“Gotcha” is an American slang term that literally means, “I’ve got you”. It has been used in a number of ways. Many of us have used that word in a conversation, and we had a specific purpose and meaning in mind. It can mean “I understand what you are saying”, or “I’ll do what you’ve asked”. The word is sometimes used in the sense of capturing or apprehending someone, taking someone by surprise, embarrassing or disgracing someone, exposing a person’s mistakes, or proving that the person is wrong. That’s quite a range of meanings and uses for the word, and that’s not all of them. Why would I be using the word “gotcha” to describe an event in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ? Does that choice seem strange to you? As we study this passage of Scripture, I’ll let you decide for yourself whether or not this title is appropriate.
As we begin our study of John 7:19-22, let’s imagine the scene at that moment in Jesus’ life. It’s the week-long Feast of Booths [or Tabernacles]. Jesus arrived unnoticed, went into the temple and began to teach. A crowd of people has formed around Jesus to listen to Him. The Jewish religious authorities have arrived, have made their way to the front of the crowd, and are standing in front of Him, making accusations about Him; and Jesus is once again defending His authority. Meanwhile, the crowd is standing there, watching and listening.
I. THE ACCUSATION (verse 19a)
In verse 19, there is a change of direction. Jesus takes the offensive position against them and assumes the control of the conversation. “Turnabout is fair play”, as the saying goes. It’s time for Him to examine their words and their actions, and offer His conclusions. It’s time to bring them back to reality. He begins His attack by saying, “Did not Moses give you the law”? They are thinking in their minds, “Of course he did!” They prided themselves on this, and believed that every violation of the law of Moses was deserving of death. While they are gloating about their self-righteousness and their exalted position in the eyes of God, Jesus goes on to say “yet not one of you carries out the law.” Those are stinging words to His questioners! These leaders revere Moses and obey his every word – at least they try to give the impression that they do so! Jesus is telling them, “You’re not carrying out the Law that God gave to Moses. You’re carrying out your own version of it. Those aren’t the Sabbath laws that God gave to Moses. You’ve changed them and added to them to the point where they have become a despicable burden to the people. It’s no surprise that you reject My teaching because you have rejected Moses’ teaching” (John 5:46-47).
At this point in Jesus’ discussion, it’s important to know the words that Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 31:10-13. Here are those words:
Then Moses commanded them saying, “At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of the remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, in order that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law.” [bold print added to emphasize key words]
We aren’t told whether or not this is the seventh year but, if not, Jesus may be alluding to that command to remind the Jewish leaders that, when the people hear the words of the Law being spoken, they will notice many of the differences between the Law of Moses and the teachings they have received from these rabbis.
II. THE QUESTION (verse 19b)
As further proof of their disobedience to the law of Moses, Jesus asks them a question: “Why do you seek to kill Me?” He is saying, “Where does Moses say specifically that I should be killed for healing a person on the Sabbath day over a year ago? What offenses deserve the death penalty in the law of Moses? If My healing-miracle is not one of those offenses, then one of the commandments in the law of Moses says, ‘You shall not kill’. So you’re the ones who are breaking the law of Moses by seeking to kill Me.”
III. THE CROWD’S RESPONSE (verse 20)
I can imagine that the leaders of the Jews were standing there dumbfounded. Jesus’ reasoning was too solid. They weren’t prepared for this, and didn’t know what to say. The crowd, most of whom were from outlying areas and weren’t familiar with Jesus or with the things He was saying, come to the defense of their leaders. In verse 20 we read, The multitude answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill You?” They weren’t telling Jesus that He was demon possessed. During that period of time, many Jews believed that all unusual or uncalled for behavior was prompted by the devil. In this day and age, we might use the words “you’re out of your mind”, “you’re crazy”, or “you’re paranoid”. They misunderstood Jesus’ words because they didn’t know the history behind them.
IV. THE QUESTION ANSWERED (verse 21)
I’m sure the leaders were relieved that the crowd directed the attention of Jesus away from them, but it didn’t last for long. Rather than become distracted by the crowd and direct His conversation toward them in defense of His sanity, Jesus ignores their remark and continues His conversation with the leaders of the Jews, answering His own question. In verse 21, He says, “I did one deed and you all marvel.” The religious authorities were amazed when they learned that Jesus healed, in an instant, a man who had been lame for 38 years, just by saying the words. It was a miracle that only God could perform. Yet they wanted to kill Jesus because He performed that miracle on the Sabbath Day.
V. THE APPLICATION TO CIRCUMCISION (verses 22-23)
In verse 22, we find that the Lord Jesus isn’t finished with His argument. He is still building His case against them. This time He applies their Sabbath laws to the rite of circumcision when He says, “On this account Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man.” First, He corrects their misunderstanding about circumcision. Moses was not the originator of circumcision. Before God told Moses to put the command of circumcision into written form in Leviticus 12:3, it had been practiced by “the fathers” (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) over 700 years earlier. In Genesis 17:10-12, God said to Abraham,“This is the covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you; every male among you shall be circumcised. . . . every male among you who is eight days old.” Therefore, in obedience to that law, every man-child (male baby) is circumcised on the eighth day, no “if’s”, “and’s”, or “but’s” about it. There are no exceptions to the rule. It’s the law, and this ceremonial law even takes precedence over the Sabbath laws. That was the teaching of the Jewish religious authorities of that day. However, there were exceptions to that rule. In the Talmud (the collection of the teachings of the rabbis), it states that, should the baby suffer from an illness, the circumcision is postponed seven days for the sake of the well-being of the infant. Therefore, the baby’s health is more important than this rite of purification, and this is one of several exceptions in the Talmud.
With that information in mind, Jesus presents His next argument in verse 23, saying, “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath that the Law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath.” Jesus is saying, “You make exceptions to circumcision on the Sabbath because the health of the child is more important than the strict observance of the Law, so why are you upset because I healed this man completely on the Sabbath?” He’s telling them that they are contradicting themselves because they say one thing but do another.
There is another argument that isn’t spoken by Jesus, but it’s implied, and all the rabbi’s standing around Him know what that argument is. As they add this final argument to the ones already stated by Jesus, they realize that they have lost their case and there is nothing to refute. Are you wondering what that final argument is? It has to do with one of the teachings of their most famous rabbi, Hillel the Great. Hillel’s first great law of interpretation was, “The Major may be inferred from the Minor”. What does that mean? In this case, circumcision, which was considered to be the ceremonial law of the purification of newborn males) overrides the Sabbath, and health overrides circumcision. So the Sabbath and circumcision are ‘Minor’ when compared with health. Thus Jesus’ case against them might be put into these words: “I did what’s considered ‘Major’ according to your laws and the teachings of your most famous rabbi, when I healed that man completely on the Sabbath, so why are you majoring in the ‘Minors’?”
What excellent arguments! Case dismissed! As I review Jesus’ arguments, a word comes back to mind. The word is GOTCHA! Does that word seem appropriate to you also?
VI. THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED (verse 24)
While those teachers of the Law are standing there, looking at Jesus in wide-eyed amazement, experiencing the shame and agony of defeat, the Lord Jesus uses that moment to teach them a lesson in verse 24. Here are Jesus’ words of instruction to these rulers of the Jews. He says to them, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” He’s telling them to repent of the way they have mistreated Him and do what’s right in the sight of God. How easy and how tempting it is to make judgments about the actions and motives of others before all the facts are known, or in spite of the facts that are known.
A newspaper correspondent attended an auction where he saw, among other items, a pair of excellent crutches. A poor, crippled boy was the first to bid on them. A well-dressed elderly man was also interested in them and kept offering more money for them. Some of the people frowned in disapproval, and one lady said, “Shame on you; let the boy have them!” Whenever the boy called out a higher price, the man would always top it. At last, the boy held up a five-dollar bill, all that he had, and made a final bid. When more was offered, the young fellow turned away in tears. The crowd muttered angrily. Then, to everyone’s surprise, the gentleman presented the crutches to the boy, saying, “These are much too small for me, so I won’t have any use for them. When I saw that you were crippled, my heart went out to you. So I decided to buy the crutches and give them to you.” The crowd began to applaud for they realized they had completely misjudged the man and the situation. They looked at outward appearances only, and came to their own conclusions, when they should have given the situation time to allow the true motives to be revealed. That same principle is reflected in our attitude toward God’s Word, the Bible. Are we committed to what God’s Word actually says, or to what we want it to say?
One of the things that can cause us to make wrong judgments is peer pressure. Em Griffin in his book, “The Mindchangers”, describes an experiment done by Solomon Asch with groups of 12 people. They were brought into a room where four lines of unequal length were displayed. They had to decide which two were the same length and publicly vote for their choice. Person after person after person (11 in all) voted for the wrong line – because they had been told to do so ahead of time. The one individual who was in the dark couldn’t imagine how in the world all these seemingly normal people could all choose the wrong line. When it was his turn to vote, he had to decide, “Do I go with what I know my senses are telling me, or do I go with the crowd?” One-third of those tested caved in to group pressure and changed their vote to agree with their peers. Are you feeling the pull of peer pressure in your life? Don’t let peer pressure keep you from repenting of your sin and following Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. He will give you a new life, a changed life manifested by a love for Him and desire to obey Him and depend upon Him for strength, guidance, and victory.
Fellow-believers, a decision needs to be made in our hearts to do what is right in God’s sight even when everyone around us, where we live or work or go to school, wants to go the wrong way. Ask God for the desire and the strength to make the right choice and do the right thing, even if it means standing alone. In actuality, we won’t be alone. The Lord will be with us, and there are many Christians over the past 20 centuries who have chosen to live righteously. Some of their testimonies are written down for us in the Scriptures and in the history books. I’ll close by giving you one of those examples. In the third century, Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, strongly opposed the teachings of Arius, who declared that Christ was not the eternal Son of God, but a subordinate being. After being exiled five times for his beliefs, he was summoned before emperor Theodosius who demanded that he cease his opposition to Arius. The emperor reproved him and asked, “Do you not realize that all the world is against you?” Athanasius quickly answered, “Then I am against all the world.”
May we have that kind of tenacity in our obedience to the truths of God’s Word.
CONSTRUCTION SITE: COMPLETED
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