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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
John 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-53

Chapter 7

NOT MAN'S TIME BUT GOD'S (John 7:1-9)

7:1-9 After these things Jesus moved about in Galilee, for he did not wish to move about in Judaea, because the Jews were out to kill him. The festival of the Jews which is called the Festival of Tabernacles was near. So his brothers said to him: "Leave here and go down to Jerusalem so that your disciples will get the chance to see the works that you do. For no one goes on doing things in secret, when he wishes to draw public attention to himself. Since you can do these things, show yourself to the world." For even his brothers did not believe in him. So Jesus said to them: "The time of opportunity that I am looking for has not yet come; but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I bear witness about it that its deeds are evil. Go up to the festival yourselves. I am not yet going up to the festival, because my time has not yet come." When he had said these things to them he remained in Galilee.

The Festival of Tabernacles fell at the end of September and the beginning of October. It was one of the obligatory festivals and every adult male Jew who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to attend it. But devout Jews from far outside the fifteen mile radius delighted to go to it. It lasted altogether for eight days. Later in this chapter we shall have occasion to deal more fully with it. When it came round, Jesus' brothers urged him to go to Jerusalem for it; but Jesus rejected their arguments and went in his own good time.

There is one unique thing in this passage which we must note. According to the Revised Standard Version (John 7:7) Jesus says: "My time is not yet come." Jesus frequently spoke about his time or his hour. But here he uses a different word, and uses it for the only time. In the other passages (John 2:4; John 7:30; John 8:20; John 12:27) the word that Jesus or John uses is hora (Greek #5610), which means the destined hour of God. Such a time or hour was not movable nor avoidable. It had to be accepted without argument and without alteration because it was the hour at which the plan of God had decided that something must happen. But in this passage the word is kairos (Greek #2540), which characteristically means an opportunity; that is, the best time to do something, the moment when circumstances are most suitable, the psychological moment. Jesus is not saying here that the destined hour of God has not come but something much simpler. He is saying that that was not the moment which would give him the chance for which he was waiting.

That explains why Jesus later actually did go to Jerusalem. Many people have been troubled about the fact that he first told his brothers he would not go and then went. Schopenhauer, the German philosopher, actually said: "Jesus Christ did of set purpose utter a falsehood." Other people have argued that it means that Jesus said that he was not going up to the festival publicly but that did not preclude him from going privately. But Jesus is saying simply: "If I go up with you just now I will not get the opportunity I am looking for. The time is not opportune." So he delayed his going until the middle of the festival, since to arrive with the crowds all assembled and expectant gave him a far better opportunity than to go at the very beginning. Jesus is choosing his time with careful prudence in order to get the most effective results.

From this passage we learn two things:

(i) It is impossible to force Jesus' hand. His brothers tried to force him into going to Jerusalem. It was what we might call a dare. They were quite right from the human point of view. Jesus' great miracles had been wrought in Galilee--the changing of the water into wine (John 2:1 ff); the healing of the nobleman's son (John 4:46); the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1 ff). The only miracle that he had wrought in Jerusalem was the curing of the impotent man at the pool (John 5:1 ff). It was not unnatural to tell Jesus to go to Jerusalem and let his supporters there see what he could do. The story makes it clear that the healing of the impotent man had been regarded far more as an act of Sabbath breaking than as a miracle. Further, if Jesus was ever to succeed in winning men, he could not hope to do so by hiding in a comer; he must act in such a way that everyone could see what he did. Still further, Jerusalem was the keypoint. The Galilaeans were notoriously hot-blooded and hot-headed. Anyone who wanted a following would have no difficulty in raising one in the excitable atmosphere of Galilee; but Jerusalem was a very different proposition. It was the acid test.

Jesus' brothers could have put up a good case for their insistence; but Jesus' hand is not to be forced. He does things, not in man's time, but in God's. Man's impatience of man must learn to wait on God's wisdom.

(ii) It is impossible to treat Jesus with indifference. It did not matter when his brothers went to Jerusalem, for no one would notice they were there and nothing whatever depended on their going. But Jesus' going was a very different thing. Why? Because his brothers were in tune with the world and they did not make it uncomfortable. But Jesus' coming is a condemnation of the world's way of life and a challenge to selfishness and lethargy. Jesus had to choose his moment, for when he arrives something happens.

REACTIONS TO JESUS (John 7:10-13)

7:10-13 When his brothers had gone up to the festival, then he too went up, not openly, but, as it were, in secret. So the Jews searched for him at the festival, and kept saying: "Where is he?" And there was many a heated argument about him among the crowds. Some said: "He is a good man." But others said: "No; far from it; he is leading the people astray." But no one spoke about him openly because of their fear of the Jews.

Jesus chose his own moment and went to Jerusalem. Here we have the reactions of the people when they were confronted with him. Now one of the supreme interests of this chapter is the number of such reactions of which it tells; and we collect them all here.

(i) There was the reaction of his brothers (John 7:1-5). It was really a reaction of half-amused and teasing contempt. They did not really believe in him; they were really egging him on, as you might egg on a precocious boy. We still meet that attitude of tolerant contempt to Christianity.

George Bernanos in The Diary of a Country Priest tells how the country priest used sometimes to be invited to dinner at the big aristocratic house of his parish. The owner would encourage him to speak and argue before his guests, but he did it with that half-amused, half-contemptuous tolerance with which he might encourage a child to show off or a dog to display his tricks. There are still people who forget that Christian faith is a matter of life and death.

(ii) There was the sheer hatred of the Pharisees and of the chief priests (John 7:7; John 7:19). They did not hate him for the same reason, because in point of fact they hated each other. The Pharisees hated him because he drove through their petty rules and regulations. If he was right, they were wrong; and they loved their own little system more than they loved God. The Sadducees were a political party. They did not observe the Pharisaic rules and regulations. Nearly all the priests were Sadducees. They collaborated with their Roman masters, and they had a very comfortable and even luxurious time. They did not want a Messiah; for when he came their political set-up would disintegrate and their comfort would be gone. They hated Jesus because he interfered with the vested interests which were dearer to them than God.

It is still possible for a man to love his own little system more than he loves God, and to place his own vested interests above the challenge of the adventurous and the sacrificial way.

(iii) Both these reactions issued in the consuming desire to eliminate Jesus (John 7:30; John 7:32). When a man's ideals clash with those of Christ, either he must submit or he must seek to destroy him. Hitler would have no Christians about him, for the Christian owed a higher loyalty than loyalty to the state. A man is faced with a simple alternative if he allows Christ into his orbit. He can either do what he likes or he can do what Christ likes; and if he wishes to go on doing as he likes, he must seek to eliminate Christ.

(iv) There was arrogant contempt (John 7:15; John 7:47-49). What right had this man to come and lay down the law? Jesus had no cultural background; he had no training in the rabbinic schools and colleges. Surely no intelligent person was going to listen to him? Here was the reaction of academic snobbery.

Many of the greatest poets and writers and evangelists have had no technical qualifications at all. That is not for one moment to say that study and culture and education are to be despised and abandoned; but we must have a care never to wave a man away and consign him to the company who do not matter simply because he lacks the technical equipment of the schools.

(v) There was the reaction of the crowd. This was twofold. First, there was the reaction of interest (John 7:11). The one thing impossible when Jesus really invades life is indifference. Apart from anything else, Jesus is the most interesting figure in the world. Second, there was the reaction of discussion (John 7:12; John 7:43). They talked about Jesus; they put forward their views about him; they debated about him. There is both value and danger here. The value is that nothing helps us clarify our own opinions like pitting them against someone else's. Mind sharpens mind as iron sharpens iron. The danger is that religion can so very easily come to be regarded as a matter for argument and debate and discussion, a series of fascinating questions, about which a man may talk for a lifetime--and do nothing. There is all the difference in the world between being an argumentative amateur theologian, willing to talk until the stars go out, and a truly religious person, who has passed from talking about Christ to knowing him.

VERDICTS ON JESUS (John 7:10-13 continued)

In this chapter there is a whole series of verdicts on Jesus.

(i) There is the verdict that he was a good man (John 7:12). That verdict is true, but it is not the whole truth. It was Napoleon who made the famous remark: "I know men, and Jesus Christ is more than a man." Jesus was indeed truly man; but in him was the mind of God. When he speaks it is not one man speaking to another; if that were so we might argue about his commands. When he speaks it is God speaking to men; and Christianity means not arguing about his commands, but accepting them.

(ii) There is the verdict that he was a prophet (John 7:40). That too is true. The prophet is the forth-teller of the will of God, the man who has lived so close to God that he knows his mind and purposes. That is true of Jesus; but there is this difference. The prophet says: "Thus saith the Lord." His authority is borrowed and delegated. His message is not his own. Jesus says: "I say unto you." He has the right to speak, not with a delegated authority, but with his own.

(iii) There is the verdict that he was a deluded madman (John 7:20). It is true that either Jesus is the only completely sane person in the world or he was mad. He chose a Cross when he might have had power. He was the Suffering Servant when he might have been the conquering king. He washed the feet of his disciples when he might have had men kneeling at his own feet. He came to serve when he could have subjected the world to servitude. It is not common sense that the words of Jesus give us, but uncommon sense. He turned the world's standards upside down, because into a mad world he brought the supreme sanity of God.

(iv) There is the verdict that he was a seducer. The Jewish authorities saw in him one who was leading men away from true religion. He was accused of every crime against religion in the calendar--of being a Sabbath-breaker, of being a drunkard and a glutton, of having the most disreputable friends, of destroying orthodox religion. It is quite clear that, if we prefer our idea of religion to his, he will certainly appear a seducer--and it is one of the hardest things in the world for any man to do to admit that he is wrong.

(v) There is the verdict that he was a man of courage (John 7:26). No one could ever doubt his sheer courage. He had the moral courage to defy convention and be different. He had the physical courage that could bear the most terrible pain. He had the courage to go on when his family abandoned him, and his friends forsook him, and one of his own circle betrayed him. Here we see him courageously entering Jerusalem when to enter it was to enter the lions' den. He "feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man."

(vi) There is the verdict that he had a most dynamic personality (John 7:46). The verdict of the officers who were sent to arrest him and came back empty-handed was that never had any man spoken like this. Julian Duguid tells how he once voyaged on the same Atlantic liner as Sir Wilfred Grenfell, and he says that when Grenfell came into a room you could tell it even if you had your back to him, for a wave of vitality emanated from him. When we think of how this Galilaean carpenter faced the highest in the land and dominated them until it was they who were on trial and not he, we are bound to admit that he was at least one of the supreme personalities in history. The picture of a gentle, anaemic Jesus will not do. From him flowed a power that sent those despatched to arrest him back in empty-handed bewilderment.

(vii) There is the verdict that he was the Christ, the Anointed One of God. Nothing less will do. It. is the plain fact that Jesus does not fit into any of the available human categories; only the category of the divine will do.

Before we leave the general study of this chapter there are three other reactions to Jesus that we must note.

(i) There was the crowd's reaction of fear (John 7:13). They talked about him but they were afraid to talk too loud. The word that John uses for their talking is an onomatopoeic word--that is, a word which imitates the sound of what it describes. It is the word goggusmos (Greek #1112) (two g's in Greek are pronounced "ng"). The King James Version translates it murmuring; the Revised Standard Version, muttering. It indicates a kind of growling, discontented undertone. It is the word used for the grumbling of the children of Israel in the wilderness when they complained against Moses. They muttered the complaints they were afraid to utter out loud. Fear can keep a man from making a clarion call of his faith and can turn it into an indistinct mutter. The Christian should never be afraid to tell the world in ringing tones that he believes in Christ.

(ii) The reaction of a certain number of the crowd was belief (John 7:31). These were the men and women who could not deny the evidence of their own eyes. They heard what Jesus said; they saw what he did; they were confronted with his dynamism; and they believed. If a man rids himself of prejudice and fear, he is bound in the end to finish in belief.

(iii) The reaction of Nicodemus was to defend Jesus (John 7:50). In that council of the Jewish authorities his was the lone voice raised in defence. There lies the duty of every one of us. Ian Maclaren, author of Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush, used to tell students when they preached: "Speak a good word for Jesus Christ." We live today in a world which is hostile to Christianity in many ways and in many places, but the strange thing is that the world was never more ready to talk about Christ and to discuss religion. We live in a generation when every one of us can earn the royal title, "Defender of the Faith." It is the privilege that God has given us that we can all be advocates and defenders of Christ in face of the criticism --and sometimes the mockery--of men.

THE ULTIMATE AUTHORITY (John 7:15-18)

7:15-18 The Jews were amazed. "How," they said, "can this fellow read when he is quite uneducated?" "My teaching," said Jesus, "is not mine, but it belongs to him who sent me. If anyone is willing to do his will, he will understand whether my teaching derives from God, or whether I am speaking from no source beyond myself. The man who speaks from no other source beyond himself is out for his own glory. He who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is no wickedness in him."

We have already had occasion to see that it is very likely that some parts of John's gospel have become misplaced. Maybe he never had time to put it fully in order; maybe the leaves on which it was written were finally assembled wrongly. This section and the one which follows form one of the clearest cases of misplacement. As these two passages come in here they hardly make sense for they have no connection with their context. It is almost certain that they should come after John 5:47. John 5:1-47 tells of the healing of the impotent man at the healing pool. That miracle was done on the Sabbath and was regarded by the Jewish authorities as a breach of that day. In his defence Jesus cited the writings of Moses and said that if they really knew what these writings meant and really believed in them, they would also believe in him. The chapter finishes: "If you had believed in Moses, you would have believed in me, for he wrote about me. If you do not believe in his writings, how will you believe in my words?" (John 5:47). If we go straight from there and read John 7:15-24 it makes a clear connection. Jesus has just referred to the writing of Moses, and immediately the astonished Jewish leaders break in: "How can this fellow read when he is quite uneducated?" We will understand the sense and the relevance of John 7:15-24 far better if we assume that it originally came after John 5:47; and with that in mind we turn to the passage itself.

The criticism was that Jesus was quite uneducated. It is exactly the same accusation that was made against Peter and John when they stood before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13). Jesus had been to no rabbinic school. It was the practice that only the disciple of an accredited teacher was entitled to expound scripture, and to talk about the law. No Rabbi ever made a statement on his own authority. He always began: "There is a teaching that..." He then went on to cite quotations and authorities for every statement he made. And here was this Galilaean carpenter, a man with no training whatever, daring to quote and to expound Moses to them.

Jesus could very well have walked straight into a trap here. He might have said: "I need no teacher; I am self-taught; I got my teaching and my wisdom from no one but myself." But, instead, he said in effect: "You ask who was my teacher? You ask what authority I produce for my exposition of scripture? My authority is God" Jesus claimed to be God-taught. It is in fact a claim he makes again and again. "I have not spoken on my own authority. The Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak" (John 12:49). "The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority" (John 14:10).

Frank Salisbury tells of a letter he received after he had painted his great picture of the burial of the unknown warrior in Westminster Abbey. A fellow artist wrote: "I want to congratulate you on the great picture that you have painted--or rather the picture that God has helped you to paint." All great productions of the human mind and spirit are given by God. If we glory in being self-taught, if we claim that any discovery we have made is our own unaided work, we are, in the last analysis, glorifying only our own reputation and our own selves. The greatest of men think not of the power of their own mind or hand; they think always of the God who told them what they know and taught them what they can do.

Further, Jesus goes on to lay down a truth. Only the man who does God's will can truly understand His teaching. That is not a theological but a universal truth. We learn by doing. A doctor might learn the technique of surgery from textbooks. He might know the theory of every possible operation. But that would not make him a surgeon; he has to learn by doing. A man might learn the way in which an automobile engine works; in theory he might be able to carry out every possible repair and adjustment; but that would not make him an engineer; he has to learn by doing.

It is the same with the Christian life. If we wait until we have understood everything, we will never start at all. But if we begin by doing God's will as we know it, God's truth will become clearer and clearer to us. We learn by doing. If a man says: "I cannot be a Christian because there is so much of Christian doctrine that I do not understand, and I must wait until I understand it all," the answer is: "You never will understand it all; but if you start trying to live the Christian life, you will understand more and more of it as the days go on." In Christianity, as in all other things, the way to learn is to do.

Let us remember that this passage really ought to come after the story of the healing of the impotent man. Jesus has been accused of wickedness in that he healed the man on the Sabbath day; and he goes on to demonstrate that he was seeking only the glory of God and that there is no wickedness whatsoever in his action.

A WISE ARGUMENT (John 7:19-24)

7:19-24 "Did not Moses give you the law--and not one of you really keeps it? Why do you try to kill me?" The crowd answered: "You are mad! Who is trying to kill you?" Jesus answered them: "I have done only one deed and you are all astonished by it. Moses gave you the rite of circumcision (not that it had its origin in Moses--it came down from your fathers) and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man can be circumcised on the Sabbath, without breaking the law of Moses, are you angry at me for making the entire body of a man whole on the Sabbath? Stop judging by appearances, and make your judgment just."

Before we begin to look at this passage in detail, we must note one point. We must picture this scene as a debate between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews, with the crowd standing all around. The crowd Is listening as the debate goes on. Jesus is aiming to justify his action in healing the man on the Sabbath day and thereby technically breaking the Sabbath law. He begins by saying that Moses gave them the Sabbath law, and yet none of them keeps it absolutely. (What he meant by that we shall shortly see.) If he then breaks the law to heal a man, why do they, who themselves break the law, seek to kill him?

At this point the crowd break in with the exclamation: "You are mad!" and the question: "Who is trying to kill you?" The crowd have not yet realized the malignant hatred of their leaders; they are not yet aware of the plots to eliminate him. They think that Jesus has a persecution mania, that his imagination is disordered and his mind upset; and they think in this fashion because they do not know the facts. Jesus does not answer the question of the crowd which was not really a question so much as a kind of bystanders' interjection; but goes on with his argument.

Jesus' argument is this. It was the law that a child should be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. "And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised" (Leviticus 12:3). Obviously that day would often fall on a Sabbath; and the law was quite clear that "everything necessary for circumcision may be done on the Sabbath day." So Jesus' argument runs like this. "You say that you fully observe the law which came to you through Moses which lays it down that there must be no work done on the Sabbath day, and under work you have included every kind of medical attention which is not necessary actually to save life. And yet you have allowed circumcision to be carried out on the Sabbath day.

"Now circumcision is two things. It is medical attention to one part of a man's body; and the body has actually two hundred and forty-eight parts. (That was the Jewish reckoning.) Further, circumcision is a kind of mutilation; it is actually taking something from the body. How can you in reason blame me for making a man's body whole when you allow yourselves to mutilate it on the Sabbath day?" That is an extremely clever argument.

Jesus finishes by telling them to try to see below the surface of things and to judge fairly. If they do, they will not be able any longer to accuse him of breaking the law. A passage like this may sound remote to us; but when we read it we can see the keen, clear, logical mind of Jesus in operation, we can see him meeting the wisest and most subtle men of his day with their own weapons and on their own terms, and we can see him defeating them.

THE CLAIM OF CHRIST (John 7:14; John 7:25-30)

7:14,25-30 When the festival was now half way through, Jesus went up to the Temple precincts and began to teach. So some of the people of Jerusalem said: "Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? And look! He is speaking publicly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities have really discovered that this is the Anointed One of God? But he cannot be because we know where he comes from. When the Anointed One of God comes no one knows where he comes from." So Jesus, as he taught in the Temple, cried: "So you know me? And you know where I come from? But it is not on my own authority that I have come; but he who sent me is real--and you do not know him. But I know him, because I have come from him, and it was he who sent me." So they would like to have found a way to arrest him; but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come.

We have already seen that the likelihood is that John 7:15-24 should come after John 5:47; so, to get the connection, we begin at John 7:14 and go on to John 1:24.

The crowd were surprised to find Jesus preaching in the Temple precincts. Along the sides of the Court of the Gentiles ran two great pillared colonnades or porticoes--the Royal Porch and Solomon's Porch. These were places where people walked and where Rabbis talked and it would be there that Jesus was teaching. The people well knew the hostility of the authorities to Jesus; they were astonished to see his courage in thus defying the authorities; and they were still more astonished to see that he was allowed to teach unmolested. A thought suddenly struck them: "Can it be that after all this man is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, and that the authorities know it?" But no sooner had the thought struck them than it was dismissed.

Their objection was that they knew where Jesus had come from. They knew that his home was in Nazareth; they knew who his parents and who his brothers and sisters were; there was no mystery about his antecedents. That was the very opposite of popular belief, which held that the Messiah would appear. The idea was that he was waiting concealed and some day would burst suddenly upon the world and no one would know where he had come from. They believed that they did know that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, for that was David's town, but they also believed that nothing else would be known about him. There was a rabbinic saying: "Three things come wholly unexpectedly, the Messiah, a godsend, and a scorpion." The Messiah would appear as suddenly as a man stumbles on a godsend or steps on a hidden scorpion. In later years when Justin Martyr was talking and arguing with a Jew about his beliefs, the Jew says of the Messiah: "Although the Messiah be already born and exists somewhere, yet he is unknown and is himself ignorant of his Messiahship, nor has he any power until Elijah comes to anoint him and to make him known." AH popular Jewish belief believed the Messiah would burst upon the world mysteriously. Jesus did not measure up to that kind of standard; to the Jews there was no mystery about where he came from.

This belief was characteristic of a certain attitude of mind which prevailed among the Jews and is by no means dead--that which seeks for God in the abnormal. They could never be persuaded to see God in ordinary things. They had to be extraordinary before God could be in them. The teaching of Christianity is just the reverse. If God is to enter the world only in the unusual, he will very seldom be in it; whereas if we can find God in the common things, it means that he is always present. Christianity does not look on this world as one which God very occasionally invades; it looks on it as a world from which he is never absent.

In answer to these objections, Jesus made two statements, both of which shocked the people and the authorities. He said that it was quite true that they knew who he was and where he came from; but it was also true that ultimately he had come direct from God. Second, he said that they did not know God but he did. It was a bitter insult to tell God's chosen people that they did not know God. It was an incredible claim to make that Jesus alone knew him, that he stood in a unique relationship to him, that he knew him as no one else did.

Here is one of the great turning-points in Jesus' life. Up to this point the authorities had looked on him as a revolutionary Sabbath breaker, which was in truth a serious enough charge; but from now on he was guilty not of Sabbath-breaking but of the ultimate sin, of blasphemy. As they saw it, he was talking of Israel and of God as no human being had any right to speak.

This is precisely the choice which is still before us. Either, what Jesus said about himself is false, in which case he is guilty of such blasphemy as no man ever dared utter; or, what he said about himself is true, in which case he is what he claimed to be and can be described in no other terms than the Son of God. Every man has to decide for or against Jesus Christ.

SEARCHING--IN TIME (John 7:31-36)

7:31-36 Many of the crowd believed in him. "When the Anointed One of God comes," they said, "surely he cannot do greater signs than this man has done?" The Pharisees heard the crowds carrying on these discussions about him; and the chief priests and Pharisees despatched officers to arrest him. So Jesus said: "For a little while I am to be with you, and then I go back to him who sent me. You will search for me and you will not find me. You cannot come where I am." So the Jew., said to each other: "Where is this fellow going to go that we will not be able to find him? Surely he is not going to go to the Jews who are dispersed among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What can this word of his mean--'You will search for me and you will not find me' and 'You cannot come where I am'?"

Certain of the crowd could not help believing that Jesus was the Anointed One of God. They believed that no one could possibly do greater things than he was doing. That was in fact the argument which Jesus himself used when John the Baptist was in doubt about whether he was the one who was to come or if they had to look for another. When John sent his messengers, Jesus' answer was: "Go and tell John what you hear and see" (Matthew 11:1-6). The very fact that there were those who were trembling on the brink of acceptance moved the authorities to action. They sent their officers--most likely, the Temple police--to arrest him. Jesus said that he was only with them for a little time; and the day would come when they would search for him, not to arrest him, but to obtain what only he could give, and it would be too late. He would be gone where they could never follow.

Jesus meant that he would return to his Father, from whom by their disobedience they had shut themselves out. But his hearers did not understand. Throughout the centuries the Jews had been scattered across the world. Sometimes they had been forcibly removed as exiles; sometimes in the time of their country's misfortune they had emigrated to other lands. There was one comprehensive term for the Jews who lived outside Palestine. They were called the Diaspora, the dispersion, and scholars still use this term to describe the Jews who live outside Palestine. That is the phrase the people used here. "Is Jesus going away to the Diaspora? Will he even go the length of going away and preaching to the Greeks and so become lost in the masses of the Gentile world? Is he going to run away so far that he will be completely out of reach?" It is amazing how a taunt became a prophecy. The Jews meant it for a jest, but as the years went on it became blessedly true that it was to the Gentiles that the Risen Christ went out.

This passage brings us face to face with the promise and the threat of Jesus. Jesus had said: "Seek and you will find" (Matthew 7:7). Now he says: "You will seek me and you will not find me" (John 7:34). Long ago the ancient prophet had put the two things together in a wonderful way: "Seek the Lord while he may be found" (Isaiah 55:6). It is characteristic of this life that time is limited. Physical strength decays and there are things a man can do at thirty that he cannot do at sixty. Mental vigour weakens and there are mental tasks to which a man can address himself in his youth and in his prime which are beyond him in his age. Moral fibre grows less muscular; and if a man allows some habit to dominate him there may come the day when he cannot break himself of it, even if at the beginning he could easily have ejected it from his life.

It is like that with us and Jesus Christ. What Jesus was saying to these people was: "You can awaken to a sense of need too late." A man may so long refuse Christ, that in the end he does not even see his beauty; evil becomes his good and repentance becomes impossible. So long as sin still hurts us, and the unattainable good still beckons us, the chance to seek and find is still there. But a man must have a care lest he grow so used to sin that he does not know that he is sinning and neglect God so long that he forgets that he exists. For then the sense of need dies, and if there is no sense of need, we cannot seek, and if we cannot seek, we will never find. The one thing a man must never lose is his sense of sin.

THE FOUNTAIN OF LIVING WATER (John 7:37-44)

7:37-44 On the last, the great day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. As the scripture says: 'He who believes in me--rivers of living water shall flow from his belly.'" It was about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, that he said this. For as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified. When they heard these words some of the crowd said: "This is really the promised Prophet." Others said: "This is the Anointed One of God." But some said: "Surely the Anointed One of God does not come from Galilee? Does the scripture not say that the Anointed One of God is a descendant of David, and that he is to come from Bethlehem, the village where David used to live?" So there was a division of opinion in the crowd because of him. Some of them would have liked to arrest him, but none laid hands on him.

All the events of this chapter took place during the Festival of Tabernacles; and properly to understand them we must know the significance, and at least some of the ritual of that Festival.

The Festival of Tabernacles or Booths was the third of the trio of great Jewish Festivals, attendance at which was compulsory for all adult male Jews who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem--the Passover, the Festival of Pentecost, and the Festival of Tabernacles. It fell on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, that is, about 15th October. Like all the great Jewish festivals it had a double significance.

First, it had an historical significance. It received its name from the fact that all through it people left their houses and lived in little booths. During the Festival the booths sprang up everywhere, on the flat roofs of the houses, in the streets, in the city squares, in the gardens, and even in the very courts of the Temple. The law laid it down that the booths must not be permanent structures but built specially for the occasion. Their walls were made of branches and fronds, and had to be such that they would give protection from the weather but not shut out the sun. The roof had to be thatched, but the thatching had to be wide enough for the stars to be seen at night. The historical significance of all this was to remind the people in unforgettable fashion that once they had been homeless wanderers in the desert without a roof over their heads (Leviticus 23:40-43). Its purpose was "that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt." Originally it lasted seven days, but by the time of Jesus an eighth day had been added.

Second, it had an agricultural significance. It was supremely a harvest-thanksgiving festival. It is sometimes called the Festival of the Ingathering (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22); and it was the most popular festival of all. For that reason it was sometimes called simply The Feast (1 Kings 8:2), and sometimes The Festival of the Lord (Leviticus 23:39). It stood out above all others. The people called it "the season of our gladness," for it marked the ingathering of all the harvests, since by this time the barley, the wheat, and the grapes were all safely gathered in. As the law had it, it was to be celebrated "at the end of the year when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labour" (Exodus 23:16); it was to be kept "when you make your ingathering from your threshing floor and your wine press" (Deuteronomy 16:13; Deuteronomy 16:16). It was not only thanksgiving for one harvest; it was glad thanksgiving for all the bounty of nature which made life possible and living happy. In Zechariah's dream of the new world it was this festival which was to be celebrated everywhere (Zechariah 14:16-18). Josephus called it "the holiest and the greatest festival among the Jews" (Antiquities of the Jews, 3: 10: 4). It was not only a time for the rich; it was laid down that the servant, the stranger, the widow and the poor were all to share in the universal joy.

One particular ceremony was connected with it. The worshippers were told to take "the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook" (Leviticus 23:40). The Sadducees said that was a description of the material out of which the booths had to be built; the Pharisees said it was a description of the things the worshippers had to bring with them when they came to the Temple. Naturally the people accepted the interpretation of the Pharisees, for it gave them a vivid ceremony in which to participate.

This special ceremony is very closely connected with this passage and with the words of Jesus. Quite certainly he spoke with it in his mind, and possibly even with it as an immediate background. Each day of the festival the people came with their palms and their willows to the Temple; with them they formed a kind of screen or roof and marched round the great altar. At the same time a priest took a golden pitcher which held three logs--that is, about two pints--and went down to the Pool of Siloam and filled it with water. It was carried back through the Water Gate while the people recited Isaiah 12:3 : "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." The water was carried up to the Temple altar and poured out as an offering to God. While this was being done The Hallel--that is, Psalms 113:1-9; Psalms 114:1-8; Psalms 115:1-18; Psalms 116:1-19; Psalms 117:1-2; Psalms 118:1-29 --was sung to the accompaniment of flutes by the Levite choir. When they came to the words, "O give thanks to the Lord" (Psalms 118:1), and again to the words, "O work now then salvation" (Psalms 118:25), and finally to the closing words, "O give thanks to the Lord" (Psalms 118:29), the worshippers shouted and waved their palms towards the altar. The whole dramatic ceremony was a vivid thanksgiving for God's good gift of water and an acted prayer for rain, and a memory of the water which sprang from the rock when they travelled through the wilderness. On the last day the ceremony was doubly impressive for they marched seven times round the altar in memory of the sevenfold circuit round the walls of Jericho, whereby the wails fell down and the city was taken.

Against this background and perhaps at that very moment, Jesus' voice rang out: "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink." It is as if Jesus said: "You are thanking and glorifying God for the water which quenches the thirst of your bodies. Come to me if you want water which will quench the thirst of your soul." He was using that dramatic moment to turn men's thoughts to the thirst for God and the eternal things.

THE FOUNTAIN OF LIVING WATER (John 7:37-44 continued)

Now that we have seen the vivid background of this passage we must look at it in more detail.

The promise of Jesus presents us with something of a problem. He said: "He who believes in me--rivers of water shall flow from his belly." And he introduces that statement by saying, "as scripture says." No one has ever been able to identify that quotation satisfactorily, and the question is, just what does it mean? There are two distinct possibilities.

(i) It may refer to the man who comes to Jesus and accepts him. He will have within him a river of refreshing water. It would be another way of saying what Jesus said to the woman of Samaria: "The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). It would be another way of putting Isaiah's beautiful saying: "And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not" (Isaiah 58:11). The meaning would be that Jesus can give a man the refreshment of the Holy Spirit.

The Jews placed all the thoughts and the emotions in certain parts of the body. The heart was the seat of the intellect; the kidneys and the belly were the seat of the inmost feelings. As the writer of the Proverbs had it: "The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts" (Proverbs 20:27). This would mean that Jesus was promising a cleansing, refreshing, life-giving stream of the Holy Spirit so that our thoughts and feelings would be purified and revitalized. It is as if Jesus said: "Come to me and accept me; and I will put into you through my Spirit a new life which will give you purity and satisfaction, and give you the kind of life you have always longed for and never had." Whichever interpretation we take, it is quite certain that what this one stands for is true.

(ii) The other interpretation is that "rivers of living water shall flow from his belly" may refer to Jesus himself. It may be a description of the Messiah which Jesus is taking from somewhere which we cannot place. The Christians always identified Jesus with the rock which gave the Israelites water in the wilderness (Exodus 17:6). Paul took that image and applied it to Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). John tells how there came forth at the thrust of the soldier's spear water and blood from Jesus' side (John 19:34). The water stands for the purification which comes in baptism and the blood for the atoning death of the Cross. This symbol of the life-giving water which comes from God is often in the Old Testament (Psalms 105:41; Ezekiel 47:1; Ezekiel 47:12). Joel has the great picture: "And a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord" (Joel 3:18). It may well be that John is thinking of Jesus as the fountain from which the cleansing stream flows. Water is that without which man cannot live; and Christ is the one without whom man cannot live and dare not die. Again, whichever interpretation we choose, that, too, is deeply true.

Whether we take this picture as referring to Christ or to the man who accepts him, it means that from Christ there flows the strength and power and cleansing which alone give us life in the real sense of the term.

In this passage there is a startling thing. The King James Version and the Revised Standard tone it down, but in the best Greek manuscript there is the strange statement in John 7:39 : "For as yet there was no Spirit." What is the meaning of that? Think of it this way. A great power can exist for years and even centuries without men being able to tap it. To take a very relevant example there has always been atomic power in this world; men did not invent it. But only in our own time have men tapped and used it. The Holy Spirit has always existed; but men never really enjoyed his full power until after Pentecost. As it has been finely said, "There could be no Pentecost without Calvary." It was only when men had known Jesus that they really knew the Spirit. Before that the Spirit had been a power, but now he is a person, for he has become to us nothing other than the presence of the Risen Christ always with us. In this apparently startling sentence John is not saying that the Spirit did not exist; but that it took the life and death of Jesus Christ to open the floodgates for the Spirit to become real and powerful to all men.

We must notice how this passage finishes. Some people thought that Jesus was the prophet whom Moses had promised (Deuteronomy 18:15). Some thought that he was the Anointed One of God; and there followed a wrangle about whether or not the Anointed One of God must come from Bethlehem. Here is tragedy. A great religious experience had ended in the aridity of a theological wrangle.

That is what above all we must avoid. Jesus is not someone about whom to argue; he is someone to know and love and enjoy. If we have one view of him and someone else has another, it does not matter so long as both of us find him Saviour and accept him as Lord. Even if we explain our religious experience in different ways, that should never divide us, for it is the experience that is important, and not our explanation of it.

UNWILLING ADMIRATION AND TIMID DEFENCE (John 7:45-52)

7:45-52 So the officers came to the chief priests and the Pharisees. They said to them: "Why did you not bring him here?" The attendants answered: "Never did a man speak as he speaks." So the Pharisees answered: "Surely you too have not been led astray? Has anyone from the authorities believed in him? Or anyone from the Pharisees? They have not; but the mob which is ignorant of the law and which is accursed believes in him!" Nicodemus (the man who came to him before) said to them, for he was one of them; "Surely our law does not condemn a man unless it first hears a statement of the case from him, and has first-hand information about what he is doing?" They answered him: "Surely you too are not from Galilee? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee."

We have certain vivid reactions to Jesus.

(i) The reaction of the officers was bewildered amazement. They had gone out to arrest Jesus and had come back without him, because never in their lives had they heard anyone speak as he did. Really to listen to Jesus is an unparalleled experience for any man.

(ii) The reaction of the chief priests and Pharisees was contempt. The Pharisees had a phrase by which they described the ordinary, simple people who did not observe the thousands of regulations of the ceremonial law. They called them the People of the Land; to them they were beneath contempt. To marry a daughter to one of them was like exposing her bound and helpless to a beast. "The masses who do not know the law are accursed." The rabbinic law said: "Six things are laid down about the People of the Land: entrust no testimony to them, take no testimony from them, trust them with no secret, do not appoint them guardians of an orphan, do not make them custodians of charitable funds, do not accompany them on a journey." It was forbidden to be a guest of one of the People of the Land, or to entertain such a person as a guest. It was even laid down that, wherever it was possible, nothing should be bought or sold from one of them. In their proud aristocracy and intellectual snobbery and spiritual pride, the Pharisees looked down in contempt on the ordinary man. Their plea was: "Nobody who is spiritually and academically of any account has believed on Jesus. Only ignorant fools accept him." It is indeed a terrible thing when a man thinks himself either too clever or too good to need Jesus Christ--and it happens still.

(iii) There was the reaction of Nicodemus. It was a timid reaction, for he did not defend Jesus directly. He dared only to quote certain legal maxims which were relevant. The law laid it down that every man must receive justice (Exodus 23:1; Deuteronomy 1:16); and part of justice was and is that he must have a right to state his case and cannot be condemned on secondhand information. The Pharisees proposed to break that law, but it is clear that Nicodemus did not carry his protest any further. His heart told him to defend Jesus but his head told him not to take the risk. The Pharisees flung catchwords at him; they told him that obviously no prophet could come out of Galilee and taunted him with having a connection with the Galilaean rabble, and he said no more.

Often a man finds himself in a situation in which he would like to defend Jesus and in which he knows he ought to show his colours. Often he makes a kind of half-hearted defence, and is then reduced to an uncomfortable and ashamed silence. In our defence of Jesus Christ it is better to be reckless with our hearts than prudent with our heads. To stand up for him may bring us mockery and unpopularity; it may even mean hardship and sacrifice. But the fact remains that Jesus said he would confess before his Father the man who confessed him on earth, and deny before his Father the man who denied him on earth. Loyalty to Christ may produce a cross on earth, but it brings a crown in eternity.

WRETCHEDNESS AND PITY (John 7:53; John 8:1-11)

7:53 And each of them went to his own house; but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he was again in the Temple precincts, and all the people came to him. He sat down and went on teaching them. The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman arrested for adultery. They set her in the midst and said to him: "Teacher, this woman was arrested as she was committing adultery--in the very act. In the law Moses enjoined us to stone women like this. What do you say about her?" They were testing him when they said this, so that they might have some ground on which to accuse him. Jesus stooped down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they went on asking him their question, he straightened himself and said to them: "Let the man among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her." And again he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. One by one those who had heard what he said went out, beginning from the eldest down to the youngest. So Jesus was left alone, and the woman was still there in the midst. Jesus straightened himself and said to her: "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said: "No one, sir." Jesus said: "I am not going to pass judgment on you either. Go, and from now on, sin no more."

[This incident is not included in all the ancient manuscripts

and appears only in a footnote in the Revised Standard

Version; see: NOTE ON THE STORY OF THE WOMAN TAKEN

IN ADULTERY]

The scribes and Pharisees were out to get some charge on which they could discredit Jesus; and here they thought they had impaled him inescapably on the horns of a dilemma. When a difficult legal question arose, the natural and routine thing was to take it to a Rabbi for a decision. So the scribes and Pharisees approached Jesus as a Rabbi with a woman taken in adultery.

In the eyes of the Jewish law adultery was a serious crime. The Rabbis said: "Every Jew must die before he will commit idolatry, murder or adultery." Adultery was, in fact one of the three gravest sins and it was punishable by, death, although there were certain differences in respect of the way in which the death penalty was to be carried out. Leviticus 20:10 lays it down: "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death." There the method of death is not specified. Deuteronomy 22:13-24 lays down the penalty in the case of a girl who is already betrothed. In a case like that she and the man who seduced her are to be brought outside the city gates, "and you shall stone them to death with stones." The Mishnah, that is, the Jewish codified law, states that the penalty for adultery is strangulation, and even the method of strangulation is laid down. "The man is to be enclosed in dung up to his knees, and a soft towel set within a rough towel is to be placed around his neck (in order that no mark may be made, for the punishment is God's punishment). Then one man draws in one direction and another in the other direction, until he be dead." The Mishnah reiterates that death by stoning is the penalty for a girl who is betrothed and who then commits adultery. From the purely legal point of view the scribes and Pharisees were perfectly correct. This woman was liable to death by stoning.

The dilemma into which they sought to put Jesus was this: If he said that the woman ought to be stoned to death, two things followed. First, he would lose the name he had gained for love and for mercy and never again would be called the friend of sinners. Second, he would come into collision with the Roman law, for the Jews had no power to pass or carry out the death sentence on anyone. If he said that the woman should be pardoned, it could immediately be said that he was teaching men to break the law of Moses, and that he was condoning and even encouraging people to commit adultery. That was the trap in which the scribes and Pharisees sought to entrap Jesus. But he turned their attack in such a way that it recoiled against themselves.

At first Jesus stooped down and wrote with his finger on the ground. Why did he do that? There may be four possible reasons.

(i) He may quite simply have wished to gain time and not be rushed into a decision. In that brief moment he may have been both thinking the thing out and taking it to God.

(ii) Certain manuscripts add, "As though he did not hear them." Jesus may well have deliberately forced the scribes and Pharisees to repeat their charges, so that, in repeating them, they might possibly realize the sadistic cruelty which lay behind them.

(iii) Seeley in Ecce Homo makes an interesting suggestion. "Jesus was seized with an intolerable sense of shame. He could not meet the eye of the crowd, or of the accusers, and perhaps at that moment least of all of the woman.... In his burning embarrassment and confusion he stooped down so as to hide his face, and began writing with his fingers upon the ground." It may well be that the leering, lustful look on the faces of the scribes and Pharisees, the bleak cruelty in their eyes, the prurient curiosity of the crowd, the shame of the woman, all combined to twist the very heart of Jesus in agony and pity, so that he hid his eyes.

(iv) By far the most interesting suggestion emerges from certain of the later manuscripts. The Armenian translates the passage this way: "He himself, bowing his head, was writing with his finger on the earth to declare their sins; and they were seeing their several sins on the stones." The suggestion is that Jesus was writing in the dust the sins of the very men who were accusing the woman. There may be something in that. The normal Greek word for to write is graphein (Greek #1125); but here the word used is katagraphein, which can mean to write down a record against someone. (One of the meanings of kata (Greek #2596) is against). So in Job 13:26 Job says: "Thou writest (katagraphein) bitter things against me." It may be that Jesus was confronting those self-confident sadists with the record of their own sins.

However that may be, the scribes and Pharisees continued to insist on an answer--and they got it. Jesus said in effect: "All right! Stone her! But let the man that is without sin be the first to cast a stone." It may well be that the word for without sin (anamartetos, Greek #361) means not only without sin, but even without a sinful desire. Jesus was saying: "Yes, you may stone her--but only if you never wanted to do the same thing yourselves." There was a silence--and then slowly the accusers drifted away.

So Jesus and the woman were left alone. As Augustine put it: "There remained a great misery (miseria) and a great pity (misericordia)." Jesus said to the woman: "Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. Jesus said: "I am not for the moment going to pass judgment on you either. Go, and make a new start, and don't sin any more."

WRETCHEDNESS AND PITY (John 7:53; John 8:1-11 continued)

This passage shows us two things about the attitude of the scribes and the Pharisees.

(i) It shows us their conception of authority. The scribes and the Pharisees were the legal experts of the day; to them problems were taken for decision. It is clear that to them authority was characteristically critical, censorious and condemnatory. That authority should be based on sympathy, that its aim should be to reclaim the criminal and the sinner, never entered their heads. They conceived of their function as giving them the right to stand over others like grim invigilators, to watch for every mistake and every deviation from the law, and to descend on them with savage and unforgiving punishment; they never dreamed that it might lay upon them the obligation to cure the wrongdoer.

There are still those who regard a position of authority as giving them the right to condemn and the duty to punish. They think that such authority as they have has given them the right to be moral watch-dogs trained to tear the sinner to pieces; but all true authority is founded on sympathy. When George Whitefield saw the criminal on the way to the gallows, he uttered the famous sentence: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

The first duty of authority is to try to understand the force of the temptations which drove the sinner to sin and the seductiveness of the circumstances in which sin became so attractive. No man can pass judgment on another unless he at least tries to understand what the other has come through. The second duty of authority is to seek to reclaim the wrongdoer. Any authority which is solely concerned with punishment is wrong; any authority, which, in its exercise, drives a wrongdoer either to despair or to resentment, is a failure. The function of authority is not to banish the sinner from all decent society, still less to wipe him out; it is to make him into a good man. The man set in authority must be like a wise physician; his one desire must be to heal.

(ii) This incident shows vividly and cruelly the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees to people. They were not looking on this woman as a person at all; they were looking on her only as a thing, an instrument whereby they could formulate a charge against Jesus. They were using her, as a man might use a tool, for their own purposes. To them she had no name, no personality, no feelings; she was simply a pawn in the game whereby they sought to destroy Jesus.

It is always wrong to regard people as things; it is always unchristian to regard people as cases. It was said of Beatrice Webb, afterwards Lady Passfield, the famous economist, that "she saw men as specimens walking." Dr. Paul Tournier in A Doctor's Casebook talks of what he calls "the personalism of the Bible." He points out how fond the Bible is of names. God says to Moses: "I know you by name" (Exodus 33:17). God said to Cyrus; "It is I, the God of Israel, who call you by your name" (Isaiah 45:3). There are whole pages of names in the Bible. Dr. Tournier insists that this is proof that the Bible thinks of people first and foremost, not as fractions of the mass, or abstractions, or ideas, or cases, but as persons. "The proper name," Dr. Tournier writes, "is the symbol of the person. If I forget my patients' names, if I say to myself, 'Ah! There's that gall-bladder type or that consumptive that I saw the other day,' I am interesting myself more in their gall-bladders or in their lungs than in themselves as persons." He insists that a patient must be always a person, and never a case.

It is extremely unlikely that the scribes and the Pharisees even knew this woman's name. To them she was nothing but a case of shameless adultery that could now be used as an instrument to suit their purposes. The minute people become things the spirit of Christianity is dead.

God uses his authority to love men into goodness; to God no person ever becomes a thing. We must use such authority as we have always to understand and always at least to try to mend the person who has made the mistake; and we will never even begin to do that unless we remember that every man and woman is a person, not a thing.

WRETCHEDNESS AND PITY (John 7:53; John 8:1-11 continued)

Further, this incident tells us a great deal about Jesus and his attitude to the sinner.

(i) It was a first principle of Jesus that only the man who himself is without fault has the right to express judgment on the fault of others. "Judge not," said Jesus, "that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). He said that the man who attempted to judge his brother was like a man with a plank in his own eye trying to take a speck of dust out of someone else's eye (Matthew 7:3-5). One of the commonest faults in life is that so many of us demand standards from others that we never even try to meet ourselves; and so many of us condemn faults in others which are glaringly obvious in our own lives. The qualification for judging is not knowledge--we all possess that; it is achievement in goodness--none of us is perfect there. The very facts of the human situation mean that only God has the right to judge, for the simple reason that no man is good enough to judge any other.

(ii) It was also a first principle with Jesus that our first emotion towards anyone who has made a mistake should be pity. It has been said that the duty of the doctor is "sometimes to heal, often to afford relief and always to bring consolation." When a person suffering from some ailment is brought to a doctor, he does not regard him with loathing even if he is suffering from a loathsome disease. In fact the physical revulsion which is sometimes inevitable is swallowed up by the great desire to help and to heal. When we are confronted with someone who has made a mistake, our first feeling ought to be, not, "I'll have nothing more to do with someone who could act like that," but, "What can I do to help? What can I do to undo the consequences of this mistake?" Quite simply, we must always extend to others the same compassionate pity we would wish to be extended to ourselves if we were involved in a like situation.

(iii) It is very important that we should understand just how Jesus did treat this woman. It is easy to draw the wrong lesson altogether and to gain the impression that Jesus forgave lightly and easily, as if the sin did not matter. What he said was: "I am not going to condemn you just now; go, and sin no more." In effect what he was doing was not to abandon judgment and say, "Don't worry; it's quite all right." What he did was, as it were, to defer sentence. He said, "I am not going to pass a final judgment now; go and prove that you can do better. You have sinned; go and sin no more and I'll help you all the time. At the end of the day we will see how you have lived." Jesus' attitude to the sinner involved a number of things.

(a) It involved the second chance. It is as if Jesus said to the woman: "I know you have made a mess of things; but life is not finished yet; I am giving you another chance, the chance to redeem yourself." Someone has written the lines:

"How I wish that there was some wonderful place

Called the Land of Beginning Again,

Where all our mistakes and all out heartaches

And all our poor selfish grief

Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door,

And never put on again."

In Jesus there is the gospel of the second chance. He was always intensely interested, not only in what a person had been, but also in what a person could be. He did not say that what they had done did not matter; broken laws and broken hearts always matter; but he was sure that every man has a future as well as a past.

(b) It involved pity. The basic difference between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees was that they wished to condemn; he wished to forgive. If we read between the lines of this story it is quite clear that they wished to stone this woman to death and were going to take pleasure in doing so. They knew the thrill of exercising the power to condemn; Jesus knew the thrill of exercising the power to forgive. Jesus regarded the sinner with pity born of love; the scribes and Pharisees regarded him with disgust born of self-righteousness.

(c) It involved challenge. Jesus confronted this woman with the challenge of the sinless life. He did not say: "It's all right; don't worry; just go on as you are doing." He said: "It's all wrong; go out and fight; change your life from top to bottom; go, and sin no more." Here was no easy forgiveness; here was a challenge which pointed a sinner to heights of goodness of which she had never dreamed. Jesus confronts the bad life with the challenge of the good.

(d) It involved belief in human nature. When we come to think of it, it is a staggering thing that Jesus should say to a woman of loose morals: "Go, and sin no more." The amazing, heart-uplifting thing about him was his belief in men and women. When he was confronted with someone who had gone wrong, he did not say: "You are a wretched and a hopeless creature." He said: "Go, and sin no more." He believed that with his help the sinner has it in him to become the saint. His method was not to blast men with the knowledge--which they already possessed--that they were miserable sinners, but to inspire them with the unglimpsed discovery that they were potential saints.

(e) It involved warning, clearly unspoken but implied. Here we are face to face with the eternal choice. Jesus confronted the woman with a choice that day--either to go back to her old ways or to reach out to the new way with him. This story is unfinished, for every life is unfinished until it stands before God.

[As we noted at the beginning, this story does not appear in all the ancient manuscripts. See the Note on the Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery (John 8:2-11).]

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on John 7:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/john-7.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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