October 6, 2013

Forsaking Worldly Motives for a Wonderful Messiah

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John Passage: John 7:1–13

Sermon on John 7:1-13 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, October 6, 2013

Jesus Isn't Going Back Home; He's Going to the Cross

As we enter a new chapter in John’s Gospel this morning, we’re also entering a new stage in the overall storyline of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Holy Spirit has inspired John to draw our attention once again to Jesus’ ministry in Galilee—which is now the third and the last time John mentions Jesus ministering in Galilee, the land to the north of Jerusalem. In chapter 2, Jesus reveals his glory in Galilee and then heads to Jerusalem where he is opposed by the Jews, especially the Jewish authorities. Then at the end of 4:46, Jesus is back in Galilee where he reveals his glory; and then in chapter 5 he heads to Jerusalem where he is again opposed by the Jews. And they’re not just asking questions this time; they were seeking all the more to kill him (5:18). And now here in chapter 7 he’s back in Galilee for a little while—about six months—but will be heading once more to Jerusalem where the hostility against Jesus is only mounting, and will ultimately result in his crucifixion. So the new stage we’re entering in chapter 7 is that once he goes up to Jerusalem in verse 10, Jesus isn’t going back home to Galilee. The cross looms over the horizon. He’s come to the area of Jerusalem to stay and die for our sins. In the face of hostility, in the face of persecution and unbelief among his own people, Jesus is resolved to love his Father and to love sinners unto death on a cross.

I want you to keep that in mind as we look at our passage, because that’s where we’re going to end this morning before we take the Lord’s Supper: the cross of Jesus is the only hope for people like you and me who need rescue from worldly motives like self-worship and the approval of others and the fear of man.

Main Problem: Worldly Motives Blind Us to a Wonderful Messiah

That’s the problem highlighted in verses 1-13 that we all need deliverance from—unbelief in Jesus that has roots in worldly motives, like the desire to be praised. Another way we might say it is that worldly motives blind us to a wonderful Messiah. Except for Jesus, that’s the problem with all the people mentioned in our passage: worldly motives blind them to a wonderful Messiah. Now, the problem will manifest itself in different ways, but it’s the same problem. So, let’s look at it together.

1. Worldly Motives Destroy Whatever Threatens Our Glory

First off we see that worldly motives will seek to destroy whatever threatens our glory. Verse 1 says that “Jesus would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.” Why did the Jews want so badly to kill Jesus? Turn with me to 5:44. At this point, the Jews were persecuting Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath (5:16) and they wanted him dead because Jesus was talking like he was equal with God (5:18). So instead of looking at the miracle of making an invalid man walk and believing that Jesus really is equal with God, they’d just rather have him dead. Then Jesus tells us why the unbelief is so deep in verse 44: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” Again in 7:18, Jesus exposes the real reason behind their unbelief and desire to kill him: “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory.” That’s why they’re angry with Jesus—so angry with him that they want him dead: they love the praise of men over the glory of God and Jesus is calling them out on it. He’s saying, “You like to stroke each other, and so you can’t see me for who I really am—God almighty in the flesh, your Messiah.”

Paul highlights this same problem in the Jewish authorities when he says in 1 Cor 2:8 that “None of the rulers of this age understood [God’s wisdom in Christ], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” You can’t see the Lord of glory when you want to be the impressive one. Even if he’s standing in front of your face healing people—if you want to be the man on top—you’ll only see Jesus as a threat to your leadership, as a threat to your interpretation of the Bible, as a threat to your Sabbath, as a threat to your temple, as a threat to your traditions, and you will want him dead. It’s hard to see Jesus’ glory when you’re too concerned about your own. And that’s why the rulers of this age killed Jesus. Paul was making that point about the Jewish authorities because, to his amazement, the church in Corinth was acting like them, boasting in their leaders, playing one-upmanship to the detriment of the church.

So, if you’re a Christian, don’t think that you’re not vulnerable to the same kinds of motives that are in the Pharisees. Paul saw them underlying the actions of believers who took their eyes off Christ. The temptation is real to destroy whatever threatens our glory. Think about it. It’s bound up with the ancient lie of the evil one that “nobody will rule over me except myself, and if you get in the way, then…[you fill in the blank].” It’s at the root of many of our anger problems. Many times we get angry with our kids, or each other, or our job, or our circumstances because the world is not working by our agenda and people keep getting in the way of my kingdom. That kind of anger crucified the Lord of glory. Maybe you’ve put others down to keep yourself on top. Maybe you’ve talked behind a friend’s back to make yourself look better than them. Maybe someone comes up to you and shares something absolutely incredible the Lord has done through their ministry, and you hardly show any excitement about it because it makes your ministry looks so small. You destroy their joy because you feel threatened by it.

Or, how much kindness and gentleness fill your soul when your spouse notifies you of where you’re in sin? Have you ever experienced the temptation in that moment to shoot down the sin-exposing missal? When we know the right response is repentance and reconciliation, but every self-righteous bone in your body is tempted with, “May-day, may-day, you’re sin is about to be exposed! All guns on deck, she even quoted a Bible verse.” You shoot down whatever is about to expose that we’re really not all that glorious; we’re incredibly sinful. When worldly motives drive us, we seek to destroy whatever threatens our glory.

2. Worldly Motives Promote Whatever Brings Us Glory

Another glimpse of this problem of worldly motives blinding people to the wonderful Messiah appears in verses 2-9. So, the worldly motives we saw in the Jewish authorities in verse 1 are those that seek to destroy whatever threatens our glory. The worldly motives we see in Jesus’ brothers are those that promote whatever brings us glory. So, worldly motives promote whatever brings us glory. Read with me in verse 2.

“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.’” Sounds fair enough. Jesus’ own brothers have witnessed some of his miracles. They’ve even believed the miracles are real and fairly impressive. So they want him to do some more in the Big City. “Let’s go public with these signs, so that people will follow you.” But here’s what’s so shocking about their words: they stem from a heart of unbelief. John makes that clear in verse 5: “For not even his brothers believed in him.” Jesus’ brothers have the same problem the rest of the Jews have had throughout the Gospel of John. They want Jesus’ signs without wanting Jesus (2:23-25; 4:48). They see the miracles, but they cannot see that the miracles point beyond themselves to a glorious Savior, which is what really matters when it comes to saving faith. Saving faith doesn’t want Jesus for his signs; saving faith wants Jesus to have Jesus. If you want Jesus for his power without treasuring him for his cross, then you don’t have true faith. Signs save nobody; Jesus saves, and that’s what every sign in his ministry was meant to reveal as he journeyed to the cross. Their belief in Jesus merely for signs is insufficient.

So what were they really wanting when they told Jesus to go perform his miracles publicly in Jerusalem? They wanted to promote whatever would bring them glory, even if it meant using their brother to their own advantage. I think what’s going on here is nothing different than what we saw in Jesus’ closest kin back in 4:44-45. Remember what happens when Jesus enters his hometown? All the people come out and welcome him, but John gives us the heads up that their welcome was superficial at best. They welcome Jesus as a kind of hometown hero—his miracles make them look good, they give them bragging rights—but they don’t welcome him as Messiah. You don’t honor Jesus if you just want Jesus to do things for you quite apart from you having Jesus. Jesus isn’t honored when he’s used for his miracles; Jesus is honored when he’s received for eternal life. I think Jesus’ brothers in chapter 7 are doing the same thing: they want to ride Jesus’ coat tails into Jerusalem; and Jesus calls them on it in verses 6-8.

Jesus says 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.” What is Jesus saying to them? Jesus’ time to go up to the feast has not yet come, so he’s not going yet. There time is always here, so it doesn’t really matter when they go up. The question Jesus is leading them to ask is, “Wait a minute, what makes your going up so different from ours?” Verse 7 tells us the answer: “the world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I testify about it that its works are evil.” Do you get his point? The world cannot hate Jesus’ brothers because Jesus’ brothers are part of it. They are participants in its evil. They’re not motivated by things that will bring glory to God when they tell Jesus to go to the Feast; they’re motivated by the same things the rest of the world is motivated by—things that will bring them glory.

It doesn’t really matter when they go up to the feast, because the world isn’t hostile to people who ignore the glory of God. But that’s all Jesus is concerned about throughout his mission—doing only those things which will glorify God. He’s not going to Jerusalem for self-promotion like his brothers want; he will go only as his heavenly Father wants him to go, and that means not with a big show but first in private. We saw Jesus choosing the same humility after he fed the five thousand. The Jews wanted to ride him into Jerusalem and make him king, but Jesus denies it. In the same way, he’s not going to the Feast on his brother’s terms because his brother’s terms are evil.

The world hates Jesus because he keeps exposing people for what they really are—evil to the core—and he’s making the same point about his own brothers. Surely, if anyone among the Jews should be able to see Jesus for who he really is, it would be those who lived under the same roof, who shared meals with Jesus and played in the same backyard and slept under the same roof. But Jesus’ point is that it doesn’t matter what kind of blood you have—whenever you make friends with the world, you’ll never see your Messiah. Jesus’ mission is about more than signs for spectators; it’s about sacrifice for sinners. And his brothers miss it altogether in their desire to promote their brother’s miracles. They’re not motivated by a humble Messiah who quietly goes to a cross; they’re motivated by the same things that drive the world like power, recognition, and popularity. And whenever those are the heartbeat of your life; you can’t see the glory of Jesus and his cross. You miss him altogether, even if he’s your own brother.

I can’t help but wonder how these words kept affecting James once he became a Christian and leader in the church. He wrote in Jas 4:4, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” God opened James’s eyes to the glory of Jesus Christ.

What are we learning? It’s really hard to see Jesus when you want to be impressive. Some of us laugh at the obvious examples of self-promotion—like the guy that can’t get enough of the mirror in the weight room—but the truth is that self-promotion is not far from any of us. We breathe the air of self-promotion. We are the iPhone-social-media generation. Now, I’m not saying the iPhone or social media are evil. They can be great tools for glorifying God. But they can also become great temptations to promote whatever will bring us more glory in the eyes of man, more followers on Twitter. Or you start a blog for good purposes maybe, but before long you’re making too many visits to the stats page to see how important people are finding you. Maybe you’re not into social media, but you do a lot of name-dropping in front of others. Or maybe you pretend to know more about something than you really do in order to save face. Maybe you even serve Jesus from a heart full of envy and rivalry instead of a heart of worship (Phil 1:15). Or, have you ever made sacrifices or served somebody or taught or ministered in the church, and then fished for compliments afterwards instead of being satisfied with God’s faithfulness to you? We love whatever promotes our glory; and Jesus calls it like it is in verse 7—it’s from the world and it’s evil.

3. Worldly Motives Hide Whatever Could Rob Our Glory

The last place we see worldly motives blinding people to a wonderful Messiah is in verses 10-13, except here we see something a bit more passive. Worldly motives destroy whatever threatens our glory; they also promote whatever brings us glory; but here we see that worldly motives will also hide whatever could rob our glory.

Verse 10, “But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly [like his brothers wanted] 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’s a good man,” others said, “No, he’s leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.” Isn’t that ironic? Even if Jesus did give them a few more miracles in public, it’s not as if they’d follow him in public. They’re too scared of each other. Everybody in Jerusalem is hush-hush about Jesus, because the ones who matter might do something to them—like mock them in front of everyone (7:52) or kick them out of the synagogue (9:22) or kill them (12:10). This comes up again in 12:42-43, and there John reveals explicitly what’s at the root of this fear: “many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

The Jews are hiding what they believe about Jesus, because they could potentially lose all the glory they’ve gained from man. And they want to keep that, so they’re not going to talk too loudly about Jesus. Or, if you’re curious like Nicodemus, you visit Jesus at nighttime when nobody else can see you. Do you wrestle with this kind of worldly motivation? I think most of us would confess we’ve wrestled with that in our personal evangelism efforts—keeping our mouth shut because of what others might think of us. Maybe others of you find it very difficult to confess your sins to other brothers and sisters, because you don’t want it to lower the way people look at you.

I remember one time when I was running the Book Nook and I lied to a sister about ordering a book that I hadn’t yet ordered for her. I used language that made it sound like it was the postal service’s fault when it was my own. Then, when the Holy Spirit was convicting me of sin and telling me to confess my sin to her, I was tempted not to confess it to her because of what she might think of me now. You see, I wanted to hide whatever could rob my glory; but the Holy Spirit would not let me, because he knows that only Jesus is worthy of all glory and praise and honor and blessing. And so I confessed my sin, and she forgave me.

Still, I gave in to the same worldly motives we see in these Jews, whether that manifested itself in open hostility, or phony participation, or isolated secrecy. The desire to be made much of threatens us every day and it blinds us to seeing the glory of Jesus as the Messiah—which we must see if we’re to have eternal life. If we do not see and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, we will not be saved (John 20:30-31). So what hope is there for us in overcoming these worldly motives, so that we can behold Jesus’ glory as he so much deserves and as we so much need? Our only hope for deliverance is found in and through the wonderful Messiah. Despite our bondage to self-worship, despite our friendship with the world, despite the idolatry of our hearts, despite all our worldly motives for this, that, and the other, despite the judgment we deserved for rejecting God’s glory to get our own glory, God himself looked down upon an evil humanity and loved us. [Enter Gospel…bringing the cross back in]

God loved us by sending his Son to live the life we should have lived on earth—a life with God’s glory at the center and not self-glory—to die the death we should have endured—a death under God’s wrath for spurning his glory—and to rise again for our eternal participation in God’s glory.

God loved us by sending his Son to live the life we should have lived. Jesus came to deal with the temptation of self-worship we face and he got victory over it. The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Jesus, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matt 4:8-10). In other words, “I’m not here to promote the glory of myself on your terms, I’m here to promote the glory of my Father by winning worshipers from all the kingdoms of the world through a cross. Be gone, Satan!” The Bible says that in every respect Jesus was tempted as we are, yet he did not sin, so that with confidence we can draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:15). He took on the temptation of self-worship and conquered it even unto death on a cross, so that when you believe in him, all of his life and all of his victory over self-worship and self-promotion and self-preservation is yours. Yes, you will struggle against worldly motives until you die, but if you look to Christ, your standing before God in heaven is secure: God counts Jesus’ victory over sin as your own.

God also loved us by sending his Son to die the death we should have endured. Only God is worthy of all praise, and yet all the worldly motives inside us pretend that we are worthy of all praise. Our sins stand the universe upside down, with us on top and everybody else, including Jesus, serving our glory, our power, our self-image. That’s called idolatry and the Bible says that every human being is guilty of it and deserves eternal condemnation for it. That’s the death we should have endured—a death that consists of eternal torment under the fury of God’s wrath. The results of self-worship are damning. But God loved us by sending Jesus to suffer that eternal torment for us in three hours on a cross. If you believe in Jesus, God will not punish you on the Last Day for your worldliness, because he already punished your worldliness when Jesus took your sins on the cross. Does that mean we can just continue with all our worldly motives?

Absolutely not, because God also loved us by sending Jesus to live, die, and then rise again, so that you walk by his power in true worship not false worship; in God-centered pursuits, not self-centered ones. He rose from the grave to send his Spirit, who produces humility before God, not a hunger for popularity before the world—which means that should a desire ever creep into your life for selfish gain, should the fear of man rise in your soul when you attempt to share the gospel, should the want to just cut someone off so that you can be first emerge, should you begin coveting more attention and more approval from people, then you know where it comes from. It comes not from the Spirit, but from the hidden evils of your heart. And when the Spirit of God brings your attention to the satanic evils of self-worship, cry out to God for mercy and strength to fight and eyes to see the wonderful Messiah again and again and again. Worldly motives might blind us to the wonderful Messiah, but they pail when the Spirit sets our eyes on Jesus. That’s his job: he shines in our hearts that we might see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And the more of Jesus’ glory we see, the more and more we want him to shine through our lives instead of ourselves.

That’s ultimately where we’re heading—if you’re a Christian—we’re destined for an eternity of enjoying God’s glory in Christ; and how infinitely better is his glory in heaven than anything we attempt to fabricate on earth. The saints will forever delight in the glory of God. And this is our motivation to turn from all worldly motives. 1 John 3:2-3 say, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” But O how eternally regretful you’ll be if you spend this life pursuing your own praise only to discover on Judgment Day that Jesus was the only one worthy of praise. There’s a reason Jesus said what he did to his brothers. He didn’t rebuke them just for the sake of rebuke—just to leave them wallowing in their worldliness. He wanted them to see the signs they had already seen rightly; he wanted them coming to him for salvation not merely the signs. He wanted them to be satisfied with God’s glory, not a glory that would perish on the last day. He wanted them coming to him as Savior, who rescues from false worship and transforms us into true worshipers.

And Jesus wants all of us doing the same this morning—coming to him as our Savior again, remembering his victorious life where we fail, remembering his death where we need forgiveness, and remembering his resurrection where we need strength. He even welcomes us to eat from his Table this morning, but not in such a way that leaves us unchanged. We eat from this Table as a community of people no longer driven by worldly motives, but by a wonderful Messiah. We don’t come to this Table or leave this gathering as people, who seek to gain everything to rule the world, but who seek to lose everything to gain Jesus Christ.

other sermons in this series