it is crucial that we separate what is good from what is evil (Ephesians 5:8–16).

This statement follows a direct challenge to the spiritual authority of Jerusalem’s religious leaders. Despite having no formal education, Jesus is confounding his critics. He has accused them of hard-headedness (John 5:39–40), disobedience (John 7:17), and even attempted violence (John 7:19). As a result, as seen in the next few verses, the people of Jerusalem will begin to wonder: is Jesus being allowed to preach because the authorities are powerless, or because they have come to believe Him (John 7:25–26)?

That crisis of confidence will spur the Jewish leaders towards drastic measures to silence Christ!

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Release Your Regrets

Advertisements Once you have recognised your regret for what it is, you are then ready for the next step: release your regrets. Ask yourself these five questions: Do you regret committing a sin? Your regret may have been something you did that put distance between you and God. Letting go of that regret will requireContinue reading →

Recognise Your Regrets

Advertisements I have been thinking of regrets lately and I hope to take my experience with empowering you to respond constructively to any type of regret. Recognise your regrets for what they are. What exactly is it that you are feeling badly about? Have you either underestimated or overestimated how serious it is? What powerContinue reading →

Loving Your Regrets

Advertisements Regrets. We all have them. It may be something you wish you hadn’t done, or a missed opportunity where you didn’t take action and wish that you had. It might be something that was done to you; you were the victim, yet you still feel regret. The Sorry Cycle Whether it’s something from lastContinue reading →

Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in The Gospel of John, 2 comments

The Gospel of John – Trust God’s timing

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On one level, John 7:1-13 functions to set the stage for the rest of chapters 7 & 8. It also reveals to us some wrong views about Jesus that the Jewish people. Jesus’ own brothers, had about Him. But a careful look at these verses also reveals that Jesus is both Messiah and Lord. Which fits in with John’s purpose. We believe in Him as Christ, the Son of God, so that we may have eternal life in His name. All He did was according to God’s timing. So the main point is:

Believing in Jesus for salvation depends on having the right view about who He is.

The dominant focus is on those with wrong views about Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus did not follow His own will, but trusted in the will and timing of His Father.

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Jesus Goes to the Festival of Tabernacles

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “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.

Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.

10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”

12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”

Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.

John 7:1-13

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God’s timeline

The events of the next few chapters of John occur around six months prior to Jesus’ eventual crucifixion.

Previous entries in this series we have established that John presents Jesus as a man always obedient to God’s timeline. Conflict with the religious leaders of Jerusalem was always inevitable. So Jesus spent much of His time in Galilee, away from their direct influence. This only delays the eventual outcome, of course. Jesus has already done enough to earn a death sentence in their eyes. Since they interpret His earlier actions in John 5:18 as a form of blasphemy. This desire to see Jesus killed will be greatly increased due to His actions during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Remember the term “the Jews” is a reference to the religious leaders of Jerusalem and their supporters. This is an important distinction when interpreting the reactions of the crowd to Jesus’ words. “The Jews,” as described here, are a separate group from “the people.”

Jewish men were commanded to attend several feasts in Jerusalem each year (Deuteronomy 16:16). Chapter 5, brought Jesus to the city, where He healed a man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9). That celebration would have been the Feast of Tabernacles, the same event shown here in chapters 7.

The Feast of Tabernacles was a 7-day event (Leviticus 23:33–34) celebrating the journey of Israel through the wilderness. The festival reminded the people of how God had provided for Israel during their journey out of Egypt. This involved enormous lamps whose wicks were made of priestly robes and priests carrying water from the Pool of Siloam. These symbolised the pillar of fire and the provision of water from the rock respectively.

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Jesus’ brothers

Verses 3-5 present both a sad commentary, and produce controversy. The Greek term is adelphoi, which can be used to refer to countrymen—meaning fellow Jews—as well as biological siblings. However, this same phrasing is used in verses such as Matthew 12:46, and Mark 6:3. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ brothers are even named. Psalm 69:8 “mother’s sons,” rather than “father’s sons”. The same passage which came to mind when Jesus cleansed the temple in John 2:16 (Psalm 69:9). In short, the only reasonable interpretation is that these were Jesus’ actual, physical, half-brothers, and children of His mother, Mary.

The suggestion made here is that Jesus should go and put on a show in Jerusalem. The feeding of thousands, from chapter 6, attracted a great deal of attention.

Tradition suggests that one of these brothers, James, would become a believer and write the New Testament book of James. Another brother is believed to have written the book of Jude. At least some of this disrespect might have been due to familiarity. Jewish tradition suggested that the Messiah would be relatively unknown (John 7:27). So merely knowing Jesus was enough for some to dismiss Him as the Promised One. Simply knowing “about” Jesus, or being exposed to Him, is not enough to make a person a believer.

Simply knowing Jesus should be enough to convict any believer that Jesus is the Messiah!

Sarcasm

This verse continues the sarcastic, mocking tone of Jesus’ brothers. That is, these were other sons of His mother, Mary. When Jesus fed thousands, it attracted a significant level of attention (John 6:14). However, when Jesus explained the real meaning of His ministry, most of those followers turned away (John 6:66). Perhaps this is the motivation for His brothers’ mocking: “go make a scene if you want to be such a big deal!”

Jesus, on the other hand, is only interested in following God the Father’s timetable (John 7:6). Much of what Jesus does will attract controversy, but this is not the real purpose of His actions. In order to avoid needless scandal, and to make a more subtle entrance, Jesus will let His brothers go ahead of Him. So He can enter the festival alone, and quietly (John 7:9–10). Notably, Jesus will perform no miracles at this particular festival.

Of all the people in the world who should have accepted Jesus as Messiah, his immediate family are be at the top of the list. After all, nobody knew Him as well or saw His character as clearly. And yet, this same familiarity seems to produce the opposite effect – Familiarity breeds contempt! Jesus’ own brothers—other biological children of Mary—don’t yet accept His ministry or His mission. Part of this is cultural: Jewish tradition suggested that the Messiah would be relatively unknown prior to His emergence (John 7:27).

This is also proof of several ideas explored in the gospel of John. Later in this chapter, Jesus will point out that obedience must come before knowledge, otherwise people will not believe (John 7:17). A year earlier, after healing a man at the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus pointed out that the men rejecting Him were well-educated in the Scriptures, but refused to believe (John 5:39–40). Seeing miracles won’t convince those who aren’t looking for spiritual truth (Luke 16:31). Judas Iscariot is the prime example of someone who was presented with as much “proof” as could possibly be offered, yet still rejected Christ.

Obedience must come before knowledge

Not seeking attention

On a more positive note, tradition suggests that at least two of Jesus’ siblings became believers after His resurrection. These include both the author of the New Testament book of James, and the author of the book of Jude.

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Jesus’ response to His brothers’ mocking provides an important perspective. Their teasing assumed that Jesus was merely seeking attention, and so He should want to go out in public and put on a show. However, Christ’s intent was not to simply draw a crowd, but to explain the truth (John 6:25–29). For many people, that conflicts with their preferences, causing them to ignore the message (John 6:66).

In addition, Jesus has been keeping away from Jerusalem in order to delay the inevitable conflict with the Jewish religious leaders (John 7:1). His time to be publicly proclaimed as Messiah is yet in the future (John 12:12–15), as is His sacrificial death (John 19:18). Jesus’ brothers, on the other hand, are already fulfilling their purpose—their time had already come.

Jesus has greater concerns to keep in mind.

In parallel with this, Jesus’ brothers did not face the same spiritual hostility as He did. Jesus’ life and ministry were focused on exposing the sin of the world, pointing to a need for a savior (John 7:7). When, where, and how His brothers attended such festivals was unimportant. Christ, on the other hand, had to carefully consider how He presented Himself, and when.

Jesus’ brothers are teasing Him about His public ministry and the sudden departure of many of His disciples (John 6:66). In their minds, Jesus ought to go to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem and perform magic tricks in order to regrow His following. This shallow, teasing attitude is grounded in their lack of belief in Christ and His ministry (John 7:5). Not until after His resurrection will some of His siblings—at least two, James and Jude—become believers.

Jesus responded in the prior verse by referring to the timetable of God. In the future, Jesus will openly declare Himself the Messiah (John 12:12–15). He will recognie that His ultimate purpose is about to be fulfilled (John 17:1).

For now, however, He will act in order to follow God’s will, instead of chasing publicity.

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Jesus’ brothers have no such restrictions, for two reasons. First, they are already living in “their time.” They can move about the world without much consequence. Secondly, they do not face the spiritual resistance which Jesus encounters. Christ’s ministry confronts sin and hypocrisy. As shown over and over in Scripture, a common response to conviction is not repentance, but hatred and violence. Both in His earthly ministry and in the work of Christianity, the world often responds in the same way to the Gospel: with persecution, instead of submission.

Obligation to attend the festival

Jewish men were obligated to attend several feasts in Jerusalem each year (Deuteronomy 16:16). The biggest of these was the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34). During this time of year, Jerusalem would have been swarming with pilgrims, visitors, and travelers. Instead of travelling to the feast with His brothers, Jesus intends to arrive alone, in order to make a quieter entrance (John 7:10). Despite the teasing coming from His siblings (John 7:1–5), Jesus is not seeking publicity or popularity (John 6:25–29). On the contrary, He knows that His message will be opposed, since people hate to be reminded of their own sin (John 7:7; 15:24–25). Jesus is also sensitive to the will of God the Father and knows that His work on earth needs to follow God’s ultimate plan.

As shown in later verses, Jesus does attend the feast, though He does not begin to preach or teach until several days later (John 7:14). For this reason, some manuscripts add a Greek word for “yet” into Jesus’ statement to His brothers: “I am not [yet] going up…” This is true to the context, but not necessary, and also not found in the older copies of Scripture. Jesus’ meaning is clear both in context and in practice: “you go now, I am not.”

Notice, also, that Jesus performs no miracles during this particular festival.

In chapter 6, Jesus performed a dramatic feeding of thousands, followed by a public debate in the city of Capernaum. These kinds of high-profile events brought attention from the religious leaders of Jerusalem, who had already condemned Jesus as a blasphemer (John 5:18). To avoid direct conflict, Jesus has been keeping to the region of Galilee, rather than getting to close to Jerusalem (John 7:1). This area was close enough to Jerusalem for news to travel, but outside of the immediate control of the Scribes and Pharisees.

However, as a Jewish man, Jesus was obligated to enter Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16). His unbelieving siblings have been teasing Him over the loss of disciples described in the last chapter (John 6:66). Somewhat sarcastically, they suggest that if Jesus wants to put on a show, He should go to the feast and do just that: draw a crowd. Instead, Jesus tells them to go on ahead without Him (John 7:8).

Christ’s intent here is to honor God’s timeline (John 7:6).

Make a quiet, private entrance. Then, several days into the festival, He will once again being publicly preaching (John 7:14). Jesus will not, however, perform miracles during this feast.

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Jesus’ brothers—other children of His mother Mary—do not believe in His ministry at this point (John 7:5). Instead, they have teased Jesus by suggesting He go to the festival to draw a crowd (John 7:3–4). Jesus responds by pointing out that He is working from a divine schedule, which they are not a part of (John 7:6). He also notes that their attendance won’t be met with as much resistance as His will (John 7:7–8). So, Jesus tells His brothers to go ahead without Him, while He remains in Galilee (John 7:9). Later, as shown in this verse, Jesus will make a quiet, private entrance. The Feast of Booths covers an entire week, so Jesus’ eventual preaching in the temple does not happen until several days later (John 7:14).

These few days of anonymity would have given Jesus a chance to see and hear, first-hand, the rumors swirling through Jerusalem. Verses 11-13 describe how the people are curious about Jesus and what He will do at the festival. However, that gossip is spread with some sense of fear. “The Jews,” as the phrase is most often used in the gospel of John, refers to the religious leaders of Jerusalem. These men have already marked Jesus as a blasphemer (John 5:18; John 7:1).

The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the grandest events on the Jewish calendar. For an entire week, the people of Israel participated in rituals and events commemorating their journey out of Egypt through the wilderness. As one of the required feasts for all Jewish men (Deuteronomy 16:16), those who were curious about Jesus expected to see Him arrive at some point in time. None would have been more interested than the religious leaders of Jerusalem, whom the gospel of John typically labels “the Jews.”

It seems the religious leaders are making the same mistake as Jesus’ brothers (John 7:4–5). They assume that what Jesus wants is publicity, popularity, and power. On the contrary, Jesus is committed to preaching the truth (John 6:26–27), even when it causes most people to turn away (John 6:66). For this reason, Jesus entered the festival alone, and in private, after His family had already arrived (John 7:8–10). He arrives to find the people debating His character and mission.

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Jesus’ feeding of the thousands, described in chapter 6, was only the most public of His actions thus far. The combination of His miracles, His teachings, and His conflict with the religious leaders of Jerusalem made Jesus a popular subject of gossip at the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus complicated His public image by explaining that His ministry was ultimately spiritual, not material (John 6:26–29), which caused many people to abandon Him (John 6:66). Here, in the days before Jesus begins teaching in the temple (John 7:14), the people are quietly discussing His public ministry.

This crowd is described as “the people,” a term referring to the general crowds attending the Feast of Tabernacles. This would have included Jewish pilgrims as well as residents of Jerusalem. The term “the Jews” refers more specifically to the religious leaders of the city, and their followers, whose opinion of Jesus is quite clear (John 5:18; John 7:1). In fact, this anger is already so strong that the crowds in Jerusalem keep their discussions of Jesus private, out of fear.

Jesus’ earthly ministry was often the source of controversy and debate. Ultimately, this is grounded in mankind’s natural hatred of conviction. Showing someone the reality of his sin is a sure fire way to earn his anger (John 15:22–24). Likewise, people are attracted to flashy miracles and other signs (John 6:26), even though they aren’t really interested in spiritual truth (John 6:66). Jesus’ willingness to confront the religious leaders of Jerusalem (John 5:39–40) was a particular source of scandal. A full year prior to the events of this chapter, Jesus had healed a lame man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9), enraging the Pharisees (John 5:10–12). His response to them earned Him their hatred, and their desire that He be killed (John 5:18).

That seems to be the mood driving the people to discuss Jesus furtively, rather than openly. The people are curious and split on their view of Jesus, but are afraid to express those ideas too publicly, for fear of Jerusalem’s religious leadership (John 7:1).

Ultimately, Jesus followed God’s timeline and so should we.


Smite me, oh Mighty Smiter

Advertisements Oh mighty smiter! Smite me! Oh wait, you keep doing it! Bring it on. I can take it! Remember that line from the movie “Bruce Almighty”… “smite me oh mighty smiter”. Well… I got some questions for God, some questions for fellow believers. God makes promises throughout the Bible. Are those promises meant forContinue reading →

In The Garden

Advertisements “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses…and the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses…And he walks with meand he talks with me…and he tells me I am his own…and the joy we share as we carry there…no other has ever known……HeContinue reading →

Psalm 23 – The Great Shepherd

Advertisements The great Shepherd, The Lord  In Him I do not lack I rest in His presence in pastures green, and I am given the water of life Water refreshing my soul My guiding light on paths right Valleys are darkest – I fear nothing    For the great shepherd is nearest A rod and a staff,Continue reading →

Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in The Gospel of John, 1 comment

Pandemic Joy

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Up for grabs

The word of God offers timeless guidelines and instructions for reassurance for seasons of life’s uncertainties. Looking beyond the news headlines of fear, this blog post will encourage you to focus on the certainty of the Good News we have in Jesus Christ, from whom a ‘pandemic of joy‘ overflows, bringing blessings even in the most challenging of times.

So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:8

We now live in a world where we have to deal with uncertainty, arguably more than ever before. In spite of trying to be intentional about avoiding the bad news that seemed to pervade the media, one can hardly escape the gloomy realities of these uncertain times. While we live in an information age and have gotten used to quick answers and quick analyses, being faced with a world-wide-out-of-control pathogen which seems resistant to any quick fix—for example—has understandably saturated many hearts with fear and anxiety. 

In a world of fictional fearless superheroes, our eyes have opened to reality. Life happens. In times like this, it is not enough to share platitudes or braggadocious sentiments in the name of instilling courage in others; our audacity needs to have a basis which must be able to survive the scrutiny of the realities of these times.

One place we can turn to in scripture to make sense of times of uncertainties is Acts 8:1-8. The passage begins with Stephen’s martyr in Jerusalem and ends with ‘uncontainable joy’ in Samaria. Stephen’s death ushered in an epidemic of persecution for the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. As a result of the persecution, the believers fled for their lives. But in fleeing, they carried the joyful news of Christ’s saving grace with them. One such migrant minister was Philip who found himself in Samaria and ministered to the people there. And how does the story end?  “So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:8

The passage tells us that in the midst of uncertainties (such as the one persecution brought to those early believers), there is also an uncontainable joy—a pandemic joy—that is up for grabs. James echoes the same thought: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, James 1:2

You can be so joyful in this season—and any season for that matter—that your joy spreads widely into your community. 

Let’s unpack from this passage what this uncontainable joy looks like.

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Faith and Common Sense

And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Acts 8:1

The verse above paints a vivid picture. 

Great persecutions. Broke out. All. Scattered. 

Those words were intended to capture the severity of the situation. Severe as it was, however, the followers of Jesus responded faithfully—leaving us an example to follow should we be faced with life-threatening realities and uncertainties. How did they respond? By combining their faith in God and common sense, with the thoughtful minds that God has given them. Yes, they trusted God, but they also fled for their lives. They did what was commonsensical: They protected themselves.

As believers, our response to life-threatening realities must involve a combination of unwavering faith in God, godly wisdom and common sense. To respond faithfully to a pandemic, for instance, is to avoid being careless while taking responsibility to stay safe, protect our children and those who are most vulnerable.

In August of 1527, the bubonic plague came to Wittenberg, Germany, where the famous reformer, Martin Luther, was based. He wrote a letter at the time in response to a question he had been asked. The letter was titled “Whether one may flee from a deadly plague.” He shared some helpful thoughts in this letter which are very relevant now:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate . . . I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence . . . If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Paul reminds Timothy, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

We will observe, however, that while Acts 8:1 mentions that everyone scattered, it was also said that the apostles remained. While the specific reason for their remaining was not said in the text, it reminds us that there are key workers who, by virtue of their profession or calling, may need to take risks for the greater good of humanity. We owe them our prayers and thanks.

This is Acts 8:1 in a poetic nutshell: 

Persecution came.
All the believers fled.
All the apostles stayed.
But all in all,
Both responded faithfully.
And so must we.

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Still Human

Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.
Acts 8:2

You will recall that in verse 1, we read of the followers of Jesus fleeing for their lives because of the persecution they faced. In this verse, however, our attention is drawn to some “God-fearing men” who, in the same context when people were fleeing for their lives, chose to do what ‘proper human beings’ will do when a loved one dies—they “gave Stephen a proper burial and mourned greatly over his death.” They stayed in touch with their ‘proper humanness’ in spite of the perilous times they were going through. 

Burying and mourning the dead is a very humane thing to do. These folks did not allow the ravaging epidemic of persecution to make them deny their humanness. Neither should we.

There are few things that are unique to humanity which we must fight to preserve even in times of uncertainty; for example, the use of words, proactive kindness, and the capacity to adapt and to be articulate in expressing our emotions. Keep a journal. Share your thoughts. Make the phone call. Stay in touch with your humanness.

C.S. Lewis reminds us that threats to human existence are not new and should not be exaggerated—whether they be plagues, cancer, fellow human beings, atomic bombs, and you can add to that, COVID-19—however, when such threatening realities emerge, Lewis suggests, “let them find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

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Believers Also Suffer

“But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Acts 8:3

Acts 8:3 in The Living Bible paraphrase says “Paul was like a wild man, going everywhere to devastate the believers . . .” Those are weighty words. For many Christians today, their understanding of God has zero-tolerance for suffering. In their understanding, a good God should keep His children from suffering. A good Savior should not allow a mere man like Saul to devastate the believers by mercilessly persecuting them. As long as we call on Him, all believers should be exempted from whatever unpleasantness goes on in the world—including sickness and death. If your understanding of God and of the Christian faith is such that it can’t process the realities of suffering—if you find yourself questioning the love of God in light of the ongoing realities of our times, you need a few reminders. I don’t have all the answers, but I can share with you four reminders:

1. God is love

Nothing will ever take away this divine attribute of the Father. He has communicated it to all of humanity in the grandest way possible by choosing to become one of us and pay the ultimate price that frees us to enjoy what He had always intended for all humans for all eternity—a blissful fellowship with His eternally loving self.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32

2. We live in a fallen world

When sin entered the world through our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation (our physical bodies inclusive) became subject to the experience of corruption and death. In other words, there is an ongoing time-bound suffering which followers of Christ—alongside all of humanity and all of creation—are going through. Good news: It is time-bound.

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
Romans 8:20‭-‬23

3. Death is powerless over the believer

For the follower of Christ, death has died. Period. What Paul says to the Colossians, God is saying to all believers: “You should have as little desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God.”

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:20‭-‬21

4. We serve a sovereign God

Divine sovereignty is the canvas upon which God’s love and God’s power find the most beautiful expression. The sovereignty of God teaches us that He is in charge of everything, and He always does what is good, just, right, and wise! (

But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
Psalms 33:11

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You’ve Got Some Wonderful News!

The devil is an incurable failure whose seeming successes always ultimately serve the purposes of God in the life of the believer. The worst the devil can do to a believer is physical death, but he does that knowing that the death of a believer is not a gain to him; it’s a gain to the believer. That’s the basic unit of pandemic joy—that every follower of Christ has an indestructible never-ending life. That’s some wonderful news!

As long as you are alive, you’ve got some wonderful news to share. While the believers in Acts 8 were being sensible in protecting themselves from persecution (by fleeing for their lives), they never fled away from this wonderful news. It had shaped them and redefined their identity. They were Jewish people (mainly) living in a Jewish city but had become known as something other than Jewish—members of a new ‘tribe’ called ‘The Way’ (Acts 9:1-2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).

Indeed, the believer in Christ has found THE WAY TO KNOW & RELATE WITH GOD (John 14:6; Matthew 11:28). In Christ, we find a lovable and friendable God. His life, His death, and His resurrection—all historically grounded even outside of the scriptures—cast a certitude on His supremacy above all gods. 

The believer in Christ has also found THE WAY TO LIVE (Acts 17:6; 1 Peter 2:9) because right believing always translate into right living. The love of God ignites the hearts of believers with love for God and for humanity—and what other force is there which outperforms love in influencing people’s way of life? 

Besides, the believer in Christ has also found THE WAY TO DIE (1 Thessalonians 4:13) because it is only in Christ that death loses its sting. And lastly, the believer in Christ has found THE TRUE WAY HOME (Hebrews 13:4; Philippians 3:20-21). Every other way that men can follow is amputated by death. The wonderful news we believe is that this world, as it is, isn’t home. As such, we don’t settle for the flavors that this world can offer; we salivate for the taste of the cuisines awaiting us in our true home.

In the meantime, we’ve got a wonderful news to share . . . and share it we will.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

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Uncontainable Joy

Have you ever felt so happy that you couldn’t contain it? When you not bothered about whoever was watching; you cannot contain the joy. The joy in Samaria in Acts 8:8, I believe, was far more than that. It was an Uncontainable Joy rooted in an eternal transaction. Nothing that happens ‘tomorrow’ will change that experience. These people got saved, and they knew it was a forever deal. It resulted in great joy. Uncontainable joy. Pandemic joy.

This is more than the joy of passing your driving test, getting a job, landing a huge business deal, acquiring a property, getting married, getting pregnant, and having a baby. It is a joy beyond the reach of disappointment. No news headline can make it waver. No expert report can thwart it. It is a joy that has no cure. A contagious joy. A pandemic joy, which no pandemic can contaminate.

Stephen’s murder led to the persecution that led to a dispersion that advanced God’s mission and led to uncontainable joy. If we look at some of these events in isolation—Jesus dying, Stephen dying, believers being persecuted and having to flee for their lives—they seem like bad news, but when we view them in the big picture of God’s extraordinary plan, we clearly see that the singular event which the devil intended for the ultimate realization of his agenda on earth has become the very source of eternal joy for believers across the world across the centuries.

The pandemic-joy-activating extraordinary plan of God for all of creation keeps unfolding. 

“Through followers of Jesus . . . gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!” (Ephesians 3:10 MSG) 

This is why we can be pandemically joyful and certain that the Body of Christ will always emerge on the other side of any earthly challenge stronger than ever.

Yes, some Christians may sleep in the Lord and many local assemblies of Christian worshipers may have to close, but the Church of Christ across the globe remains impregnable and unconquerable. As a member of this Body, therefore, where does this leave you? It leaves you with the reminder that there is a joy—an indestructible, pandemic joy—which is available in us, for us, and through us in times of uncertainty. Earthly pandemics will come and go, and so will many other harsh realities of life on this fallen planet, albeit only in the meantime. Our pandemic joy, however, will remain, and we must grab it with both hands.

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The Parable of Two Certainties

I love movies riddled with uncertainties, but I absolutely hate uncertainties in my personal life. In life, as I’ve come to discover, some things are very certain. As we bring this journey to a close, I will highlight just two of them. The first should naturally lead to the second. 

Certainty #1: All of Us Will Experience Uncertainties in Life

In other words, one thing you can be certain of in life is uncertainty. Every single one of us, even right now as you are reading this, have some uncertainties in our lives. This has probably increased in light of the pandemic of 2020. We have uncertainties about exam results, how to pay our bills, what’s going on with our relatives abroad, how our children will turn out in this increasingly secularized world, what life post-COVID-19 will look like . . . and so on and so forth. But we can be certain that all of us are experiencing uncertainties

So how do we handle the uncertainties in our world?

I can think of two possible ways: choose anxiety or choose certainty #2.

We choose anxiety when we assume the worst, doubt the promises of God, or compare ourselves to the many competing standards of our world.

Certainty #2: The Prince of Peace Is Always Near

You are never away from God’s reach. As a matter of fact, Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4 to “be anxious for nothing” was hinged upon the nearness of God. “The Lord is ever present with us [so] Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray.” (Philippians 4:5-6a VOICE).

Prophet Isaiah prophesies: “When you face stormy seas I WILL BE THERE WITH YOU with endurance and calm; you will not be engulfed in raging rivers. If it seems like you’re walking through fire with flames licking at your limbs, keep going; you won’t be burned. Because I, the Eternal One, am your God. I am the Holy One of Israel, AND I WILL SAVE YOU . . .” (Isaiah 43:2-3 VOICE).

In Acts 1 Luke records how Jesus’s disciples asked Him a time-related question—they wanted to know when He was going to free Israel from Rome. See how Jesus responds: “The Father sets those dates,” he replied, “and they are not for you to know.” (Acts 1:6-7 TLB) I love Jesus’s response. It’s okay to not know everything. It’s okay to have certain uncertainties, but we must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the uncertainties; rather, we must let our uncertainties lead us into the safe and familiar arms of Who we certainly know is there with us: Jesus Christ.

If all you know in your uncertainties is that Jesus is certainly with you, that is enough—more than enough.

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Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in Devotional, 1 comment