Posts Tagged ‘encouragement’

The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering such things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest him.  Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, ‘You will search for me and you will not find me’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and 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.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”  So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. 

Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law– they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” Then each of them went home… John 7:32-53


Today’s reading picks up in the middle of last week’s saga – and refers back to it in a number of places – so let’s fill in the missing parts first. To set the scene: as the story opens we are in or near the Temple in Jerusalem, about half-way through the Festival of Booths: a religious holiday which coincidentally happens to be going on this week IRL so wish your Jewish friends a blessed Festival! The festival is a harvest celebration mostly featuring food and giving thanks to God for his blessings – kind of like Thanksgiving only religious in nature, seven days long, and celebrated outdoors.

John begins this section of the story saying, “The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering things about Jesus” – things like, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”

The people are starting to suspect that Jesus is the Messiah. 

Truth is, the chief priests and Pharisees have been suspecting the same for some time, but they don’t want the people to know this, so they send the temple police to arrest Jesus.

But Jesus isn’t arrested. Instead, he says something mysterious. He says: “I will be with you for a little while longer, and then I’m going to the one who sent me, and you won’t find me, because where I am you cannot come.”

From our perspective in the 21st century we know Jesus is talking about returning home to God the Father. For Jesus’ contemporaries it wasn’t quite so clear, except for one thing: Jesus says “where I AM you cannot come” – which uses the name of God: “I AM”. So in this one short sentence Jesus makes it clear who he is.

But Pharisees start asking “where is he going to go that we can’t find him? Is he going to go to the Greeks (that is, to the Gentiles)?” Jesus actually is the “light to the Gentiles” but that particular part of Isaiah’s prophecy isn’t coming true just yet.

Then on the last day of the festival Jesus cries out, “anyone who is thirsty come to me.”  These words have great meaning in the context of the festival: every day during the festival, the priests go to the pool of Siloam and bring water into the temple. On the last day of the festival, the priests with the water circle the altar seven times and pour it out with great ceremony as an appeal to God to provide water for the people in the coming year.

It is in this context Jesus says anyone who thirsts should come to him. Jesus is taking God’s part and offering what God offers – in this case, much-needed water. Jesus adds, “as the scripture has said, ‘out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

Two things to notice here: (1) Jesus is claiming to be the Source of life; and (2) this is the same thing Jesus said to the Samaritan woman he met at the well a few chapters back. The promise Jesus gave to the Samaritans, who received his words with faith and joy, is now being offered to his Jewish countrymen and women. 

The apostle John adds a third meaning: Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit, which all believers in Jesus will receive – but not yet, because Jesus is not yet glorified. (Jesus himself remarks in another passage how he feels constrained, or held back, until the Holy Spirit is given.)

The people, hearing all this, are becoming more and more convinced Jesus is who he says he is. But then they start arguing over where Jesus is from – because (they say) he’s from Galilee, and the Messiah is supposed to come from Bethlehem.

Jesus speaks with a northern accent. But if anyone thought back thirty or so years, when the old King Herod was on the throne, and he heard a rumor about a baby king being born in Bethlehem – and because of it, Herod had all the babies two years old and under murdered – people wouldn’t forget an event like that. It would have stuck with them like 9/11. But somehow the people didn’t put two and two together.

Meanwhile in verse 45 the temple police return to the chief priests and Pharisees empty-handed, and the religious leaders ask: “why didn’t you arrest him??” And the police answer:

“Never has anyone spoken like this!”

Can you imagine this happening today – maybe in one of the cities where protests have been going on? If the police were sent out to arrest a certain rabble-rouser, and they came back to the precinct saying “you should hear this guy speak! He’s amazing! I’ve never heard anything like it!” Can you imagine the reaction?

It was pretty much the same thing back then. The Pharisees say, “Don’t tell us he’s deceived you too!!! Do any of us believe in him? This crowd is under a curse!” (How quickly the Pharisees turn on the average everyday people, the very people they’re supposed to be leading and teaching!)

And then we hear one calm, steady, reasonable, intelligent voice, saying:

“Our law doesn’t judge people without giving them a fair hearing…
does it?”

It’s the voice of Nicodemus, who we met back in chapter three, and to whom Jesus said possibly the most famous verse in the Bible: “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Nicodemus was the first person on the planet to ever hear those words.

Of all the characters in the Bible, I think Nicodemus is the one I’d most like to meet (next to Jesus). Nicodemus is gentle, steady, smart, trustworthy, honest, and willing to take a stand for the truth. And he does it knowing he’s risking everything.

The other Pharisees answer him: “You’re not from Galilee too, are you?” – which is a regional slam. In ancient Israel the educated and sophisticated people lived in the south near Jerusalem, and Galilee was sort of a northern backwater. So they insult him – or at least they try to – and then they add, “no prophet is supposed to come from Galilee.”

Which is a lie, and they know it. The Pharisees spent their entire lives memorizing scripture, so there’s no way they could have missed the verse from Isaiah that said, “in the latter time [God] has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations…

“The people who walked in darkness
     have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
     on them has light shone.”  (Isaiah 9:1-2)

…which is the beginning of one of the most beautiful and powerful prophecies of the Messiah we hear every year during Advent. The prophecy continues and in verse five:

“For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
     and every garment rolled in blood
     will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
     to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
     and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
     Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:5-6)

The Pharisees would have known this prophecy very, very well. But Nicodemus was the only one with the courage to stand up and stake his life on it. Some of the other Pharisees would come to faith eventually but Nicodemus was the first.

And that was the end of the conversation. “They all went home for the night…”

…and that’s where chapter seven ends, right in the middle of the sentence!

We will read the second half of this sentence next week. In the meantime it’s my hope that the word of God in this chapter – and the revelation of the Messiah that’s in it – will be an encouragement during these dark days. AMEN.

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