4. Sent to seek God’s glory (John 7:14-18) – a mission of truth
Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews there were amazed and asked, ‘How did this man get such learning without having been taught?’
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. 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.
The Feast of Tabernacles was the last of seven annual celebrations given to Israel by God. These dates in the calendar marked the seasons and enfolded the year in gratitude to God. Tabernacles, specifically, reminded the nation that their ancestors had lived in tents as they wandered through the desert. It challenged them to be thankful for God’s provision of a permanent home where they could live and serve Him. John 7 tells of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival. As the chapter opens, He is active in Galilee and we are told that He did not want, or perhaps was not given authority by His Father, to be in Judea, preferring to stay in relative safety far from the power-base of His opponents. His brothers, however, saw the opportunity the festival gave for Jesus to strengthen His following among the Judeans. If you want to lead people, you’ve got to do more public works. If you want people to be impressed, stop doing things so secretively. If you want to make something of yourself, promote yourself. That was the logic of their advice. Interestingly, John explains that the reason they said this was that they didn’t believe in Him. This might seem odd, since these men clearly knew that their half-brother could do amazing wonders and are actually encouraging Him to do more, but the statement highlights the nature of faith as described in John’s Gospel. Faith is not simply recognising that Jesus can do wonderful things, or even placing hope in Him to do wonderful things for our benefit, but entrusting ourselves fully to Him in a way that expresses dependence upon Him and that acknowledges that His plans, explanations and understandings are superior to our own. Jesus’ brothers had not yet trusted in Him, although at least two (James and Jude) would after His resurrection.
Jesus rebukes His brothers by saying that His time has not yet come and that they would not understand – they thought He could receive glory through a stage-managed miracle-working tour of Judea, but Jesus knew that the path to glory must lead through the cross and must follow the timetable set by His Father. His testimony concerning the evil that is in the world means He will face a hatred they cannot comprehend. They can go to the Festival, but He will not go until His Father makes it clear that He should. The brothers leave and then Jesus leaves too, but in secrecy rather than pomp. It is not that He deceives His brothers by saying He was not going, but rather the Father has only now given Him the command to go. This journey to Jerusalem will be His last before the events of His death. The Jewish leaders are expecting Him to come and look for Him. The people are talking about Him and opinion is divided. For the first three days of the seven day festival, there is no sign of Jesus. Then, suddenly, on the middle day of that special week He begins to teach publically. The impact is dramatic – people are amazed at His teaching. Yet Jesus is quick to give the credit to His Father. He is not seeking personal acclamation, but His Father’s glory.
Jesus makes reference to a plot to kill Him and a debate ensues with the crowd. The discussion shows just how confused people were and how Jesus polarised opinion. It seemed impossible to be indifferent to this man. The drama escalated on the final day of the festival when Jesus shouted out amidst the crowd that He was the source of living water and that those who believe in Him will become fountains of living water as the Spirit flows forth from them. Again the crowd was divided, but the consensus against Him among the Pharisees and chief priests only strengthened, despite the valiant attempts of Nicodemus to be a voice of truth.
Jesus was not afraid to speak truth to the powers of His day. Indeed, He insisted that only by seeking the glory of the One who sends Him can a messenger truly be a “man of truth”. Just as this is true of Jesus, it is true of those He sends out. When a person is motivated by their own glory, the truth is inevitably compromised. Not only are their motivations untrue, but they become incapable of following Jesus in the path He followed – the path of self-sacrifice. When opposition comes and popularity fades, they will compromise the message to suit the crowd. In their preaching of the gospel they will be more concerned with their own performance than with their faithfulness. So the gospel itself is distorted and they become representatives not of the embodied Truth who is Jesus, but of a false Christ.
This chapter reveals a further principle for Christian mission:
Mission requires people of truth – in order to be true to Christ and to the gospel, we must be people who are given over to sacrificially seeking God’s glory rather than popularity or approval.