If you want credibility then you’ve got to show them your credentials. If you want to be a success in business then you need to make sure you go and get an MBA from Harvard. If you want to make it in the art world then having spent time with one of the modern-day masters will serve you well. To be able to say that you spent time studying and learning from a Pablo Picasso, Sol LeWitt, or Louise Bourgeois will certainly open doors for you. If your goal in life is to be the best mechanic in the state of Oklahoma then to be able to say that you spent a year on the Penske pit crew working alongside of Tony Lunders and his boys sure won’t hurt. If you aspire to be one of the top knee surgeons in the United States then you could really further your cause by serving as an understudy, interning, with Dr. James Andrews or Dr. Richard Steadman, the surgeons who have operated on more high profile professional athlete’s knees than anyone. If it’s the coaching profession you wish you succeed at then pick a star and hitch your wagon to it. Sign on as a Graduate Assistant and prepare to work long hours with Bob Stoops, Mike Gundy, Kevin Sumlin, Mike Krzyzewski, Doc Rivers, or Kevin Ollie. I could go on and on listing the steps you should take if you want to get your resume right, be able to impress those you will interview with, and make a name for yourself in your chosen profession.
You know the institutions of higher learning that pump out successful people in your field. You know that a diploma from Stanford will probably grab their attention more than a diploma from my beloved alma mater, Cameron University. You know the people in your profession who have earned the respect of their associates and whose word and opinion carries more weight than other people in that field. In the society in which we live, the person who shows up out of the blue with no resume, no impressive credentials, no noteworthy experiences, and no high profile references just isn’t going to get very far very fast.
Jesus Lacked Credentials
When Jesus appeared on the scene and people began following Him, the religious leaders were more than skeptical. Jesus didn’t have the right credentials. He hadn’t gone through the rigors of years and years of studying with their rabbi. They had never seen Him in their Yeshiva discussing and debating what their rabbi said about Scripture compared with what other rabbis had said. The religious leaders in Jerusalem had made a name for themselves by studying with highly respected rabbis, they had gained popularity among the people, and they were fearful that they were going to lose their power to the upstart, backwoods preacher. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today and we’ll see what we can learn. Turn with me to John 7:14-18 and let’s read together.
14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?” 16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. (John 7:14-18 NIV)
If you will remember, Jesus’ brothers wanted Him to go up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles and “wow” the crowded city with lots of miracles. Jesus told them to go ahead. He said He wasn’t going, but we learn today that He did go. Jesus arrived halfway through the Feast. He didn’t do miracles, but He did go straight to the temple and begin teaching. It must have been quite a scene. If you will remember, the crowded city of Jerusalem was talking about Jesus before He ever arrived. John told us, back in John 7:11-13.
11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?” 12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders. (John 7:11-13 NIV)
All of the whispering, all of the conjecture about His intentions, all of the assumptions about who He was and what He was doing, all of the speculation about where He was, if He would come, and when He would come was silenced as Jesus walked up to the temple and began to teach the Scriptures.
Amazed at Jesus’ Teaching
John tells us the Jews were amazed as they listened to Jesus teach the Word of God. “The Jews” probably refers to the leaders as well as the worshipers who had traveled to the Feast. Nobody could remember any of the discussions they were having prior to Jesus’ arrival because they were all so mesmerized by His teaching. The Greek word that John uses for “amazed,” is the word, “???????” (thaumazo) and it means, “to wonder at, or to marvel.”
This wasn’t the first time that people had been “amazed” at Jesus’ teaching ability. After Jesus was tempted by Satan during His forty day fast, He went to the synagogue in Nazareth, unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and read from Isaiah 61. The story is recorded in Luke 4:18-19.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)
Jesus rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on Him. Jesus looked at them and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21 NIV) And then we read,
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. (Luke 4:22 NIV)
Every time Jesus spoke the Scriptures or taught the Scriptures people were amazed. The greatest sermon ever preached was Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. At the end of the sermon we read,
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7:28-29 NIV)
They were also amazed when they saw Jesus act. In Luke 11, Jesus cast a demon out of a man who had been unable to talk. After Jesus cast out the demon, the man spoke, and we read,
14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. (Luke 11:14 NIV)
A little later in Luke’s Gospel, a Pharisee was amazed at Jesus. He had invited Jesus to dinner and Jesus had accepted. What Jesus failed to do, when they reclined at the table, amazed the Pharisee. Read Luke 11:38 with me.
38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. (Luke 11:38 NIV)
Washing your hands before a meal was one of the traditions created by the rabbis. If you search the Bible for the verse that mandates washing hands before meals, you won’t find it. It’s a tradition and not a biblical truth. In Mark 7, some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law were livid with Jesus because His disciples ate with “defiled” hands. Jesus responded to them in Mark 7:6-8.
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:6-8 NIV)
So, you can see, people were amazed at Jesus for all kinds of reasons. Amazed at how He taught the Scriptures, amazed at how He healed the sick and calmed the raging sea, and amazed at how He didn’t do things according to the religious norms, the traditions, of the establishment.
Jesus and The Traditions of Men
There is a saying about those who dot every “I,” cross every “T,” and refuse to deviate one bit from what’s expected. They are people who do things by the book. What’s ironic about the Pharisees and the teachers of the law is that they certainly saw themselves as men who did things by the book, but Jesus saw them as those who had abandoned the Book. They were meticulous to follow, to the “nth” degree, the prescriptions of the Oral Torah, the laws, statutes, and legal interpretations that weren’t recorded in the Five Books of Moses, the Written Torah, or what we know as Genesis through Deuteronomy.
The Oral Torah covered things like dietary laws, Sabbath laws, marital relationships, agricultural practices, etc. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the Jews began to go to work to record the Oral Law in written form, what is today known as the Mishnah and the Talmud.
Keeping every prescription of the Oral Torah and making sure that everyone else followed the most minute details of what Jesus called the “traditions of men” was of greatest importance to the religious leaders. I have to say that even though most Christians I know don’t read the Mishnah or Talmud, we have our own “Oral Bible.” Our Oral Bible isn’t made up of biblical truths set forth in Scripture, but they are traditions and beliefs that, though we would never admit it, are valued more than Scripture itself. For some it is the style of worship. I know folks who are godly people who lift their hands and praise God from a heart of worship and look with skepticism at others who quietly bow their heads, fold their hands in front of them, and worship from a heart of worship. The converse is also true. I know folks who are more reserved in their worship that look at those who are more expressive as shallow and driven by nothing more than emotion. For others their Oral Bible is filled with morality. They will tell you that true Christians don’t go to movies unless they are rated “G,” they don’t listen to music that isn’t Christian, they don’t read any books unless they are written by Christian authors, and they don’t go to restaurants that serve alcohol. There are others whose Oral Bible has led them to feel strongly that they shouldn’t mix with other races. Oh, they’ll work with, or attend sporting events with, all kinds of people, but when it comes to worship and fellowship they intentionally stay with their own kind. I heard a story this past week about a family that attended a racially diverse congregation until their daughter became a teenager. The father had been friends with the pastor so when the family quit showing up for worship the pastor contacted him. The man said, “I have to be honest with you. I don’t want my daughter in the youth group because she might fall in love with someone of another race and marry him.” I’ve got to tell you, all of the Oral Bible scenarios I’ve just shared with you have no precedent in Scripture. They are “truths” that we’ve created, they are the traditions of men, and not God.
Jesus and The Word of God
The traditions of men are nothing new. They are the “truths” that were guiding the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and that is why they were amazed by Jesus’ teaching. He wasn’t teaching what some rabbi said, He wasn’t quoting Hillel, Gamaliel, or Johanan ben Zakai—He was teaching the Word of God. Jesus answered their amazement by saying,
16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. (John 7:16-17 NIV)
Whereas the Jewish teachers shared what others had said, Jesus taught what God said. I’ve got to show you something really awesome, something that hit me like a ton of bricks this past week. Jesus said, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.” Jesus was very clear, throughout His ministry, that He was sent by God, He taught only what God had given Him to teach, and He never did anything of His own will. In John 12:49-50, Jesus said,
49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:49-50 NIV)
Jesus spoke only what God gave Him to say. There’s another group of people in the Bible who spoke for God and they were the prophets. If you read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Micah, or any of the prophets you will read, “Thus saith the Lord…” or “This is what the Lord says…” and we read that over and over again. They let everyone know that they were speaking for God. When we come to Jesus we don’t find Him saying, “Thus saith the Lord…” He says things like, “You have heard it said, but I say…” Let me give you an example. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28 NIV)
“You shall not commit adultery” is a quote from Exodus 20 where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Jesus expounded on the commandment by getting to the heart of the matter. Again, in Matthew 5:38-39, we find another example.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39 NIV)
“Eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth” is a quote from Exodus 21, but once again Jesus reinterprets the heart of the passage by letting the people know that vengeance and retaliation are not the answer.
The prophets were sent from God, like Jesus, they spoke God’s truth like Jesus, but Jesus alone has perfect knowledge of the Father…because He is God Incarnate, God in the flesh. That is why He was able to say, “But I tell you…” instead of “Thus saith the Lord…” Jesus spoke the very words of God because He was God in the flesh!
You Will Know If Choose To Follow
There’s lots of discussion today about the teachings of Jesus. Are His teachings true? Was Jesus who He claimed to be? Those are the same questions that were surrounding Jesus while He was teaching at the temple. Jesus said,
17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. (John 7:16-17 NIV)
Jesus’ words strike at the heart of our primary problem today. We do not desire to give up control of our lives and therefore we refuse to surrender and follow Him. Jesus said if anyone “chooses to do the will of God” then they will know that His teaching comes from God. The Greek word that is translated, “chooses,” is the word, “??????” (thelema) and it means, “what one wishes or has determined shall be done.” Jesus used the word in Matthew’s Gospel when He taught how His followers were to live. He says,
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)
The word, “wants,” is the word we are looking at. Whoever “wills” or “desires” to become great must become a servant. Whoever “wills” or “desires” to be first must become a slave. Is that your desire this morning? If your desire is to follow Jesus, to live fully for Him, to surrender completely to His will, then you will desire more than anything in life to follow in His steps, the steps of the greatest Servant that ever lived. If you will choose to follow Jesus then you will see more clearly than you’ve ever seen before that His teaching is from God. You can’t know the truth of Jesus’ teaching, the validity of His teachings, from the outside. You must surrender your life to Him and then have as your one desire to live as He would have you live for you to come to know the truth of Jesus’ teaching.
“They’ve Been With Jesus…”
Spending time with Jesus is transformative. Those who walk with Jesus will be changed. It was true in the 1st century for those who walked with Jesus and it remains true today. Let me give you two examples before we leave. First, turn to Acts 4 and let me set the scene. Peter and John were arrested, brought before the authorities for speaking about Jesus and healing a man who had been lame. When they were questioned, Peter and John didn’t flinch. They spoke with boldness. As the high priest and other authorities were listening to them speak they were amazed. Listen to this from Acts 4:13.
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13 NIV)
What was their secret? What credentials did Peter and John have that empowered them to speak with such authority and passion? What institution, which rabbi, had they studied under to become such erudite communicators? They were unlearned men, unschooled men, but they were men who had been with Jesus and He changed their lives.
The second example I want to share with you is the story of Karen Watson. Karen was born in Bakersfield, California and graduated from Arroyo Grande High School. Karen had a tough life as a kid. Broken home. The loss of several loved ones. Lots of emotional pain. A wild child throughout her teenage years. Karen ran a pool hall before she came to know Christ. She came to know Jesus when she was 29 years old and her friend said, “Karen was pretty wild when she was young. But when she became a Christian, she turned around 180 degrees.” Karen’s life did turn around, but, like lots of kids who come from tough homes, she had lots of emotional baggage to try to unload.
Karen began attending Valley Baptist Church in her hometown and then she took a job as a detention officer for the Kern County Sheriff’s Department. The Lord began to work on Karen’s heart and she began to write in her journal. Back in 1998, as a fairly new believer, Karen wrote, “I’m not going to give anything to my Lord that is going to cost me nothing.”
Karen got more and more involved in her church. She began leading a Bible study, she was involved in the church’s Single’s Ministry and went on mission trips with her church. After the fall of Saddam Hussein there were opportunities with the International Mission Board for people to go to Iraq and serve as relief workers. Karen felt called to go. She sold her house and car. She gave away whatever was left that wouldn’t fit in a duffel bag and she headed to Iraq. She distributed food and worked on rebuilding schools, but her favorite work was the “Widows Project,” a program that helped mostly non-literate Iraqi women learn to read, gain work skills, and generate income.
In 2003, there were several close calls for Karen as gunfire seemed constant in Baghdad. Threats against foreign civilians were increasing. Karen had to have a break so she left Iraq not knowing if she would ever return. She went home, rested, read God’s Word and spent hours in prayer, but she couldn’t escape her work, the call of God on her life. Karen wrote in her journal, “Lord, in all my weakness I need Your strength for the future.” Karen headed back to Iraq.
Then, on March 15, 2004, Karen was killed by unknown assailants. She died serving the Lord and His people. After her death they found an envelope among her belongings that read: “Open in case of death.” It was a letter to her pastors. She wrote,
Dear Pastor Phil and Pastor Roger,
You should only be opening this in the event of death. When God calls, there are no regrets. I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations. I wasn’t called to a place; I was called to Him. To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward, His glory my reward…
The missionary heart:
Cares more than some think is wise;
Risks more that some think is safe;
Dreams more than some think is practical;
Expects more than some think is possible.
I was called not to comfort or to success but to obedience… There is no joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him. I love you two and my church family.
In His care,
What was it about Peter, John, and Karen that stirred within them such passion for their Lord? Well, for the past several weeks we’ve been talking about the transformative power of Jesus. It wasn’t their wisdom, intellect, or courage that transformed them…they had been with Jesus and He changed their lives.
Our day is not unlike the day Jesus arrived at the Feast of Tabernacles. Folks are talking, debating, discussing, fussing, cussing, fuming, fawning over, and following Jesus. Let them talk. I will follow. I want to walk in His steps. I want to know His heart and will for my every moment. I don’t want to want what this world says I should want. I want to want only what He wants for me. I want to walk so closely with Jesus that others have to conclude that I’ve been with Jesus. I want to live with reckless abandon for my Lord like Karen Watson. How about you? Have you asked Him into your heart as your Lord and Savior? Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. He’s here right now. Won’t you welcome Him into your heart?
Britton Christian Church
September 28, 2014