So Jesus and His band of merry goofballs head down to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the greatest Jewish holidays, the Festival of Tabernacles. Another name for this festival was “Sukkot”; The holiday lasts seven days (eight in the diaspora). The Hebrew word sukkōt is the plural of sukkah, “booth or tabernacle“, which is a walled structure covered with skhakh (plant material such as leafy tree overgrowth or palm leaves). The sukkah is intended as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Throughout the holiday meals are eaten inside the sukkah and many sleep there as well. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukkot)
Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.
It seemed like everyone was waiting to see what this guy would do! Of course, if He would wipe out all the evil empires and set up an earthly, perfect dictatorship, then all of these wimpy people wouldn’t have to be afraid of the powers that be anymore. So instead of making their allegiance to Him known, they whisper and spread rumors. They debate theology! They’re asking themselves, “is this guy for real?” “Is He going to give me what I want?” Still, they either see Him as a “good man”. A “nice rabbi”, a “powerful philosopher and philanthropist”, or they see Him as a “deceiver”. They see Him as a “weirdo megalomaniac”, bent on getting people to congregate with Him so He can drag them into some weird brainwashed cult. They can’t figure Jesus out. They’re just like us, we think we’ve got Him pegged, but when He really shows up in our lives for real we’re truly blown away!
Then it comes to the last day of the festival. Jesus stands up in the middle of the crowd and yells out;
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
And there’s a note that follows about what Jesus meant;
By this Jesus meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Now Jesus is talking about the inward working of God flowing out of people, bringing blessing and hope and truth to others. But what does the author John mean when he says that “the Spirit had not been given?” When we think about the Trinity, we understand that the person of the Holy Spirit, Jesus and the Father were around from the beginning of time. In Genesis 1:2 it talks about the Holy Spirit “hovering over the face of the waters” of the earth.
This is my understanding here, so take it with a grain of salt, and wrestle with and study this stuff yourself! But I think that this is why nobody really understood who Jesus was yet, because in this sense, the person of the Holy Spirit hadn’t come to dwell totally inside the hearts of His followers. The Holy Spirit was given to reveal God’s will as a direct mainline after Jesus died and rose and began to sit next to the Father God for eternity. This is why everyone, even Jesus’ closest pals and followers didn’t get who He was, because the Spirit hadn’t been given yet.
Jesus takes His statements further and further! At one point He says;
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Wow, this was a serious claim! The religious experts of the time knew their Bibles, and knew that Jesus was claiming that He was the light of God Himself, as was talked about in the Old Testament. They get really ticked at Him and start to argue. They start to “theologize”, saying things like “this guy is bogus”, “He appears as His own witness, so His testimony isn’t valid!”.
But as Jesus is speaking, all the crowds around Him are starting to buy in to what He’s saying! He’s making these religious experts look like absurd buffoons, fakers and hypocrites. Jesus addresses those in the crowd who start to believe in Him, because He knew the hearts of all men, even while He was on earth! He tells them;
If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
See, Jesus wasn’t trying to force Himself on others as the exclusive, powerful only way to God… He already was all of that! He didn’t need to prove it! But we as people need proof because we doubt Him and His Words so much! Yet what He was saying was completely true, and He moved on to explain that what He really wanted was to set people free from their own selfish destruction!
The word “sin” is a swearword to most people. People see Christians as a bunch of lame kill-joys that are trying to take away their fun and freedom. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians can be this way! But Jesus was saying that true freedom would come in the absence of sin. Sin is the inner and outer destruction of self that is happening to us all.
For some reason, everything within us deeply desires to speed up this process! We take drugs, we guzzle alcohol and swallow pills. We get angry and hurt each other. We remain subjugated to our own bitterness and inner turmoil. We gossip and backbite each other. We passively go along with what everyone else is doing without having the backbone to stand up for what is right! This is like being in JAIL my friends! It is not freedom!
I remember the days before I knew Jesus, and I was a crazy one. I couldn’t even GO TO SLEEP at night without wanting to do something calamitous, hurting myself or someone else. This was being a slave to sin. We’re all there. And if we just shove a bunch of rules down each other’s throats we further the rebellion! Why? Rules were made to be broken. Didn’t Old Testament Israel prove this? They couldn’t keep God’s law to save their life!
And then we have Jesus, saying that HE is God, and if we hold on to Him (because He has already taken hold of us!), then we will have FREEDOM! This is great love!
But the religion addicts, the self-righteous Pharisee rule-makers, are so holy, that they are holier than Jesus Christ Himself!
Jesus goes on to say;
“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my Word will never see death.”
At this, the religious leaders exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys Your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our Father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”
Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the One who glorifies Me. Though you do not know Him, I know Him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and obey His Word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to Him, “and you have seen Abraham?!?”
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
These guys were so holy, that they were holier than the Son of God!
Be careful my friends! You are in the same danger as they! Do you look at others with distaste and disgust who don’t live as righteous a life as you? Do you look at followers of Jesus who spend their time with broken, sinful and hurting people and exclaim in your heart, “that’s not MY calling!” Are you so paralyzed by fear that you will sin, that you have set up every rule and code and boundary and law to keep yourself from it, and yet your heart is filled with utter hate and judgment and condemnation? Do you spend more time talking about how the world is heading to hell and pointing the finger at others than you do your OWN sin, your OWN shortcomings? Then you have not surpassed the righteousness of the Pharisees my friends! Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise, but lean on Jesus!
Jesus said forcefully to these religious elitists, “before Abraham was born, I am!” He said it in the present tense. They knew exactly what He was saying. He was identifying Himself with the God of the Old Testament, “I am that I am”. In their minds, He was blaspheming. And they wanted Him DEAD. He was giving Himself equality with God. He wasn’t saying He was born before Abraham, He was saying that He was around from the beginning of time! He was saying to these people, who wanted to kill Him and hated Him, not only for His compassion on the sick and sinful and broken and lost, but because He claimed He was God, that HE was part of creating THEM! Jesus is fully God, and He sits at the right hand of the Father of the Universe! All sublimity should be directed towards Him.