Desperation is the mother of salvation

Have you ever been misunderstood? It happens. Sometimes we are at fault: we do not think through all the different ways that something we say could be taken, and then the words are out. They cannot be unspoken. But sometimes it is the listener’s filter that is skewed, and we had no idea. It happens. But when it happens among your friends, among family, among people who ought to know you better than that… that’s when it hurts most; and that is when we stand to lose the most.

John 7:2-5 Now the tabernacles, the feast of the Jews, was near. His brethren therefore said to him, Remove hence and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see thy works which thou doest; for no one does anything in secret and himself seeks to be [known] in public. If thou doest these things, manifest thyself to the world: for neither did his brethren believe on him.

His relatives did not believe on Jesus. They who knew Him best… Do you find that shocking? Maybe we should not be hasty. After all, it is in hindsight that we understand that believing on Jesus is much more than just being acquainted with him or knowing that he is good guy or a good neighbor… like trusting him enough to loan him your tools knowing that he will return them undamaged.

Believing on Jesus, in the Gospel, means putting my trust in Him to the extent that I believe what He came to tell us about the state of this world, the state of our hearts, and what He was willing and able to do about it. In other words, it is all about salvation; about choosing which kingdom we want to live in and serve.

I think you would agree that before being able to believe on Him that way, we would have to become acquainted with him enough to discern his character and then we would be willing to “let our guard down” and listen to him with an open mind. After all, that is the way we interact with people all around us. There are steps that must be taken before a stranger becomes a confidante.

Which is why John 7:2-5 is painful. These are Jesus’ relatives. They grew up with him. They had the benefit of years of interaction to get to know his character. And, then once that character is established, you would hope we would “cut him some slack” when he starts doing things that strike us as unexpected. Doesn’t he deserve the benefit of the doubt? If something he said bothers me or sounds weird, shouldn’t that move me to go to him and ask him to make it clearer to me?

But that is not what I hear here in the voice of his relatives. To me, when I read those verses, it feels like his relatives are bothered by the attention he is drawing to them, to the family. They are, as a minimum, embarrassed by his notoriety; but most likely they are concerned about the animosity he is stirring up among the religious leaders of their society.

Yet, the way they say it, it almost seems like it is sound advice:  for no one does anything in secret and himself seeks to be [known] in public. If thou doest these things, manifest thyself to the world.

Maybe I am misunderstanding them. To figure out what is going on, we need to ask the question: When Jesus refrained from going to Judea, for a season (john 7:1), was he really going about in secret throughout Galilee?

If we only had this Gospel, his relative’s words might lead us to think that maybe Jesus was hiding, avoiding conflict. But If we go through the other gospels and tally all that He did during that final preaching tour of Galilee, it is clear that He was not hiding. Jesus continued with His practice of going openly from town to town, preaching the Good News and healing all the sick. He was just avoiding going south to Judea. So, why did His relatives not believe on Him?

The sad answer is: Because they did not think they needed Him.

Desperation is the mother of salvation.

According to Matthew’s gospel, after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus arrives with his disciples on the other shore of the lake:

Matthew 14:34-36 And having crossed over they came to the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognised him, they sent to that whole country around, and they brought to him all that were ill, and besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment; and as many as touched were made thoroughly well.

Mark tells it to us this way:

 Mark 6:56 And wherever he entered into villages, or cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the market-places, and besought him that they might touch if it were only the hem of his garment; and as many as touched him were healed.

I think this happens between verses John 6:21 and John 6:22. And then the people from the other side, that were there at the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, arrive and we get the argument that consumes the balance of John’s chapter 6.

Think about it: We have two crowds. The first, desperate for the healing touch of Jesus, received their miracles of healing. The second, witnesses to a different kind of miracle, end up in a dispute with Jesus. Yet, this is the same Jesus. And it was the same compassion in Him that motivated both miracles. How can the results be so different?

At the end of John 6, in that second crowd, many of his disciples – who by then ought to have known His character – turned away from Him because His words about being the bread of life offended their intellect and their sensibilities. But intellect and sensibilities are the last things in the minds of the people in the first crowd. Why?

Because they are desperate.

They know they are in need. They will do whatever it takes… lay their sick loved ones down on a muddy street, if that is what it takes to give them a chance to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment… and be healed.

Do you remember who they learned this from?

Remember the woman with the haemorrhagic sickness (Matthew 9, Mark 5, Luke 8)?  Because of that sickness, she was unclean according to the Law. She was expected to stay secluded in her home, not touching anyone, until (if ever) she was healed. But one day, hearing that Jesus was coming to her town, she went out wrapped in her cloak – so that no one would recognize her – and she pressed through the crowd that thronged Jesus until she got close enough to Him.

But even then, convinced she was unclean, all she thought she was worthy of doing was to touch the mud-spattered, already dirty, hem of his garment. Matthew 9:20-21 And behold, a woman, who had had a bloody flux [for] twelve years, came behind and touched the hem of his garment; for she said within herself, If I should only touch his garment I shall be healed.

And so, she was healed.


Because when her heart went through the crucible of desperation, it brought forth faith.

And that faith ushered into this world one of the promises of the Kingdom of God: Malachi 4:2  And unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings… You see, in Hebrew, the hems of a garment are called its wings.

Just like that woman, the crowd at the end of Matthew 14 (and at that shore in John 6:21)  is reaping faith out of desperation.

But if you don’t think you need Jesus…

Immediately following the end of Matthew’s 14th chapter, the evangelist tells us:

 Matthew 15:1-2 Then the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem come up to Jesus, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress what has been delivered by the ancients? for they do not wash their hands when they eat bread…

John doesn’t tell us there were any Pharisees in that argument that takes us through the end of John 6. So, I assume this happens after John 7:1. Since Jesus is no longer going down to Judea, the Pharisees now have to come to Galilee to argue with Jesus. And here they come to complain that His disciples are eating food with “defiled” hands (that is, hands that are not ceremonially washed.)

Thematically, Matthew’s picture is hard to miss: The common people, those desperate for a healing touch, do whatever it takes to come to Jesus. But the Pharisees and Scribes, who don’t think they need him; who, in fact, have set out to oppose him and discredit him, just come to argue, And they are so obsessed with their prejudice and the rightness of their position that they miss how petty this complaint is.

However, as we said in going through John 6, Jesus is no longer giving His audience a chance to ignore what is going on. The stakes are too high. Just like he escalated the argument in John 6, He escalates this one:

Matthew 15:3-6 But he answering said to them, Why do *ye* also transgress the commandment of God on account of your traditional teaching? For God commanded saying, Honour father and mother; and, He that speaks ill of father or mother, let him die the death. But *ye* say, Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, It is a gift (for the Temple), whatsoever [it be] by which [received] from me thou wouldest be profited: and he shall in no wise honour his father or his mother; and ye have made void the commandment of God on account of your traditional teaching.

That was direct. But He is not done yet:

Matthew 15:7-11 Hypocrites! well has Esaias prophesied about you, saying, This people honour me with the lips, but their heart is far away from me; but in vain do they worship me, teaching [as] teachings commandments of men.

And having called to [him] the crowd, he said to them, Hear and understand: Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man; but what goes forth out of the mouth, this defiles the man.

This is so much like John 6. The escalation involves teaching; but teaching in a way that it sifts the crowd because He speaks spiritual truths to a people who are still stuck thinking the only reality is the kingdom of this world. And His choice of words, if taken only by their worldly meaning, is on purpose offensive…

Matthew 15:12 Then his disciples, coming up, said to him, Dost thou know that the Pharisees, having heard this word, have been offended?

And Jesus’ reply seems callous:

Matthew 15:13-14 But he answering said, Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up. Leave them alone; they are blind leaders of blind: but if blind lead blind, both will fall into a ditch.

It’s not really callous. This response echoes what He told the crowd in John 6: If they are rejecting Him, it is because they first – already – rejected the voice of the Father. And so, it is not callousness that motivates this response. As we said before, a critical point in Jesus’ ministry has come. A point to which all of us come sooner or later: It is time to decide. It is time to choose:

The blind must choose – both leader and follower must choose – which kingdom we belong to.

What does it take to choose not to be offended?

All of us are going to face the crisis. All of us are going to come to some sort of crossroads (probably more than once) that will test how well we really know Jesus; a test where it will seem that His words, His teaching will not make sense. And I can guarantee they will make no worldly sense.

And then faced with that paradox, I will have to choose. I will have to ask myself:  How long have I known God? How long have I witnessed His kindness, His mercy, in my life? Don’t I know His character already?

I mean, there is no doubt that nothing in this world compares to the Love that God has shown me in the past. But now, the storm is here, and the way out that I pray for does not come. And the storm goes on and on; and it lasts longer than I want it to… long enough that I start to doubt.

And so, again, I am there at the crossroads standing before the possibility of the offense: Will I believe that He has abandoned me? It can be so humanly easy to forget all He ever did before… because, right here, in the midst of this turmoil, all the blessings and good times of the past can seem to be so far away.

But there is one way to hang on and not give up:

Remember Who He IS.

Remember His character. This is why admitting that I am desperate works so well. In the midst of desperation, I don’t care how muddy that ground is, if that is the only place from where I can reach the hem of his garment. In the midst of desperation, I don’t care how “unfair” this storm feels. In the midst of desperation, I don’t care if He calls out my hypocrisy and my blindness… because I know… I know that I know – deep inside – that He loves me. And then, I can say with Peter:  “Lord where else would I go?”

Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

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