Advent Devotion for December 23
Candle Lighter says: “Surely this man is the Prophet we’ve been expecting.”
Response: “But He can’t be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee?”
SCRIPTURE: John 7:40-52
40 When the crowds heard him say this, some of them declared, “Surely this man is the Prophet we’ve been expecting.” 41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others said, “But he can’t be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem, the village where King David was born.” 43 So the crowd was divided about him. 44 Some even wanted him arrested, but no one laid a hand on him.
45 When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.
47 “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. 48 “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? 49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”
50 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. 51 “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself—no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”
SOME THOUGHTS: In this portion of Scripture, Jesus is interacting with the people and the religious leaders. It’s important to know the context and something of the Jewish festivals to gain a fuller understanding of the undertones of the interaction. This whole setting is during one of three major Jewish Feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles, occurring in the early fall. It is one of the pilgrimage festivals so there will be Jewish people from near and far countries. It is important to understand that a “festival” is a type of rehearsal for a later, greater celebration in which the Messiah will lead to the ultimate consummation of the celebration at the end of time. In each of the chapters of his gospel, John makes a single point identifying Jesus as Messiah and God’s Son. Each chapter reveals another aspect of Jesus’ authority. Now let’s look to the festival itself. During this eight-day celebration, water was taken in pitchers from the Pool of Siloam and carried in a joyous procession to the Temple each day. Prayers were said asking God to send rain in the autumn to ensure a good harvest. The eighth day was the “Great Celebration” and culmination of the whole feast. Gold and silver pitchers were used. Water was poured over the altar as the Levites sang joyously. It is at this point, with hundreds of people from everywhere crowding around the altar, that Jesus stood and shouted these words, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” Normally rabbis were seated when they taught. Not this time! There are several places in the Old Testament that make the same declaration. Remember, the Jews knew their Scripture and recognized the implications of what Jesus had just said. How do we know? Their next words were quoting Moses’ reference to the coming [super] Prophet in the book of Deuteronomy. Other people said He was the Messiah. They knew Jesus’ hometown was Nazareth and assumed He was born there. They also knew the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. I’m kind of curious why no one asked Him, “Jesus, where were you born?” They also missed the connection that the Messiah would be a Nazarene (one from the town of Nazareth (Judges 13:5, Isaiah 9:1-2, & Matthew 2:23). The people were divided as to the identity of Jesus—like today. The Temple guards though, were taken with Jesus’ comments. Jesus was the living water (Woman at the well. John 4). But in this case, He was speaking of the future pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (May-June timeframe after His Resurrection). As often happens, weak leaders will ridicule crowds that don’t agree and speak confidently in crowds who embrace their viewpoints. But the leaders read the situation exactly wrong! Nicodemus, who had a one-on-one encounter with Jesus earlier (John 3), spoke wisely as his advice was to simply listen to what Jesus had to say. The next we hear of Nicodemus was that he was one of the two men who put Jesus in the tomb after the crucifixion. He apparently came to faith. One of the things that strikes me most in this passage is the phrase, “We never heard anyone speak like this!” The message of the gospel is unlike any cultural narration going on today. It was revolutionary then and it is revolutionary today. Look for a chance to share the “good news” today. The people around us are thirsty for the authentic life-giving water.
MUSIC: In the Bleak Midwinter by Robert Shaw Chorale (You may want to let this just run as more beautiful carols follow!) (YouTube)
PRAYER: Eternal Light, before whom all darkness is light, and in comparison with whom, every other light is but darkness, may it please Thee to send forth Thy light and Thy truth, that they may lead us. Purify, we pray Thee, our souls from all impure imaginations, that Thy most beautiful and holy image may be again renewed within us. Till this most blessed daybreak, and shadows fly away, let Thy Spirit be continually with us, and may we feel the powerful effects of Thy Divine grace constantly directing and supporting our steps; that all our endeavors, throughout the whole remaining part of our lives, may serve to promote the honor of Thy blessed Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Robert Leighton, 1611-1684, Prayers Ancient and Modern