How to Fight
I have been in all of one fight in my life, and it didn’t go my way. It was 5th grade on the blacktop basketball court during recess. Matt Frenkel and I went toe-to-toe over who knows what, and the next thing I knew I was on the back with the breath knocked squarely out of me.
In our passage this morning, Jesus is going to show us what it looks like to fight, as he steps up, toe-to-toe with some of his greatest adversaries.
Jerusalem and the Temple Mount
14 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.
Last week we saw Jesus’ brothers exhorting him to go up to the feast with them, to make his grand entrance, and to do more miracles in order to gain a bigger following.
In John 2 we had seen Jesus’ mother entreat him to act when the wine ran out at a family wedding.
And in both of these circumstances, Jesus responded by telling them that his time had not yet come.
With the brothers, it appears that it had to do with the inevitable conflict that awaited him in Jerusalem going all the way back to John 5 when Jesus had healed the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath.
After a brief exchange between Jesus and the Jews, John provided this bit of commentary for us...
18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
So Jesus knew what would happen if he went back to Jerusalem. He knew that the Jews were still upset and still looking for ways they could destroy him. So he didn’t go with his brothers at that time.
But later we read he went up privately (John 7:10), and now our passage this week opens with him going up into the temple to teach!
Jesus wasn’t avoiding the Jews because he was afraid. Jesus was not shying away from his opposition out of a fear of what they might do. Jesus wasn’t going up to the feast in private because he wanted to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Rather, Jesus, following the Father’s lead and will, was in perfect control of his circumstances every step of the way.
P1: See God’s Plan Unfolding in His Timing (v. 14)
We talked about this a little bit last week. “God’s never early, but he’s always on time.” And we talked about our need to trust his unfolding plan and to wait on his timing.
Now I want to pivot a bit to focus on those times we see that plan unfold before our very eyes.
Illustrate: How I got to Compass
When God gives us these moments to look back at the events of our lives and to see how he was in control the whole time even when we weren’t sure, it is a great source of comfort and confidence for us.
Think about Daniel 9 for a minute. In Daniel 9, the prophet launches into a grand prayer of national repentance. He confesses the sins of his people and pleads for the mercy and forgiveness of God to fall on them in spite of their sin. But what brought that prayer about?
1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.
Daniel was reading about what God had told Jeremiah the prophet he planned to do with his people, and it involved 70 years of exile. Guess what was fast approaching at the time Daniel prayed in Daniel 9? Israel was nearing the end of those 70 years. So Daniel prayed, asking that God would do as he had prophesied through Jeremiah and to return the people to the Promised Land. But what gave Daniel such confidence to pray this way? Think of everything Daniel had seen God do in his life. Think of all those times Daniel had witnessed the perfect plan of God unfolding right before his eyes. Do you think that helped him pray with confidence and boldness in Daniel 9, trusting that God would once again work his perfect plan according to his will and his time?
What have you seen God do in your life? Think of some of the times you have looked back and seen God’s perfect plan unfold in your life. Sometimes it’s looking at past events, but other times we see it happening in real time.
Illustrate: How God has orchestrated this church plant
Jesus was not hiding or holding back, and he was never out of control of his circumstances. He was always walking in perfect accordance with the unfolding plan of his Father. And whereas it was not his plan for him to accompany his brothers to the temple when they asked, the time for Jesus to reengage his opposition had arrived.
15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” 16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?”
We don’t know what Jesus was teaching in verse 14, but it was enough to cause a stir
15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”
This may seem like a good thing, like in Mark’s gospel when it says that the crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching, but unfortunately this wasn’t that kind of marveling
This word will show up later in our passage in John 7:21 where Jesus says, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it.”
The word means “astonished” or “astounded.”
And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
Illustrate: Have you ever been driving and seen someone driving along the shoulder in heavy traffic just to get ahead?
The Jews marvel and take a shot at him grumbling among themselves: “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” They’re incensed at the audacity of Jesus taking such an authoritative role and position!
This time, Jesus stood toe-to-toe and answered his opposition.
16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
Though they grumbled against Jesus, he held fast to the reality their problem was ultimately with God if they took offense at him
19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.
27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
This was no new message from Jesus. He was holding firm to the notion that he was from God, and thus his teaching was from God.
17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.
This was both an encouragement to his followers and a veiled indictment against the Jews. To believe Jesus was to believe the Father. Jesus didn’t need a pedigree boasting the top Jewish rabbinical schools. He didn’t need a resume of having served in the finest of synagogues. He wasn’t interested in self-exaltation the way the Jews were. He was instead there to exalt the Father.
P2: Recognize God as the Source of the Gospel (vv. 15-18)
Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, Buddhism…Do you know what all of those have in common? They’re all works-based religions that trace their origins back to a human being.
The Koran was produced by Muhammad over multiple years after he claimed to receive its contents while in a drug-induced trance.
The Book of Mormon was produced by Joseph Smith after he claimed to have found golden plates containing its contents.
These other religions come from the minds and thoughts of men, and what’s interesting is the best we can come up with whether Muslim, Mormon, Hindu, or Buddhist, is “try harder and hope you’ve done enough.”
We preach a gospel that says we can never do enough. We preach a gospel that says it’s not possible for us to move toward God. We preach a gospel that says that Jesus did enough. We preach a gospel that says that God came to us.
When the world despises us for what we believe, we must remember that they are not attacking our wisdom, they are not attacking our best guess about the afterlife, they are not undermining our intelligence.
You don’t need to second-guess or feel shaky about your resolve. The message we follow is from God, delivered through this book, to us.
When Jesus was asked for his resume, he simply pointed to the Father.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Our confidence in the gospel is not a confidence in a philosophy or religion developed by men. It is a confidence in the message of God delivered to us through the Son of God.
19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?”
Here Jesus goes on the offensive. Their obsession with the law of Moses was going to prove to be the foundation of his indictment against them. Having just deflected their efforts to hear his earthly pedigree, Jesus now pulled the curtain back on their true motives and desires.
Jesus was a threat to their system. He was a threat to their authority and their power. He was a threat to their status, their position…their glory. And so great was their vitriol against him that they were ready to kill him!
20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”
21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?
Jesus: “Remember chapter 5?”
8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.
15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Then he continued calling out their hypocrisy...
Circumcision was supposed to be done on the 8th day of a boy’s life (Lev 12:3)
If that day fell on the Sabbath an exception was made to the command to rest in order that the boy might be circumcised.
Jesus hadn’t just cared for a single part of that man’s body but the entire body, and they were angry enough to kill him for this?
24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
The Jews had such a superficial understanding of the Scriptures that they missed the real point. They had missed Jesus because they hadn’t understood what he was doing. Their hostility was blinding them. So here, Jesus urged them to look deeper.
This is where we can learn from our Savior. It’s easy for us to call out hypocrisy and to condemn our opponents. But Jesus didn’t walk away after confronting their hypocrisy. Instead, he called them to repentance.
P3: See the Soul as More Valuable than the Argument (vv. 19-24)
John Calvin: “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”
Illustrate: I would like to think this is an area that I’ve grown in as the years have progressed. As a young Christian I was not the most gracious or loving person. I was far more interested in winning the argument than winning the soul. When my mom met with me to tell me that she was going to be divorcing my dad, I took a Bible and threw it down in front of her telling her to justify herself. Not my proudest moment by a long shot.
Jesus was passionate about the truth. He wouldn’t back down, and he did indict them for their hypocrisy, but he didn’t leave them wrecked after this. He lovingly called them to correct their wrong understanding and, by implication, to follow him.
Y’all the arguments are abundant for us to enter into in the world we live in. Politics is a veritable buffet for arguing with people. Human sexuality and gender identity have now also provided their own smorgasbord of offerings for us to disagree with our unbelieving family members. But can I remind us that we need to be after the soul and not the argument.
If you convince your unbelieving friend to vote with you on all the major issues, if you convince your gay relative that homosexuality is wrong and not part of God’s design for marriage, if you convince your non-binary son or daughter that there really are only two genders and God assigns one to each person at birth, but you never call them to repentance and faith in Jesus, you have done them no real good. You’ve just made a more moral child of wrath.
If the gospel is not part of our debates, we’re leaving out the most important thing we could ever hope to convince a person of.
So whatever it is you are passionate about debating and arguing, remember you are debating and arguing with a soul who will spend eternity either with or without Jesus. And remember that what decides that isn’t how they vote, or their sexuality, or their gender identity, or any other ethical topic that may emerge. The deciding factor will be what they did with Jesus.
“Judge with right judgment.”
Jesus is a much better fighter than I am. He’s a better fighter than all of us in this room. And we could learn a great deal from him as we encounter more and more opposition from this ever darkening world.