Insights

Our GTC Insights are now written by Dr Stuart Johnson, our Associate Principal, South Island and are posted on our website on a monthly basis. In 2013 we plan to publish an Insight style article in both editions of Grace Alone, the newsletter of Grace Theological College. In addition, I plan to write a few ‘stand-alone’ Insight pieces, similar to the one offered below on John 7. The writing of Insights was first begun several years ago by our then Principal Andrew Young who wrote short, pithy articles generally related to material being taught at GTC. For past series see below.

Current Insight

Insights from John 7

Jesus Christ is the most believed-IN person in history. No other person has won such a large allegiance, and Jesus knew this would happen. In Matthew 13 Jesus likened his kingdom to a mustard seed:  “though it is the smallest of all seeds, when it grows it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches”. Jesus knew that allegiance to Him would start small but one day be huge, providing eternal rest for a vast number.

But in John 7 we are still at the seed stage, and it’s shocking stuff. Mass delusion, murderous hearts, and a stubborn, proud rejection of God’s mercy in Jesus; it’s all here in John 7, as we enter the last six months of the earthly life of Jesus.

John 7 starts in Galilee and moves to the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) in Jerusalem. This was one of three great annual festivals of the Old Testament church: Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. It was held in autumn, just after the summer harvest, and for most Jews this eight-day festival was the highlight of the year. It celebrated God’s provision in three ways: in the recent harvest; in what God did for his people in the desert wanderings with Moses; and it pointed to God’s great end time promise to bless the whole world with a river of life. John 7 is about Jesus at this huge festival, and shows both the unbelief of Israel and the majesty of Jesus Christ, which we will consider in turn.

Initially, John highlights the unbelief of Jesus’ earthly family. His brothers urged him to leave Galilee and go to Judea, to make a name for himself, about which John says, “for even his own brothers did not believe in him” (vs. 5). His family wanted the Messiah of popular expectation, a triumphant king without suffering. This echoed Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness; it was the offer of glory without the cross.

In his own time, Jesus went to Jerusalem and the feast, and found that he was the big topic of conversation. The Jewish leaders were watching for him (‘Where is that man’), while ‘among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him’ (some said, ‘He is a good man’, others ‘No he deceives the people’ vs. 11-13). John then narrates the unbelief of Israel and her spiritual leaders, in response to the teaching of Jesus (vs. 14-36). Some think Jesus demon-possessed (vs. 20). Then comes discussion as to whether Jesus is the Messiah. Some say “No” (vs. 27), because they knew where Jesus came from, for many thought the origin of the Messiah would be a mystery (not a biblical idea but popular at the time). Others complained that Jesus came from Galilee but the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), and in fact Jesus had been born in Bethlehem (his family moving later to Galilee), but this was not yet commonly known. Some in the crowd want to kill Jesus, while others are sympathetic. As for the religious leaders, having been soundly rebuked (vs. 21-24) they send guards to arrest Jesus (vs. 32). It’s mayhem!

It is into this maelstrom of unbelief and confusion that the Lord speaks, displaying his majesty; for he is indeed Immanuel, God with us (vs. 37-38). But first, it is helpful to hear briefly about the Feast of Tabernacles. On the first seven days of this great festival a large gold jar with two handles was filled with water, and carried in procession by the High Priest into the temple. As they approached the gate of the inner court there were three blasts from a trumpet, then, surrounded by pilgrims, the priests walked around the altar carrying the jar while the temple choir sang, starting at Psalm 113. When the choir reached Psalm 118 every pilgrim would wave his right hand, holding twigs of myrtle and willow, and hold up in his left hand a piece of citrus fruit, a sign of the harvest. Then they would all yell out together three times, “Give thanks to the Lord”, upon which the water, and also wine, was poured out before the Lord at his altar. This symbolised God’s past and present provision and pointed to the greatest hope of all, the outpouring of the Spirit of God like a river on all mankind.

With that in mind hear the words of Jesus in vs. 37: ‘On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John adding, ‘by this he meant the Spirit’). We need to see the immensity of this statement, for Jesus is saying: I am the embodiment of this festival; I am the provision of God; I am the hope of the ages; I am your Messiah; I am the one through whom God’s Spirit will be poured out upon all the peoples of the world. Jesus will bring the long promised living water, the presence of God leading to everlasting life.

This was what God’s holy prophets had longed for, and often used the imagery of water, or saw water in the visions God gave them. Zechariah spoke of a fountain of the house of David (Zech. 13:1), and “living water” flowing out from Jerusalem “when the Lord will be king over the whole earth” (Zech. 14:9). Ezekiel saw a great temple with a river flowing from it, and wherever the river flowed came transformation, with lush trees and vegetation, while everywhere else was a wasteland (Ez. 47). Isaiah saw a day when people will draw water from the wells of salvation and rejoice (Isa. 12). And Isaiah again, in chapter 55, speaks of God making an everlasting covenant to bless the nations through King David’s family, into which Jesus was born. He speaks of God’s fabulous wisdom sent to the earth; a word that will not return empty but achieve all God sent it to achieve (cf. John 1:14). And Isaiah 55 also issues an invitation: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, you who have no money, come buy and eat”. The idea of no money is what Jesus called being ‘poor in Spirit’. People who know that they have no merit before God, and who look alone to the grace of God for salvation. This is some of the prophetic background to Jesus saying: “Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within him”.

Now, what is utterly astounding is that here at this feast Jesus is six months from the next great feast, the Passover. Which means he is 6 months from when he will die for sin. Six months from total rejection and abandonment, when perhaps (however briefly), not a single person on earth believed in him (yes, a few loved him dearly, but they did not yet believe; they did not understand him or the cross). However, and this is truly fabulous, although Jesus well-knew how bleak it would be in 6 months time, he also knew how wonderful it would be in 8 months time. That’s the next festival again, that’s Pentecost, that’s Acts 2. With God’s Spirit poured out by the risen and exalted Lord Jesus, creating thousands of new believers, growing to many hundreds of millions in the centuries since!

You see Jesus knew that he would die and rise from the dead. Jesus knew that he would return to the Father, and then pour out his life giving Spirit. And Jesus knew that the Spirit would build his church. This is the reason, amidst unbelief and threats of murder in John 7, that Jesus could stand and speak in a loud voice, and with complete certainty and fullness of majesty invite everyone to drink of him. To drink means to believe; to trust, to put our faith and confidence in Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins and the presence of God leading to eternal life. That is the heart of the Christian message. Many then and now reject this, saying “I’ll come to God on my terms, in my own way”. But Jesus will not allow that: “If anyone is thirsty let him come to ME and drink. Whoever believes in ME, streams of living water will flow from within”. He did not say whoever embarks on a self-improvement exercise, or tries to live a moral life, or believes in Zeus or Buddha or Ronald McDonald, but whoever believes in ME, will have the transforming life of the Spirit of God (cf. John 14:6). And this invitation still stands. In fact the Bible closes with it, with Jesus speaking into the centuries to come, into your life and mine, with these words: “Come! Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).

In Mark 8 Jesus asked his closest disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and they talked about that. But he followed it up with “But what about you: who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8). And this is the question of Jesus Christ to us all. It is the ultimate question. Do not reject the offer of God’s mercy in Jesus. Come to him: acknowledge your thirst, your need for what only Christ can provide. Come to the author of life. Come and experience the life of God in Jesus Christ, and “streams of living water will flow from within” you, as God dwells in your heart and transforms your life. You see the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ at our conversion, and then blesses and strengthens and deepens that union, empowering an ever-deeper faith and repentance; day by day, month by month, year by year. Enabling us to see Christ more clearly, and to know him, and love him, and trust him, more and more, in every part of our life. Enabling us to more and more see the world, and everyone and everything in it, the way he does, such that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us, as the Spirit of the glorified Jesus lives in us, building his church. This is the life of God that only Jesus can provide. This is the life that will fill and renew your heart, and carry you to eternity; into the coming new creation. So let nothing stand between you and the full enjoyment of the life of God in Jesus Christ. And then, in the picture of Isaiah 58: “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail”.

Amen

Former Insights:

Current Series:


Past Series:

Insights on some themes from Calvin

Insights on the Relationship Between Theology, Spiritual Experience and Practice

Insights on Pastoral Ministry

Insights on Guidance

Insights on Spirituality

Insights from America

Insights on Spiritual Development

Insights on Sharing God’s Truth

Insights from the Puritans

Insights on the Westminster Confession of Faith

Insights on Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the Church Today

Insights on the Life of the Local Church

Insights on the Heart of a Godly Leader

Insights for Church Revitalization

Insights on Strengthening the Inner Life

Insights on Evangelism Insights from Life

Insights for Christians in Ministry

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