Secret Messiah

Jesus decided to leave Judea and to start going through Galilee because the leaders of the people wanted to kill him. It was almost time for the Festival of Shelters, and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Why don’t you go to Judea? Then your disciples can see what you are doing. No one does anything in secret, if they want others to know about them. So let the world know what you are doing!” Even Jesus’ own brothers had not yet become his followers.

Jesus answered, “My time hasn’t yet come, but your time is always here. The people of this world cannot hate you. They hate me, because I tell them that they do evil things. Go on to the festival. My time hasn’t yet come, and I am not going.” Jesus said this and stayed on in Galilee.
After Jesus’ brothers had gone to the festival, he went secretly, without telling anyone.

During the festival the leaders looked for Jesus and asked, “Where is he?” The crowds even got into an argument about him. Some were saying, “Jesus is a good man,” while others were saying, “He is lying to everyone.” But the people were afraid of their leaders, and none of them talked in public about him.

When the festival was about half over, Jesus went into the temple and started teaching. The leaders were surprised and said, “How does this man know so much? He has never been taught!”
(John 7:1-15)

Was Jesus a liar? His brothers, who didn’t believe he was the Messiah, told him that if he wanted to become public figure, he had to appear in public. So why not come to the Festival of Shelters? Jesus told them it wasn’t his time, but then snuck there without telling anyone.
When a quarterback misleads the opposing team, has he lied? When the general misleads the enemy, has he lied? When the undercover police officer keeps his cover, has he lied? No, we’d say they were all doing their jobs. Jesus’ behavior must be seen in that light. Jesus’ brothers did not yet believe. That means they were still playing for the other side.

Jesus had a specific plan in mind for the Feast, a plan that did not involve his brothers or their expectations. By misleading his brothers, he ensured the successful outcome of God’s will.

Jesus’ critics, like the Pharisees, were always quick to find fault with his behavior, behavior that often seemed at odds with God’s law. We must be careful not to start thinking like the Pharisees. And we have to be willing to understand that sometimes we don’t know all the answers.

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The Bread of LIfe

So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:30-40)

Human beings are never satisfied. Jesus had fed five thousand people in a miraculous way. Their response was not to believe Jesus, but to wonder what he could do that would make them believe; they pointed out what Moses had done in the wilderness. Jesus corrected them. Moses hadn’t fed the ancient Israelites. God had. Jesus wasn’t just another Moses, he was like the manna that had come down from heaven.

But the crowd didn’t understand. They were fixated on getting a free meal, while he was trying to tell them about the meal they really needed to eat. Why does Jesus compare himself to bread and being eaten? In order for us to continue living, something else must die. Even a vegetarian kills living things—plants—in order to stay alive. Likewise, Jesus offers us eternal life, but in order for us to have eternal life, he had to die.

There really is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone has to pay for it. Jesus doesn’t need to do anything to make us believe he paid the price. We either believe or we don’t. The choice is ours alone.

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He was back in Cana of Galilee, the place where he made the water into wine. Meanwhile in Capernaum, there was a certain official from the king’s court whose son was sick. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and asked that he come down and heal his son, who was on the brink of death. Jesus put him off: “Unless you people are dazzled by a miracle, you refuse to believe.”

But the court official wouldn’t be put off. “Come down! It’s life or death for my son.”

Jesus simply replied, “Go home. Your son lives.”

The man believed the bare word Jesus spoke and headed home. On his way back, his servants intercepted him and announced, “Your son lives!”

He asked them what time he began to get better. They said, “The fever broke yesterday afternoon at one o’clock.” The father knew that that was the very moment Jesus had said, “Your son lives.”

That clinched it. Not only he but his entire household believed. This was now the second sign Jesus gave after having come from Judea into Galilee. (John 4:46-54)

True faith doesn’t require much evidence, since faith is a gift from God, not something we create in ourselves. Herod the Tetrarch was the ruler in Galilee. One of his officials had a sick son, on the brink of death.

Jesus criticized the people around him for needing miracles in order to believe. John the Baptist had announced Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus had begun preaching his message, but he hadn’t performed any other miracles. Jesus’ only miracle up until then had been turning water into wine at a wedding. But this official in Herod’s court believed that Jesus’ status as the Messiah was enough. If Jesus was the Messiah, then healing people was part of the package. When Jesus told him his son lived, he believed it and headed back home. Not only did this official believe Jesus was the Messiah, soon the other members of his household did too, when they heard about the miracle. They were dazzled and so they believed. Jesus was right: for some people, a miracle was enough. But for the father, he had believed simply because he knew that the Messiah could take care of his boy. He had believed before any miracle.

For others, like the religious leadership in Israel, even after Jesus had performed many miracles, it would not be enough for them to believe. Jesus’ promises are certain because of who he is. We don’t need dazzling miracles. If we doubt, the doubt is in ourselves alone.

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None of Your Business

One day, Jesus was teaching in the temple and telling the good news. So the chief priests, the teachers, and the nation’s leaders asked him, “What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?”

Jesus replied, “I want to ask you a question. Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?”

They talked this over and said to each other, “We can’t say that God gave John this right. Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe John. And we can’t say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize. The crowd will stone us to death, because they think John was a prophet.”

So they told Jesus, “We don’t know who gave John the right to baptize.”

Jesus replied, “Then I won’t tell you who gave me the right to do what I do.” (Luke 20:1-8)

It’s good news when the home town wins—unless you were rooting for the other side. That the religious establishment reacted to Jesus preaching good news with anger tells us something about the religious establishment.

After Jesus drove the moneylenders from the Temple, while he was preaching, the religious leaders approached Jesus and asked him about the source of his authority. Jesus then used his popularity and the popularity of his cousin, John the Baptist, against the religious leaders. They did not believe Jesus was unauthorized. They did not believe that John the Baptist was a prophet of God. But they were well aware of what most of the people in the crowd believed. When Jesus asked them about John’s message, they realized that they couldn’t say anything without getting themselves in serious trouble.

So when they refused to answer Jesus, Jesus likewise refused to answer them. Jesus point was that they didn’t believe John came from God, so why would they believe Jesus when he told them he came from God and had God’s authority for his actions? Their question was not an honest one. He knew that and they knew that. They wouldn’t accept the truth, so what was the point in giving it to them?

When someone has already made up his mind, giving him the facts is not going to change it. We therefore need to be careful about how fast we make up our minds. A made up mind, too often, can become a fortress against the truth.

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Let Me See

He took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” (Luke 18:31-42)

We can be more blind sometimes than the blindest man Jesus ever healed. Luke’s juxtaposition of the blindness of his disciples and the healing of a blind man was not accidental. Luke wanted to make a point about how sight—understanding—is a gift of God. Jesus could not have been more clear with his disciples about what was about to happen to him when they got to Jerusalem. But still the disciples didn’t get it. They thought the Messiah would kill the Romans, not get killed by them.

Why were they blind? Because they thought they already knew what was going on. They were convinced that they could see, when they couldn’t see at all.

The blind man knew he was blind. So Jesus healed him and told him that his faith had saved him. Not “healed him.” Saved him. How so? His faith had made him seek out Jesus. His only expectation for what the Messiah would do was to end his blindness. His mind wasn’t clouded by any other expectation.

In contrast, Jesus’ disciples were blinded by what they thought they could see: by what they thought they knew of the Messiah. The blind man understood better. We can miss Jesus’ message because we think we know it better than we really do.

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The Cost

Large crowds were going along with [Jesus]; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.

“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

“Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:25-35)

How much does it cost to be one of Jesus’ disciples? As much as you have. Jesus said that following him required a willingness to place Jesus’ demands above those of our family and ourselves. Disciples need to be willing to be ready for martyrdom.

“Carrying your own cross,” is a powerful image. Those condemned to crucifixion had to carry their own cross to the place of execution. A person carrying his cross was a person who had lost everything; he was stripped naked, he was exhausted. He had no possessions, no family. He was hungry and thirsty. And all he had ahead of him was a torturous and brutal death.

Therefore, just as God asked the Israelites in the wilderness with Moses to consider carefully before they committed themselves to becoming his special people, so today we need consider the high cost of joining with Jesus before we commit to him. A disciple who gives up along the way because of how hard it gets, is not fit for anything and can never be made useful again. Jesus doesn’t like quitters.

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What Do You See?

The disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And [Jesus] cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” (Mark 8:14-26)

After warning his disciples about the Pharisees’ yeast, we’re told a story about how Jesus healed a blind man. Why? Jesus asked his disciples if they were blind. Then he reminded them about how he had twice fed large crowds. The healing of the blind man illustrated Jesus’ point.

Of all the healings that are recorded in the Bible, this is the only one where the healing occurred in stages. Jesus put spit on the blind man’s eyes, asked him how he was doing, then touched his eyes a second time before he was completely healed.

Twice Jesus fed thousands. Twice Jesus worked to heal the blind man. Jesus’ disciples, like that blind man, were slow to perceive. They understood his words like the blind man first saw people as trees. Only later did he see clearly. Only later did the disciples understand.

If God needs us to understand something, he’ll do whatever is necessary to enlighten us. He’ll never give up, either. He’s a patient teacher.

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The Proof is in the Pudding

When Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12)

“The proof is in the pudding” is a shortened form of the old proverb that “the proof of a pudding is in the eating of it.” The proof of Jesus was in the healing of the man.

To open a hole in the roof of a house in ancient Israel was not as labor intensive as opening a hole in a modern roof. But it was still destructive, messy, and noisy. Bits of roof material would have fallen on Jesus and those around him.

When Jesus told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, the teachers of the law thought that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy. Obviously it’s pretty easy to tell someone their sins are forgiven. The forgiven person doesn’t change color or shape. Forgiving sins, though the easiest to say, was the hardest to do in fact. Jesus demonstrated by the visible healing, that he had the power to do the invisible healing. People got well all the time. But sins being forgiven? The teachers of the law were right. Only God could do that. And Jesus still has the power to forgive our sins. That was his whole reason for coming to us.

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The Pharisees plotted a way to trap [Jesus] into saying something damaging. They sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in, to ask, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students. So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me? Do you have a coin? Let me see it.” They handed him a silver piece.

“This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?”

They said, “Caesar.”

“Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”

The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads. (Matthew 22:15-22)

Jesus always got the better of his critics. The tax in question was the Roman poll-tax. The Jewish people despised it. In fact, a couple of decades before Jesus was asked about it, a popular leader from the Galilee area named Judas had led a major revolt against the Romans. For the Zealots, Judas and his revolt still inspired them to fight against Rome. So the question was very dangerous: supporting the tax meant siding with the Romans. But to oppose the tax would open up Jesus to the charge of sedition. No matter how he answered, the Pharisees figured they could get Jesus into serious trouble.

When Jesus asked them to show him a denarius, Jesus revealed their hypocrisy. If they really were the good, patriotic Jews they pretended, then how could they carry a coin with an idolatrous portrait of Caesar carrying an inscription that described him as the “son of God?” With his answer, Jesus distanced himself from the Zealots and indicated that loyalty to a pagan government was not incompatible with loyalty to God.

What Jesus told the Pharisees took the wind out of their sails. But notice that Jesus’ answer contradicted what his disciples would have expected of the Messiah. Though not everyone was a Zealot, most Jewish people believed in their goals and they all expected the Messiah to overthrow the occupiers.

The kingdom of God and the kingdom of Man are two different, and sometimes mutually exclusive things. Jesus thinks we can honor both God and whatever nation we live in.

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Silence Can Be Loud

Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate.

Pilate questioned Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.”

The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly.

Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!”

But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.

Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. The crowd went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them.

Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead.

Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?”

They shouted back, “Crucify Him!”

But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

Jesus merely agreed with the truth; he never sought to defend himself or to argue a point. Pilate was amazed by the silence of Jesus. He had seen numberless criminals. He knew criminals were quick to claim innocence.
But Jesus was different. He acknowledged that he was the King of the Jews. In a world where only Rome decided who was king and who was not, that made Jesus guilty as charged. But Pilate wasn’t buying it. Jesus didn’t act like some pretender to the throne. He didn’t strut, he didn’t offer excuses.

So Pilate decided that Jesus really was innocent. But Pilate had to pander to what the mob wanted in order to keep the mob from turning against him and destroying his career.

It is not easy to do the right thing, even when you know what the right thing is and you want to do it. When faced with the choice of doing the right thing, or keeping his job, Pilate chose to keep his job. Most people today will do the same thing: they will just follow orders and procedure. But Jesus asks us to follow him.

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