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He Poked the Beast
This morning, we are continuing our study of Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem during the time of the feast of tabernacles. John’s gospel makes a big deal out of this feast, as it’s the entirety of chapters 7 and 8. If you write notes in your Bibles, you could write at the beginning of chapter 7, “Jesus at the feast of tabernacles, chapters 7 and 8”.
So, what’s going on at this feast? Why would John take two whole chapters to give us details of this week in Jesus’s life? Let’s just say it this way—at this feast, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem from Galilee, and he pokes the beast. He doesn’t come and hide. He doesn’t come to simply enjoy the feast and “blend in” with the rest of the crowd. He doesn’t come to appease the crowds desires for him. Instead, he comes and pokes the beast in this already politically sensitive and religiously charged environment. Do you remember what Jesus said to his brothers at the beginning of chapter 7, just before he came to the feast? He said “[the world hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil” (7:7). Jesus testisfied to everyone he spoke to that they are evil. Go to Jerusalem and say that—well, let’s just say your poking a very volatile beast. If you look back at verse 14, you’ll remember that he stands up in the temple, he opens his mouth, and he testifies to these Jews that their works are evil. Their law-keeping, their feasts, their religious prayers, their sacrifices, their constant study of Moses—it’s all evil is what Jesus says.
That’s what he’s saying, here at the feast. He’s telling these Jews that they are evil. We literally have two whole chapters of Jesus talking this way to these Jews at the same event—the same feast. “You’re judging me by appearances, not with right judgment”—chapter 7 verse 24, which we considered two weeks ago. They literally can’t discern truth. Then, a little later in chapter 8—“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires”. He even says their will is to do the will of the devil. He’s calling them murderers, liars, people who cannot know the truth because they walk in darkness. He calls them slaves to sin in chapter 7:34. They have no choice but to love and live in the lies of the devil, and work in accordance with sin and the devil. In fact, they can’t even bear to hear Jesus’s words. Jesus says to them, just before calling them sons of the devil—“why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil.”
I get an image in my mind of what we often see in cartoons, when a bad guy is being destroyed by good. Perhaps it’s a bad guy that thrives in darkness—and, a little light shines on him, and he says “stop! I can’t! I can’t bear it! I’m melllltting!”. Sometimes we get that image of the devil, before God. He can’t bear to hear the truth that God is in charge, in control, and that the devil will lose.
Jesus is saying that the Jews—and yes, the world, even us—we are all like that if we’re left to ourselves. We hate God, his words, and therefore they are fundamentally evil. We see it every day, don’t we? The world loves sin and hates the truth. Perhaps we feel it within ourselves, personally—when we ourselves have done wrong, and our natural inclination is to turn into the darkness where our sin can be hidden.
What’s Jesus’s answer to all this, folks? Jesus’s answer in this passage is bound up in two words: his sovereignty and his spirit. Those are the positive, constructive answers which he gives to our wretched, rebellious, sinful condition. If we can understand his the blessings of his Sovereignty and his Spirit this morning, I suspect many of our problems with sin and evil will be resolved.
The First Solution to Our Problems: He’s Sovereign
So, look again at verse 32, where our passage for this morning begins to build up to Jesus’s statement concerning his sovereignty. We’ll see him mention his sovereignty in verse 33—but, look at that first verse with me real quick in verse 32. This is why Jesus brings up his sovereignty in the next verse.
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests
and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him.
So, the crowd whom Jesus was speaking to was muttering things about Jesus, and the Pharisees didn’t like it. The word “muttering”, there, showed up earlier in chapter 7 to describe what the crowds were doing before Jesus arrived at the feast. Again, he was the talk of the town. He was the talk of the town before he showed up to this feast, and before he started speaking at the temple. Then, in verses 14–24, Jesus speaks some compelling words to his defense, which feeds even more muttering among the people which we see in verse 32 where our passage picks up.
I want to take a minute to talk about this muttering, folks. This is classic politics and cultural bantering, folks. It resembles our everyday anxieties as we experience them today. We have a way of feeding off and muttering over the most recent news, don’t we? Just take Donald Trump as example. People have seriously conflicting views of the man in our society—and, people mutter all sorts of things whenever he hits headlines with a new “Donald trump development”. People will say, “what’s your take on the new indictment?”, or a few years ago, “did you hear what he said at the press conference? what do you think of him now?”. That’s not a Donald Trump thing. That’s a politics things. People love to have their own, new, “hot take” on public figures especially as news stories develop with more information to process.
That’s what’s going on, here. There was muttering at large before Jesus arrived and spoke at the feast. Verse 12, “ 12 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.” 13 Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.”
That’s even before Jesus opens his mouth. We have very general, vague opinions on the man. Nobody is even bringing up the “Messiah” word yet—and, everyone seems to know his name shouldn’t be said too loudly. It must have been common knowledge that the Jewish authorities strongly disapproved of the man.
Then, Jesus opens his mouth in verse 14, which we looked at two weeks ago (before Easter Sunday). He teaches and he gives them something to think about, something to process. Look at verses 25–31 again. This is the new “muttering” that starts happening after Jesus first speaks. This which leads directly into the verses we read this morning. Verse 25—
John 7:25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they
seek to kill? 26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him!
That is something to notice, you know. The people are seeing that Jesus is in public, teaching publicly, knowing that the Jews were seeking to kill him. Picture the scene. Here’s Jesus—he’s a sitting duck ready to be shot—ready to be arrested—and the fact that the Pharisees don’t fire away is so confounding to the common Jewish people that they start speculating about who this man really is. “Well, if the Pharisees aren’t killing him or even arresting him, who is in charge? What does this mean? Do they know something we don’t know?” That’s the muttering at work, here, after Jesus speaks his first words in the temple. Before he stands up to speak in verse 14, the muttering around town is simply “he’s a good man… or, maybe he’s a deceiver”. Now, the ante has increased. Now, it’s—is this man the Christ? This crowd who is watching this showdown between Jesus and the Pharisees is starting to really wonder about who Jesus is. It seems like Jesus has the upper hand, here—he’s able to speak publicly. So, keep reading (verse 26)—
Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? 27 But we know where this
man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” 28
So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I
come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you
do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” 30 So they were seeking
to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Yet many
of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs
than this man has done?”
This is the divinely-appointed chatter of the town. None of it made sense, folks. They couldn’t figure out why the Jews weren’t arresting him. They couldn’t figure out why Jesus appeared to be the Messiah, even though he didn’t line up to the way they understood the prophesies. They had questions about his miracles, about where he came from—all those things confounded them and gave them much to mutter about.
Meanwhile, the Jews were still allowing Jesus to speak openly. Isn’t that amazing? It’s such a smack to their pride, their power. Here’s a man whom everyone knew the Jewish authorities wanted dead, on trial, arrested. Only, for whatever reason, they actually allowed him to teach in the temple as this is going down. They engaged with him, asked him questions, even during this very public and important feast in Israel. Why did they do that? Perhaps they were afraid of the crowds’ disapproval. Perhaps they were waiting for a good, political, legal opportunity. Whatever the case, John’s gospel tells us that that “no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come”—in other words, because God in his sovereignty had not appointed Jesus to be arrested yet. God restrained them. God was in control of all the muttering and murmuring about Jesus. God was in control of all the political maneuverings, over the politics of the occasion. He was totally in control of all the people in high places, as he arrived in Jerusalem at this feast.
We need to hear that, don’t we? We need to hear that God is in control over every political authority and decision. Proverbs 21:1—“the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord, he turns it wherever he wills”. We see that here, folks—and we must believe it’s still true today. In every city, every county, every state, every country or courtroom in this world. If a court hearing is delayed, it’s because God delayed it. If a judge runs a kangaroo court and judges an innocent man (as in Jesus’s case), God is in control of that—and in fact, as Jesus is about to say in a moment, Jesus himself is in control of it all.
That’s where this is all going, folks. In verse 32, where our passage begins, we read that the Pharisees had enough of all this. Again, verse 32 of our passage—
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests
and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him.
So, you can picture the temple police officers coming up to Jesus during this feast, possibly as he’s teaching, and they try to arrest him. This is what he says to these men, verse 33—
33 Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.
34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.”
Can you imagine saying that to a police officer, who has been sent by the highest authorities to arrest you? “You are under arrest, you will be taken in on the conviction of high treason with a sentence of capital punishment”. You back up, look at the authorities and the people around you, “nah, I’m good. I’ll be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me but you will not find me. Where I am going you cannot come”.
Imagine saying that—and, to actually have people take you seriously. They didn’t think he was crazy, folks. They knew he said whacky stuff, and that his word often delivered crazy results. “Get up, take your mat you paralyzed man, walk home”. He said it, it happened. You don’t mess with a man whose word is that powerful.
So, what happens? Verse 35, The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? 36 What does he mean…?”
That’s what the crowds said. They were confused by his words, to say the least. Although, what about the temple police who were sent to arrest him? Jump down to verse 45, and we read about what happened to them. Verse 45—
John 7:45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them,
“Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”
That’s amazing, folks. These temple police feared Jesus and his word even more than they feared the temple authorities who sent them. They didn’t even know who Jesus was. They didn’t even understand what he had said. They simply knew his words were not to be messed with.
It takes a lot for a police officer to disobey orders, folks. We’ve seen that a fair amount of that over the years, as police officers have been forced to arrest mothers with children at playgrounds during covid shutdowns. We’ve seen police officers arrest pastors who wouldn’t shut down their churches during covid shutdowns, even when the local bar next door was still up and running. When you watch these videos, you can hear and see the officers say “I don’t like this, I understand your position, but I have to do this”. No, officer, you don’t, and you know your wrong. It takes a lot for an officer to disobey orders, folks.
These officers disobeyed. These men returned to the temple authorities empty-handed, without Jesus. They just couldn’t do it. It’s the sovereignty of Jesus, folks. He is claiming absolute control over this situation, without a grimace of fear or uncertainty in his words—and, it’s leading people to consider more seriously who he is. Not even the temple authorities could control him.
Now, let’s back up. What did he mean by those strange words in verses 33–34? “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. 34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” What did he mean by that?
No doubt, nobody understood him—they only knew these were terrifying, confusing words.
We know what he was talking about. He was referring to his death, resurrection, and ascension. There’s an ominous undertone to these words. He’s going away—through death on the cross. Just take the first sentence—“I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.” He means that he’s going to die. That’s his escape. He’s going to die, go into the grave—yes, even by the hand of these authorities. They will kill him, but they won’t send him to judgment. They’ll be promoting him—sending him to his Father, to glory, to his throne at God’s right hand over the
universe. They won’t find him there, that’s for sure.
In fact, I love that he says “you will seek me and you will not find me”. He’s saying that to men seeking to arrest him. Can you imagine saying that to a police officer? It’s almost his “na-na-na-na- boo-boo” moment. He’s saying “when I go away, I’ll be so high and lifted up over you that you’ll never be able to arrest me, or challenge my authority.” We see that in the church, don’t we? As you read the story of the early church in Acts, or as you read church history, it’s crystal clear that no human kingdom in the last 2,000 years has ever been able to snuff out Christ’s kingdom. No one has been able to find Christ to challenge his supreme position over all things. So long as he’s seated over sin, death, the devil, and every human authority in this world—we can have certainty that he will govern all things together for the good of his kingdom and his people. “As for me”, says God to the wicked nations in Psalm 2, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill”. That’s where Jesus is going, where he won’t be found by any authority which might be so foolish to challenge his authority.
Folks, that’s our hope and our security. “All authority has been given to me”, he says to encourage his apostles before he ascends to his throne. Then, they go out and Christ’s kingdom spreads across the Roman world at an alarming rate—and, nobody could find Jesus to challenge him.
Bringing it Together: Jesus is Sovereign, We are Secure
So, let’s bring this together for a second before we move on. In his teaching at this feast of tabernacles in John 7–8, we see Jesus testifying to the world and Jerusalem that its works are evil. We are evil—we cannot understand Jesus, we cannot judge rightly, we will do the will of our father the devil. We are slaves to sin. We are resigned to mutter along about the most recent news because, well, that’s all we got if we don’t have Jesus. We look to the news and hope that things don’t get too bad—and, we mutter about it because it makes us feel like we have some control over the situation. We have our muttering, our sin, and our father the devil. It’s an awful existence, folks. As we press further into Jesus’s teaching here in John 7 and 8, those are the problems we see ourselves with.
Jesus is giving us one solution to all this. Quite simply—he’s in control. He is sovereign. In this particular example, the temple police went home empty-handed to the temple authorities because, well, it wasn’t his time yet. They say, “come with me, you’re under arrest”—he says, basically, “No”. “I will be with you for awhile longer, then I’m going to him who sent me and you won’t be able to find me”. That’s how this is going to go. “When it’s time, you can have me—and, you can kill me, and you’ll be sending me to my Father where I’ll have complete sovereign authority. You won’t even be able to find me, to challenge me.”
That’s really good news, folks. His kingdom is established in the heavens, immovable, and governing all things together for the good of his people. He atoned for their sins at the cross. He’s done away with death. He’s risen with all authority to protect and provide for them. By faith—by receiving him with faith and repentance—the Bible tells us that we are made members of his kingdom. We are brought under his sovereign protection and blessings.
Now, I said there were two solutions to our problems of sin and misery in this morning’s passage. Yes, Jesus is sovereign over his enemies. They can’t even find him, to challenge him. Although, what about those who want to find him to receive him? What about us, who want to benefit from his sovereignty? Jesus invites us, folks, with a promise of his Spirit’s blessings.
The Second Solution to Our Problems: His Sovereign Spirit
Look at verse 37.
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone
thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said,
‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom
those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because
Jesus was not yet glorified.
Folks, these are words worth memorizing. This is an image of Jesus worth pondering—Jesus, standing up at the feast of tabernacles, and crying out “if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink… out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”. That’s an awesome statement. To make this simple—let’s walk through three quick reasons this is so profound.
Reason One: He’s At the Feast of Tabernacles
For one thing, Jesus said this at the feast of tabernacles. When you think “tabernacles” in the Bible, think “mobile”, “on the move”, or “sojourning”. The difference between the tabernacle and the temple is that the tabernacle was mobile—it was a tent where God met with his people as they were moving from Egypt to the promised land. During this time, the people of God themselves all lived in tabernacles—in small tents. They were a mobile, sojourning people through the desert. So what do you think the people of God are focusing on at the feast of tabernacles? They’re focusing on not
just the Exodus, the event when God destroyed Pharoah. They’re focusing on how God continued to provide for his people as they sojourned through the wilderness into the promised land. Think of a massive nation surviving in a desert—it’s unthinkable. Secular scholars today doubt it ever happened in the first place. Yet that’s the point—it was a journey that was enabled by nothing less than God’s power and provision. God provided the mana from the sky. God provided, yes, water that came out of a rock. He provided them food, shelter, riches, water, and protection through impossible means as they made their way to the promised land. So, at the feast of tabernacles, there was a tradition to remember the water God gave Israel through various water ceremonies. Commentaries and scholars have different opinions about the actual ceremonies—there may have been daily ceremonies that involved water being poured out, or maybe it was just one big ceremony on the last day of the feast. Whatever the case, there certainly was a big water ceremony at the end of the feast, and it seems it was the biggest, climactic event of the week-long feast. That water cleansed God’s people to keep them healthy, it satisfied their thirst in a desert, it gave the Israelites life in a desert. In a desert, folks—where there is no life, there’s no quenching your thirst.
Folks, I never understood perpetual thirst until Anna and I moved to the desert in Arizona. I can remember our first year there, always being frustrated that there was never enough water to drink—and, yes, we had it coming out of our faucet. It was always available, but never enough. That’s what a dry, arid, hot climate does to you. Anna and I constantly looked at each other with Psalm 63 on our minds—"my soul thirsts for you [O God], my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” We’re talking about constant, perpetual thirst.
At this feast of tabernacles, the people of Israel were remembering how God provided water for them in that context, and they were remembering what all this tells them about God. He’s the author and giver of life, of refreshing grace and cleansing waters even in impossible situations. Jesus stands up during that feast—and even during that ceremony of the feast, and says “if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” If Jesus isn’t God, that’s straight up blasphemy. Not even Moses could say that in the desert—and when he did, he got into big trouble. This water comes from God, and God alone. Yet here’s Jesus, “come to me, and drink”.
So Jesus’s offer of living water is significant because he’s saying it at the feast of tabernacles. He’s saying that the Exodus, the water in the desert, the feast of tabernacles—it all points to him and his provisions as the promised Messiah (yes, even as God). That’s profound.
Reason Two: “As the Scriptures Has Said”
There’s a second reason these words are profound. Look at what he says in verse 38. “Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”. So, Jesus isn’t simply saying he fulfills the feast of tabernacles. He fulfills prophesies in Scripture.
What scripture is Jesus referring to? If you’re flipping through your old testaments to find that verse, word-for-word, you’re not going to find it. Instead, Jesus is generally referencing a number of prophesies which these Jews would have been aware of. There are a number of prophesies that spoke of what Jesus is referring to, here. We read one of them earlier, in Isaiah 12:1–6. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Later in Isaiah, we read even stronger promises that the Messiah will come with a water-like “pouring out” of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people. In Ezekiel 36, the promised Spirit will cleanse the people’s hearts when the Messiah comes.
What’s with all this water imagery? It’s all over the Bible. In the beginning, when God created the world, the spirit was hovering over the waters. So right away, we see the Spirit associated with water literally in the first verse of our Bibles. It’s a verse that kicks of creation. When we hear “spirit and water” we should think creation. We should think of life. We feel that every time we get thirsty, do we not? God made us entirely dependent upon water—and, he associated water with his Spirit from the very first word of revelation in our Bibles. I am entirely convinced (and living in AZ helped me in this) that God made us dependent upon water in order to help us understand just how dependent we are upon him and his Spirit for life. “As the deer pants for waters, so my soul pants for you—for your life, your fellowship, your love, your peace, O Lord” (cf. Psalm 42).
Jesus, now, is saying “come to me and drink—I’ll give you the Spirit without measure, such that it’ll be as though rivers of living water will flow out of your very soul”. That, folks, would have been a dream come true in Arizona. There were times in that arid climate when I thought the only answer was to be hooked up to an IV of saline water, and that’ll finally quench my thirst.
Do you feel like that in reference to Jesus—his fellowship, his cleansing, his life, his peace, his sovereign protection and provisions? Jesus is offering a continual supply of never-ending life within you. I love the imagery, by the way. He doesn’t say “and I’ll quench your thirst”. That’s not the imagery. The imagery is continual flowing streams of the Spirit’s life pouring out of your soul. You’ll be satisfied and thirsty for more in the same sweeping moment, but you’ll never be anxious because you’ll always know there’s more coming. There’s more forgiveness coming when you need it. There’s more peace coming when your comforts are disturbed.
So Jesus isn’t quoting a particular verse here (I don’t think). He’s paraphrasing all those verses which speak this way about the Spirit’s blessings when the Messiah comes. In some ways, the fact that he’s paraphrasing makes this all the more profound. When you read about the blessings of water or the Spirit or life in the Old Testament, you can bet that it’s trajectory involves a bee-line to Jesus and his life-giving Spirit. That goes for rivers, too. That’s a whole other study—Jesus says “rivers of living water” will flow from the heart. There were rivers of life in Eden. There are rivers of life described of the new creation in Revelation—and, Jesus is saying here, “you get a taste of that now, if you believe and receive the Spirit”.
So, this is a profound statement because he’s saying it at the feast of tabernacles, and because he’s broadly quoting all the Scriptures which speak of the God’s life-giving blessings of the water and the Spirit. He fulfills all of this entirely—especially as he would soon die for the sins of his people, and make his Spirit available to them.
Reason 3: The Spirit is Freely Offered
Last and most importantly, folks, this is profound because he’s freely offering these blessings. Jesus was an evangelist, folks. He extended incredible offers of salvation to any who would listen—and yes, he was talking to people like you and me who were slaves of sin. He was talking to people like you and me who were children of the devil, who judged everything by appearances and not with “right judgement”. Those are the problems Jesus is offering a solution to, in this passage—and, the solution is really easy. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” That’s it. “Come to me and drink”, he says. In the next verse, he gets more specific and says “whoever believes in me”—that’s how you come to him. That’s how you drink. You believe in him as the fulfillment of the Scriptures. You believe in him as the savior from your sins, the author and giver of life. You don’t need to do anything to be right with him, except to come thirsty for his forgiveness and peace, and submit yourself to his sovereignty.
It should be telling that to one group in this passage, he says “I am going away, and you cannot come”. That’s what he says to his enemies who reject his sovereignty. Yet, to another group, the thirsty group, he simply says “come to me, believe, and you’ll be richly satisfied forever”. That’s profound.
Folks, the two answers to all your problems are really, quite simple. Submit your soul to his sovereignty, and receive his Spirit. He will, no doubt, satisfy you with forgiveness, new creation and life.