John 7:1-13 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. 2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him. 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.
10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. 11 The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” 12 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.” 13 Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.
Our passage for this morning picks up about six months after the end of chapter six. We know that because chapter six ended with Jesus at the Passover Feast while chapter seven begins with the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles), which is six months after Passover. The other three Gospels tell us a good deal about what Jesus was doing during that time (mainly ministering to the Twelve Disciples in the north), but John, for his own God-inspired purposes, skipped over it all.
In this scene we find Jesus interacting with His brothers concerning the kind of participation He would have in the Feast of Booths—each according to their own frame of reference. According to the will of their flesh, Jesus’ brothers wanted Him to go all in, fully functioning as the Messiah. But according to the will of the Father, Jesus determined to go in a more subtle way, in private because His time had not yet come. Their interaction helps us to see some important points about the mysterious providence of God, the nature of unbelief, godly interaction with unbelievers, and the perfect obedience of Jesus.
The main thrust of the passage and sermon is that our God reigns! Whether we realize or acknowledge it or not, there is no corner of creation and no moment in time that God is not perfectly ruling over all. That leads to faithful obedience for all who believe and growing hostility for all who don’t. Therefore, the main takeaways for us are to trust wholly in God and boldly live in light of that every minute of every day, regardless of how the godless respond. We see an example of that in Jesus and an example of not that in Jesus’ brothers and the Jewish crowds. Let’s pray.
MY TIME HAS NOT YET COME (1, 6, 8)
Our passage opens with John describing a strategic move by Jesus. The works and teaching He’d done in the south, in and around Jerusalem, had made it so that things were too volatile for Him to continue ministering there without being murdered. That is, the Jewish leaders were so upset with Jesus that if He returned, as the end of v.1 says, He would likely be killed.
1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.
That, of course, begs the question of why Jesus was so reluctant. Hadn’t He come to die? Wasn’t that the very reason He was on earth? We’ve briefly considered this before, but since it comes up again here (and will come up again and again throughout John’s Gospel), I’d like to draw your attention to a few additional aspects of it.
Through a strange encounter with His brothers (which we’ll come back to in a few minutes), it becomes clear quickly that it’s not a question of if Jesus would willingly give His life, but when the right time was for Him to do so. Again, then, after being challenged by His brothers to head to Jerusalem in spite of the opposition, Jesus explained why He wouldn’t…twice.
In v.6 we read, 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come…”. And again in v.8 He said, “I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.”
It’s important for us to see, once again, that this is an echo of something Jesus had already said back in chapter 2(:3-4), “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4 And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.'”
What’s more, we’ll see Jesus continue to repeat this line throughout John’s Gospel. For instance, after another scuffle with the Jewish leaders (in John 7:28-30), they tried to arrest Him, “but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.” Likewise (in John 8:17-20), after claiming the Father as His witness and rebuking the Jewish leaders, the Jewish leaders again tried to silence Jesus, “but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.”
Jesus’ answer (because His time had not yet come) to the first question (why was Jesus worried about being killed by the Jews since He came to die?) is clear, but it only leads to a couple more questions: (1) Time for what? and (2) When was that time?
There are two passages later in John that shine a lot of light on these questions.
In John 12:23, which takes place at the beginning of the final week of Jesus life, Jesus says “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” But what does that mean” John 13:1 provides some helpful clarity. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Combined these verses help us to see that Jesus’ time had not yet come (at this point in Jesus’ ministry/John’s Gospel) for Him to be glorified by expressing the full measure of His love in His life and then finally in His death. There was a kind and amount of love, assigned by God, that Jesus would give to the world while He was on earth (being an example and revealing God’s will) and another kind that he would give in His death (suffering the wrath of God for the sins of the world). Evidently, at the time of John 7:1-13, Jesus had more love to give on earth before giving His life in love. But His time was coming soon. By His third year of ministry, by the end of John 12, just six months from the events in John 7, the time would come and Jesus would make His way to the cross by handing Himself over to the same murderous intent of the same Jewish leaders.
It is both interesting and important for us to note (from the passages I just read), that the fact that Jesus’ time hadn’t yet come influenced both (1) what Jesus did and (2) what others were able to do to Him. Knowing that His time was not yet, Jesus chose not to go to Jerusalem. But at the same time, because His time had not yet come, the Jewish leaders were somehow unable to arrest Him. Jesus’ choice not to go to Jerusalem seems conscious and deliberate. He knew His time had not yet come, He knew what would happen if He went to Jerusalem, and so He chose to stay back. On the other hand, it seems that the Spirit of God somehow prevented the Jewish leaders from doing what they otherwise would have been able to do, but without their even knowing that’s what was happening.
The main point for us to grasp here, is that the mysterious providence of God governs all; sometimes in ways we see and understand, and often in ways we are entirely unaware of. In both cases, God perfectly governs all of His creation for His greatest glory and the greatest good of His people. There is such sweet rest and hope and joy in that for all who will receive it in faith.
For all of these reasons, Jesus’ ministry was confined to the North from this point forward… until His crucifixion.
NOT EVEN HIS BROTHERS BELIEVED (2-9)
And that leads us to the most shocking aspect of this passage. Jesus’ brothers (James (epistle writer and leader in the early church), Joseph, Simon, and Jude (epistle writer)), the men he’d grown up with, who had undoubtedly heard the stories of the miraculous birth and the prophesies of His mission, who’d watched Him live a sinless childhood, speaking nothing but truth and doing nothing but good, and who’d witnessed Jesus’ perfection closer than anyone, did not believe in Him.
We’ve talked about how counterintuitive and surprising it is that people could be in the presence of the Messiah and not believe. How could they be so blind, we think?! Far surpassing that in craziness, in my estimation, is the unbelief of Jesus’ brothers. Consider with me vs.2-9.
2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand.
The backdrop of these few verses was the upcoming Feast of Booths (Leviticus 23:42). This was one of the three feasts that God required all Jews to attend annually. It was essentially a festive, week-long camping trip. Everyone would set up some kind of tent/temporary structure (a booth or tabernacle) and live in it for just over a week. It was to remind them of their time wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus. And that was to help maintain a corporate sense of their identity, as well as of God’s power and blessing. For that reason, it was a reasonable expectation of Jesus’ brothers that Jesus would attend.
3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”
It’s not entirely clear what’s going on here. At the very least, as the next verse makes clear, Jesus’ brothers were misguided. Perhaps they were like many of the others who followed Jesus in the hope that He’d free them from Roman oppression as the military/political Messiah they’d been longing for. If so, them urging Jesus to go to Jerusalem, go public, and go big would make a lot of sense. Understandably, the Jewish people were tired of being under the thumb of Rome and the idea of God’s promised deliver being in their presence was highly appealing.
John states plainly, however, that at the heart of their appeal was their unbelief. “5 For not even his brothers believed in him.”
The request of Jesus’ brothers was rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of Jesus’ nature and mission. And that is the functional equivalent of unbelief. As we’ve talked about many, many times, Grace, belief (even blood-earnest belief) in something other than Jesus, as He is revealed in the Bible, is not belief. We are not free to create a man according to our own likings and sensibilities, believe in him, and think of that as the kind of belief God requires, or as the kind of belief that has any spiritual benefit.
The real Jesus was, as we’ve seen consistently in John’s Gospel, too much or too “little” for many to accept. Likewise, many believed in Jesus when they believed He was the kind of ruler they wanted. But as Jesus increasingly revealed who He truly was and what He was truly doing, they left; thus proving that it was never Jesus they believed in. Their belief was merely in an idea they’d concocted and projected onto Jesus.
In the same way, the real Jesus is there for us to accept or reject, but not to modify or redefine. We cannot long for a cosmic combination of butler and grandpa (as I did growing up), call that Jesus, trust in that, and believe the blessings the Bible describes for those whose hope is in Jesus applies to them. We cannot take away the supernatural nature of Jesus, still call this invention of ours Jesus, and gain the rewards held out for those whose faith is in Him. And we cannot strip Jesus of His “inconvenient” teaching and commands and believe we’re believing in Jesus.
That’s what Jesus’ brothers had done to this point and it would not do. Therefore,
6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.
Jesus told them, as we considered a few minutes ago, that His time was not yet. But in a fairly scathing rebuke of His brothers, Jesus said it was their time. His main point was that as long as they loved the world, they had nothing to fear from the world. The world is happy to accept atheists (those who do not believe in God at all) and syncretists (those who are glad to mix a bit of God with a lot of the world), for neither atheists and syncretists demand anything from the world and both are glad to accept the world on its terms.
This has always been the case and it will always be the case until Christ returns. If you are willing to play by the rules set by those who do not love God, you will be accepted and even anointed. And if you’ll at least mix enough of their ways of thinking into yours, the world “cannot hate you”. But if you will commit ALL your was to God, if you’ll follow Jesus wherever He leads, then you will need at times to speak of the evils of the world as they’re put before you and the world will hate you for it, even as they hated Jesus for it.
In simplest terms, Grace, in increasing measure, thinking, feeling, believing, and acting in truly and distinctly Christian ways is falling out of favor in our culture. We increasingly look more like Rome. This does not mean that we are to go looking for fights. It does not mean that we are to be angry, fearful people. It does not mean that we are to completely separate ourselves from the world. And it does not mean that we are called to something other than love for the world. In each of these things, consider the way of our Lord.
It does mean, however, that we must “in [our] hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
And that will mean in hopeful, worshipful, loving, clear, winsome, and bold ways, we must help the world see the world as it truly is. That is, we must teach the whole world to obey all Jesus commanded and help the world understand what the world looks like through God’s eyes. We must help everyone we meet understand that God made the earth and ordered it, all of it, according to His purposes. He alone is life and so He alone gives life. All things belong to Him. Things must be as God made them to be. Things are what God called them. God alone is creator, king, namer and judge.
For these reasons life is not ours to define, give or take. We need to have a high view of being fruitful and multiplying and of caring for the vulnerable. And on the other end of the spectrum, we need to oppose everything that claims or demeans that which belongs to God and has been called good by God. We need to oppose all forms of abortion, favoritism, exploitation, and euthanasia.
For these reasons mankind is not ours to define. We need to have a high view of mankind as divine image bearers and all the dignity and responsibility that affords. We need to have a high view of male and female and the common and unique roles God has assigned to us as such. And we need to have a high view of promoting the purposes for which we were made. And on the other end of the spectrum, we need to oppose the exploitation of anyone, abuse, all forms of sexual immorality (including fornication, adultery, pornography and homosexuality), egalitarianism and transgenderism, and anything that would keep us from being able to work for the physical and spiritual good of the world.
The disbelief of Jesus brothers helps us to see two main things; things we’ve already and will continue to see in John’s gospel. First, the fact that Jesus’ brothers did not believe helps us to see that sin is so thoroughly, spiritually blinding that even when the Son of God is as close to us as He can possibly be, for as long as He can possibly be, in our sin we cannot see Him in the least. Spiritual blindness is like that. And we are all, even the brothers of Jesus, born into that condition. Spiritual sight and the genuine belief that comes from it are gifts from God (gifts God would give to Jesus’ brothers after His resurrection).
And the second main and familiar point is that you cannot be friends with both Jesus and the world that opposes Him. It should not be our goal to be disliked by anyone. But if we are liked by everyone, chances are good that we are not following Jesus very closely.
And that leads to the next point, the perfect obedience of Jesus.
OBEDIENT JESUS (10)
If you were really paying attention earlier, you might already be wondering about Jesus skipping the Feast of Booths. If God commands all of Israel to celebrate it annually, and if Jesus is perfect, then how could He just not go (as He seems to suggest when pressed by His brothers)? In v.10, briefly, John clears that up.
10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.
Even though it sort of sounds like it (in v.8), Jesus wasn’t telling His brothers that He was not going to the Feast. V.10 tells us that He was actually telling them that He wasn’t going to go with them or in the manner they suggested. That is, when Jesus dismissed His brothers and told them “I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come,” He meant that He would not go and present Himself as Messiah as they wanted.
He went, then, in continued perfect obedience to the Father, but He went privately so as to avoid the crowds and their expectations as well as the Jewish leaders and their evil intentions. And that because too in obedience to God.
Grace, once again, in Jesus we have a picture of perfect obedience through every season of blessing and trial, even unto willingly enduring the forsaking of the Father and death on a cross. Let’s look to Him.
CONFUSED CROWDS (11-13)
In the final few verses of our passage we find another familiar scene; that of a confused and divided crowd, seeking to make sense of this man, Jesus.
11 The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” 12 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.” 13 Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.
Just like today, in Jesus’ time, it was really hard for most people to know what to do with Jesus. The stories about Him were anything but normal. His teaching was different than anything they’d heard before. That He was being talked about throughout all Israel meant people couldn’t just dismiss Him. His claims and demands, however, made it so you couldn’t just tag along comfortably. So what were the crowds and leaders to do with Him?
According to these few verses: (1) Many were looking for Him, (2) Everyone talked privately about Him, (3) Some believed Him to be “a good man”, (4) Others said He was a false teacher, and (5) No one knew exactly what to do with Him as they fearfully waited on the Jewish leaders to make a formal decision about Him.
And so it is today. What do you do with Jesus? Who do you say He is? What authority does He have on your life? Are you seeking Him and why? How tied to the world’s opinion of Him is yours? Do you believe in Him only when it’s convenient or wherever He leads and whatever it costs? Your answers to those questions mean everything.
Grace, in all of this, and in conclusion, see in this passage and hear me say: Our God reigns! The Father had perfectly planned the coming, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the sins of the world. Thirty years into His life and nearly three years into His ministry, Jesus’ own brothers joined many of the Jews in not yet understanding or believing this, however. Nevertheless, Jesus perfectly obeyed His Father without exception, even as the Father perfectly governed His perfect plan to save mankind from our sins.
May our hope be fully in Jesus for His time had come and is coming again. May we patiently say, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, come quickly!” and in the meantime, may we eagerly seek to live in faithful obedience to all that Jesus has commanded and proclaim the good news to the entire world.