The common root of unbelief in the brothers of Jesus and the Jewish crowds by John Piper

from Desiring God -Jan,2011

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John 7:1-24

The question I will try to answer from this text is: What is the common root that gives rise to such very different forms of unbelief in the brothers of Jesus, on the one hand, and in the Jewish crowds, on the other hand? I think this is exactly the question that the apostle John wants me to ask. I think he throws this question right in our face in verses 3–5, especially verse 5. He intentionally shocks us by telling us that Jesus’ brothers do not believe in him. And he shocks us even more by telling us what their unbelief looks like.

The Surprising Unbelief of Jesus’ Brothers

Jesus’ brothers are very excited about his miracles. They have seen some of them, and they want other people to see them as well. So they say to Jesus in verses 3­–5,

“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.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him.

Here’s the double shock: Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him! This is James and Joseph and Simon and Judas (not Iscariot), mentioned in Matthew 13:55. His brother James would be one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15), and would write one of the books of the New Testament. The apostle John knows all this. He knows James became a great believer and leader in the church. So he knows this is shocking.

A Window into the Nature of Unbelief

But he is not aiming merely to shock. He is aiming to teach about unbelief. So he shocks us again and tells us that what James’ unbelief produces is a certain kind of excitement about Jesus’ miracles. Notice carefully the connection between their unbelief in verse 5 and their excitement in verses 3–4: “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.” And why did they want Jesus to seek to be known openly and show himself as a miracle worker to the world? Verse 5: “Because not even his brothers believed in him.”

Now this is doubly shocking. If it had said, “We don’t think you can do these miracles; we think it’s all smoke and mirrors; we don’t want to be associated with you; we are embarrassed by what you are doing”—if they had said that, we would understand if Jesus said that they said it because they don’t believe. But they believe in his miracles. They believe he can do these things. They are amazed. They love it, and they want him to make an appearance in Jerusalem to win more amazed followers. And Jesus says that this comes from unbelief.

The Other Unbelief: The Jewish Crowds

So that’s one kind of unbelief in this text. The other kind seems to be almost the opposite. Many of the Jewish people in Jerusalem are not excited by Jesus’ miracles. They are threatened by them, and want to see him dead. Verse 1: “He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.” And verse 19: “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” In response, they say he has a demon. Verse 20: The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”

Jesus says that their animosity comes from the miracle that he did back in chapter 5 when he healed the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years (John 5:5–9). He had healed him on the Sabbath. And somehow this unleashed a tidal wave of animosity. John 7:21–23:

Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?”

So this is the second kind of unbelief—very different from the unbelief of the brothers. Or is it? They certainly look different. One is excited about his miracle working and wants it to be more public. The other is threatened by his miracles and wants them stopped, even it means killing Jesus. We immediately recognize the second response as unbelief. But Jesus wants us to see his brother’s kind of excitement as unbelief as well.

So my question is: How are they both unbelief? What is the common root?

Why It Matters

Before I try to answer that question, let me tell you why it matters. The short answer is that believing on Jesus is how we receive eternal life. John tells us in John 20:31 why he wrote this book—why he, for example, makes a big deal about what unbelief is in chapter 7—“These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Believing is how you get eternal life.

And we know he means “eternal life” because John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And we know that what eternal life means is that by believing in Jesus we escape from the wrath of God which is on us until we believe. John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Apart from Jesus, we are all under God’s wrath because we all have treated God with contempt by giving him so little of our attention and affection and obedience.

Only in Jesus: Eternal Life and Escape from Wrath

And we know that Jesus is the only one who can save us from the wrath of God and give us eternal life, because he is himself God in the flesh. “The Word was God  . . . and the Word became flesh” (John 1:1, 14). He is the Messiah: “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26). And he is the Lamb of God: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

So he is the only one who can die in the place of millions of sinners (“I lay down my life for the sheep,” John 10:15), and rise from the dead (“Because I lay it my life for the sheep, I will take it up again,” John 10:17–18), so that anyone who receives him and believes on him will become a child of God (John 1:12) and have eternal life.

The Word of Christ for Unbelievers—And for Believers

Click here to read the rest of this sermon from Desiring God...

Reclame

Ben Witherington – Cross Carrying vs. Burden-Bearing

I was reflecting on Luke 14 and intense way Jesus makes demands in this chapter, if one wants to be a disciple.    All too often, Christians confuse ordinary suffering with cross-bearing.   Your physical pain or suffering may well be your thorn in the flesh, but it’s not ‘your cross to bear’.  Cross-bearing as a metaphor for discipleship to Jesus has to do with a deliberately chosen course of life, not something that simply happens to you.   The second thing to be said about cross-bearing is that Jesus does not call us to bear his cross, rather he talks about picking up our own crosses, and carrying them.

Among other things, this means that there is no room for Christians developing messiah complexes as if they could save the world, perhaps through dying a spectacular death.  No, while it is true that Jesus told his followers that they might well have to give up their lives for their allegiance to him, and not just their possessions or their families,  cross-bearing for the Christian is something rather different than what happened to Jesus somewhere around 30 CE.   That was a one time event,  but as Luke stresses, the disciple is called to take up their cross daily and follow Jesus.

What this likely means is a daily commitment to present one’s self to God as a living sacrifice, a daily commitment to live a Christ-like, self-sacrificial life.   And make no mistake about it, Jesus and Luke as well emphasis how hard this is to do.  Indeed, they suggest that it is impossible, except by the grace of God and the help of God’s Spirit.  It’s not a natural normal human thing to do.  It requires divine help.

Some preachers have thought that the way to get more people into the pews is by making it easy— Gospel lite— less filling, tastes great.    In fact Jesus suggests just the opposite.  He takes the approach of the Marines.   He tells one and all, it’s going to be hard to follow, hard to live up to his demands, indeed it may even lead to one’s demise and then he exhorts his audience—-‘whose up the challenge’?   Interestingly, cheap grace apparently is not the way of getting more people to be devoted disciples.   So what’s the secret?    Jim Elliot, a modern martyr who lost his life trying to reach South American Auca Indians for Christ, put it this— “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep (i.e. this life), to gain what he cannot lose (everlasting life.”    Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested the same when he said that when Christ calls a person, in principle he calls him to come and die and indeed Bonhoeffer paid for his convictions with his life.  In other words,  when you realize this life is not the be all or end all of existence, you can sit more lightly with it,  take more risks for Christ with it,  be less self-protective or self-indulgent.   Following Christ will get you somewhere alright, and its not where the self-help gurus tell you you should go.

In reflecting on this very portion of Luke (as well as other Scriptures), Martin Luther wrote the great hymn of the Reformation entitled,  ‘Ein Feste Burg’  or as we know it ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’.    The line which should ring a bell after reading Luke 14 carefully is ‘let goods and kindred go/ this mortal life also/the body they may kill/God’s truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever.’

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The Story Behind the Hymn: All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name

Often called the „National Anthem of Christendom,” the hymn, „All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” by Edward Perronet touched the entire world, even the most dangerous territories. This inspirational story tells the account of Reverend E.P. Scott, a missionary to India who used his voice and a violin to bring glory to God, no matter the cost.

One of the most dra­ma­tic in­stanc­es of [this hymn’s] use was found in the ex­per­i­ence ofthe Rev. E. P. Scott in In­dia. His friends had urged him not to ven­ture near a cer­tain bar­bar­ous in­land tribe, whom he wished to evan­gel­ize. But he went forth with high cour­age, ne­ver wa­ver­ing in his du­ty, and trust­ing in God to pro­tect him. When at last he reached their coun­try among the hills, he came up­on a com­pa­ny of these sav­ag­es. Im­me­di­ate­ly they sur­round­ed him, point­ing their spears at him with threat­en­ing scowls. He had no­thing in his hand but his vi­o­lin; and so, clos­ing his eyes, he be­gan to play and sing, “All Hail the Pow­er of Je­sus’ Name.” When at last he opened his eyes he ex­pect­ed to be killed in­stant­ly. But his life had been spared through the sing­ing of the hymn. Their spears had dropped, and they re­ceived him first with cur­i­o­si­ty and in­ter­est, and then lat­er with ea­gern­ess, as he told them the gos­pel sto­ry and won their hearts to the will of Je­sus Christ.

All hail the power of Jesus’ Name! Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown Him Lord of all.
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown Him Lord of all.

Let highborn seraphs tune the lyre, and as they tune it, fall
Before His face Who tunes their choir, and crown Him Lord of all.
Before His face Who tunes their choir, and crown Him Lord of all.

Crown Him, ye morning stars of light, who fixed this floating ball;
Now hail the strength of Israel’s might, and crown Him Lord of all.
Now hail the strength of Israel’s might, and crown Him Lord of all.

Crown Him, ye martyrs of your God, who from His altar call;
Extol the Stem of Jesse’s Rod, and crown Him Lord of all.
Extol the Stem of Jesse’s Rod, and crown Him Lord of all.

Ye seed of Israel’s chosen race, ye ransomed from the fall,
Hail Him Who saves you by His grace, and crown Him Lord of all.
Hail Him Who saves you by His grace, and crown Him Lord of all.

Hail Him, ye heirs of David’s line, whom David Lord did call,
The God incarnate, Man divine, and crown Him Lord of all,
The God incarnate, Man divine, and crown Him Lord of all.

Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget the wormwood and the gall,
Go spread your trophies at His feet, and crown Him Lord of all.
Go spread your trophies at His feet, and crown Him Lord of all.

Let every tribe and every tongue before Him prostrate fall
And shout in universal song the crownèd Lord of all.
And shout in universal song the crownèd Lord of all.

Mai curat decit diamantul, carte de Madame J. C. de Ferrieres

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