Pitching Tents and Throwing Fits

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
3 July 2016 / Ordinary Time
John 7:1-31

Grace and peace be with you!

Our sermon text for today is John 7:1-31. You can find it in your Bible — or in your worship order — if you would like to follow along.

Now, if you are willing and able, I invite you to stand and pay close attention to God’s Holy Word.

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee. But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him. About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (John 7:1-31 ESV)

The word of the Lord. May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen. You may be seated.

CONTEXT

Picking up where we left off last week. Jesus set forth a hard teaching at the synagogue and many of his followers turned away and followed him no more. He asked the Twelve disciples if they wanted to go away as well. But they decided to stay and confessed that Jesus is the Holy One of God who had the words of eternal life.

After these things happened, life got complicate for Jesus. He spent a lot of time in remote places away from the suburbs and big city. Ever since he healed the lame man on the Sabbath day, some of the Jewish authorities were looking for a way to kill him. So he steered clear of the hot spots.

So trouble was brewing for Jesus in the city of Jerusalem, but it was also brewing for him at home. His younger brothers were picking on him for doing his ministry in secret, out of the public eye; they were poking and prodding him to go up to Jerusalem and openly publicize his ministry.

From their point of view, there was no better time than the Festival of Tabernacles. There would be a high concentration of people from all over the place gathered in Jerusalem.

Now, Jesus’s brothers were not at all interested in helping market Jesus or his ministry. They did not even believe his claims to be the Christ, the Son of God. In fact, they might have been provoking him to go up to Jerusalem so that he would exposed as a fraud, or so that they could get rid of him.

Can you imagine what they had to put up with because of Jesus? All the questions, the curiosity seekers, the comments in the market place. (Truly, prophet is without honor in his hometown.)

But Jesus did not take the bait. He declined to go with them and make a big show of his coming to the festival of tabernacles.

Once again we see that Jesus was not a pastorpreneur, a church-growth guru, or a marketeer.

According to the experts, his method of doing gospel ministry was totally wrong and completely ineffective. And yet, here we are gathered in his name 2100 years later.

The Spirit is the life-giver. The flesh gains nothing, helps nothing, profits nothing.

Now, Jesus did go up to the feast as the Law of Moses required, but he waited until his brothers were gone, then he went up secretly, without fanfare; and stealthily without drawing attention to himself.

The Festival of Tabernacles was a very big deal. We will look at it in more detail next week, but suffice it to say for now that the festival commemorated the Jewish forefathers’ dwelling in tents in the wilderness after the Exodus; and it also commemorated God’s dwelling in the Tent as well.

To this day, when the festival is celebrated, devout Jews will build shelters in their on their patios and balconies and cover them with leafy branches

But it pointed to something else as well. In light of the gospel we know that the Feast of Tabernacles also pointed forward to God in the flesh dwelling among his people in the world.

The word for booths means dwellings, shelters, or tabernacles. It is the noun form of the verb used to described the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among.

As readers and hearers of this story, we know something that the Jews did not know: Jesus is the God-man who “pitched his tent” among us; Jesus is the true and better tabernacle who sojourns with us full of grace and truth.

The divine incarnate Word actually “tabernacled” among those who kept the Feast of Tabernacles.

But as we have seen so many times before, Jesus came to his own, but his own did not recognize him.

CONTROVERSY

Now, don’t just blow passed the text as if the words don’t matter.

Jesus went up to the feast secretly because the Jews were seeking to kill him. There was a bounty on his head; he was a wanted man. It was dangerous for him to travel through Judea up to Jerusalem.

And yet, there he was making his way through dangerous places to go up to the festival in obedience to God’s Law. As it is written in Deuteronomy,

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17 ESV)

This is a prime example of what someone has called the dangerous duty of delight (John Piper). If anyone ever had a reason or excuse to skip church, it was Jesus. Yet nothing could keep him from going up to worship God. Not nit-picking family members. Not even death threats. You might meditate on that the next time you just feel too puny, tired, or busy to gather for worship. The Word made flesh made the worship of God in spirit and truth priority one.

Now, the Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?”

Obviously, some wanted to kill him. But some wanted to crown him king.

Some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.”

Like it or not, Jesus was a controversial figure, even a polarizing figure, among his own people. Public opinion was divided over Jesus. Everyone had an opinion about him. Some  loved him, some hated him, some were undecided, but no one was indifferent or neutral about him. On that point, nothing has changed in 2100 years.

Unlike Moses who came with law, Jesus came full of grace and truth. Yet, more than anyone who has ever lived, Jesus comforted the afflicted, and afflicted the comfortable.

So there was much muttering about Jesus among the people. Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

The Greek word for muttering used here is the same word for grumbling used in John 6. The point is this: God’s people at Jerusalem are acting just like their forefathers in the wilderness. Not only are they living in tents, booths, and shelters; they are grumbling about the Lord.

As I said two weeks ago, They must have forgotten that God has a zero tolerance policy towards grumbling and complaining. Nothing stirs him to anger quite like grumbling. Why? Because it flows from an ungrateful, discontent, covetous, and unbelieving heart.

They are re-enacting their story in more ways than one, in ways they did not intend.

Story shapes your life; and life shows your story.

CONFLICT

In the midst of all that controversy, Jesus shows up not only in Jerusalem, but at the temple — knowing full well that (at least) some of the Jews are seeking to kill him.

This is the third time in John’s Gospel that Jesus shows up at the temple. The first time, he drove out the money-changers and their livestock with a whip. The second time he spoke to a man he had healed at the House of Mercy. The third time he began to teach.

We are not told what he was teaching, but the crowds marveled at his teaching, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”

I want to take a moment to step up on a soapbox and point out two things here:

One, Jesus was such an intelligent, well-educated man, that even his critics acknowledged it. He was not an anti-intellectual who saw no need for all that book learnin’. He loved God with all his heart and mind.

Two, just because Jesus did not study letters at seminary doesn’t mean that we wannabe ministers and missionaries don’t have to get a solid theological education or that we don’t need all that book learnin’. Anyone who feels called to the ministry of the word ought to submit to formal training that they may learn to love the Lord their God with all their heart and all their mind, for God’s glory and the good of others. There is simply no place for anti-intellectualism among the people of God, especially among ministers of the word. This only applies to everyone who is not the Son of God.

Now, back to the story.

Jesus makes it clear that his teaching is not his own — it does not originate from within him; he does speak whatever is on his heart, or say whatever pops into his head. His teaching — literally, his doctrine — originates in his Father.

How can anyone know if Jesus’s teaching is from God or man?

On the one hand, those who want to do the will of God will know the truth, by connecting knowing and doing. Knowing without doing is ignorance, doing without knowing is ignorance. Knowing with doing is truly knowing.

On the other hand, those who want to do the will of God will know the truth, by paying close attention to the motivations of the messenger — in this case — Jesus.

The one who speaks from himself seeks glory for himself. This why the world is full of televangelists, prosperity-pastors, name-branded ministries, and other hucksters and heretics.

But the one who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is true and there is no error in him. I cannot stress this enough, but unlike so many religious leaders, Jesus was not out to make a name for himself; he was not motivated by money or power, but only by his love for his Father. Jesus sought the glory of his Father alone, not his own glory at all. No one else has ever lived out the principle of Soli Deo Gloria the way Jesus did.

Part of seeking the Father’s glory meant defending the Father’s Law and confronting the people with their sin.

Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?

They knew all the Law, but they only kept some of the Law. No one kept it totally and perfectly.

As evidence Jesus asks why they wanted to break the sixth commandment: “You shall not murder.”

The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”

Obviously, not every one in the crowd wanted to kill Jesus, but he knew that enough people did want to kill him that he was justified in leveling this charge against them.

Now, something that can easily get lost in the shuffle is the courage of Jesus and the cowardice of his enemies. Jesus knew full well that some of the Jews were seeking to kill him, and he still went through Judea, up to Jerusalem, into the temple, and spoke openly in the sight of God and man. Like the prophets before him, Jesus was a man who lived and died by the courage of his convictions.

Don’t miss what’s happening here.

In this story, God pitches a tent and the crowd throws a fit. God draws near to his people, yet they draw away from him. He comes to give them life, but they seek to give him death. Why do they want to kill him?

It all goes back to the last time Jesus was at the temple. He healed a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years on the Sabbath day.

So flashback to that occasion.

At that time the Jews persecuted Jesus because he “broke” the Sabbath by doing works of mercy and because he encouraged the healed lame man to “break” the Sabbath by doing works of necessity on the Sabbath.

But when Jesus told the Jews that he was working on the Sabbath — just like his Father — they started looking for a way to kill him, because not only was he “breaking” the Sabbath, but he was a “blasphemer,” even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Now, to be fair, they were on to something crucial here.

If Jesus made himself equal with God, and he was not God, then he was a blasphemer, a heretic, and a false prophet who deserved to die according to the Law (see Deut 13). But if Jesus made himself equal with God, and he was God and is God, then he would be the most orthodox Prophet ever, and they would be obligated to heed his word (see Deut 18).

So (if you’re just joining us) that’s the reason some of the Jews wanted to kill Jesus.

Jesus’s makes the case that healing a whole man on the Sabbath day is better than circumcising a baby on the Sabbath day.

[ Note: In his book Habits of the Mind, James Sire shows how Jesus used a fortiori argument in this text.

Premise A1: Circumcising a child on the eighth day is a proper act, even if the eighth day falls on a sabbath.

Premise A2: Healing a whole person is a more important life-giving act than circumcision.

Conclusion A: Healing a whole person is a proper act, even if it occurs on the sabbath. pp 188-189]

Jesus knew that both the Sabbath and circumcision were ordinances given by God to bless his people. Both ordinances were merciful and gracious gifts from God, so Jesus was not pitting one against the other. Nor should we.

His point was that between the two, giving a lame man his legs back is far better (and more merciful) than cutting off a piece of flesh from a baby boy’s shmeckel.

The problem with the Jews who were angry with Jesus and wanted to kill him is that they judged by appearances, not with right judgment.

[ FYI: This echoes what the Lord told Samuel the prophet before he anointed David as king. “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) ]

We are so easily impressed by the way things look or seem to us. But looks can be deceiving and deadly. As Frodo Baggins observed, sometimes a friend of the enemy looks fairer, yet feels fouler.

For example, the Book of Proverbs describes wisdom and folly as two ladies who call out to men.

Lady Wisdom is home maker. She has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (Proverbs 9:1-6 ESV)

Mistress Folly is a porn star. She is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. (Proverbs 9:13-18 ESV)

[ Note: She is dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, “I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. I have spread my couch with coverings; I have perfumed my bed. Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home.” With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her; he does not realize that it will cost him his life. (Proverbs 7:10-24 ESV) ]

Looks can be deceiving and deadly.

For example, the prophets describe two kings: one evil, one good.

One prophet describes an evil king who was like the serpent in Eden: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings…Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.” (Ezekiel 28:17 ESV)

Another prophet describes a good king who was like a suffering servant: “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2-3 ESV)

The beautiful king is the devil; the ugly king is Jesus.

Notice that Jesus invites us to judge him, to evaluate his claims, and assess his works, but he requires us to do it rightly, not wrongly.

How can we stop judging him by appearances, and start judging with right judgment?

First, we must base our judgments on substance, not appearance. You cannot rightly judge a book, nor a person, nor a teaching, nor an act by its cover. Same goes for Jesus. You have to dig deep and get to know him before you can form an accurate opinion of him.

The Jews saw Jesus heal a man on the Sabbath and persecuted him because they judged him by sight, not by faith. They were wrong, Jesus was right.

Second, we must base our judgments on sound reasoning, not on intuitional vibes, mystical goose-bumps, or  emotional overreactions. Nothing against feelings, but you cannot determine whether Jesus is true or false or right or wrong just by the way you feel about him — nor by the way he makes you feel.

The Jews heard Jesus’s truth-claim to be equal with God and that made them feel angry even though his claim was absolutely true. They were false, Jesus was true.

Third, we must base our judgments on the truth, not old traditions or new trends. That requires us to be deeply humble, quick to listen, and slow to get angry. None of us knows Jesus as we ought to know, and we might even be wrong about some things that we feel certain that we do know about him. It takes a lifetime to know him truly, and it takes an eternal lifetime to know him fully.

The Jews felt threatened by Jesus because he challenged their authority, confronted their sin, and contradicted their idea of what the Christ would look like, so they tried to kill him. They were off target, Jesus was on point.

That brings us to the last point for today.

CONFUSION

The courage of Jesus stood out in stark contrast to the cowardice of the Jews. That left the people totally confused about their leaders, about themselves, and about Jesus.

Some of the people said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him!

Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?

But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.”

So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.

Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”

We’ll dig into all that some more next week, but don’t miss what’s happening right here right now.

In this story, God pitched a tent among his people and they threw a fit.

God draws near to his people, yet they draw back away from him. He comes full of grace and truth to give them life, but they seek to give him death according the law.

Jesus is the Word made flesh. He has come to show and tell who God is, what we must believe concerning God, and how must live before his face.

Today, we have come face to face with Jesus in this story. You might feel confused about Jesus, or you might feel convicted by him. Either way, it is my hope and prayer that you see Jesus’s glory as a man of courage, conviction, and compassion, and that you feel comforted by him.

More importantly, it is my prayer that you see Jesus’s grace as the Christ, the Son of God.

If you see his grace and glory today, that you will turn and trust in him now. And someday you will hear a loud voice from the throne saying:

“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with man. He will tabernacle with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:3-5 ESV)

Pastoral Prayer

Hear our cry, O God, listen to our prayer; from the end of the earth we call to you when our heart is faint. Lead us to the rock that is higher than us, for you have been our refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let us dwell in your tent forever! Let us take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah For you, O God, have heard our baptismal vows; you have given us the heritage of those who fear your name. Prolong the life of the King of kings; may his years endure to all generations! May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him! So we will ever sing praises to your name, as we perform my vows before your face day after day. (Psalm 61 ESV)

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