John presents these events from the last days of Jesus so his reader will realize that the upcoming crucifixion will be the means by which Jesus will to be glorified. First he noted how Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ body for burial. Her act was not a show of ostentatious extravagance but an act of costly, but humble worship. This anointing gives us quite a sobering perspective on the triumphal entry into Jerusalem for that event made it seem that the complaint of the Pharisees was correct: that everybody was following Jesus and wanting to proclaim Him King. Most of the people shouting His praises were expecting a Messiah who would be a mighty warrior King. But Jesus deliberately rode in on a donkey’s colt to signify that He came as the King of peace (Zech. 9:9-10). His way to glory was through His own death, not by waging war on the Romans.
Thus, as John points out, most of the Jews rejected Him. They did not want a King of peace and a King who was a humble servant. They wanted a miracle worker who would provide them with signs and wonders. They wanted a political leader who would overthrow the Romans not the Kingdom of darkness. They could not accept glory that was not achieved by the usual means and so they rejected Christ. Many of those who did believe chose to keep their faith quiet lest they suffer the outrage of their fellow Jews. Yet even those who believed failed to understand and so their weak faith would be sorely shaken by the crucifixion.
Often we Christians hide our faith from others. We do this for a variety of reasons perhaps the most prevalent that we want people to like us. We want to avoid confrontation because we just want to be at peace with everyone or because we just do not know how to present our faith properly or do not know how to use the Scriptures to rebut the arguments people present. And so we lie about our relationship with Jesus to our friends, relatives and co-workers so we will not be mocked. We reject the way of the cross so we can avoid persecution and rejection. This we ought not do, but trust in the Lord for help and wisdom.
Jesus performed the greatest of His miraculous signs with the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The other evangelists record that He raised at least 2 others, but both had been dead only a short while and neither had been buried. Lazarus had been buried 4 days and his body had begun to decompose. Thus the act of resurrection involved the use of power to regenerate flesh. This act demonstrated that Jesus had power over death and the grave. It also served to prepare His disciples and the people for His own resurrection for His body would be in the grave 3 days. Of course His own resurrection would be the greatest of all His miracle for His resurrected body was glorified, while the bodies of those Jesus raised were still subject to corruption. They would eventually fall victim to illness, old age and death. But not Jesus.
A lot of people believed in Jesus because of Lazarus. It is quite amazing that the Pharisees did not only refuse to believe, but sought to kill Jesus because of it. They did not see it as a great blessing and a great work of God but only a great threat. They desired political and religious power for themselves. Jesus was a danger to this. If enough people gathered around Jesus the Romans would take note and see it as a threat to their rule and decide to punish all the Jews. The Pharisees loved their power and to them the status quo was better even though it meant a peaceful but shaky co-existence in submission to their Roman overlords. They sought to put Jesus to death in order maintain their power in the community. Ultimately, of course, the death they sought resulted in a complete overthrow of the status quo for the entire world.
Many today still see Jesus as a threat. They desire power, money, status and fame and will do anything to get them. Jesus stands in their way for He calls all of us to follow Him into eternal life as His humble servants of others, not rulers or arrogant or selfish people. Jesus’ way to live so contradicts the way of the world that millions would rather reject Him and do things in their own manner. Sadly as long as they reject Jesus they will not enter into eternal life.
Although Jesus was speaking in metaphorical language, it is obvious that the truth He expresses is that that the only way to the Kingdom of Heaven is through Him. He is the door or gate, the entrance to the sheepfold. The metaphor of Him as a shepherd enhances this idea because only those sheep that belong to Him get in for the shepherd acts as the door. He knows which belong in His fold and those that do recognize His voice, that is, know and believe in Him, so only they get in. And as a shepherd, His sheep trust Him and depend on Him for everything. Figuratively Jesus was speaking primarily of the Jews, but He made it clear that sheep that dwelt outside of Israel belonged to Him as well. The entrance to the Kingdom of God is now open to people of every ethnic group, language and nationality.
The strange thing today is that so many of the sheep seem to be led astray by shepherds who masquerade as servants of God. Now no real Christian should be fooled by outward pagans and teachers of non-Christian sects and religions though many people who are not rooted in the Bible, who reject it as the Word of God, will believe what suits their fancy. Yet many Christians will fall prey to preachers and pastors who claim to speak for the Lord. They promise prosperity, healing and ease to those who will come, to those who will give their cash, to those who will perform certain acts of worship and sacrifice, but such false teachers are preying upon people’s fears. Such preachers are out to enhance their own kingdom not the Lord’s. The true sheep may be led astray, but will always come back to the Lord. He will not let them be taken from His fold.
We might think we know the answer as to why people suffer: it’s a matter of cause and effect. There are things we humans do that have ill effects on our health, on the world, on other people that cause suffering at some point in our lives. But though everyone suffers to some degree, not all suffer in the same way or for the same reasons. There is no easy answer to the question of suffering and evil. The apostles thought they did have such an answer and maybe we do too. Yet the cause or reasons for suffering are largely unknown and this despite all the medical and scientific advancements and discoveries of our modern age.
Jesus does give us an answer to the problem of suffering in this miracle of giving sight to the man who had been born blind. Here, Jesus again demonstrated His divinity. He had said He was the light of the world and here He showed it in rather graphic fashion. The disciples had questioned Jesus about the man, seeking a quick, easy and logical answer to explain why bad things happen. There is comfort in attributing adversity and sickness to sin, for then we feel safe as long as we avoid that sin. But the disciples were wrong in their assumption. What Jesus said is that this happened that the works of God would be manifest, that He would be glorified. Yes, adversity is a result of sin, ours, others or the sin of Adam, but Jesus’ reply reveals the bottom line: all suffering is for the glory of God. No matter what other explanations there may be, ultimately God does whatever He wants. Such an idea is frightening because it means we have no real control over what happens to us. God is in charge. He determines the best way to accomplish things, the punishment of the wicked, as well as the sanctification of the righteous. All things that happen are for the glory of His name not for our material ease and comfort.
That is a tough answer that does not fall into our neat little categories. We find safety in seeing all that happens in terms of cause and effect. But God defies our attempts to control life. He is unpredictable. But He is not mean or vindictive but loving, merciful and compassionate. We can trust Him to always do what is good so we must assume that He has a higher purpose in allowing suffering than merely punishment for sin. And, in fact, pain and adversity draw us closer to God. They crush, humble and strip us of our pride and self-sufficiency, so we depend on Him alone. Only then did we begin to grow from legalistic, self-righteous boasters, to loving and compassionate Christians who reach out to the poor and oppressed. Only then will we acknowledge that He is sovereign Lord of all, that He is not accountable to us. He does not have to present us with a case for why He allows suffering nor does he need our input. He is glorified in the exercise of His sovereign will.
It seems that every time that Jesus spoke with the religious leaders of the Jews, He antagonized them. The reason is that He spoke words of authority and truth which ran contrary to the rules of the bureaucratic Jewish religious system. The leaders of the Jews could not accept these truths because they felt that Jesus challenged their authority and power. He was someone to be eliminated. Rightly did Jesus call them children of the devil for though they claimed to know God and to be His followers, they did not walk in obedience to Him. Thus the same words He spoke that angered them fill us with peace, hope and comfort.
The most wonderful thing He said which the Jews felt was blasphemous was “Before Abraham was, I am.” The Jews got really angry because they knew He was equating Himself with God, saying that He was Yahweh. If they had been wise and humble this would not have angered them as much as cause them to wonder. This man who performed all these mighty signs, wonders and miracles and who spoke the words of God was obviously a righteous servant of the Lord, possibly a great prophet. For such a one to utter blasphemy would be out of character. Then it would have dawned on them that He had to be who He said He was.
Many today still refuse to accept this truth. Jesus to them is just another righteous man on a par with Moses, Buddha, Mohammed and L. Ron Hubbard. But Jesus does not give us this option for He is infinitely superior to all men: He is God incarnate and faith in Him is the only true faith there is. This aggravates a lot of people. They know that if they were to admit that Jesus is God they would have to change their lives, to repent of their sins. In addition such a belief is the ultimate in intolerance for it says there is only one God and only one way to God.
Some scholars contend that this story of the woman caught in adultery is out of place in John’s gospel. It seems to interrupt Jesus’ ministry at the Feast of Tabernacles, so indeed the story may not belong here. Nevertheless the story fits quite well with John’s message for it clearly illustrates the mercy and love of God as well as His justice. It also sets a great example for us to follow when we deal with those sinners we find especially vile, disgusting and repulsive. We can’t be self-righteous like the Pharisees who had already condemned the woman. We must treat all sinners with respect and be willing to grant them forgiveness.
This is not to say that the woman had not done something worthy of punishment. She had. Yet we cannot feel smugly superior to those we think heinous sinners (homosexuals, fornicators, perverts, etc.) and think we can just pass judgment on them. The reason, as Jesus points out, is that we are all sinners, and all deserving of death. Many people including many Christians may feel like they can ignore their own weakness and frailty so they can condemn others without compassion or mercy. But that is not what we get from God. What we get is forgiveness. Jesus forgave the woman but warned her not to sin again. He would suffer her punishment thus making Him the only one who could truly forgive sins. And He will do the same for the vilest of sinners. We must follow His example. This does not mean we ignore the laws of the state. Every one who breaks the civil law must be held accountable for his misdeeds and suffer due punishment. Forgiveness allows individuals to forgive wrongs suffered.
It is quite common for politicians, kings and rulers of all sorts to make public appearances at times of feasting and holidays. This is so that they can take advantage of the energy and fervor of the celebrants and use it to make themselves look good or boost their control and power over those they rule. That is why Jesus’ brothers wanted Him to go to the feast and announce that He was the Messiah. This would build up His support and He would step into His role as a dynamic leader. But Jesus knew that His glory would not come from the acclaim of the people and the exercise of military force. The way to true glory is through works of service unto others not in displays of power, beauty, talent or skill which are what pervades the media, the culture and even the church.
Jesus’ glory would come from obeying the will of the Father and being crucified as a common criminal. Our glory comes from accepting His way and becoming servants. As servants we receive a great blessing which is new life akin to an everlasting supply of fresh flowing water which in Israel at that time was rare. Such water is life. Jesus used it to speak of the Holy Spirit who would be given to all who put their faith in Him. As long as we stay attached to this source of life we will never be spiritually depleted and we will never sin. As long as we stay attached to this source we can endure any series of trails and suffering. It is when we take ourselves away from the source, when we place our trust in wealth or people, that we suffer emotional and spiritual turmoil and fall into temptation and sin. But it is always because we have turned away, not God.