A Line in the Sand
A Line in the Sand
A small-town police officer was sitting in his car on a Saturday morning when a motorist sped past him down Main Street. He quickly pulls the car over.
“Officer,” the man began, “I can explain…”
“Quiet!” snapped the officer. “We don’t ‘tolerate’ reckless driving in this town! I’m going to let you cool your heels in jail until the chief gets back.”
“But, officer, you don’t under…”
“And I said to keep quiet!” he barked, reaching for his nightstick to convince the man he meant what he said. A few hours later the officer looked in on his prisoner and said, “Lucky for you that the chief’s at his daughter’s wedding. He’ll be in a good mood when he gets back.”
“Don’t count on it,” replied the fellow in the cell. “I’m the groom.”
Have you ever been quick to judge?
John chapter seven tells us about Jesus going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish holiday festival known as the Feast of Booths, also called the Feast of In-gatherings and Feast of Tabernacles.
Together with Passover and Pentecost, the Feast of Booths is one of the three major annual festivals that every Jewish male was required to attend. The Feast of Booths celebrated God’s provision for Israel during the forty years in the desert. Goodspeed translates it “the Jewish camping festival,” because the people all made shelters out of interwoven branches and leaves and slept outside under the shelters for seven nights to remind them how their ancestors slept under the stars for forty years in the desert. And each day of the festival there was a parade as the priest carried a golden pitcher of water from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple to pour out as a thank offering to God who had given water from the rock to the children of Israel in the desert.
It was called the Feast of In-gatherings because it was a time to celebrate the harvest. It took place in mid October after the fields were harvested. So it was an exciting time of the year.
Tens of thousands of Jews from all over the world have converged on Jerusalem, and as they build their shelters, as they go to the temple during the week, as they visit the shops downtown, as they sit around their campfires at night...Jesus is the hot topic of discussion.
I want you to pick up with me towards the end of the chapter. On the last day of the feast, after Jesus has preached some powerful lessons, we read:
John 7:40 (NIV) On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." 41 Others said, "He is the Christ." Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? 42 Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.
I want you to notice the text says the people argued and debated, and when it was all said and done, the people were divided over Jesus. And this gives Jesus no satisfaction. John records a prayer of Jesus in chapter 17, in which Jesus prays for the unity of all believers. Jesus wants people to unite because of Him. But Jesus knew not everyone would accept His teachings. That’s why Jesus said on another occasion, Matt 10:34 (NIV) "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn "`a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.” And you know it’s still that way today. People are divided because of Jesus. Some accept Him as Lord and Savior; some don’t. Others pick and choose what they accept from Jesus. And millions who do believe in him are divided still.
What is it about Jesus that divides the people? Why could tens of thousands of Jews who heard about his miracles and were astonished by teachings at the temple not agree? How could these people gathered together for a week of worship and thanksgiving to God reject His own Son in their midst? I believe there are some telling clues in the text.
One reason why the people were divided was because of the...
1. FINGER POINTING OF JESUS.
Jesus’ half brothers were poking fun at him, nagging him and taunting him, saying he ought to go up to Jerusalem and preach to the big crowds instead of in little boats and on little hills around Galilee. But Jesus tells them, John 7:7 (NIV) “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.”
One reason why people are divided over Jesus is because Jesus makes them deal with sin. Jesus uncovers and confronts sin. I mean when Jesus preached you could hear snap, crackle, pop all over the crowd because toes were being stepped on. Apparently Jesus did not read How To Win Friends and Influence People. Jesus was not schooled in the fine arts of political correctness. He did not have his disciples editing his speeches to remove from them anything the audience might find offensive. I love how on one occasion after Jesus preached, the disciples came up and said to Jesus, “Don’t you know the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matt. 15:12). Of course he did!
I find it quite interesting at this time of year all the posturing that goes on between those that are looking to be elected to an office. They want to be politically correct. They want to appeal to all ethnic groups. They want to make themselves look good. However, they begin to mud sling and loose sight of what it is that they are to do. Serve the people. They even might stretch some truth along the way.
But Jesus spoke the truth. He bought the truth and sold it not, as the Scriptures command. And if people could not accept Jesus it was because they could not accept the truth about their own sinfulness.
Like the guy who enjoyed smoking tobacco until they came out with the surgeon general’s health warning on the packages. He determined he had to do one of two things quit smoking or quit reading, so he opted for the logical decision to quit reading.
You just watch, a man will do almost anything to keep from saying sorry and admit that he was wrong. It’s human nature. And Jesus divides people because he confronts us with our sin.
But look with me at verses 12-13, because there is a second clue in the text teaching us why the people were divided and that is because of...
2. FEAR OF GOING AGAINST THE ESTABLISHMENT.
John 7:12 (NIV) Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, "He is a good man." Others replied, "No, he deceives the people." 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews.
Did you get that? Rather than step out and act upon their convictions, the people kept quiet and remained divided in their opinions because they were afraid of the religious establishment.
You see the people knew that the leaders of the Jews were looking for Jesus and wanted to kill him, verses 25-26 tell us they did. And though they apparently did not agree with their leaders they would not go against them.
That is why we have developed a new posture of post-modernism. Post modernism states that all truth is relative. In fact it says that what is true to one person may not be truth to another. We each develop our own truth for our lives. There is no absolute truth. Can you catch the irony in that statement? By saying that there is no absolute truth, they have just contradicted what they believe. This is man’s way.
Where would the world be without a Martin Luther who had the courage to nail 95 theses to his church door in Wittenberg. 95 points where he believed the religious establishment was in error with a call to see if the Bible says it isn’t so. Where would we be without the Wycliffes and the Tyndales? Men willing to die to put the Bible in the language and hands of the people?
And I’ll tell you that churches of Christ in the United States were born out of a conviction that a divided Christendom can unite when truth is trumpeted over tradition, when faith overcomes fear of going against the religious establishment. Do we still believe it today? Or are we content to remain divided because we now fear our own unprofessed religious establishment?
Failure to accept correction for sin, fear of the religious establishment cause people still today to be divided because of Jesus. Third, the people were divided because of their...
3. FAILURE TO OBEY GOD’S COMMANDMENTS
This is the charge Jesus makes in John 7:16 (NIV) Jesus answered, "My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17 If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18 He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?"
Throughout His ministry Jesus made the claim to the Jews, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me.” If you would just read the word and obey it, Jesus says, we would not have all this division.
Now, having said that, I know there are many who would say that we cannot all read the Bible and interpret it all alike. Look at all the denominations right now reading the same Bible. Yet I still say that one of the greatest hopes for unity among Christians has to be a renewal of open heart and mind Bible study. Now, I do not think for a minute that we can all read the Bible and see every detail the same. Neither do I think that 99% of the Bible is cloaked in mystery and every verse can have five possible meanings. And because faith comes by the word, and because I grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus through the word, I know that the more I study the Word and obey what is clear to me, the more I will love and desire unity.
One thing is for sure. If I just accept what is handed down to me and if I am not open to studying anew and rethinking doctrines in light of continual submission to the Word then we will remain divided about Jesus, but it won’t be because of him! And that leads me to a fourth cause of division, and that is the...
4. FALLACY OF JUDGING BY MERE APPEARANCES.
People caught this or that glimpse of Jesus. They heard about this or that miracle. They listened to this or that sermon. And they were jumping to conclusions about Jesus and making assumptions about their own religious leaders. And Jesus tells them all in John 7:24 (NIV) Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment."
It is so easy to see the speck in my brother’s eye buy I can’t see the log in my own. Or to see the speck in this or that church’s eye, and not see the log in my own.
Jesus pointed out how this can be in verses 21-23. John 7:21 (NIV) Jesus said to them, "I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?”
I think there are two things going on here. First of all, Jesus says, “You folks are all jumping to conclusions about the miracle I performed on the Sabbath; but not a one of you has asked why I did it. Rather than talk to me personally about it and understand the reason, you want to make your own assumptions. And second, you people condemn me for doing a work of compassion to heal one sick on the Sabbath, and yet you do work yourself on the Sabbath when your son’s eighth day circumcision falls on the Sabbath.
And many Christians remain divided because of these very same reasons. They sinfully judge each other’s motives, which is bad enough. But they top that one with hypocrisy not realizing many times they are guilty in principle of that which they are condemning.
And that brings up a fifth and final clue from the text about things that divide us...
5. FOOLISH PRIDE
You see what do I do when Jesus confronts me with my sin? What do I do when the word of Christ contradicts what my established religious tradition teaches?
Time and again in the gospels we see the Jews responding in foolish pride. A classic example is here in John 7:45 (NIV) Finally 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? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law--there is a curse on them."
50 Nicodemus, 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?"
52 They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee."
Apparently Nicodemus did look into it. After this meeting, Nicodemeus evidently spent a lot of time in prayer and study of the Word, because in chapter 19 he crosses the division line and meets Joseph of Arimathea at the tomb to bury the body of Jesus.
In American history, the Battle of the Alamo stands as a prime example of the kind of decisiveness Jesus calls for. In 1836 a band of fewer than 200 men defended the little mission in San Antonio, against General Santa Anna’s 6,000 Mexican troops. For two weeks they held the Alamo against impossible odds. Then, on March 5, the night before what would surely be the final assault, William Barret Travis, the comander of the Texans, called a meeting of his men. Telling them he knew the enemy would break through the walls on the morrow, he drew his sword and cut a line in the sand. He invited those who wanted to stay and defend to the death to cross the line. Jim Bowie, who was sick on a pallet, asked to be carried across the line.
And so today Jesus has drawn a line in the sand and he asks you to cross it. Will you stand united with him?