It is a continual source of wonder to me how Jesus can do wonderful things, but always provoke some sort of negative reaction! Here we have opinions as expressed by ordinary people in Jerusalem, though no-one is willing to go public – note the whispering, caused by fear of repercussions from the religious leaders.
Many would have heard of all the good things Jesus had done and had a good opinion of him; others were probably just passing on hearsay which was going round, that Jesus was deceiving the people – quite likely this was put around deliberately by the religious leaders as part of their campaign to stop the people from following Jesus, particularly as this charge, if proven, could carry a death sentence (cf Deut 13 1-5).
This is a case in point of the well-known saying – ‘All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.’ – and perhaps it is a challenge to our hearts today. It is precisely this ‘fear of man’ with its anticipated intimidation that can stop us being loyal to Jesus.
The Jewish leaders are astonished at Jesus’ authoritative teaching when he does finally appear in the temple courts. But by this time they appear past wanting to know what God desired of them…they ignore Jesus’ challenge to them to check out his teaching; they have nothing to say when Jesus accuses them of being interested only in appearances.
This is another reminder to us that it is not outward deeds or appearances which interests God – it is the inner state and motivation of our heart. It is relatively easy for us to coast along in our Christian lives with our heads down, doing what is expected of us as Christians, not looking for trouble….but also not looking for ways in which we can live for Jesus. The moment we are satisfied with appearances, we are in spiritual difficulty, and in danger of becoming like the Pharisees!
How do others see us, I wonder, and what do they think of us? Are we content if people should see us simply as someone who goes to church regularly, or someone who does good deeds? That should be true of us, but it doesn’t necessarily communicate much about Jesus to them! I’m sure we would want somehow to be known as a devoted follower of Jesus, living life as he would have lived it. That will require a regular humbling, in the sense of doing things that those in the world would not often dream of doing – such as going the second mile; being the first to apologise for any potential offence given; truly loving my enemies/those who perhaps don’t speak to me or pass rude comments, doing good when I can to anyone, even those whom I know despise me, challenging people on remarks which are unfair etc etc – all Sermon-on-the-Mount stuff that we would do well to re-read frequently.
It is well to remember also that it is just as easy for us to pass judgement wrongly too. We are left with Jesus’ words – ‘Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgement’(v24) and ‘By their fruits you will know them’ (Matt 7:20).
Let’s make time to pause sometime today to reflect on our own spiritual lives.