Monday, May 06, 2013

Jesus Christ in the Midst of an Unbelieving World (John 7:1-10)



Here’s a pretty common conversation at my house. I walk in the door, and one of the kids says to me, “Hey dad, check out this YouTube video. It is hilarious!” I say, “OK, show it to me.” They show it to me, and they proceed to ROTFL – I now know that this means “roll on the floor laughing.” But I am not rolling. I’m not laughing. They look at me like they’re thinking, “Maybe we better check dad’s pulse.” And I say, “I don’t get it.” So, bless their hearts, my poor children go to great lengths to try to explain it to me. And I say, “Let me get this straight,” and I rehearse their explanation. They say, “Right, that’s it!” And I say, “I still don’t get it.” That’s pretty common – several times a week. Pray for my kids. They’ve got a tragically unhip dad who just doesn’t get it. It’s pretty awkward sometimes, when you are the only one who doesn’t get it. I get some affirmation when Donia comes in and says, “Yeah, I didn’t get it either.” And the kids just look at us with confusion – sometimes with their jaw dropped, like, “Man, you guys are just hopeless.”

What does that have to do with this text of Scripture? Probably nothing, I just thought you might like to know what goes on at our house. No, I think there’s some parallel. You see, Jesus was constantly surrounded by people who just didn’t get it! I know we have these Bibles with pictures in them for kids, but I’m not sure how accurate the pictures are. I think if they were accurate, then on about every other page in the Gospels, there would be a picture of Jesus with His jaw on the ground and a puzzled look on his face, and a little thought bubble popping out of His head saying, “How can they not get it!” Even the people who ought to know Him best didn’t get it! Here in this passage that we have read, we have a conversation between Jesus and His brothers. They didn’t get Jesus. They couldn’t figure Him out. In fact, on one occasion, recorded in Mark 3, when Jesus was teaching and a huge crowd of people were flocking to Him, Mark says that “His mother and His brothers” came “to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses’” (Mk 3:21, 31). They just didn’t get Him! They thought He was crazy. What was the problem? Why didn’t they get it? John gives us the answer here in verse 5: “Not even His brothers were believing in Him.” They didn’t get it because they didn’t believe in Him. Do you have family or friends that know you really well, but think, you know, that maybe you’re a little cuckoo? They’re worried that you’ve gone off the deep end and become some kind of Jesus freak. They don’t get it. Well, what’s the problem? They don’t believe in Him! Jesus can relate to that. He faced the same thing.

Sometimes we get this sentimental idea that, once upon a time, long ago, the world was full of people who believed in Jesus. That’s just not true. Followers of Jesus have never been in the majority. The world has always been filled with unbelieving people who just didn’t get it. It’s not a new thing. But it was into this world, and for this world, that Jesus came. He came to rescue us from this fallen and unbelieving world. But the world, by and large, doesn’t get it. They can’t figure Him out, and they think they’ve got to figure Him out before they can believe in Him. But, unless they believe in Him, they will never figure Him out. So, they either reject Him, or they seek to redefine Him, or they just try to disregard Him, but He just won’t go away! And try as they may, this unbelieving world just can’t make sense of Him. Why is that? Why can’t the unbelieving world figure out Jesus? In this conversation with His brothers, three reasons surface.

I. Jesus doesn’t need the world’s advice (v4)

You know those people, don’t you? The chronic “advice-giver.” You are telling them about something going on in your life, and every time you stop to take a breath, they’re horning in and saying, “Well, if it were me, here’s what I would do.” You want to say to them, “Oh yeah, well, it’s not you, so keep your advice to yourself.” What? You never thought that? Just me, huh? Interesting. I think these people really want to help, but you know, sometimes it’s just not helpful. I guess it’s just human nature. I’m guilty of it, and you probably are sometimes too.

Remember what’s going on with Jesus here. As Chapter 6 comes to a close, He loses the overwhelming majority of His followers. Because of the hard truths He has been teaching, John 6:66 says, “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” There had been a multitude. How many? Hundreds? Thousands? Maybe, but now few more than the twelve that He had hand-picked. That all happened around the time of Passover. It’s now time for the Feast of Booths (also called the Feast of Tabernacles), meaning that some six months had elapsed. Those followers who abandoned Jesus hadn’t come back.

Well, Jesus’ brothers saw this, and bless their hearts, they just can’t resist offering their unsolicited advice. “If it were me, here’s what I would do.” They were in the midst of making their travel plans for the Feast, so they suggest to Jesus that He should take advantage of this opportunity and come along. The Feast of Tabernacles was one of three Jewish festivals that compelled people to journey to Jerusalem. It was a week-long celebration that was perhaps the most popular of the Jerusalem feasts with the largest crowds in attendance. People came from all over the world. A lot of those people who defected from His circle of followers would be there, and He’d have a great opportunity to show them that they were wrong to walk away from Him. The brothers say, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” If He would just do some miracles there in the middle of the feast, everyone would see it and believe in Him, and word of Him would spread fast, far and wide.

What’s wrong with this advice, besides, you know, the fact that Jesus didn’t ask for it? Well for one thing, it’s ignorant advice. They think the problem is that Jesus’ so-called disciples, the ones that walked away, didn’t see Him do any miraculous works. Not true. In fact, most of them had just eaten a meal that He miraculously prepared for 20,000 people from five loaves of bread and two small fish. Every miracle Jesus ever did was witnessed by at least some of His followers. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that He refused to perform on demand like a circus magician, and that’s the very thing that Jesus’ brothers are advising Him to do. But, what’s wrong with that? Do some tricks, draw the crowd, then they can’t help but believe in You, right? Obviously, it’s not right, for the very people saying this didn’t even believe in Him. It doesn’t work that way. Jesus turned water into wine in Chapter 2. His brothers saw this, and they don’t believe. And Jesus He knew that the kind of belief that it sparked in the crowd there was not genuine faith (2:23-25). He had just experienced the same thing after the feeding of the multitude. Jesus knew this would not produce the response He was seeking. He didn’t need this advice.

Do you ever find yourself wanting to give the Lord advice? Do you ever want to pull Him aside and say, “Lord, You’re not doing this right. Listen, if it were me, here’s what I would do.” That kind of thinking is the fruit of unbelief. I don’t mean that Christians never think this way. We often do. A year ago this week, I had some very long conversations in prayer with the Lord in which I was saying to Him, “Listen, Jesus, this thing You are doing, I think You are doing it wrong, so here’s what I would do if I were You.” For those of us who follow Him by faith and believe in Him wholeheartedly, sometimes its just a momentary lapse of faith. We’ve resorted to thinking like the unbelieving world, for just a moment, or in a specific circumstance. But it is still unbelieving thinking. The unbelieving world thinks like this all the time. They don’t get it. They can’t figure Him out. Why won’t He do things the way I think He ought to? Listen, He doesn’t need our advice! He is God. He knows what He is doing. We don’t always know what He is doing, and we don’t always understand what He’s doing or why He’s doing it that way, but that’s our problem, not His. He doesn’t need my advice to run the universe. And He doesn’t need unbelievers telling Him their opinion on the matter either.

They say, “Come on Jesus, show Yourself to the world in power and might, and then they will believe in You!” Does that sound familiar? Can you think of a time someone else said something like that to Jesus? “Come on Jesus, if You are the Son of God, turn this stone into bread! Throw Yourself down off the top of the temple so everyone can see God’s angels keep You from falling.” Who said that? Satan said that. And what did Jesus say? “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test!” (Matt 4:3-7). Every attempt to offer Jesus our unsolicited advice on how He might better do His job is a satanic demonstration of unbelief. In Ephesians 2, Paul said that those who are dead in their trespasses and sins walk “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air.” The world and the devil are in agreement in their thinking. Jesus doesn’t have a clue what He’s doing. What do you think? Do you agree with them?

Ah, but here’s the thing. He really does know what He’s doing. They want Him to show Himself to the world. And that is exactly what He intends to do. He just isn’t going to do it the way they think He should. In John 12:32, He makes it clear just how He intends to draw the world to Himself. He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” Now, I’ve heard countless sermons and even more flippant statements in worship services in which someone says, “If we lift Jesus up in our praises, the whole world will be drawn to Him, so let’s lift Him up! Higher! Higher! Lift Him up!” But that’s not what Jesus meant. What did He mean? Remember in John 3:14 when He said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Was Moses lifting up the serpent to worship it? No. That serpent that Moses lifted up was impaled upon a pole so that everyone who looked at it might be healed and saved. Jesus said, “That’s how I’ve got to be lifted up. Pierced, impaled, stretched out in death so that the world might be saved.” When Jesus said in John 12 that if He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself, John says, “He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.” He’s going to draw the world to Him, but not by performing sideshow tricks in a demonstration of raw power. He’s going to humble Himself to death, even death on a cross. And as He is lifted up on that cross, He will draw all men to Himself, and every man will have to decide what to do with Him. Those who believe will say, “My Lord and My God! What amazing mercy and grace is this that You would undergo this for My sake to bear My sin so I might go free and be saved?” Those who do not believe look at the cross and say, “I don’t get it. Why didn’t He just do some more miracles, you know – more of that bread and fish, more water into wine? He really doesn’t know what He’s doing, does He? He needs some good advice.” But He doesn’t need their advice. And until they figure that out, they won’t get it.

That’s not the only reason they don’t get it. The unbelieving world has to realize that Jesus doesn’t need their advice, but they also have to realize that …

II. Jesus doesn’t seek the world’s approval (v7)

Believe it or not, I like to be liked. I bet you do too. Most of us do. There aren’t many people who get up every day and say, “Let’s see how many people I can make hate me today.” We like the approval we get from others when they like us. That’s one of the dangers of social networking. We can start basing our sense of self-worth on how many “Likes” we can collect on our Facebook status or how many retweets we get. We start to move from enjoying being “liked” to needing to be liked. And when you need to be liked, you start compromising on a lot of things and living for the purpose of pleasing others. Your identity can get lost in all of that. Jesus never experienced that. He was seeking to save the world (Lk 19:10), but He never sought the approval of the world.

If you need approval, you have to be very careful what you say. You have to guard your tongue so that you never say anything that might offend someone. But the Lord Jesus never hesitated to speak truth, even when He knew that the truth He spoke would not be well received. Sometimes, the things He said got Him in trouble. He knew it would. But He said it anyway. And because He did, the world hated Him; it still does. I don’t want to say that He doesn’t care that the world hates Him. He does care. He weeps over it. When Jesus entered unbelieving Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Luke 19:41-42 says, “He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” He weeps over the world’s rejection of Him and the salvation He offers. He cares about this. But when it comes to the approval of the world, its just that He doesn’t need it.

He says to His brothers, “The world cannot hate you.” Indeed, it cannot hate them because they are of this world. They fall right in line with it. In John 15:19, Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own.” A world of people-pleasing, approval-seeking unbelievers cannot hate its own. But then Jesus tells His brothers that though the world cannot hate them, “it hates Me.” Why does the world hate Jesus so much? Have you ever wondered that? Wonder no more. He tells us why here in verse 7. He says, “It hates Me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil.” In John 3:19, Jesus says about the world: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” He doesn’t say He hates the world because it is evil. He says that the world hates Him because it is evil, and it hates Him because He has given this true testimony about the world. So much does the world hate Jesus, that it has become intent on silencing Him at all costs – even murder. Verse 1 says that this is the reason that He was walking in Galilee (more literally, “going about” in Galilee). Because the Jewish leaders in Judea were seeking to kill Him. They hated Him and wanted Him dead!

Well, if only Jesus would tone it down a bit, you know, be a little more sensitive and selective about the things He said, maybe it wouldn’t be this way. Maybe the world would like Him more and approve of Him more. But that’s just the thing – He doesn’t need their approval, therefore, He can speak the truth, even knowing that it will be met with intense, murderous hatred. He is big enough to shoulder that hatred, and He will bear it all the way to the cross. They want Him dead, but they don’t have the power to kill Him. He says in John 10:17-18, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” And He will lay it down on His own authority on the cross, to bear the weight of their hatred, and the weight of all of the evil of this unbelieving world, including every sin that you and I have committed. He doesn’t need the approval of the world. He will die for their disapproval, under the full approval of His Father in Heaven. And by this death, this evil, unbelieving world can be saved. There is hope for every evil, hate-filled, person in this world precisely because Jesus didn’t seek this world’s approval. Instead, He endured the cross, and by that cross, we can be rescued from this world. Once we are rescued from it, you can expect that the world will hate you just like it hated Jesus. He promised that. He says in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” But it is better by far to endure the hatred of the world with the hope of Jesus than to enjoy the world’s approval without Him. Jesus didn’t need this world’s approval, and you don’t either. He has the approval of His Father. And you have that approval because you are in Him as you cling to Him by faith.

Until the world figures out that Jesus isn’t seeking their approval, they won’t get it. He doesn’t seek the world’s approval; He doesn’t need the world’s advice. And finally, …

III. Jesus doesn’t operate by the world’s agenda (vv6, 8-10)

Remember here that Jesus’ brothers have given Him some unsolicited advice. He should go to Jerusalem and put on a power-performance at the Festival. He can tag along with them, they are going, and there’s room in the back seat of the van. Throw his duffel bag on top with the rest of the luggage and pile in. Road trip! We’ll stop somewhere for fish tacos. C’mon Jesus, jump in! What’s His response? He says, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune” (v6). What does this mean? Essentially what He’s saying is that when you don’t live for the Lord, you don’t ever have to stop and think about whether it’s the right thing to do, or the right time to do it. “Your time is always opportune.” You can do what you want to do, whenever you want to do it. That’s the way the unbelieving world operates. You want something? Have it now. Have it your way. If it feels good, do it. Jesus says, “I don’t operate that way. It’s not yet My time to go to Jerusalem.” He doesn’t stand in their way. In verse 8, He says, “Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” You see, Jesus operates by a totally different agenda than the world does. For Him, there is an appointed time, set by His Father, for everything. And He always operates by that agenda. The world doesn’t get it. Why doesn’t He do this? Why doesn’t He do this now, instead of later? What does He have to do that thing later? Why can’t He do it now? He is not bound by the world’s agenda. He is fully committed to His Father’s agenda, and it seldom coincides with the agenda of the world.

The Father’s agenda determined when Jesus would come into the world. He came at the turn of the millennium. Things were a bit primitive back then. No cars, no television, no internet, no Twitter. I mean, if it were us, we’d probably plan it all out differently. Jesus should wait until 2013 to come into the world. He could drive around from place to place instead of walking. He could fly to distant lands and spread His ministry farther that way. He could have His own TV show, maybe His own network like Oprah does. That’s it. Jesus needs to do it like Oprah. He could have a Twitter account and a YouTube page. Man! Just think of how many people He could have reached if He would have come now, instead of way back then. That’s how the world thinks. That’s our agenda. That’s not God’s agenda. Paul says in Galatians 4:4 that “in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son.” That means that, according to God’s agenda, Jesus came at the precisely perfect time in human history.

The Father’s agenda determined when Jesus would go to Jerusalem. You see, when He leaves Galilee, it will be for the last time. When He gets to Jerusalem, things will begin to move dramatically and definitively toward the cross. Why not just tag along with the family? Because it’s not yet His time. Oh, He will go to Jerusalem. But He’s not going now. And He’s not going with them. And He’s not going to do what they think He should do. So they go on without Him, and Jesus stays in Galilee. For how long? We don’t know. But it wasn’t long. Verse 10 says that when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up. Wait a second – I thought He wasn’t going? No, He just wasn’t going then. He would go when His Father’s agenda compelled Him to go. And it just did. Maybe it was ten minutes later. Maybe it was a day later. But He would go when His Father said go, and not a moment sooner or later. And He would go as the Father’s agenda determined – “not publicly, but as if, in secret” (v10). That’s not how we would have done it. We would have gone with the brothers. We would have gone and put on a show. Not Jesus. He went when and how His Father’s agenda determined.

And that is how He will return. I tell you, the other day, I was watching the news and dealing with some stuff, and I thought, “This would be a good day for the Lord to return.” I was thinking, “Man, if I was Jesus, I’d just come back right now and put an end to all of this.” And then the day came to an end, the clock struck midnight, it was a new day, and Jesus hadn’t come back. He’s not bound to my calendar. He’s not going to come back when I think He should. Donia and I have prayed for twelve years for Him to return before our children become teenagers. We’ve got 7 months left! But that’s our agenda. I’ve got no good reason to think it’s His. But He’s going to come back. When? When the Father’s agenda has dictated. Jesus said “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matt 24:36). Don’t you wish you knew? Sure you do. The disciples wanted to know. In Acts 1, they asked Him. And He said, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (1:7). We know it will happen, but we don’t know when. The Father has fixed the time, and it won’t happen a moment sooner or later than that.

The same is true for your life. The Psalmist said, “In Your book were written all the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). God has set the agenda. You won’t live a moment too long or die a moment too soon. Doesn’t seem that way to us when we think about those we have lost. But that’s our agenda. Jesus doesn’t operate by our agenda. We don’t know the times. But we know that we have an appointed time. Hebrews 9:27 says that it is “appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” You may not know when that appointment is, but you can rest assured that it is an appointment God will keep. So the question is not, “How much time do we have?” The question is, “What shall we do with the time we have?” That’s why the writer of Hebrews said that God has fixed a certain day and called it “Today,” and says “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb 4:7). Paul says that the Lord has declared, “‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.” Because you don’t know when God’s timing is for the events on His agenda, why would you not take this day that you know that you have and give yourself to Jesus today?

When the disciples asked Jesus, “Is now the time?” He said, “It’s not for you to know the time, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.” And when He ascended into heaven, and they stood staring into the sky, angelic messengers said to them, “Why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:6-11). In other words, “Don’t stand around and wonder about when and how He’s coming back! He’ coming back! He’s given you a job to do between now and then, so go get busy!” This could be the last day you have. Wouldn’t you want to spend it telling someone how they can have their sins forgiven and live forever? You may not know the dates and times of His agenda, but you can live in accordance with His agenda as you trust in Him and live for Him.

Do you ever get disappointed that Jesus doesn’t seem to be concerned about your calendar or your agenda? I do. But as I have walked with Him, I have come to understand that He is never late, and never early, but always right on time. How could He be anything other than right on time? He doesn’t operate by this world’s agenda. He operates by His Father’s perfect agenda.

There are so many who just don’t get it. They can’t seem to wrap their brains around the fact that Jesus doesn’t need the world’s advice; He doesn’t seek the world’s approval; He doesn’t operate by the world’s agenda. Do you know anybody who just doesn’t get it? Jesus knew a lot of them. He was surrounded by them. His own brothers didn’t get it. But can I give you a spoiler about the rest of the story? One day, they finally got it. Paul tells us that when Jesus rose from the dead and made appearances to people, one of the people He made an appearance to was James, the brother of the Lord (1 Cor 15:7). I wonder what they talked about? I don’t know, but maybe something like this: Jesus might have said, “James, now do you see why I didn’t need your advice? Now do you understand why I didn’t need the world’s approval? Now do you understand why I don’t operate by this world’s agenda?” And I can just hear James saying, “Okay. Now I get it.” James and the rest of His brothers came around to believe in Jesus, their brother, but moreover their Lord. We find them gathered with the church in Acts 1:14. Two of them, James and Jude, wrote letters in our New Testaments. I hope that encourages you. You might have a brother or sister, a son or daughter, a mother or father, a friend, a coworker, a neighbor, who doesn’t get it. Don’t give up hope. Their present unbelief does not have to be a permanent unbelief. Keep praying for them; keep loving them; keep sharing the word of life with them. You never know if or when God might touch their hearts and save them. But He knows. And if and when He does, it won’t be a moment too soon or a moment too late. It will be right on time. And when that day comes for them, they’ll say, “Now I get it.”



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