November 28-29, 2020
Pastor Joe Wittwer
How many of you have talked with someone recently who has a different opinion than you? A different political opinion? A different opinion about the pandemic and how we should be handling it? A different opinion about church? A different opinion about Jesus?
The theme of John 7 is division over Jesus—people were deeply divided about Jesus, just like people are divided today. Like Yogi Berra said, “It’s deja vu all over again.” It’s 2020 in AD 30.
Before we get into all that fun stuff in John 7, let me tell you about our December Challenge. Remember the purpose of the challenge each month is to help you connect with other people for spiritual growth. Don’t be isolated and alone! Have a conversation or make a call!
We wanted to make the December Challenge Christmasy, so we chose four Christmasy words and each week is themed around one of those words:
Each week we’ll give you something to read together and something to do together.
Here’s the first week:
Read: Isaiah 64:1-9; 2 Peter 3:8-15a
Do: Talk about where you see darkness in our world and pray for God’s intervention and Jesus return!
During Advent, Christians traditionally spend time remembering the sobering presence of darkness and evil in the world, and anticipating that Jesus will make all things right when he returns to earth again! So our theme this week is to remember the spiritual darkness before Jesus came, the division and hate still in the world today, and how Jesus will vanquish evil once and for all when He returns to fully establish his kingdom of light and love! Let’s remember that the evil we see now won’t win in the end, because Jesus is coming back, and He wins in the end!
If you’ll text the word BOOST to 97000, you’ll be signed up for a weekly reminder about the challenge—details included.
Let’s dive in. We’re not going to read all of John 7. I trust that you’ve done that this week as part of the October challenge, and you already have something from this chapter that spoke to you.
I said that the overall theme of the chapter is division over Jesus, and that’s where we’ll start.
1. Division over Jesus.
The chapter opens with Jesus’ own brothers not believing in Him and daring Him to go to Jerusalem. Jesus went to Jerusalem, but on His own terms, and when He got there, He found the people were divided in their opinion of Him.
John 7:12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.”
A good man? Or a deceiver? They were divided in their opinions. A few verses later, some people were amazed at His teaching (v. 15) and others thought He was demon possessed (v. 20). How’s that for a wide range of opinion? (How many of think my teaching is amazing? How many think I’m demon-possessed? ) The debate rages through the whole chapter. Jump down to:
John 7:40–43 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”
Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.
The people were divided because of Jesus. And this division extended all the way to the highest levels, to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. While most of the Sanhedrin wanted to arrest Jesus, Nicodemus spoke up and defended him—and was soundly rebuked for it!
Start to finish, John 7 is about the division over Jesus. This is not surprising. Anyone who made the claims that Jesus made would inspire division. And Jesus actually predicted this:
Luke 12:51–52 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.
Have any of you experienced this?
ILL: My family was divided 1 against 6. My mom and siblings and I decided to follow Jesus. My dad did not. I remember him bitterly complaining that the church had stolen his family. It wasn’t the church—it was Jesus.
Let’s be perfectly clear. Jesus Himself is the dividing factor. Jesus made Himself the issue. Not church, not politics, not pandemic, not our opinions about a dozen other things. Jesus is the issue, the dividing factor: you’re for or against. You believe and follow or you don’t.
It’s impossible to treat Jesus with indifference. His claims are so outrageous that you just can’t ignore them. Take just this one claim from this chapter:
John 7:37–38 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
Imagine if I said this: “Are you thirsty? Come to me and drink and I’ll satisfy you. In fact, I’ll give you a river of living water that will flow from within you!” What would you think of me? Most of you would think I’m either lying or crazy. But I doubt anyone would walk away without an opinion. This reminds me of C. S. Lewis’ famous quote from Mere Christianity.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
(C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Ch. 3, pg. 56)
People were divided about Jesus: for or against. Where do you stand? Who do you say that He is? If He is the Son of God, then give Him your life, and follow Him as Lord. (I’ll invite them to reflect and pray during the song.)
Song: He is Lord.
One of the things that divided people in their opinion of Jesus was His teaching. When Jesus began teaching in the Temple…
John 7:15–17 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”
16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.
The Jews were amazing at Jesus’ teaching, knowing that He was a carpenter’s son, not a trained rabbi. Where did He get such learning? Here is the background: Good Jewish rabbis were trained by other rabbis and always cited their training. To teach without referring to other rabbis was considered arrogant, as if you were teaching on your own authority (making it up). Such teaching was suspect.
ILL: I think we all get this. If I stood up here and made some astounding claim that you’d never heard before, you’d want evidence. “Did you know that the Cougars actually won the College Football Championship last year, but there was a conspiracy to cover it up, and that’s why Mike Price left and went to Mississippi State?” You wouldn’t believe that without some proof, would you? You’d want to know what I based it on, what my sources were, where I got this information. If I told you that I just made it up, you’d dismiss it—as you should! More about that later…
So these people wanted to know where Jesus’ teaching came from. What’s His source?
Here comes another amazing claim by Jesus: He claimed that His teaching was not His own, but came directly from God! Not from other rabbis—from God! Straight to the top authority! No good rabbi would make such a claim. And then to back it up, Jesus gave them a way to test His teaching.
2. Obey God and you’ll know.
Look again at v. 17.
17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.
Obey God and you’ll know. Do what God wants and you’ll know if this comes from God.
This is backwards from how we usually do things. I want to know first, and then I’ll obey. I want to know first, and then I’ll believe. But Jesus flips it and says that if you want to know if His teaching comes from God, obey first. Do what God wants and you’ll know. And in John’s gospel, God’s will is that people believe in Jesus. Believe and you’ll know.
This means that recognizing the truth of Jesus’ teaching is not dependent on our intellectual ability or formal learning, but upon our willingness to do God’s will. The barriers to knowing the truth about God are more likely to be moral than intellectual. People resist Jesus’ teaching not because they can’t accept it intellectually, but because they don’t want to morally. They don’t want to do the will of God.
ILL: Many years ago, I was talking with a friend who was a professed atheist. I shared Jesus with him, but he wanted none of it. He threw up objection after objection, but I sensed that the real issue wasn’t really intellectual, but moral. So I switched tacks and asked, “If I could prove to you beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus is God and was raised from the dead, would you believe and follow Him?” He didn’t hesitate: “No.”
And he was honest: “I don’t want to change. I don’t want to do what Jesus says.”
His intellectual objections were smokescreens for the real issue: he didn’t want to do God’s will.
I believe that the person who wants to do God’s will is the one who will know Jesus deeply. Please don’t think that by mastering the doctrine about Jesus you’ll know Him deeply—Jesus said that’s backward. The key is not our scholarship, but our surrender. The key is not my intellect, but my will: my desire to do what He wants.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not anti-intellectual. I respect and value good scholarship, and access it regularly. I read and study a lot! I’m just saying that study by itself will not yield the knowledge you desire. Some knowledge can only come from doing. Jesus said that if you want the will of God, you’ll know that Jesus’ teaching is from God. Do you want to do what God wants? Then you’ll know…you’ll know Jesus.
So, let’s make it personal—about you, about me. Do you want to do God’s will? Are you willing to say, “Not my will, but Yours be done?” Is there some area of your life where, like my friend, you don’t want to change? Are you willing to surrender to God’s will? He wants the best for you!
Song: I surrender
People divided over Jesus’ teaching, but also over His actions. For example, when Jesus healed the paralyzed man on the Sabbath in John 5, some people were amazed and others were offended because He violated the Sabbath.
John 7:21–24 Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
That leads to my third and final point:
3. Judge correctly.
They judged Jesus because He healed a paralyzed man on the Sabbath. But Jesus pointed out that they broke the Sabbath law prohibiting work every time they circumcised a boy on the Sabbath. (Notice I’m not using any slides for circumcision. You’re welcome.) Jewish law required a boy to be circumcised on the 8th day after birth, and if that fell on the Sabbath, then the law of circumcision superseded the law of the Sabbath. So here was an accepted reason to ignore the Sabbath law prohibiting work. In addition, Jesus used an argument other rabbis had made: they argued that if circumcision, which affects only one part of a man’s body, superseded the Sabbath, how much more must healing the whole body!
I assume most of us would agree with Jesus’ logic. The Sabbath law of rest didn’t mean they couldn’t and shouldn’t help someone. If they can circumcise a boy on the Sabbath, Jesus could heal a man on the Sabbath.
But the Pharisees couldn’t see that because they were only looking at appearances and making shallow judgments. Jesus challenged them—and us—to stop judging by appearances and instead judge correctly.
ILL: Many years ago, I was golfing at Indian Canyon with some buddies. None of us were playing very well. We got to the 16th tee. About 200 yards away, one of the course maintenance crew was working on some ground next to his pickup, which was parked on the far right side of the fairway near the trees. We made sure he was watching us, and then we started hitting. The first 3 guys hit lousy drives that sliced toward the course worker—we yelled, “Fore.” The last guy did the same, but we were whooping it up because it was the first drive that he had hit all day that got off the ground! It was his best drive of the day, and we were celebrating. But when we got down to our balls, the course worker was incensed. He accused us of trying to hit him. I was stunned! Trying to hit him? Was he serious? I said, “We weren’t trying to hit you.”
“Yeah, right,” he said. “If you wanted to, you could have all hit out in the middle of the fairway, but you tried to hit me.” I couldn’t believe this.
“Have you ever played golf? I’d love to hit every shot in the middle of the fairway. We weren’t trying to hit you.”
Then he said, “Sure you were. I heard you up there laughing and cheering on that last drive!” I told him, “We were cheering because it was the first good drive our friend has hit all day!” Nothing we said would convince this guy! His mind was made up; after all, he had all the facts; he knew our motives. He judged by appearances…and arrived at the wrong conclusion!
So for this guy to judge correctly, what would he need? More information. Not just what he saw—appearances—but more information. He needed to know that the last guy who hit had played golf maybe a half dozen times—he was a raw beginner. He needed to know that the rest of us were lousy golfers—high handicaps. He needed to know we were all pastors. Ok…maybe that wouldn’t have helped. If he had walked around all 18 holes with us, and not just judged us on that one set of tee shots, he would have judged correctly: these guys weren’t trying to hit me; they’re not that good!
To judge correctly you need more information. Good information. This is true in our relationships. Before you judge another person, have a conversation. Ask some questions. Do some research.
This is also true in our politics. We are in trouble as a nation because so many of us are making bad judgements based on appearance, without good information, rather than judging correctly.
Let me be address something in our culture that deeply concerns me, and I want you to be aware of it so that you can do what Jesus says and judge correctly.
There is a difference between news and opinion, and an even bigger difference between news and entertainment.
News is supposed to be objective. “Here is what happened today. Here is the weather.” The facts. Now I know that every human being is biased—no one is perfectly objective. And therefore I know that news can be slanted: the facts can be chosen selectively or presented in a certain light. I know that. And so do good news people—so they try to be objective and present the news, the facts. The facts were that we all hit lousy drives near this guy and cheered after the last one. That’s the news.
Opinion or commentary is different. It is one person’s take on the facts, their interpretation rather than the facts themselves. Bias is not only obvious, but essential to an opinion. His opinion—his interpretation of the facts—was that we were trying to hit him. (He was wrong)
Entertainment is altogether different. The facts are irrelevant. The goal is ratings; the driver is money. Facts are not a priority; getting noticed is. The more outrageous your program, the more chance you’ll be noticed.
Here’s the problem: the news and opinion and entertainment have all gotten conflated for many people. Someone listens to an opinion or entertainment show on TV or radio and thinks it’s the news. It’s not. Consequently, people are parroting things as facts that are not. And we as a culture are suffering from “truth decay.”
ILL: Last weekend I talked with a local TV news broadcaster who goes to our church. He expressed this same concern to me and wishes that there was a way to label TV shows or radio programs as “News” or “Commentary”—and I’d add, “Entertainment.” I agree with him. One example of this: a few years ago, Sean Hannity said on air, “I’m not a journalist, I’m a talk show host.” The same could be said of those on the other side of the aisle. It’s important to know the difference.
What should we do?
Don’t judge on appearances. Be discerning: is this news, or opinion, or entertainment? Don’t take everything you hear, see or read at face value. Check your sources. If your source is slanted, go listen to the other side. Ask questions. Get good information. Judge correctly. Our democracy is at stake, and as Christians we should care deeply about truth.
Back to the personal to close: Where have you been judging by appearances? How can you get more information to make a correct judgment? Is there someone you need to have a conversation with?
Closing prayer and dismissal.
Proposed service order:
Host welcomes everyone, explains what we’re going to do. Gives announcements and offering. Call to worship and prayer:
Start with directed prayer/song: ask God to speak to us, to help us surrender to Jesus as Lord, to help us to want to do His will, to help us not to judge by appearances but to judge correctly. Speak to us.
Joe gives message. Three movements, each end with a short song and prayer/reflection.