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.
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)