52. Rebuffed by Blindness

Short Meditations in John 7:  52.  Rebuffed by Blindness

Jn 7:52    They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

There are two aspects to this closing verse. The first is the attitude behind it, and the second is the absence of knowledge that is revealed in it.

First then, the attitude. It is clearly hostile. The ‘They’ must be the other Pharisees (see v.47) who had been chiding the guards who had returned to the Temple without Jesus, but what is interesting is their comment, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?” (v.48) because Nicodemus is one “of the rulers” (see Jn 3:1). Clearly the contact Nicodemus had had with Jesus was still not known. Because it is the Pharisees of Jerusalem who are either part of the Sanhedrin or who simply mix with the rulers, we should not be surprised at their hostility which is seen again and again in the Gospels. The have closed minds because of their defensive outlook in respect of Jesus who had numerous times showed them up for being the hypocrites that they were.

Second, this absence of knowledge, which is strange. You would have thought that these guardians of the Law would have known better – for we have considered this subject of ignorance earlier in studies 41 & 42 where we noted the Isaiah prophecy about a great light coming to Galilee, surely a messianic reference, but they still seem ignorant of it. However note carefully their words: “you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

That speaks about origins. The fact that Jesus had been ministering in Galilee doesn’t mean that is where he came from. No, we know from the Gospels that his parents previously lived in Nazareth and later returned there, but Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, just as the prophets had said. Yes, Jesus had grown up in Nazareth but seems to have used Capernaum as his home base for his ministry around the whole area of Galilee.

Now one suspects that the Pharisees probably knew all this – they would have investigated this troublesome itinerant preacher who had been annoying them for some time. In which case they are splitting hairs, we would say today, being picky about the truth, slightly bending it in fact.

They present to us a challenge about always seeking out and faithfully speaking the truth, and not bending it for our own purposes.  The challenge is, I suggest, first to ensure we are good scholars of the Bible, that we know what we are talking about when defending our faith, as well as knowing what it says about our daily lives.

51. Reasonableness

Short Meditations in John 7:  51.  Reasonableness

Jn 7:51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”  

In the light of yesterday’s notes, I can’t help commenting that good intentions and reasonableness don’t always work! This is not to say that we should use the world’s methods and let go of righteousness, but it is to note that sometimes in the world, our good words fall on deaf ears as we shall see here.

Having acknowledged that, it is not to say that we should never try and present the truth, even when we sense we are not going to get anywhere. In the bigger picture, if we speak truth, the world will never be able to stand before God – as they will have to do one day – and say they didn’t know.

When I look back there have been times when we have leafletted whole areas with the Gospel. There are many people who cannot say, “Nobody told us!” We did. In our small town, with a population of about twelve thousand, there was a time when we put out a comprehensive church bulletin complete with the Gospel once a month for a year. Another time, earlier, a friend and I organised a very simple campaign one year with leaflets and bus posters, “Christmas comes but once a year – thank goodness” which then shared gospel, to about 80 thousand homes, and then the next year, “Put Christ back into Christmas,” to double that number. Each home owner will stand before the Lord one day and have to say, “Well, yes, I picked it up, scanned it and then binned in,” But they were told. It is a bit like the hotel where I am writing this particular study which, like many hotels has had a Bible put in every room by an organisation called the Gideons. The one in my room – that I used this morning – looks almost brand new and I have wondered how many people see it there and ignore it? The point is, they have had the opportunity to read it, and of course there may be the ones and twos who do and, having heard such testimonies, turned to Christ.

But Nicodemus speaks out for the truth which is that the Law required at least two witnesses before an accusation could be heard, but before that the accused needs to be heard and the basis of an accusation made clear but, as we shall soon see, these people weren’t ever bothered to do that, they had their set views and even someone such as a member of the Sanhedrin is not going to change them.

The thought comes – are we so set in our ideas that we are not open to the whole truth that God may wish to present to us? Clear beliefs are one thing but shutting our minds to anything else the Lord might want to teach us is something else.

50. Intervention

Short Meditations in John 7:  50.  Intervention

Jn 7:50  Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked,    

There is something poignant here, it seems to me, great and glorious, but nevertheless poignant. This man, Nicodemus, is going to stand up for what is right in the face of many who are advocating that which would be wrong. He is a man, John shows us in chapter 3 of his Gospel, who had gone to Jesus at night to satisfy his curiosity. He was a Pharisee and a member of the ruling council, the Sanhedrin. But he was an unusual Pharisee because he wanted to talk to Jesus, not to berate him as so many of them did, but he wanted to reassure himself of what he felt was right: “you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (Jn 3:2) This man, Jesus, has come with God’s calling on his life. That’s as far as he could go, but it was a start.

He is also mentioned, the third time, when after Jesus death, he accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus and he brought expensive the ingredients to embalm Jesus.

But here is what strikes me about Nicodemus: in respect of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, “he was one of their own number,” yet one of the few voices raised on behalf of truth. I say truth, because it was not so much on behalf of Jesus as the one he was. He never seems to come quite out into the open for Jesus. Earlier it had been at night he had visited Jesus, and later with Joseph, it had been with an air of secrecy, at least with Joseph “because he feared the Jewish leaders” (Jn 19:38) – and yet Nicodemus is one of those Jewish leaders. Somehow he seems to be straddling two camps – the authorities opposing Jesus and the secret believers in Jerusalem.

Yet, to be fair to him, he is a voice who speaks out for the truth, but yet a voice that is not sufficiently strong that others might have the courage to speak similarly, and so it is a voice that eventually achieves nothing; the opposition is too great.

Failing to speak up for Jesus, or to speak up strongly enough to have impact and change lives and destinies,  is not just the prerogative of the Nicodemus’s or Peter’s of this world – or the other disciples  for that matter – it is something to which many of us are prone. Have I always spoken up when I should have done? I wish. This is one of those things for which the Cross is our only saving way.

But a failure yesterday doesn’t have to mean a failure today. Can we trust afresh that when we speak it will be the Holy Spirit speaking through us? (Mt 10:19,20) May it be so.

49. Blame (2)

Short Meditations in John 7:  49.  Blame (2)

Jn 7:49  No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”  

There is a three-sided attack in this demeaning that we have been considering as the hapless guards return to their masters at the Temple and receive this put-down. We’ve seen the first part of it as they are accused of being deceived by Jesus (and implied within that is ‘what a bunch of gullible idiots you are to have been taken in by him’) and we saw the second part yesterday as they are mentally lined up before the ‘oh so clearly superior leaders of the Pharisees’ (who would never have been duped in such a way).

Now, in a third attack they are aligned with the ignorant common crowd who, from their point of view, know nothing (nothing?) of the law (like we do, implied) and show themselves to be cursed in their ignorance and their tendency to be swayed by any loud-mouthed agitator. It’s not a very nice thing to say, but it confirms my suggestion above –  you gullible idiots, aligning yourselves with the gullible and ignorant and cursed crowd.

I repeat again what I said previously – it is a tactic of the enemy that is used as much today to demoralize and disarm God’s people by making them feel inferior to the intellects of today and suggesting we live in a bygone age of folk tales and myths that ‘wise’ people no longer believe in, only those who hold onto their superstitious nature. We need to see through it and see it for what it is, a deception of the enemy.

There is are two simple answers that this verse can direct us towards, and the first is simply to make sure we DO know the law, or rather do know the whole of the Bible. How few of us, I wonder, know our Bibles sufficiently well as to be able to give a reasoned, coherent answer to those who question or challenge us, how few of us have read widely to know how to come up with answers? Don’t say, well it’s up to our leaders to do that; we are all in the army of God, we are all called to be ready: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. “ (1 Pet 3:15) That is an instruction to the whole church.

The second simple answer to this challenge is to show by our lives that we are not cursed but are blessed. This simply means showing that we live peaceful, harmonious, caring, compassionate, involved lives, lives that stand out like light in the darkness, lives that don’t suffer divorces, don’t have marital breakups or family disorders, lives that show we are some of the best workers to have around, the best people to be with, the most trustworthy, those full of honesty and integrity. These are ways we overcome such attacks. May we be able to do that.

48. Justification

Short Meditations in John 7:  48.  Justification

Jn 7:48  “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?

And so the tirade against this hapless bunch of temple guards, sent out on an ill-fated task, continues.  I suggested yesterday that the language we find in these verses is demeaning. It is the language the enemy uses to seek to put down God’s people, to weaken, disarm, disable and dismantle the Church and to eventually destroy it. Those are his goals.

It is a strategy that is as much used today as it was then. Intolerance of other people’s view is a major sin in Western society, except the end result of it is that ‘the world’ becomes intolerant of the Christian standpoint and Christian (godly) ethics. ‘Inclusive’ is a word that has become used to accept all sorts of unscriptural and ungodly (that deny God’s design for mankind and His world) behaviours and attitudes in today’s world. The world says we are intolerant if we say they fly in the face of the teaching of the Bible in respect of God’s design for mankind.

And so the modern equivalent of this ploy of the enemy in today’s verse  will be, “Well other parts the church don’t believe your hard-hearted stance on these things,” or, “Well scientists and psychologists have said that your ‘God-stance’ on so many ethical issues today is outdated and intolerant,” or even, “Well even some of your top church men in the Anglican Church or the Roman Catholic Church have a more modern liberal interpretation of the verses you may quote, so are you saying you are greater than them?”

It’s the strategy of put-down, the strategy that seeks to demean and rubbish us. It’s a strategy that says, “We (they) are the caring, thinking people of the world who don’t hold on to outdated folk tales, or myths from the past. We’re the scientists, the modern people, the reasonable people, the sensible people, not those carried away in emotional tirades. How dare you stand up expecting to be believed in the face of our credentials?”

The answer to this sort of thing? Grace and wisdom. Grace that does not lose its temper, wisdom that speaks reasonably in ways that are rational, can be understood, not using religious jargon, but simple logical truth. Listen to tapes or CDs or videos of some of the giants of the kingdom who God is using to counter all this sort of thing. I hesitate to name names because God may raise up someone new tomorrow, but there are gifted men and women out there who know their stuff, who have the answers and can present the truths of the word of God in clear and understandable ways. You haven’t come across them yet? Go looking. Google ‘Christian apologetics’ and see what you come up with.

47. Blame

Short Meditations in John 7:  47.  Blame

Jn 7:47  “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted.

We human beings have a way of responding to those who displease us. It is called demeaning them. These poor guards have been sent on an errand. Arrest Jesus the carpenter, but when they get there they are left wondering is he something considerably more than a mere carpenter? They heard his words and saw how he disarmed the Pharisees and Sadducees and Herodians who had also been sent by their masters to bring him down.

They had all failed and so these men – who were not theologians, not holders of specific religious beliefs, came back empty handed. As far as they were concerned they were justified in not being able to do what the Temple authorities wanted, but in the eyes of those authorities, and specifically the Pharisees who gathered with them and were such a strong voice, they were failures, and you know what we do with failures – we demean them even more!

See those opening words, “You mean”. They are words of incredulity, of disbelief of apparent amazement that people use when they want you to realise that from their perspective (from their high moral ground!) that is almost unbelievable that anyone could be so gullible, so naïve, so susceptible, as to be duped by this con man, this trickster, this false prophet, this false messiah. When they say, “You mean,” they are implying, “Oh, come on, you’re not trying to tell us that you are so stupid that you’ve been taken in by this character! You can’t be that stupid, surely?”

And there it is, the great put down – you’ve been deceived, you’ve let yourselves be conned, but in the midst of all this demeaning these poor guards, there is something that is always pushed out the door on these occasions – the truth that is being conveniently ignored. The truth is that Jesus HAS been speaking like no one else speaks and he has been doing the miraculous and healing many people, and you can’t just write that off, you can’t just rubbish that – unless you are a hypocritical pharisee with an agenda of your own that is being threatened by the truth.  So let’s just ignore the truth, let’s put down these ineffective unofficial guardians of the law of the Temple, agents of the hierarchy who have apparently become carriers of bad news.

Have you caught something of the might of evil that undergirds all this? These are not just a few harmless words from a short verse in the middle of a chapter; they convey the might, the wrath and the anger of this hostile bunch of human beings against God. ‘Deceived’ is a word that just does not adequately convey the awfulness of this state of these ‘guardians of the Law’, but it is the truth.

46. Testimony

Short Meditations in John 7:  46.  Testimony

Jn 7:46  “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

So these guards return to the Temple to report their failure to the authorities – who are not happy! They have demanded of the guards, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” and all the guards can say is, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” Wow! As excuses go it’s not very good, and the authorities are going to say that, but actually as a testimony as to who Jesus is, it’s brilliant.

And yet we should not be surprised if we know our Bibles because such things happen more than once. Near the beginning of his ministry in a synagogue in Capernaum we find, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mk 1:22) and then, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority!” (v.27) Later, “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him?” (Mk 6:2) Then, “The disciples were amazed at his words.” (Mk 10:24) Also, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” (Mk 11:18) There are times when the various religious factions came to try to trap him and his answers confounded them and so Luke concludes, “They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.” (Lk 20:26) If you have a concordance look up the words ‘amazed’ and “astonished” you see how both Jesus’ teaching and his miracles stirred and provoked the crowds so often.

As I said, it should not be a surprise therefore that these temple guards return to their masters with this answer. They too have been amazed at the way that Jesus spoke, and they had the integrity at least to recognise that what they had been witnessing was out of this world: “no one ever spoke…” i.e. this man is someone completely different from anyone in our experience. A great testimony and yet one that is not going to satisfy these hard-hearted guardians of the Law and of the Temple.

This incident perhaps should challenge us: have we become so used to the Gospels that the teaching and the actions of Jesus no longer amaze or astonish us? Perhaps we need to pray afresh, Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your word.” (Psa 119:18); a necessary prayer if we have grown stale.

45. Failure

Short Meditations in John 7:  45.  Failure

Jn 7:45  Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

There is no sign that Jesus exerted his power to somehow overcome the minds of the temple guards, they just gave up and went back to the Tempe to face the authorities and when they arrive with empty hands, no prisoner, the obvious question follows: “Where is he? Why isn’t he with you? Why didn’t you bring him in?”  They will make their excuses which we will see in the next verse but for the moment they just have to face their religious masters and by the absence of a prisoner, confess their failure.

The trouble is that they know these religious authorities are all powerful and they have set themselves against Jesus, they know they are their employers and they know they had been given a task and so, finally, they know they have not managed to complete that task and so, the real finally, they know their masters are not going to be happy – and there may be repercussions – for them! Trouble.

Living with other people’s expectations – often unrighteous expectations – is not always easy. It is something that we face day in, day out, at the most basic levels of life. Other people have expectations of us, and often those expectations are really for their benefit.  The employer wants success for his business, he wants to be rich; the teacher wants success for their pupils so they can be seen to be a good teacher; parents have high expectations for their child or children so they can be seen to be great parents; husbands have expectations of wives so life can be comfy and they can feel looked after, but wives may have the same expectations; husbands may have high expectations in bed not realizing how they approach their wife throughout the day will often determine that; wives may want their husbands to change and words are their weapons.

All these expectations and of course they are brought to light when they are not being fulfilled. Anger, hostility, criticism and judgement follow in sinful responses. Yes, all these things can have good motivations – “Oh,” says the wife, “I only want to change him for his good,” and there may be truth in that but so often, perhaps more often, these expectations are born out of ‘self’ and that is a very different thing from righteousness.

When it comes to God, the wise person learns of God’s goodness and His faithfulness, but after that learns to trust when God doesn’t do the things we expect of Him. Sometimes we have to learn that, that there are deeper lessons in life to be learned and they come from us not getting our own way!

44. Frustration

Short Meditations in John 7:  44.  Frustration

Jn 7:44  Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

When you look at the world and try to capture the ‘big picture’, there is a strange mix of the sovereignty of God and the grace of God that gives mankind freedom. When you look for this in the Gospels you see this strange thing, that there is this mix between Jesus allowing us to do our own things but when it comes to mankind raising their hands against him, we are so often thwarted. Thus far and no further, seems to be the divine strategy, that allows us to go just so far but not so far that we would thwart the bigger plans of God.

Now we know retrospectively that Jesus will, at some point ahead of this time, submit himself to the authorities, allowing them to come at night to arrest him, then give him an illegal trial and then have him executed on a cross but there are two things, it seems, that means that this declared intention of the authorities to have him killed, is held back.

The first, it seems to me, is that he has, presumably according to the plan of the Godhead, determined that it needed three years to reveal sufficient of his Father’s love and to prepare a band of followers who would continue after him. That is point one. But point two is that in accordance with allegorical prophecy, he wants his death to occur at Passover, so that in the future anyone with eyes to see, would realize he was sacrificing himself as the lamb of God to save whoever would come from the destroying angel of judgment who would pass over every life. That is the second reason why Jesus did not want the authorities to take him and kill him at just any old time. It had to be Passover.

And so we come to another one of these strange moments where the will of sinful man wants to rise up against him – but it just doesn’t happen. We have to wait a few verses to see the logic of the guards sent from the Temple but the outcome is the same – nothing happens.

Now I think, as I try to get a bigger sense of the plans and purposes of God, that this little verse should bring us great encouragement. Stuff goes on in life and the world appears to get especially atheistic and I  and a number of others wonder about the future existence of the church, but this verse reminds us that however stroppy modern materialistic, humanistic and atheistic man gets, at the end of the day it is going to be the will of Almighty God that will prevail.  Yes, He may use the sinfulness of mankind (see Acts 2:23) for those purposes but His purposes will prevail and He will not allow mankind to progress those plans faster that he has already decided.  Pray your heart out but remain in peace: HE is in control.

43. Division

Short Meditations in John 7:  43.  Division

Jn 7:43  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.

What a verse that sums up history – people are divided because of Jesus. But why? For the people in our account in this chapter, it is because they have only partial information. They know what Jesus is doing and saying in the present, and that seems to point towards him being the Messiah – which is what some would like to believe – and yet the partial information about his background is confusing. In fact it was going to get more confusing for his disciples as events unfurled and he was arrested, tried and killed. That was going to drive them to despair and fear.

But Jesus himself said he had come to create divided opinion. It’s not what he wanted but it is what will happen (see Lk 12:52,53) with families divided in their beliefs. Indeed at another time he spoke of peace being replaced by a sword (Mt 10:34) as families would turn against each other because of him (v.35,36). It is a strange thing that can only be understood as a spiritual battle, that results in members of the family betraying one another and even having one another killed (see Lk 21:16)

You would think that such a thing is not possible, but when you understand the spiritual dynamics of what goes on in the world you can see it: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one,” (1 Jn 5:19) and, he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13) It is an uncomfortable truth that there are two rulers – Jesus and Satan – and you either submit to Jesus or you submit to Satan, two rulers with two different objectives and yet so similar.

Satan wants to destroy the children of God – literally if not in any other way. Jesus wants people to die to themselves and to their past as they surrender to him and let him remake their lives. Each wants death to the other, but for the kingdom of God that ‘death’ is so that life may pour forth. No wonder there is this division. When people submit to the kingdom of God they come to experience love and goodness in ways they could never have imagined.

Those in the dominion of darkness refuse to surrender their self-sovereignty, and self so often harms others, and experiences self-harm, but that is the currency of the enemy. In that darkness they are blinded and cannot see the truth and are threatened by those who espouse it. When they are delivered from the dominion of the enemy they are delivered into light, into love, into goodness. Light versus darkness; no wonder there is this division.