Episode 87 - The Journey to the Feast of Tabernacles - Opening Up the Gospels

This is Episode 87 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 86 we looked at Jesus’ final days up in Capernaum before He headed south to complete the last several months of His ministry. I talked about how Jesus used some of the time back home to instruct His disciples in the areas of servanthood, unforgiveness, and offense, knowing what was about to come upon them over the next several months leading up to His death. The context of some of the well-known passages in the Gospels really matters! I ended the last episode by looking at John 7 and what Jesus’ brothers said to Him about going to Judea for the Feast of Tabernacles. Let’s pick up today reading from there: “Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.” (John 7:2–9 ESV) In past episodes I’ve talked about what it would have been like to travel to the feasts in Jerusalem. Large bands of pilgrims would travel together for the several-day journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. This is the reason why Jesus’ parents didn’t notice their twelve year old boy missing after they left the feast back in Luke chapter 2 – they traveled together in large bands and it wouldn’t have been immediately obvious that somebody was missing. Now the Feast of Tabernacles was a little bit different than other feasts. They would have to leave earlier than normal for a couple of reasons. First, Tabernacles probably drew the largest number of people than any of the other feasts. And second, the people would have to construct the booths or temporary shelters that they would be living in during the feast. So there was a process of finding the best place to do that and then actually constructing the booth before the feast began. So with this in mind, Jesus’ brothers and relatives headed to the feast, but Jesus stayed behind in Capernaum, though as we will see He did intend to go to the feast privately. After some unknown portion of time had passed, He left to head south, and the events that would ultimately lead to His crucifixion would begin. So let’s keep reading from Luke 9: “And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.” (Luke 9:52–56 ESV) Jesus’ first sends messengers ahead of Him to prepare for lodging along the way to Jerusalem for the feast. Let’s take a look at our map. From what we just read in Luke 9, we can assume Jesus intended to go through Samaria, which would have been the route that the other pilgrims from Galilee would have completely avoided. The ones who went ahead likely included most of the Twelve, but at least we see James and John as part of the group. Remember, the Samaritans were in essence “half-Jews” – we looked at some of what they believed back in Episode 52 when we talked about the woman at the well. So Jesus is on His way southward through Samaria, and at some point James and John come to him because they see a resistance towards Jesus as he sought hospitality and accommodations. This resistance could have been for several reasons, but a big one had to do with the fact that the Samaritans believed the rightful place to worship God was on Mount Gerizim, not in Jerusalem – and where was Jesus was going? To Jerusalem for a Jewish feast. So James and John want to call down fire from heaven. Why would they want to do that? Remember what had just happened a few months prior – they had seen Elijah on Mount Hermon when Jesus was transfigured before them. And Elijah had called down fire from heaven in 1 Kings 18 and 2 Kings 1. So these two say “hey Jesus, remember Elijah on the mountain a few months ago? Can we call down fire like he did and destroy these guys? They are not respecting you at all!” And Jesus says to them: “But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.” (Luke 9:55–56 NKJV) Think about where the hearts of the disciples were. Jesus has predicted His suffering twice, and then they argued about greatness right after that, and now they want to call fire down from heaven because a city didn’t want to put them up on their journey. Wow. Well let’s keep reading in Luke 9. “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 9:57–62 NKJV) The Samaritans had rejected Jesus, and so they turn eastward and head down the normal road that all the others took when going to the feasts. Let’s take a look at our map again. So instead of taking this route through Samaria, they now head east and take the normal route on the border and then cross over the river at the fords of Jericho. It’s as they’re journeying on this road towards Jerusalem for the Jeast of Tabernacles that Jesus meets several individuals. Now these guys Jesus interacts with on the road probably weren’t all just lined up one right after the other, they were probably spaced out. Think about it – a whole band of travelers is heading south and people are seeing them and Jesus along with them and they say “hey, we want to go with you! Hey everyone, we’ve found Jesus again! Let’s follow Him!”. Remember, He had been constantly moving – He was recently way up in Caesarea Phillippi, then He was back in Capernaum for a bit, and now He’s headed well south to Jerusalem again. He beckons each of the three that He meets to follow Him without reservation, but they give some sort of excuse as to why they can’t just drop everything and follow Him. But with each reply, Jesus is saying “you don’t understand what’s happening. This is your window right here. If you want to come along with me, you have to come right now. Don’t worry about your dead father or the people in your house.” The intensity and severity of these statements is not random. This is 6 months before the cross, and this is a specific window of invitation for discipleship. He’s really saying to people “come with me – you don’t understand the window of visitation that you have right now. If you want to participate in it, you have to drop everything. I’m not going to be here for that much longer.” Now we tend to read the Gospels so abstractly. This doesn’t apply to someone praying a prayer and putting their faith in Jesus today. It’s not like they can’t go to their dad’s funeral or anything. Of course they can, the context is very different. Jesus isn’t physically present right now. There is application, but the context of the words that Jesus spoke were totally different than today. Does that make sense? At some point along the journey, perhaps at the border between Galilee and Samaria, Jesus sends out seventy of His disciples ahead of Him in pairs to the towns where He would be soon visiting. Let’s take a look at Luke 10 now: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:1–3 ESV) So it’s about 6 months before the cross, and Jesus is leaving Galilee after having been rejected by them. Their window had closed. And the window to bear the fruits of repentance was closing for the rest of Israel now too. Soon Jesus would be pinned on a crossbeam by the very ones He came to save. In the next episode we will pick up here and continue looking at Jesus’ journey southward. In the meantime, here are a couple of points for your meditation this week: 1) Put yourself in the place of one of Jesus’ brothers. How would you have been feeling when He came back to Capernaum after having been rejected by the crowds last time He was there? What sort of cynicism would you have towards Him and what doubts would be in your heart? 2) Ponder the conversation between James and John as they saw Jesus being rejected by the Samaritans. When did it come into their minds that the best course of action would be to call down fire on them? We laugh at their childish zeal, but I’m sure they were 100% serious.