This Sunday we move into our second week of John 7-8. Here the enemies of Jesus bring more objections against Jesus than any other place in Scripture. And Jesus answers them all. With Thanksgiving a few days away and Christmas and New Years right around the corner, it’s good for us to see this. Why? I’ve found it is this time of year when most people often air their opinions of and objections about Jesus as well. With so much talk of Jesus in the air it’s good for us to see Him clearly answer every objection thrown at Him. Specifically for us here in John 7:14-24 Jesus decides to become very public in a very hostile environment. What He does, what He says, and how the crowds of people respond to Him is all very instructive for us.
Recall, as John 7 began we saw in v2 that the annual Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles was about to begin in Jerusalem where all Jews were to come to the city and remember and celebrate how God led them and provided for them in their wilderness wanderings. Jesus, who had been going about for sometime in Galilee, is given the advice to go to this feast and reveal who He is publicly and powerfully. This advice, given from His half brothers, Jesus rejects…telling them He will not go and reveal who He is at this feast as they want Him to do. We then saw in v10 that after His brothers left for the feast, Jesus also goes to the feast, not publicly as they desired, but privately. And apparently even though everyone believed Jesus wasn’t at the feast He was still the talk of the feast. Even in His absence He was the One providing all the conversation. Then a moment comes that changes everything for all those at the feast. v14 tells us, “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.”
So Jesus, though coming to the feast in private because the Jewish leaders want to kill Him, decides to no longer remain private. And not only does He no longer wish to remain private, He goes up and makes Himself known in the most public setting He could, at the temple, where He begins teaching. This is where the scene begins for us today in v14-24. And coming to this passage we see a sort of back and forth conversation, or question and answer dialogue between Jesus, the Jews, and the crowd. Interestingly enough, John doesn’t reveal to us what Jesus taught in this moment, which tells us for John’s purposes in writing this gospel, at least in this section, has more to do with the interaction between Jesus and the general Jerusalem population rather than what He taught. So after He spends some time teaching the Jew’s respond with the first question in v15, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”
At first you may think, ‘Why we’re they surprised at His teaching, haven’t they hard it before?’ Well, perhaps they haven’t. This festival brought many Jews from all around the nation and Jesus hadn’t been back to Jerusalem in quite a while. So for many of these people, this would’ve been the first time they we’re exposed to His teaching. That they asked “How is it that this man has learning?” means they were wondering how Jesus, who wasn’t a Rabbi or a Rabbi’s disciple, could teach like or better than most Rabbi’s. He hadn’t devoted much of his life to any of their educational systems, He was nothing more than a carpenter’s son to them. That word “learning” in v15 literally means letters in Greek, indicating that His teaching displayed a vast depth in and knowledge of the sacred letters of God, i.e. the Scripture. Jesus’ answer in v16 would’ve shocked them, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” Unlike the Jewish leaders and other Rabbi’s who often quoted other teachers and many various opinions of the day Jesus makes it clear that His teaching isn’t based on His own experience, schooling, or knowledge of the scholars of their time. No, His teaching was entirely unique.
I believe this is something too often forgot today. We live in a time when preaching and teaching largely consists of those who have thunk up something to say and then go in search of Bible verses to back it up. What Jesus says here “My teaching is not mine…” ought to be every pastor’s motto. The question I am often reminded of when I sit down to study is ‘Who gets to decide what is preached in the pulpit?’ The answer to that question isn’t me! The answer isn’t any man! God and God alone decides what is said behind His sacred desk. We do not invent things to say and then try to justify them with Scripture. Rather, the content of Scripture is what we must say because God alone has the authority to speak to His people. These Jews were used to being in academic circles, used to hearing Rabbi’s with proper credentials. Even so today many churches look to the same things in their own pastor, and though a proper education isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t everything. We should be remember, a pastor may have been to a great seminary where he had the best training possible, a pastor may have a very dynamic and appealing personality, a pastor may draw crowds and crowds of people. But the diploma hanging on the wall, his personality, and the size of the church isn’t where true authority comes from. The only preaching that carries God’s very authority is preaching that submits to and is derived from the sacred letters of God. This is in a sense what Jesus says, and in this He helps us learn how to distinguish between true and false teaching. Where was His teaching from? “My teaching is…His who sent Me.” In other words, His teaching has no earthly source, His teaching cites no earthly scholar, His teaching is of divine origin.
Jesus’ response in v16 would’ve been enough to cause quite a stir but He continues on. In v17-18 He keeps going and says, “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. 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 means that what Jesus said in v16 should be clear and evident to those who are sincerely seeking God. Anyone who wills, or desires, or wishes, or resolves, or purposes to know God’s will will gain a true sense and discernment that Jesus’ teaching isn’t from His own authority, but is from God, and also that Jesus in teaching (as v18 says) is seeking the glory of Him who sent Him. If these Jews were really seeking God, if they were really listening to God’s Word, they would get it. But they aren’t, so they don’t. Theologian Leon Morris says here, “His hearers raised the question of His competence as a teacher, He raises the question of their competence as hearers.”
So the question for you today is similar. When Jesus’ teaching hits your ears, whether it be about His divinity, His humanity, His sovereignty, or His role among the Trinity – do you sit at His feet eager and willing to learn though these things may be hard? Or do you stand before Him arguing, unwilling to bend your will to His will? For those of you standing and arguing there is a needed rebuke here. How dare you stand before the Son of God Himself – God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God – and act surprised that He would know wisdom at all like these Jews. You need to be rebuked for your arrogance. But for those of you sitting at Jesus’ feet, eager to learn but finding it hard to understand there is a promise for you in v17. If you will to know God’s will, you will. You may initially hear and think of the Word of God as an external thing, but the more you sink the teeth of your soul into it the more you’ll find God making His Word an internal thing for you. You’ll feel the sap true Vine alive and well flowing through you causing growth and change. And as you grow in your capacity to understand and know God’s will you’ll find the resolve and readiness to do God’s will growing also.
Jesus in v19 continues to call them out saying, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill Me?” He brings Moses up because these schooled Jewish theologians questioning His credentials claim to follow the Law of God. Yet, despite what they claim they are trying to kill Jesus, even though the Law says “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Jesus had clearly implied in v18 that He is true, but another implication of v18 is that the Jews who question His teaching are false. They would’ve picked up on this, were probably beginning to boil in anger and in wounded Jewish zeal. Few things are as dangerous as wounded pride. Just as an acorn, though small, contains within it a whole forest, so too pride, though thought of as a small sin, contains within it a host of wickedness.
It seems before they’re able to muster up any kind of response to Jesus, this back and forth dialogue continues with the crowd blurting out their own response in v20, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” I find this moment ripe with tension. Notice it’s the crowd here speaking “Who is trying to kill you?” Remember, most of the citizens of Jerusalem likely remember the hostility present between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees but this is feast time. Sure all the normal citizens are there but the city is overrun with visitors from all around the nation who know nothing of the hatred brewing in the Jewish leaders toward Jesus. They hear what Jesus has to say, that people are trying to kill Him for what He’s teaching and they conclude that He has some kind of martyr complex, or is demon possessed. All the while, who is silent in this tension filled scene? The Jews. The crowd may be thinking Jesus is a fool here, but the Jews say nothing. Do you wonder why? John never tells us but I think they’re silent because they know it’s true. They do indeed want to kill Him, they know it’s ungrounded and wicked, but they won’t change, the crowd won’t stay in the dark for long, but for now the Jews remain silent.
But Jesus doesn’t. He keeps going, and tells the crowd why their leaders want to kill Him.
v21-24, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 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?”
Here Jesus refers back to one of His miracles. Two chapters earlier in John 5:1-17, we see Jesus heal, in Jerusalem and on the Sabbath, a man who’d been an invalid for 38 years. This caused such a stir among the Jewish leaders, that they sought to kill Jesus. This is the incident Jesus refers to here in v21-24. But notice what Jesus says about it. These Jews held so closely to the Law that they would judiciously avoid anything remotely resembling ‘work’ on the Sabbath, in order to keep it pure. But God in the Law (and even further back with the Patriarchs) commanded every male born in Israel to be circumcised at 8 days old no matter what. This they did; even when a circumcision fell on a Sabbath these Jews would circumcise the boy without hesitation. Jesus’ argument is simple but pointed. If they would perform a circumcision on a Sabbath without hesitation, and circumcision was thought to make that boy ritually or ceremonially clean, why are they angry when Jesus healed a man on a Sabbath, and that healing made his whole body well? Jesus is pointing out that these Jewish leaders pridefully keep the letter of the Law, while Jesus understands and lives by the spirit of the Law. Their religious habit had blinded them from seeing the true meaning of circumcision, and so when Jesus comes along teaching and doing miracles, pointing out that true meaning, they get so worked up that they try to end His life.
Again we see that wounded pride is as dangerous as a cornered lion. Even more precisely, see in these Jews the great danger of wounded religious pride. See what it leads to? A murderous rage. So Jesus’ concluding instruction for all His hearers, at least for now is found in v24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” This is where our text ends, but it’s not where we end this morning.
I’d like to end by pointing out how these words met those who originally heard it, and how these words ought to hit us today.
What did right judgment look like for this crowd?
For these Jews and for this crowd v24 means they ought to judge or discern Christ rightly. From the appearance of things these Jews looked like the most devoted religious people in the world, but their heart in observing the Sabbath so strictly (v18) was all about seeking their own glory, not God’s. And so though they look religious, they’re the furthest thing from it. They have claimed to walk with and know God, but the live by and vex others with the commandments of men. Remember the parable of the prodigal son? We often misunderstand it thinking the only son who’s lost is the younger brother. But the older brother in the story of the prodigal son was just as lost as the younger. In fact, he was more lost. Though his life looked well ordered and faithful, he was furious when his father threw his younger brother a party when he returned home. This reveals that he too only loved his father for his stuff. All this to say, v24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” for this crowd is a rebuke to the Jews and a warning to the visiting crowd. The rebuke is that these Jews are false, the warning is that there are a lot of people who look very religious in this world who are on their way to hell. Don’t be one of them.
What does right judgment look like for us?
People often quote Matthew 7:1 in opposition to those who show any hint of a judgmental attitude toward others, “Judge not, that you not be judged.” This happens outside the Church for sure, but it also happens within the Church. While Jesus’ statement here should encourage us toward a gracious posture to all people, Jesus is in no way recommending us to put our critical thinking on the shelf in the Christian life and be 100% accepting of everyone or everything. Rather, for us v24 is a call to a right judgment, to a true discerning, and to a willingness to make proper distinctions. What kind of distinctions are we being called to make in v24? A distinction between what is true and what is false. On one hand we should deeply and personally embrace the truth. On the other hand we should seriously and solemnly warn against what is false. It is not popular, it is not hip, it sounds judgmental to our modern sensibilities, but if we do not judge, all things, with right judgment we won’t have renewed minds we’ll have polluted minds.
When I was a kid every time our family went on vacation, we drove. We never flew, ever. We enjoyed this though, and developed certain habits in our road trips over the years. One of the habits was stopping at antique stores off the highway. I was always eager to go in and see what baseball cards they had, but would then end up walking around with my mother looking at dishes. Not any kind of dishes, no, mom only wanted authentic blue willow dishes. So as the years went on, and we went to these antique stores I grew in my ability to spot a real blue willow from a fake. I knew what to look for in the color, in the images on the plate, in the engraving on the back, even the weight of the plates. Such that by the time I was a teenager I only had to look at a blue willow plate to see if it was genuine or not. I think Jesus is telling us the Christian life looks like this. We don’t study heresy, we don’t lean into polluted doctrine, or wrong theology, heavens no. Judging with right judgment means we know the real thing so well that we can spot a fake a mile away. Can you? Or do you get confused at all the varying gospels preached around the world today? Remember the promise in v17. Anyone who wills, or desires to know God’s will, will hear Christ’s teaching and will know and feel that this Christ is genuine. That is, the preaching of the gospel falls on the ears of those who want to know God, and they hear a symphony of glory, while the proud and arrogant hear nothing but static.
I would be no preacher of the gospel if I didn’t ask, do you hear the symphony of God’s grace when you hear Christ’s teaching? When you hear the gospel? That Christ, the eternal Son of God became Man to enable men to become sons of God. Or does it do nothing within you? If you hear the symphony of glory you’ll end up at the opposite conclusion than this crowd. They thought Christ had a demon after hearing Him. No, to those who have ears to hear, they know He was then, is today, and always be Lord over all. By God’s grace may you judge Christ rightly.
 R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 129.
 F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 174.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 404.
 Ibid., page 405.
 Richard Phillips, John 1-10, Reformed Expository Commentary, page 460-461.
 Leon Morris, page 405.
 Ibid., page 406.
 Richard Phillips, page 460-464.
 Leon Morris, page 408.
 Richard Phillips, page 468.