Counterintuitive

INTRODUCTION

There’s a lot we could unpack in John 7 that we just can’t get to in the short time that we have, but I want to focus in on a theme undergirding the entire gospel of John that rises to the surface particularly in this chapter, and that is the counterintuitive ministry and message of Jesus.

Counterintuitive is a word we normally use to describe something that runs contrary to our expectations, doesn’t seem to make common sense, or seems illogical. There’s a lot of examples of this in our culture and in everyday life, but I’ll offer a couple of them:

  • The more choices you have, the harder it is to actually make a choice
  • WWII – Abraham Wald (statistician) hired by Royal Airforce to reinforce bomber armor. After analyzing the data, he instructed them to reinforce the areas of the planes that did not have damage…

What we find is that the things we consider counterintuitive are highly influenced by our context and our perspective. What seems counterintuitive makes sense once we take off our normal glasses and look at it through a different set of lenses.

That same principle applies to the spiritual dynamic as well. The Bible makes some incredibly counterintuitive statements:

  • Matt 16:25 – “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”
  • Luke 22:26 – “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves”
  • Luke 6:27 – “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”

These make no earthly common sense because they challenge the common expectations and perspective of the world.

This principle is fleshed out in detail in 1 Corinthians 1-2 –

  • Verse 18 – “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”
  • Verse 21 – “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe”

What this uncovers is a basic dichotomy between God and the world, and this dichotomy is one of the major themes running through the gospel of John. What we find in John 7 are a series of events that highlight the fundamentally counterintuitive nature of Jesus and his ministry. 

The perspective you have—the lenses you look through will determine whether Jesus and his message are folly or make perfect sense.

SETTING

Now, we’re coming out of chapter 6, where we find Jesus’ ministry becoming increasingly more public. He’s doing miracles like the feeding of the 5,000 which are gaining him more and more popularity. In fact, by John 6:15 they want to forcibly take him and make him king so they can basically turn Israel into a welfare state—free food forever!

But then his teaching is having the opposite effect—his discourse in chapter 6 resulted in a great many of his followers turning away. He’s becoming increasingly polarizing. The Jews—who throughout John’s gospel are another name for the religious leaders—are trying to kill him. That began all the way in John 5:18 when he healed a man on the Sabbath. To them, he’s a dire threat to the establishment.

The crowds are mixed. On the one hand, they like the miracles he’s performing. But when it comes to his teaching, not all are convinced. They want what he offers, but without the commitment he’s asking. 

Verse 1

  • Jesus is in Galilee
  • He’s avoiding Judea because of death threats from Jews

Verse 2

  • Beginning of the Feast of Booths
  • Week-long feast that completed the agricultural year (cf. Lev 23)
  • Culmination of the annual feasts – biggest party of the year
  • Jews would pilgrimage from all over – 1 of 3 feasts every male required to attend
  • They would set up temporary shelters—booths and live in this the whole week
  • Feast reflected upon the wilderness wanderings of Israel and celebrated God’s provision
  • This feast is the setting for the entire chapter

Verses 3-5

  • Jesus’ brothers tell him to go up to the feast and reveal himself
  • From their perspective, this makes perfect sense – what better time to show everyone who he is than when the entire nation is gathered in Jerusalem?
  • But there’s an air of contempt in their suggestion – they don’t understand why he’s hiding from the crowds—if he really wants to be known, then why hide?
  • John reveals the issue: they don’t believe in him (v. 5)

Verses 6-7

  • Jesus is on a different timetable and a different agenda
  • Brothers think if he shows the people signs then they will love him—wow them!
  • Jesus knows that doing that is a death sentence—it’s not his time
  • Why? Because they are thinking like the world
  • But Jesus’ message exposes the world for what it is

We’re beginning to see the counterintuitive nature of Jesus rising to the surface...

Verses 8-9

  • He tells them to go up to the feast without him—he’s not going up

Verse 10

  • Jesus goes up by himself in secret
  • Not a contradiction – context is key
  • If he goes up with his family, he’s exposed – not what he wants
  • He’s not going with them the way they want him to

Verses 11-13

  • Feast was usually a joyous time
  • But now there’s an undercurrent of murmurings about Jesus
  • Everyone’s looking for him
  • Jews are trying to find him to kill him
  • The people are divided over him

Verse 14

  • Halfway through the festival Jesus goes public—but not the way his brothers wanted him to
  • He goes into the temple and teaches

Here we see one of the things that makes Jesus and his ministry so counterintuitive—HE HAS A COUNTERINTUITIVE METHOD We’ve seen it already in John—the crowds want to see signs and wonders. They’re wowed by the miracles and the free food. But his teachings are hard. They’re not as interested in that. But that’s his focus. His focus is on teaching God’s Word.

Worldly methods can only produce worldly results. His message—our message—is not a worldly message. So we can’t try to use worldly methods to promote it.

There’s a whole host of worldly methods, and the church is trying them all

  • Politics
  • Social justice
  • Boycotts
  • Free food
  • Seeker-sensitive programs and services
  • Entertainment

None of these methods can replace the unadulterated gospel message. By themselves, they can gain a crowd. But they can’t save a crowd. And when the true message is preached, that crowd will start to thin.

Verse 14

  • Jesus teaching in the temple provokes a response

Verse 15

  • Religious leader “marvel” at his teaching
  • “Marvel” isn’t positive, it’s negative
  • They’re incredulous that Jesus is teaching despite his lack of credentials, formal office, or authority
  • They’re making a classic ad hominem attack—they’re trying to discredit him so that they don’ t have to deal with his teaching

Verses 16-18

  • I’m not teaching you my own ideas
  • I’m bringing the teaching of the one who sent me
  • Therefore, my authority doesn’t come from me, but from him
  • If you want to do the will of God, you’ll recognize where my authority comes from because you’ll see that I’m speaking truth from him

Verses 19-23

  • Jesus counters – it’s obvious that you don’t have any intention of doing his will
  • If you did, you’d keep the law!
  • But you don’t—and here’s exhibit A
  • You’re fine with a man being circumcised on the Sabbath
  • But you condemn the thought of making a man well on the Sabbath (cf. John 5)
  • You don’t care about what God cares about!

Here we see another example of the counterintuitive nature of Jesus—HE HAS A COUNTERINTUITIVE AUTHORITY

The world puts stock in the educated, the powerful, the elite. These are worldly qualifications for authority and legitimacy.

But consider what Paul says about worldly power and authority: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what was weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are” (1 Cor 1:26-28).

Why did God do that? “So that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:29). There are two powers in this world vying for authority in your life:

  • The authority of the world, with its self-styled sovereignty
  • The authority of God, who reveals his authority through his Word

Those authorities are diametrically opposed, and depending on which side of that dichotomy you’re on will determine whether you hear Jesus’ words and scoff or if you hear his words and recognize that God has come.

John 7:24 summarizes the point: “Do not judge by appearance, but judge with right judgment”

How are you going to do that? What keeps a person from judging with right judgment—from recognizing the truth of divine authority in the Word of God? Once again, we go back to 1 Corinthians 2:14 – “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” To see the truth, you need spiritual lenses to replace your worldly lenses.

And that leads us to our last point.

Verses 37-38

  • End of the week – the final day
  • Feast of Booths developed a custom in the last two centuries before Christ
  • Each day the High Priest would draw water from the Pool of Siloam
  • He would carry the water back to the altar and pour it out as a libation offering
  • It was supposed to picture God’s provision of water in the wilderness
  • It had become a daily highlight of the festival
  • But on the final day there wasn’t a procession
  • Jesus picks this day to stand up and call out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”
  • Jesus strategically picks this day—when the water ritual ceases—to make the point that there is a place to go where the water will never cease
  • Drawing from Isaiah 44:3 and 55:1-2
  • He’s calling for people to shift their perspective—see their spiritual need
  • If they see themselves as spiritually dried up, then they will recognize that he can give them water that always satisfied
  • BUT IT REQUIRES AS COMPLETE SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE

And this is where we see a final counterintuitive principle—SOMETIMES THE RESULTS DON’T MAKE SENSE!

Verses 40-44

  • The people are divided
  • Some recognize him—“the Prophet”, “the Christ”
  • Some are skeptical—but he comes from Galilee!

Verses 45-52

  • Religious leaders equally divided
  • Officers are wowed – “no one ever spoke like this man!”
  • Pharisees are incredulous – you’re being duped—we’re the authorities and we reject him
  • Nicodemus – something amazing is happening in him – he is beginning to see – the blinders are coming off
  • Pharisees – blinders are full up – they forget Jonah came from Galilee!

CONCLUSION

Now, underlying all of this is something in the background—something that puts all of this in perspective. It is the sovereign hand of God. He is the one who gives us the lenses to see the truth—to see Jesus for who He is and His words for what they are. The same Jesus that gave sight to the physically blind is at work unveiling people’s minds to see the light of the gospel of Christ.

And the incredible thing is that he’s using us! We’ve been given the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16)—we see Jesus from God’s perspective—with spiritual lenses. Now we call the spiritually blind to see. And our effectiveness at this is going to depend on whether we recognize the great dichotomy—the world and God. The world will always see incongruity with Jesus—he doesn’t make sense. We may be tempted to force them to see—or to make it easier for them to see. But we can’t do that.

As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:1, “Having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ the lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

We use spiritual methods and wield spiritual authority, trusting that God will produce spiritual results.