Mo Farah is a uniquely talented British athlete. He has worked, and worked, and worked some more to make his way to the top of the men’s long distance running tables. He is a double Olympic and World Champion in both 5000m and 10000m disciplines. The guy is an amazing ambassador for sport and is a living testament to the power of dedication, determination, and vision in an individual’s life.
Watching him race is absolutely exciting. He is one of those long distance runners who likes to stay at the back of the race until just the right moment. Whether it is 5000m or 10000m he always places himself at the back of the field at the beginning of the race. Then, at just the right time, when the field is breaking up a little, he will take things up a gear and make his way to the group at the front of the field. Then, one more time, at just the right moment (normally with about a lap and a half to go) he will kick into his highest gear and will break away from the group at the front and power himself all the way to the finish line. It is exhilarating to watch each change of pace take place at just the right moment in the race, and for Mo Farah, knowing that exact moment in each race is a vital skill to have.
This passage is all about Jesus knowing just the right moment in his “race.”
After the conversation in the synagogue at Capernaum and the reactions of the Jews to what he had said there, Jesus does not want to make his way to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Tabernacles. This festival was an eight day long gathering of the Jewish community in which they would literally erect tents to live in, eat in, and sleep in. The significance of the tents was that they symbolized a remembrance of the time when their Jewish ancestors lived in tents as they wandered in the wilderness. It was a time of lavish celebration, dancing and feasting for the Jewish people, and, similar to Passover, it was a time when this community collectively looked forward to the time when the ‘Messiah’ would come. The Festival of the Tabernacles was a big deal.
Jesus’ brothers have been watching his ministry unfold and have been seeing the signs he has been performing. They are excited about their brother’s ability to perform these signs, but it appears that even Jesus’s own earthly brothers have failed to understand who their brother was and what he was on earth to do! They are so wrapped up in his abilities to heal people and transform things that they are overly eager for him to go to a bigger town and achieve even more fame. Galilee was a small town and jesus would not, for them, achieve his potential there. They wanted him to head off to the big city so that people there could see what he was capable of. In a sense, their vision for his fame was similar to the visions of fame and fortune that many people have when they pack their bags and head off to Nashville or Hollywood to “make it big” in the industry.
But Jesus knew that this was not his time. In saying as much he was indicating to his brothers, and to you and me as the readers of this gospel, that a time would come when Jesus would make it on a much larger scale. This is another little trick being used by John to keep his readers hooked and wondering where Jesus is headed, what he is going to do when he gets there, and, of course, when exactly this is all going to play out. Of course Jesus’s time would come and it would be in Jerusalem, and it will be during another Jewish festival. We will read more about that later on in the gospel, but for right now this is not his time.
Even though it was not the right time for Jesus to fulfill his ultimate destiny, he did end up secretly going to the Festival of the Tabernacles. While there his assumptions about the intentions of Jewish leaders were proven correct – they were on the look out for him.
In the last two verses of this section John reveals the polarized reactions of the people to the things that Jesus has been saying and doing in his ministry so far. For some Jesus was a good man, and for others Jesus was a deceiver. In the context of a passage which seems to be about the right timing of Jesus’ walk along his path of destiny and purpose, it seems strange that John would put these two verses here, but we must remember that John wastes nothing in his telling of Jesus’ story. For me, John is keeping before before his readers the fact that all of us have a choice to make about Jesus. If he is the word made flesh; if he is the Chosen one of God; if he is the light of the world; if he is the Messiah then we each have a response to make. We can either regard Jesus as a good man who is telling the truth and ought to be believed, or we can regard Jesus as a deceiver who is lying about God and whose words we can reject outright.
John’s purpose in writing this gospel was to identify Jesus as God’s Son, and to challenge his readers to believe in who Jesus is and what he has to say. This was his purpose 2000 years ago and that purpose remains unchanged.
So who is Jesus? Is he liar or Lord? Our answers to this question will indeed direct the next steps of our lives. If John’s gospel is to be believed then the most important thing we can do is to answer this ultimate question by saying that Jesus is Lord, and by dedicating the rest of our lives to following him.