45Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” 46″No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared. 47″You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48″Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.” 50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51″Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” 52They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
Merrill Tenney makes a good point about the cooperative work between the Sadducees & Pharisees: “Since the high priest belonged to the Sadducean party, the coalition of the Pharisees and Sadducees was significant. The two groups were strongly opposed to each other in doctrine (Acts 23:7). In spite of their differences, their common animosity toward Jesus induced them to combine for action against him” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, John, 88). Isn’t it amazing how people from such divergent positions can unite together against a common cause, in this case Jesus? I’d be willing to bet you could do the same thing with conservatives and liberals in our government: as long as Jesus is the object of their scorn, united they will be. We see this taking place at the end of every Gospel story. Jews and Romans, notoriously hateful of one another, working together to see Jesus crucified. The world had grand designs on itself and Jesus is not a part of those plans: he must be ruthlessly eliminated, purposely cut-off, permanently disabled.
Still it is difficult not to see the courage of those guards who were commissioned to arrest Jesus and yet came back sans Jesus, empty-handed. And what were they impressed with? “No one, no man, has ever spoken the way this man does.” He is unique in instruction, singular in his prophecy, unparalleled in his revelation. No one speaks like he does. This does not mean that Jesus was far more eloquent than anyone else (although, I’m not saying he wasn’t). It means that his teaching was remarkable for its content. It’s what the people said after he preached the Sermon on the Mount: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29). Or in Mark 3:27: “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.’”
They were overwhelmed by Jesus’ teaching—the content of his teaching. No one compared to him and these guards had never heard anything like it before. I suspect that the religious authorities were a bit perturbed by this sort of ‘compliment’. “You mean he has deceived you too? Has any one of us believed in him? That is supposed to be a sign of authority or intelligence. In other words, “Look, you hayseeds, us smart folk haven’t believed in him, and those folks who have are accursed. Why, then, would you want to be associated with a group of cursed people? Wouldn’t you be wiser to be on our side and do what you are told since we, obviously, are smarter and not cursed?” Well that cinches it for me! I’m gonna follow the smart folk of this world because the obviously know much more than I do. They are far better equipped to handle all the details of who and what we should believe in. Right?
Nicodemus has a little courage too. Who knows what his intent was? I don’t, but at least he was willing to stand up to general decency and give a curtsy to the law: Does our law condemn anyone without a trial? But these folks did not even want to listen to Nicodemus or the guards let alone Jesus. Jesus was not going to get a fair trial in that town—and the end of the Gospels bear this out in full force. I cannot help but notice, however, that Nicodemus (this time) allowed those who opposed Jesus to have the last word. Maybe it was by design. Maybe he said just enough to allow those in opposition to Jesus to indict themselves and show their true colors?
So where does a prophet come from? Their last words are: “Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” In a sense, Jesus did not come from Galilee because he was, in fact, sent from the Father. He points this out several times. That is clearly not their point; it may be mine.
What they did was this. They worked with their avowed theological enemies in their opposition to Jesus, they resorted to snooty condescension and intellectual hubris, and they were about to commit an illegality by denying someone the full scope of the law’s protection (condemnation without trial). You can see they were going out of their way to oppose Jesus at every turn, every twist, every point they could. And they did so quite apart, it appears, from any pangs of conscience whatsoever. They wouldn’t listen to the guards. They wouldn’t listen to their own (Nicodemus). They wouldn’t listen to the Law (which Nicodemus invoked).
Sadly, folks do the same sort of things today. I hate to keep saying it, but that was the overall point of chapter 7 of John’s Gospel. What shall we do? What shall we say? How shall we respond? Shall we respond with bewildered fear like the guards? Shall we respond to citing technical aspects of the Law as Nicodemus did? Shall we respond in silence when insulted as Nicodemus did? At some point we are all going to have to say something about Jesus. I don’t think indifference, apathy, or silence is going to cut it. Those who speak the loudest, and those who hold the power of intimidation, and those reputed to be intellectual giants will not always be the ones to win or hold sway over the majority. What is required is someone brash enough to testify to what they believe in the presence of uncontrolled outrage and hatred.
Chapter seven took quite a while to traverse. There’s a lot of important theological material in this chapter. I’d like to leave you with a couple of important observations as we finish this chapter and proceed to chapter 8 of John on our 90 Days with Jesus journey.
First, Jesus does not move according to our time schedules. We can no more make God adjust his plans than we can extinguish the sun. He has his own purposes, his own plans, his own time-table for how and when things on this earth will be accomplished. To be sure, we are a part of that plan, but we are not privy to all the details. So while we pray, we bear in mind his sovereignty and wisdom. And while we live, we continue to have faith that God has not abandoned us or forgotten us. We lovingly trust and obey and have confidence that even when our plans fall to pieces and fail miserably His do not.
Second, Jesus expected much opposition from those who opposed him. That sounds a wee bit redundant but what else can I say? Opposition from those who oppose Christ does not lessen as time goes on but in fact increases and grows more vehement. There is a great deal of tension in chapter 7. There are those who can’t make up their minds, there are those who have already decided they are opposed, there are his brothers who think he’s a kook, and there are the disciples who silently follow Jesus. There is much violence and a lot of tension and maneuvering in this chapter. I don’t think Christians in the West have clearly marked this in their lives. We enjoy relative peace and comfort in our lives. I wonder if we are fully prepared for the sort of opposition that we can certainly expect at some point? Those opposed to Jesus will not long tolerate those who follow Jesus.
Third, Jesus said that his teaching was not his own, but that it came from the one who sent him, namely, God. If this is true, and I assume beyond doubt, that it is, then what is the response of people who hear these words? More, what is the content of those who profess to be prophets for the church? If the content of our preaching is not in line with that of Jesus’ preaching then how can it possibly be in line with message of God the Father? The reason we have the Scripture is precisely so that our preaching and teaching remain orthodox. More preachers would do well to put away their books on purpose, secrets, best lives, and prayers of obscure OT characters and open their Bibles and see exactly what Jesus preached and taught. If our teaching and preaching does not line up with His, there is reason to believe that we are not preaching orthodox Christianity.
Fourth, Jesus said that if we have thirst we should go to him and drink. Scarcely can I imagine this means anything other than that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that what he means to give us is the means of our preservation and sanctification (viz., the Spirit). I must be critical again of what I see in this world of churchianity. There is a mass exodus away from serious theological thinking and deep, passionate, committed study of God’s Word in favor of some short term psychological feel-goodism. Peruse the shelves at the local Christian bookstore and you will find they resemble the self-help section of Barnes & Noble with the only exception being the word ‘Christian’ affixed to the dust jacket somewhere. If Jesus gives the Spirit then we should be in pursuit of Jesus and the Spirit will create the life in us that we lack. In my estimation, this is tied directly to the Jesus’ words that his teaching is not his own but from the One who sent him. Our problem is that we have are profoundly suspicious of God’s Word and we are highly concerned as to whether or not it is reliably sufficient to create in us the new life God has promised. And if we cannot trust the Bible’s reliability, how can we preach it? Thus we resort to preaching from the books of popular authors who make Scripture palatable and easy, but no more reliable.
There’s much more to say about these matters. I submit to you that it is a theological problem we have in our churches. Too many are concerned with bread and milk—not many want to dig deep and unravel the complexities and perplexities of the real, biblical Jesus. What ends up happening is exactly what we see in John 7: A bunch of people who can’t make up their minds who Jesus is, what he is about, whether to arrest him or not, whether he is a prophet at all or The Prophet in fact. This is the problem we are faced with in our world. There is not enough teaching on what the Bible says about Jesus. The violence increases. The hostility does not abate. The animosity continues supplanting the popularity. It should be no different now. When Christ again is being truly preached from pulpits in the Church we will see the opposition rise. So long as we are content to be popular among the world’s inhabitants we will be ‘safe’. Safe, however, is always a relative term. What is better? Being safe from the world and caught in the hands of angry God or being in constant mortal peril and yet being guarded by the Lamb who is the Lion?
“What have been the eras of the Church’s greatest influence? What have been the moments of its most powerful impact on the world? Not the epochs of its visible might and splendour; not the age succeeding Constantine, when Christianity became imperialist, and all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them seemed ready to bow beneath the sceptre of Christ; not in the days of the great medieval pontiffs, when Christ’s vicar in Rome wielded a sovereignty more absolute than that of any secular monarch on the earth; not the later nineteenth century, when the Church became infected with the prevailing humanistic optimism, which was quite sure that man was the architect of his own destinies, that a wonderful utopian kingdom of God was waiting him just around the corner, and that the very momentum of his progress was bound to carry him thither. Not in such times as these has the Church exercised its strongest leverage upon the soul and conscience of the world: but in the days when it has been crucified with Christ, and has counted all things but loss for His sake; days when, smitten with a great contrition and repentance, it has cried out to God from the depths” (James S. Stewart, as quoted by David F. Wells in Above All Earthly Pow’rs, p 310).
There you have it. I’m sorry about the length of this post. I hope that does not deter you from reading and taking to heart what I have to say. Until chapter 8 I remain, affectionately yours in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!