If you weren’t an only-child, or if you’re the mother or father of more than one child, you’ve probably experienced sibling rivalry, or watched it take place. I was one of three boys, so when the three of us got into arguments or fights, it was usually two against one! The rivalries don’t necessarily go away when children become adults, as you probably know. The Old Testament Scriptures contain several rivalries between brothers, sisters, or both. The first rivalry was between Cain and his brother Abel. As we move through the Old Testament we also find the stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and her sister Leah, and Joseph and his brothers. There were some serious, negative results in each case. I’m reminded of a popular TV show in the 1960’s and 1970″s: “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”. As part of their comedy routine, Tommy Smothers would say angrily to his brother, Dick, “Mom always liked you best!”, and a funny argument would ensue. It was funny because the people in the audience could relate to what they were saying to each other. They may have used similar phrases and had the same arguments with their own brothers or sisters at some point in their lives.
Why do such rivalries exist among family members? What are some of the causes? From the research I’ve done so far, I’ve learned that children are sensitive to differences in parental treatment, as well as unequal amounts of attention and discipline.
The passage of Scripture we are studying, John 7:1-9, tells us that the Lord Jesus was not an only-child. His mother Mary and His step-father Joseph had several children while Jesus was growing up. This passage of Scripture will mention His brothers (step-brothers), but He had step-sisters as well, and we will be looking into those details as we study this text of Scripture.
Before we begin to study the text, I would like you to exercise your imaginations and recall some memories along with me. Try to imagine yourself as the brother or sister of Jesus Christ, growing up with Him in the same household, interacting with Him and with your other brothers and sisters every day as children, then adolescents, and finally as adults. What kinds of potential situations, issues, feelings and tensions come to your mind? Bring back to mind your own childhood experiences and your experiences as an adolescent and as an adult. Now keep those thoughts in your mind and continue to ponder them. Those thoughts and memories are going to be useful to us as the scene changes here in chapter 7 of John’s Gospel.
I. A CHANGE OF LOCATION (verse 1)
Verse one begins with the words “After these things” – the same words the apostle John used at the beginning of the previous chapter (6:1). John is not only referring to the things Jesus said and did in chapter 6, but also to the response from the crowd, and especially from the rulers of the Jews. Bible commentator William Barclay aptly described John 6 as the “beginning of the end”. Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel begins the last six months of Jesus’ life. The Lord Jesus had already “signed His own death warrant”, so to speak, by claiming to be God (5:18). Now He has lost many of His potential defense-witnesses, in chapter 6, when He stated that belief in Him was the only way to eternal life. Hundreds of “followers” walked away and may have become witnesses for the prosecution.
The rest of verse 1 says, “Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him.” So Jesus was going around the region of Galilee preaching and teaching the Galileans about the kingdom of God. He did not go from Judea to Galilee out of fear for His life, but because it wasn’t His Father’s timing for Him to be arrested yet. His reason was not fear, but obedience to His heavenly Father.
II. THE FEAST (verse 2)
Verse 2 says, “Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was at hand.” The Feast of Booths is also called the Feast of Tabernacles. Bible expositor Warren Wiersbe gives a brief and concise description of it:
“The Feast of Tabernacles looked back on Israel’s journey through the wilderness,
and looked forward to the promised kingdom of Messiah. The Jews
lived in booths made of branches to remind them of God’s provision for
nearly forty years (Leviticus 23:33-44). . . . Tabernacles was a festive time
for the people. The temple area was illuminated by large candlesticks
that reminded the people of the guiding pillar of fire; and each day the priests
would carry water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out from a golden vessel,
reminding the Jews of the miraculous provision of water from the rock.”
This was one of the three feasts that Jewish males were required to attend. Great numbers of Jews arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. It was a time of joy and fellowship that lasted seven days, with a solemn feast on the eighth day. Many animals were sacrificed to the Lord, and many free-will offerings were given during that period of time (Numbers 29:7-40; Deuteronomy 16:14-16).
III. BROTHERLY ADVICE? (verses 3-5)
In verses 3 and 4, the apostle John writes down for us the only words spoken to Jesus by His brothers that are recorded in the Scriptures. Let’s pay close attention to their words and see if we can gain any insights into their purpose for saying those words, and the manner in which they may have said them to Jesus. Verse 3 says:
His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea,
that your disciples may behold Your works which You are doing.”
Since all of His brothers are saying these words to Jesus, they probably had been discussing the matter among themselves and had come to an agreement about what they wanted to say.to Him. Matthew 13:55-56 gives us the names of four brothers: “James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (Jude)”. The parentheses are mine. Matthew also mentions that Jesus had sisters. We find that same information in Mark 6:3.
Their words are not in the form of a suggestion or a request, but rather a command or a challenge. The word “therefore” tells us that they must have known about all the followers who had turned away from Him in Capernaum, and assumed that this was the reason why He was now ministering in Galilee. As you look at their words, do you detect a bit of sarcasm? Are they making fun of Him and ridiculing Him? We don’t know the inflection in their voices, but we do see the words “your disciples”. His brothers are not His followers, at least not at this point in time. They are excluding themselves by the use of those words. To put it into today’s vernacular, they were saying to Jesus: “Leave those lower-class Jews in Galilee and make your pitch before the ‘big wigs’ in Judea, where the action is. Show your disciples your best miracles. See if you can convince them, and us, that you’re really who you claim to be. Give it your best shot!” That paraphrase seems to fit what they say next in verse 4:
“For no one does anything in secret, when he himself seeks to be
known publicly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”
Notice the little word,“if” in verse 4. His brothers don’t believe His miracles. They have probably not seen any of them, and are unwilling to believe the reports they have heard. In an attempt to put their words into 21st century slang, His brothers are saying, “Come out of hiding; get the word out, and take a world tour.” But Jesus wasn’t seeking to become a celebrity or a status symbol. Their “marketing strategy” is similar to Satan’s temptation in Matthew 4:5-7, where Satan tried to make Jesus take action on His own, rather than submit to the will of His heavenly Father.
Even though His brothers don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, how could they treat their older brother in such a way. What would motivate them to say the things they said to Him in such a cruel way? Why are they “ganging up on Him” – four against one?
It’s time to bring back to your mind those rivalries between you and your own brothers and sisters, and rivalries between your own children. Have the memories come back to mind? Now ask yourself this question: “What would it be like to grow up with a brother who never sinned; who never did anything wrong, and was never punished?” Would you be looking for weak spots in his character? Would you be trying to find a hole or a crack in his armor? Would you be trying to make one? Would you be doing everything in your power to get him into trouble just once, to make sure he was human like you? Would there be times when you would like to get into an argument with him or pick a fight with him? Would you be calling him names such as “Mr. goody two-sandals”? You don’t have to answer those questions. We both know the answers already, don’t we?
This poses another question. As the children were growing up, did Mary and Joseph tell them about Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth, and all the details surrounding those events. Did they tell their children that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of heaven and earth? The Scriptures don’t give us that information, but apparently Mary and Joseph kept that information from them, and for good reasons. You know how hard it is for little children to keep secrets, especially if they are speaking in a brother’s defense. For example, if someone were to say to them, “My brother is better than your brother”, they might get the response, “No he’s not, my Brother is the Messiah, the Son of God.” If that news spread, Jesus and His whole family might be in danger of death from the Romans and the Jews!
Even though Mary and Joseph probably didn’t communicate that information about Jesus, children can detect differences in the way their parents talk to each of them and respond to each of them. Whether they consciously realized it or not, how could Mary and Joseph hide the sense of awe and wonder they felt inside every time they looked at Jesus, touched Him, and conversed with Him. As adolescents, His brothers and sisters may have thought to themselves, and commented to one another about their parents: “It’s almost as if they worshiped Him.” Such thoughts and observations could easily provoke jealousy and anger among Jesus’ siblings.
John expresses his amazement, in verse 5, by saying, “not even His brothers believed in Him”. After all they had seen, heard, and experienced, they still refused to acknowledge that their brother was the Messiah. He’s confirming that their words to Jesus, here in verses 3-5, were not motivated by faith in Him. This is in fulfillment of prophesy. Psalm 69:8 says, “I have become estranged from my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s sons.” Notice that it says “my mother’s sons”. Jesus was not the natural son of Joseph.
IV. JESUS’ RESPONSE TO HIS BROTHERS (verses 6-9)
Imagine yourself in this situation. How would you feel if your four younger brothers, who showed no confidence or trust in you, were all standing around you, making fun of you, and trying to tell you what to do and how to do it? Have you put yourself in this setting? Can you feel the anger welling up inside? Are you getting ready to put them in their place, teach them some manners and demand that they show some respect for their elder brother who had taken on the responsibilities of a father to them after Joseph died?
In verses 6-9, Jesus responds to their unkind and challenging remarks calmly, honestly, and graciously. He begins, in verse 6, by saying: “My time is not yet at hand, but your time is always opportune.” The Greek language has several words for time. The word “aion” refers to long periods of time. It’s been going on for ages or eons. I’ll call it “abstract time”. It was considered to be “God’s time” (not “God’s timing”, but “God’s time”), and was used to describe a lifetime or an eternity. It extends beyond a person’s life, and is not limited to it. The second word, “chronos”, is sequential time, measuring minutes and seconds. Let’s call it “tic-toc (or tick-tock) time”. When I was growing up, clocks and watches ticked. You could put your ear against them and hear it. My grandfather had a railroad watch in his pocket, attached to his belt by a chain. When we visited our grandparents, my grandfather would get out his watch and my two brothers and I would take turns sitting in his lap and listening to it tick. We thought that was a wonderful way to pass the time!
Getting back to verse 6, the Greek word translated “time” is neither of those two words. Instead, it is the word “kairos”, which refers to a point in time. It is used to describe the precise time, the right moment, the opportune time, the proper time, and timeliness. Let’s call it “stop-watch time” and the stop-watch, or timer, is in the hand of Jesus’ Heavenly Father. This is the only instance where Jesus used this particular word. In other instances, Jesus said “My hour has not yet come.” Why did Jesus use “kairos” here, when speaking to His brothers? Is there a difference in meaning? Yes, there is. When Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come”, He’s referring to a specific time of a particular event in the future, that is, the hour of His betrayal and arrest. This event has already been set and cannot be changed. When Jesus told His brothers, “My time is not yet at hand”, He is saying something like “I hope (or plan) to come, but this is not the best time for me.” It’s somewhat similar to the phrases, “I’ll take a rain check on that”, and “I’ll catch up with you later.” His Heavenly Father would be clicking the stopwatch or setting the timer for that event very soon.
The rest of verse 6 reads, “but your time is always opportune”. His brothers can come and go whenever they want. Their words and actions have not aroused the hostility of the Jewish leaders. Even though they are Jesus’ family, the Jews have nothing against them at this time. Let’s combine those words of Jesus with the words that follow in verse 7: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify to it, that it’s deeds are evil.” One could easily get the impression that Jesus is getting even with His brothers for what they were saying to Him earlier; that He is being sarcastic and rebuking them for their worldliness and lack of faith in Him. I disagree with that conclusion. That doesn’t align with Jesus’ character. The Lord Jesus has been protecting His family from the hostility and persecution He is experiencing. The very things that they have been telling Jesus to do would put their own lives in danger. They didn’t realize it, but Jesus did. I think Jesus is saying, “The world cannot hate you because I am protecting you from that hatred at this time.” He is doing so by not involving them in His ministry, by not mentioning them in His conversations with the Jews, and by keeping the focus of attention and hostility on Himself alone. He doesn’t want His brothers to be identified as His followers and persecuted by the Jewish authorities when they don’t believe in Him yet. At this dangerous point in His ministry, if Jesus went with His brothers to the feast, they would be considered as identified with Him. Whereas, if they went by themselves, they would be identified with the world around them. Those words of Jesus to His brothers may well have been spoken as words of reassurance from a loving and protective older-brother. We find no negative reaction on their part.
Verse 9 concludes this interaction with the words, “And having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee.” His brothers were satisfied with His response to them, and verse 10 tells us that His brothers went to the feast without Him. I believe that part of the Father’s will for Jesus to remain in Galilee was not only for His own protection at this particular time, but also for the protection of His family.
What can we learn and apply from this particular episode in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ? Once again we observe Jesus’ absolute obedience and submission to the will of His Heavenly Father. He’s on the Father’s timetable each moment of every day, and He’s content to wait until the Father reveals His will, and the proper time to execute it. He waits for the opportune time, the best time, because that’s His Father’s time, and the Father knows best. No one, and nothing, is going to get in the way of doing His Father’s will, on schedule. Not even His own brothers could deter Him from doing the will of His Heavenly Father. Oswald Chambers shared this observation from his study of the Scriptures: “There never was a more inconsistent Being on this earth than Our Lord, but He was never inconsistent to His Father.”
What about us? Whose timetable do we follow? Who holds the stopwatch in our lives? Are we willing to wait on the Lord in prayer when the situation isn’t clear, or when the timing doesn’t seem right?
We can also learn a lesson from the way the Lord Jesus treated people – in this case, His own brothers. Jesus’ love for His Heavenly Father did not exclude His love for His earthly family. He didn’t interrupt His brothers, but calmly listened to their advice. They didn’t understand the potential consequences of their advice, but Jesus did. He understood their motives and their frustrations, and showed respect for their feelings. The Lord Jesus was fulfilling the second Great Commandment by treating His brothers the way He would like to be treated. What have you learned from His example? By God’s grace, are you ready and willing to put those lessons into practice in your relationships with your own family members? The Scriptures tell us the results of that loving treatment being given to His brothers by Jesus. After His resurrection from the dead, in Acts 1:14, we find that His brothers are included among His followers. Two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, became leaders in the early church and wrote epistles that bear their names.
If you are a committed follower of Jesus Christ, the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:48-50, where He asked a question, and then answered it for the sake of those who are listening to Him, are meant for us as well. He said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers? For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” We are “blood-relatives” of Jesus Christ and “blood-relatives” with every other believer in Jesus Christ. We became children of God through the shed blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, on our behalf. Are you treating your fellow-Christians the way you would treat Jesus? Are you treating them the way Jesus treated His own brothers? I hope so, and He wants it to be so. Let’s renew our commitment to follow the Lord consistently and love one another unconditionally.
CONSTRUCTION SITE: COMPLETED