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Judge Not by Appearances... 

April 2, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: John 7:14-31

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

Judging By Appearances?
When I began to look closer at our passage this week, I was a bit taken by surprise when I
discovered that one of our modern colloquialisms finds its place in this passage. There’s a short
phrase, here in this passage, which we often throw around in conversation. Anyone know what
colloquialism, or maxim, or saying, I’m referring to?


“Judge not by appearances”, verse 24. You see it there? Have you ever heard someone say that?
Have you said that? “Judge not by appearances”, and then we tend to just stop right there. We don’t
finish Jesus’s statement


What do we mean, today, when we throw that little saying around—“judge not by appearances”?
Perhaps we’ll throw a little twist on it and say “judge not a book by its cover”. We usually mean that
there’s more to the story or person than meets the eye. We mean that we shouldn’t shouldn’t be
quick to jump to conclusions, or to judgments, based on first appearances or first impressions. You
know, clothes don’t make the man. Looks can be deceiving. The sayings and phrases go on and on,
to illustrate this same idea. Don’t make hasty judgments!


Is this what Jesus is saying, here? Well, look at verse 24. Jesus says “do not judge by appearances, but
judge with right judgment”. That’s different. Jesus isn’t making any statement about first impressions.
He’s making a statement about how we make judgements altogether—not just when we make
judgments. He’s saying “don’t judge with wrong judgment—the worldly kind that goes by
appearances—but with right judgement”. I think he’s using the phrase “judging by appearances” to
refer to any and all worldly, carnal judgments apart from faith in God’s will. He’s saying don’t judge by
appearances as the world does, but judge with right judgement. So of course, the question is—"what is
right judgement?”.


It’s a good question. This is a passage on how we discern, know, understand, and judge truth. This is
foundational, folks—and, Jesus is drawing out the foolishness of worldly judgment. He’s drawing
that out, for us, even as he’s showing us what right judgment involves. He’s telling us how we ought
not to think, and how we ought to think—especially as it concerns us thinking about him. So, that’s
where we’re going to go. We’re going to consider those two schools, or ways, of judging truth—two
standards by which we might make judgments. We’ll first consider how the world makes judgment
claims, and see how that falls short. Then, we’ll consider how Jesus confronts that with his own way
of judging truth—with “right judgment”, verse 24. That, no doubt, will lead us to the cross this
morning—and yes, even the Lord’s Table.


The World’s Judgment (“Judging by Appearances”)
So, let’s consider the world’s way of making judgment claims. How are the Jews making their
judgments of Jesus, here in this passage? Look at verse 14, where this all begins. Verse 14—


14 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.

So, remember that Jesus is at the feast of tabernacles here. We find Jesus, here, in the middle of the
feast, standing up in the temple to teach. We don’t know what he was teaching about, we simply

know that he was teaching publicly during the feast of tabernacles—no doubt, perhaps the most
widely attended and celebrated feast on the Jewish calendar. There were a lot of people there, as
Jesus publicly stands up to teach.


Judging His Entrance by Appearances or with Right Judgement?
Now, this stand to teach publicly is actually a rather sudden shift in Jesus’s approach, here. Last
week, when we looked at the first part of chapter 7, we learned that Jesus went out of his way to
enter into Jerusalem “in private”—or, discreetly. Chapter 7 began in Galilee, and we see this
conversation between Jesus and his brothers, wherein his brothers are somewhat sarcastically giving
Jesus advice to go to the feast with them, and make a big scene of himself. “Come on, Jesus! You’re
followers are only 12 faithful men—you can’t be the Messiah with only 12 men! Come to the feast
and do one of you miracles, gain a following, it’ll be great!”. What does Jesus say? He basically says
“no”—he says “my time has not yet come”. I think he means that in two different ways, there—he
means his time to be glorified as the Messiah has not yet come, so he’s not going to enter Jerusalem
like that. He also means his time to go to the feast had not yet come—he’d go later, after his
brothers left, and he’d enter discreetly. Verse 10—


10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in

So, Jesus enters privately. Yet when the time is ripe, he makes a rather soft—albeit public—
entrance. He stands up in the temple and he begins to teach. That’s what he does. He doesn’t enter
Jerusalem on a warhorse, and with a nationalistic battle cry to muster the troops around him as the
new Messiah. That’s what the people wanted, in one way or another. That’s the sort of entrance his
brothers suggested. The people were looking for a political savior—a man to deliver them from Rome
and bring in the new golden age of Israel. Instead, Jesus enters Jerusalem softly, quietly—albeit with
authority and confidence. He stands up in the middle of the feast, and he begins to teach rather than
muster troops with political banter, as many false Messiahs of his day had done before him.


It’s Palm Sunday, folks. Does this remind you of anything? A quiet, humble, unexpected entrance
into Jerusalem? Remember what I mentioned last week. Jesus, here, had just entered Jerusalem after
leaving his home in galilee for the last time. He’ll never return to his hometown in Galilee. Here,
he’s making a strategic entrance into Jerusalem at the feast of tabernacles—and yes, in six months’
time, after spending six months in the region of Jerusalem and Judea, he’ll make his final entrance
into Jerusalem on a donkey rather than a warhorse. He’ll enter the city as the Messiah on the beast
of burden, rather than a noble steed. At every turn, folks, Jesus’s approach is unexpected, humble,
heavy with anticipation of the cross—yet altogether confident and calculated. He came to do the will
of his father, to take his kingdom through death on the cross for the sins of his people. That’s the
kind of throne he was after. It certainly is not what the people of Israel were expecting from their
Messiah. They were judging by appearances—by worldly standards, worldly glory. Jesus had a totally
different standard of right judgment, folks. He was after dealing with sin, through sacrifice.


So this is the Jesus these people are seeing—and yes, they had to make a judgment about him just as
we do today. They had to make a judgement based on what they see in him “by appearances”. One
person is saying this about Jesus—the next person is saying that. They saw Jesus doing Messiah-like
things, teaching with Messiah-like authority, but it didn’t measure up to their standard. He wasn’t
claiming the throne as they hoped. He was baffling to them! Could it be that they were judging by

the wrong standard? Let’s keep reading, as Jesus begins to really expose their judgments and


Worldly Judgment: Inconsistently Applying the Standard
So, Jesus begins to teach publicly. Verse 15—

15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has
never studied?”


Do you see it? “Judging by appearances, charge 1, guilty”. This is worldly judgment folks—and even
though it’s a commonly understood logical fallacy, it’s all over the place. What are we talking about,
here? It’s the fallacy of credentials, the fallacy of appealing to authority.


This is the Jews’ initial reaction to Jesus’s teaching, here. They marveled at the authority which Jesus
taught with. They marveled at how much he knew. They marveled at his insights. Yet more than this,
they marveled at the fact that he taught like this without ever studying at one of their scribal schools.
In the other gospels, we see that the people were astonished because he taught “as one who had
authority, and not as the scribes”. In other words, he taught as though he himself had authority. It was
totally different from what the Jews were used to.


He simply declared the word of God as the word of God. He didn’t cite any scribe or school. He
didn’t even say “thus saith the Lord” as the prophets of old did. He simply spoke—and, with
authority, as though his words and God’s words were one and the same. The people marveled. They
honestly had no idea what to do with it. They all came to different conclusions, but nonetheless they
all refused to believe him at face value. By default, they doubted him—you know, it just didn’t look
right by their standards. He’s never studied. “That’s a problem! He probably doesn’t know what he’s
talking about!” It’s judging by appearances, folks—and, it’s a fallacy of appealing to authority.


Worldly Judgment: Not Consistently Understanding their Standard
Now, look at what happens next. Jesus shows that them they are not consistent to their own
standard—that is, in actually understanding it.


What was their standard, folks? They claim that Moses—the Old Testament, the Torah—is their
rule and authority for life and faith. They claim that all their judgements are rooted in the Moses. So,
Jesus calls them out on it. Look at ahead to verse 19, where after defending himself (which we’ll
look at in a moment), Jesus turns it on them. Verse 19, “has not Moses given you the law?” There,
Jesus is drawing what they call to be their standard to attention. He says, “Yet none of you keeps the
law.” Case in point—“why do you seek to kill me?”.


There, Jesus just laid a bomb on them. I think it’s fair to say that Jesus just exposed something that
was not entirely known to everyone. He was speaking publicly to all, although he was speaking
directly to the Jewish authorities who had begun their secret plan to have Jesus killed. That’s why the
crowd answered in verse 20, “you have a demon, Jesus—you’re crazy. Who is seeking to kill you?”.
The crowds don’t know the authoritie’s secret plan, and Jesus just exposed them. Don’t you love
that? He’s cut-throat in his approach, here. He exposed their secret plan and he exposed the
hypocrisy of their plan. “You guys call Moses your standard”—what do you find in Moses? Think,
ten commandments—and, maybe, the sixth one down. “Do not murder”. Jesus, here, is saying—
"What is your standard, oh Jewish people? Let’s go there—let’s talk about your murderous plots. Is

it in line with your standard, with the law of Moses? Or are you appealing to a different standard for
my death—a standard which conflicts with Moses?”


That’s getting to the heart of reality, right there. Isn’t it? If you appeal to any standard except for the
grace and truth in Jesus Christ, folks, you’re going to be found burying yourself. The man who lauds
the religion of universal love and acceptance always ends up being amazed when he himself cannot
be accepting of certain ideologies or religions. I’m thinking of the far left in our political sphere
today—those who demand “tolerance”, but tend to be intolerant with those who disagrees with
them. Or, take the person on the conservative side of politics who wants good, Christian,
conservative laws and ethics in place. If they’re only appealing to Biblical or conservative laws, apart
from the grace of God, they’ll only find themselves judged by the very standard they live by. “Those
Christian hypocrites!” Or, take the egotist—the person who says “I need to do what’s right by me,
no matter what”. I’ve met many people like that—and, the older they get in service to themselves,
the less happy and more bitter and lonely they get. They as their own standard failed themselves. Folks the
world is full of people resting upon broken, back-stabbing, sinful, standards which people live and
swear by. I trust we all have been smeared by them—have you been frustrated by a false standard
you’ve put over yourself? It’s most frustrating when you’re not living up to your own standard. It’s
terribly difficult. It’s the sort of thing that drives people into depression, despair. That’s the fruit of

any standard outside of the truth and grace of Jesus. We’ll talk about that more in a moment.

So, Jesus says to these Moses-loving Israelites, appealing to their standard— “Has not Moses given
you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law.” You’re inconsistent to your own standard. Case in
point—“why do you seek to kill me?”.


These Jews, no doubt, were terribly inconsistent. They applied Moses inconsistently. When it fit
their agenda, they used Moses. When it didn’t fit their agenda—even when Moses himself accused
them—they ignored Moses. They applied him inconsistently.


Although, Jesus also shows us that they didn’t just apply Moses inconsistently. They also interpreted
him inconsistently. They didn’t actually know their own standard. Keep reading, there in verse 21.


21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it.”

Now, the “one work’ Jesus is referring to when he healed the paralytic man and told him to pick up
his mat on the Sabbath. The Jews marveled at that—and, that’s the work which tipped the scales for
the Jewish authorities. That’s when they began to make plans to kill Jesus.


It’s actually interesting, if you think about it. Jesus basically just asked them, “according to Moses,
your standard, why are you seeking to kill me?”. Then here, he answers that question for them. He’s
saying “you’re seeking to kill me because you don’t understand your own law of Moses”. Verse 22—


22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you
circumcise a man on the Sabbath.


So, Jesus is appealing to common ground, here. Jesus is pointing out that the Jews rightly make an
accommodation to their sabbath laws so that a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath day.
Ordinarily, surgical procedures would have to wait a day. Although this was an exception. Jesus then


23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be
broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?


This is awesome stuff, here, folks. For the Jews, circumcision wasn’t just a matter of the law. It was a
matter of life in Israel, and life before God. Circumcision was a ceremonial right which resembled
renewal, cleansing, even being cut off from the world and being grafted into God’s people. By
having the mark of circumcision placed on you, you’d be marked with all the promises and blessings
and privileges of God’s people. Promises, you know, which anticipated cosmic renewal and hope
and eternal life. This is what the sabbath was all about—resting in and acknowledging these great
and precious promises for a whole day. Of course you’d allow circumcision on such a day. Now,
Jesus is saying—“would you not also allow the Son of Man to make a man’s whole body well, as a
sign of his coming kingdom and blessings? Certainly you wouldn’t kill him for such a merciful sign
of his blessings, would you?”


The only problem was that the Jews weren’t simply applying Moses inconsistently. They were
interpreting him inconsistently. They couldn’t see just how fitting and proper Jesus’s healing on the
Sabbath was, because Moses was not actually their highest standard. In reality, keeping their control
and power and status and traditions was their standard, and Jesus threatened all of that. In fact, it
might seem that Moses was threatening them on this. Point being—to keep their status, reputation,
control, they had to betray their own standard of Moses. They couldn’t be consistent.


That’s the world we live in, folks. I don’t care what standard you live by, it’ll always come back to
bite you. You’ll always fall short, be inconsistent, frustrated, blind to reality as you try and cover for
yourself. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, full of confusion and conflicting, deadly standards of
judging right from wrong.


I love how the story continues. It only exposes the confusion and the ignorance of the crowds.

7:25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek
to kill?


Isn’t that something? The same crowd, in the same conversation, just said earlier in verse 20 “who is
seeking to kill you? You’re crazy, you have a demon!”. Now, they’re saying ‘is not this the man
whom they seek to kill?” This crowd is confused, conflicted, lost. Then, they only reveal themselves
all the more—


26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! 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.”


I could take time to dissect this—although, I’ll simply say it’s clear that they’re confused. They’re
judging by appearances—by worldly standards based on what they desire and see—and they’re


Therefore.... Fallacies, Inconsistencies, Confusion
So here’s what we’ve seen. Jesus enters Jerusalem with a humble entrance, as he stands up and
begins to teach. They immediately judge him falsely on the fallacy of an appeal to authority. They

simply couldn’t understand how Jesus could speak so boldly without any formal learning, or without
citing any rabbis in his talk. Then, Jesus exposes that they are inconsistent in applying Moses (their
standard of judgment), and they’re also inconsistent in understanding Moses. Through it all, Jesus
reveals that they’re judged, inconsistent, and altogether confused.


That’s life, folks. That’s what happens when you base your life on a broken standard of judging right
from wrong, truth from falsehood. It’s the world’s judgments in all its forms—it’s “judging by
appearances”, so to speak—surface-level judgments that aren’t looking deep enough to truth. It’s
how we naturally live, as we’re fallen in Adam.


Now, what about Jesus’s judgment? What about his “right judgment”, which he refers to in verse


Jesus’s “Right Judgement”, and the Problem
When we think of “right judgment” as Jesus speaks of it in this passage, we’d do well to think in two
categories—“God’s will”, and “God’s promises”. That’s what Jesus is drawing our attention to, here,
in terms of “right judgment”. If you can root your judgment claims in those two categories—“God’s
will” and “God’s promises”, you will find yourself in a most wonderful situation, with a standard for
life which will not fail you.


“Right Judgement”: Desiring God’s Will
Think of how Jesus speaks of God’s will, here. The Jews ask, “how does this man teach without any
schooling?”. Jesus says in verse 16,


16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.”

That’s where any sane person would say, “ok, who sent you? how can we know this?”. Verse 17—

17 “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or
whether I am speaking on my own authority.


That’s a massive statement, right there, folks. If you desire to do God’s will—and presumably,
therefore, you actually know God’s will so that you might desire to do it—then you’ll know Jesus is
from God.


Isn’t that a radical statement? It also, generally from the outset, seems altogether unhelpful. “Ok,
Jesus, but I’m still curious—how can I know God’s will?” That’s an easy answer. Jesus is speaking to
Jews, here. They knew very well that God’s will was found in the Scriptures. God’s will for them—
his laws and purposes for them—were all in the Bible. We aren’t talking, here, of discovering God’s
secret, hidden will. “Oh, if only I knew God’s will for my life so that I might do it. God, just tell me
what to do!”. That sort of spirituality is not in the Bible. God has give you his law—he’s clearly
revealed his will to everyone who would read his word. The problem—and, this is what Jesus is
highlighting—is not everyone wills to do it. Not everyone desires to do God’s will. Jesus, here, is
speaking about the heart. Do you really desire to glorify God and obey him, and enjoy him forever? Or,
do you ultimately desire yourself, or this world? If you’re chief desire is God’s will—that God would
be glorified and obeyed—then you’ll look at Jesus and say “yes! this is the man after God’s heart. this
is God’s will in the flesh, existing to perfectly obey God and glorify him.” Jesus goes on to say in verse


18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the
glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.


Jesus is speaking of himself, here. He’s saying “There’s no falsehood in me because I am seeking to
glorify God who sent me—I’m not seeking to glorify myself. If you likewise desire God’s glory, you’ll
know I’m from God”.


Don’t just know, but desire God’s will—desire that he’d be glorified and praised and obeyed above all.
If that’s what you desire, then you’ll have no troubles acknowledging who Jesus is—the Son of Man
who came in humility, on a donkey, to be killed on a cross—all for the glory of the Father. That’s
judging with right judgment, even from the heart. It’ll drive you to repentance, that God might be
glorified. It’ll drive you to faith and truth, that God might be glorified.


Although Jesus also tells us that right judgment is a matter of desiring God’s promise, not just his
will. This goes back to the circumcision debate. Why did the Jews seek to kill Jesus for healing a man
on the Sabbath—even when they allowed circumcision on the Sabbath? Well, they didn’t desire the
Sabbath promise which circumcision pointed to. Circumcision meant being cutting off from this
world, and being grafted into God’s promises. So, Jesus presses these Jews with “right judgment”—
he says “if you’re fine with circumcision on the Sabbath because circumcision is entirely about your
Sabbath rest in God’s promises, why would you kill me for making a man’s whole body well in
accordance with God’s promises? Has God not promised that in the last days, when he restores all
things, the lame man will leap with joy? That’s the promise of God’s sabbath rest! Judge with right
judgment—with judgment in accordance with God’s promises!”.


Folks, the right judgment Jesus is referring to, here, is entirely contrary to the standards of this
world—and, it’s entirely freeing. We’re talking about a right judgment that will say with the Apostle
Paul at the face of persecution or martyrdom—


21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain... 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My
desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.


Paul’s desire was God’s will—to glorify God. If that meant he glorifies God with more work in this
world, he’ll do it. If that means glorifying God by giving up his life as a martyr—“that is far better”.
That’s right judgment. It’s judgement not by worldly appearances. It’s judgement with a secure faith
in God’s promises. I’m convinced that if we lived our lives—and made our decisions—entirely with
God’s glory and God’s promises of eternity in mind, we’d be an exceedingly happy, joyful, content,
immovable people. When we fail to meet our standard, we’re ok—because our standard isn’t just
God’s law. It’s God’s grace. Our standard is “forgive one another, as God in Christ as forgiven
you”. Justice was met at the cross. God’s wrath against you was satisfied. Jesus met the standard of
righteousness for you. So, you’re free to forgive those who have offended you. You’re free to not be
bitter. You’re free to work heartily and not be discontent. You’re free to expose your sin to your
wife or your husband or friend or child or church, to God, to repent fully and not live with hidden
guilt. You’re literally free to die—because you’re standard is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ, and
his promises of eternity. Judge with right judgment, by faith. Any other system or standard of truth
which you might submit yourself to in this world will destroy you.


In parenting, parents are often afraid our children will turn from the faith because they see our
hypocrisy every day. Our children see we don’t meet the standard we claim to live by. That’s classic
parenting, isn’t it? We sin. Do you know what I tell myself and Anna, when those thoughts come to
mind? “So long as the standard of our home is rooted in repentance towards God’s grace and
forgiveness—by the grace of God, we’ll be free from the charge of hypocrisy.” Have you thought of
it that way? “Yes, we live by the standard of God’s law and righteousness. We want to obey him.
Although, we also live by the standard of the cross—of repentance and faith toward God’s grace at
the cross. If we make that central to our standard of right judgment, then the only way we’d be
hypocrites is if we don’t repent, ask for forgiveness of one another and God regularly, and therein
walk joyfully in the Lord’s forgiveness”. Our children don’t need to see a home without sin. They
need to see a home that eagerly rejoices in the gift of gracious, eager, repentance and faith. It’s a
home that desires God’s will in Jesus, and God’s promises in glory. That’s right judgment, that frees
us from the inconsistencies of worldly judgment.

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