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"Festival of Booths"

May 15, 2022 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: John 7:1-24, Leviticus 23:22-43

 Worship service link:  https://youtu.be/MX4LhTVEvxM

 

Festival Of Booths

John 7:1-24

May 15, 2022

Read John 7:1-24

This is the Word of the LORD.

Last week, we were looking at Jesus’ teaching after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and walking on water.  When Jesus said things like, “I am the bread of heaven,” and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” the Jews got angry and some of Jesus’ early disciples decided that Jesus was talking nonsense and walked away.  Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also want to go?” Peter responded, “To whom would we go?  You have the words of life.”

The upshot of last week’s text was that there was a great chasm or disconnect from the worldly literalism of the Jews and Jesus’ skeptical disciples to the substance of what Jesus was teaching.  The Jews would not accept Jesus’ teaching because they would not accept him.  The early followers who were interested only in the show thought Jesus had gone off the rails.  What Jesus was saying went right past them.

Today, it is the same.  It may seem like there is a great disconnect and we are talking past the culture by focusing on Jesus’ teaching.  Our culture cannot hear Jesus’ words of hope because they will not accept him.  With that as the setup I encouraged you to: a) not be surprised that there is a disconnect; b) not be discouraged or upset that the disconnect cannot be bridged; and, c) not apologize for the disconnect.

That was last week.  This week we continue along the same lines, but dealing with Jesus’ brothers and then the crowds in Jerusalem.

Background

John has been highlighting conflicts during festivals in Jerusalem: in chapter 5, Jesus healed the paralytic man on the sabbath during a festival; here, in Chapter 7, the question was whether Jesus would show in Jerusalem during the Festival of Booths; and later – beginning in Chapter 12, Jesus would have triumphant entry and his climatic “hour” during the Passover festival.

There are three scenes in our text today: one at home in Galilee, two in Jerusalem. Within John’s narrative, Jesus had gone home to Galilee after the high of the miracles and the low of the reaction to his teaching.  Now, I cast it as high and low; Jesus did not.  For Jesus, both the adulation and the abandonment were the same: for him, it was all obedience to God the Father.

You can imagine how this went.  Jesus’ younger brothers – mentioned previously in the wedding miracle at Cana – were largely unimpressed with Jesus.  John wrote, “Not even his brothers believed in him.”  His miracle-working was known but, here, now that he was hiding from the Jews for safety, he was an overall disappointment.  You can almost see the eye-rolling and sideways glances they gave each other as Jesus was at home.  Having grown up in his shadow – which is an annoyance only younger brothers can truly appreciate – they were non-plussed by his hanging out at home.  I completely understand.

My brother, Jim, is three years older than I am.  He is – and I say this with both admiration and frustration – a genius.  He effortlessly blazed a pathway through the schools that I could never match.  I realized that early and so I did not try.  My primary, middle, and high school years were marked by teachers calling on me by his name, being compared to him (unfavorably), and trying to persevere until the day I could get away from his shadow.  Unless you live in the midst of it, it sounds petty and not important; yet it shaped me in some not altogether healthy ways.  For example, my parents had more than one teacher conference talking about how I was not even trying to develop my potential.  In high school, I was a constant source of aggravation for my parents because I missed the honor roll each quarter by getting one “C” – and the disqualifying subject would change each quarter.  (Looking back, I am kind of sorry/not sorry about that.)

So, if my brother had done like Jesus and come home to hide for a period of time while I was still there, I suspect my reaction would have been the same as Jesus’ brothers. When the next big festival came up, I would have told Jesus the same thing: Go!  Get out of here.  If you want to be successful, do something there that is going to win everyone back.  And, like Jesus’ brothers, my urging would have been more self-centered and self-motivated than a true encouragement for him: Jesus, you are making my life miserable by your being here.  It would have been all about how he was making my life tough – noting that my life was the central focus of my concern.

To be clear: my brother did not cause my troubles; he was just doing his thing.  But the younger brother thing is real – it took a long time on a different path for me to not be fighting his ghost.

Jesus’ response to the brothers’ urging to go to the festival would have been another time when I would have thought to myself, “I just do not get you.”  Jesus said, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.”  Sigh.  OK, Mr. Esoteric. Whatever.  We are living in the same time, you are speaking to me right now in this time we are both in, and, so…there’s that.

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.”  Again, the little brother in me with attitude would have responded, “Well, then, isn’t the obvious answer to just do the miracles?  Don’t tell people stuff that is going to make them mad.  It’s not that hard.”

Then, Jesus said, “You go.  I am not going up to the festival, for my time has not yet fully come.”  Again, ok, whatever.

Here’s the thing: Jesus was saying something really important, but his brothers could not hear it because they did not recognize who he was.  He was the big brother who had flashed brilliantly, then had the public turn on him.  We have the advantage of looking back through the resurrection, and the crucifixion, and the suffering, and the betrayal, and all of that to get here.  They did not have the benefit of any of that. Because they were not really listening, they missed what he was saying.

Jesus was using language very precisely and giving them some incredible insight into how he was being obedient to God.  He was not “going up” to Jerusalem for “this festival.”  In other words, he was not ready to make his big entrance.  He would be “going up” publicly to Jerusalem for the Passover; that is, the next festival.  His triumphal entry on Palm Sunday was a very public “going up.”

Then John changed scenes.

After his brothers left, Jesus went up to Jerusalem secretly.  He did not make a big show of it.  Because the expectation was that everyone would go to this festival – it was one of the three major festivals and was a great time – and because he was not high profile, there was a lot of chatter about what was happening. In the absence of specific information, people formed widely different opinions about him.  Some thought he was as he had declared; others thought that he was a deceiver.  What was interesting, though, was that no one was anxious to speak openly about him for “fear of the Jews.”

To use a more modern metaphor, talking about Jesus was like stepping on the third rail.  No matter what you said, you were going to get electrocuted.  It was well known that the Jews – meaning leadership – were looking to kill Jesus, so anyone talking about him would have to answer questions about what they knew and what was their affiliation with him.

Then, John changed the scene once more.  In the middle of the Festival, Jesus began to teach openly in the temple.  The Jews were astonished: 1) that he showed; and 2) what he was saying.  They were offended by both.  “Who does this guy think he is?” would be a good re-phrasing of their objection.  He did not have the right credentials.  He did not have the right training.  He was not from a recognized school or rabbinic tradition.  He had not paid his dues and, thus, did not have a license to be teaching these things.

Jesus responded that he was teaching only what God had desired him to teach.  He did not require any rabbinic credentials or tradition to validate what he was teaching; rather, “anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.”  Only slightly veiled was the implication that his critics were not resolved to do the will of God – which was about as insulting a statement as one could make towards the experts in God’s law.

Then, he made the slightly veiled explicit, “None of you keeps the law.”  To the point: “Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?”  The crowd, not fully understanding what was happening but fully afraid of the Jews, said, “You have a demon!  Who is trying to kill you?”  More modern vocabulary would be, “What are you, nuts?  Have you lost your mind?”  Here, playing to the Jews, they declared, “You have a demon!”

But Jesus persisted.  The whole discussion about Jesus’ healing the man on the sabbath compared with circumcision on the sabbath went to the point: he was not violating the law.  However, their active desire to murder him was a complete violation of the law.  The IVP Commentary sums it up this way:

Jesus begins by bringing forth a second piece of evidence that shows they do not keep the law. Moses gave them circumcision (Lev 12:3), though in fact it was a sign of the earlier covenant, from Abraham on (Gen 17:10–14). According to the law a male child is to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, but what happens if the eighth day is a sabbath? Circumcision takes precedence over the sabbath. … Thus, in order to keep the law regarding circumcision they must do what is not otherwise lawful on the sabbath.

They would not have viewed this as a breaking of the law since this order of precedence among the commands existed precisely in order to keep the law. Therefore Jesus says the “work” of circumcision is performed on the sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken (v. 23). Jesus questions them, saying, if this work is allowed in order to keep the law, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? (v. 23). In other words, he is also working with an order of precedence, and his activity on the sabbath should be viewed from this perspective rather than as a breaking of the law.[1]

So that was what was happening in our text.  Although it may seem like an argument and conflict from long ago dealing with issues no longer relevant, John was revealing the conflict we face in our world today.  Again, John was highlighting the disconnect. But more than just showing us the disconnect, John shows us three important things for Christians to remember: 1) You have to know to listen; 2) you have to shut down the noise of the world; and 3) you have to know that God’s way is not the world’s way.

You have to know to listen

Jesus’ brothers, the crowd, and the Jews all failed to understand Jesus because they were not listening.  Oh, they heard the words he spoke, but they were not listening to understand anything other than what they had already preconceived to know.

In order to understand what Jesus was saying, you had to know to listen to him.  That remains true today: in order to understand what the Holy Spirit is saying, you have to know to listen to him.

In order to hear what Jesus was saying, you have to know who he is.  Jesus was not a purveyor of ideas, a peddler of concepts and high philosophy, a guru with lofty thoughts.  He was the incarnation of God redeeming his children.  Until and unless you engage, embrace, and enter that truth, nothing else will make sense.  There is a famous quote from St. Anselm, “For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.  For this also I believe-that unless I believe I shall not understand.”

Knowing about Jesus is not the same thing as knowing Jesus.  There is a disconnect if you do not accept Jesus’ self-revealing statements.  What he says will not make sense because he is talking past you.  In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes the point this way:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."[2]

You have to know to listen – you have to hear and heed what Jesus said in order to understand.  Ultimately it is a question of heart: are you listening to Jesus to respond, comply, and obey; or, are you listening for the purpose of assessing, evaluating, and judging him?

You have to shut out the noise of the world

Then, when you know to listen, you have to shut out the noise of the world.  This is easier said than done.  There is so much noise in the world that it is difficult to hear Jesus.  We are so used to the noise that we often are unaware of how loud it is.

Growing up, the soundtrack to our house was KYW, News Radio, 1060.  It was 24-hour news on the radio.  There was a teletype effect in the background over which the announcers proclaimed the headlines of the day.  The ritual in our house was that the first person downstairs into the kitchen would turn on the radio and it would be playing constantly throughout the day.  The last person to go to bed at night would be responsible for turning off the radio.  Silence was odd and awkward.

For many people, the cable news networks are that soundtrack today.  Whether Fox, CNN, MSNBC, or one of the more niche networks, the chatter is constant.  We feel like we need to stay in touch or else be hopelessly out of touch.  Add to that the constant evolution of the internet, social media, and social media platforms, and there is a widespread anxiety that has a name: FOMO – fear of missing out.

Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Politics and politicians create problems they cannot solve.  Militaries are deployed against each other causing death and destruction.  Natural disasters, human-created catastrophes, economic woes, health care concerns…you name it.  Billy Joel wrote a song a number of years ago entitled, “We Didn’t Start The Fire” in which he catalogued by decade the headlines and crises that have been taking place since 1949, the year of his birth.

What are the things that capture our attention today?  The racially-motivated mass shooting in Buffalo yesterday?  The war in Ukraine?  The Supreme Court’s pending decision in the abortion case?  Inflation?  Health care?  Baby formula?  Johnny Depp and Amber Heard?  The truth is that most media – legacy and social – is designed to hold our attention long enough to get advertisements in front of us.  The world’s information flow is designed to keep us moving towards consumerism: materialism. Stories are written in hyperbolic and sensational language to inflame our emotions. Then, we are “teased” to stay tune for the segment after the commercials – with the expectation that we will be influenced by the ads – ads which play at an even louder volume.

Jesus did not focus his teaching on current events.  He was not captive to the tyranny of the immediate.  He was mindful of what was happening – he knew that it was the Festival of the Booths and he knew that the Jews wanted to kill him – but he shut out the noise of the world that was trying to define who he was.  He was able to focus on what was essential while keeping in perspective the tyranny of the immediate or pressing.

For us, shutting out the noise of the world means that we have to intentionally create time to be with God.  This is what Jesus told his brothers when he said, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.”  He was saying that their blithely going along with the tide of chronology was very different than his focus on his eternally significant purpose.

Carving out time to be with God does not just happen.  It takes intention.  It takes discipline.  It is strange to have to phrase it that way; but I think you all recognize it is true.  The world tells you that spending time with God’s word is unproductive – think of all the things that you have to get done.  Think of all the things you could be doing.  The world tells you that it is not worth it because prayer does not accomplish anything.  The world tells you that you are responsible for making things right; you are responsible for being perfect; and you could be if you just worked a little harder, bought this product, had these friends, or did all these other things.

Friends, that is noise.

Spending time with God is a blessing.  It is what eternity will be – and it will be better than we can imagine.  Jesus has the words of life and those words of life have to do with what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.  Just as Jesus was in the world but not of it, so also can we be.  The world’s agenda leads to despair, destruction, and death.  God’s agenda is hope and life.

You have to recognize that God’s way is not the world’s way.

Jesus’ brothers urged him to go to the festival to re-invigorate whatever it was that he was doing.  They said, “No one who wants to be widely known acts in secret.”  From a human perspective, that was true.  But Jesus was not concerned with earthly fame.

God’s way is not the world’s way . Did you ever wonder why God chose that time, that place, and that way to send his Son?  Why would he not have waited until we have mass communication: think of how efficiently he could have gotten out the message!

Look at the Festival of Booths.  It is a festival designed to break the people out of the pattern of day-to-day worldly focus to remind them of God’s purpose and agenda.  It was a time when the people of Israel stopped their occupations and made offering to the LORD.  The people lived in booths for seven days to remind them how God made them live – in total dependence in the desert – when he brought them up out of the land of Egypt.  God declared: I am the LORD your God.

In the same way in our text, Jesus was not following the expected plan of going up to the Festival to be seen.  He went up in total dependence upon the LORD, abiding by God’s command and timing.  It did not make sense to his non-believing pragmatic brothers.  It was offensive to the human focused and credential-dependent Jews.  Yet Jesus was clear: “do not judge by [worldly] appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Friends, we are on a different path and different agenda than the world.  We proclaim Jesus as Savior and Lord.  We know him to listen to him.  It is in that belief that we have understanding.  Because we know him, we can shut out the noise of the world. Things around us look bad – and they are bad – but the truth is that God is sovereign, God is faithful, and in him we have life.  When we see that God’s way is not the world’s way, we can live in hope no matter the circumstances.  Take some time this week to do your own Festival of Booths – carve out some time to remember God’s leading you out of sin and brokenness and into the desert where we remain (now and always) totally dependent upon Him.

And that is good news.  So praise God.

Amen.

Questions:

  1. Ultimately it is a question of heart: are you listening to Jesus to respond, comply, and obey; or, are you listening for the purpose of assessing, evaluating, and judging him?
  2. Did you ever wonder why God chose that time, that place, and that way to send his Son? Why would he not have waited until we have mass communication: think of how efficiently he could have gotten out the message! How would you respond to that question if someone asked you?
  3. Will you take some time this week to do your own Festival of Booths – carve out some time to remember God’s leading you out of sin and brokenness and into the desert where we remain (now and always) totally dependent upon Him? Then praise God!

 

[1] Rodney A. Whitacre, IVP NT Commentary, John p. 187.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, The MacMillan Company, 1960, pp. 40-41.