Monday, June 30, 2014

A Lopsided Charismatic Mess

Life of Christ 106

          We've just seen a rather startling series of events between Jesus and Israel's religious leadership in Jerusalem. Jesus chose to attend the Feast of Tabernacles, and to openly, boldly, and clearly state His claim to be the Christ and to be God. Along the way, He had repeatedly tangled with the Pharisees, ruined the closing ceremony of the feast, made a mockery of their attempt to trap Him with an adulteress, and sent them an unmistakable message by healing a blind man. Their reaction, along with a determinedly wrongheaded continual rejection of Him, was to attempt to assassinate Him on three different occasions during the feast.
          We can see, then, that the conflict between Jesus and Israel's religious leadership had become so sharp that He found it necessary to remove Himself from Jerusalem for a while. At the same time, He doesn't want to just vanish into the wilderness somewhere. His choice is to make another preaching tour around Judea, the Jewish region surrounding Jerusalem.
          Once before, at the beginning of His ministry three years prior, He had preached through Judea but since then He had largely left it alone. Galilee, His home region, had been much more receptive of Him. In fact, there is an old statement that Galilee gave Jesus a home and Judea gave Him a cross. Judea was more spiritually arrogant, and thus harder to reach, but He chooses now to give it one last opportunity.
          When I was a boy a nationally known evangelist conducted a city wide crusade in Youngstown, Ohio. Prior to his arrival he sent a man ahead of him to help to prepare the meeting, and to coordinate the work of the 35 or so churches that were cooperating together in the meeting. That man was known in the trade as an advance man. The advance man was not The Guy, but he was the guy who went ahead of The Guy in order to prepare everything for The Guy's arrival, so to speak.
          In a similar sense, Jesus, in preparing for His preaching tour around Judea, sends out a group of men to prepare the way for Him ahead of time. 'After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come' (Luke 10.1). In our story today (Luke 10.1-24) Jesus gives them some specific instructions about what and what not to do on this preparatory preaching trip, and then deals with their reaction to their reception on their return to Him some days later.
          It is important to remember the context of these specific instructions has to do with a specific trip over a short period of time to a specific region by a limited number of men. This isn't a list of instructions for all of God's preachers in every dispensation and circumstance. But having said that, I do think there are some broader principles that are taught here that do apply to us today. In other words, these instructions are not hard and fast rules that apply to us in every detail today but we do find in them a revelation of what is important to Christ in how His preachers conduct themselves.
          Among these I find the following: Jesus wants us to be after people with the Gospel (Luke 10.2), we are to be gracious, thankful, and flexible with what God provides for us along the way (Luke 10.7-8), we are to help people (Luke 10.9), we are to urge people to accept Christ while there is still time (Luke 10.9), we are to let God handle the judgment on those who reject our message (Luke 10.14), and we are to remember that they aren't rejecting us, instead they are actually rejecting Him (Luke 10.16).
          Armed with this set of instructions the seventy men scattered all over Judea, preaching the Gospel, and preparing the towns and villages for Jesus' coming preaching trip. On their return a day or two later, something exceedingly interesting happens. 'And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name' (Luke 10.17). In other words, they were most excited about the fact that on this trip they had experienced the spiritual power to cast demons out of people.
          Jesus' reaction, curiously enough, was not to share in their joy over such victories. Instead, He told them that they were getting joy from the wrong thing. 'Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven' (Luke 10.20).
          One of the great mistakes of 21st century American Christianity is that it is overly enamored with spiritual gifts. I am a cessationist. This means that I don't believe the gifts of tongues, healings, visions, prophecies, etc. is active for us today. But even if I'm wrong, and those gifts are active for the Church today, I'm not wrong that entire branches of Christianity are way too focused upon them.
          Paul, in I Corinthians, was careful to instruct a highly gifted church (I Corinthians 1.7) that the proper order was to emphasize preaching first and the gifts of tongues last (I Corinthians 12.28-31). What happens when you get the emphasis reversed? Well, crowds flock by the hundreds of thousands to see a charlatan like Benny Hinn, but let a guy announce he is going to preach verse by verse through Galatians and everybody yawns. Let us beware an over-emphasis on spiritual gifts.
          In fact, if we are going to be preoccupied with something, let it be with salvation (Luke 10.20). This keeps me humble. This keeps my focus on Him. This keeps me conscious of the souls in the great harvest all around me. It certainly isn't wrong to be excited about something other than salvation, or to praise the Lord for any good gift, but when our focus gets off of the finished work of Christ, Who He is, and what He purchased freely for us, and the need of the world around us for that gift of salvation, then we have become unbalanced Christians.
I cannot tell you exactly where that line is. I can tell you that there is a line, and I can show you what crossing it heedlessly becomes (see the aforementioned Benny Hinn and all of his wretched prosperity gospel cronies). I can also tell you that we are to be more enamored with Christ and our salvation than we are with what amazing things we can accomplish with our spiritual gifts.

The Giver, not the gifts, is the point.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Good Shepherd

Life of Christ 105
          Immediately following Jesus' healing of the blind man and his corresponding tangle with Israel's religious leadership and excommunication from his synagogue, Jesus speaks this parable (John 10.1-21) probably to the crowd around Him at the Temple.
          In a sense, you can look at the whole earthly career of Jesus Christ as a tug of war. On one side are the Pharisees, with their traditional and extra-biblical approach to religion. On the other side was Jesus. The common people of Israel are in the middle. Both sides are seeking to pull the common people toward their own side, and away from the other side.
         Another way of saying this is that Jesus' ministry was a contest between Himself and the Pharisees for the soul of Israel's religion. Each offered themselves as the correct shepherd for the flock of Israel. As we sadly know, Israel chose the wrong shepherd.
          It is exactly this to which Jesus is speaking. Israel's religious leadership, composed primarily of Pharisees, has shown themselves in the last two chapters of John to be exceedingly poor shepherds. With this parable we see Him plainly asserting Himself as the right shepherd, the good shepherd, the only possible correct choice of shepherd for the flock of Israel.
          Why was Jesus the good shepherd? 'I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep' (John 10.11). These people to whom Jesus was speaking knew what a good shepherd looked like. Their society was much more agricultural than our own, and even in the big city of Jerusalem there were constant interactions with live sheep and thus shepherds. Not only that, but every good Jew knew well the life of David, Israel's greatest king. As a young man, shepherding his father's flocks, he had put his own life on the line to protect the flock from a lion and a bear.
          The sheep folds of the day were often glorified corrals, with only one means of entrance and exit. The shepherd, after grazing the flock all day, would drive them back to the fold for the night. Once they were safely penned he would lay down and sleep in the only doorway, thus putting himself directly between the flock and any danger that might approach. Sheep, completely defenseless creatures, needed such selfless care in order to survive.
          Jesus, in every sense of the word, gave up His own life for us. The sweet psalmist of Israel, already mentioned, in his most famous poem, said, 'The Lord is my shepherd.' In other words, of all the shepherds available I have the very best one. All over my city tonight tens of thousands of young men have chosen the violent, bloodthirsty, selfish, thuggish gangs to be their shepherd. All over my city tonight hundreds of thousands of sincerely religious people have chosen heretics like the Jehovah's Witnesses or the vicar of hell in Rome as their shepherd. Others, looking in the mirror, choose the finite foolishness of their own wisdom as their shepherd. What a gracious God I have to so enable me as to choose, for my shepherd, the best shepherd of all.

The Lord is my shepherd, yea, my Good Shepherd. Consequently, I shall lack nothing. I shall lie down in green pastures. I shall drink from calm waters. When I am cast down I shall be restored. I shall be led with great care, for my Shepherd's name is at stake. I shall fear no evil, for my Shepherd is ever with me. I shall graze on tablelands thoughtfully prepared for me. I shall be protected from my enemies. My life literally overflows with blessings. Goodness and mercy follow after me. And then, when this life draws to a close, I will dwell with my Shepherd in His house, forever.

 I have the best shepherd of all. I have the Good Shepherd. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Blind Man Meets the Light

Life of Christ 104

          We find ourselves today sometime in October or November of the last year of Jesus' life. He will die the following April. He is still at Jerusalem, having remained for some time after His recent dustups with the Pharisees during and immediately after the Feast of Tabernacles.
          Today is the Sabbath, and as Jesus and His Apostles are walking through Jerusalem they see a blind man, begging. It wasn't permissible to give to a beggar on the Sabbath, but if this story (John 9.1-41) took place in the vicinity of the Temple people would likely remember his presence on the Sabbath, and be more inclined to give to him on another day.
          One of the Apostles, seeing the blind man, is driven to ask a question he had always wondered about: 'Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?' (John 9.2). In so speaking, he reveals himself to be a partaker of the common superstition that such terrible handicaps were the direct result of sin. This, of course, enables the onlooker to feel superior, for he himself was not handicapped.
          Certainly the Old Testament taught that God punished sin, but nowhere does it even hint that physical handicaps are the direct result of personal or parental sin. In fact, the Old Testament specifically says that God will not punish a child for a parent's sins (Jeremiah 31.29-30). Since this blind man was born that way, he obviously had not committed some grievous sin while still in the womb which would cause God to punish him with blindness. Ergo, the answer to the apostles' question was rightly neither.
          Jesus, though, as He often did, uses the opportunity presented to Him as a springboard for some larger lesson. He informs the Apostles that this blind man has lived in this condition all of his life so that he could glorify God (John 9.3). He then proceeds to heal him in an exceedingly unusual way. He spits on the ground and forms mud or clay, and then plasters that into the blind man's eyes. He then sends him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam, and in this way brings the blind man sight.
          I must confess, as a bit of germaphobe, that I find this scene fairly grotesque, but Jesus had specific reasons for doing the healing this way instead of the 'normal' way. 'As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world' (John 9.5). Jesus had just recently stood in the light of the 75 foot high menorah in the Court of the Women in the Temple, and proclaimed Himself to be the light of the world. The Pharisees, of course, completely disagreed. Jesus, knowing that word of the blind man's healing would spread, was using this miracle to send a message to Israel's religious leadership about Himself.
          The blind man washed in the Pool of Siloam, which literally means 'sent'. The One sent from Heaven, Whom the Jews refused to recognize, is the One Who told him to do so. The blind man's sight was restored by mud, made from dirt and the saliva of Him who had first breathed life into dirt when forming Adam. The mud was then washed off in the Pool of Siloam from which the water had been drawn for the closing ceremony of the recent Feast of Tabernacles. This water symbolized the Holy Spirit, Who, rather than the devil, empowered Jesus with the ability to do miracles, and Whom Jesus would freely give to whomever believed on Him. Not only this, but the blind man, who previously walked in a darkness deemed by all to come from sin, now walked freely in the light of Earth's sun because he had met the Light of the World. Truly, this man's life of blindness followed by a sudden healing on the Sabbath manifested God, revealing Jesus to be Who He said He was, and thus brought God great glory.
          As the story progresses through John 9 we find that the Pharisees struggle greatly with how to deal with it. Their first attempt is to insist that the blind man was never really blind at all so no genuine miracle was done. This is quickly put to rest by the testimony of many witnesses who have known the blind man for years. Their next attempt is to assert that the miracle worker, whom all but the blind man knew to be Jesus, was not of God since He did such a work on the Sabbath. But this old saw has been so thoroughly discredited so often it doesn't hold an ounce of water.
         They aren't done, though. Their whole goal is to make Jesus look bad (John 9.24) so they drag the blind man's parents into it. The parents beg off, afraid of being excommunicated, and leave their son to fend for himself. The son, formerly blind, hasn't actually seen Jesus yet, but he is incredulous that Israel's religious leadership should be giving the healer such a hard time. 'As for this fellow, we know not from whence he is. The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvelous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes' (John 9.29-30). This formerly blind man flat out tells Israel religious leadership that, since no one else in history had ever done what this healer just did, he, for one, believes Him to be sent straight from God. In response, they excommunicate him, but somehow, I think, he wasn't too upset by it all. After all, today, for the first time in his life, he could see.
          Later in the day, Jesus makes it a point to find him, and to explain to the formerly blind man that it was He Himself who had healed him. The formerly blind man immediately places his faith in the claims of Jesus Christ.
          With this by way of explanation let me give you two lessons I draw from this story. First, sometimes you must live a long time with an awful circumstance in order to greatly glorify God. 'Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him' (John 9.3).
          I can only imagine the physical cost of being blind all your life. It is certainly dangerous, since you cannot see an approaching threat, and even common, ordinary tasks such as crossing the street become a risk to your life. Just the everyday job of living would be incredibly complicated and time consuming. Not only that, but blind people aren't known for their great wealth. Almost all of them live in poverty.
          Not only are there physical costs to blindness there are also emotional costs. This man had not once, in his entire life, been able to see the face of his loved ones. He hadn't been able to work, and without work there is no sense of purpose and fulfillment in your life. As a child he would have missed much of the fun of playing with other children. And we could go on and on and on enumerating the costs of being a blind man in that day.
          God purposely put this man through decades of difficulty in order to give Jesus the opportunity on that Sabbath day to display just exactly Who He really was to His rebellious people. Our life is His to spend how He will, for His own purposes. I'm a Baptist but I agree with the Presbyterians that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. George Mueller said once, 'My life is a platform on which I want God to display Himself', and if God chooses to do that via my suffering then that is His business.
          I sometimes joke with my people and say that discouragement is one of my spiritual gifts. I seem to have an uncanny ability to notice all the things that are going or have gone or might go wrong in my life. But when I stack up all of those things against the life of a man who spent the entirety of his days blind just so that Jesus could heal him on that Sabbath day I suddenly discover I have nothing to complain about.
          I know so many good people who are enduring awful circumstances, not as a consequence or a punishment, but simply because God has brought it to them at this stage of their life. Sometimes they ask me, 'But when will God fix this? I've been asking Him to for years!' Maybe, just maybe, He gets greater glory by leaving it the way it is. Beloved, we must never forget that the Christian life is lived how it is birthed – in faith.
          Secondly, sometimes you have to be willing to no longer be accepted in order to follow Him. 'These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was the Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue' (John 9.22). The blind man's parents were not willing to undergo this, but the blind man was, and did.
          To put that into perspective, we must understand that, to the Jew of Jesus' day, the synagogue was everything. It was the center of their educational, social, cultural, and religious life. Excommunication, while rare, and exercised for different lengths for different crimes, was always harsh. Edersheim reveals it this way:

"It seems to me that thy companions are separating themselves from thee." He who was so, or similarly addressed, would only too well understand its meaning. Henceforth he would sit on the ground. He would allow his beard and hair to grow wild and shaggy; he would not bathe, nor anoint himself; he would not be admitted to any assembly of ten men, neither to public prayer, nor to the Academy; though he might either teach, or be taught by, single individuals. Nay, as if he were a leper, people would keep at a distance of four cubits from him. If he died, stones were cast on his coffin, nor was he allowed the honour of the ordinary funeral, nor were they to mourn for him. Still more terrible was the final excommunication, or Cherem, when a ban of indefinite duration was laid on a man. Henceforth he was like one dead. He was not allowed to study with others, no intercourse was to be held with him, he was not even to be shown the road. He might, indeed, buy the necessaries of life, but it was forbidden to eat or drink with such an one.

          In our day, we don't face excommunication for following Christ, at least not in America. Some of our Christian brethren in Muslim countries do, but we don't. We do, however, face the fact that the crowd that we used to run with, or that we often want to run with, the 'in' crowd, will no longer accept us if we choose to follow Him. Such peer pressure often traps the spiritually immature young person, lancing their passion to follow Christ, and draining the spiritual strength right out of them. This blind man is a wonderful example of someone who stood up fearlessly for God in the face of mass disapproval.
          Beloved, the day may come, and sooner than we think, when we here in America will have to be willing to pay a price to follow Christ. Our venerated Constitution is only a piece of paper, and one that is easily and radically reinterpreted by the God haters of our day. As time marches on our American society, which has already moved from being a Christian one to a post-Christian one, will increasingly move to a pagan one. When this happens, the beliefs that are important to us, and that we are now free to hold will become, not just unpopular, but illegal. I say again, when, not if, this comes, we must be ready, like the blind man, to be 'cast out' for following Christ. And then what a privilege shall be ours! 'When they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name' (Acts 5.40-41).
          May God grant us the strength to follow Him, no matter the cost. May God grant us the grace to trust Him, no matter how long and how awful the circumstance. And may we rejoice, as now we can see, and may He be manifested and glorified in how He chooses to spend our lives.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I Am

Life of Christ 103

          Today, the Feast of Tabernacles is over. Yet, today, Jesus is at the Temple again, taking advantage of the attention that has come His way, in order to press His claims to be Israel's messiah.
The Pharisees, seeing themselves bested in the last several contests with Him during the feast, have prepared a trap for Him in an effort to make Him look bad and themselves better. Their plan involves a harsh Old Testament law, an adulteress, and a confrontation. He, of course, foils their plan, convicting them of their own hypocrisy, and displaying the wondrous mercy of God on repentant sinners.
Our story today (John 8.21-59) is the intense conversation that takes place between Jesus and the crowd of Jews around Him who had just watched the Pharisees bested, and the adulteress sent away with mercy.
Jesus, taking advantage of the opportunity and the conversation that had just taken place about sin, tells the crowd that they, too, have a sin problem that will bring death, and that belief in Him is the solution (John 8.21, 24). At this point, having seen and heard Jesus interact with the Pharisees, the adulteress, and themselves, some in the crowd begin to move toward belief in Him (John 8.30). He tells them that this belief is only proved out as real belief by continued obedience, that this obedience will help them fully grasp the truth, and that grasping the truth will bring them to true freedom (John 8.31-32).
Their response, which indicates a lack of actually genuine belief, is to bring up their ethnic relationship with Abraham (John 8.33). After all, since they are Jews they are already innately free, automatically on their way to Heaven on the basis of their ethnic descent from Abraham. This concept, known as 'the merits of the fathers', purportedly had Abraham sitting at the door of hell to turn around any Jew who accidentally went that way in the afterlife. In other words, Jews were going to Heaven because they were Jews.
Jesus completely disagrees with them, and insists that they are still in the bondage of their personal sin, and that He is the only answer (John 8.34, 36). At this point, tackling the subject of Abraham head on, He tells them that their ethnicity brings them no merit at all. They may be physically related to Abraham, but they aren't spiritually in the same family with Abraham, and the proof is that twice in the last three days they've tried to kill Him (John 8.37, 39, 40). Thus, in trying to murder Him, they had revealed themselves to be actually related, not to Abraham, but to the devil (John 8.41).
In response, they assert their relationship with God, claiming to be God's children (John 8.41). Jesus tells them that if God really were their father they would accept Him (John 8.42, 44). He is being brutal here, but first of all, they needed the truth, and second of all, they had been trying to kill Him. He is done mincing words. He is seeking, at whatever cost, to bring them to see the sin inside of themselves, and to see Him as the only solution. He tells them that the evidence that what He is saying is the truth is His own sinless life (John 8.46).
They continue to reject His claims with the excuse long ago dreamed up by the Pharisees that He was possessed by the devil (John 8.48).
 At this point, Jesus takes a different tack. He shifts the conversation in the direction of eternal life, which appeals to people, and says that He is the only way to get it, 'If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death' (John 8.51). The Jews in the crowd think that is preposterous. After all, even Abraham and the prophets, clearly believers in and belonging to God, died (John 8.52). Jesus calmly informs them that, actually, Abraham was quite happy about seeing Jesus finally come to Israel. 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad' (John 8.56). Of course, this is completely true. Abraham wasn't dead. He was alive in Heaven. And he was watching the unfolding drama of redemption, to use Graham Scroggie's wonderful phrase, on Earth below.
With this statement of Jesus' the rebellious Jews think they finally have Him. After all, how could Jesus have possibly seen or spoken to Abraham? 'Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?' (John 8.57).
Jesus' answer is, literally, immortal. 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am' (John 8.58).

In phrasing His answer this way, Jesus is carefully and explicitly making a claim to divinity in two different ways. First, by claiming to be eternal. The only way He could possibly be standing in front of the Jews in the Temple in AD 33 and also have existed prior to Abraham's life on earth two millennia prior was if He was eternal (Micah 5.2). And if He was eternal then He was God.
Secondly, in choosing the phrase 'I am' He consciously named Himself what Jehovah in the Torah had named Himself. 'And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say unto me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you' (Exodus 3.13-14).
There is an utterly ridiculous collection of theologians who assert that Jesus never claimed to be God. These intellectually dishonest and unscrupulous heretics claim that the only reason Christians hold such a doctrine now is because the claim to deity was foisted upon Jesus, posthumously, by overly zealous followers. In so doing, they think to excuse themselves from having to believe in the deity of Christ. In reality all they have done is excused themselves right out of Heaven and right into hell.
The stubborn facts are that Jesus plainly claimed to be God in the flesh, and that He did so repeatedly, and our story today is one of the clearest examples of it in the whole of His ministry.
It is proven by the flow of conversation which I have painstakingly lain out for you. It is proven by the reference to being eternal. It is proven by His specific claiming of the hallowed name of God. But it is also proven by the reaction of the Jews in that crowd that day. 'Then took they up stones to cast at him' (John 8.59). That crowd of Jews well knew that Jesus had just claimed to be God, and their emotional reaction to what they regarded as blasphemy was another attempt on His life.
Either Jesus is Who He said He was – or He is a complete and total fraud. There is no middle ground. In this story alone He claimed to be the truth, the way to eternal life, perfectly sinless, and God come in the flesh.

…and on whether you believe that or not hangs everything.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Light of the World

Life of Christ 102
          For three days in a row now, Jesus has had public conflict with His enemies in the Temple. Already today, He has tangled with the Pharisees over the woman taken in adultery. He readily eluded their trap, and, in turn, taught wonderful lessons about hypocrisy and mercy. Our story today takes place later in the evening on this same day (John 8.12-20).
The menorah in front of the Knesset in Israel
          Herod the Great, one of the truly amazing builders of the Roman Empire, and now long dead, had launched a massive rebuilding of the 500 year old Temple that Ezra had built after the Babylonian Captivity. This expansion and renovation, which really consisted of an almost entirely new complex, had been going on at this point for 46 years. One of the changes was a colossal menorah, the seven branched candlestick famous as a symbol of Judaism. We think of them as small lamps, but traditionally, and even now, they can be huge, many feet high. Josephus tells us that this particular menorah, in Herod's Temple, was 75 feet high, and was used to light the vast Temple enclosure known as the Court of the Women. This was where the treasury was, and the treasury was where Jesus was in our story (John 8.20).
          If this is the case, and I think it is, then Jesus made the following statement standing in the light of a truly enormous menorah, one of the largest ever made: 'I am the light of the world' (John 8.12).
          The Pharisees reaction to this was to reject His claims, saying that He was His own only witness to their authenticity, and you can't confirm something with just one witness (John 8.13). Jesus responded by pointing out that He was eternal, and so His vantage point had a perspective that mere humans did not (John 8.14). Not only that, but the Father had borne witness to the truth of these claims, and that provided sufficient support in the witness category (John 8.16-18).
          With this story there is one particular thing that jumps out at me, and, as interesting as it is, it isn't the location of Jesus' words. It is the words themselves. 'I am the light of the world.'
          The concept of Jesus, as light, being contrasted with the darkness of a sinful world, is found elsewhere in Scripture. 'That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world' (John 1.9). However, it isn't just the metaphor itself, but the descriptive phrase accompanying it that arrests me. 'I am the light - of the world'. Jesus didn't come to just be the Jewish messiah, nor even just the Jewish redeemer. He came for the whole world.
          This was referenced by Simeon all the way back at His birth (see Life of Christ 10), 'a light to lighten the Gentiles' (Luke 2.32). This was referenced in Old Testament messianic prophecy, 'a light of the Gentiles' (Isaiah 42.6). This is clearly a reference to the news of salvation from sin through Jesus going all the way around the world. 'I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth' (Isaiah 49.6).
          Not only was this referenced at His birth, and found in Old Testament prophecy, but it was also understood this way by the early Church. Paul, in explaining why he had turned his ministry from the Jews toward the Gentiles, appealed to the verse in Isaiah 49 I just gave you above. 'For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth' (Acts 13.47).
A 62 foot high menorah overlooking Madano, Indonesia
        What are the practical effects of understanding this, that Jesus is the light of the entire world? I think the context of Paul's quotation in Acts 13 answers that nicely. 'And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region' (Acts 13.48-49). See, when the Church gets a hold of the idea that Jesus is the light of the entire world she begins to take seriously her responsibility to send that light to the whole world.
          Do you give? The divinely instituted method for the propagation of the Gospel is the local church, and local churches cost loads of money to operate. You can witness without spending any money, but you cannot give out a tract without spending money. You cannot invite the new Christian to assemble with God's people unless there is a building to assemble in, and those cost lots of money. You cannot have a scriptural church, in the long term, without a pastor, and pastors cost money. Paul, speaking as a missionary on the foreign field, thanked the church in Thessalonica for sending him continual financial support (Philippians 4.16). Do you give?
          Do you pray? More than money, missionary Paul desired prayer support (II Thessalonians 3.1). The work of soul winning, if it is to be done correctly rather than as a sales presentation or a mere manipulation into a prayer, is a spiritual work. The work of preaching, if it is to be effective rather than just another entertaining speech, is a spiritual work. The work of pastoring, if it is to be more than simply being the CEO of another marketed business, is a spiritual work. These things take the wisdom and power of God, and the way our missionaries get that wisdom and power is through prayer.
          So many missionaries undertake to spread the Gospel in spiritually dark places where the devil has held sway for centuries. Demonic powers control these pagan cultures and people, and the only thing that can break that stranglehold is the power of God. Do you pray?
          Will you go? I cannot word this any better than Isaiah did thousands of years ago. 'Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me' (Isaiah 6.8). Twenty seven years ago I knelt at an old-fashioned altar and gave my life to the Lord for His service, and though I have been through some hard things in the decades since I have not, for one moment, regretted that decision. It is the privilege of my life to go wherever He sends me, whether that is rural Pennsylvania, the inner city of Chicago, or the Ivory Coast of Africa. If Christianity is propagated primarily by churches, and churches must have pastors, then Christianity is only a few decades away from being history's footnote provided young people stop joining the ministry. Will you go?

          Let us give. Let us pray. Let us go. Why? Because two millennia ago Jesus stood in the light of the 75 foot high menorah in Herod's Temple, and said, 'I am the light of the world.'

Thursday, June 12, 2014

This Woman Taken in Adultery

Life of Christ 101

          Two days ago, at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus engaged in a vigorous give and take with the Jews in the Temple. Their emotional response was an attempt on His life. Yesterday, Jesus interpreted the great closing ceremony of the feast as being about Himself, and loudly called in the middle of it for the Jews to believe on Him. Their emotional response, again, was an attempt on His life. Today, He shows back up in the Temple, and, as you can imagine, He quickly draws a crowd, and so He begins to teach them (John 8.1-11).
          Jesus, by now, has a long history of differing with the Pharisees in reference to the Law. The classic example of this is the 'ye have heard that it hath been said' and the 'but I say unto you' found in the Sermon on the Mount. His main point, repeated again and again, was that the Pharisees' extra-biblical adherence to tradition instead of the actual Law was wrong (Matthew 15.3). He had mentioned it again, just two days ago, when He whacked them in reference to circumcision, the Sabbath, and His miracles.
       Today, the Pharisees have carefully plotted to lay a trap for Him. They bring Him a woman found in adultery, and point out that a strict adherence to Old Testament law demanded that she be stoned (John 8.5). The Jews of Jesus' day, including the Pharisees, no longer interpreted or applied the Law with anything near that strictness, and no one had actually been stoned for committing adultery in Israel for many generations. Their whole purpose in bringing this woman to Jesus was to put Him into a box. In their thinking, He only had two options to respond, and both of them would make Him look bad and themselves look good by comparison.
          The first option Jesus had was to side with the Pharisees, and everybody else, in their relaxed non-strict interpretation of the Law, excusing her from being stoned. This, of course, would make Jesus look like a fair-weather hypocrite, changing His tune to suit the occasion, and, in turn, justifying the Pharisees' extra-biblical traditional interpretations of the Law in a host of areas. Alternatively, He could call for an actual stoning, which would make Him look completely out of step and incredibly harsh to every other Jew in the crowd.
          In response, Jesus ignores the Pharisees altogether. He doesn't say anything. He just starts writing on the ground. Scripture does not tell us what He wrote. I suspect, because of the reaction, that He began to write the names and the private sins of the accusing Pharisees, though I certainly do not hold this dogmatically.
          As the Pharisees continued to pester Him, finally, He lifted His head, and said, 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her' (John 8.7). In other words, He proposes that they exercise the necessary judgment themselves based on their own level of personal righteousness. What we have here, in essence, is unrighteousness condemning unrighteousness in the presence of perfect righteousness. No human could long stand up to that kind of scrutiny and conviction, and so the Pharisees retreat from the field of battle.
          Jesus then turns to the woman, and seeing her repentance, sends her away with mercy.
          Careless and vain people have used this story to justify all sorts of wrong-headed things so I want to make sure to carefully establish what Jesus is not saying here before I establish what He is saying.
          First, Jesus is not saying here that we aren't supposed to identify sin as sin.
          There are two aspects found in the Bible in relation to judging others. The first aspect is that of making a judgment call that what someone has done is wrong. The second is actually dispensing judgment upon them, or giving them the just punishment necessary as a result of their wrong.
          All of God's people are called to the do the former. Of course, it should be done deliberately, using Scripture as our guide. Along the way we must be mindful that we should seek to examine ourselves first, primarily, and that we will be judged by others the same way we ourselves are found to be exercising judgment. All of these principles are found by studying the subject of judgment, as a whole, in the Scripture. On the other hand, very few of God's people are called to issue punishment, or to dispense judgment in that sense. The temporary exceptions to this are legally constituted governmental authorities (Genesis 9.6), and the permanent exception to this is God Himself, 'the Judge of all the earth' (Genesis 18.25).
          The Pharisees had done the first aspect, judging her to be in adultery, and they wanted Jesus to call for the doing of the second aspect, which was to stone her. Jesus tells them that, since they are not the legally constituted governmental authority, they cannot do the second aspect of judging unless they are perfectly innocent. In other words, Jesus tells them that they don't have the right to dispense judgment since they aren't God.
          It is tremendously important to note here that Jesus is not saying that people shouldn't make a judgment call that others around them who are obviously sinning are wrong. This, though, is precisely what the ungodly want us to take from this passage. 'Judge not!', they shout, while they merrily go on their wicked way. 'He that is without sin let him first cast a stone at me!' as if this implies their evil ways are above being questioned. Not only is such a position illogical, in that they are making a judgment call which says I cannot make judgment calls, but they are also completely unscriptural. I can and should make judgment calls that publicly and clearly identify sin as sin. If, in this specific illustration, I know of someone living in adultery, I'm supposed to assert that they are wrong, and it is not pharisaically inappropriate for me to do this.
          Secondly, Jesus is obviously not saying here that adultery is acceptable. Such a position would violate the Law, and the Word Made Flesh wouldn't violate the written Word this way. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, in no way weakened the general understanding of the Law's condemnation of adultery. He actually strengthened it, and this is expanded on elsewhere in the New Testament with two specific instances of local churches being called upon to actively and publicly deal with unrepentant sexual sin.
          Having established what Jesus is not saying in this story what is He saying? First, Jesus is saying that hypocrisy is wrong. Jesus didn't attack the Pharisees here for wanting to uphold the Law and punish and prevent adultery. No, He attacked them for hypocrisy. They had attacked this woman taken in adultery while at the same time being just as guilty, either of that same sin, or something else equally bad. The proof of this is that they felt 'convicted'.  Interestingly and revealingly, this is the only Bible usage of this most familiar term, and the context reveals it to mean being found out. The other proof of their individual guilt was that no one lifted a stone, or answered Christ back. In fact, all of the Pharisees ended up abandoning the field of battle entirely. Their hypocrisy had been publicly revealed and they couldn't handle it.
          Secondly, and most preciously, Jesus is showing us that He is rich in mercy toward repentant sinners.
          From one end of the Bible to the other God calls consistently and loudly for obedience. When that obedience isn't forthcoming He then promises judgment. He always delivers on that promise of judgment with one notable exception – when repentance comes, within His timeframe, He extends mercy instead of judgment.
          Think of Jonah at Ninevah, for instance. When he finally showed up to preach, his message was one denouncing her for her sin, and promising judgment, unless she repented in the space of 40 days (Jonah 3.4). She did, and mercy came in place of judgment. It is this very fact that makes salvation possible for you and I. We have disobeyed the Lord, and the just judgment of hell is thus promised. But so long as we repent of our sins and come humbly to Christ before we die we find rich mercy.
          This story isn't teaching us to ignore sin. This story isn't teaching us that God ignores sin. This story is teaching us that we shouldn't be hypocrites, and this story is teaching us that God is rich in mercy toward repentant sinners.
          One of my favorite verses in the Bible is James 2.13. 'For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.' God would rather have mercy on sinners than pour out judgment upon them, but if we won't come, in repentance, for that mercy then judgment we shall have instead.
          The question before us today is not whether we are the Pharisees or the woman. The question is not whether we should judge or not judge. The question is not whether adultery is acceptable or not acceptable. The question is: are we genuine and real, or are we hypocrites? And the question is: are we repentant?

          …and only you, in the stillness of your own heart, can answer.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Is There a Balm That Can Heal These Wounds?

Life of Christ 100

          We saw, in Life of Christ 99, the wonderful closing scene of the Feast of Tabernacles, in which Jesus clearly and publicly, before thousands in the Temple, interprets the service to be about Himself. Today I want to give you several lessons from that story.
          First, we see that Jesus is what the world needs. 'If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink' (John 7.37).
          It never ceases to amaze me where people go to fill the empty inside of them. Some turn to drugs, alcohol, or gambling. Others pursue success, money, promotion, acquisitions of all kinds, or the cheering praises of a crowd. The alternatives are practically endless: the seeming peacefulness of false religious rituals and ceremonies; the comfort of a crowd that accepts them at the corner bar, the bowling league, the chess club, or the internet chat room; a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, sex, or material comforts; a mindless loss of themselves in popular entertainment and music. I could go on and on and on.
          Such people, driven by their internal emptiness, will go anywhere, with anybody, spend any amount of money, contort their consciences into pretzels, drink anything, eat anything, taste anything, wear anything, shoot anything, touch anything, and take anything. And when satisfaction and satiation seem still just out of reach they keep trying harder and harder, and going further and further. This is why music, drugs, gambling, sex, comedy, alcohol, and other 'escapes' viz. addictions, get worse and worse. Like a mirage, what they are chasing stays just close enough to keep them moving toward it, and as they move they get wickeder and wickeder.
          All they have to do is come to Jesus. 'O taste and see that the Lord is good' (Psalm 34.8). In Him is the only real joy to be found in this life. 'Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation' (Isaiah 12.3). Further, such a joyful means of slaking our life's thirst is completely free. 'I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely' (Revelation 21.6).
          Secondly, we see that when we get Jesus, we get not only what we need, but what others around us need. 'He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water' (John 7.38).
          God's people have always been the people who are best at helping others. We can see this, historically, in the great social welfare changes such as the anti-slavery movement in the 19th century or the temperance movement of the 20th century. We can see it exemplified, in more modern times, in disaster relief, or in the simple yet unselfish way Christians care for their older neighbors.
          God's people not only understand and value living for others, but they actually have what those others need. Our society seeks to help those in need by pointing them to social workers, psychiatrists, or the government, and while such people sincerely seek to help the simple truth is that they have not what people actually need since they don't have Jesus.
          If you are a genuine child of God, filled with Him and with a desire to help people, you will find that they will seek you out. The will come to you, unbidden and in private, at your workplace. They will bring you the painful and failing areas of their life and ask you, brokenly, if you know how to fix them. They will want what you have because they see that what you have is real. And the better they know you, these coworkers, family, and friends, and the more genuine and mature your Christianity, the more they will come to you. They will see, in you, the water for which they so desperately thirst.
          Thirdly, there never has been anybody like Him, and there won't every be anybody else like Him. 'The officers answered, Never man spake like this man' (John 7.36).
          The world has seen some amazing men, politically, militarily, creatively, and religiously. The world is, right now, on a constant search for the next big star. The world is, right now, on a constant search for the man who will solve all of its problems. But if has never seen, and will never again see anybody else as astounding as Jesus Christ. Only He is the Lily of the Valley, and the Bright and Morning Star. Only He is the fairest of ten thousand to my soul.
          A few weeks ago my family and I attended a concert put on by the Air Force Band group, Celtic Aire. I enjoyed many of their selections, but one in particular made me sit up and take notice. They played and sang a song written for a September 11 memorial service at the Pentagon entitled 'There Are No Words'. You can hear it on the Youtube link above. Written and sung by Kitty Donohoe, the somber chorus sings,

There are no words,
There is no song,
Is there a balm that can heal these wounds that will last a lifetime long?

          Sitting in my seat, in the hushed stillness of that theater, as we all thought back to that horrific day, I found myself wanting to jump up on top of my seat and shout, 'Yes! There is a balm in Gilead! And His name is Jesus!'
          He is what the world needs. And since we have Him we have what the world needs. And nobody else will ever be like Him again.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

If Any Man Thirst

Life of Christ 99

          Yesterday, at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus became involved in a give and take conversation with the crowd around Him at the Temple. Today in the life of Christ, our story (John 7.37-53) finds Him an unexpected and very public participant in the great closing ceremonies of this feast.
          This feast was designed to remind Israel of both her past and her future. When Moses established this feast, in Leviticus 23, he clearly meant it as a memorial of the time when Israel left Egypt and spent years wandering through the Wilderness. The accommodations then were tents or temporary structures, and water for such a large group was very hard to obtain in the Wilderness, and eventually had to be provided by the Rock which followed them. Thus, dwelling in temporary booths or tabernacles during the feast brought this to mind, and using water as a central element of the closing ceremony was very applicable.
          By the same token, the feast was meant to point toward a future time period, yet to happen, in which Israel would once again be gathered out of Egypt, a figure of the world, and returned to the Promised Land. (As a dispensational premillennialist, I believe the events described in this paragraph are still yet to come, and are part of God's literal promises to Israel that He will fulfill in the end times.) The prophets Zechariah and Ezekiel both mention that on this great occasion a river of water would flow out of Jerusalem that would bring life to the world. This, though an actual river, was also representative of the Holy Spirit, Who, according to the prophet Joel, would likewise be poured out on the world at that time. Thus, a gathering of Israel from temporary abodes, and the usage of water as a central element in the closing ceremony was very applicable.
          'In the last day, that great day of the feast' (John 7.37) the day opened well before sunrise. A solemn procession, composed of 446 priests, traveled from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam. Accompanied by music, the priest who led held an empty golden pitcher that would be used to carry water from the Pool back to the Temple. The route along which the priestly procession marched would be lined by thousands of people holding or waving the kinds of branches that were used to build the temporary booths which so conspicuously marked this feast. This procession, traveling through the Water Gate, which was so named for this, was carefully timed to arrive back at the Temple precisely at sunrise. Previously in this blog I discussed the sunrise ceremony which took place at the Temple each day (see Life of Christ 4). When the priest in the pinnacle announced the sunrise by the blast of his silver trumpet, and the morning sacrifice was offered, the High Priest would lift the golden pitcher high for all to see, and slowly pour out the water at the base of the Brazen Altar. Immediately after this came a series of chants in the call and response style composed of various psalms.
          Edersheim paints the scene for us:

We can have little difficulty in determining at what part of the services of "the last, the Great Day of the Feast," Jesus stood and cried, "If any one thirst, let him come unto Me and drink!" It must have been with special reference to the ceremony of the outpouring of the water, which, as we have seen, was considered the central part of the service. Moreover, all would understand that His words must refer to the Holy Spirit, since the rite was universally regarded as symbolical of His outpouring. The forthpouring of the water was immediately followed by the chanting of the Hallel. But after that there must have been a short pause to prepare for the festive sacrifices (the Musaph). It was then, immediately after the people had responded by repeating those lines...and then silence had fallen upon them - that there rose, so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the Voice of Jesus. He interrupted not the services, for they had for the moment ceased: He interpreted, and He fulfilled them.

          In essence, then, Jesus, before a hushed crowd of tens of thousands of people, during a pause in the elaborate Temple service, publicly, forcefully, and loudly proclaims, 'If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water' (John 7.37-38). In so doing He pronounces Himself as being exactly what they need, He proclaims that Israel should believe on Him, and that if they do they will receive the Holy Spirit (John 7.39). There is no other clearer, more public claim by Jesus Christ than this one.
          The reaction of the assembled thousands is immediate and varied. Some said He was a prophet. Some said He was the Messiah. Others vociferously disagreed with these conclusions because He was from Galilee, and neither prophets nor the Messiah came from Galilee. In fact, the Messiah came from the seed of David and the town of Bethlehem (John 7.42).
          While the majority of the crowd suddenly began to argue among themselves the more zealous among them emotionally and immediately responded with an attempt on His life. Jesus, of course, slips away in the confusion because this is neither the time nor the place in which He needed to die.
          With Jesus gone, the Sanhedrin tries to figure out how Temple security could have let this whole disaster happen. How could they have allowed Jesus to publicly ruin the closing ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles? Even worse, how could they have then allowed Him to get away scot free? Their answer is priceless: 'The officers answered, Never man spake like this man' (John 7.46).

          In the ensuing palaver amongst the Sanhedrin Nicodemus, a secret believer in Jesus for years now, since Christ won him to Himself on His first visit to Jerusalem  as the Messiah back in John 3, discreetly tries to stick up for Him. He is shouted down, however, with the same objection that was raised by so many in the crowd, that of Jesus' Galilean background (John 7.52). Thus, with such a feeble shield, Israel's religious leadership sought to turn away all of Jesus' astounding miracles, powerful preaching, sinless life, and numbers of directly fulfilled prophecies.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Do You Speak of Yourself, or Him?

Life of Christ 98

          During the tense give and take between Jesus and the crowd in the Temple for the Feast of Tabernacles He gives them an evidence of the veracity of His claim to be speaking God's truth. 'He that speaketh of Himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him' (John 7.18).
          One of the little noticed yet completely true facts about the life and ministry of our Lord is that He rarely, if ever, mentioned Himself. Look at the greatest sermon ever preached, The Sermon on the Mount, for instance. He spoke of how others could receive blessing. He spoke of glorifying the Father (Matthew 5.16) by living right. He spoke of the Ten Commandments, explaining their actual intent. He spoke of living for and loving others. He spoke of genuine private communication with God. He spoke of prayer. He spoke of fasting. He spoke of giving. He spoke of hypocrisy. He spoke of God's tender watch care and provision. He spoke of judging correctly. He spoke more on prayer. He spoke of salvation. He spoke of false prophets. He spoke of foundational Christianity. But what He didn't do is give seventeen illustrations of how He Himself was a wonderful example in these areas. This, even though He actually was a wonderful example in these areas.

          He didn't speak of Himself. He spoke of His Heavenly Father, Israel's God, Jehovah. 'For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak' (John 12.49). 'The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works' (John 14.10). 'He that loveth me keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me' (John 14.24). 'My Father is greater than I' (John 14.28). 'I shall shew you plainly of the Father' (John 16.25).
          As a teenager, and then a young man in Bible college, I was rather enamored with the pulpit presence of men who could spin a yarn, tell a story, and illustrate some wonderful philosophy with the events of their own life. The older I get, however, the more I look back on that and wonder just what I was thinking. One of the great tests, I think, of a preacher, is to run his preaching through that collection of verses I just gave you in the last paragraph in order to see  just exactly how applicable they are to his preaching. In plain language, a preacher who constantly refers to himself, and to his own exploits is well-nigh spiritually bankrupt.
          Of course, this is not just a flaw reserved for preachers. Christians of all stripes and positions in life can be found guilty of focusing primarily on themselves, thinking about themselves, and speaking about themselves. As I understand the Word of God, the mature Christian is focused on God first, and on other people second. In his own estimation he is a distant and often forgotten third.
          These are the kinds of people whom you have to persuade to pay attention to their own physical and financial needs because they are so wrapped up in others. These are the kinds of people who get very embarrassed by personal attention, praise, and plaudits. These are the kinds of people who don't care if their dress gets ruined by Sunday School kids, or their schedule gets bumped up a bit because somebody needs picked up for church. These are the kinds of people who never do get to take that vacation on the cruise ship but they do manage to faithfully support an orphanage in Honduras for years. These are the kinds of people who don't think about themselves, don't focus on themselves, don't fret about themselves, and don't talk about themselves. These are the kinds of people who serve quietly, behind the scenes, giving themselves away in service, in prayer, in time, in energy, without reserve, for decades.
          This kind of Christianity is poles apart from the modern day prosperity Gospel types. It is poles apart from the carnal God-exists-for-me types. As I type this I'm thinking about a man who attended my church in Pennsylvania for a few weeks. He had retired as an automotive executive in Detroit, and had chosen to live in our area because of its inexpensive standard of living. This was back in the days when 20 in church was a good day for us, and consequently we noticed the tall, successful looking visitor as soon as he strolled through the door. After he had visited our church a couple of times I made an appointment with him, and as we talked he shared with me his salvation testimony. He also volunteered the time in his life when he felt closest to God happened to involve a Corvette. He had finally saved enough money to buy a new one, and as he drove it at high speed on the interstate for the first time he raised his hand in the air and thanked the Lord that God had let him live long enough to enjoy that moment. I remember sitting there, shell shocked in my mind, that this guy's concept of being close to God was finally getting to drive his own Corvette fast. Needless to say, he didn't last long in our church, and my opinion of his Christianity is quite low, at best. Such a selfish, consumerist spirituality is anathema to what Jesus died to give us.
Roy and Jo Jo Moffitt
         One of my college teachers made a life-changing statement, in passing, one day. I wrote it down, and it has found its way onto the list of things I routinely pray every Sunday morning prior to church. She said, 'Leave your world; enter theirs.' That teacher, Jo Jo Moffit, proved out in her own life her belief in that statement, and it has helped me numerous times. As the time for ministry approaches I want to lay aside all pre-occupation with my own struggles, concerns, needs, and goals, and simply enter into the world of each person I meet. Jesus, even better than Jo Jo Moffit, exemplified this very concept in His own life and ministry.

          The picture of our generation is one that is snapped, in front of a mirror, by someone who has posed ten different ways just to see how amazing they are. We call them selfies. There are no selfies in the Christ-like life. There is only Him. And them.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Feast of Tabernacles

Life of Christ 97

          Jesus has arrived at the Feast of Tabernacles partway through its weeklong run. Hundreds of thousands of Jews had convened on Jerusalem for this feast, and the city was buzzing. One of the main topics of conversation that week was Jesus (John 7.12). Who exactly was He? Was He what He claimed to be? Was He a fraud?
          Jesus goes to the center of it all, the Temple, and proceeds to begin teaching. The session rapidly devolves into a questioning give and take. It begins with a challenge to His right to even teach (John 7.15). Jesus had dealt with this very objection before on His last visit to the synagogue of His hometown in Nazareth. (see Life of Christ 71) Basically, it was a rejection of His authority to teach because He hadn't been accredited in the manner to which they were accustomed. The rabbis of His day insisted that new rabbis be trained by current rabbis, and thus schools were developed for this purpose. Supposedly they ensured that a rabbi was connected, via a long chain of rabbinical training going back centuries, to the original rabbi, Moses. Jesus, of course, had no rabbinical training whatsoever, and thus some said He shouldn't have even had the right to teach at all.
          His response is that His teaching didn't come from a chain of rabbis going all the way back to Moses, but rather that it came directly from the Father Himself i.e. 'right from the horse's mouth' in our vernacular. 'My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me' (John 7.16).
          He then offers them two ways to test out the validity of His claim to be teaching truth straight from God. First is the test of obedience. 'If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God' (John 7.17). Obedience often precedes understanding, and it is for a lack of grasping this that many a Christian stumbles. I'm heartily for explaining the why behind the what, but too often it is impossible to accurately get across the why until the what starts being done. The second test was of selflessness. If He was making up His own material He would have spent much more time and emphasis talking about Him. He didn't. He spent His time revealing the Father. (John 7.18).
          The Jews claimed vigorously to be followers of Moses, holding him up above all prophets and rabbis, and believing his words were God's Words. Jesus now tells them that they essentially were not followers of Moses because they disobeyed the Mosaic Law, specifically the commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill' (Exodus 20.13). He said this because there were those in the crowd that day in the Temple who were actively seeking a pretense and means of killing Him.
          Their response was to pretend no such thing was happening, and to again accuse Him of being possessed of Satan. 'Thou hast a devil; who goeth about to kill thee?' (John 7.20). This was laughable at best and downright deceptive at worst. Just five verses later we see that the plots on His life were already public knowledge. 'Then said some of them in Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?' (John 7.25). In fact, in just a few short minutes, this very conversation would end with an attempt on His life (John 7.30).
          At this point Jesus takes the offensive, and goes directly to an area in which He was so often attacked before, that of healing on the Sabbath day. Jesus, again, finds a way to skewer them. Their esteemed Moses told them to be circumcised, and they valued circumcision so highly they would even perform the rite on the Sabbath. In other words, even the strict Pharisees didn't think that performing a circumcision on the Sabbath broke the Law in regards to not working on the Sabbath. Jesus then tells them that every argument that could be applied to prevent Him from healing on the Sabbath could also be applied to performing a circumcision on the Sabbath. Why, then, were they angry at Him for performing miracles on the Sabbath (John 7.22-23)?
          He has now pointed out both their illogic and deceit. He then appeals to the people to make a judgment call about Who He is, and to make it correctly, not simply by how it looks on the surface according to the picture the Pharisees had painted of Him. 'Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment' (John 7.24).
          At this point, some genius in the crowd comes up with a surefire answer to all of Christ's logic, power, and pleading. The Jews of His day believed that the messiah, when he came, would appear suddenly, out of nowhere, and sweep them all to earthly glory. Jesus, on the other hand, had a reputation that had grown gradually, and everybody knew the story or His origins in Nazareth, and of His parents, Joseph and Mary (John 7.27). Ergo, He couldn't be the Messiah since they knew where He came from.
          Jesus, making no bones about it at all, lifts His voice for emphasis and shouts to all around that they are wrong about this. He didn't come from Joseph and Mary and Nazareth. He came straight from God, sent from God, and they clearly didn't know this God. 'Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me' (John 7.28-29).
          This is nothing less than a highly public and aggressive claim to be the divine Son of God, and the Jews obviously took it this way for the immediate emotional response of the crowd around Him was to seek to kill Him (John 7.30). Of course, this was neither the time, or place, or manner in which He needed to die the atoning death necessary to be our sacrifice, and He slipped away in the mayhem. Yet again, we clearly see Jesus claiming to be the Son of God, and that the Jews of His day understood Him to be doing so.
          Others in the crowd, more rational, discuss among themselves the fact that His claims to the messiahship had been fully authenticated by His many indisputable miracles (John 7.31).

          This entire story has been the record of a give and take with an overtly hostile and inertly supportive crowd of Jews in the Temple. We will see the like again and again in the last six months of His life as He takes His claims right to the heart of the Jewish system.