John 7:2, 11-52 (autumn, AD 29)
When someone can’t see the wood for the trees, they are so involved in their immediate experience that they can’t grasp the bigger picture. That’s a very polite way of describing how a lot of people reacted to Jesus. They witnessed or heard about an incident, and took it in isolation, interpreting it through the lens of existing beliefs they refused to change.
This passage contains a staggering amount of different opinions about Jesus, based on exactly that problem:
v.12: a good man
v.12: a deceiver
v.15: (how did he get that learning without being taught?)
v.26-27: no idea…but not the Messiah
v.30: a blasphemer
v.31: from God
v.32: a criminal
v.35-36: no idea
v.40: the prophet promised by Moses
v.41: the Messiah
v.46: an impressive speaker
v.52: a deceiver
Compare that with the claims that Jesus made about himself – again, just from these verses:
v.16-19: sent by God and given teaching by Him; having no falsehood about himself
v.21-23: miracle worker, healer
v.28-29: from God the Father, and with them on the authority of God the Father
v.33-34: from God, going back to God the Father
v.37-39: the source of life and the Holy Spirit
With the exception of the oblique statement about going back to the Father, when people thought maybe he was talking about travelling around the region, his claims to an intimate connection with God the Father were clear. He was a scratched record in that regard: continually performing acts that could only be performed by God, and following them up with explicit claims to be God. And yet such a claim was so preposterous to the ears of people with eyes only looking at a poor carpenter’s boy from Nazareth, that they failed to even process what he was saying.
To call these people thick-headed and slow off the mark might sound anti-Semitic, were it not for the fact that whilst yes, that’s what they were like…so are we. Resistance to the truth, a failure to acknowledge what’s right in front of your face, judging purely on appearances, taking the word of grotesque hypocrites over the clear evidence that confronts you…those are human traits, not ancient Jewish ones.
That’s why when we pray for people who have not obeyed God through repentance, usually we’re not asking God to give them that crucial piece of evidence they were missing. We’re asking him to change rebellious hearts and open blinded eyes. The world does not suffer from a lack of information about God, or an insufficiency of evidence – it has more than enough of both. The problem is that people don’t want Jesus. He rocked the Pharisees’ world and exposed them as vile, anti-God hypocrites, but he was an almost equally inconvenient truth for ordinary people.
When we do anything other than accept the truth of Jesus’ identity and his rights over our lives, our arguments are no better than those who persecuted Jesus to death. Usually those arguments can be reduced to, ‘I prefer to be my own god, thanks’.
Are you able to step back to see the wood and not just the trees? To examine the whole of the evidence for who Jesus really is?
How is that reflected in how you think and live?