41. Speculation (2)

Short Meditations in John 7:  41.  Speculation (2)

Jn 7:41  Others said, “He is the Messiah.”   Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee?

In the previous study I noted about the prophetic scriptures found in the Old Testament, it wasn’t all neatly packaged in an orderly way, and so that presented problems for those trying to understand what it meant. Perhaps we can boil these difficulties down to four things.

First, there was this shadowy figure that, using shorthand, we call the Messiah. Having taken this word for granted for many decades, I looked it up on the internet: Messiah. c.1300, Messias, from Late Latin Messias, from Greek Messias, from Aramaic meshiha and Hebrew mashiah “the anointed” (of the Lord), from mashah “anoint.” This is the word rendered in Septuagint as Greek Khristos (see Christ).” It is only when you pick up a book such as “What the Bible Teaches about The Promised Messiah” by Dr. James Smith, do you realise there are so many verses that seem to point to this messianic figure. He suggests 73. There may be more or less depending on your perspective.

And that leads us to the second thing: there are lots of these verses that could point towards this figure, but you have to accept them by faith because not all specifically say they are, although the best way to check is to find the verse and see if there is a New Testament application (e.g. Isa 7:14 applied by Matthew – Matt 1:22,23)

The third thing is that, at first sight – and certainly for the scribes and teachers of Jesus’ day – there appear to be contradictions, so on one hand he appears as a mighty ruler (e.g. Isa 9:6,7) but on the other as a despised servant (e.g. Isa 52:13,14 & 53:3-). The result was that you had different ‘schools’ of thought. No one had managed to synthesize the two views. For that we had to wait until after his death, resurrection and ascension.

To these we should add a fourth fact – that of the confusion from only partial teaching or only partial knowledge. For instance in our verse above, some accepted he was the Messiah or Christ, while others said, hold on, he comes from Galilee and that seems to conflict with what the Scriptures say. Now we’ll wait until tomorrow to pick up on this one as we look at the alternative they were putting up.

What does this all say to us? It must say, surely, if you want to understand Scripture you need to read it – all of it, and often. Only then will you grasp the overall picture and the details that go to make up that picture. I keep hearing people say, “I don’t really know my Bible very well,” as if there was some hidden mystery here. There isn’t! It is very simple: read your Bible, not just these notes. I have recently starting reading a chapter or two out loud, every morning. Difference!

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40. Speculation (1)

Short Meditations in John 7:  40.  Speculation (1)

Jn 7:40  On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

The Lord had said to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.” (Deut 18:18) and this was now part of the Messiah folklore if we may put it like that.

So now Jesus is in their midst and speaking with authority and speaking in ways that defy the authorities and challenge any thought of coming to arrest him. He sounds very much like an Old Testament prophet; is he the one that Moses spoke about, the one we have been expecting?

When Jesus had asked the disciples who people said he was, they replied, Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Mt 16:14) None of these are ‘the prophet’ spoken of by Moses, but they were each prophets and reveal even more how the people viewed Jesus.

There is perhaps something that we take for granted here, and so perhaps we should consider it in these verses that reveal the people speculating about just who Jesus is. The first thing, which I suggest is almost unique in the history of the world, is that there is this body of Scripture that we now call the Old Testament and it is littered with references that hint of one who would come sometime in the future as a saviour for this unique nation, Israel. Note these three things: a unique nation, a unique body of literature, and a unique series of references to a ‘coming one’, a messianic figure.

Now the second thing to note afresh is how well this has been picked up down the centuries by the scribes who studied the scrolls, and then how the rabbis had taught it in the synagogues. The result is a people who know these things, even the common people. As we’ll see as we go on, it wasn’t all neatly packaged in an orderly way, and so that presented problems for those trying to understand what it meant. No, these were prophecies that mostly seemed to slip out as the Spirit of God prompted. The apostle Peter wrote, “The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing. The Messiah’s Spirit let them in on some of it—that the Messiah would experience suffering, followed by glory. They clamoured to know who and when. All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves—through the Holy Spirit—the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. (1 Pet 1:10,11 Message) That captures it well: the Spirit stirred within them and as a result they (and others) struggled to understand this

39. The Spirit

Short Meditations in John 7:  39.  The Spirit

Jn 7:39  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Verse 39 is one of those verses of John’s that is his commentary on what has just happened or been said. Most of the time John simply records what was going on or what Jesus said, but every now and then John provides a little explanation. This is one of those times.

Jesus has just spoken about rivers of living water that will flow up and out of every believer in Jesus and John now says that he was referring to the Holy Spirit. With the hindsight of decades, John could write that at the time when Jesus spoke, the Spirit had not been poured out on the disciples, but it was yet to happen. It would only happen after Jesus had “been glorified” by which we must assume he meant it would be after Jesus died, was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand.

Now bear in mind something we tried to convey earlier: John subsequently come to understand the meaning of what Jesus was saying now, and we certainly with the full canon of Scripture knowingly say, ‘Oh yes, we can see that he was saying’, but that additional little explanation was not given to the listening crowds.

It is very difficult for us to understand the struggles that went on in the minds of the disciples and the crowds. After all, we know that the disciples really struggled with Jesus at least three times saying he was going to die and be raised from the dead (Mt 16:21, 17:22,23, 20:17-19). Indeed at the time of the Last Supper he had warned them, “just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” (Jn 13:33) and that left them even more confused. (see also his references to the future in Jn 14:2,3, 28-31, 16:5,7,10,16,19,20,28 which made them question e.g. 13:36,37, 14:5,8,22) If the disciples struggled like this, it should be no surprise that the crowds struggled with some of the things Jesus said, nor perhaps, the struggles many of us have when it comes to matters of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s summarize as briefly as possible the biblical teaching about the Holy Spirit: He (and he is referred to as ‘he’ by Jesus) is the third person of the Trinity, the executive arm if you like of the Godhead who is seen at work in Creation, in empowering saints in the OT, of being instrumental in bringing people to conviction and repentance and then enabling them to be born again, indwelt by Him (so we see the fruit of the Spirit) and then filled by Him, which releases freedom and joy and opens up the door for gifts of the Spirit to be used in serving God, and this is all there for ‘believers’, all believers. Hallelujah!

38. An Outflow

Short Meditations in John 7:  38.  An Outflow

Jn 7:38  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

It’s hot, it’s the middle of the ceremonies of the last day of the Feast and the priest has just poured out the water that reminds them of the provision of God in the Exodus, and Jesus snatches the focus away from the priest by crying out “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”

There would be a pause and perhaps a moment of silence before chattering and then Jesus continues with these words above. As we said yesterday, some might have wondered was Jesus a water carrier, had he skins full of water with him – but no, he stands there uncluttered. They look and they wonder. What did he say? The Scriptures?

The unknowing look confused, the knowledgeable run their minds through the Scrolls they know.  “The words of the mouth are deep waters,  but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.” (Prov 18:4) That doesn’t seem to fit. How about the river flowing out of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision? (Ezek 47) There are the streams of water in Psa 1:3, there is the deer panting for streams of water analogy in Psa 42:1 and then there is, There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” (Psa 46:1) and there is the Exodus reference in psalms, “he brought streams out of a rocky crag and made water flow down like rivers.” (Psa 78:16,20). There is Isaiah’s promise (?of the end time) streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill.” (Isa 30:25) and “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” (Isa 35:6) and “I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isa 43:19) and so it goes on and on.

Yet none of them exactly fit what Jesus is saying.  The Old Testament was full of these many references to God’s provision of water, of streams (plenty of water!) but now Jesus is declaring something completely new. These streams of God’s abundant provision will come FROM WITHIN YOU! How can that be? Is this for special people? Who  does this apply to?

Whoever believes in me.  Whoever? Anyone? Any believer? You just have to believe and you’ll have this abundant supply from God? Believe what? Believe in Jesus, that he is who he said he was and is – the Son of God come to save the world. And the fruit of his work? I can have this abundant supply of God, this supply of life, flowing up from within me, not just a sip but a stream! Wow! Hallelujah!

37. Declaration

Short Meditations in John 7:  37.  Declaration

Jn 7:37  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.

So move away from the wonderings of the people and move on a day or so to what is described by John as “the last and greatest day of the festival”. This is the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (7:2 and see Num 29:12-40), the third of the three annual feasts that all male Jews who lived within 12 miles of Jerusalem were required to attend, (Passover, Pentecost & Tabernacles Ex 23:15,16a,16b), roughly October.

It was a feast that lasted seven days (Num 29:12), starting on a Sabbath and finishing on a Sabbath (Lev 23:39), with offerings being presented each day, which included water being poured out, on the ‘last day’ as a reminder of the water coming out of the rock (Ex 17:1-7). During this time the people lived in temporary shelters or booths (see Lev 23:42) as a reminder of how the people lived during the Exodus (Lev 23:43). It also occurred at harvest and so was also known as the Feast of Ingathering and so was a special celebration of God’s provision. This continued until on the eighth day when there was a culminating ceremony (Num 29:35) with a limited number of offerings.

Now whether this ‘last day’ was the seventh day of the feast proper, or the eighth finalising day, has always been a point of conjecture, but whichever it is, it is a significant day and one that Jesus waits for to make this major declaration.

Remember, water is being poured out, a reminder of God’s provision through Moses at a rock in the wilderness during the Exodus. A priest used to take a bucket down to the Pool of Siloam and bring back the water to the Temple to be poured out. No doubt if you were there in the heat of the day, as you saw the water being poured out, you might have been thinking, “Wow, I could do with some of that water, I need a drink!” Thirst indicates human need.

It was into this context that Jesus cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”  There is more to come, but even with this single sentence there is immense significance. Water is one of the three things we need to maintain life (air, food & water). There is an immense provision of water on this globe and it is essential to every human being and animal to maintain life.  Jesus is not spelling this out here, just making this amazing offer. No doubt some turned towards him expecting him to be a water carrier, but he has no literal water. But we all get thirsty, every day, in the absence of water. We all have this most basic of needs and for those who might think about it, Jesus is saying, “If you recognise your most basic of needs, come to me and I can satisfy them – needs far more basic that mere water.”

36. What…..?

Short Meditations in John 7:  36.  What….. ?

Jn 7:36  What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

Questions are good, but questions deserve answers and we get answers when we ask Jesus. What is amazing about these interchanges in the temple precincts is that nobody says, “Excuse me Lord, forgive my slowness but can you spell out for me what you mean here?” Instead – and we’ve seen it before – they just mutter among themselves and keep on wondering, keep on speculating and never get to a place of resolution and belief.

Way back in the Law it said of God, “you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) God doesn’t mind questions but He does look for whole-hearted searching. The apostle James wrote in their same vein, “if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God’s help or not. The man who trusts God, but with inward reservations, is like a wave of the sea, carried forward by the wind one moment and driven back the next. That sort of man cannot hope to receive anything from God, and the life of a man of divided loyalty will reveal instability at every turn.” (Jas 1:5-8 JBP)

Doesn’t that say it well? God delights in giving us wisdom, delights in helping us come to understanding but if we come to Him, ‘hedging our bets’ He’s not going to respond to that. He wants us to come to Him with clear believing conviction. If we don’t believe His written word – for example, God is love 1 Jn 4:8,16 – why should we believe any answer He might give to our praying?

Imagine a little child coming to you their parent and asking, “Can I have… please?” and you respond, “Yes, darling, as soon as I’ve just finished what I’m doing I’ll be there,” and then ten seconds later they say it again … and again. They are not listening! What is the point of saying the same thing to them again and again? Some children ask questions just to get attention. Some Christians keep asking self-centred, self-seeking questions of God. If only we could hear His answers we would hear, “Learn to trust me, it’s all right, I have given you all you need to cope with this.” But we don’t, we don’t take time out with our Father in heaven, we don’t learn to wait on Him and listen to Him. When Jesus taught about seeking and knocking and asking (Mt 7:7) the tense of all those verbs indicates he is saying, “Keep on asking, go on knocking”. When we do, our time with him deepens.

35. Where will he go?

Short Meditations in John 7:  35.  Where will he go?

Jn 7:35  The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?

Well I did warn you. The wonderings about Jesus’ words did include, where might he be going? The detail of the questions here show this was not just a casual enquiry: “Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?”  This is quite specific. They are serious in their ‘geographic speculations’ and as such shows us quite clearly that they are not in any way associating him with God and with heaven, despite the fact that we saw in the previous chapter he spoke of having come down from heaven as the ‘bread of life’. Perhaps it was the bread references that confused them even more. Indeed, in the language they use, they anchor Jesus firmly in this world: “Where does this man intend to go….”  They simply see him as a human preacher, yes perhaps even a miracle worker but that is as far as it goes.

Now you might be surprised by all this, this obvious spiritual blindness in their inability to comprehend the presence of God in their midst, but I would suggest that this very thing is very common, not only in the unbelieving world but also in unbelieving Christians.

I see it sometimes when we are teaching about sensing the presence of God in prayer. Some people cannot comprehend the possibility that they can sense God’s presence in their spirit but manifest or felt through their very senses.

I see it also in the realm of prophecy. So often when a word is brought from heaven, sometimes a glorious word of revelation, sometimes an amazing word of knowledge, and the person receiving it simply says, “Yes, right, thanks,” and you know there has not been an appreciation that heaven has just spoken gloriously into their life.

It is this same inability to comprehend the presence of God here with us. We read the Isaiah prophecy about ‘Immanuel’ but we fail to comprehend the reality of Jesus being with us – here and now. Or we read such verses as Eph 1:20 that speak about us being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, but the wonder of that means nothing.  Indeed in many there is an inability to comprehend the truths that we read in Scripture, we just cannot believe it can be true, it cannot be that wonderful, and as for the Holy Spirit indwelling me….. well! I’ve watched churches just performing, in ministry times, people being prayed for to be filled with the Holy Spirit and when nothing happens, they sit down as if that is fine, that is how it is. No it isn’t, we are failing to believe, failing to receive. It’s the same struggle as here.