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Sermon: John 7:1-9: Why do people reject Jesus?

Reading of God’s Holy Word

“After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.’ After saying this, he remained in Galilee. But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, ‘Where is he?’ And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, ‘He is a good man,’ others said, ‘No, he is leading the people astray.’ Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him. About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, ‘How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?’ So Jesus answered them, ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 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. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?’ The crowd answered, ‘You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?’ Jesus answered them, ‘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? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.’” (John 7:1–24, ESV)

Introduction

Think back to the introduction of John’s gospel where we read these words: “The true light, which gives light to everyone [that is, the Word, the eternal Son of God], was coming into the world [Jesus Christ, God incarnate]. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:9–11, ESV)

John did warn us, didn’t he? He warned us that the story he was about to tell, when considered from a human perspective, was really most tragic. The world  – the very world that was created through the eternal Son of God – did not know or receive him when he came in human flesh.

We have watched this principle play out in John chapters 2-6. Some have followed Christ. They have followed him, we learned, not because they were particularly good or wise or spiritual, but because God, by his mercy and grace, determined to draw them to himself through Christ and by the Holy Spirit. A few have followed him, but the vast majority rejected him. The crowd who followed him into the wilderness abandoned him. The Jews (that is, the religious elite of the Jews) were hostile towards him. Even some who appeared to be his disciples walked away as he began to speak most clearly concerning his true origin, identity, and mission. Jesus would not be pressed into their mold. He would not allow them to determine what kind of King he would be, and so they walked away.

Here in chapter 7 the downward spiral continues. Here we learn that his own family members do not believe in him. And when he finally does move from the rural region of Galilee in the north up to the populated region of Jerusalem in the south, he is rejected their too. By the end of this passage we begin to feel the full weight of what Isaiah prophesied concerning him: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV)

The question that looms large is, why do people reject Jesus? Why do they respond to him with as they do? 

Some simply misunderstand him. Some find his ways offensive. Others respond to him with hatred and hostility. Whatever the response, John’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus was indeed despised and rejected by men, as the prophet prophesied.

But why?

I suppose a great deal could be said in response to that question. It’s difficult to discern the motives of men. But if we were to get down to the heart of the issue I think we could confidently assert that it is the condition of the human heart which determines how a person responds to Christ and to his gospel.

The question is, what do we love, supremely? What or whom do we love in an ultimate and final way? What do we see as having supreme value? What do we see as being worthy of our affections and, ultimately, our worship and devotion? To what, or to whom, do we look for happiness or satisfaction? This, I think, gets us to the heart of the issue. The human heart is the heart of the issue.

Think of it! What was behind the rebellion of our first parents? Was is not this, that Adam and Eve began to set their hearts towards something other than the God who made them? And what is the essence of our sin? Is it not love misdirected? Does in not begin in the heart and soul.

Sin is love disordered. It is love jumbled and muddled and confused. We sin when we love things that we should not to love. We sin when we fail to love that which we should love. And even when we do love the things that we ought to love, we sin when love those people or things in a disorderly way – giving more love to things of inferior worth, and less love to things of superior worth.

We sin when we love and worship the creation instead of the Creator. And that is ultimately what those who reject Christ do. They love the world more than the God who made the world and all that is in it.

There is a reason why the greatest of all the commandments is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5, ESV) And there is a reason why the first of the ten commandments is this: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Deuteronomy 5:7, ESV) The Westminster Shorter Catechism also begins with this emphasis:  “Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Sin is love disordered – love jumbled and muddled and confused.

Three things will become clear as we study John 7 over the next few weeks.  We will eventually see that men and women refuse to identify with Christ because they love the world, they love the praise of men, and they love getting the glory, but they do not love God. To put it another way, men and women reject Christ and his gospel because their love is bent towards the things of this earth – material prosperity, the approval of others, and the thought of self-exhalation – instead of the God who made them.

Men and women, in their fallenness, love the things of this world more than God. (vs. 1-9)

We will only consider verse 1-9 this morning and we will see this, that men and women love the things of this world more than God.

Here we are told of some interaction between Jesus and his siblings (half-siblings). It is true that it literally  “brothers” in the greek, but “brothers” can be used to refer to siblings if both brothers ad sisters were present. The point is that members of Jesus’ own family had opinions concerning what he should do in his ministry.

It was time for the Jewish holiday called the Feast of Booths. Notice a few things about that:

First of all, notice that John is continuously emphasizing the festivals and holy days of the Jews in his gospel. It is significant the way in which Jesus engaged with each of these given that he was and is the fulfillment of them. Much more could be said concerning the ways in which Jesus was and is the fulfillment of Passover, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths, for example. But for the sake of time I will only point out that John is once again emphasizing an Old Covenant festival.

Secondly, understand that this festival came about six months after the last events recorded in John 6. I point this out so that you would take note of just how little John has actually recorded for us of all that Jesus said and did. Remember John’s words at the end of his gospel: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25, ESV) We are told here in John 7:1 that, “…Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.” (John 7:1, ESV) The words translated “went about” indicate that he walked through Galilee. They refer to his work as an itinerant teacher, or traveling preacher. This one verse stands for about six months of ministry, about which we know very little.

Thirdly, know that Feast of Booths (also called the Feast of Tabernacles) was a most joyous celebration of the Jews. It has been called the great camping holiday of the Jews. They would make dwellings out of branches and would camp in them for seven days as a way of remembering their Exodus from Egypt and their days of wilderness wanderings when their forefathers dwelt in tents. The Feast of Booths came at the time of harvest (probably the fruit harvest). It was a great celebration. Many sacrifices would be offered at this festival – more than at any other festival of the Jews. And it was indeed a feast, as the name implies. It was a most joyous celebration.

Fourthly, know that every seven years the law was to be read publicly to the people at the end of the Feast of Booth. Whether it was read publicly on this year, we cannot know for sure. It would seem to me, given the conversation that will eventually take place between Jesus and crowds, that we may assume it was read at during this particular feast.

Fifthly, know that the Feats of Booths would conclude with a ceremony involving the pouring out of water  from the pool of Shalom upon the alter. This would be done while the twelfth chapter of Isaiah was sung by the people. Listen to the words of Isaiah carefully:

“You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. ‘Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. ‘Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.’” (Isaiah 12, ESV)

Also, lamps would be lit as a rite during this festival. This is all significant and should be kept in mind as we consider all that Jesus has to say in this setting as described in the rest of this chapter and on in to chapter 8. Clearly, Jesus will claim to be the fulfillment of these things.

But notice that his brothers, or siblings, are eager for him to go to this feast. “So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:3–5, ESV)

How are we to understand this request of theirs?

Some have claimed that they wanted him to go because they wanted him to be killed. According to this view, the unbelief of the siblings was such that they did not believe him in any way. They thought he was a fraud. And so their request is to be understood in a completely sarcastic way, their intentions being malicious. ‘Go up, if you can really do these miracle as you say…’ They said this hoping he would go up and get in trouble in the process.

It seems to me that the text points in a different direction. My view is that the request from Jesus’ family was genuine. They really wanted him to go up so that he might succeed – so that his works, which they themselves had certainly witnessed (we know that they were there at the wedding in Cana, for example), might be seen. They wanted Jesus to go up so that he might win more disciples. ‘The time is now, Jesus! Stop playing around here in rural Galilee. Go to Jerusalem! Look, most of your so-called-disciples have walked away from you up here in the north (foolish as they are). It’s time for you to go to the big city. It’s time for you to show yourself to the educated ones, to the spiritual ones, and to work your miracles there, not in secret (in a place where no one will take note), but in open (in the public place; at the center of Jewish religious life) so that you might regain a following. You must rebuild! The time is now! Strike while the iron is hot!.’ This is the meaning of their words, I think.

And yet we are told that they did not believe in him.

This seems to me to be perfectly consistent with what we have seen in John’s gospel so far. There are many who believe in Jesus, who do not truly believe. There are many who follow, who do not follow; many disciples who are in fact false and temporary disciples. And why are they false? Because they have not received Jesus as he has revealed himself and as he truly is, but have instead received him only after making him in to what they want him to be. They want a King! But they want a King of a certain kind. When they learn that Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, they looses interest. They want a Savior! But when they learn that this Savior will save through suffering, their zeal for him wanes.

And so it is with Jesus’ siblings, I think. They really do want Jesus to go up to the feast so that he might prosper. What becomes clear is that their idea of prosperity, and Christ’s thoughts concerning prosperity are very different. So different is their view that it is saif, “For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5, ESV)

Jesus makes it clear that he has come to accomplish a very particular mission. “Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.’” (John 7:6, ESV) In other words, ‘I am doing something very specific. I am on a particular path. I know where I am going and what I must do. You, on the other hand, are always looking for opportunities to advance your purposes. 

Jesus also makes it clear that his reception will be no better in Jerusalem. “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7, ESV) This verse is a significant key in understanding the whole passage. The reason the brothers of Jesus were not hated as Jesus was, is because they were worldly. The worldly – that is, sinful people who love the things of this world, and not God – love worldly people. They agree. They live in harmony. They do not conflict. Worldly people love worldly people because they have their worldliness in common. But the world hates Christ (and those who belong to him). Why? Because Christ testifies about them that their works are evil. 

My kid’s don’t like it when I turn the lights on in their room at 6:00am. David will sometimes hear me coming down the hall and will actually say, though he is still half asleep, “Dad, please don’t turn the lights on.” He’s grown accustom to the dark throughout the night. The light is difficult to accept.

So it is with Christ and the world. Those living in a state of spiritual darkness hate the light. That Jesus’ brothers were not hated by the world suggests that they were indeed still of the world – loving the world, and not God – wanting Jesus to prosper in a worldly way, so they might prosper with him. And so Jesus responded to their request, saying, ‘You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.’ After saying this, he remained in Galilee.” (John 7:8–9, ESV)

Application 

May I make a few points of application before we close for today? Some of the application is so clear that I hardly need to state it. It has to with loving God supremely and loving the good things of this earth in the proper way and to the proper degree and only after we have loved God supremely. But there are other finer points of application that I would like to make.

Notice this: Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him. Is that not incredible to you? If anyone would believe in him you would think his family would. If believing in Christ involved nothing more than a humans freewill response to the offer of the gospel, then we would expect that surely his siblings would believe. The fact that they did not points, yet again, to the depth of mans depravity. “For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5, ESV) Even their eyes were blind, their hearts dark.

I think this fact applies deeply to parents who’s children do not walk with the Lord. It is true that we are to raise our children in the Lord – we are to teach them about the Lord, read scripture to them, pray for them, train them – all of that is true. And it is also true that, as general principle, good parenting yields good results: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV) But remember that that is a proverb and not a promise. It is a general principle useful for guiding us in the Christian life. It is not a promise. There have been many children, who, though raised in good Christian home, have walked away from the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord. “For not even his brothers believed in him.” Despite their close proximity to Jesus, and despite the fact they were raised by godly parents, they struggled for a time with the claims of their half-brother. Some of them, if not all of them, would eventually believe! But they did not for a time. If you are struggling now with children who, in their adult life, are not walking with Christ, do not beat yourself up about it. If you did wrong as a parenting (who hasn’t?) confess it as sin before the Lord. Ask your children to forgive you for the wrong done, if necessary. But do not be burdened with guilt thinking that your poor parenting has caused them to reject Christ. I am going to say this rather bluntly: If you really believe that your parenting has caused either a good or bad outcome in the life of your children then it reveals that you do not understand salvation and the sovereignty of God. And if you do understand the doctrine of salvation, it reveals that you are inconsistent in your application of it in your day to day life. We do not cause our children to live, nor do we cause them to perish. They will make their own choices from the heart, and God must enliven and enlighten.

Also, notice that Jesus walked on this earth without the support of his earthly family. It is a great blessing to have the support of family, especially when encountering difficulty – I can certainly testify to that. But Jesus endured much difficulty, and all without the support of his family. Here is yet another reminder that, as Hebrews 4:15 says, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16, ESV) He knows what it is like to be rejected by family! He is able and willing to give you grace and to strengthen you if you are experiencing the same thing.

I do wonder if we are not most often guilty of the sin of idolatry when it comes to family. Perhaps our love for family hinders us from loving God. We think that if we follow Christ truly it will cost us in regard to our family relationships, and so we turn from him. Or perhaps we love God, but we have allowed our love for our family to eclipse our love for God. It is true that we are to love our children, but it is possible to love them in a disorderly way – to love them more than God, or to love them according to the ways of the world, being directed by worldly wisdom and not the wisdom of God. The sin of idolatry can be a tricky thing. It can be difficult to discern, especially when it involves loving something or someone that we ought to love – our spouse, our children, our parents, extended family and friends. It is good that we love them! But they too can become idols of the heart and hinder our faithful walk with Christ. This was what Jesus was getting at when he warned, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26, ESV)

It seems to me that much can be learned by observing Jesus’ interaction with his family.

The last point of application is this. we ought to pray that the Lord would transform hearts. If it is true that we either come to Christ or reject him depending upon the condition of the heart, we should pray that God would transform hearts.

Pray that God would transform the hearts of those who do not yet believe in him. Pray that the Lord would transform their appetites so that, though they once loved and desired the things of this world more than anything, they would now love and desire the God who made them, and his Son whom he has sent, more than anything.

Pray also that the Lord would continue to transform your heart. I would imagine the we all struggle with various sins. How will we ever overcome them? The answer: only as our hearts changes by God through the word and by the Spirit. Are struggling with anger? Ask the Lord to give you a new heart. Are you consumed with jealously? Ask the Lord to give you a heart of thankfulness and contentment. Are you struggling with lust? Ask the Lord to transform you distain the things of this world and crave that which is of him more than all.

With King David we ought to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, ESV)

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