HOW TO SHATTER A FALSE SENSE OF SELF

One of the most difficult things to do is to shatter people’s biases and prejudices. People today speak of tolerance and openness of mind regarding ideas, values, and lifestyles, but the reality is that our world is filled with self-righteousness, intolerance, and blindness in relationship to what is healthy, virtuous, and loving. This can be true both in a religious and a non-religious context.

Yet, what may be even more stunning to us is that this has always been the way of human beings. We see this in our text today, as Jesus goes up to the Festival of Tabernacles and begins to expose the ignorance and prejudices of the people. What is tragic is that these people see themselves one way, but when exposed are the very opposite of who they think they are. One of the reasons why God tests us is to reveal our true condition.

Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them to see whether they will follow my instructions.[i]

If God knows everything, why the need to test us to see what we will do? Obviously, the test is to show us the true condition of our hearts. Will we obey or disobey? Will we trust God, or will we not? What we believe about ourselves is often shattered during a time of testing. This can be distressing when the reality of the true state of our soul is different than what we thought. It is precisely at that moment that the opportunity for the greatest growth and change can occur in our life. This can be a paradigm or transformational moment.

In Jesus’ teaching in the Temple, He exposes the true state of the people’s hearts and understanding. They are living in a state of self-deception, and Jesus exposes it. Jesus is shattering a false sense of self, or the self that has been marred by the fallen, sinful nature. The apostle Paul talks about the new or true sense of self and challenges those who have come to trust in Christ, that this true sense of self is now possible. This is the work of God’s Spirit regenerating or creating within us a new heart.

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and having put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge of the image of its Creator.[ii]

So, how does God expose the true state of our soul? How does God expose our biases and prejudices? There are many ways for God to test us, but here in John 7, we see Jesus explaining how they had placed their faith in a superficial and deceptive foundation that under scrutiny crumbles.

In John 7:14-36 Jesus presents a defense and then a charge that challenges them in their preconceived errors that leads them to a false view of God, and even more devastatingly a denial of God.

Even the most casual reading of the Fourth Gospel indicates that Jesus is constantly engaged in tribulations, which the narrator most frequently portrays as a formal trial or forensic proceeding against Jesus. …Jesus is charged with crimes, for which he delivers a defense. …The narrative choice of forensic proceedings follows a regular pattern in which Jesus-the-accused honorably turns the tables on his accusers and conducts his own trial on them.[iii]

What Neyrey is presenting is the idea that John seems to be creating a constant conflict that intensifies over time. Jesus is constantly being tried and having to defend himself, but in his defense actually is putting his accusers on trial. So, how does Jesus shatter their accusations and reveal the true condition of their own souls, and in that very process does the same to us? There are two errors and assumptions that Jesus’ accusers are making that reveal a flawed understanding and condition.

THE FIRST ERROR THAT REVEALS A FLAWED STATE IS OUR OWN VIOLATION OF THE LAW

This is living an unaccountable life. It means that we are living to please ourselves rather than living to please God and walking in His will for our lives. Here in our text we discover the irony of Jesus’ opponents accusing Him of being a law breaker. That his actions regarding the Sabbath is in violation of the fourth of the ten commandments from the law given to Moses on the mountain.

A. Jesus addresses their charges.

Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach.[iv]

D. A. Carson sets the atmosphere.

We must recall, however, that the focus of Jesus’ concern was not privacy but obedience to his Father. Even so, had he gone publicly with the other pilgrims at the beginning of the Feast, it is not unlikely that a premature ‘triumphal entry’ might have been forced on him, an event the authorities would have judged all the more destabilizing if this Feast occurred shortly after the slaughter of the Galileans in the temple courts (Lk. 13:1).[v] 

1. The first charge is his teaching credentials.

The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”[vi]

Craig Keener explains their amazement.

People were amazed at his speaking ability in view of his lack of ‘education’. This refers to his lack of adult training under a more formal teacher in school for the study of Law; such teachers would expound especially tradition.[vii]

People would consider it hubris or self-exaltation to promote themselves. It might even appear egotistical. However, Jesus makes an argument that his teaching does not originate from himself but from his Father. He has an authority beyond Himself.

Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.

Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.[viii]

There must be a willingness to do God’s will, and once that happens God reveals to the committed seeker His will. People who are close-minded or unwilling to do what God wants will not be able to discern the teaching that comes from God. In other words, it is hard to embrace the truth, when the truth conflicts with what we desire. People will embrace even the most obvious lies when it suits their purposes. This is often best seen in hindsight. In reading a three part biography on the life of Winston Churchill entitled, ‘The Last Lion,’ William Manchester relates how even the British diplomats in Berlin were warning their government of Hitler’s aggressive intentions, but because of their desire for peace at all cost, their refused to believe.

Ramsay MacDonald, who became the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924-1937 had been a pacifist and condemned Britain’s entry into the W. W. I., focused on limitation and then elimination of Britain’s armaments (75). …When Berlin fell in May 1945, in a document written by MacDonald assuring the Germany ambassador to Britain, that he (Prime Minister MacDonald) knew there were no atrocities, no beatings, no desecration of synagogues–that everything England’s own envoys had reported, was, in short, a lie.[ix]

Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.[x]

Jesus is saying that He speaks only what has been entrusted to Him and seeks only His Father’s glory. Jesus will explain that if they really knew God, then they would accept Him. Why? Not only is Jesus sent from the Father, but He is one with the Father and is God in the flesh. What we discover from our text is that they wanted to kill Jesus in the name of religion. How many people murder God for other reasons? Isn’t that what those who are atheists are doing, placing themselves above God by denying that God exists? Or even if we profess a faith in God, we live as if everything depended upon ourselves and so our trust in not ultimately in God. Upon what grounds were they making this declaration? Upon their own limited human understanding.

B. Jesus charges his opponents with being law breakers.

Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”[xi]

Here Jesus is charging them with the fact that they are breaking God’s sixth law, by trying to kill him. Jesus is showing the difference in motivation. While Jesus is seeking the Father’s honor, they are seeking their own glory. We know from this chapter that they were bent on trying to find a way to kill him (cf. 7:1). We see in verse 30 and 44, that they wanted and tried to seize him. We know from the Sermon on the Mount that hatred is the wellspring from which premeditated murder happens.

The law of Moses says, ‘You shall not murder (ex. 20:13), but since their attempts to execute him are the attempts to execute an innocent man, it is nothing less than attempted murder, an effort to break this law.[xii]    

“You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”[xiii]

Not only were they guilty of breaking the fourth commandment regarding murder, but now we know as readers that they are lying, when they state, ‘Who is trying to kill you?’ We see from verse 25 that they know that the religious authorities are ‘trying to kill him.’ They are also accusing Jesus of doing the miraculous empowered by Satan. Jesus will ultimately make the point in the next chapter that they not only do not know God, but they are of their Father, the devil. Notice how Jesus frames it in response to the charges that have been brought against him in this chapter, yet we read in the next chapter.

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.[xiv]

Because his accusers attributed his works to sorcery, Jesus must respond by addressing his work, his sign. Jesus’ audience was ‘amazed’ at his healing activity but because he focuses on a particular healing in Jerusalem (5:9) and goes on to address consistent principles for keeping the Sabbath (7:22-23), he must be responding to specific criticism that he has undermined the law of the Sabbath.[xv]      

Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed.

Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath.

Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath?[xvi]

What Jesus is arguing here is that when circumcision was instituted by God during the time of the patriarch, Abraham, as a part of his covenant with God, and later when the law under Moses came into being, circumcision was still done on the eighth day regardless of it being a Sabbath day or not. It was not a violation of the law.

Jesus argues that if the sabbath law may rightly be suspended for the removal of a small piece of tissue from one part of the body, it cannot be wrong to heal a man’s whole body on the sabbath day. This type of argument, in fact was used by some rabbis to justify medical treatment in a case of urgency on the sabbath, but Jesus uses it to justify an act of healing whether the case is urgent or not.[xvii]

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly[xviii]

D. A. Carson in addressing this issue of superficial judgment says:

In an age when Matthew 7:1 (Do not judge, or you too will be judged.) has displaced John 3:16 as the only verse in the Bible the man in the street is likely to know, it is perhaps worth adding that Matthew 7:1 forbids judgmentalism, not moral discernment. By contrast, John 7:24 demands moral and theological discernment in the context of obedient faith (7:17), while excoriating [criticizing] self-righteous legalism and offering no sanction for censorious heresy-hunting.[xix]

Not only had they made a superficial judgment regarding Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath, but as we will see, they did not understand the nature of Jesus’ origin, neither earthly nor divine.

THE SECOND ERROR THAT REVEALS A FLAWED STATE IS OUR REJECTION OF JESUS

If they really knew God as they claimed, they would know that Jesus represents the Father. In other words they would recognize in Jesus that He is God. Everything about what Jesus says and does is from the Father. The fact that they reject what Jesus is saying and doing suggests that what they are, in fact, is ignorant of God. 

A. The Origin issue and Messianic expectations.             

At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, ‘Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill?’

Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah?

But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”[xx]

A tension develops, as Jesus knows the desire to kill him exists, but he is left unmolested. The crowd assumes that maybe the authorities realize or conclude that Jesus is the Messiah. However, this is quickly set aside because of messianic expectations.

The Jerusalemites are convinced that they know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no-one will know where he is from. This cannot mean that they think the biblical revelation provides no hint of Messiah’s ultimate origins (cf. Mi. 5:2; Mt. 2:4-6; cf. Dan. 7:13). …that the Messiah would be born of flesh and blood yet would be wholly unknown until he appeared to effect Israel’s redemption. …As far as they were concerned, they know where Jesus came from: he sprang from Nazareth, and his family home was now in Capernaum, and he had been engaged in an itinerant ministry for some time. This is of course another instance of the celebrated ‘Johannine irony’: the Jerusalemites are not as informed of Jesus’ true origins as they think.[xxi] 

B. Divided Opinion over Jesus.

God loves us so much that He reveals Himself to us. He communicates to us as the Word became flesh and lived among us. What was true then is equally true today. People are divided over who Jesus is and the implications of that in one’s life. If Jesus is who He says He is, then it should affect how we live.

Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, ‘Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.’

At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.

Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, ‘When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?’

The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.[xxii]

Jesus is challenging their knowledge base. Do your really know me? You may think you do, but if you really did, you would recognize that I’m from the Father. The fact that you don’t know that, means you really don’t know the Father.

Carson states how shattering Jesus remarks are:

The Jews prided themselves in knowing the one true God, unlike the pagans around them (cf. Rom. 2:17-19). Certainly that was their privileged heritage (cf. Jn. 4:22). They especially thought that God had made himself known to them in the law. But the law, Jesus has already insisted, points to himself (5:46). If the Jews do not recognize who Jesus is, it must be that they do not really understand the law, they do not really know the God who gave the law, for if they had really known him they would not have rejected the Son.[xxiii]

C. The ultimate result of rejecting Jesus.

Jesus said, ‘I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me.

You will look 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 cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?

What did he mean when he said, “You will look for me, but you will not find me,” and “Where I am, you cannot come?”’[xxiv]

Jesus knows his time is short, and he will soon be crucified and will return to the Father. Here we have a play on the idea of seeking Jesus. Whereas, they have sought to kill him, Jesus uses the same word to explain that they will not be able to seek him and be with him. While they think that Jesus is leaving to do ministry among the Greeks, Jesus is speaking about spiritual and eternally rather than earthly destinations.

When his hearers repeat his words and wonder what they mean, there may be a hint of the implications which is more evident in John 8:21, that it is sin (and especially the sin of refusing to believe in him) that will make it impossible for them to come where he is going.[xxv]

Once more Jesus said to them, ‘I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.[xxvi]        

There is nothing more shattering and destructive than to be deceived into believing a lie and suffering the consequences of that lie. Not only does this happen to large groups of people as I pointed out during the build up to W. W. II., but it happens in our individual lives. We are affected and influenced by the people around us, the culture in which we are living in. But what we believe about God, the origins of our world, the meaning and purpose of life, and the final destiny of each life is critical. To believe a lie is destructive, while to embrace the truth brings freedom and hope. What we believe about Jesus is essential. In reading the devotional portion in which Nicky Gumbel shares his thoughts regarding that reading, he shared this testimony of his own life’s journey.

I used to be an atheist. I believed that our bodies and minds and the circumstances into which we were born determined all our actions. Logically, it seemed to me, if there is no God there is no absolute basis for morality. Therefore, following this logic, there is no absolute ‘good’ or ‘evil.’ Yet, deep down, I knew that there was such a things as ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Even though I did not believe in God, I used those words. However, it was not until I encountered Jesus that I understood that there is a God who has created a moral universe.[xxvii]

We have listened to the exchange between Jesus and the Jewish people in Jerusalem at the Feast. Some believed in Him, others did not. Some said he was evil, others that he was insane, and finally some believed that He was God in the flesh. Our decision about whether Jesus is evil, insane or God has huge consequences. To ignore the question still has consequences. The only way we are getting to heaven and be with God is how we respond to the question, who is Jesus?         

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[i]     Exodus 16:4, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[ii]    Colossians 3:9-10.

[iii]    Jerome Neyrey, “The Trials (Forensic) and Tribulations (Honor Challenges) of Jesus: John 7 in Social Science Perspective, https://www3.nd.edu/~jneyrey1/trials.html  

[iv]    John 7:14.

[v]     D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 311.

[vi]    John 7:15.

[vii]   Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 712.

[viii] John 7:16-17.

[ix]    William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill Alone, 1932-1940, (New York: Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks, 2013), 75,101.

[x]     John 7:18.

[xi]    John 7:19.

[xii]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 314.

[xiii] John 7:20.

[xiv]   John 8:44.

[xv]   Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, 716.

[xvi]   John 7:21-23.

[xvii] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 177.

[xviii] John 7:24.

[xix]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 317.

[xx]   John 7:25-27.

[xxi]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 317-18.

[xxii] John 7:28-32.

[xxiii] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 318.

[xxiv] John 7:33-36.

[xxv] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 180.

[xxvi] John 8:21.

[xxvii] The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel, Classic Version, February 17, 2024.

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