Jesus gave sight to the blind. Jesus gave the ability to walk to the crippled. Jesus made lepers whole. Jesus fed crowds. Jesus taught perfectly with authority. Jesus showed kindness. Jesus was hated.
Is this possible? Surely, if someone went around helping others, if someone gave to others perfectly without any possessions of their own, if someone came as a perfect representative of the Living God who brought life, love and hope wherever they travelled, surely everyone would love him. Such a man would not generate such hate?
Reading the Bible, we know this isn't true. The illogical self-destruction of man contrasted against the wisdom and grace of our Creator is on full display constantly in the Scriptures.
In the middle of paradise, Eve and Adam want something more. Cain is told to be more like his open-hearted brother, so he kills his brother. Israel is warned about having a king, but they want one anyway. David has all the wives anyone could want, but he kills a husband to have his wife. Israel is warned about serving the Lord their God only and their constant disobedience leads to the brink of their destruction.
John reminds us of the irony in the setting. About 200 years prior to this, Israel bravely defied the desecration of their temple and their sacrifices by a Greek army forcing them to bow to an idol and mix pork among the sacrifices. Through the Maccabees, they drove out the Greeks. They then wanted to purify the temple through a ritual of burning oil through a menorah (candle holder) for eight days. But, they did not have eight days worth of oil. Miraculously, the oil did last for eight days and this act of God is still celebrated by Jews to this day as the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah.
They had been able to rededicate the defiled temple to the Living God through God's providence. Throughout Israel's history, there had followed many false gods and idols as they allowed their neighbour's influence to take hold. The Feast of Dedication seemed to show that Israel had finally learned the lesson to truly follow the Lord their God alone.
About 200 years later, the Son of God performed miracle upon miracle that was much greater than stretching oil to eight days. He stretched five loaves and two fishes to feed crowds of over four and five thousand. He gave hope to the poor. He showed love to the unclean. And now the Son of God was at that very same temple.
In response to Israel's leaders, he made it very clear he was the Messiah. He indeed was a living representative of the Living God. In the very temple that the Jews had sacrificed to keep pure and holy, here was someone who had been proven by the works he was doing to be pure and holy.
Jesus seems to plead with them not to listen to his pronouncements but to look at his works. Could he be doing what he was doing if he was not sent by God himself?
Their reaction? To once again drive out a desecration from the temple. And in doing so, they proved to all that they were no longer humbly devoted to following the Living God. It was now their temple and they were the judges of what was clean and unclean.
"There is nothing new under the sun.", a wise man once wrote. Today, our illogical madness continues. We sacrifice millions of children to the pursuit of pleasure and the altar of self. In the midst of poverty, we spend ourselves into a debt we callously leave to the next generation to sort out. Feminists ally themselves with those who mutilate and subjugate women because they see Jesus and His followers as the real enemy.
In the midst of madness, the command of Jesus to make disciples echoes in our minds. We church leaders often mistake the command to make disciples with a command to be popular. This has two effects.
First, we feel we should hide what some people may not like about Jesus and his church in order to gain more people. Communion talks about blood, so we don't go into that as much. Nobody likes being told they are wrong, so we won't talk about sin and the need to repent as much. We'll just focus on love without talking about obedience. We'll focus on salvation without what we are being saved from. We will talk about the Saviour who saved the adulterous woman without echoing his words to her, "Go and sin no more."
Second, we feel the need to criticise our brothers and sisters who don't show the fruit of popularity. We point our fingers and say they are the reason more people don't flock to Jesus. If only more people would realise that those people did not represent Christ, then many more would come to a faith in Jesus.
Remembering what happened to our Lord at the Feast of Dedication, however, should remind us not to mistake popularity with the making of disciples. We can love perfectly, as Jesus did. We can truly love the poor, the disabled, the blind, the disenfranchised, as Christians have for centuries. We can lead the greatest human rights campaign the world has ever seen in the freeing of slaves throughout the world, as our brothers and sisters have. And when we ask the world, even those who have been loved by Christ through His followers, to believe Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, many will respond with stones and anger and hate.
Is any servant greater than their Master?