The Divisive Prince of Peace
Meditation on John 7:11-13 by Cris Cramer
John 7:11-13 (NIV):
Now at the Feast the Jews were watching for him and asking, “Where is that man?”
Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”
Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews.
Something that strikes me about the entire book of John is how often he shows people divided in opinion about Jesus, and nowhere is it more prominent than in chapter 7. From beginning to end, he writes about the various reactions people have to Jesus, the gossipy whispering about him at a religious festival, the disagreements based not just on Jesus' own actions and teaching, but on bits of scripture and tradition and expectations people held about who "the Messiah" was supposed to be, and what would mark his presence. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus' own family show they don't really understand who he is, and the misunderstanding rolls on from there, beginning to end.
Some believed he was a good man, some believed he was an evil deceiver. Some stood by the law and said "how can someone who breaks the Sabbath be from God?" Others said "look at the miracles he does, how can he not be from God?" Some people were confused by his lack of scholarly qualifications, others by the nature of his teaching, still others by his family and origins. Some people looked to those in authority for guidance; perversely, some of those people refused him because "the Jews" didn't approve of him, and some noted that he hadn't been arrested yet, and wondered if it was because the authorities had decided he was the Messiah after all!
Even the authorities themselves were divided about Jesus. Near the end of the chapter, the chief priests and Pharisees send guards after him, but when the guards hear him speak, they leave him alone and return empty-handed. The Pharisees berate the guards, but the Pharisee Nicodemus speaks up in their defense, advising against arresting Jesus.
By the end of the chapter, no consensus has been reached. We learn that some were offended by Jesus, some were put off by him, some chose to believe in him, and others had no idea what to believe. Humans being human, there were probably many among the crowds that just stood back to enjoy the show, like many modern humans eat up celebrity news and gossip and go looking for more.
It's been a long time since John wrote his story about Jesus, a long time since Jesus himself stood in the temple and declared "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink," and still no consensus has been reached about this divisive man, Jesus of Nazareth, who spoke uncompromised truth and offered uncompromising love. This man who also said "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34) I don't believe he relished the confusion and division his presence caused, but he accepted it as a consequence of obeying his Father and doing his work. The work continues, and the division of opinion and belief about Jesus of Nazareth continues also. We who follow him must learn from his example: neither flee from the conflict, nor relish it, but continue to offer uncompromised truth and uncompromising love, in obediance to our Father.
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