Summary: If we stand for Jesus, we will inevitably face the same kind of opposition that He did. How do we respond? His example gives us a clue as he faces both the unbelief of his own family, and the deadly opposition of israel's leaders.
It’s been more than 20 years ago now since I initiated a lawsuit in the name of the church against the Washoe County School District. As a few of you know, and even fewer of you probably remember, it was about the matter of Equal Access—equal access to public school facilities for churches and religious groups. At the time, the Washoe County School District would not permit churches or any religious groups, for that matter, to rent district facilities that were not in use by the school district for any purpose whatsoever, though those facilities could be rented by any other organization for any other purpose whatsoever. Even church basketball leagues were banned from renting gyms.
I saw it as a violation of our freedom of speech and freedom of religion rights under the Constitution. And eventually, after a long battle that lasted four years and involved an appeal, we won the right for churches, and church plants, to use public school for their events and meetings.
But I’ll never forget that day in the spring of about 1989 when the first public hearing on the case took place. We were meeting in one of the courtrooms at the old multi-storied Federal Building near Reno High School. Litigants and lawyers for both sides were present and greeted each other pleasantly before the case began to be argued before Judge Francis McKibben. And as I began talking with our attorneys from the Rutherford Institute, they were quick to whisper to me this advice: “Be careful what you say, because whatever you say can and will be used against you.”
Of course, in this very divisive election of 2010, both Senate candidates, Harry Reid and Sharron Angle, can well attest to that truth.
But as I look back on that experience, that that advice not only has application in the courtroom and when you’re running for office, but it also is relevant to the spiritual battle all true believers find themselves in. There is a great spiritual struggle going on, the stakes are very high—eternal life or eternal destruction—and the world can be and often is a very dangerous place for believers who are merely trying to make disciples of all nations, as our Lord Jesus Christ directed us to.
And so this morning, we’re going to consider John chapter 7, a passage which tells us just how great the contention was even in Jesus’ time, especially during Jesus few years of ministry on this earth. And just how seriously dangerous the matter was for Jesus and how he dealt with both the unbelief of his very own family, and those who made themselves his enemies among his own countrymen.
And what we’re going to learn is that when dealing with unbelievers and opposition, we’re to be as shrewd as serpents, but as innocent as doves. In other words, we are to remain in God’s will, but pick our times & places with caution and divine wisdom.
Now last we saw Jesus in John 6, He was beginning the final year of His ministry. He had just lost most of His followers in Galilee because they would not accept His so-called “hard sayings”—that He alone was the Bread of Life who could give them eternal life. And Jesus’ ministry for the next six months is covered in a single verse at the outset of John 7—John 7:1: “After these things, Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him.”
Now remember that Galilee was the northern province of Israel at the time of Jesus. It was the province into which Jesus was born and in which He had established His residence, in Capernaum, around the Sea of Galilee, and that all of His disciples were from Galilee. Judea, on the other hand, was the southernmost province of Israel. Jerusalem, the spiritual and political capital of Israel, was located in Judea. And the temple was located in Jerusalem. And all of the spiritual and political leaders of the nation ruled from Jerusalem. These are the people who are being called “the Jews” here. They were the Pharisees and Sadducees who made up the Jewish ruling council called the Sanhedrin and the chief priests. And if you’ll remember back in John 5, when Jesus healed a man who had been disabled for 38 years there on the Sabbath, that these same Jews determined once and for all that they wanted to murder Jesus. And so the Apostle John tells us that for at least six months following the departure of the majority of His followers, Jesus spent time in Galilee specifically to avoid the murderous plots of these Jewish leaders in Judea.
And what this tells me is that Jesus took this danger very seriously. And if we count Him as an example for ourselves, then we also, at times, need to beware of men, for some will oppose us vehemently when we follow Jesus. And that’s our first point this morning, “Beware of men, for some will oppose you vehemently, even violently, when you follow Jesus.”