26 Sept. 04
Texts: John 7:14-24
“My doctrine is divine.” (v.16) This is the short answer that Jesus gives to those who want to know where He had obtained all His knowledge. I’ve already alluded to the fact that wherever and whenever Jesus taught, whether beside the Sea of Galilee, in a local synagogue, or even as we’ve read today, in the temple, what we are reading about is God instructing man. This is direct divine instruction. And it puts into perspective the oft repeated phrase that Jesus was a great teacher. But to say that, or even to say that He was the greatest teacher is in fact to damn with faint praise. He is the divine teacher. Indeed, He is the only one entitled to be called Divine Master. But one needs a revelation from God to actually grasp this fundamental truth about our Lord. And, then again, there are some of us who need a reminder, or a jolt from time to time to understand that when we read Jesus’ teaching--as recorded in the scriptures--we are not reading some good thoughts, some excellent doctrine but we are reading “divine doctrine” and that is something else again. Even unbelievers can admit that Jesus is a great teacher--our challenge to move them to faith and then, beyond faith, to the ground of truth. His doctrine is divine.
The passage before us does not present for us very much of that doctrine. For that we are to turn to the gospels and there we have recorded for us the substance of that “divine doctrine.” You are familiar with wide swaths of that doctrine if you have read through the gospels, read the “Sermon on the Mount” etc. So this passage deals with all that divine doctrine in summary. What Jesus taught in Galilee about the Father, the Kingdom of God and about Himself as the Son of Man, the Messiah is what He probably taught in the temple. He probably taught as well about the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles because it is never enough just to go through the motions of empty ceremonialism--ritual without explanation is a degenerate form of worship and religion. Now I admit that this claim as to His teaching on the current feast is an inference. But several verses in John 7 support this contention verses like 37-39:
John 7:37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. John 7:38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'" John 7:39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
To understand this doctrine, you need to know that on the last day of the feast, the priests in solemn procession took a temple vessel and poured water, taken from the pool of Siloam, from it to perform a libation. There were two silver bowls, one of water and one of wine used in this ceremony--you will note the vital connection here to the flow from the pierced side of Jesus. On the seventh day, the priests went about the altar seven times. As they went they beat the earth with willow branches. To symbolize the end of the festival, the bowl was emptied. This is the moment--at the end of the human ritual, when the limitations of the ritual were most manifest, Jesus cries out, like a trumpet’s blast that they need not satisfy themselves with the condition of depletion. He offered rivers of living water, ever flowing and never ceasing--instead of mere religious ceremonialism which comes to an end. Such rituals can never satisfy as Jesus can satisfy.
Now Jesus’ teaching caused quite the stir. It was the fulfillment of a divine promise: Deu 18:18 'I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. Deu 18:19 'And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. I have cited verse 19 because it completes the sense of what Jesus declares in John 7:16-17: John 7:16 Jesus therefore answered them, and said, "My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. John 7:17 "If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself.” “My teaching is not mine” fulfills “I will put my words in his mouth.” The next verse speaks to the condition of obedience--listening is to be that act of obedience. Therefore, we are not surprised to hear in John 7, that those who understand the divine nature of His teaching are those who “will to do God’s will.” Those who are sincere, upright and obedient to God will know its truthfulness. Why? Because they will be impartial in their inquiries of God--indeed, impartial in any matter of truth that they are to look into. They, being obedient to God are not swayed by lust, or fleshly interest such as dominate the life of the unredeemed. These are the ones who when they discover God’s will immediately set about to do it! They wish to glorify God and to please Him--negatively, they do not wish to displease Him in any way. They want to live up to the light they’ve received and are always improving their knowledge of God.
Again, it takes some background to know that Jesus was touching on a major divide amongst His listeners. The religious leadership, who envied and opposed Jesus, believed that they were the only ones qualified to hear from God--they didn’t recognize that amongst the common folk, any who loved God and sought to do His will as being capable of receiving divine instruction. And the common people were among Jesus’ greatest supporters which is why we hear repeatedly about the leaders being afraid of the popular back lash should they move against Jesus. But we know that these people were capable and, actually, more capable than those who pride themselves on human learning, the kind received from rabbinical school, or from philosophers to receive divine instruction. Verse 17 details the qualifications of those best suited to recognize the truth of that doctrine: the sincere, upright and obedient to God. Obedience and not great learning would suffice. The upright, those not biased by fleshly interest, or lustful motivation, are best able to render an impartial verdict on Jesus’ claims. Their aim in life is to glorify and to please God and not themselves. Living up to the light they have received, they are always growing in their knowledge of God. So it is of them that it is written “to him that has more shall be given.” Sincerity is the final trait of the god fearing mentioned here and on its own sincerity is not necessarily a virtue--one can be sincerely evil, or sincerely wrong. But when sincerity is on top of obedience, uprightness, then it is a very good thing.
Verse 18 clarifies that Jesus is not merely expressing a personal opinion. This charge of merely expressing personal opinion lies behind the words “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned.” (v. 15) This is a similar charge to that which was laid on Jeremiah and Ezekiel--other authorities (false prophets) sought to discredit the true prophet, claiming divine inspiration for their own pleasing messages. God expressly repudiates this claim, declaring that the false prophets never heard from Me. There are then two viable options to the religious leaders: personal opinion or seminary training. But Jesus points out a third: a divine source. He says, unlike professors and great teachers who like to be heard, and their opinions noted, He is seeking the glory of the Father who sent Him. He is a true “apostle,” or sent out one--an ambassador who represent the one who sent Him. We are sent out by Jesus in turn. He further declares that He is true and that there is no unrighteousness in Him. Unless you are God, those are pretty tall claims. We may claim them for ourselves only insofar as they relate to the Christ with us and certainly must exclude who we are in our flesh, or unredeemed nature. It is reasonable to hear in “true” and “righteous” a clear claim to full divinity on Jesus’ part. Jesus is God in word and in deed.
The next matter that Jesus addresses with His opponents is their own hypocrisy. They fault Him for breaking the Law of Sabbath observance when they do not keep the Law themselves. The people, on the other hand, do not appear to be aware of the intentions of their leaders--but Jesus is--and therefore they are shocked that Jesus appears to charge them with the intent to kill Him. But we must keep in mind that there were those in the crowd for whom this charge was a direct hit. And that He has the Jewish leaders in mind is confirmed by the substance of what follows: the setting aside of Sabbath restrictions when it came to circumcising an infant born on the Sabbath. Surely it is a good thing that a child be brought into the covenant promises of God by circumcision. It cannot be against the Law of God to do good, even if it’s on the Sabbath! Surely it is also a good thing that a paralytic man was made every whit whole---body and soul together--also on the Sabbath. But what we are dealing with here is deeper than the good--it has to do with the heart of God. It is about divine love, the well-spring from which all the kindness and mercies of our God overflow. The truth that God is both good and loving, truthful and just is completely in keeping with the spirit of the Law. The spirit of the Law, one with the heart of God, asserts that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath! And if it might be argued that no one could keep the Mosaic Law, Jesus has this question: is it not plain that you need a better law? I have come bringing that better law. Why do you seek to kill Me? Will not these same crowds be clamoring for His death by crucifixion in days to come?
Behind all this is the urgent plea that we be discerning, that we make sound and true judgments when it comes to each other, and when it comes to the affairs of God. “Judge not according to appearances, but judge righteous judgment.” (v. 24) It is important that we build up a mind of knowledge because when a mind of knowledge is joined to the heart of love, which comes from God and yet abides in us, the result is pleasing obedience. So, it may look like Jesus was breaking the Sabbath, He actually was keeping it. That is righteous judgment, that is seeing things are they truly are. And that Jesus keeps the Sabbath (knowing its purpose and loving the lost) is the right conclusion of all who look into the matter deeply and impartially with a desire to truly know what is right and what is wrong. For example, it is wrong to form hasty judgments in a rush to accuse and/or condemn another person. If a matter calls for witnesses, the witnesses must be trustworthy-- both credible and reliable. The information supplied by true witnesses must be complete and their reporting of it unbiased. Again, Jesus was charged with being a deceiver, someone who misled the people. Actually He was no deceiver, He was the real thing. And contrary to misleading others, He was the true Shepherd of those misled by others. . .the confused and lost.
So, beloved, I want to draw out and highlight for you these three elements: the heart of love, the mind of knowledge and the resultant obedience. They mutually interact and enrich each other. Obedience can and does lead to love and that love leads to further knowledge (insight and learning) resulting in a higher level of informed obedience, and deeper passion. The only kind of obedience that pleases God is the kind that comes from love, not fear. . .and from knowledge rather than ignorance. The essential place that worship plays in the development of that love, and that knowledge is to be pointed out. Worship draws us into a love relationship with God through praise, adoration, supplication and thanksgiving. In our worship the Word of God is centrally expounded. We are learning what is actually in the passage, or we are hearing what more is there than we may have previously supposed. Our emotions are engaged, the whole register of them: wonder, awe, fear, security, anger, shame, guilt, forgiveness and joy just to name a few. We sing feelingly and thoughtfully. Our senses are engaged. And the Word engages us through reading and preaching. Also we pray together--corporate prayer is an encouragement to private and necessarily individual praying.