Catching the Latest Gossip
Last week, we learned that Jesus did not take the bait that His brothers had offered to come to the feast and make a show of Himself as a means of regaining His followers. But signs and miracles of themselves convert no one. Rather conversion is the work of God when God’s word creates new life in the believer. The signs and works which Jesus did certainly testified to the truth of His person, but without faith they have no power. Faith is taught in Scripture as being the free gift of God’s grace and not of human merit or works. Without faith, the miracles of Jesus are signs of eternal condemnation to the unbeliever. With faith, they are God’s promises to the believers that He will never leave them or forsake them, no matter what hardships they have to face.
This week, we will learn that Jesus does come to the feast, but on His own terms. We will also learn of what the people at the feast thought about Jesus.
Exposition of the Text
In verse 10, we learn that Jesus did indeed come to the feast. As a Jew who had to keep the Law of Moses, he had to come to the Feast of Tabernacles. But He came secretly. Did He overhear the gossip about Him there? As He knew what was in everyone’s heart anyway, it would not have been necessary for Him to hear the talk. It is ironic though that He was in the midst of the gossipers, and they were totally unaware of it.
So what was the gossip about Jesus in the feast? The first buzz about Him was the question “Where is He?” It seems that a great many were like Jesus’ brothers. They were expecting Him to show off there. Perhaps others were wondering if Jesus was too scared to come. Perhaps some wanted to be entertained by a conflict between the Jewish authorities and Jesus. It seems that both foe and friend of Jesus were agreed on the question of where Jesus was.
The text goes on to say that Jesus was the talk of the town. It seemed that everyone had an opinion about him. However, the talk was at the level of murmuring because the people feared the Jewish authorities. The crowd was divided into two camps. One camp thought that Jesus was a good man. The others were stridently set against the first group. The strong form of the Greek word, translated “but” is used here to emphasize this division. This second group accused Jesus of deceiving the common people. The “people” was a term of contempt similar to the contempt we have in America for those of a different political view. The “people were considered little better than idiots who could be easily swayed by a smooth talker. When we remember that one of the things Satan is called is “deceiver” shows that this second group was essentially calling Jesus, “Satan”.
When we look at this passage in its historical setting, it comes after the confession of Peter of Jesus being the promised Christ twice. The first confession was in the face of the rejection of Jesus by most of His so-called “followers” in the previous chapter of this gospel. The second time was at Caesarea Philippi in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. In the Matthew passage, Jesus began his discourse there by taking a poll among His disciples of the gossip of the people concerning Him. That report was glowing, either because the disciples were looking through rose colored glasses or because the gossip was still mostly favorable at this point. At that point, Jesus was being favorably compared to Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the great Israelite prophets. Peter, under inspiration of the Spirit confesses that Jesus is actually far superior to them.
Jesus in that passage begins to tell the disciples that things were about to change. He revealed that He was going to be rejected by the Jewish people and nation and put to death. We don’t know how long the period that lapsed between this first poll and the second other than it was less than six months, but we already see a change in the way people saw Jesus. The crowd itself was divided into two opposing camps. One was either for Jesus or against Him. There did not seem to be any middle ground. Jesus affirms this when He say that you are either for Him or against Him. Everyone has to decide one way or the other.
Those who were for Him at this point were afraid to come out and openly profess their faith. The Scripture says they feared the Jewish authorities. At this time, the choice to openly profess Jesus was not a choice unto death. The Jewish authorities did not have the power of enforcing the death penalty. They would have seen the followers of Jesus as well as Jesus Himself as being heretics worthy of death. Indeed, if Jesus was not who He says He is, then death by stoning would have been the proper punishment under the Law of Moses.
Even though, the Jewish authorities did not have the power of the sword, they could still make life miserable for those who did not tow their line. Besides various forms of corporal punishment such as flogging, the main form of punishment was excommunication or expulsion from the synagogue. For us, expulsion from a group might not seem like that big a deal, but for the Jew who believed that their only hope of salvation was in belonging to the people of Israel. In the views of many Jews, all Gentiles were going to be eternally punished in hellfire. By being expelled from the synagogue, they were being identified with the tax collectors, harlots, and sinners of the Gentiles. This is similar to the pressure the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages put upon the members of the church. Therefore, the people did not dare to rise up against their leaders.
As we will later see in this gospel with Nicodemus, one cannot remain a secret disciple forever. If one is to follow Jesus, he or she must identify with the shame of rejection, expulsion, and the cross. Jesus promises the same treatment of His followers as the treatment He himself suffered.
I recently visited the CNN religion blog on the Internet. There was a discussion thread about Bill O’Reilly’s new book on “Killing Jesus”. In this book, I feel he had made some serious historical blunders, the chief of which was O’Reilly’s claim that Jesus could not have uttered many if not all of the words He said on the cross because of the suffocating effects of crucifixion. I felt the need to correct this be reminding people that speech was made possible because the victim could push his body up from his nailed feet so that he could breathe. Indeed the pain required to do this was part of the torture of the cross. Victims sometimes survived for days.
When I posted this, I started to read some of the responses to the question about the accuracy of O’Reilly’s book. Most of them were hateful of O’Reilly. What is worse is that they were contemptuous of Jesus, Christianity and God as well. A few who tried to defend Christianity were drowned with scorn, insults, and profanity. Even though this blog was supposed to be about O’Reilly’s book, it was Jesus who drew most of the fire. Jesus is still the attention of gossip. But the majority of it, at least on CNN, was utterly hateful.
I would like to say at this point, that these bloggers very denial of God are doing nothing but affirming God’s existence. There is no greater proof for the existence of God than an atheist. This is because they have to affirm God in order to deny Him. If there truly is no God as they affirm, why do they spend so much time and violence denying Him? How can one throw insults and hate against the wind and be called rational? I do not need to prove the existence of God. The atheists themselves with their crude denials are the most eloquent affirmers of the truth of God.
We as the followers of Jesus should take heart in this and not be swayed by the court of public opinion. We need not fear their insults and hatred directed against us. Their anathemas against the Christians are utterly meaningless if one believes that Jesus is the one who originally spoke creation into existence. This same Jesus sustains the universe by the word of His power and redeems and recreates us unto eternal life. What the cultured despisers of religion say won’t mean anything in heaven as they will not be there. In addition to the fact that they are cut off from heaven and are going to be eternally punished is the fact that their very lives in what is called the “real world” by them is hopeless. Even if the scientists were to find the means of curing the degeneration we call aging so that we could potentially live thousands of years here below, what kind of world would it be? Life is already so unpleasant that millions commit suicide and hundreds of millions drown themselves in drugs and alcohol. Others seek escape in virtual reality games and websites where they think they have some element of control. What would ten thousand years of listening to the nightly news, the squabbling of politicians, wars and rumors of wars, and other such things be like? One thing is for sure. It would be closer to hell than heaven.
God has revealed clearly to us. He reveals it in nature. He also reveals it within us in our conscious. This is why the atheists are so busy trying to drown out the voice of God with their blasphemies. This is why they want to remove those who believe in the Scriptures out of their company. This is why Christians are persecuted and killed all over the world. They do not want to hear God’s voice any more.
So if we really desire to win the world for Jesus Christ, do we accomplish this by being silent? We would get along with the world just fine, just like Jesus’ brothers. But would that save them or expose them to the just end of their wickedness? I think the answer to this question is clear enough. What about compromise? Some would suggest that we should meet the world half-way. I would thing that this approach would be accepted to the degree that it is unfaithful to Christ and rejected to the degree that Christ is affirmed. This is an untenable position. Christians are not made by stealth. One becomes a Christian when he or she believes in the heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead AND makes public profession of this as a result. A true Christian cannot remain silent. The truth is like the fire in Jeremiah’s bones. We have no choice but to be bold proclaimers of the truth no matter what the world’s gossip says.