Our passage for today’s reading depicts the crowds and the religious leadership in Jerusalem struggling with a couple of questions about Jesus: Exactly who is this person, and where has he come from?
I am going to use a risky modern illustration here – not to render any sort of opinion or make any current affairs point, but to rather pull to the surface the feelings, questions, and debates centering around Jesus in this passage.
There is and has been, as everyone knows from the daily news, a debate about President Obama relative to his background and his intentions. Where is he from? Well, we know he is from Illinois, yet we also know he had an extensive background in Hawaii in his early life. And then there is the question of the Africa connection of his father. Where was he born? Well, it appears to have been affirmed it was in Hawaii, though that assertion and evidence has not fully satisfied quite a number of people.
Beyond that, what are his intentions and true vision for America? He said at the beginning that he was going to “fundamentally change America.” Is he a good and honest man who loves the country and simply has a sense of an electoral mandate to push through a very different agenda than has historically been true? Or is he, as his most critical opponents assert, a radical/socialist who wants anarchy to prevail in order to establish a more powerful central government than could ever be imagined in America?
My point by use of this illustration is not to speak at all to substance of this debate, but rather to draw forward the vehement nature of it that we witness and hear every day. There is a great divide in America; there are two largely irreconcilable visions and philosophies. Passions and arguments run deep. Tempers and emotions flare on talk radio and in the broadcast and print media.
Likewise, in Jerusalem as Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles, the crowds were passionately divided. Where was Jesus from? Well, clearly they all knew he was immediately from Galilee – that was obvious. To hear Jesus speak however, the perceptive listener might almost conclude that he was speaking about being from heaven! How silly! And we see some ask the question in verse 42 … Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” But those asking it do not seem to know that Christ was indeed born there.
And then the second question: Exactly who is this guy? He sure could talk and teach! Wow, it was impressive. On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” And thinking as well about the deeds he performed … “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”
The crowds were initially surprised that the authorities did not seize him – did that mean they were believing he was the Messiah? Some of the crowd desired to lay hands on him, but Jesus was divinely protected, in that his time had not yet come. And at last, when the Pharisees sent out the Temple Guard to arrest him, they were rather “arrested” by his teaching and came back empty-handed. And when I write my book on the all-time most humorous passages of Scripture, I’m going to include this story! The leaders essentially say, “So where is he?” And the guards answer in what I picture as a stammering response of “Ah … well … hey … umm … we sorta got caught up listening to him and forgot our assignment … like … wow … you’ve never heard anybody talk like this guy!”
The Pharisees at this point surely threw their hands into the air in frustration, asking the guards if anyone smart (like only themselves of course) has believed in him? No! Only the stupid people in the cursed crowd would be that ignorant!
And then Nicodemus raises a probing question about the technicality of their laws. And we can imagine every Pharisaic head turning incredulously in his direction as they asked him, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
The two questions raised today are timeless, and the answers provide the essence of the great divide of humanity on the issues of faith and salvation. Where Jesus has come from and who he is form the basis of … well … everything. If he is God in the flesh who has come from the Father to save lost mankind, he must be believed upon and obeyed for the work he has accomplished. If he is just another of a series of great men and teachers over the centuries and millennia, he can be appreciated as just another of multiple fountains of good advice.
The evidence demands the verdict that Jesus is God Up Close!
Division Over Who Jesus Is
25 At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? 27 But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”
28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”
30 At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.31 Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.
33 Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me.34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”
35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36 What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”
Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.
Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders
45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.
47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”