TEACHING WITHOUT A DEGREE – John 7:14-16

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INTRODUCTION:

Do you have any “post-nominal letters”?  These aren’t letters that you write to one another or receive from one another in the mail.  The words “post-nominal” mean “after a name”.  The Wikipedia online encyclopedia gives the following definition:  Post-nominal letters are letters placed after a person’s name to indicate that that individual holds a position, academic degree, accreditation, or honor, or is a member of a religious institute or fraternity.  Some examples of post-nominal letters used in the field of education are:  BA [Bachelor of Arts], MS [Master of Science], and PhD [Doctor of Philosophy].  There are also “pre-nominal letters” (“before a name”) which are used mainly for a religious title or military rank.

What does this information have to do with the passage of Scripture we are now studying – John 7:14-16?  There were no scholastic degrees given in New Testament times!  True, but there were requirements to be met, especially for teachers of the Law of Moses in Judaism.  Learning those requirements is important for our understanding of these three verses of Scripture in John, Chapter 7.  Let’s take a good look at this passage of Scripture and you will soon see what I mean.

I.  THE SETTING:

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 7:10-13, we learned that Jesus went to the feast secretly in order to find out what people were saying about Him.  For several days He moved about and overheard many muffled conversations about Him.  Jesus learned what He wanted to learn.  There were many among the crowds of people who thought well of Him.  They were impressed with His character, and attracted by His personality and genuine concern for people.   It was now time for Him to come out of hiding.

II.  JESUS’ APPEARANCE IN THE TEMPLE (John 7:14)

Verse 14 says, “But when it was now the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach.”  It was the middle of the feast – the fourth day, and many Bible scholars believe that it was also the Sabbath day; so the crowd would be larger than at any other time during the feast.  Many of these worshipers would also be assembled in or near the temple.  Jesus enters the temple unrecognized.  By this time the people were no longer looking for Him and didn’t expect Him to be there.  Then the news starts spreading quickly around the temple area and throughout the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was in the court of the temple and was boldly teaching God’s Word.  People were flocking to the temple to listen to Him.  The words, “began to teach” are in the imperfect tense in the Greek, indicating that Jesus was teaching formally and continuously.  By so doing, He was winning the hearts of the people by His teaching before the Jewish leaders could put a stop to it.  His listeners were awed by His teaching. This may have been the first time that Jesus taught in the temple. but it won’t be the last time He does so.  Before His arrest, Jesus said, in Matthew 26:55, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.”

II.  AMAZEMENT AND CONFUSION (verse 15)

In verse 15, the apostle John focuses our attention upon the Jewish leaders.  They have arrived at the scene and are standing together at a distance, watching and listening.  What they see is a man dressed in a peasant’s robe, a lowly carpenter from Nazareth, of all places.  But they hear Him teaching the Scriptures from memory, with skill, with ease, and with authority.  The Lord Jesus was expounding the Old Testament Scriptures clearly and convincingly.  John tells us the words that are coming out of their mouths in their amazement:  “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?” 

This was not the first time the leaders of the Jews stared and listened in wide-eyed amazement.  Twenty years earlier a group of elders in that same temple had similar looks on their faces and responded in the same manner, as a twelve-year-old boy sat in their midst.  Luke 2:46-47 describes that scene:

“And it came about that after three days they found Him [Jesus] in the
temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them,
and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were amazed at
His understanding and His answers.”

A few of those teachers may still have been alive and standing among the leaders in John 7:15.  We aren’t given that information.  But if there were any of those teachers in this audience, apparently they didn’t put those two events together and realize that they were looking at the same Person.  In both those instances, they were standing in awe of the One whom they chose to reject as their Messiah.

Without realizing it, they have just paid Jesus a compliment when they said, “How can this man be learned”.  They weren’t saying that Jesus was illiterate, but were wondering about the source of this knowledge and wisdom.  As they listened to Jesus, they had to admit that He was an excellent teacher because His knowledge of the Scriptures, and His ability to interpret the Scriptures, excelled their own!  Jesus had all the qualifications of a rabbi; He just didn’t obtain those credentials in the usual way.  What was the usual way?

At that point in human history the proper way, and the only way to become a teacher of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings was to go to rabbinical school.   At home and in the synagogue, Hebrew children learned the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament Scriptures).  They read it, wrote it, and memorized large portions of it.  By the age of 12 the young men were ready to pursue their careers (usually the family business or trade).  The best students continued their studies in secondary school, called “beth midrash”, which was usually in the synagogue, where they studied the Prophets and the Writings.  They also learned the interpretations of the Law.  The very best of these students could seek to become the disciples of a rabbi so that they might become rabbis themselves after the training.  The goal was to become like their teacher.  These disciples did not teach their own interpretations of Scripture.  They taught their rabbi’s interpretations.  New Testament scholar, William Barclay, described the practice with these words:  “No rabbi ever made a statement on his own authority.  He always began:  ‘There is a teaching that . . . “.  He then went on to cite quotations and authorities for every statement he made.”

That’s the background to their question as they watch and listen to Jesus teach the Scriptures.  It doesn’t make sense to them that Jesus can interpret the Scriptures on His own authority without the benefit of having all their years of study and training.  The perception that their teachings were “secondhand”, and His were “firsthand” must have enraged them.

III.  JESUS’ SOURCE OF AUTHORITY (verse 16)

The Lord Jesus overheard their conversation, or knew what they were saying to one another, because He proceeds to answer their question concerning the source of His authority.  I would have expected Jesus to say something like the following:  “I don’t need any authority other than Myself because I’m God.  I don’t need a teacher because I’m self-taught.”  However, that’s not His reply to them.  Rather than place the focus of attention on Himself, Jesus focuses the attention upon His teachings and His Teacher.  Verse 16 says, “Jesus therefore answered them, and said, ‘My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.’ “  I was taught, “Whenever you see a ‘therefore’, find out what it’s there for”.  The apostle John uses that word to indicate that Jesus is going to be correcting their words and their thinking.  He didn’t want them to come to the conclusion that He came up with those teachings on His own.  Rather, He is telling them that He has a Teacher, and those teachings come from Him.  The One who sent Him, the One He’s been telling them about, is His Teacher.  In a similar manner to their method of teaching, Jesus teaches only what the Father Who sent Him has imparted to Him.  So He’s saying, “My teachings are not original.  God has sent Me, taught Me, and commissioned Me to say what I have been saying.”  You might say that the Father who sent Him is the Author of His words and holds the copyright to them, whereas Jesus is the publisher – the One who proclaims them.

It’s not only His teachings that are under the authority of His Father.  His miracles, His schedule, His whole life is under the authority of His heavenly Father.  This realization has given me a new perspective on the Roman centurion’s words to Jesus in Matthew 8:5-9.  Here is that conversation:

And when He had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him
entreating Him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home,
suffering great pain.  And He said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
But the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to
come under my roof, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say
to this one ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and I say
to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”  Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled.

I used to think that the centurion was saying that he was a man “with authority” but that’s not what the Scripture says.  He describes himself as being “under authority”.  He knows that Jesus has described Himself as being under the authority of His heavenly Father, and he’s telling Jesus that he is under authority also.  He was able to give orders and have them obeyed.  His soldiers obeyed his orders because they knew where his authority came from.  It was delegated to him by the tribunes, who received their authority from the two consuls, who were appointed by the emperor himself. Being “under authority” gave him authority (delegated authority).  By disobeying him, they were disobeying the emperor, and there would be serious consequences after it was reported.  Do you see how this applies to Jesus?  He was also under authority, the authority of His heavenly Father, and there is no higher authority!  His training and His teachings were superior to theirs, and they knew it.  Yet Jesus was humble, and this surprised them.  Humility was not a typical characteristic of the rabbis of His day.  Jesus said of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:6-7:  “They love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi.”  The title “Rabbi” comes from a Hebrew word which means “great”, “great one”, “master”.  Jesus allowed people to call Him by that title because He alone fit the description.  He goes on to say to His disciples in verse 8, “But do not be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.”

Seventeen hundred years later, there is another story about true greatness.  In 1717, King Louis XIV, who preferred to be called Louis the Great, died.  His court was the most magnificent in all of Europe, and his funeral was the most spectacular.  In the church where the ceremony was performed, his body lay in a golden coffin.  To dramatize his greatness, orders had been given that the cathedral would be very dimly lit, with only one special candle that was to be set above the coffin.  The thousands of people waited in silence.  Then Bishop Massillon began to speak.  Slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, “Only God is great.”

How true and appropriate were words and actions of Bishop Massillon.  Only God is truly great and worthy of adoration.

CONCLUSION:

The study of these three verses of Scripture, John 7:14-16, has been a lesson in pride and humility.  Have you ever said something, out of jealousy or envy, that you wish you hadn’t said, or done something that you wish you hadn’t done?  Former president Ronald Reagan shared the following experience from his own life:

Ronald Reagan, recalling an occasion when he was governor of California
and made a speech in Mexico City:  “After I had finished speaking, I sat down
to rather unenthusiastic applause, and I was a little embarrassed.  The speaker
who followed me spoke in Spanish — which I didn’t understand — and he was 
being applauded about every paragraph.  To hide my embarrassment, I started
clapping before everyone else and longer than everyone else until our ambassador leaned over and said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
He’s interpreting your speech.”
(quoted by Gerald Gardner in “All the Presidents’ Men”)

How embarrassing!  The ambassador saved him from even further embarrassment!  Like that ambassador, Jesus is doing these Jews a favor.  He answered their question before they could say it out loud to the crowd and then wish they had never said it.  He stopped the course of their jealous thinking and mumbling before it got out of hand, thus saving them from embarrassment.

Mr. Reagan would have been quick to admit that his actions were motivated by envy and jealousy, which are both manifestations of pride.  He felt he deserved a better response from the crowd because of the position of authority he held as governor of California, and because of the content of his speech.  How do you and I handle authority?  Some of us may have credentials before our names or after our names.  We’ve worked hard to earn those credentials and they give us a degree of authority.

Are you and I under authority?  Do we live life the way we please or are we subject to authority?  If you were pulled over by a police officer for speeding, and you said, “You can’t do that to me; I’m under my own authority!”  Whose authority is going to prevail in that situation?  That police officer’s authority was delegated by the city, which received that authority from the state.  I’d want to show some respect and obedience to that authority!  Only Monopoly games have get-out-of-jail-free cards!

Our credentials, no matter how many of them we may possess, do not give us the authority to enter the kingdom of heaven.  That’s not something we can merit, nor is it something we have a right to possess.  No human credentials can give us that authority or earn us that right.  It’s God’s heaven and we have to enter it God’s way.  The only acceptable entrance requirements include humbly acknowledging our own sinfulness (Rom. 3:23), repenting of our sins, believing in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (Mk. 1:15) who paid the price that our sins deserved (I Pet. 2:24), and placing ourselves under His authority by following Him and obeying Him (Eph. 2:8-10).  Are you ready and willing to place yourself under His authority?

If you are a Christian, having already made that commitment, can you honestly and humbly say that God’s Word, the Bible, is the final authority in your life?  Do you believe and teach nothing that is contrary to the Word of God?  Is the authority that the Lord Jesus Christ possesses in your life, and the love you have for Him, evidenced by the place that God’s Word holds in your life, and your wholeheartedness in loving and serving Him and others?

May you experience the fullness of following Him as His beloved children.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Thank you for visiting and reading this sermon on John 7:14-16.  I hope this passage of Scripture has been an encouragement to you today.

 

 

OPERATION RESTORATION – James 5:19-20

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INTRODUCTION:

We’ve come to the final two verses of James’ letter to the Hebrew Christians scattered all over the Roman Empire and beyond.  It’s not the typical conclusion of a letter, such as the ones written by the apostle Paul, or Peter, or John.  There are no parting words of farewell, and there is no closing prayer.  But James has a reason for ending his letter with the words he uses. We will soon see, as we fit these parting words into the context of the rest of the letter.

Having served as a chaplain in a hospital setting for many years, and having been “under the knife” several times myself, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the  procedures that are followed in some operations.  I think that there are some elements of comparison, and I will be pointing them out as we look at James 5:19-20 in the light of what has preceded it.

Here are two translations of this passage of Scripture, James 5:19-20:

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” (NASB)

“My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off.  Go after them.  Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering from God.” (The Message)

I.  THE UNHAPPY WANDERERS (verse 19a)

James calls them “brethren”, meaning that they are either believers, or at least members of the congregations.  “If anyone strays from the truth”.  The word “if” implies that there are some in these congregations who have strayed, and there are others who haven’t strayed from the truth.  He is saying that straying from the truth can happen and has happened.  The word translated “strays”, or “wanders” is the Greek word “planao”.  We get our English word “planet” from this word.  It was generally believed, in those days, that the planets wandered around in the skies, and appeared in different places and at different times.  They didn’t realize that these planets are in an elliptical obit around the sun, as is the earth.

James has been describing and dealing with these “wanderings” throughout his letter.  Many of his readers and hearers have been guilty of impatience, misuse of their tongues, self-centeredness, greed, or other evidences of failing to practice the truth.  The following saying is so true:  “If truth isn’t applied, we’ve either wandered from it, or never possessed it.”

It’s a scary thing to wander from the truths of God’s Word.  It usually happens slowly, imperceptible at first.  Then we realize that we have not only wandered from the truth, but we have also drifted away from our closeness to the Lord Jesus Christ and to other believers.  Feelings of guilt, fear and embarrassment may keep us from seeking help and turning back.  We may begin to feel that our lives are out of control and that the situation is hopeless.

Have you ever been in a helpless situation because of a physical injury or infection? When I was in my early 20’s I felt pain in my lower abdomen.  Within minutes I was doubled over, and the pain was so intense that all I could do was to cry out for help.  My mother heard my cries and took me immediately to a nearby hospital.  I was given a shot to ease the pain and told that  I was having an acute appendicitis attack.  I would be going into surgery immediately.  My family doctor arrived, and told me that he would be performing the surgery.  I would be sedated and would not be awake or feel any pain during the surgery.  His presence and assurances relieved much of the tension I was experiencing.  When I awoke there was a scar, stitches and minimal pain.   The inflammation was gone and I was feeling much better.  One of my aunts died from a ruptured appendix when she was a teenager, so my fears were real.  I look back at that event as a life-saving experience, thanks in part to the immediate action by my mother and the doctor.

II.  THE RESTORERS (verse 19b)

The end of verse 19 contains five simple words:  “And one turns him back” (NASB).  The Message uses the words, “Go after them.  Bring them back.”  In verse 20 James gives a more detailed description of the wanderer’s condition when he says “turns a sinner from the error of his way.”  James uses the Greek word “hamartolos”, an archer’s term meaning, “missing the mark”.  But the word is also used to describe a traveler who has left the familiar road and is following winding, twisted paths that cause him to lose his way.  He has chosen to go his own way, and this choice has affected his thoughts, words, actions, and attitudes.  We are either walking in God’s truth or in our own way.  Those are the options.  The “turning back” is descriptive of the acknowledgement of one’s sin, confession of it, turning from it, and once again walking in fellowship with God and in obedience to God’s truth.

The apostle Paul, in Galatians 6:1, wanted to make sure that his readers knew what their attitude should be in the restoration process.  He says, “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, lest you too be tempted.”  I have an anonymous poem in my collection of illustrations, and it brings tears of regret to my eyes every time I read it.  I hope it has a similar effect on you.

Pray don’t find fault with the man that limps

Or stumbles along the road,

Unless you have worn the shoes he wears

Or struggled beneath his load.

There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt

Tho’ hidden away from view,

Or the burden he bears placed on your back

Might make you stumble too.

Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today,

Unless you have felt the blow

That caused his fall or felt the shame

That only the fallen know.

You may be strong; but still the blows

That were his, if dealt to you

In the selfsame way at the selfsame time

Might cause you to stagger, too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins,

Or pelt him with word or stone,

Unless you are sure – yes, doubly sure –

That you have no sins of your own.

For you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice

Should whisper as soft to you

As it did to him when he went astray

It might cause you to falter too.

In order to effectively turn another believer back to fellowship with God through gentle reproof and correction, we will need to have that kind of an attitude toward the wanderer and toward ourselves.   The hymn writer, Robert Robinson, expressed his inner struggles when he said:  “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing).  The wanderer will need love, concern, and encouragement in order to confess the sin which has dragged him down, and redirect his focus toward the God who loves him and wants to forgive him and welcome him back.  You might say that God is calling us to be part of the “welcoming committee”.

III.  THE JOYFUL RESULTS (verse 20)

At the end of verse 20, James describes the results of the restoration process. First, “He . . . will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins”.  These words can be confusing if taken out of their context, and without a grasp of the Hebrew concept of sin and death.  The word “he” refers to the restorer, as he is used by God. The phrase “save his soul from death” is probably referring to physical death, not spiritual death.  As a doctor often saves his patients from the harmful and continuing affects of an infection or an injury, the restorer has the responsibility and privilege of saving a wandering Christian from the continuing effects of his sin.  In the Old Testament scriptures, sin is often associated with physical death.  When Adam and Eve sinned, one of the penalties was eventual physical death.  Moses and a whole generation of the children of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the desert and dying because of their sins.  The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire because of sin, and only Lot and his family were spared.  The recipients of his letter didn’t need an explanation.  They already knew the record of God’s dealings with His people.

The other result of the restorer’s ministry is “the covering of a multitude of sins”.  By his own loving, listening, and forgiving attitude, the restorer mirrors God’s love and forgiveness, and becomes a model of forgiveness and acceptance to other believers in the fellowship.  As it says in Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”  King David said in Psalm 32:3-6, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me.  My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide;  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.”  As a restorer, God gives us the privilege of sharing in the joy of that forgiveness (covering) of sin and return to fellowship.  They say, “Misery loves company”.  Well, relief-from-misery loves company also, and we’re invited to the celebration!  If you’ve ever had a restoration experience, whether you were the restorer or the one who was restored, you know that it was a joy-filled experience for both parties!

IV.  SUMMARY AND PERSONAL APPLICATION

Pastor and Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe concludes his commentary on the epistle of James by asking a series of questions to help us examine our hearts and evaluate our own spiritual maturity.  Let’s reflect on each question and be honest with ourselves and with God as we answer them.

  1.  Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
  2. Do I play with temptation, or resist it from the start?
  3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
  4. Are there any prejudices that saddle me?
  5. Am I able to control my tongue?
  6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?  Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
  7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
  8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
  9. Am I selfish when it comes to money?  Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
  10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
  11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
  12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother?  Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

May the Lord give you diligence as you pursue godliness and divine wisdom.  May He also provide strength and a loving friend if you should begin to stumble or falter.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  (James 1:22)