Journey Fall 30 AD: accept the challenge; share your faith

given on the fifth Sunday (sorry last blog was the fourth Sunday) of Lent, April 10, 2011

Today we are returning to Capernaum, which is the town that Jesus chose as his home after struggling for acceptance in Nazareth.  Our spring break began along the Jordan River near Nazareth and has continued to follow Jesus’ ministry and his journey around ancient Israel.  Last week we went north to Tyre and Sidon, and then circled back south through the mountains.

Jesus’ ministry is now almost three years old.  The news of his miracles, his teachings, and his healings has spread.  The people of Israel are interested, but at the same time unbelievable.  The Jewish leaders and the Pharisees are feeling threatened.  Their authority and the old traditions are being challenged.

Our journey has allowed us to look at Jesus’ ministry in terms of locations and experiences, but our intentional faith journey is also developing a deeper understanding of Jesus’ ministry and our responsibilities as Christians.

We are learning about why Jesus chose his disciples, why he openly performed miracles and healings.  Our stop in the mountains refreshed us as we studied the transfiguration.  Along the way, we review the expectations that Jesus has of us—to be compassionate and non-judgmental, even forgiving.

The return to Capernaum coincided with the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles, a Jewish religious festival unfamiliar to us.  Our culture sees festivals as carnival rides, games of chance, craft booths, and a variety of events.  Today’s festivals are far from religious, unless one’s faith is capitalism.

The Festival of Booths/Tabernacles is the Jewish equivalent of our Thanksgiving, lasting seven days not just one.  When harvest was done, the Jewish people built small “booths” (comparable to today’s tents) to remember their nomadic life in the desert, and were to thank God for providing for them.  The similarity between today’s festivals and the Festival of Booths is that it was fun and full of celebrating.

This poses the question, though, why would Jesus avoid attending the festival when everybody was there.  One would think it was the perfect time for him to continue his ministry in a public setting—at least that is what his brothers thought:

3-5His brothers said, “Why don’t you leave here and go up to the Feast so your disciples can get a good look at the works you do? No one who intends to be publicly known does everything behind the scenes. If you’re serious about what you are doing, come out in the open and show the world.” His brothers were pushing him like this because they didn’t believe in him either.  [John 7 from the Message]

But Jesus knew it was not the right time, and he did not go with his brothers as they went to the festival.  He waited and then quietly, with no pomp and circumstance, joined the festival later in the week.

Walking into the crowds at the festival with everybody celebrating made it easy for Jesus to reach the temple unnoticed.  Once inside the temple he began teaching.  And once he began teaching, he captured the attention of the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders also in the temple.  Jesus’ skill as a teacher captured the interest of the common people while causing the Pharisees and the leaders to feel threatened.

Consider what it would be like to go to a professional football game where everybody is tailgating in the parking lot.  The smell of brats and burgers fill the parking lot.  Talk is loud and filled with bragging.  The fans get loud when they are pleased with a play.  They like the coach and rally to see what he is going to do next.  Unfortunately, the coach is trying out some new plays and it is causing some fans to challenge the plays.  The crowd has mixed feelings as cheers and boos mix in the stands.

Jesus’ ministry was developing a huge fan following, but the traditionalists were becoming worried.  Their old ways were threatened; they needed to do something to keep the faith as Moses had established it.  But as with all traditions, what started generations earlier had evolved into something different.  In our scripture today, we learn that the original Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments,  had been supplemented to so much that it was impossible for even the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders to keep from sinning.

The festival became a pivotal event in Jesus’ ministry.  While the Jewish were celebrating the end of the crop harvest, Jesus was continuing to harvest new believers.  Remember when Jesus rested at the well, Jacob’s well, and talked to the Samaritan woman?  When the disciples returned, he told them that Samaria was ready to harvest.  The harvest festival becomes a metaphor for Jesus’ ministry, too.  The harvest for three years has been good, now was Jesus’ time to step directly into the open.

The challenge in the temple sets up the scenario for the next festival, Passover.  As the gospel John continues to outline Jesus’ ministry (notice that none of the other gospels includes the details of the Festival of Booths), the verbal challenge of the Pharisees becomes an informal trial [quickly summarize the following excerpt]:

37-39On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.)

40-44Those in the crowd [comparable to a jury] who heard these words were saying, “This has to be the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Messiah!” But others were saying, “The Messiah doesn’t come from Galilee, does he? Don’t the Scriptures tell us that the Messiah comes from David’s line and from Bethlehem, David’s village?” So there was a split in the crowd over him. Some went so far as wanting to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him.

45That’s when the Temple police reported back to the high priests and Pharisees [or in today’s courts, the judges], who demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him with you?”

46The police answered, “Have you heard the way he talks? We’ve never heard anyone speak like this man.”

47-49The Pharisees said, “Are you carried away like the rest of the rabble? You don’t see any of the leaders believing in him, do you? Or any from the Pharisees? It’s only this crowd, ignorant of God’s Law, that is taken in by him—and damned.”  [John 7 from the Message]

The trial, which is currently in the hands of the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders, has become public.  The fears of the leaders are now causing them to take action.  Only Nicodemus, who we met that first day of our journey, appears to know Jesus’ true identify and as a Pharisee becomes a supporter of Jesus:

50-51Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus earlier and was both a ruler and a Pharisee, spoke up. “Does our Law decide about a man’s guilt without first listening to him and finding out what he is doing?”

52-53But they cut him off. “Are you also campaigning for the Galilean? Examine the evidence. See if any prophet ever comes from Galilee.”

John 7 ends with Nicodemus’ question and the others accusation.  The Pharisees are still determined that Jesus is simply a prophet, not God.

Stopping at the temple in Capernaum, we can picture how crowded the temple was.  We can almost hear the crowds and hear the Pharisees accusing Jesus and trying to stop his ministry.  The challenge that began during the festival after three years of harvesting by Jesus and the disciples creates a new tension.  Jesus’ methods change.

During Fall 30 AD, Jesus continues his ministry.  He still heals the sick, performs miracles, and teaches.  The change is in the method Jesus uses in his teaching.  Jesus now uses parables, a form of storytelling, to teach the disciples and his followers how to live under the New Covenant.  Jesus has only one more season to prepare the disciples and his followers for life without him.

As we continue our own faith journey next Sunday, we begin that final week, a holy week.  We have learned so much about the region, so much about life in ancient Israel, and so much about Jesus’ message.  This week, take the challenge to share your faith out loud.  In the Life Application Study Bible notes for John 7:13, the challenge is outlined:

Everyone was talking about Jesus!  But when it came time to speak up for him in public, no one said a word.  All were afraid.  Fear can stifle our witness.  Although many people talk about Christ in church, when it comes to making a public statement about their faith, they are often embarrassed.  Jesus says that he will acknowledge us before God if we acknowledge him before others.  Be courageous!  Speak up for Christ!  [p. 1890]

Are we able to speak up for Christ?  Are we as blind as the man who was born blind Jesus healed after he left Capernaum and returned to preaching in Galilee?  When he was questioned about being healed, he replied:

“. . . This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”  [John 9:30-33 from the Message]

As we intentionally work to develop our own faith, we too can sense the amazement that he felt.  The more we continue in our faith journey, the more we know that Jesus is God’s son.  The more we grow, the more the Holy Spirit fills us up and guides us in our daily lives.  Please join me in prayer:

Dear God,

Guide us on our journey.

Help us to grow in our faith.

Visiting the ancient sites of Jesus’ world.

Help us to experience understanding

The people, the culture, and the traditions

In which Jesus lived and preached.

Guide us in our journey.

Help us to hear what Jesus taught us.

Visiting the ancient temples

And reliving the festivals

Let us become enlightened

To the fact that Jesus is the Messiah.

Guide us in our journey.

Give us the strength to share

Jesus story with others today.

Give us the strength to witness

Our faith in God in today’s world.  –Amen

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