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Our blessed Saviour knowing that the rage of the chief priests and Pharisees in Judea and at Jerusalem, was grown to that height, that they were resolved to kill him; to avoid their fury, he resolves to continue in Galilee, and would not come into Judea at present, nor go up to Jerusalem into the mouth of his enemies; his hour being not yet come.
Learn hence, That so long as it was necessary for Christ to save and preserve himself from danger, he was pleased to use the ordinary means for his own preservation; namely, retirement, and withdrawing himself: Christ as God could have rid himself out of the hands of his enemies by a miraculous preservation; but he uses the ordinary means when they would serve their turn. And as he would not decline danger when his hour was come, so he would not run before it was come; but used all prudential means and methods for his own safety and preservation. He would not come into Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him.
There were three great feasts which the Jews celebrated every year; namely, the feast of the passover, the feast of pentecost, and the feast of tabernacles; this last was observed in the month of September, after they had gathered in the fruits of the earth; whence it was also called the feast of ingathering: at this feast they went out of their houses, and dwelt in booths seven days, in remembrance of their living in tents or booths in the wilderness for forty years together, before they came to Canaan. Now the institution of this feast, being to call the Israelites to the remembrance of their former condition in the wilderness, teaches us how prone and ready we are to forget our troubles, and the mercies wherewith our troubles have been sweetened, when once they are past and over. The Jews, when settled in Canaan, going out of their houses yearly, and dwelling in booths, did thereby testify, that present mercies had not made them forget former trials and troubles.
Observe here, 1. The advice which Christ's brethren, that is, his kindness, gave him to render himself more famous and publicly known to the world: they advise him not to stay any longer in Galilee, an obscure place, but to go into the more noble and populous country of Judea, and work miracles there. But what high presumption was this in creatures to prescribe to Christ, and direct him whither to go, and what to do?
Observe, 2. The reason they offer for their advice; For no man that seeketh to be known openly, will do any thing in secret: that is, "If thou wilt be thought to be the Messias by thy working miracles, do them not in a corner; but up to Jerusalem with us at this next feast, that the great men may take notice of them." Such as hunt after reputation themselves, and are ambitious of vain-glory and commendation from men, measure others, even the most holy and religious, by their own inclinations and dispositions: and wonder that others do not follow their measures for gaining reputation and respect.
Thus did our Lord's brethren here: but the wonder ceases, if we consider the following words; Neither did his brethren believe in him. It is no new thing for the holiest servants of God to meet with great trials from their graceless friends. Christ met with this before us: his kindred, according to the flesh, not believing in him, were a sore trial and temptation to him. Some martyrs have confessed, that the hardest works they have met withal, have been to withstand the temptations, the tears, and entreaties, of their dearest and nearest relations.
Here we have Christ's answer and refusal returned to his brethren's desire: he tells them, That they might go up to the feast of Jerusalem, when they pleased, and as publicly; but it was not fit for him to appear so publicly, because the doctrine which he taught was odious to the pharisees, and the prevailing power at Jerusalem: he therefore resolves to go up privately, that he might not stir up the jealousy of the sanhedrim: but for them, they were out of danger of the world's hatred: for, being the children of it, the world would love its own; but him it hated because he reproved its sins.
Where we may remark, That though our Lord Jesus Christ was most freely willing, and ready, to lay down his life for sinners, when the time was come that God the Father called for it; yet he would not expose his life to hazard and danger unseasonalby. Teaching us by his example, as not to decline sufferings when God calls us to them: so not to tempt God by running into them, when we may inoffensively avoid them. Your time is always ready, mine is not yet come.
Observe here, 1. How our blessed Saviour, who came to fulfil the law, goes to Jerusalem at the Jewish feast, according to the command of God, Three times a year shall all thy males appear before me. Exodus 23:17 Christ being made under the law, sheweth a punctual obedience to the law, and fulfilled it in his own person.
Observe, 2. The different opinions which the Jews at Jerusalem do express concerning our Saviour; some allowing him the charitable character of being a good man; others traducing him as being a deceiver of the people.
Our dear Lord, we see, when here on earth, passed through evil report and good report. Is it any wonder to find the friends of Christ branded with infamy and reproach, when Christ himself passes under the infamous character of a deceiver of the people? Some allowed him to be a good man; but others said, Nay, but he deceiveth the people.
Observe here, 1. Though Christ went up to Jerusalem privately, lest he should stir up the jealousy of the Pharisees against himself unseasonably; yet went he into the temple and taught publicly; his example teaches us thus much, "that although the servants of Christ may for a time, and in some cases, withdraw themselves from apprehended danger: yet, when God calls them to appear openly; they must do it courageously, without shrinking, though the danger be still impending." Jesus went up to Jerusalem, entered the temple and taught.
Observe, 2. So admirable was our holy Lord's doctrine, that the Jews marvel how he should come to the knowledge of such divine mysteries, considering the meanness of his education. They were struck with admiration, but they wanted faith; whereas the least degree of saving faith is beyond all admiration without it.
Observe, 3. Our Lord vindicates his doctrine, telling the Jews, That the doctrine he delivered was not his own; that is, not of his own inventing and devising; it was no contrivance of his, nor was it taught him by men: but received immediately from the Father, whose ambassador and great prophet he was.
Again, when Christ says, My doctrine is not mine, that is, not only mine, but my Father's and mine. For as he was God equal with the Father, so he naturally knew all his counsels; and as man had knowledge thereof by communication from his godhead.
Learn hence, That the doctrine of the gospel is a doctrine wholly from God; he contrived it, and sent his own Son into the world to publish and reveal it. Christ was sent, and his doctrine was not his own, but his that sent him.
Observe, 4. A double rule given by our Saviour, whereby the Jews might know, whether the doctrine he preached, were the doctrine of God.
First, If a man walk uprightly, and doth the will of God in the best manner according to his knowledge; If any man will do his will, he shall know of my doctrine whether it be of God. There is no such way to find out truth, as by doing the will of God.
The second rule by which they might know that his doctrine was from God was this. Because he sought his Father's glory, and not his own in the delivery of it. He that seeketh his glory that sent him, that same is true.
Hence learn, That the nature and scope of that doctrine which Christ delivered, eminently tending not to promote his own private glory, but the glorifying of his Father, is an undoubted proof and evidence that his doctrine was of God.
Observe here, 1. That our Lord, having vindicated his doctrine in the former verses, comes now to vindicate his practice in healing the impotent man on the sabbath-day, for which the Jews sought his life, as a violation of the fourth commandment given by Moses. Our Saviour tells them, That notwithstanding their pretended zeal for the law of Moses, they more notoriously broke the sixth commandment, by going about to kill him, an innocent person, than he had broken the fourth commandment, by making a man whole on the sabbath-day.
Hence learn, That it is damnable hypocrisy, when men pretend great zeal against the sins of others, and do allow and tolerate worse in themselves. This is for their practice to give their profession the lie: the Jews condemn our Saviour for a supposed breach of the fourth commandment; whilst they are guilty themselves of a real breach of the sixth commandment.
Observe, 2. The ignominy and reproach which the Jews fix upon our blessed Saviour, in the height of their rage and fury against him, Thou hast a devil. The king of saints in heaven, as well as the whole host of saints on earth, hath been frequently smitten and deeply wounded with reproach. Christ was reproached for our sake, and when we are reproached for his sake, he takes our reproach as his own. Moses's reproach was the reproach of Christ, Hebrews 11:26 And he esteemed it a treasure, which did more enrich him with its worth, than press him with its weight. Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.
Observe, 3. The wonderful meekness of Christ, in passing over this reproach and calumny, without one word of reply. Guilt is commonly clamorous and impatient, but, innocence is silent and regardless of misreports. Our Saviour is not at the pains of a word to vindicate himself from their impotent censure, but goes on with his discourse, and justifies his own action, in healing a man on the sabbath-day, from the Jews own practice in circumcising their children on that day, if it happen to be the eighth day: and the argument runs thus: "If circumcision may be administered to a child on the sabbath-day, which is a servile kind of work, and bodily exercise, without blame or censure, why must I fall under censure, for healing a man on the sabbath-day thoroughly and perfectly, only by a word speaking?"
Hence learn, that the law of doing good, and relieving the miserable at all times, is a more ancient and excellent law, than either that of the sabbath rest, or of circumscion upon the eighth day. A ritual law must and ought to give place to the law of nature, which is written in every man's heart. As if our Lord had said, "If you may wound a man by circumcision on the sabbath-day, may not I heal one? If you may heal on that day one member of the circumcised, may not I make a man whole every whit. If you be at pains cure such a one with your hand, may not I without pains cure a man with the word of my mouth?
From the foregoing argument, Christ draws an inference or conclusion, That there is no making a judgment according to the first appearance of things: and that suddenness or rashness, prejudice or partiality, in judging, overthrows righteous judgment. This is the general application of what Christ had said before: and the particular application of it, as to himself, comes to this, Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment; as if Christ had said, "Lay aside your prejudices against my person, and compare these cases attentively and impartially with one another; and then see whether you can justly condemn me as a sabbath-breaker, and acquit yourselves." Such was the perfect innocency of our Saviour's actions, that he could and did submit them to the reason and judgment of his very enemies.
Observe here, 1. How enraged the Pharisees were, when they heard that so many of the common people were brought to believe in Christ, and to cleave unto Christ, insomuch that they sent public officers, armed with authority, to apprehend our blessed Saviour: The Pharisees and chief priests sent officers to take him.
Learn thence, That nothing more enrages the enemies of religion, and draws trouble on the preachers and professors of it, than the success which the gospel at any time meets with.
Observe, 2. Our Saviour tells them that as they desired to be rid of him, so ere long they should have their desire: he would leave them, and go to his Father, and in his absence they would wish for his bodily presence again, but should not have it.
Learn, The despisers of Christ have little cause to be weary of him, and to seek to put him away by violence and persecution; for their obstinate contempt of him will cause him to depart from them, and finally to forsake them.
Observe, 3. How the Jews, not understanding our Saviour's words aright, reasoned among themselves, whether, by leaving of them, he meant to go into some Pagan country, and teach the Gentiles the mysteries of the Jewish religion; which above all things they could not endure to hear.
Learn hence, That it is the ordinary sin of a people privileged with the means of grace, not to be sensible of the hazard or danger of Christ's leaving and forsaking them: till at last he forsakes them finally, and casts them off, to their inevitable unutterable condemnation. Thus did our Lord deal with the Jews here; I go my way, and whither I go, ye cannot come.
The feast of tabernacles (which is the first here meant) lasted eight days; the first and last of which were to be kept holy with religious assemblies and sacrifices; and it was a custom among the Jews, upon that solemn day, to offer up a pot of water unto God, which they drew out of the fountain of Siloam: with reference to this custom, Christ here cries with a loud voice, inviting the people to fetch and draw from him, as from a living fountain, all the sanctifying gifts and saving graces of the Holy Spirit.
Learn hence, That Jesus Christ is the original and fountain of all saving grace, whom, if we thirst after, repair to, and by faith depend upon, as a Mediator, we shall certainly receive what influences of grace soever we want and stand in need of.
Here again Christ alludes to a Jewish custom; the Jews were wont at fountains to build great vessels of stone, and in the midst or belly of them to have pipes, through which the water passes. "Now, says Christ, Thus shall it be with every one that believeth on me; he shall be abundantly filled with the spirit of God, in all the sanctifying and saving graces of it." Christ and his Holy Spirit are a living fountain, whose waters never fail; they are not a water-brook, but a spring of waters: we shall never miss of the waters of life, if we seek unto and wait upon Christ for them. For if we believe on him out of our belly shall flow rivers of living waters, sufficient for ourselves, and wherewith to refresh others.
These words are the Evangelist St. John's commentary upon the foregoing promise; he tells us, that Christ spoke this of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, which did accompany the descent of the Holy Ghost at the feast of Pentecost. For the Holy Ghost was not yet given:
Learn hence, That although the Spirit was in some measure given by God from the beginning to good men, yet the more plentiful effusion of it was deferred, till the ascension and glorification of Jesus Christ.
In these verses an account is given of the various effects which our Lord's foregoing sermon had upon his hearers hearts: some were so affected with it, that they believed him to be the great prophet promised to Israel, Deuteronomy 18:18. Others apprehended him to be the Christ: others contradict both, supposing him to be born not at Bethlehem, but in Galilee. And upon this diversity of opinions, there arose a division amongst them: and some had a mind to have apprehended him, but, by an over-ruling providence, they were restrained from the doing of it at present.
Learn hence, That diversity of opinions in matters of religion, even concerning Christ himself, have been even from the beginning. Some accounted him a prophet, others the Messiah: some thought him neither; but a grand impostor and deceiver. Our dear Lord when here on earth, passed through evil report and good report; let his followers expect and prepare for the same: for innocence itself cannot protect him from slander and false accusation.
Observe here, 1. How God restrained the rage and malice of Christ's enemies, till his hour was come: the officers of the chief priests, who were sent forth with a commission to apprehend him, returned without him: but with this honourable mention of him in their mouths, Never man spake like this man. Such is the power of Christ's doctrine, that even those that come unto it with prejudice and with a persecuting purpose, may be surprized by it, and though not converted, yet bridled and restrained: the preaching of the gospel doth sometimes restrain the violence of the hand, when it works no change in or upon the heart. Thus it was with these poor officers.
Observe, 2. That the Pharisees being more enraged at the reason which the officers gave for neglecting their office, than for the neglect itself, upbraid them, that they should suffer themselves to be so deceived, whereas none of the grandees, or learned rabbies, had owned him: only an accursed crew of ignorant people followed him, and doated on him.
Here note, That when Christ came into the world, the great ones of the world not only refused to believe on him, but boasted of their unbelief, as an argument of their wisdom. Have any of the rulers believed on him? Oh no, they were too wise to believe! Faith is left to fools, and accounted folly by those wise men. Nay, farther, they count the common people cursed, who did believe on Christ. Oh prodigious stupidity! to account them accursed who receive Jesus Christ, the chiefest blessing: great men have not always the wisdom of a man, but more seldom have they the wisdom of a real Christian. Great in honour, and wise in understanding, are a sweet couple, but seldom seen together.
Here observe, 1. How God stirs up Nicodemus, though he durst not openly own Christ, yet to plead for him, that he might not be condemned before heard; this was a common rule of justice, and nothing but what might have been said on behalf of the greatest malefactor; he could not well have said less; but God so ordered it, that it was enough to divert the storm from falling upon Christ at this time. One word shall be sufficient to blow over a persecution, when God will have it so.
Observe, 2. They answer Nicodemus with a taunt, a mock, and a scorn, that no prophet ever did rise out of Galilee, nor ever should. Therefore Christ arising out of Galilee, as they thought, could be no prophet.
Observe, lastly, That though they were more and more enraged, yet they dispense without concluding any thing against Christ, for that time every one went to his own home. There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on John 7". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany