Saturday, February 22, 2014

Jesus at the Feast of Booths - I

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him (John 7:1).

The "this" to which John refers here is the confrontation between Jesus and the Jews in chapter six. After having fed the 5,000 the crowds followed Jesus with the intention of crowing him a bread-king. Jesus teaches the crowds, pointing out their unbelief and culminating with the shocking statement that, "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:54). As a result of this "hard saying" many of those disciples who had followed him because of the miracles he had done left him. Jesus offended the masses by claiming that he was the bread of life sent by the Father, which was prefigured by the manna of the Old Testament. This, along with his claims to be God's Son - and therefore equal to God - is why the Jews were seeking to kill him and why he withdrew to the more remote region of Galilee.

Now the Jew's Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, "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." For not even his brothers believed in him (John 7:2-5).

The Feast of Booths was the major harvest festival, one of the three times per year when it was required for Jewish men to present themselves before the LORD at the temple. It was a celebration that lasted seven days, during which the people constructed huts, or "booths", from tree branches and dwelt therein. The feast commemorated Israel's travels in the desert on the way to the Promised Land and the fact that God protected, blessed, and cared for his people.

Jesus' brothers, who are not among his disciples, taunt him, and mockingly encourage him to go up to the feast. "Ok, Messiah," they are telling him, "put your money where your mouth is. You're not going to be the King of the Jews out here in the sticks. If you're really the Messiah go to Jerusalem and prove it." Jesus' brothers speak to Jesus as if he is running for the office of Messiah. They taunt Jesus by telling him that, " one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly," as if Jesus was attempting to garner support for an uprising like other revolutionary zealots of the day. This attitude betrays the fundamental misunderstanding Jesus' brothers had - along with the Scribes, Pharisees, and Teachers of the Law - of what the Messiah would be and do. They expected a political savior who would throw off the yoke of Roman oppression and establish Israel as a powerful independent kingdom, with the religious establishment wielding political power.

They, simply put, didn't believe Jesus was who he said he was. The implication of their taunting was that their weirdo brother Jesus, who said these strange and enigmatic things about feeding people with his body and blood, would be exposed as the crazy person he was. Either he would go to the feast and be exposed, or he would stay in isolation in Galilee, effectively admitting to everyone that all this Son of God nonsense was just that - nonsense.

Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come." After saying this he remained in Galilee (John 7:6-9).

Jesus responds to the taunts of his brothers by pointing out that they are of the world, and he is not of the world, a theme he will revisit and expand upon when talking to the Pharisees in chapter eight. Jesus says that he will not go to the feast. This makes sense for two reasons. First, he has already caused great controversy among the religious leaders and the people who had been following him. It could hardly be safe for him to publicly go up to Jerusalem where the Jewish leaders were seeking to kill him. Secondly, as Jesus explained, his time had not yet come. Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, was the ultimate Passover lamb. His would be a once for all sacrifice to make atonement for the sin of mankind. Consequently, Jesus' time would come, but not at the Feast of Booths (Lenski, 1964). Jesus would enter Jerusalem amid great spectacle on Palm Sunday. Jesus would be killed on the cross as the final sacrifice for sin, the one to which all those previous Passover sacrifices pointed, at Passover.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” 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.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him (John 7:10-13).

Does John here record Jesus lying? I mean, first he told them that he was not going to the feast. Then, in the next paragraph John writes, "...then he also went up..." in seeming contradiction to what Jesus said he was going to do. Kretzmann believes that Jesus was not opposed to going to Jerusalem per se; Jesus did not wish to make a public spectacle of his arrival in Jerusalem and his attendance at the feast because doing so would quite possibly disrupt the sequence of events as they were to play out. Jesus did certainly miss a good portion of the feast. There is also no real evidence from the text that Jesus participated in any of the festivities associated with the Feast of Booths, though the text does go on to say that he goes to the temple to teach (Lutheran Study Bible, 2009).

Jesus let His brothers, with their peculiar ideas concerning Messianic revelations, go up to the capital alone. But after they were gone, He started out on His journey to the feast, with none of the publicity which they had recommended. It was for that reason that He had refused to go with them openly, because the attention which it would draw on the way and on His arrival in Jerusalem would not be beneficial to the cause. He went secretly, in order not to cause excitement and to irritate the Jews into such a mental condition that they would carry out their murderous design at once. The object of His journey was only to teach in Jerusalem once more, to preach the Gospel of redemption through His Word and work (Kretzmann, 1921).

The people attending the feast, as well as the Jewish religious leaders, were indeed waiting to see if Jesus would show himself. John writes that Jesus was the topic of much debate among the people, though it had to be carried on in secret. No one wanted to take any chances where Jesus was concerned. To be perceived as defending him or being his disciple could get a person expelled from the community, and that was a seriously big deal. Such was the threat to the man born blind and his parents after he was healed by Jesus. The attitude of the people and the tenor of their debate shows how the world, left on it's own, looks at Jesus. The religious establishment seeks to murder Jesus to save their place in the nation; the people are divided as to whether Jesus is a good man, or a deceptive man. Though they have the witness of the Scriptures, those people who are "of the world" cannot see Jesus for what he really is - true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, true man born of a woman - the God-man who would make purification for sins, and sit down at the right hand of the Father.

The world continues to see Jesus this way. In the eyes of the unbelieving world Jesus is either a champion of morality and virtue who prescribes a right way of living, or he is charlatan and a liar who attempted to gain a following through deception, or he is a self-deceived lunatic (Kretzmann, 1921). Jesus, in turn, calls the world and it's works evil. People, who are by nature sinful and unclean, inclined to sin and turn away from God, cannot help but see Jesus in one of these ways. The Father, however, draws us out of the world to Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of his word. We hear God's Law, see our sin, and are terrified, because we know what we deserve for all of our worldly evil. That, however, is not the end of the story. Because of Jesus' atoning sacrifice on the cross, we have been reconciled to God. If we confess our sin God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Lord Jesus Christ, Your time has come, for You have traveled to Jerusalem fro the Passover from death to life. help us to live knowing that the time of our redemption is at hand as You continue to dwell among us at the feast of Your very body and blood, a foretaste of the feast to come; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen (Treasury of Daily Prayer, 2008).

Works Cited

Engelbrecht, Edward, and Paul E. Deterding. The Lutheran Study Bible: English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 2009. Print.

Kinnaman, Scot A., and Henry V. Gerike. Treasury of Daily Prayer. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2008. Print.

Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1961. Print.

"Popular Commentary, by Paul E. Kretzmann." Popular Commentary, by Paul E. Kretzmann. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.