Letters to the Prison - Week 71

Hello, everyone.  We’re so grateful for the chance to study God’s word with you.  We’re in John chapter 7.  In verse 19, Jesus calls out the murderous intent of the Jewish leaders and the crowd that has been swayed by them.  They deny it by accusing Jesus of “having a demon” (vs. 20).  Accusing the Son of God of being possessed by a demon is a pretty serious offense, and that’s an understatement (see Mark 3:22-30 for further reading).  But Jesus overlooks it for the moment to address a more subtle issue:  The crowd’s inability to judge properly.
John 7:21-23 has Jesus comparing the rite of circumcision (which is required of all Jewish males on the eight day after they are born) with his act of healing a paralyzed man on the Sabbath  (which we saw in our study of John 5:1-16).  According to Bible scholar John MacArthur, the short version of the comparison is this: “Jesus used an argument from the lesser to the greater.  If ceremonial cleansing of one part of the body is permitted on the Sabbath through the act of circumcision (the less), how much more so should the actual healing of the entire body be permitted on the Sabbath (the greater)” (See notes on John 7:23 in The MacArthur Study Bible).
So, Jesus is calling out the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders who insist on violating the Sabbath law themselves whenever it suits them, but condemn Jesus for doing so when it doesn’t suit them.
Jesus concludes the argument by saying this:
•24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”-John 7:24
This might seem at first to be a contradiction of what Jesus says in Matthew 7:1-5, which begins with “Judge not, that you be not judged…”  So, we might ask:  Are we supposed to judge or not?  This is a tough question.  We do not have the authority to judge whether a person is saved or condemned.  That is God’s exclusive right, and he chooses to confer that authority to his Son, Jesus (John 5:22).  We also cannot accurately judge whether someone is a true and loyal follower of Jesus Christ or not (keep in mind Judas Iscariot).  We can guess, but that’s all it is… a guess.  
We are, however, commanded to “judge with right judgment.”  John MacArthur makes the distinction this way: “While Jesus forbade harsh, censorious judgment that self-righteous legalism promotes (Matt. 7:1), he demanded the exercise of moral and theological discernment” (See notes on John 7:24 in The MacArthur Study Bible).
In the situation at hand, the Jewish leaders are “judging” Jesus’ act of healing a man on the Sabbath… and condemning him for it.  When Jesus calls them out for wanting to murder him, they self-righteously deny it by saying “you have a demon!”  So, they are clearly not “judging with right judgment.”
At this point, we get a glimpse of how confused the crowd is about Jesus.  They have some interesting things to say about him:
•“Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? 26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him!”      -John 7:25b-26a
That first question says a lot.  For one thing, the crowd clearly recognizes the murderous intent of the Jewish leaders even as they themselves deny it (vs. 20).  Then, when they observe that Jesus is “speaking openly,” but “they say nothing to him,” we begin to see the wisdom of God’s timing in bringing Jesus to the festival discretely (John 7:1-10).  With Jesus teaching openly in public, the Jewish leaders are reluctant to carry out their intent to murder him, since it would be widely known and obvious.  Had Jesus come to the festival “publicly” rather than “in private,” as he did (vs. 10), the Jewish leaders might have had an opportunity to detain him and kill him in secret.  But as it stands, there is Jesus –the man they want to kill-- openly teaching in the temple during a very public feast and the Jewish leaders are doing nothing…
Which causes the crowd to ask:
•Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?-John 7:26b
This is an embarrassing question to ask.  If the authorities know that Jesus is the Christ, why do they deny him?  Why would they seek to kill him?  Why don’t they agree with him?  The crowd hears the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching and sees that the Jewish leaders are doing nothing (yet) to stop him, and so they are divided.  We’ll see their wide range of opinions about Jesus in a few verses.  But, in the meantime we’ll also see that –like any crowd—this one may have lots of different opinions, but very few have their facts straight.  For example, look what they say next:
•…we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.”-John 7:27
There are a couple of problems with this opinion.  First, the thinking that the Christ would simply “appear out of nowhere” was rooted in Jewish tradition, not the Old Testament.  Second, they thought that they knew where Jesus “comes from” --they knew Jesus the man was from Nazareth of Galilee.  Ironically, their assertion that “when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from” is largely true at that moment because Jesus the Christ was right there in front of them and most of them, because of their unbelief, had no idea who Jesus truly was and where he truly came from.
Jesus points this irony out with what he says next:
•“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. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” -John 7:28-29
Once again, Jesus claims to have been sent from heaven by God.  God, whom Jesus knows…  and who is true… sent Jesus.  Those who do not believe what Jesus says do not know God.  So, they might be able to say they know where Jesus the man came from… but they have no idea where Jesus the Son of Man came from.  The Jewish leaders may not have believed what Jesus was saying, but they certainly understood what he was saying, because “they were seeking to arrest him” (John 7:30).  This was why the Jewish leaders sought to silence Jesus:  Because he claimed to be sent from heaven by God… claimed to be God…  and backed those claims up in powerful, undeniable ways.  We’ll continue looking at this event next week!  We love you!

Dean A.



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