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Who is Jesus Christ?

Reading: John. 7:1-31

A few years ago, an opinion poll was conducted in one of the major cities of the United States. The question was asked - "Who is Jesus Christ?" The answers that were received revealed the confusion that exists in the heart of many people. One person said, "Jesus Christ was a man who thought he was God." A biology student said "Jesus Christ is pure essence of energy. God to me is energy, electric energy because it's something that's not known."One man said, "I think that's something you have to decide for yourself, but he had some beautiful ideas." Others replied "He is an individual who lived 2000 years ago, who was interested in the social betterment of all classes of people. "Still others said, "I haven't any idea, I don't know." The confusion that exists in people's mind about Jesus of Nazareth is not something new. Who is Jesus Christ? … this is a question that men and women were already asking in Jesus' time. It was clear to all that He was an outstanding character, but what was his identity? There are two parts to this message -

  1. What did the Jews think of Jesus Christ?
  2. What do you think of Jesus Christ?

1. What did the Jews think of Jesus Christ?

The events of chapter 7 took place during the feast of the Tabernacles. That feast was a very important Jewish festival; it was one of the three feasts for which every male Jew had to go to Jerusalem. The feast of the Tabernacles was a festive time for the people. The Jews lived in booths made of branches for seven days, which was a reminder to them of God's providential care of the nation during the 40 years in the wilderness. The temple area was illuminated by large candlesticks for the occasion. These candlesticks reminded the people of the guiding and protecting pillar of fire in the desert. Each day the priests would carry water from the pool of Siloam and pour it out before the people. This ritual reminded the Jews of the miracle of the water which came from the rock.

The feast of the Tabernacles may have been a joyful time for the people, but it was a difficult time for Jesus. It marked the beginning of open and militant opposition to Him and his ministry. Now Jesus had delayed his going up to the feast of the Tabernacles. While He delayed, the people were asking questions about Him. The priests asked, "Where is He?" Others asked, "Who is He?" Some said, "He is a good man." Others replied, "No, He deceives the people." Some went so far as to say He was mad, "You have a demon.", they said. Now we are going to look at the last 3 affirmations, beginning with the last one.

Some people believed that Jesus was mad. You must remember that the Jews came from all parts of Palestine to Jerusalem to observe the feast. Many of them did not know that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus, so when Jesus said to them, "Why do you seek to kill Me?" these Jews replied (v. 30) "You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You? "In other words, they were saying to Him "You are mad, you are beside yourself, you suffer from paranoia, you must crazy to think someone wants to kill you!"

Was Jesus mad? … was He insane? When you consider people's reaction to Him you immediately see that this is not possible. People were never indifferent to Him …. they were either for Him or violently against Him. This is not the way we react to those who are mad, is it? What do you do if you meet somebody who is obviously crazy? Perhaps you will try to ignore them, or perhaps their irrational behaviour will arouse your compassion. However you don't want to kill people simply because they are mad. If their behaviour is dangerous you lock them up, but you don't kill them. And yet this is what men who did not want to follow Jesus tried do again and again.

Moreover our Lord's behaviour shows that He was the sanest man that ever lived. He always spoke with quiet authority. He was in control of the situation. He was never surprised or rattled. This comes out so clearly in our Lord's answer to the Jews. Tell me, how would you react to somebody who said to you straight out "You're possessed! You are insane, you are a fool!" Would you find it easy to remain calm and serene when you were thus verbally abused? Would it be easy in such circumstances to give an answer which was full of wisdom and truth? No, it wouldn't be easy; perhaps you would even go to pieces.

But this is not what Jesus did! To begin with, His answer just ignored the horrible charge. In this way, He has left us a beautiful example. Peter says (1 Pet. 2:23) "when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;" You cannot overcome evil with evil, but you are called to overcome evil with good. There is a Proverb that says (26:4) "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him."

The religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because he had healed a disabled man on the Sabbath. They thought He had broken the Sabbath with this miracle and therefore they hated Him, but Jesus demonstrated from the law that their hatred was totally irrational, even foolish. The law required that every male Jew had to be circumcised on the eighth day. For some of these babies, the eighth day fell on the Sabbath. So what happened to them? …. was their circumcision postponed? No of course not - so the priest had to work on the Sabbath in order to circumcise them. Why then should the Jews complain because Jesus healed a poor man on the Sabbath? They should have known that works of necessity and mercy were allowed on the Sabbath. Our Lord's conclusion is found in verse 24, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." In other words "Don't let your interpretation of the law be partial, superficial and incomplete. Take the whole counsel of God into consideration in your conclusions." Was this the answer of a mad man? No, for our Lord's answer was full of grace, wisdom and truth. Before such wisdom, the Jews were speechless.

Some other people thought that Jesus was a deceiver. We read in v. 12 "And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, 'He is good'; others said, 'No, on the contrary, He deceives the people." Obviously, Jesus could not be both a good man and a deceiver. He would have to be one or the other, for a truly good man would not deceive anybody.

So some among the people came to the conclusion that Jesus was an impostor. They thought He wanted to be a big man and so He made messianic claims and deceived many people. That would be indeed be typical of a deceiver – a deceiver seeks to be an important person, he wants the applause of the world, he wants to achieve recognition. An impostor seeks to improve his popularity and glory. But was this Jesus' behaviour? Did He seek to advance his own popularity? Did He seek the applause and honours of the world? Let us look at the opening verses of chap. 7 – Jesus' conversation with his brothers. Jesus' brothers were actually his half-brothers, the sons of Joseph and Mary. We read in vv. 2 & 3 "Now the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, 'Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world."

Now to understand their words, you must remember what happened in chap. 6. Jesus had performed an outstanding miracle with the multiplication of the loaves & fish, but obviously this miracle had done very little for Jesus' popularity, for we read in 6:66 "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." So Jesus' brothers were quite piqued by his lack of popular success, not that they were at all concerned about Jesus' divine mission They did not believe in Him and were totally blind to his divine glory, but they were hoping that Jesus would achieve a certain measure of popularity through his ministry. In this way they, being his brothers, they would have shared in his honours and popularity. and so they were saying in effect "Why do you stay here in Galilee among these unsophisticated people. Go up to the capital, to the feast and there display your power. If your miracles are genuine, perform them before the leaders of the nation and they will also see that your claims are true! Show yourself to the world!"

But Jesus replied (v. 6), "My time has not yet come." What did Jesus mean by these words? … what was Jesus' time? … the answer is obvious. Jesus' time was the time of his exaltation when his glory would be openly revealed to the world, but this time had not yet come. Now was the time of his humiliation in which He appeared not as a King, but as a Servant. All the kingdoms of the world with their glory could not tempt Him. His time had not yet come! So instead of advertising Himself, He often drew a veil over his works, for example He said to the disciples who had witnesses his transfiguration (Mk. 9:9) "that they should tell no one the things they had seen." Our Lord truly made Himself of no reputation. There was not pride of life in his heart. Now tell me, is such behaviour typical of a deceiver or of an impostor? …NO!

Jesus' true disciples display the same attitude (Phil. 2:5-8) "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."There is no pride of life in Jesus' disciples either.

Some people believed that Jesus was just a man – a good man. Some people appeared to be inclined to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, yet there was a major drawback – they thought they knew where Jesus was from. Look at v. 27, "However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from."

Was Jesus only a man, a good man as some of the Jews believed? Let us look at his teaching & particularly at the way in which He taught. We are told in v.14 that towards the middle of the feast Jesus taught openly in the temple. What exactly was the content of his teaching? How long did He teach for? We don't know, John does not give us the answer. We are simply told that the Jews were astonished by his teaching (v. 15) "And the Jews marvelled, saying, 'How does this Man know letters, having never studied?" Philip Doddridge writes this about v. 15 "These words undoubtedly refer to our Lord's great acquaintance with the Scriptures, and the judicious and masterly manner in which He taught the people out of them, with far greater majesty and nobler eloquence than the scribes could attain by a learned education." This is confirmed by the officers who had been sent to arrest Jesus. When they came back without Him, they said to the priests & Pharisees (v. 46) "No man ever spoke like this Man!" What was it that made Jesus' teaching so unique? I believe it was Jesus' divine identity.

Jesus was always aware of his divine identity throughout his life and ministry. Even when He was only twelve years old, He was conscious of his unique relationship with God. He said to his parents who had been seeking Him for three days (Luke 2:49) "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" In his public teaching, the same divine self-consciousness shone through. He spoke with a unique authority which staggered those who heard Him. He did not teach like the Pharisees who spent most of their time quoting learned writers. He did not speak like the Old Testament prophets, who began their oracles with, "Thus says the Lord." Jesus always spoke on his own divine authority, "I say to you." He spoke self-consciously, as God.

2. What do you think of Jesus Christ?

This is of course a very personal question but it is a question that we must all face. On one occasion, Jesus asked his disciples that very question. We read in Matt. 16:13-15 "When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, 'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?' So they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?" The apostle Peter gave that wonderful reply (v. 16) "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." There was no doubt whatsoever in Peter's heart, he was convinced of Jesus' divine identity. No wonder, for Jesus said to him (v. 17) "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven."

Peter's assurance was genuine because it came from above – it was a God-given gift. But how can you obtain a similar assurance? What must you do? That was basically the problem that people faced at the feast of the tabernacle. They were not sure about Jesus' identity. Was He just a madman, a deceiver, or just a good man? Was He is the Christ, as some appeared to believe? How could these Jews come to a settled conviction about Jesus' identity? Jesus gave them the answer in v. 16. He says "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority."

What do these words mean? The answer is very simple … in the kingdom of God obedience comes before assurance. God does not give assurance in spiritual things just to satisfy man's curiosity. He does not teach divine truth to those who are not ready to live by it, but if you determine in your heart that you will live by it, God will reveal the truths of Word to you. In particular, He will reveal to you the truth concerning his Son Jesus Christ. In the kingdom of God, obedience comes before assurance.

There are of course examples of that principle in the Bible. One of them comes from Elijah's life story … you find it 1 Kings. 17:9-24. It was a terrible time in Palestine because there was a severe drought all over the land. God sent his prophet to a poor widow in Zarephath (v. 9) "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." Elijah obeyed and found in Zarephath a poor widow who was utterly destitute. The only thing she had left was a handful of flour with a little bit of oil, but Elijah asked her to make a little cake for him and promised that the flour and the oil would not fail. The widow obeyed and the miracle took place. We read (v. 16), "The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah."

After this the widow's son died. That was a terrible trial for her and she said to Elijah (v. 18) "What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?" Elijah said to her, "Give me your son" and the widow again obeyed. Elijah took the child in his arms and struggled with the Lord in prayer for the boy's life. God answered Elijah's prayer and the prophet brought the child to his mother. "Your son lives" he said! What I find remarkable in this story is the widow's answer. She says (v. 24) "Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth." Whatever Elijah told her to do, she obeyed and the Lord blessed her in her faith. She knew that the word of the Lord is the truth. Obedience comes before assurance!

Or take a New Testament example – the great apostle Paul. He said before the Sanhedrin after his arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 23:1) "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." These words referred to Paul's entire life. What characterized his life was a good conscience before God. Even as a Pharisee, Paul served God with a good conscience. Although he was completely wrong in his theology, he sincerely wanted to obey God. Later on he wrote to Timothy (1 Tim. 1-12-13) "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief."

The Lord saw Paul's sincerity & He gave him more light. The day came when Paul met the risen Christ on the Damascus road. Paul said to Him (Act. 26:15), "Who are you Lord?" and Jesus replied (vv. 15-18) "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me."

Many years later Paul could say to King Agrippa (v. 19-20) "Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." What was Paul's reward? … an easy life without suffering & persecution? No, his reward was a wonderful assurance in the Lord. Such an assurance characterised his whole ministry. When death drew near to him, he could die with peaceful assurance. Although he was almost completely alone, he could write to Timothy from prison (2 Tim. 4:7-8) "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing."

Obedience comes before assurance in the kingdom of God. Will you follow Paul's example? There are wonderful promises in the Bible, will you honour them with your obedience? The Lord Jesus Christ said (Matt. 11:28) "Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." This promise is essentially for unbelievers, people who have no peace in their heart about eternity. If that is your condition, will you obey that promise? Will you go to the Lord Jesus Christ and say to Him "I bring all my sins to You for they are too heavy for me. But your word says they are not too heavy for You, please will you cleanse me in your blood?" If you do this sincerely my friends, the Lord will bless you with a wonderful assurance of salvation. Take God at his word and you will not be disappointed. Obedience comes before assurance in the Kingdom of God!

If you are a believer, here is a promise for you. The Lord Jesus Christ said (Matt. 6:33) "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." Will you obey that promise and put the kingdom of God first in your life and priorities? If you do, you will see the power of that promise in your life. You will see that the Lord Jesus Christ will indeed provide for all your needs, whatever they may be.

Obedience comes before assurance in the kingdom of God. If you remember that principle & apply it in your life, the Lord bless you with a wonderful assurance. With the great apostle Paul, you will able to say (2 Tim. 1:12)

"I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”

Thank you for reading this message. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

Quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright Thomas Nelson Inc.

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