Monday, April 14, 2014

Jesus at the Feast of Booths - II

Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews were amazed and asked, "How did this man get such learning without having studied?" (John 7:14-15).

It's difficult enough these days to get a job when you have all your ducks in a row. It's nearly impossible to do so without the proper credentials. For the vast majority of high school students that involves some sort of college education. College, of course, isn't right for everyone. Some people go to technical schools to receive practical hands-on training in their chosen field. Still others, such as policemen, may not be required to have a college education by their employer. They are sent to a police academy, where they are taught the skills and learn the information vital to a successful career of doughnut-eating and vindictive ticket-writing.

The thing these examples have in common is that, before one can begin a job, one is required to demonstrate proficiency. Imagine a "doctor" practicing without a medical degree, or a lawyer practicing without having passed the bar. Today we demonstrate our proficiency through some sort of license, degree, or certification. When the patient sees the diploma on the wall of their physicians office, they understand that it represents the many years of hard work, study, and practice (not to mention money) that the doctor spent learning and honing his craft. When the citizen sees the badge on the breast of the policeman, he can reasonably trust that the officer's job proficiency, as well as his authority, are derived from more than simply watching reruns of T.J. Hooker.

Jesus, however, had no credentials. He had no "degree", and this was a serious affront to "the Jews", the religious leaders made up of the scribes, the Pharisees, and the teachers of the Law. There may not have been a system of accredited seminaries in first century Judea like we have today in the United States, but there certainly was a system. Jesus, however, had not been a part of that system and for him to teach as he did was scandalous.

It wasn't, however, only that Jesus was teaching without being properly certified. When the Jews taught, they carefully cited previous teachers and scholars of the Law. They all sought to cite their teachings in order to show that they were correct (by two or three witnesses shall testimony be established, after all) and that they had credibility. Jesus taught, as Scripture says, as one who had authority. In other words, Jesus taught the people, not by showing what those rabbis who came before him said about the Law. He taught as the one who wrote and implemented the Law. This attitude was not lost on the people and the Jews. The Bible tells us that the people marveled and openly wondered what kind of statement Jesus was trying to make:

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law...The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him,” (Mark 1:22, 27).

This also included the religious leaders:

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn't you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things (Matthew 21:23-27).

The Jews, however, really understood that Jesus was claiming deity for himself, and that's why they plotted to kill him. Jesus could, of course, teach in this way because he is the Messiah, the divine Son of God and second person of the Trinity. He is, as Scripture calls him, the author of life, the one through whom creation came into being, the one who was the very image of God the Father.

Jesus demonstrated this authority by what he did in addition to what he said and the manner in which he taught:

Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home (Matthew 9:5-7).

He restored sight to the blind, opened the ears of the deaf, loosed the tongues of the dumb, raised the dead, and ultimately, rose from the dead himself. The Jews saw all these things but refused to see them for the signs they were. These things were the credentials, so to speak, that holy scripture said would accompany the Messiah. The Jews, however, demanded that Jesus "tell them plainly" who he claimed to be, and asked for a sign to prove his claims. Having ears, they did not hear; having eyes they did not see.

“ [Peter said] Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:37-41).

So, with this picture of Jesus presented to us, we are in the same situation as the Jews to whom St. Peter preached. When we give in to our sinful nature, gratifying it's desires and falling into sin, we are just as guilty as those who sought to put Jesus to death. The devil, the world, and our own sinful nature mislead us into false belief, despair and other sin. When we, however, repent of our sin, God, who is faithful and just, forgives our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We can rest in the assurance of Jesus' authority as God to forgive our sin, and we can live with the sure and certain hope that, even though we may suffer many things on this earth - including physical death - Jesus will, on the Last Day, raise all the dead, and give eternal life to all believers in Christ. Until that time, we strive to live in accordance with the new nature we have received by the Spirit:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (Galatians 5:16-18).