SIBLING RIVALRY – John 7:1-9

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INTRODUCTION:

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 rivalry doesn’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.

TRANSITION:

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 days” – 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.  Hundred 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.  He also mentions that Jesus had sisters.

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.

IV.  JESUS’ RESPONSE TO HIS BROTHERS (verses 6-9)

OVERCOMING PREJUDICE – James 2:1-13

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INTRODUCTION:

It is impossible to judge another person’s motives.  And yet we have a tendency to do just that.  We also cannot determine the heart of a person in a first-time encounter.  Initial impressions may not always be right because we all have some built-in prejudices.

I.  THE PRINCIPLE (Verse 1)

In James 2:1,  James is saying, “Faith in God and partiality are incompatible.”  They don”t go together.  The term “favoritism”‘ in verse 1 comes from two Greek words, combined to mean “to receive by face”, and has the thought of accepting or welcoming someone by face value alone.  The term, “favoritism”, is found in only three other New Testament passages, and in each instance it is made clear that God does not respect faces.  He judges by the heart. The Lord Jesus wasn’t prejudiced.  In Luke 14:12 it says of Jesus, “And He went on to say to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you.  But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you;  for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ ”  Even Jesus’ enemies knew that Jesus was not prejudiced.  In Matthew 22:16 the Herodians said to Jesus, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one, for you are not partial to any.” Prejudice can run so deep that it sometimes takes a tragedy to make one see how wrong it is to discriminate on the basis of physical differences.  An article in the newspaper several years ago told of a truck driver who learned the hard way how bigoted he was.  He had no use for blacks – until one saved his life.  It was shortly after l a.m. when his tanker truck flipped over and burst into flames.  A week later he lay in his hospital bed crying openly, for he was looking into the face of a black man who had used his own coat and his bare hands to smother the flames of what had been a human torch.  Needless to say, this was one white man who, with tears of appreciation, learned to see through skin color.

II.  THE PRINCIPLE ILLUSTRATED (verses 2-4)

In verse 2, James is talking about two people:  one rich and the other poor.  The words “gold ring” literally mean “gold-fingered”, suggesting that this man was wearing many gold rings.  Also his clothes were made of the finest materials.  The usher was faced with a choice:  where should he seat these two people.  Matthew 23:6 helps us better understand this situation by telling us that there were “chief seats” in the synagogues,  The Pharisees loved these chief seats which must have been located down in front because they  could enter the synagogue in their elegant robes and march toward the front, calling attention to themselves.  Faced with this decision, the usher based his decision on externals only. James says in verse 4 that this is discrimination, and their motives are evil.  If there is one place where class distinctions should break down, it is in a place of worship.  Distinctions such as age, color, money, status, rank, size, and clothing should mean nothing.  Jesus said to the multitude in John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

III.  THE PRINCIPLE EXPLAINED (verses 5-11)

In verses 5-11, James gives three arguments why prejudice is wrong.  First, prejudice is not true of God.  He says in verse 5, “Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”  Whether we are physically rich or poor, unless we recognize our spiritual poverty and our need for a Savior, we will never experience the riches of faith in Christ, and receive an eternal inheritance from God.  Secondly, God isn’t concerned about wealth or poverty, but about the condition of a person’s soul.  The people James is writing to were exalting the rich, and yet it was these rich people who were the very ones who were causing their pain and injury.  Thirdly, in verses 8-11, James is saying that prejudice is sinful because it is against the Scriptures.  One of the laws God gave to Moses was, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Showing partiality is a violation of that law.

Children in England used to play a game called “Saints and Sinners”.  A hoop was set up at a certain distance, and the children were given ten arrows each.  The object of the game was to aim them at the hoop.  If anyone shot ALL of the arrows through  the hoop, he was proclaimed a “saint”.  If he missed just once, he was called a “sinner”.  If he missed with all ten arrows, he was no greater sinner than if he missed with only one!  One error was as bad as ten!  That was the rule of the game.  The same is true spiritually.  The Lord Jesus never “missed the mark”, but kept God’s law perfectly.  All others have sinned and come short of God’s standard.  Therefore there is no excuse for prejudice because we are all equally sinners.

Let me share with you two stories about what has happened in the lives of two people as a result of the prejudice they experienced from Christians.  A little boy named Joseph had polio.  Someone finally took him to Sunday school, but the teacher neglected him.  Later the young people ridiculed him and then avoided him because of his crippled condition.  As a result, he dropped out of the class with a hatred for the church and the Lord Jesus Christ.  He did, however, continue his studies in school.  When he finally earned his doctorate from Heidelberg University, a man slipped his arm around him, saying, “Joseph, I think a lot of you;  you and I could do much together.  The young man responded warmly to this attention and encouragement, and in time Joseph Goebbels became the propaganda minister for that man:  Adolf Hitler!  Many wondered afterward what would have happened if that Sunday school teacher had shown love to this apparently unwanted individual, and had led him to the Lord.  If the young people had befriended this needy person instead of ridiculing him, he might have become a minister for Christ instead of the Nazis.

Another case is a terrible incident that occurred in the life of Mahatma Gandhi.  This man, who later gained world attention, says in is autobiography that in his student days he was truly interested in the Bible.  Deeply touched by reading the gospels, he seriously considered becoming a convert.  Christianity seemed to offer the real solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.  One Sunday he went to a nearby church to attend services.  He decided to see the minister and ask for instruction in the way of salvation, and enlightenment on other doctrines.  But when he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go and worship with his own people.  He left and never came back.  “If Christians have cast differences also”, he said to himself, “I might as well remain a Hindu”.  He became one of the most famous people in the history of India and was a champion for the civil rights movement there, but he was never given  the opportunity to experience the freedom of becoming a child of God because of the prejudice of a man who claimed to be a minister of Christ.

IV.  THE PRINCIPLE APPLIED (verses 12-13)

One of the tests of the genuineness of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is how we treat other people.  Can we pass the test?  We all show prejudice at times, don’t we?  Are there people you won’t talk to, or even acknowledge their presence, because of racial, social, economic, or educational factors?  Are there others who treat you that way, and you are following their example?

Are we obeying the Scriptures and following the example of the Lord Jesus Christ in our treatment of others?  I’m closing with a short prayer that Billy Graham offers in one of his devotionals:  “Heavenly Father, fill me with that supernatural love of Jesus that enables me to reach out to the myriads of people who, in and of myself, would be impossible to love.”