The Twenty-Seventh in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
We are well-familiar with the image of a parched individual struggling for survival in the desert–lips cracked, delirious, with the mirage of a blue oasis on the horizon. For those living in Palestine at the time of Jesus, the lack of water was a real and potential danger. In an arid climate the securing of water was a daily ordeal. There were cisterns and catch basins, springs in certain areas, wells in others, Roman aqueducts in several large cities–but no one had plumbing. If even you could find water, you had to carry it to where you were going to use it–a daily need. Without water–if it didn’t rain, if the spring or well dried up–you would be forced to move a place to where water could be found. Then there was the problem of brackish or contaminated water, which you needed to live, but which would make you sick. In a world such as that of first century Palestine and under the circumstances just described, and given Israel’s own history with water in the desert wilderness, the messianic promise of pure water which is always replenished–a living water–was a powerful metaphor and a prominent expectation of the messianic age.
We are continuing our series on the Gospel of John and working our way through the so-called “conflict phase” of Jesus’ messianic mission as recounted in John chapters 7-10. We have spent the last several Sundays looking at the first section of John 7 when Jesus entered Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths. Although he entered the city quietly and without fanfare, Jesus immediately went into the temple and began teaching, drawing a large crowd, and generating great controversy among the Jews over his person and the nature of his messianic mission. Is Jesus a prophet, or the Christ? What about his authority, his insight into the Old Testament, and his miracles?
In our time in John 7, we have seen that the Jews (the “Jews” in John’s Gospel is not a reference to the Jewish people in general, but to the Jewish religious leadership and those allied with them) openly questioned Jesus’ credentials to teach, only to have Jesus declare that his words and authority come directly from YHWH. Jesus tells the Jews that they do not keep the law of Moses, and to prove his point, Jesus exposes the plot to kill him then being hatched by the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus reminds the crowds that a year or so earlier, when he had been in Jerusalem, he had healed a man on the Sabbath who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When the man got up and walked and moved his bedroll, the Jews accused Jesus of being a law-breaker for violating the Sabbath commandment. Jesus points out that the Jews themselves made exceptions for the weightier matters of the law when it came to circumcision (as Jesus had done with the invalid), and despite the outward piety of the members of the Sanhedrin, it was they who were engaged in the grossest form of hypocrisy–plotting to kill their own Messiah for being a law-breaker, when he had kept the law perfectly (since he was the law’s author).
As we saw last time, the increasingly heated exchange between Jesus and the Jews quickly got to the heart of the matter. Who is Jesus? A prophet? Is Jesus truly the Christ (the Messiah)? According to one school of Jewish messianic expectation, popular at the time, Jesus could not be the Messiah. It was thought that the Christ would be a great deliverer (no thought was given to an incarnation) who would remain completely hidden until he revealed himself at a time of great national crisis. The problem with Jesus’ claim to be the Christ (at least from the perspective of those who held this view) is that the Jews knew too much about him. Many knew where Jesus was born (Bethelem–the right place), they knew his parents (Joseph and Mary), they knew that he was raised in Nazareth, that he now lived in Capernaum, and that after the death of John the Baptist, his ministry became very popular (especially in Galilee). None of this fit with the “hidden Messiah” view held by many.
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