It's All in the Timing
Last week, we saw a decisive shift in the ministry of Jesus. Most of his “followers” had left Him because of the harshness of His message. They had wanted the free handouts, but were not interested in the scandalous yoke of discipleship. As long as they could follow on their terms, all was well. But when Jesus demanded that his followers must follow on His terms, they were offended and left. Only a small number remained faithful, and as Jesus pointed out, even one of them was a devil (The Devil?). By human terms, Jesus had blown His opportunity to be the Messiah. The crowds had been willing to not just acknowledge Jesus as King and Messiah, they had tried to seize Him (arrest him) and make Him king. He was no longer the one they saw as the deliverer from Roman bondage who would also exalt the Jewish nation above all the nations of the earth.
Exposition of the Text
After the rejection of Jesus in Galilee, the text says He remained in Galilee for another six months, the time from Passover to the Feast of Tabernacles. The reason He remained there was that the Jews in Jerusalem were looking for an opportunity to kill Him. The situation in Galilee wasn’t all that great either as the crowds had left Him. During this time in the other Gospels, Jesus made at least two of his excursions into Gentile territory, to Syro-Phoenicia and to Caesarea Philippi. Jesus used the time to prepare the disciples who had remained with Him for the things which must come to pass concerning Him, including His crucifixion on the next Passover. Jesus was no longer hindered from this by the large crowds of casual seekers.
We know from the gospels that Jesus had at least four brothers and two sisters (Mark 6:3). These were the children of Joseph and Mary, although Catholic tradition makes them sons of Joseph by a previous marriage. Unlike the disciples who had known Jesus for only a couple of years, Jesus’ brethren had known him all their lives. They had to have known there was something special about their brother.
The brothers felt they needed to re-orient and remake Jesus. From the human Jewish viewpoint of the first century, they could see that Jesus’ was wandering in the wilderness of Galilee. Jesus needed to relocate to Jerusalem where things happened. So they invited Jesus to come up to the feast there. If He would just repeat the many miracles he had been doing in Galilee, the crowds and His fame would be restored. In other words, Jesus would regain His lost following and much more. Jesus’ brothers were being very worldly-wise and practical. Whatever they thought of Jesus’ abilities, they saw Him as being eccentric, perhaps if we read from the other gospels, a madman. To them, their brother seemed out of touch with reality. They told Him that if He wanted to be somebody, then He needed to get out in public and show them what He could do. This is the way the world works.
John tells us what lay behind the brother’s actions: “They were not believing in Him”. Despite the privilege of having lived with Jesus, they were completely blind to who their brother was. When we read from the first chapter of John’s gospel, we are reminded that He came unto His own, but his own people rejected Him. His own family who knew Him best by worldly terms had rejected Him. They came at one point to take Him away because they thought Him to be mad as an embarrassment to the family (Mark 6) His home synagogue at Nazareth rejected Him and tried to kill Him (Luke 4). Galilee had rejected Him. And his own nation would soon hand Him over (same word as used of Judas’ betrayal) to the Romans for crucifixion. The very people who held the highest degree of privilege of being with Jesus were the ones who would ultimately blow the greatest opportunity ever offered to men in this world. “Truly He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.”
Jesus rebukes His brother’s idea strongly. The idea of what He is saying here is that as far as the world’s ideas, any time is the right time. By saying this, Jesus’ brothers are denying God’s sovereignty over time and creation. They like the world are willfully ignorant of what God is doing. Here they are in the dark, even though they are face to face with God.
His brothers had not been in touch with what Jesus was doing. If they had, they would have known that Jesus had already done many miracles in Jerusalem. Like the Galileans, they had seen and rejected Him. Jesus could have told them: “Been there, done that”. Jesus alludes to this rejection when He tells them that the world hates Him. The real rebuke was that the world was incapable of hating Jesus’ brothers. If they had been believers and followers of Jesus, they would have had to face the same hatred and rejection. Jesus is abundantly clear in all the gospels of the cost of discipleship. If the world does not hate someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, it makes this claim to be a follower of Jesus false. If this is carried to the point that the world is incapable of hating the so-called follower of Christ, then the falsity of this claim is established beyond all doubt. The brothers of Jesus were no better than heathens.
So Jesus bids His brothers to go to the feast without Him. Jesus would come later in secret, on His terms. He would reveal Himself on the Father’s terms, not the world’s, and in the Father’s time. Was Jesus afraid to come openly? Did He fear the Jews? From a human perspective, many would draw this conclusion. But this would be a hasty conclusion. Jesus as God the Son would have known the hour He came into the world for, to die on a cross on Passover for the sins of the world.. The human side of Jesus would show at Gethsemane in the other gospels, but not here.
Jesus would come to the Feast of Tabernacles later on His terms. After all, every Jew was commanded to observe this feast. Jesus who had to observe every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses in order to fulfill it on our behalf must needs be there. He came to the feast in secret, but He did not remain secret. There were things which He needed to accomplish there, according to the plan of God, but it was not that which His brothers were seeking. Jesus would let nothing distract Him from the mission the Father had sent Him on. He was determined to finish the work given Him to the smallest detail on the Divine timetable. Not His mother, nor His brothers and sisters, nor the crowds or lack of crowds, nor the Scribes, nor the Pharisees, nor the Sadducees, Herod, Pilate, nor even Peter would get in the way.
Application of the Text
All too often, the church seems to take the role of the brothers in this morning’s text. We are challenged to see the continued decline of the visible church with dismay. The revivals are not drawing the crowds they used to. Christianity has lost its influence and respect in America. Conversions and baptisms are on the decline. This leaves us in dismay. We are tempted to push the reset button and try again. We try to give the church a makeover, even going to the point of saying that we are not a church which is a denial of what Jesus calls us. We try to dress up the “worship” to be more attractive to the world. We also try to give Jesus a facelift as well. We try to shortcut the demands of discipleship and present Him as the one who feeds the hungry, cares for the sick, who came to meet our perceived needs. Any casual reading of the Jesus who is revealed in Scripture, especially the Gospel of John demonstrates that this is the methods of the brothers of Jesus, the 5,000, or even His mother. However will-intentioned this might be, this is clearly contrary to what Jesus calls us to do and be. Every sort of warning bell should be ringing in our ears. We who claim such familiarity with Jesus are falling into the same trap of darkness that his own brothers, disciples, and nation fell.
We as a church must regain the Scriptural revelation of Jesus. It is not Jesus who needs a makeover. It is us! It is not the Lord who stands in the need of prayer. If we are to be the Church of Jesus, then we must do more than give lip service to Jesus’ Lordship. We act as if we are ashamed of the Gospel. We want to put Jesus away out of sight as though He were an apocalyptic madman and put forth a manmade Christ who is kinder and gentler. But if we do so, the same note that john made about the brothers of Jesus can rightly be applied to us. We have done these things because “we are not believing on Him”.
The marks of being a follower of Jesus is being hated and rejected by the world. If the church is rendered incapable of this, then it is an incapable church, an apostate church. The true Church does not look at the Jesus popularity polls of Barna and others to determine policy. The church today has followed the same error of pragmatism that Jesus brother’s followed. Rather than accepting that God ordains all events in His time and acknowledging this, we have come to conclude that any way or time that works will do. And we demand that we determine what success means, not God. We set the parameters of what a healthy church looks like. We see things like respect of the world, wealth, membership, “professions of faith” determine whether the church is in the will of God. If this is so, then the prophet Jeremiah was an utter failure and Hananiah a great success. And the Jesus revealed in the Scriptures would be the most miserable failure of all. If only he had followed the advice of Peter or His brothers, His life would not have ended on a cross. Jesus could have lived his “best life now”.
I don’t know what to call this remaking of Jesus and the church. But “Christian” or “church” it is not. In this they are correct. They are not a church at all. The modern American church thinks it is rich and has need of nothing. But in God’s eyes, the modern church is poor, wretched, blind and naked. He has been thrown out of the modern church. Yet he stands outside of the door of what is reported to be His church, and is not and knocks to anyone who will let Him in that it might become a church again. Is anyone hearing the knock on the door? At least some of His brothers would later open the door to Jesus. Will you?