Scripture: John 7:32–52
Greetings, everyone. I am Pastor Felicia Zamora, a North Hills Community Baptist Church member here in Pittsburgh and an Associate Pastor in Pastoral Care. I am originally from Managua, Nicaragua. I had the opportunity to work with Pastor Matt Sturtevant and his wife Kimberly Sturtevant in 2007 and 2009 when I was Delegations Coordinator at AMOS Health and Hope.
In 2010, I visited your sanctuary on a visit to Kansas. It is an honor and a blessing to share the message with you today, and I look forward to meeting you virtually after the service.
Please pray with me.
Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your Word. Silence in us any voices but your own, so that we may hear your Word and also do it; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Did you ever have the opportunity to revisit with your former teachers?
One of my opportunities this past year was to revisit my former high school teachers during the Thanksgiving Holidays. Terry and Kerry were my instructors during my 7th-grade year; he and his wife were Missionaries in Nicaragua for two years. Terry taught me English, Spanish, Math and Bible (our school was small). One of the books that Terry used during our devotional time was Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door, written by well-known apologist Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, a writer, editor, and pastor who has worked with McDowell. This book is aimed at a teenage audience to help young people defend their Christian faith and debunk myths about God, the Bible, and Jesus. About five chapters in this book are devoted to refuting that Jesus was a mild and meek God, or that he was just a prophet, hippie, or that he was a white man. Both authors used “snappy” language, anecdotes, quotes from famous theologians, and illustrations from sports and entertainment to make their audience understand their point.
From personal experience, although we can defend and say that we know who Jesus is based on what we read in scriptures, in our practice though, I have serious doubts that we truly understand the nature of Christ.
Terry and Kerry meant well in teaching us about Jesus and how we can defend our faith amid the questions that the world throws at us. But the culture that Terry and Kerry live in in the United States, when it comes to understanding Jesus, is one where the Messiah is a John Wayne figure—tough, macho, an MMA fighter, who is not afraid to get his hands bloody. A “savior” who is tied more to the US Constitution and approves the attitude of individuals who pray for the “overthrow” of government figures. When I had the opportunity to visit with Terry and Kerry, I asked them directly about signs that tie Jesus with political figures, as if Christ would have approved the actions and ideas that this XY politician mentioned. Neither answered that question, but they asked why Christians found it appealing to vote for XY politician. I thought of telling them that part of the problem in US society is cultural Christianity, where my beliefs are based on family heritage: My parents and grandparents all went to church growing up because it was customary. Being at church taught me good old-fashioned morals. I mold Jesus according to my environment and culture, not the other way around, whereas Jesus completely transforms me according to what he says in the Gospels.
During the time that John wrote his gospel, he tried to differentiate between cultural and religious expectations of who Jesus was. In contrast with Mark, Luke, and Matthew, whose stories about Jesus are shorter, focusing more on the coming of the Kingdom of God, his miracles, the Message of salvation, and repentance, John’s direction is to prove to his audience that Jesus is the Messiah.
To better understand our scripture message for today, we need to read the previous chapter. In chapter 6, Jesus goes across the Sea of Galilee, and a massive crowd of people follow him, attracted by the miracles he was doing. He climbs a hill and sits down, surrounded by his disciples during the Feast of Passover. Please consider that Jesus had a large following of people. He had already caused controversy, with the religious authorities accusing him of being a blasphemer for making himself equal to God. In this instance, though, Jesus feeds a crowd of 5,000 people. In Eugene Peterson’s commentary on the Message, he says that the resemblance of Jesus providing food is associated with the Exodus from Egypt, the Passover Meal, and the provision of manna. This sign probably sparked the thought in the minds of his followers that he was the New Moses, as verse 14 says (I’m reading from the NRSV):
“When the people saw the sign that he had done they began to say, this is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
Immediately, they wanted to make him king by force, and Jesus withdrew from them to be on the mountain by himself.
The expectations that the crowd had then was to make Christ a political king, and as one commentator remarks, Jesus will not succumb to this idea of overthrowing the government; he pulls out from this situation and wants no part “in the political ambitions of the crowd.” He does not want to “satisfy their plan,” similar to how sometimes, we as Christians want to “wrap up Jesus into our angry and fearful distortions” and we want to make him a champion of our causes. (quoting Peter Wehner, contributing writer at The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center).
Not only does Jesus not satisfy the crowd’s expectations, but he also challenges the crowd to understand that following him or becoming a disciple is looking for the spiritual food that will nourish our bodies and not a means to please their needs. The words that Jesus utters, “you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (vs. 26), refresh once again my memory with Terry and Kerry when I attended youth group. I have to say that I did not always have the right motivations to come. I wanted to play games, get a couple of slices of pizza, make small talk with my friends, but getting serious in understanding God by reflecting on the WORD was not on my radar. The expectations that God has in our daily walk are to be servants, not led by fear, but by love, radically transformed to imitate him, and to shun away the temptations to be “arrogant, tricksters and individualistic human beings.” Stuff that is “tough to swallow” but is more everlasting.
If the reflection in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel is about Jesus not fitting into our social-political mindset, chapter 7 is about how Christ responds to us. When we investigate the reading, we see the growing conflict between Jesus and the religious figures; there is division among the Jewish crowd as to his identity. Some said that he was a “good man,” a Moses-type of prophet. Others in the group were not convinced that the Messiah could come from Galilee (one must remember that Galileans were seen as culturally ignorant and non-orthodox in observance of the laws) since the Messiah’s lineage was to come from King David’s family.
There is an attempt to arrest Jesus, but the same guards attempting to apprehend Christ came back empty-handed, and the Chief Priests and the Pharisees ask why? The simple answer: We are amazed at his teachings and his miracles. Christ does not fit into the boxes of the religious authorities nor those of the crowd because he does not meet their standards. For one, Jesus does not accept the role of the warrior-champion-for-the-cause Messiah who is going to overthrow the Roman Empire and call to rebellion, but on the other hand, he does not ridicule the Chief Priests and Pharisees who question his authority, Jesus takes the “High Road” of not imitating their behavior, even in how he treats one of their own (Nicodemus).
As followers, do we respond then by boxing in Christ as one of us because he despised the Roman Empire? Do we admire that he was a good dude who loved wine, was a rebel, a revolutionary? Or do we encapsulate Jesus as one who would be in approval of Creationism, who favors having prayers back in public schools, and who looks down at those who are in favor of abortion?
I like to think and reflect that Jesus broke those boundaries because even in the disagreements he had with the religious figures, he invited all who are thirsty to come to him and drink from the living water. Let us be cautious in deforming or twisting the Savior into thinking that he agrees with our decisions or favors our agendas. Jesus looks into the eyes of those considered enemies—Roman Soldiers, tax collectors, religious authorities, and those we despise. As Dr. Derwin L. Gray says, “God’s mercy is for the oppressor and the oppressed. Repentance of the oppressor, forgiveness from the oppressed, reconciliation of the enemies with human flourishings.”
People of God, let us then not make Jesus be our Messiah according to our tribal mindset, because He certainly never fit into the mold of society. As Pastor Eugene Cho says, let us not use Jesus as a branding for our political platforms because it will convert us into cultural Christians rather than His disciples. Let us then take the attitude of the Savior to invite everyone to the table, and pray and trust that His Message will change our hearts. We will be recipients of the TRUE LIVING water that will guide us into faith and truth.
Rev. Felicia Zamora is our 2022 Baptist Women in Ministry Month of Preaching guest preacher. Rev. Felicia was born and raised in Managua, Nicaragua, where she is a member of Gethsemane Baptist Church. Her parents, Manuel and Lidya Zamora, and her older brother, Felipe, all currently reside in Nicaragua. Felicia served as delegations coordinator for public health non-profit organizations PROVADENIC and AMOS Health and Hope for 14 years. In her role, she connected American pastors and congregations with communities throughout Nicaragua and learned skills to resolve conflicts between different cultural groups. Felicia is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University (1998–2002), and graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity Degree on May 28, 2021. She is currently serving as Associate Pastor in the area of Pastoral Care in North Hills Community Baptist Church, PA. and was officially ordained on January 22, 2022.