Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people. But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders. John 7:12-13 NIV
Even at the time of Christ there were red and blue opinions — wide gaps between people’s perspectives. Is he good or not? How can two opposite perspectives both have validity—or both be wrong?
From a natural perspective, those that thought he was good may have affirmed: He healed he sick. Taught with authority. Loved the children. He hasn’t spoken badly of anyone. He has respected the law and our nation. There is something unique in his lack of self-promotion. He seems genuinely humble. Even if he does not yet smite the wretched Romans ruling our country, he seems like a good man.
Those who objected could have contended: He deceives the people! All the good things you listed may be true but underneath is something more sinister. People’s allegiance is swinging to him and yet he is not one of our leaders. We must have a united front against the outsiders and he threatens to divide. In fact, he wants us to love our enemies and do good to our neighbors! Not only is he soft, he’s taking down our walls. I even heard he spent time with those half-breeds, those mixed-up infidels the Samaritans. The more he wins people’s hearts with his ‘goodness’ the more he leads them astray.
Today’s political spirit would want us to be white or black, right or wrong, good or bad. The way we express our view on an issue is how we disclose our values — something of worth that is neither right nor wrong. My values are personal and private and as a result may be obscure. At times they can be a mixed bag — I value freedom of expression, unless yours differs from mine. And sometimes I’m a poor communicator which requires time and patience to understand each other as we slog through supercharged words that may mean entirely different things to each of us. I may call myself a Christian, but if I ask my friend the atheist what “Christian” means, he has a different definition. But there is a way to get to the heart of the matter: fire exposes that which will endure.
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Luke 12:49-53 NIV
As I have read about the American Civil War, I’m impacted by the deep the divide between people — to the extent that brother would fight against brother. The rancor and vitriol expressed on the political stage feels very similar to the public debate I hear today in America. At that time the fire of war, death, and destruction came upon our country — separating. When the storm clouds cleared, all agreed: hating each other was not the answer. From the soil plowed with destruction emerged tender green shoots of humility. Fire is not fun for the flesh, but it did its job.
But if I dig deeper in the heart’s soil I find the values that create such differences. How can these two competing views at the Feast of Tabernacles come up with wildly different versions of who Jesus is? What people want from life, from relationships, spouses, employers, and those who govern make up our values. If our heart is set on physical peace, personal prosperity, predictability, on a life we have built for ourselves — then Jesus is a threat. He instructs us to lay up our treasure in heaven and hold lightly to earth’s goods. He puts that very desire at risk, let alone the political consequences of diluting Israel’s hard line. On the other hand, if our heart is set on the peace that comes from a relationship with the Prince of Peace, his forgiveness, and the hope of a life beyond this broken world, then Jesus is speaking my language. In fact, I feel a strangely compelled in my spirit to listen, follow, emulate and love him. What if he is the messiah?
It’s no surprise that our values and views differ from each other and create lively debate. And the debate is good, especially when mixed with a heart to love truth. Is it possible to know which position is right? To know what is true? Jesus says it is. A little later in verse 17 he says:
If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. John 7:17 NASB
The ability to know truth is connected to the will. The will is connected to what I value. I endeavor to value God and his people above everything else. Whether by choice, or by fire, the substance of my values will eventually emerge.
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. Psalm 133:1-3 NIV