The Feast of Tabernacles No audio available this week
You probably won’t be surprised to discover that there’s a link between this chapter and the previous one. Last week we saw how some people find it hard to believe in Jesus, because faith is a spiritual activity and they’re basically materialists, or because they don’t accept the possibility of supernatural forces in our world, or because the idea of Jesus the Son of God dying on our behalf is too hard to believe.
Well this week we continue to think about the question of belief or unbelief.
Here we find a series of people who observe Jesus’ behaviour, who speak with him or listen to him and who apply their own standards of judgement to him and get differing answers to the question “who is Jesus?”.
The first group are his younger brothers. They appear in Mark’s gospel wanting to take Jesus away to look after him because he’s not looking after himself. But here they’re with him in Galilee just before the feast of Tabernacles and they wonder why he isn’t getting ready to go. Jerusalem at the feast of Tabernacles was the biggest gig of the year – a bit like being in New York on New Year’s Eve. Everyone who could would be there. It was the great harvest festival for the Jews. His brothers don’t believe in him as the Son of God at this stage. He’s just their famous big brother. But they want him to go to Jerusalem to show people that he’s still got that magic touch. If you remember, at the end of the last chapter people started moving away from Jesus because they didn’t like him talking about them eating his flesh. So they encourage him to go up and show the people there his power.
You can see their unbelief in their mistaken idea that he wants to be famous. In fact the opposite is true. He could go up in public and they probably would have welcomed him the way they did on Palm Sunday. But at this stage he prefers to go in secret, waiting for God’s time, to appear in the temple.
He also knows that at this stage the reception he’ll receive from the Jewish leaders will be a negative one. He says to them: “7The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.”
But then there’s the crowd. Here we find mixed responses. The first response is amazement. Where did he get such learning? He hasn’t been taught by one of the great rabbis. Today we’d say he doesn’t have a university degree; he hasn’t been to theological college. So how come he knows the Scriptures so well? How come he can teach theology with such authority? What’s more, they probably noticed that in his teaching he didn’t constantly refer to other Rabbis the way the Pharisees did. He spoke on his own authority. “I say unto you”, “I tell you the truth”, etc. When asked about this he says he only teaches what God gives him. Then he gives one of the clues to believing in him: “17Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.” Jesus teaching is self-authenticating. But notice as we saw last week, that although Jesus teaches on his own authority he isn’t seeking his own glory. What’s more, he says, the fact that he’s only seeking God’s glory is part of the evidence for the genuineness of his claim (v18).
Later on the people ask themselves who is this man Jesus? When they realise that no-one’s doing anything to stop Jesus they begin to wonder whether maybe the authorities really believe that he’s the Messiah? How can that be, they wonder. We know where he comes from. The Messiah is meant to appear from nowhere to bring salvation. Yet Jesus had been around for some time and didn’t look like he was going to drive out the Romans. So what’s going on?
But Jesus responds with a note of irony. “So you know who I am and where I come from. – If only! You don’t realise that I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him” (v28). Then he adds but “29I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” You see the true origin of Jesus is hidden from them after all. Again, they see what’s obvious on the outside not the deeper reality.
In the end though, some believe. “Who else could have done these miracles?” they ask. Like Peter in the previous chapter they conclude that there’s only one answer to the question of who Jesus is. Only God’s Son could do the things that he does.
The Jewish leaders
Then there’s the Jewish Leaders. They want him dead and Jesus knows it. Back in chapter 5 Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath and the Jewish leaders decided that was the last straw. He was undermining their authority as teachers of the law and he had to go. Never mind, as he points out here, that killing someone was against the 6th commandment. It seems that the Sabbath law took precedence. That’s in fact what he accuses them of. Then he points out their own inconsistency. They happily circumcise children on the Sabbath if the 8th day is a Sabbath but they get upset when Jesus makes someone whole on the Sabbath. Circumcision was a sign that their relationship with God had been healed; they’d been made whole. So Jesus’ healing the crippled man is the same sort of thing: making whole that which was broken.
So why couldn’t they see it? He says because they judge by appearances rather than with right judgement. Just like his brothers and many in the crowd, they looked at the outside rather than looking deeper. They applied their preconceived ideas, based on human rules, without thinking, rather than examining all the facts. Rather than allowing the possibility that God might be doing something new here.
What they miss is that in fact Jesus is the one who fulfils both circumcision and Sabbath laws by bringing forgiveness of sin and wholeness to human beings.
The Temple Police
Finally, there’s the Temple Police. These would have been Levites who were given the job of maintaining order within the Temple precincts. But here they’re sent out by the Jewish leaders to track down Jesus and arrest him. At that point Jesus tells the crowd that he’s only to be here a while longer then he’ll return to his Father – they’ll look for him but won’t find him. It’s another piece of irony from John. The Temple police are looking for him so they can arrest him and Jesus talks about what will happen after it’s all over and he ascends to heaven. Then they’ll look for him not to arrest him but to become his followers, but it’ll be too late. He’ll be gone for good.
Well in the end the Temple police find Jesus but they decide not to arrest him. Why? Because they’re wondering whether he might actually be the Messiah after all. There’s something about him that rings true. "Never has anyone spoken like this!" they say.
Finally we come to the last day of the festival. Each day of the Feast the people would gather for a procession of water brought from the pool of Siloam to the Temple where it would be poured out as a symbol of both the cleansing of sin and of the provision of rain to water the land.
This was a reference to the events of the exodus when God provided water from the Rock. But it’s also a reference to the prophecies of Is 55:1 & Zech 13:1
So Jesus stands up and says: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
In Ch6 we saw that Jesus is the true Manna, the bread that comes down from heaven to bring life. He is the Bread of Life. And here he tells us that he is the one who gives us living water. It’s the same thing he told the Samaritan woman at the well. And what is this living water? John tells us: Jesus is talking about the Spirit who had not yet been given. The Spirit will become in us a source of life that doesn’t just renew us once but provides an ongoing source of energy and refreshment.
At this, some are finally convinced. These are the words of the Messiah. Yet others continue to doubt. Jesus comes from Galilee while the Messiah would come from Bethlehem.
This is another one John’s ironies. Of course he knew, as we do, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. So their objection is actually shown to be the final piece of evidence in favour of Jesus claim to be the Messiah.
Over the past 5 chapters John has been showing us as clearly as he can that Jesus is the new Moses, promised in Exodus 18. Yet he’s far more than that. He’s the Messiah, the promised one who would rule over an everlasting kingdom as God’s anointed king.
We, like those in the crowd are called on to make a response to Jesus. Do we acclaim him as our king or reject him because he doesn’t meet our expectations? I trust that most of us have already made that decision: a decision to make Jesus the Lord of our life. If you haven’t yet made up your mind on that let me encourage you to do so, to ask Jesus to give you that living water that will be for you a spring welling up to eternal life.