This morning, we continue in our study of the gospel of John. In just a little bit, we’ll be turning to chapter 7.
We’ve just marked another month off the calendar as November came to a close a couple of days ago. November is one of my favorite months of the year. It’s the month that we finally get some cooler temperatures that stick around. It’s the month when what few trees in town change colors finally do so. And, of course, it’s the month when we get to enjoy Thanksgiving.
But, unfortunately, November also means that it’s time for elections. So, at the beginning of the month, beneath the trees that are soon to be filled with orange, red, and yellow leaves, there are yards filled with dozens of signs — signs encouraging you to vote for everything from state senators to school board members to county sheriff.
Newscasts are filled with polls about the different political races and television is filled with commercials from all of these candidates. And it’s downright discouraging to see all the mudslinging that goes on. I’ve often thought about how tough it must be to run for political office.
The minute you put your hat in the ring, your life is under the microscope for everyone to see. From that point on, people will scrutinize everything from your voting record to your driving record. They will carefully examine your family life, your spiritual life, your stand on every issue under the sun.
Then — based on what they find — the accusations begin to fly. Some will say you don’t care about the poor; others will say you care too much about the poor. Some will say you don’t have the right morals. Others will say you have too many morals. Some will say you’re too conservative. Others will say you’re too liberal.
I can’t imagine anyone wanting to go through all that. All the money in the world wouldn’t be enough to pay me to run for any public office. I’d much rather be a preacher. I realize I may get a negative comment on a sermon every now and then, but I can handle that.
Well, I bring all of this up because it feels like something similar is happening in our text this morning. The people’s comments about Jesus in John 7 sound very similar to the kinds of things we say about people running for public office. For starters, Jesus gets some advice on what he needs to do to “keep his poll numbers up.” Others criticize him for everything from the place he grew up to the fact that he healed on the Sabbath. They question his education, his parentage, his motives.
Let’s watch this video together. If you’d like to follow along, we’ll be in John chapter 7, beginning with verse 1:
Let’s back up and set the scene a bit. The events in this chapter took place about six months after the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’ sermon about being the Bread of Life. And you may recall that after that sermon, many of the people — including some of his own disciples – stopped following him. All of his teachings about suffering and sacrifice were too much for them, and so they left.
In the opening words of chapter 7, John tells us that things got even worse because now there was actually a hint of murder in the air. “He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.” (John 7:1). The Jewish leaders were looking for a way to get rid of Jesus for good.
John also tells us that “the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand.” (John 7:2). We know this feast better by another name – the Feast of Tabernacles. This was a feast that always took place in early October. It was seven days long, and its purpose was to celebrate their ancestors’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.
So, during those seven days, the Jews in Jerusalem would build these booths or shelters out of tree limbs, and families actually moved out of their houses and lived in those temporary shelters for a while. The purpose of this was to help to remind them that for 40 years their ancestors had wandered as pilgrims in the wilderness and they lived in temporary shelters.
So, when it was almost time for this feast, Jesus’ four brothers came to him. Technically, they were his half-brothers. Matthew tells us their names. First of all, there was James and Judas (or Jude). Those two brothers would eventually come to believe in Jesus and write two of the books of the New Testament.
The other two brothers were named Joseph and Simon. Jesus also had at least two sisters, but their names aren’t given to us in the New Testament. So, if anyone ever tries to tell you that Mary remained a virgin for her entire life, you need to show them these verses. Because the Bible plainly says that after Jesus’ birth, God blessed Mary and Joseph with at least six children of their own.
Well these brothers of Jesus came to him, trying to urge him to go to Jerusalem. “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.” (John 7:2-3)
When you think about it, that’s the advice that’s given to just about every political candidate in an election year. Basically, they were saying, “Jesus, you need a larger arena. Galilee is too small for you. Don’t stay up here in the sticks. You need to get down to Judea, to Jerusalem. That’s the capital, that’s where all the people are. Your Judean base needs to see you. You need to reinforce their faith by letting them see miracles like the ones you’ve been doing up here in Galilee. You need to get out of the back country and show yourself to the world.”
Now, it’s hard to say whether they said that with good intentions or not. Jesus did eventually go to Jerusalem, but it wasn’t with his brothers. He sent them on ahead and then he came later — secretly. He did that because it wasn’t yet time for him to be crucified. That won’t happen for another six months – at the feast of Passover.
Jesus knew that there was a constant danger of being killed in Jerusalem. He knew that as long as he remained hidden, his enemies couldn’t find him. So, he entered the city without attracting attention, blending in with the crowds. Meanwhile, he was the hot topic of conversation. Everybody wondered where he was and when he would show up. Some of those people were his followers, but they kept their comments as quiet as possible for fear of being overheard by the temple officials.
Jesus didn’t reveal himself until the feast was half over. And then, he stood up and began to teach, knowing that the Jewish leaders wouldn’t do anything to him in front of a big crowd. And as we look at this text, I think it’s interesting that we see a lot of different statements being made about Jesus. And we still hear the same sort of comments being made about Jesus today.
I once heard the doctrine of election explained like this — God votes for you, the devil votes against you, and you cast the deciding vote. That’s a simple way to put it, but I think it’s an accurate way to put it. And it lets us know that we all need to make a decision about Jesus. We all need to cast our votes regarding who we believe that he is. Let’s take a look at what some of the options are.
(1) Some people at the feast said that Jesus was a GOOD MAN.
“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.’” (John 7:12)
Some people said, “He’s a good man.” Now, they wouldn’t go so far as to say that Jesus was the Messiah — that he was God in the flesh — but they would agree that he was a good guy. After all He had been going around for three years doing all sorts of good things — healing the sick, feeding the hungry, things like that.
And we still find people who have this opinion of Jesus. They would never profess a faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, but they would say that he was a good man. Most Jews today would say that Jesus was a good guy. Even most Muslims would say that Jesus was a good teacher.
But, as Christ-followers, we can’t accept that Jesus was just a good man. Now, he was a good man. But, he wasn’t just a good man. And that’s evident from some of the things that Jesus taught.
In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That puts Jesus in a whole different class than everyone else. He isn’t just a good man. He is the only person in the world who can give us access to God.
As Peter said in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Jesus repeatedly said he considered the Old Testament Scriptures to be written about him. There was one time when he was in Nazareth and he read from the prophet Isaiah, that passage of Messianic prophecy where it says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
And then, after Jesus read those words, he closed the scroll and he said, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). In other words, “This prophecy is referring to me. I am the Messiah.”
A good man can’t say something like that unless he really is who he claims to be. By the way, Jesus also said that he had the authority to forgive sins. No mere man can do that — no matter how good he is.
And Jesus repeatedly claimed to be God. Could a person be a good man and make that claim if it weren’t true? Would a good man tell people he was the Messiah if he wasn’t? You can’t say that Jesus was just a good man. In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis spoke of this. He said,
“I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus, namely, ‘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 the 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.”
Which brings us to something else that the people said about Jesus that day. Some people said he was a good man, but others said he was a deceiver.
(2) Some people said Jesus was a deceiver, trying to fool people into believing he was the Messiah.
“While some said, ‘He is a good man,’ others said, ‘No, he is leading the people astray.’” (John 7:12)
We still hear people say the same thing today — that Jesus was out to intentionally, deliberately fool people. They believe he wanted to con people into following him as the long-awaited Messiah — when in reality he was just a man.
And before I deal with this, I would have to admit that if Jesus really was a deceiver, he was the best deceiver who ever lived. No Jew would ever make the claim that Jesus did – that he was God. Remember, the Jews were the only nation of people who believed in one God. And so, for someone to claim to be God — as Jesus repeatedly did — was just not something that anyone did. The amazing thing, though, is that so many people believed Jesus’ claim. There were lots of people — men, women, peasants and royalty, priests, even eventually members of his own family. So, if Jesus was a deceiver, he was really, really good at it!
On the other hand, if Jesus really was a deceiver, he was the worst kind of deceiver because he deceived people into thinking he was God. He tricked them into entrusting their eternal destiny with him. He said that people could count on him to remove their sins and get them to Heaven, which is wonderful news, but only if it’s true. If it is not true, then Paul was right — we are of all men most to be pitied. Because if it’s not true, then Jesus has condemned generations of gullible followers to a hopeless eternity.
But, of course, we believe that was Jesus said was true – that he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the one who came to take away our sins. The miracles that Jesus performed backed up his claims. As John tells us in John 20:31, the purpose of his miracles was “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” The final and most powerful proof was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If Jesus wasn’t raised, then yes, maybe he was a deceiver. But, if he was raised from the dead, that proves all of the claims that he made during his life.
Some people thought Jesus was a deceiver. Then in verse 20, we see another viewpoint.
(3) Some people said that Jesus was a LUNATIC
“The crowd answered, ‘You have a demon!’” (John 7:20). They said, “You’re demon-possessed, you’re out of your mind, you’re crazy!”
And there are still some people today who think, “If Jesus wasn’t a liar, then maybe it possible that he just thought he was God? After all, it is possible to be sincere, but wrong.”
And, I would agree that normally, if a person thinks he’s God, and tells other people that he’s God…and that their eternal destiny depends on their believing in him, then, we’d all be in agreement that that’s absolute lunacy.
So, is it possible that Jesus was a lunatic? Could he have been a crazy man who just thought he was God in the flesh? If so, he wasn’t the first person to ever have a Messiah complex. We’ve all heard of that sort of thing. But these days, when someone claims to be God in the flesh, we call for the guys in the white coats so he won’t hurt himself or others.
But this accusation of Jesus doesn’t hold up because in Jesus’ life and teachings we don’t see the kinds of abnormalities and imbalance that usually goes along with being deranged. His poise and composure would be amazing — unheard of — if he were insane. Plus, Jesus spoke some of the most profound sayings ever recorded. The temple guards that were sent to arrest Him came back empty-handed saying, “No one ever spoke like this Man!”
And it’s true. Jesus’ teachings are the most profound things that have ever been said. That doesn’t fit with the ramblings of a lunatic. The truth is, Jesus was the sanest man who ever lived. He spoke with quiet authority. He was always in control of the situation. He was never surprised or rattled.
It’s impossible to make a case for the belief that Jesus was just a good man. And you can’t say that he was a deceiver…or that Jesus was crazy. Which only leaves one option — Jesus was and is who he claimed to be.
(4) Jesus was and is the CHRIST, the one and only SON of God, the Savior of the world.
And there were some in the temple that day who shared that belief. “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 7:31).
And, of course, billions of people since then have come to the same conclusion. And, getting people to this conclusion is the purpose of John’s gospel.
But, I want to close by considering this question — Why was it that all of these people — the crowds of people, his family, the Pharisees and the apostles — all had such different views of Jesus? After all, they all had access to the same information. They all heard his teaching. They all saw his miracles. Why was it that some, like the apostles, were willing to give their entire lives to follow him while others, like the Pharisees, rejected him as being demon-possessed? And even more relevant to us is the question: why are there so many different ways that people respond to Jesus today?
As a young preacher, I remember wanting to find a way to share the good news of Christ with non-Christians. And I was convinced that if I could find just the right approach, just the right technique, all the unbelievers who heard me would come to faith in Christ. I suspect that I’m not the only person who’s ever felt that way.
Years ago, there was a movement associated with a guy named Charles Finney. Charles Finney was a famous evangelist in the 1800s. Finney’s belief was that a person’s conversion was not so much a work of God, as it was finding the right method. So if a church had an evangelistic outreach event and no one came to faith in Christ, it was because the church failed to use the correct method.
So, Finney paid attention to everything from room temperature to song selection. He was the first preacher to ever offer an invitation at the close of his lesson and he made sure it was handled so that people would be most moved to come forward. And it worked. At Finney’s meetings, thousands of people would come forward to respond to Christ. But within a week or so, the vast majority of his “converts” were no longer following Christ because many of them were really responding to his persuasion rather than to God.
The more I deal with people, the more I’ve come to believe that people’s response has less to do with the technique of presentation and more to do with the hearts of individuals. Now, don’t get me wrong – I certainly think there are some good ways and some bad ways to present the message of the gospel. But, ultimately, a person’s response will have more to do with his or her heart.
Just think about Christ. There was nothing wrong with the way Jesus presented his message. Here was the Son of God, God himself in human form, walking among the people. They touched him, they listened to him as he taught, they watched him as he healed people. And yet the vast majority of people still dismissed Jesus as an imposter.
So, the important question this morning is this — “What do YOU believe about Jesus?” If you haven’t yet cast your “vote”, then I encourage you to stop and consider the evidence. Read the gospel accounts and when you finish, ask yourself: “Could Jesus have been crazy? Do his life and teachings sound like the kinds of things a lunatic would say and do? Could he have been a deceiver? Do the results of his ministry match up with that? Could he have been just a good man? Would a good man make the kind of claims that he did?
In verse 17 of this chapter, Jesus said, “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.” (John 7:17)
There are some things in life that you can’t be neutral about and Jesus is one of them. You can’t say, “Well, the evidence is convincing but I’m just going to pass on making a decision right now.” That’s not an option because a PASS is equal to a NO, so I hope that you won’t do that. This morning, say YES. Express your faith that Jesus truly is who he claimed to be – the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. And allow that faith to lead you to put him on in baptism.