Remember the famous episode from Jesus’ life when he is being nailed to the cross, which had to hurt terribly, after he had already been beaten to a pulp, and Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing?” It’s a wonderful account of grace, mercy, and love. And self-control, quite frankly. Many other people would be angry, cursing, or spewing a whole host of other negative emotions. Jesus is forgiving.
But there was another time when people were out to kill him, and instead of speaking forgiveness, he speaks something else, something surprising, something gutsy.
In the previous posts (here and here) on John chapter 7, we learned that Jesus was having a very testy interaction with his siblings, with people in the crowd in Jerusalem, and with the religious leaders. In John chapter 7, verse 16, Jesus responds to the scholars who are amazed at his teaching, because he was not formally trained in the Scriptures. Here’s what Jesus says,
“Jesus answered, ‘My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 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’.”
In this response, Jesus is bold. Think about the location of this. He knows the Jewish leaders are out to kill him, so where does he choose to reveal himself? In the temple courts! (See John 7:14.) That’s their headquarters. Jesus’ move is gutsy. He goes right into the lion’s cage, giving a teaching that leaves no wiggle room. He is saying that he has come from God. This is a claim to be divine, and it made the Jewish religious mad, as we will see.
But that’s only the beginning of Jesus’ boldness. In verse 19, he takes it up a notch, or maybe up ten notches!
“Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”
That is some wild boldness on Jesus’ part when he says not one of those leaders keeps the Mosaic Law. The prided themselves on being perfect or near-perfect keepers of the Law. On top of that, Jesus also publicly calls them out for their plot to kill him. Jesus’ serious confrontation of the religious leaders, during a religious Feast, in front of a huge crowd, is a thing to behold. It’s a wonder they didn’t lose their minds, rush over and start attacking him.
We can learn something here from the boldness of Jesus. Notice who received his boldness. He is confronting those who thought they knew God, but who couldn’t see God when God in the flesh was standing right in front of them. Jesus, in other words, was bold to the religious people. He confronts those who arrogantly thought they had God figured out.
Who might that be in our day? If Jesus was alive now, who would he confront? Who has a reputation for being the ones who have the authoritative truth about God? We do. We evangelicals have a reputation for being arrogant in our view of God. It seems to me that if Jesus was here today, he just might have cause to confront evangelicals. Have you ever thought about that? How might Jesus confront us?
As so often happens when people are confronted, they clap back. The crowd, as we read in verse 20 makes a bold claim of their own, “’You are demon-possessed,’ the crowd answered. ‘Who is trying to kill you?’”
Jesus responds to them in verse 21 by talking about what got this all started in the first place. A few weeks ago we studied John chapter 5, verses 16-18, where John tells us that the Jewish leaders were persecuting Jesus, following him, plotting to kill him? Why? What sparked their rage was the fact that Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath.
That’s the “one miracle” that Jesus refers to in John 7, verse 21, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed.” Jesus then goes on to some biblical and theological analysis in verses 22-24,
“‘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. 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? Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly’.”
Simply put, Jesus is telling them to stop being so legalistic about the Sabbath. Good deeds, like healing someone, are absolutely in line with God’s heart for the Sabbath. In other words, Jesus is calling the religious leaders out. He is saying, “You are misinterpreting your Bibles, you are wrong, and you should actually be supporting me when I healed a lame man on the Sabbath. You should not be out to kill me.”
He has made a powerful argument, as you would expect Jesus to do. Has he won them over? Will they say, “OK, you’re right, Jesus. We were wrong. Sorry. We’ll stop trying to kill you now.” Look at verses 25-27,
“At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, ‘Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from’.”
Some people in the crowd are wondering if Jesus is the Messiah. He seems like it, but he doesn’t fit the mold as precisely as they would have liked. They believed that when the Messiah came, it would be a miraculous appearing, out of the blue so to speak, so that no one would be able to know where he came from. A total miracle manifestation from God, of God. Jesus could not be the Messiah, therefore, because they knew where he was from. Nazareth. They knew his family. They could talk with his family, visit his mother, and his handyman shop. He did not appear miraculously, or so they thought.
Of course Jesus’ did have a miraculous origin story, but most of the people in the crowd didn’t know his birth story. They thought they had Jesus sized up, and they concluded, “Nope. Not the Messiah.”
Jesus responds to the crowd in verses 28-29, making a claim that could be misconstrued as vague. No doubt there are times when Jesus is mysterious. Here’s what he says,
“Then 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 authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.’”
From our vantage point, we know that Jesus is making yet another divine claim, assuring them that he is the Messiah. It seems the crowd gets it too, because they take drastic action, as we read in verse 30,
“At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.”
When the people try to seize him, it is not to protect him. Not to help him. This is a seizure bent on murder. Why? Because they correctly surmise that he is making claims to be the Messiah. That group, at least, is not convinced by Jesus, and they believe he is committing a sin punishable by death.
But something miraculous happens. No one could touch him because his time had not yet come. Must have been very frustrating and confusing to the people trying to seize him. Like being in a vivid dream when you are at the beach, and the tide is coming in, so you attempt to move your towel and belongings farther away from shore, but your arms and legs are so heavy, and they’re not working right. Slowly the tide gets closer, and you can’t move. Ever had a dream like that? I wonder if that’s how the people who wanted to seize Jesus felt.
Maybe because people couldn’t seize Jesus, maybe for other reasons, we learn in verse 31 that there are some in the crowd who have an entirely different perspective on Jesus,
“Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, ‘When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?’”
Jesus is left unharmed, and, amazingly, we read that many put their faith in him. They make the level-headed argument of “Really, people? How many miracles do you need? This guy Jesus has done a ton of miracles. Do the math. He’s the Messiah.” Many people are convinced!
The religious leaders, though, are not convinced. In the next post we’ll find out how they respond.
Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash