June 11, 2010 David Balzer

John 7: When God comes to visit

I remember reading a story when I was younger. I’ve tried hard to find it, but I haven’t had any luck. So I’ll try to tell you what I can remember about it.

Jesus was coming to visit my house, and I had to get it ready. The day was nearly here, so I spent every spare moment cleaning and polishing, scrubbing and washing. The whole house gleamed. I was so proud of it. (Except, that is, for that secret little room under the stairs. It was dark and dirty, and NOONE had ever seen inside. That’s where I put all the rubbish. All the things I was ashamed of. All the things no-one would EVER want to see. And certainly not Jesus.

Well, the day finally arrived. There was a knock on the door. It was Jesus! He said he’d love to stay for as long as I wanted him. Well, of COURSE I wanted him to stay! Who WOULDN’T want JESUS to visit?

I proudly showed him around my house. He nodded and “ummed” with appreciation as I pointed out all its fine features. He said he wanted to see EVERY SINGLE PART. Somehow I managed to avoid that little dark room underneath the stairs. And I don’t think Jesus noticed.

That night we talked for hours. It was great to have Jesus staying with me. And for a few weeks at least I spoke with him every day. Every morning I’d wake up, and there was Jesus. Every evening I’d come home from work, and there was Jesus.

I’m ashamed to say it, but I think that after a while I began to take him for granted. Sometimes a whole day would go by, and I wouldn’t even talk to him. But he’d always still be there the next day, ready to talk and listen.

To tell you the truth, I was probably avoiding him. I was feeling more and more uncomfortable about that little dark room underneath the stairs. Jesus had noticed the door, and he was starting to ask questions. Oh, always politely, and never too insistently! But it made me feel ashamed. It was too dark and dirty for someone so wonderful as Jesus. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to clean it up myself.

But Jesus promised that if I wanted, he’d come in, and help me clean it up, and throw out all the rubbish. And so one day, rather shame-faced, I led him along the corridor, and slowly opened the creaking door.

Jesus looked inside, but he didn’t shake his head or sigh. He rolled up his sleeves and said, “We can clean this up together. It won’t be quick. And it may be painful. But together we can do it”.

That day I felt relieved and grateful and overjoyed. It’s several years later, and that little room is looking much better. It’s been hard, slow work, but Jesus is working with me to clean it up. I don’t feel ashamed anymore. Just grateful that Jesus lives with me. At my house.

(pause)

It’s more than 30 years since I’ve heard that story, but it made a big impact on me. Because it reflected my experience of my Christian life in so many ways. STILL does.

How does the fact that JESUS LIVES IN YOU affect your everyday life? The Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of the Universe lives with you and walks with you – he cares, and he wants your best. Is that something you’re AWARE of? Does it influence the way you think about your life?

Or is living with Jesus all just a bit of a yawn? Perhaps you know lots of FACTS about Jesus, but haven’t DONE anything with them!?

What’s your attitude when God comes to visit?

1. When God comes to visit (1:14)

And that’s just what John’s gospel looks at. It’s about when God came to visit. And about how we should RESPOND.

Right back in Chapter 1. Talking about Jesus. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God… And in v14. The Word BECAME FLESH AND MADE HIS DWELLING AMONG US” God has made his dwelling among us! We have SEEN his GLORY. The glory of the one and only. The glory of God – his visible presence dwelling in the midst of us – in human form.

And ALSO back in Chapter 1, we see the two different ways that people respond when God visits.

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, it didn’t RECOGNISE him… Yet to all who RECEIVED him, to those who BELIEVED IN HIS NAME, he gave the right to become children of God”

When God comes to visit, you need to respond the right way. Some reject him, and some accept him. Some misunderstand, and some see clearly. Some ridicule, and some seek earnestly.

And here in Chapter 7, we see ALL OF THOSE responses. All concentrated in one scene.

The LOCATION is Jerusalem, in the temple. And the SETTING is the Feast of Tabernacles. Or TENTS. And Jesus has come to visit.

Tabernacles was one of the major Jewish feasts. Every year at the end of the olive and grape harvest. A time to celebrate, and to thank God for all his gifts of food and wine. It was a party time!

Everyone pitched tents and lived in them for a week. It was their yearly camping adventure. To remind them about when they’d lived in tents in the wilderness. When God had rescued them from Egypt. There’s nothing like uncomfortable tents, to make you thankful for the soft, warm and dry houses of the Promised Land.

And John goes to the trouble of telling us that it’s the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. He sets the scene. It’s Jesus, in Jerusalem, in the temple, during THE FEAST. Why?!

We’ll never know for sure, but here’s my theory.

John uses the feasts to PLACE JESUS INTO ISRAEL’S STORY. The feasts are CLUES TO A PUZZLE. They’re PICTURES that teach us something about Jesus. Parts of the jigsaw about WHO HE IS. And WHY HE CAME.

John’s Gospel mentions LOTS of Jewish feasts. Tabernacles. Passover. The Feast of Dedication. They keep popping up all the way through the book.

And the feasts are clues. Pieces of a jigsaw. And Jesus is THE SOLUTION TO THE PUZZLE. John uses the Feasts to help us figure out Jesus.

The thing to remember is, the LOCATION is the temple, and the SETTING is the Feast.

2. When God comes to visit … God’s people rejoice (1 Ki 8)

Before we get into Jn 7, let me tell you about another story. It’s from 1 Kings 8 (p243) in the Old Testament. The location, once again, is the temple. It’s the dedication of the brand new temple by King Solomon. The official opening. And guess what the setting is? The Feast of Tabernacles!

It’s about when GOD COMES TO VISIT. And when that happens, the right response is for GOD’S PEOPLE TO REJOICE. At the start of the chapter King Solomon gets everyone together at the time of the Festival of Tabernacles. And brings up the Ark of the Tabernacle. The box that represented God’s presence. And v5 tells us they sacrificed so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted.

And then the priests put the Ark in the Holy Place in the brand new temple. verse 10. And look at what happens.

(1 Ki 8:10-11 NIV)  “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, THE CLOUD filled the temple of the LORD. {11} And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for THE GLORY OF THE LORD FILLED HIS TEMPLE.” (God had come to visit!)

The cloud was the VISIBLE PRESENCE of God. The cloud that had gone in front of the people as they travelled through the wilderness. A pillar of fire at night. And now, here was God dwelling right among his people. In a way that the people could SEE.

(And look at how God’s people respond). In verse 23, Solomon prays on behalf of all of Israel.

(1 Ki 8:23-30 NIV) “O LORD, God of Israel, there is NO GOD LIKE YOU IN HEAVEN ABOVE OR ON EARTH BELOW–you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.

And in verse {27} “But will God REALLY dwell on earth? THE HEAVENS, EVEN THE HIGHEST HEAVEN, CANNOT CONTAIN YOU. HOW MUCH LESS THIS TEMPLE I HAVE BUILT! {28} Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God.

And v29.

{29} May your eyes be open toward THIS TEMPLE night and day, this place of which you said, ‘MY NAME SHALL BE THERE,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. {30} Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.”

God had come to visit, and Israel’s response was to recognise truly who God was, and to worship Him. And they recognised who they were too. They confessed their sin before him.

And then in v54, Solomon finishes praying. And he blesses all Israel. And in v62, the king and Israel respond by offering sacrifices to God. And in 64, there are so many offerings, there isn’t room for them all!

Verse 65. (slowly)

So Solomon OBSERVED THE FESTIVAL at that time, and all Israel with him–A VAST ASSEMBLY, … They celebrated it before the LORD our God for seven days and seven days more, fourteen days in all. {66} On the following day he sent the people away. They blessed the king and then went home, JOYFUL AND GLAD IN HEART FOR ALL THE GOOD THINGS THE LORD HAD DONE for his servant David and his people Israel.”

So here we are. The FIRST temple. God’s filled the temple with his GLORY. His VISIBLE PRESENCE. And the people rejoice by celebrating the Festival of Tabernacles. And to WORSHIP AND REPENT AND REJOICE is the right response when God visits.

(pause) Fast forward about 950 years. Jesus comes into a new, re-built temple. But it’s A CORRUPT temple. He’s already cast out the money changers in John Chapter 2. And here he comes into the temple, during the Feast. The Word who was with God. The Word who was God. The appropriate response from the people should be … JOYFUL Worship and repentance. Just like in Solomon’s time.

If ALL ISRAEL rejoiced when God filled the temple with his glory, HOW MUCH MORE should they rejoice when they don’t just see a cloud, but the WORD BECOME FLESH. When they see the GLORY OF THE ONE AND ONLY.

That’s what they SHOULD do. Complete, undivided, unanimous joy. But what do we see instead?

Uncertainty, half-heartedness, disloyalty, disbelief, opposition, divided opinions, confusion. The EXACT OPPOSITE of what it SHOULD be!

So as we jog through the chapter, what we’ll see, is that rather than people responding with joy, when God comes to visit, the world opposes him. When God comes to visit, the world is divided.

3. When God comes to visit … the world opposes him (7:1-9)

First up, it’s JESUS’ OWN BROTHERS who get him wrong. In the first five verses, they give him a hard time. Mocking him – like brothers often do. And v5 tells us why.

{5} For even his own brothers DID NOT BELIEVE IN HIM.”

And Jesus explains their response. Terribly sad – especially when you realise he’s talking about his own family. Verse 7.

{7} The world … S ME BECAUSE I TESTIFY THAT WHAT IT DOES IS EVIL.

It’s because the world’s evil that it responds the way it does. And it’s because Jesus tells it like it is that he’s d. You see it today. Christians cop it in the media and in the world. Because we talk about SIN and JUDGMENT. And people don’t like to hear it.

The world s the fact that the Bible says it’s SINFUL and DESERVES judgment. That God is perfectly JUST, and that we deserve . It’s an inconvenient truth much worse than global warming.

Jesus is the crystal clear mirror that shows it like it is. Every wrinkle and spot and blemish. And people don’t want to KNOW.

But for THE CHRISTIAN, Jesus’ words are WONDERUL. Because we recognise our own sin. We know our own hearts. We’ve FACED it. And we’ve accepted the incredible GIFT that even though we’re GUILTY, God’s declared us .

FORGIVENESS and GRACE is a breathtaking truth. And it transforms your attitude to God from hatred to JOY.

4. When God comes to visit … the world is divided (7:10-52)

That’s the FIRST misunderstanding. Opposing Jesus – hating and not believing in him. Because he speaks the truth.

And Jesus hasn’t even left home yet. He ends up making it to Jerusalem. And the temple. Which is our next point in the outline.

The crowd’s waiting for Jesus. But there’s no positive, unanimous joy here! The world is DIVIDED. Verse 12 some say he’s good. Others, he’s a liar.

And then, v14, Jesus arrives. He begins to teach, and people are amazed that he speaks so well. Jesus explains that it’s because of his ORIGINS. His teaching is from GOD.

And he finishes with the rebuke down in v24. “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”” In other words – Respond to me in the RIGHT way. You should know BETTER!

But the confusion continues. Verse 25. More questions. “Have the authorities decided he’s the Christ? But he can’t be, can he? We know his home town – and the Christ doesn’t come from THERE”

Jesus responds. HUMANLY speaking, he might be from Nazareth, but his TRUE home is with HIS FATHER. Which is WHY he SPEAK truth.

And once again, there’s division and confusion. Verse 30. Some want him locked up, but others put their faith in him. And recognise that he’s the Christ.

(pause) But Jesus responds with the climax of the whole episode. The heart of the matter. What it MEANS for God to visit. Verse 37.

{37} On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is THIRSTY, let him come to me and drink. {38} Whoever BELIEVES in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” {39} By this he meant THE SPIRIT, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

Jesus had come to visit the temple. As the glory of God. The visible presence of God himself. But there was ANOTHER visit coming for those who trusted in Jesus. Jesus promises to GIVE HIS SPIRIT. To live IN believers. To strengthen and guide. To comfort and encourage. To equip and to teach.

In Solomon’s time, God only filled the temple. But the prophet’s promised a time when God would fill ALL HIS PEOPLE. When his Spirit would live in everyone who loved and obeyed him. And that’s what Jesus was talking about.

And his promise is that receiving his Spirit. Being born again. Having your sins forgiven and becoming a Christian. Is like skolling a long cold glass of water on a hot day.

Becoming a Christian is having your thirst quenched. Receiving God’s Spirit will satisfy what you’ve been looking for your entire life. What you’ve tried to quench with the things of this world. But you’ve never succeeded. You’re still parched.

Because living with God’s Spirit in you is what you were MADE for. LIVING WITH GOD’S SPIRIT IN YOU is the meaning of that story I told at the start of the talk today. About Jesus coming to visit.

And Jesus promises it to ANYONE who trusts him. Who trust his words about himself. His words about his father. And just like Solomon and the people of Israel, who recognise their own sinfulness, and confess their sin.

Is that something YOU’VE done? Is that something you KEEP doing? Daily? Praying for God to FILL you with his Spirit. To make you more aware of his prompting. To satisfy your longings for life. Your thirst for significance and purpose. For acceptance and meaning.

When God comes to visit. We need to respond the right way. To Believe. To repent. To receive his Spirit. To be open to him working and living IN US.

And when we think about the Christian life in this way – that Jesus LIVES WITH US- it can transform the way we think about lots of things.

  1. Thinking like that affects our view of OUR SIN. That God SEES us. He’s RIGHT THERE as we choose to give in to temptation. His Spirit GRIEVES when we fall. When we turn our back on him. And choose OUR WAY.
  2. It affects our view of PRAYER. Sometimes God seems DISTANT. And our prayers feel like we’re wasting breath. But the reality is God lives IN us, WITH us by his Spirit.
  3. It affects our view of OUR SERVICE – scary jobs become less so. Too often we think we’re on our own. That a job is too big for our abilities. But God has given his Spirit who gives us exactly what we need. To achieve what he wants.
  4. It affects our view of Evangelism – God’s Spirit does the work through us. Too often we worry about whether we get the words right. Or mess it up. But opening people’s eyes. And bringing them to repentance IS GOD’S JOB. It’s completely the work of his Spirit. In his time and in his way. So we can confidently keep telling people about him. Even if we DO make mistakes sometimes. Or not do it as well as someone else. Because that’s always been the way God converts people. Through ed and chipped tools like us.

Or what about as a church? How do we respond in the right way as a community? In Solomon’s time, the people responded with JOY. With an incredible sense of privilege that the God of the Universe had come to dwell among them. That he’d chosen them to be his own. Here’s what we read earlier.

They celebrated before the LORD our God for seven days and seven days more, fourteen days in all. {66} On the following day he sent the people away. They blessed the king and then went home, JOYFUL AND GLAD IN HEART FOR ALL THE GOOD THINGS THE LORD HAD DONE for his servant David and his people Israel.”

They didn’t spend time together with one eye on the clock. Time didn’t matter. And then, when they went home THEY KEPT GOING. Joyful and glad in heart because of how good God was.

How close are we TO THAT?

Lively music certainly isn’t the be-all-and end-all, but are we so careful with the theological correctness of our songs that we lose the JOY? And it doesn’t have to be modern. What makes some of the old hymns so beautiful – what brings me to tears – is the emotion of the language. Let’s sing songs – new and old – which convey the joy of God’s visitation.

Or what about how we relate to each other? How do we respond when people share their story. Or prayer points. God has been INCREDIBLY GOOD to us. Let’s celebrate that as we meet. And as we live with God’s Spirit in us and among us.

That’s the way to respond / when God comes to visit.

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