(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

When Jesus began to teach in the temple courts during the Feast of Tabernacles he had a very mixed audience. It consisted of his disciples, the Jewish leaders (the Jews), pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire (the crowd) and sophisticated listeners from Jerusalem itself.

The dialogue between Jesus and his critics is not easy to interpret. We cannot hear the tone of voice in which each spoke. However the dialogue must make good sense!

This is not a popular passage with preachers. I have never heard a sermon based on the first 24 verses of John7. Yet this is a very important part of John's gospel. Jesus is under great pressure and the way he answers his critics is of immense significance. Sadly, most speakers would prefer to go to an Old Testament story for a simple message than study how the Lord of Glory responds to his opponents in Jerusalem.

(B) The qualifications of teacher Jesus are questioned.

When Jesus began to teach in the temple courts: The Jews were amazed and asked, "How did this man get such learning without having studied?" This translation in the NIV is very misleading. It suggests that the Jews were amazed at how well Jesus taught considering that he had received no education. It was almost a compliment. Such a view does not fit well with either the contempt the Jews had for Jesus or the forthright response Jesus makes to their remark.

The Jews were amazed that Jesus had the audacity to teach in the temple. Who was he to hold court there - an uncultured rustic carpenter from the backwoods of Galilee? What they said is better translated: "How can this fellow know letters without an education." v14 after William Hendriksen. In other words the Jewish academics were protesting: "Look, this fellow has not had an university education. He doesn't know his subject. He hasn't studied the literature that exists to interpret and clarify Scripture. He is unaware of the views of our most revered scholars. He cannot quote any of the well known authorities." In their opinion Jesus had no right to teach and was not worth listening to!

The attitude of the Jews is a warning that:

(1) God can speak through the uneducated. An untaught, inarticulate and unprepared preacher was used by God to convert Charles H. Spurgeon's the great 19th century Baptist minister of the gospel. See Spurgeon's conversion One evening a chicken farmer from the neighbouring village of Whepstead took our evening service. He had no academic qualifications. At the beginning of Eddy Durrant's message I was a Calvinist, by the end of it I wasn't. He showed me that it was possible to know something will happen without actually determining that it must happen. That night I took a step in the right direction!

(2) It is not necessary to take a degree in Theology or even to attend Bible college to understand and expound the Scriptures. Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones was a wonderful expositor of the Bible in spite of not understanding Greek. He was a doctor of medicine rather than a doctor of Divinity. I have a friend whose son has taken a degree in engineering and spent six years working with university Christian unions. Now he intends to spend three years studying at Bible College. His father and I both wonder if this is strictly necessary. Perhaps, it would be better if he applied to be an assistant pastor in a church and acquired practical experience.

(3) It is not only Christian professionals who make the truth live. You do not have to be a fully accredited Christian minister to exert a profound spiritual influence. Philip Yancey writes in his book, 'Soul Survivor,' about the Christians who made the greatest impact upon him. They include the author, G.K. Chesterton, surgeon, Dr Paul Brand, psychiatrist, Robert Coles, the two Russian novelists, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Surgeon General of the U.S.A., Dr. C. Everett Koops, the poet, John Donne, the novelist Annie Dillard and civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

I owe a lot to the professor of English Literature, C.S. Lewis, the cartoonist, Charles M. Schulz, the watch repairer, Corrie Ten Boom and the novelist, Alexander Solzhenitson.

I am very glad that God who communicated the deepest truths through a country carpenter still makes use of people from widely varied backgrounds with diverse experience and skills.

(C) The source of Jesus' knowledge.

The Jews questioned by what authority Christ taught as he was unfamiliar with the historic sources that were much quoted by them. Jesus' reply must have made his critics flinch: "My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me." v16. He boldly claimed to be God's spokesman or ambassador. Jesus is certain that he speaks on behalf of God him self.

Between the age of 12 and 30 Jesus learned and practiced carpentry. But he also spent those 18 years studying the one book that matters - the Bible, praying for enlightenment with a mind open to God the Father and pondering deeply on the purpose for which he was sent to earth.

Moses and the prophets could have said along with Jesus that they were God's spokesmen. God gave Moses the law and a prophet like Jeremiah a message for his people. However, there is a very considerable difference between Jesus and a man like Moses. Jesus said of his teaching: "It comes from him who sent me." v16. In the case of the prophets the message was everything and the messenger nothing. With Jesus it is entirely different. Jesus was the message - The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John1v14. He could say: "Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, who you have sent." John17v3. It is not enough to know the only true God we have to know Jesus as well to receive eternal life. Jesus knew why the Father sent him from heaven and is compelled to say: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John8v12.

A reader of the synoptic gospels might consider Christ's claim that his teaching was not his own with some scepticism. It appears very much his own in a way that the Law of Moses could never be Moses' own. Jesus stories and pithy, often ironical, utterances reflect his background, experience and personality. His teaching is marvellous! It is in John's gospel that the meek and lowly carpenter is driven by the Father to announce himself as the Living Water, Bread of Heaven, Light of the World, the Good Shepherd of the Sheep and the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus asserted his unique status because it is only as men accept the truth of it that they can be saved and adopted into God's family.

Jesus should be central to all our preaching. I attended a missionary meeting last night. Now the missionary in question had undoubtedly done a good work in many respects. I was, however, saddened because he made so much of planting churches that upheld the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace. I am sure the missionary preaches the gospel and has seen many genuine conversions. Why cannot he rejoice in establishing Christian churches rather than Reformed ones? It is no part of Christ's great commission to uphold the Doctrines of Grace and establish Reformed churches. Jesus told his disciples to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all he taught. Mt28v19and20. As far as Jesus is concerned God has not got two sorts of children by adoption - Calvinist ones and inferior Arminian ones. All who recieve Jesus and believe on his name are given the right to be children of God.

One of the enormous strengths of the 19th century Baptist pastor C.H. Spurgeon was that whatever passage he preached upon it was not long before he got round to Jesus. He never failed to lift him up and invite men and women to believe in Jesus for eternal life.

(D) How to test the authenticity of Christ's teaching.

There are very many cookery programs on TV all of which provide some instruction in the culinary art. What is the best way to evaluate the TV cooks? We could adopt an academic approach and judge them on their presenting skills, personalities, the variety and simplicity of their recipes. One cook's technique could be compared with that of another. The serious scholar might read what the critics have to say about the different cookery programs.

This is not of course the method that someone really keen to learn cookery would choose. Such a person would put the recipes into practice. He, or she, would prepare the meals featured in, for example, Delia Smith's broadcasts making use of the advice offered by the expert. The meals would be put to the test and eaten! The best way to assess TV chefs is experimentally.

Jesus told his hearers that the best way for them to test his recipe for life and living was to put it into practice and find out. "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." v17. If we really desire to please God we must do what Jesus says. He promises that we will thereby discover if God is pleased with us or not. God will confirm his good pleasure to those that honour and obey his Son.

It is not hard for a wife to learn what pleases her husband. Last week I played in a veteran's cricket match. The opposition provided tea and supper. The wife of the opposition captain cooked about 30 individual shepherd's pies for supper. I am absolutely certain the wife pleased her husband! There is no doubt that the lady who helped to make our cricket match such a success will receive confirmation of her husband's good pleasure. She will get more than a hug, a kiss and a thank you. If I know anything of husbands and wives it is likely that she will get her kitchen redecorated.

God does let us know when he is pleased that we have acted in obedience to Jesus. I have proved this true. God has given me the peace that passeth understanding in place of bad, vengeful thoughts when I have shown forgiveness. Recently we had some trouble between two parties at church. Both considerably exasperated me! I got pretty stirred up! I called a church meeting to sort the matter out. I was faced with a choice of acting on principle or showing mercy. After I had shown mercy the problem was settled and I experienced a sense of great well being. If we give good measure, heaped up, pressed down and running over Jesus promises us that: "For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke6v38

(E) The integrity of God's spokesman.

Britain's ambassador to the United Nations speaks on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. This is what is expected of him - not only by the British Government - but by other national governments. If an ambassador sometimes spoke on behalf of himself he would lose his integrity as an ambassador. He might make a name for himself as maverick but he would no longer be a trustworthy spokesman for his country.

Jesus said: "He who speaks on his own does so to gain honour for himself but he who works for the honour of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him." v18. Jesus asserts that he is a thoroughly reliable spokesman for God. He spoke consistently on behalf and in the name of his Father. One of Christ's key characteristics is integrity. There is nothing false about him. He is the man of truth and declared the whole counsel of God. This is particularly the case in John's gospel where Jesus announced repeatedly that he was the one sent from God to save men from sin, to give new life to believers through the Spirit and to raise them up at the last to eternal life.

Every Christian should be an ambassador for Jesus Christ. This is a heavy responsibility. We are not free to invent all sorts of claptrap in the name of Christ. I am afraid that there are plenty of false shepherds who do so - leading the flock astray. We should witness for the honour of Christ who saves us. We should be men and women of truth. We must convey to others what Jesus taught in word and deed. That is what our hearers need us to do.

(F) Jesus defends himself.

The Jews were still furious that Jesus, on a previous visit to Jerusalem, had healed a paralysed man on the Sabbath. See exposition on John5v1to15. That is one reason that they had decided to execute him. Jesus said to his opponents: "Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?" v19.

Jesus is saying, "None of you keeps strictly to the letter of the law. You're not consistent. So why do you want to kill me for not keeping to the letter of the law?" It is worth noting that this shocked members of the crowd who were as yet unaware of the Jewish leader's intentions.

Jesus goes on to provide an example of how the Jews did not always observe the Sabbath as they had been instructed. In Exodus20v8 the Law of Moses stipulates that no work should be done on the Sabbath. However Leviticus12v1to3 indicates that a boy child must be circumcised 8 days after birth. If the 8th day was a Sabbath the baby boy was still circumcised. This was a small medical operation and was work. The Jews were quite prepared to work on the Sabbath to make a baby a child of promise, a complete Jew, through the rite of circumcision. They considered it so important to remove the impure foreskin that the Sabbath could be broken.

Jesus is arguing that Moses set a precedent. Work could be done on the Sabbath in certain circumstances. He reasoned that if the Jews could perform an operation to remove an impure item of flesh it was quite permissible for him to heal the whole man on the Sabbath.

Jesus is nothing if not blunt! He told the Jewish leaders to exercise better judgment. Their judgments were superficial. They condemned anyone who did not conform to their customs and traditions. Anyone, like Jesus, who questioned their customs was suspect.


(1) Legalistic Christians make superficial judgments. I have been banned from preaching in churches for a variety of trivial reasons: smoking the occasional cigar, advocating the use of the NIV, using Peanuts cartoons to illustrate a children's address and for using blunt language.

I hate legalism in all its forms. I am at present reading A.N. Wilson's, 'The Victorians.' He noted that F.D. Maurice, professor of Theology at King's College, London, was ejected from his chair by heresy-hunters because he pointed out that the Greek work aionios (eternal) when applied to punishment, referred to the quality, not the duration. The belief that hell is a place of everlasting torment owes everything to tradition and nothing to Scripture. The word 'hell' was borrowed from paganism and carried into Christianity pagan connotations that have never been shed. See my article on Heaven and Hell. Try explaining this to Bible believing Christians today and see what happens!

(2) There are some things more important than keeping rules and regulations. There were plenty of rules in the workhouses of Victorian England. I hope A.N. Wilson will forgive me for quoting from his excellent book: On Christmas Day, 1840, in the Eton workhouse, Elizabeth Wyse, a married woman, was allowed the rare privilege of being allowed to comfort her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter because she had chilblains. (The separation of parents and children in the workhouses was automatic, and one of the things which even in the better-run establishments caused most bitterness.) Mrs Wyse was allowed to sleep with her child for one night, but the director of the workhouse (like many of them a former sergeant-major) refused permission for a second night. When the ex-sergeant-major, Joseph Howe, found Mrs Wyse in the nursery next day, bathing and bandaging her child's feet, he ordered her to leave the room at once. She refused. He dragged her downstairs, locked her in the workhouse cage, and left her in solitary confinement with no coat, no bedding-straw and no chamber pot, in freezing temperatures, for twenty-four hours. The following morning she was taken to eat breakfast which was the remains of cold gruel left by her fellow inmates, and sent back to the cage and told to clean the floor - which was inevitably soiled - but with no utensils to do so. Here we see in starkest contrast a mother showing mercy and a director of the workhouse enforcing the rules.

At the beginning of John8 we have a story about a woman taken in the act of adultery who should, according to the law of Moses, been stoned to death. Jesus said to that woman: "Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin." John8v11. How often the example of Jesus is forgotten by those, who them selves, rely absolutely on his mercy for the forgiveness of their sins! Christians can be like that servant absolved by his master of a debt of millions who took a fellow servant by the throat over a matter of a few paltry pounds.

(3) We must beware of criticising others for doing something wrong when we are not wholly consistent in the matter ourselves. I read in my paper last week of a woman with three daughters - one of whom was pregnant at 16, another at 14 and the third at 12. The feckless mother said, "It is all the school's fault - they should give more sex education." It is a pity the mother didn't give her daughters some sex education!

I can imagine some strict Christian folk criticising a daughter, who is only able to visit her elderly mother on a Sunday afternoon, for doing the old woman's cleaning and washing during her visits. Yet, if one of those judgmental Christians was taken seriously ill on a Sunday he would expect the phone to work, an ambulance crew to be on duty and the local hospital to be staffed with doctors and nurses.

(4) Christians should be open to reason. Jesus was a reasonable man. He presented good arguments to justify his position and in the hope that the Jews would re-examine their legalistic approach to the Sabbath. Jesus told them that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man. He asked them why he should not heal on the Sabbath when they were quite prepared to rescue a sheep or a donkey that had fallen into a pit. It made no difference - the Jewish leaders proved intransigent.

I am afraid that many fundamentalist Christians are totally unreasonable about how the Bible is inspired, the Genesis flood, Creation and the ultimate punishment of the wicked. To cling to the belief that God shaped the earth and brought into being all living things in 144 hours ignores the abundant evidence that many earth structures and their constituent rocks are old. The unwillingness of many Christians to be reasonable has brought the Faith into disrepute. Evangelical Christian scholars should do their best to harmonise the findings of Science with the revelation of Scripture. See my articles on Creation and the Genesis Flood.