The Right Time

John 7

John 6 ended with a “come to Jesus” talk. Literally. When Jesus told his followers that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, many of them said, “Now you’ve gone too far,” and they left for home. He asked the Twelve if they were in or out, and they said, “Where else could we go? You are everything we’ve been looking for and we’re in for the long haul.”

But that scandalous demand created a hostile and dangerous environment around Jerusalem, because it gave the Jewish leaders more ammunition for their crusade to put an end to him. So John 7 begins: After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life.

Now don’t take this as sign of fear or even that the Jews were in control of the situation. Beginning back in chapter 2, and a dozen times throughout this Gospel, including twice in this chapter, Jesus will say, “My time has not yet come.” It will not be until chapter 12, during the last week of his life that Jesus will finally say, “The hour has come…”

Jesus has a very keen sense of what his timetable is. Before the creation of the universe, God put his plan in place to redeem his people and that plan led to the cross. But that cross would not happen because the Jews or the Romans or even Satan got the upper hand or took him by surprise. In John 10, Jesus will say, “I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (Jn 10:17-18)

No one will preempt this divine schedule, though many will try. Here in chapter 6, Jesus’ own brothers will try to manage his public appearances: But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (Jn 7:2-4)

John lets us know that Jesus’ brothers had no sense of God’s plan in anything that Jesus was doing (vs 5 - For even his own brothers did not believe in him.) They assume that Jesus’ end game is to seize the throne in Jerusalem and so they see this as the ideal time for self-announcement and self-proclamation, but their goal is not his goal and his time is not their time. Jesus says, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right.”

That is one of the prominent things we notice about Jesus in John’s Gospel: that Jesus lived with absolute submission to God in everything – his timing is God’s timing, his words are God’s words, his actions are the actions God has sent him to accomplish. And for me, that is one of the things I want to, not only notice, but try to imitate in my life: a sense of dependence and submission and obedience to the things of God. I want to seek out his will, his timing, his purpose, and let those guide and mold my life.

If I am always trying to circumvent God’s timing, force his hand, second guess his purpose, find a way around his will, I will always find myself at odds with God and deaf to God’s Spirit.

Jesus told his brothers to go up to the Feast themselves because it wasn’t the right time for him. Once they had gone, he also went, not publicly but in secret.

At the Feast, everyone is talking about him, and everyone has an opinion. Some loved him, some despised him, but no one said anything out loud, because they were afraid of what the Jewish leaders would do to them. The people feared the Jewish leaders because those leaders had threatened to throw out of the synagogue anyone who supported Jesus. Now understand, to be de-synagogued didn’t just mean you couldn’t go to church anymore. It meant you could no longer do business if you were a merchant, no one was allowed to buy or sell with you, you were ostracized from your community, your own family could no longer associate with you. It was a big deal, and you can imagine why people feared the Jewish leaders.

If the crowds were confused about the identity and the legitimacy of Jesus, even the leaders themselves had questions.

After several days at the Feast, Jesus began to teach in the Temple courts, and every time Jesus teaches, he amazes the people with his power and authority and truth, something that amazed even the Jewish leaders. They ask, “How did this man get such leaning without having studied?”

It’s a legitimate question. They controlled the rabbinical schools and he hadn’t studied under them; they held the keys to knowledge and Jesus hadn’t come to confer with them. And yet here he is. You remember the words of Matthew following 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. (Mt 7:28-29) Jesus was a threat to their authority because the people could clearly see the difference between Jesus and them.

Since they asked, Jesus answers their question: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 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. 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. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” (Jn 7:16-19)

Here is the difference: Jesus’ teaching is from God, their teaching is a self-promoting, self-perpetuating dogma aimed at keeping them in power. The truth that Jesus taught was so unmistakable that, when it was placed up against the teaching of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, it served as a powerful indictment of their real motives.

And so what do you do when you have no real answer and nothing rational to say? They started name calling: “You are demon-possessed. Who is trying to kill you?”

And then several in the crowd started asking, “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 Christ? But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” (Jn 7:25-27)

Jesus speaks up: “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, 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.” (Jn 7:28-29)

What happens next is significant, because it once again emphasizes the point we began with – that Jesus is on a divine timetable that cannot be diverted by anyone: At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.

Later in the week, on the last day of the Feast, Jesus once again began teaching in the temple courts: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (Jn 7:37-39)

John has gotten ahead of himself. It won’t be until chapter 14 that Jesus himself will tell them about the coming of the Spirit, but John, looking back on this conversation can’t keep it to himself. He exclaims, “This is it! This is when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit.”

If Jesus is the bread of life, the Spirit is the life-giving flow of living water. Those who believe in Jesus will receive this incredible gift, but like I said, that’s getting ahead of the story.

But those words prompted an even greater rumbling through the crowds: On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. (Jn 7:40-44)

Back in verse 32, John told us the chief priests and Pharisees sent the temple guards to arrest Jesus, and they have watched and listened to this exchange between Jesus and the crowds and finally they go back to the priests and Pharisees empty handed and the Pharisees cry out, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” Listen to their answer: “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”

The Pharisees are livid: “You mean he has deceived you also? Has any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law – there is a curse on them.”

Even when a voice of reason from among their own speaks out – Nicodemus (you remember the Pharisee who went to speak with Jesus at night in chapter 3). Nicodemus asks the simple and appropriate question: “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”

But this attack and plot against Jesus has gone beyond reason and legalities. They have decided that Jesus is too dangerous to be allowed to live. He threatens their way of life, their prestige, their power, their position. And if Jesus isn’t stopped then they will lose everything of importance to them. And it has nothing to do with right and wrong and justice – this is self-preservation. And no one, not even one of their own, will get in their way.

The question that always leaves me baffled is “Why?”

Hearing him speak, seeing him perform miracles, how could there be any doubt in their minds as to who Jesus really was? These were not stupid people – they were smart and perceptive and knew the Bible. How could they miss the obvious fact that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be, the Messiah, the Son of God become flesh. He was the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the fulfillment of all of the prophecies of Scripture. How could they have missed it?

And that may be the point. Perhaps they understood more clearly than we might imagine what it would mean if Jesus was who he said he was.

In John’s introduction in chapter 1, he wrote: He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (Jn 1:10-11)

They were too in love with themselves to ever allow Jesus to take his place of rule over their lives. Their pride and their jealousy blinded them to who Jesus was and why he came.

Even more to the point: In verse 28, Jesus said, “I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him.” When we get to chapter 8, Jesus will tell the Pharisees, “You do not know me or my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

Their basic problem is they don’t know God, which is the irony of it all, because they are the leaders of God’s people. They were experts in religion, but they wouldn’t recognize God if they met him face to face… which they had.

That’s the fear that I have, that we are so in love with religion – singing our songs, praying our prayers, preaching our sermons – that we miss God. Let’s not let ourselves be so immersed in our own lives and interests that we tell Jesus we don’t want him interfering in what’s most important to us.