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Christ and the Crowd

John 7

There is a recurring thought in western civilization. It is that our generation, alone of all generations, has finally figured out what to make of this man Jesus – and that we can safely bury him as a footnote in the history books. The thought is much older than we imagine. In this lesson we will examine the crowd as they try to decide, “Just who is this man?”

1After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. 2But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, 3Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. 4No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

6Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. 7The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. 8You go to the Feast. I am not yet£ going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” 9Having said this, he stayed in Galilee.

10However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11Now at the Feast the Jews were watching for him and asking, “Where is that man?”

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

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

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

16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19Has 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?”

21Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. 22Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. 23Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? 24Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”

25At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ£? 27But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”

28Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

30At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. 31Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, “When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?”

32The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.

33Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me. 34You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

35The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

37On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as£ the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

40On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41Others said, “He is the Christ.”

Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? 42Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family£ and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

45Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46“No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared.

47“You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48“Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51“Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”

52They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet£ does not come out of Galilee.”

[The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.]

53Then each went to his own home.

Preliminary: the Feast of the Tabernacles

It is generally assumed (despite Christmas) that whenever Christians have a holy day (holiday, as we now call them) that long faces and a dreary piety are requirements. God, after all, wants us to suffer as much as possible. The ancient Jew would have known better. This feast, the feast of the Tabernacles, is a joyous occasion. It is a memorial to the wandering in the desert by Moses and the Jews. You might think forty years of wandering would be something to be mourned over; but God chose instead to make this celebration come in at harvest time – when food would be plentiful (and wine, too!) It was one big party, a joyous assembly.

The Jews by this time had made two minor additions to the feast, one of which will show up in this Scripture. The first was the tradition of lighting lamps during the festival – both to remember the pillar of fire and (I suspect) so the partying could go on through the night. The second was the custom of drawing water from the pool of Siloam (which was used for healing) and pouring it on the altar. This was done on the “great day” of the feast, the eighth and last. See verse 37 above, and see how a master teacher weaves the day’s events into his teaching.

The World’s View of Christ

The Brotherly View

It’s not that his brothers don’t like him. It’s just that he’s going about this business the wrong way. Of course, they don’t believe there’s anything going on here except that older brother wants to become a spectacular success in the world of religion. Perhaps he should work his way up to a nice pulpit, then see if he can get his own radio show. Then he could start on the big time: television! Hundreds of volunteer workers praying for the donors calling in. This could be the start of something big.

The problem, of course, is that the brothers don’t believe. So here’s what the unbelieving world says to the church – take good notes, now.

  • First, go to the big city – Jerusalem! Galilee is hicks in the sticks. Go for the big time.
  • If you don’t think so, remember – you have disciples there too. They need you. In person, no doubt.
  • More miracles! Everybody loves miracles!
  • And do them in public! No more quiet stuff.
The View from the Crowd

The crowd – not having the inside track to Jesus, and therefore not being in a position to offer great advice – now gets a chance to react to this man Jesus. The reactions haven’t changed much over the years. See if these sound familiar:

  • “He’s a good man.” He says some really cool things, and he seems to practice what he preaches. Of course, some of the things he says are a little too “spiritual” for us, but he’s basically a good guy.
  • “He deceives the people.” Another televangelist, that’s what this guy is! A religious fraud, in it for the money. Nobody could be that good – and mean it.
  • “Where did he get such learning?” In our time, this comes down to things like, “How did he know I had that problem?” After all, no one has had my problems before; I’m unique.
  • “Isn’t this the man they’re trying to kill?” The crowd is quick to pick up the fact that the authorities – in all ages – are very uncomfortable about this man Jesus. He claims an allegiance which comes ahead of all others – and that just can’t be good for law and order, can it?

Isn’t it amazing – the same things can be heard today – and for the same reason. They missed the point entirely.

What’s the Problem Here?

Worldly success – the brothers

The brothers, as we have seen, counsel doing things in the world’s way. It’s because of their unbelief. Christ shows us three replies to such an argument:

  • First, there is his humility in reply. He has the power to “make it happen,” but refuses to use it. In this he shows us that we need not answer to the world for our methods, only our Lord. If the world thinks less of us for it, so be it.
  • There is also the matter of God’s timing – a subject which is almost completely ignored today. God is quite content to do things in his time – we, on the other hand, need it today.
  • The day of glory for Christ has not yet come. We need to remember this, that at the time of the end we shall see many things brought right.
The Crowd

The crowd, too, has its flaws – these are easier to see.

  • The first is ignorance – and a willful ignorance, generally. People do not wish to take the time and trouble to find out the truth. So they ask each other – people equally ignorant – to determine the truth. The opinion of the mob fluctuates around their appetites.
  • More than that, Jesus speaks to us on matters of the spirit – and the crowd listens to matters of the stomach. They don’t want to hear things spiritual – and so they won’t.
  • It should be noted, in fairness, that much of what Jesus says here is prophetic, and cannot be fully understood until after the Resurrection. That’s still true today – anyone reading the Scripture on a regular basis is constantly enlightened, even though reading it many times.
Does the church today “do it His way?”

So often today the church thinks like the brothers – and caters to the crowd. Attendance figures are everything (at least, after offering numbers). The sad truth is that many churches today are nothing more than social clubs with good attendance. They do not call for commitment from the pews; that’s the minister’s job.

The debate is often over “modern vs. traditional.” It’s not about technology; it’s about leadership.

Christ’s Proclamation to the Crowd

Our Lord is not silent on this issue. He explains it quite clearly here. He makes three points which should be heeded today.

The world hates Jesus

It’s simple, really. The world hates him because he points out the evil in the world. Christians – real Christians – do the same. They can’t help it, because they’re going around being righteous. If you think not, consider these modern reactions:

  • Abortion. How the pro-abortion people hate those “weirdo right wing fundamentalists!” Christians are sub-human; they are demons. They need to be locked up and straightened out by psychiatry (read: drugs). Not since abolition have such passions been stirred in America.
  • VRWC – the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Hillary Clinton made it perfectly clear: her dear husband was being persecuted by this gigantic conspiracy. And why? Because he was acting like a liberated man! So of course it couldn’t be that those people actually believe that adultery is wrong; it must be a political conspiracy. Can you hear the hatred in Hillary?

The Psalmist had it right:

8 The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men. (Psalm 12:8)

We’ve been stepping on their strut. If they hated Jesus then, will not this generation hate his children?

My teaching is not my own

Note that Jesus does make the effort to get his teaching down to their level. A full explanation of the Trinity at this point would probably be fruitless. He makes it simple for them:

  • God sent me.
  • God is my Father
  • I will return to God when I’m done.

Because the teaching comes from the Father, it can be brought down to their level without losing any of its truthfulness.

The Power of Christ

There is also a lesson by example in here for us. Jesus slips quietly into Jerusalem, as if he feared the Jews. But later he walks right through a group wanting to stone him. It is not weakness, but timing – God’s timing. Power is best used in restraint; there is so much less to clean up.

Christ Proposes the Tests

OK, suppose you want to know – in a very practical way – just how to know whether or not this Jesus is who he says he is. He gives you some very pragmatic tests:

  1. Live a life of obedience to God’s commands. How does this work? If you do this, you will become quite good at distinguishing between the latest and greatest psychobabble and what God truly wants. Even if you don’t have guidance of the Scriptures, that’s OK; do what God wants, and you’ll become astute at knowing what’s godly and what’s not. Then take a look at the life of this Jesus of Nazareth – and see if you don’t recognize a lot of what you already know.
  2. Don’t judge by appearances, nor by the whim of the crowd. Investigate. Find out. Don’t just take some “expert’s” word on the subject; dig into it. Josh McDowell, the leading writer on apologetics today, started out with an attempt to prove that Christianity is false. So did Lew Wallace, the man who wrote Ben-Hur.
  3. The best test is that of results. Is it true that when Christ was lifted up (speaking of the Crucifixion) that he would draw all to himself? Is that not the central point of Christianity? If that is not sufficient, then look at his disciples. Those you know to be his real disciples; does the living water of God flow out from them? Are they caring, giving people (despite their temperaments) or not?

God does not make it easy to know him. It is hard. So he has made it essential to salvation – and then given you a lot of help along the way.

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