If you have a Bible, please open it to the book of John, Chapter 7. A lot of titles have been given to Christ through the years. Think about all the ones you have heard in reference to him. Aren’t most of them great titles? You read about “the magnificent Christ!”; you hear the title “the incomparable Christ”; and people talk of “ the all sufficient Christ!” or “the wonderful Christ”. But many other ways of describing him could be used. These other ways aren’t as popular, but they are just as true and just as important. I am talking about using such titles as “the controversial Christ!”, “the dividing Christ”, or you could even say “the polarizing Christ!”. You see, in the Bible, you find wherever Christ went, he produced strong controversies and he became the object of great debates. He wouldn’t let people ignore him. He wouldn’t allow himself to be shoved to the side. He pushed people to make a decision to, right there and then, either accept him or reject him. Perhaps nowhere is that clearer than when you get to John, Chapter 7. He makes three claims in this chapter that cause people to take a position.
Let us read together and see how controversy arises. John says, in verse 1, “…..”. So Jesus now is at home. He is staying there because his time has not yet come. You remember that the Jews want to kill him because he has claimed to be the “bread of life”; because he has healed a man on the Sabbath; and because he has upset their petty man-made laws. It is not that he is afraid, but as the Bible says, there is a time for everything. There is a time to laugh and a time to cry; a time to sow and a time to reap; a time to kiss and a time to part; a time to be born and a time to die. And Ecc 3:11 says, “God makes everything at the right time!” Jesus knows he is not to run ahead of God! He is waiting for God’s timing, not forcing his own time table. We can learn from that, can’t we? We are so hurried in our society. We forget to wait on the Lord. We want everything now and exactly as we see fit. But Jesus was not like that. He purposely is staying away. And now John adds this in verses 2-5. “…”
So now we are told that the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacle comes along. And the brothers of Jesus try to get him to go there. We have to pause a second here to understand what this is all about. The Festival of Tabernacles was one of the three great annual feasts of the Jews. All the men living within fifteen miles of Jerusalem were required to come to town to celebrate. It fell on the 15th of October and had a double significance for the Jews. First, it reminded the Jews of the time their ancestors lived in tents or tabernacles during Moses’ time. You see, during the feast, every Jewish family was told to live in tents for 7 days. The tents had to be made of branches and fronds and had to be such that they would give protection from the weather, but not shut out the sun. The roof had to be thatched, but the thatching had to be wide enough for the stars to be seen at night. So at that time, you had tents everywhere - on the roofs, in the gardens, on the streets and even in the temple courts. No doubt, the children had to love it. I am reminded of a book my wife has read on families that bond. It states that most families who are close and strong have one thing in common. They have fun together. And after probing many successful family units, the author found that most of them had at least one vacation a year, on which they went camping away from everything. That doesn’t astonish me, does it you? God, in the Bible, knew this would be a special time for families. Imagine all of them working closely together to build the less than sturdy booths. Imagine all of them laying at nights, looking at the stars and sharing the wonders God had done. It’s too bad we don’t get to do that anymore. Listen, there is something to be said about a family getting away together and getting closer to creation and the creator. But that’s only half of what the feast meant.
That feast was also the harvest feast. Have most of you heard of harvest feasts? Let me remind you about it. When you ride through the villages right now, what do you see advertised on panels? Sauerkraut festivals. Why? Because farmers want to rejoice over their harvest, so they organize feast. This also was true in bible time. In Exodus 23: 16, God said they would celebrate the time of harvest. So it was a time when the Jews celebrated their blessings. When they were thanking God for the crops and the rain, it was called the season of gladness and people came from all over with fruits of goodly trees and grains to offer in the temple to the Lord. (Lev. 23:40).
With palms and willows, they marched around the great altar and made a roof or a sort of screen over it. At the same time, a priest would bring in a pitcher of water and pour it out all over the altar as an offering to God. Lev 12:3 would be recited. “With joy you will draw water from the well of salvation.” The whole dramatic ceremony was in thanksgiving for the rain and a memorial to the water which had sprung from the rock for the Israelites in the desert. Now all of this is important for what is going to come next. You are going to see!
But the thing to remember for now is Jesus’ brothers are going there and they are taunting their brother. “If you are so big, come to Jerusalem and prove it!” And Jesus refuses to play their game. He stays behind, but then we read this in verse 10, “….”. And you can almost picture walking in incognito – being like a fly on the wall, listening to everything. Here’s what’s happening, verses 11-13, “…”. And now he comes out of hiding and wages his first battle, verses 14-24, “…”. How is that for a man some would qualify only as a peacemaker! He is taking things on, isn’t he? He is going right at it and facing his enemies head-on.
He does not allow his enemies to push him into a corner – out of sight and out of mind. First he is saying, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from Him who sent me!”
There’s our first statement that creates controversy. He says, “You don’t understand that because you’ve never tried to live by my words!” You see the same is true today. People remain unbelievers. They reject the Christ because they never tried to live by his Word. If you live by his Word, you can’t reject him. You know he is from God. It’s amazing what begins to happen. You feel pretty good at night. You don’t stay awake regretting what you did earlier. You don’t find yourself waking up with a headache due to a hangover the next day. You find yourself getting rid of the nasty habits that enslaved you before. I can’t tell you how my life has changed since I have done his will. And I know he was from God because what he said was true for my life and only God could have known the recipe.
But he doesn’t stop there. In verses 25-27, the people are now having questions. They say “…”. Now most of us would withdraw and let them chew on the information. But Jesus doesn’t want questions. He wants conviction. Either accept him or reject him, but don’t leave him hanging with questions. And so he says “…” in verse 28 and 29. And here you have the second statement. “I am from Him or I have come down from heaven!”
And at this, the crowds were pressed to take a position. Some try to seize him to kill him; others start to believe in him. They now all have some sort of convictions in their heart. Even the soldiers sent to arrest Jesus start to believe. You see the people of verse 12 who thought Jesus was simply a good man, couldn’t look at him like that anymore. With that sentence, “I came from heaven!” Jesus is crazy; he is a liar; or he really is who he claims to be, the Christ. You can’t be a good man and tell lies, like that. He’s a contradiction!
But that’s not all Jesus says. He also makes a promise to the people who believe in him. At the same moment that people are in the temple with their palm branches and the priest pours water on the altar to remind them of that spring that came from the rock to save the Israelites, Jesus stands and says the third statement in verses 37-38 “…” Jesus, the rock of our salvation, says, “Living waters are flowing from me. If anyone is thirsty for these living waters, let him come to me and drink.” What a promise!
You see the Jews had once departed from God and Jeremiah had said, “They have forsaken God, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns, that cannot hold water!” Jer 2:13. Isaiah, a little later, comes along and says, “God will pour out water on the thirsty land.” (Isa 44:3) “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation!” (12:3) You know there is a song we sing sometimes called “There is a Fountain Free!”. Have you ever paused to consider the words?
There’s a fountain free, ‘tis for you and me: Let us haste, O, haste to its brink; ‘Tis the fount of love from the Source above, And He bids us all freely drink.
There’s a living stream, with a crystal gleam: From the throne of life now it flows; While the waters roll let the weary soul Hear the call that forth freely goes.
There’s a rock that’s cleft and no soul is left, That may not its pure waters share; ‘Tis for you and me, and its stream I see: Let us hasten joyfully there.
Will you come to the fountain free? Will you come? ‘Tis for you and me; Thirsty soul, hear the welcome call: ‘Tis a fountain opened for all.
Folks, I ask you who is this fountain free? It’s Jesus. And he pours his water in you through his spirit when you come to him. He fills your innermost needs. Is your cistern empty today? Go to him and freely drink. Draw with joy from the well of salvation! That was his invitation on that day. How could anyone ignore his call? Can’t you see? There is no way he could have been ignored by the people on that day. Father and Son were divided; master and servant felt differently; and even the leadership lost their unity. Indeed, Christ can wear the title of “the dividing Christ!” But don’t be mistaken. Most people who divide or polarize, do it because of pride, stubbornness and a small spirit. Jesus did it by preaching the truth and offering salvation to people.
And today, he still calls for all of us to take a position. He doesn’t want you to go out of here with him still on a side shelf, out of sight and out of mind. He calls you to the right or to the left; to belief or unbelief. You can’t look at him simply as a good man. He either was a liar; or he is the Christ. If he is the Christ, you need to go to him and obey him. He either was a lunatic or the smartest man that ever lived. If you think he was a lunatic, you’ve got to explain away his miracles and his great wisdom. And if you can’t, you need to come to him and start living his Word. Then you will know the truth is from above and you will believe in him.
I end with this story. In 1836, a group of 200 men were called to defend a little mission fort in San Antonio. 6,000 Mexicans were marching their way to conquer Texas. They knew that General Santa Ana would probably crush their resistance and kill all of them. But the night before the final assault, William Barrett Travis stood up; he gathered his troops; and he took his sword and drew a line in the dirt. He gave a final speech presenting clearly the situation and then invited all who wanted to stay and fight to cross the line. One by one, the men crossed the line. Even Jim Bowie, who was sick and lying on a mat, ordered his men to march him across the line. When all was said and done, only one man remained on the other side and he left that night. The next day, all the men fought as heroes and gave their lives for the land they loved so much. They all died without exception, but saved Texas. And my point is this. On that day no one could march on the line. A decision had to be taken and all took it. Today, Jesus draws a line at that exit. No one can stay on the line. If you go out of this auditorium without being baptized and receiving his spirit, you reject him.