“Do not judge by appearances.” Sound advice. Sometimes people, books, and even foods can surprise you. But actually that isn’t a pithy proverb promoting discernment in dating or a more investigative approach to shopping. Jesus said it. In fact, he said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” And he said it about himself.
In John 7 we read about the Feast of Tabernacles, the third, and favourite, annual pilgrim feast of the Jews. The chapter starts with Jesus’ non-believing half-brothers trying to goad him into taking the stage at Israel’s Got Talent and doing some of his miracles to announce himself where it mattered, at the heart of the nation. He refuses to go to Jerusalem on their terms, but then goes up secretly. The whole town is talking about him anyway, muttering and wondering if he’ll show.
He does. In the middle of the Feast he heads into the temple area and starts teaching publicly. A few verses later he urges everyone to judge him with right judgment (v24). Let’s note four things that they, and we, should evaluate based on this first part of John 7:
1. Why does the world hate Jesus? In verse 7 Jesus tells his brothers that the world hates him. In verse 19 he flags the fact that some are seeking to kill him. We see that hatred all through John’s Gospel, and we still see it today. Why is Jesus so despised by a world that claims values that Jesus could be seen to champion? Our world celebrates its own compassion and its action on behalf of the oppressed and hurting – Jesus demonstrated compassion and took action for the sake of hungry crowds, foreigners facing dislike, vulnerable women and children, the lame, the deaf, and the blind. Our world talks about inter-racial unity – Jesus made a despised Samaritan the hero of one of his most famous stories, fed a crowd of four thousand Gentiles when the disciples didn’t consider that a possibility, and so on. Jesus could be the figurehead for so many of the values celebrated today, and yet he seems to be hated so easily. Why is that?
2. Did Jesus really speak a message from God? In verses 15-17 Jesus explains how he can speak with such learning despite never having studied. He explains that his message is not his own, but the message of the one who sent him into the world. Jesus speaks God’s very words? That is an astonishing claim. And yet for two thousand years, across every continent, in hundreds of languages and contexts, the words of Jesus have proven to be the key to the human heart. While he is hated by many, there are also many who have found Jesus’ words to resonate so deeply that they must be uniquely representative of God. With so many people, in so many places, so massively marked by Jesus, surely it is worth investigating the source of his message?
3. How can Jesus be so pure? Inverse 18 Jesus claims to have no falsehood. Again, this is a huge claim. Every leader you know is flawed. Every Christian leader you respect is far from perfect. We know the impurity of humanity because we know the person in the mirror. We are not as bad as some, but we are still so far from our own ideals, let alone God’s. We all fall short, desperately short. But Jesus – not in some later developed mythology, but in a context where his own half-siblings were skeptical and his enemies scrutinized everything about him – Jesus claimed to be without falsehood. And a few months later, when it came to trial, they couldn’t find any accusations against him. The Roman authority with no vested interest in Jesus repeatedly declared, “this man is innocent!” The purity of Jesus is not just a lack of sin, but also a radiant presence of life. Jesus is captivatingly attractive in his holiness. What is going on there?
4. What is the significance of transformed lives? In verse 23 Jesus underlines the source of the antagonism that was still rumbling in the crowd: he had healed a man by the pool a few months earlier. A transformed body walking around Jerusalem stirred the people and the authorities. And that man wasn’t in any way spiritually responsive. Today we can meet hundreds of people whose lives have been transformed spiritually, personally, temperamentally, morally, etc. (None of us are made perfect, of course, but the change is often undeniable!)
Jesus is hated by the world, claims to speak a message from God, lived a life that was uniquely beyond every reproach, and continues to transform lives all over the world.
Whether you are investigating Christianity for the first time, or are a long-time follower of Jesus, these four questions are well worth pondering. If Jesus is who he claims to be, and if that is only underlined by the eyewitness accounts of those close to him, the hatred of many, and the transformation of others, then he is worthy of all your faith, your worship, your love.