"Living Free" means no critics allowed in 2 Cities

Pastor Jeff Struecker

Some of the religious leaders are starting to murmur, criticize, and complain, get  this, judge the judge of the universe about His actions. Some were saying, “He’s a good  man.” And others were saying, “No, on the contrary, He is deceiving the people.” Still,  nobody was talking publicly, and here’s why. If you were to talk publicly about Jesus,  you were in trouble. They weren’t talking publicly about Him because the Jewish  leadership, specifically the Jewish high priest and some of the Jewish religious leaders,  were out to kill Jesus, and they were out to kill anybody who spoke highly of Him. That’s  how threatened they were by Jesus. 


What the Bible is describing for us right now is a crowd of people that are trying to figure  out who is this guy. There are some in the crowd who think they can make decisions for  God.


Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Well, they just said that He’s deceiving  the crowds. That’s no big deal, right? It sounds like a big deal, but it’s actually just telling  a little white lie. Is that all that they’re accusing Jesus of?” No.  


Go back and read Deuteronomy 13, and you’ll hear that if you are deceiving people’s  faith, that is a capital offense in Israel that’s guilty and punishable by death. The  religious leaders are starting to say, “Hey, we need to kill this prophet because He’s  deceiving people, and He’s impacting their faith.”


They couldn’t see, this blows my mind,  they could not see after all of the religious studies that they’ve done, who was standing  right in front of their midst. And do you know why? Because they were playing the role  of God for all of the rest of the people. “In fact, if you even speak nice about Him, we’re  going to hurt you.” That’s how much they wanted to get Jesus out of the picture. 


There are people, very judgmental, critical people. I understand why this happens  outside of the church. It blows my mind that unfortunately people like those Pharisees in  Jesus’ day are still in the church in our day.


Chances are you’ve met some people like  that. They like to comment about the way that you dress or about the way that you act  or about something that you say. But again, they are very gracious to their own actions  and very critical of you for your actions.  


These people are ultimately stepping into the role of God and trying to play God, get  this, in your life, and tell you what you should do, just like these religious leaders. Even  Jesus’ own half-brothers are trying to play the role of God and tell Jesus what to do, and  Jesus says, “I don’t listen to you. I definitely don’t listen to those religious leaders. I  listen to my Father, and I do what my Father in heaven tells me to do.” 


Some of them are playing God. But the truth is others of them, they just think that  they’re smarter than you are, and they really like to show it off with their knowledge of the Bible. Now get this, they use Bible verses as a knife to attack you. When God  originally wrote the Bible as a scalpel to cut and to cure and to heal you, they try to hurt  you with the Bible instead of trying to heal something in your life with the Bible. 


2. Believe they’re smarter than you 


Here’s where it picks up in verse 14. “When the festival was already halfway over,  Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. And then the Jews were amazed  and they said, ‘How is this man so learned since He hasn’t been trained?'” And I just want to pause for a second. I’ll tell you Jesus’ answer in just a moment, but at  this point in Bible times, there were no universities, there were no professors, which  means there’s no college campuses to teach on.  


John 7: 14-19 When the festival was already half over, Jesus went  up into the temple and began to teach. Then the Jews were amazed  and said, “How is this man so learned, since he hasn’t been  trained?” Jesus answered them, “My teaching isn’t mine but is from  the one who sent me. If anyone wants to do his will, he will know  whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my  own. The one who speaks on his own seeks his own glory; but he  who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is true, and there is no  unrighteousness in him. Didn’t Moses give you the law? Yet none  of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” 


When a traveling rabbi or a traveling teacher came to Jerusalem, the huge temple  complex had these side rooms like classrooms, and a traveling teacher could show up  in the temple, they would allow him to teach in a classroom, and people would show up.  Jesus starts to teach, and He draws a pretty big crowd.  


People are saying, “Wait a second, the words that are coming out of His mouth are  different than what I’ve heard from other rabbis.” And then they ask the question,  “Where did this man get his education from?” Because in Jesus’ day, a very prominent  rabbi would pour into you and your education was all based on your teacher. They’d give you some credentials or some respect because of how  respectable your teacher was. 


What Jesus is describing here is where His education comes from. And He says, “Look,  I didn’t study under a prominent rabbi. Let me tell you where I learned what I’m  teaching. I got it directly from the mouth of God.” And by the way, the religious leaders  understand the implications of what Jesus is saying, and they’re ready to kill Him on the  spot. 


The crowds are starting to hear this guy, and they’re saying, “Wait a second, He’s not  beating me over the head with the Bible. He isn’t turning it into a whipping stick that He  uses as a knife to attack me. He’s using this Bible like a skillful surgeon, to cut right  through to what’s going on in my heart.


And frankly, I’ve never heard anybody teach like  this. Where does this man get His education from?” And Jesus says, “If you believe in  the one who sent me, then you’re going to believe in my teachings. And vice versa, if  you believe in me, you’re going to believe in the one who sent me.” 


Jesus isn’t flaunting His education, and He’s certainly not beating people over the head  with the Bible. If you’re not in a life group in Two Cities Church, can I tell you why our life  groups are not Bible studies? Don’t get me wrong, we open the Bible, we talk about the  Bible, but our life groups are built around questions. We call them discussion questions,  they’re right there in your mobile app. Let me tell you why we do it around questions.  There’s two very big reasons. One, questions are designed to get people talking.  


Life groups are all about people opening up, finally getting to this vulnerable moment  where they’re going to share something about themselves.


And generally speaking, that  doesn’t happen when some guy or some gal is up there flaunting their Bible knowledge  and not giving anybody else in the group a chance to talk. The discussion questions are all designed to just get people opening up their hearts and  starting to say what’s going on in their life.


In one of my groups, we have seven  questions that we look at. We probably don’t get past question number two or number  three each week because people are just so engaged in talking about what’s going on in  their life. That’s the first reason.  


Second reason is because some church Bible studies really feel very arrogant to me. It  feels like a Bible teacher that is flaunting in a very proud, very arrogant way how much  more they know about the Bible than you know. And if you’re new to this whole  Christianity thing and you show up in a group like that, you’re going to feel this big really quick. 


So our groups are not designed to be an, “Open the Bible, I’m going to tell you  everything you need to know about the Bible. You sit down, shut up, and just be wowed  by how much I know.” It is definitely not what some people would call a Sunday school  class.  


It’s a group of brothers and sisters that are just starting to open their lives up and live life  with one another. Because the super judgmental people are very skilled at using the  Bible to hurt instead of to heal somebody.


I’ve watched this hundreds of times, everybody in the group shuts down  immediately. That’s human nature. I shut down when something like that happens.


3. Believe they know your heart 


Third thing that you read about in John is that these critical, judgmental, self-righteous  Christians believe that they know your heart. Now, Jesus uses this language, He said,  “Some people can see the speck in your eye but they cannot see the telephone pole  that’s sticking out of their eye. That’s how focused they are on you, but they forget about  them.” What I’m going to say next may sound a bit contradictory to you, so I need you to  stay with me to the end, because I need you to hear what the Bible is describing next  starting in verse 20. 


John 7: 20-24 “You have a demon!” the crowd responded. “Who is  trying to kill you?” “I performed one work, and you are all amazed,”  Jesus answered. “This is why Moses has given you circumcision— not that it comes from Moses but from the fathers—and you  circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision  on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses won’t be broken, are you  angry at me because I made a man entirely well on the Sabbath?  Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge  according to righteous judgment.” 


“Wait a second, Jeff, you just said a second ago that super critical, judgmental people  are judging our hearts, and nobody likes that.” I’m going to explain this in just a second.  


The Jewish leaders created such a heavy burden for people about the  Sabbath. They created so many laws that, frankly, I don’t know how you could keep up  with them all. You could walk this far, but no further. And then it was considered work,  and you’d just broken the law on the Sabbath.


You could not light a fire but you could  warm yourself by a fire because lighting was considered work and you just broke the  law. And now you’re in trouble because you broke the law of the Sabbath. 


And Jesus is going to turn the tables on these hypocrites, and He’s going to use their  hypocrisy against them. “Hey, you guys, you religious leaders out there, you’ll let  somebody plan, you’ll let somebody prepare, you’ll let a rabbi walk a long distance to  circumcise a baby on an eighth day, because a baby had to be circumcised on the  eighth day, even if the eighth day was a Sabbath. And you don’t say anything about  that.


I just healed a man who had been crippled for decades, and I healed him his entire  body. And you’re going to criticize me for the very same thing that you do regularly.” In  other words, you can see what is in my eye, but you cannot see what is in your eye.  And you’re saying, “Jeff, is Jesus really saying that we should be able to examine the  heart?” 


Well, here’s the truth. Sin’s essence comes from the heart. All of the sinful actions that I  do, it comes out of a heart that has a tendency towards sin. And so, super judgmental people are quick to point out people’s actions, but they miss their own attitude.


What  they will do is will judge your actions very severely, but they will miss their own  attitude. And I’m telling you, every Christian should become an expert in judging the  heart. But listen to what I say next, your own heart, not somebody else’s.


Looking in the  mirror and saying, “God, why did I do that? God, why did I fail to do that? What’s wrong  in my heart that made it possible that I could just turn a blind eye to this need? Or what’s  wrong in my heart that I could do something that I know is wrong, you know it’s wrong.”  


These super judgmental people are really quick to point out somebody else’s wrong  actions, but they miss their own wrong heart. And Jesus is saying, “Stop judging the  actions, start judging the heart.” And you can’t possibly know somebody else’s heart,  but you do know yours. So if you’re going to judge the heart, judge your own heart, and  that will show you where you’re not adding up. That will show you where you’re not  measuring up. 


4. Believe you should follow their rules 


These people believe that you should follow, it’s very-specifically worded on the  screens, your rules, or their rules, not God’s rules. They like to set the rules, and then  they expect you to follow their rules. And that’s exactly what you see in the Book of John  next. Listen to what these religious leaders do. 


John 7: 25-31 Some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Yet, look, he’s speaking publicly and they’re saying nothing to him. Can it be true that the authorities know he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from. When the Messiah comes, nobody will know where he is from.” As he was teaching in the temple, Jesus cried out, “You know me and you know where I am from. Yet I have not come on my own, but the one who sent me is true. You don’t know him; I know him because I am from him, and he sent me.” Then they tried to seize him. Yet no one laid a hand on him because his hour had not yet come. However, many from the crowd believed in him and said, “When the Messiah comes, he won’t perform more signs than this man has done, will he?” 


They’re basically saying, “Listen, I saw the crippled man now walking. I saw the crowds  of thousands and tens of thousands of people that He fed. Surely there’s not going to be  somebody that’s going to show up and outperform those kind of miracles, are they.” 


The Bible tells us that when God sends the rescuer, He will come from Nazareth. He will  be a Nazarene. He will also come from Bethlehem. He will be born in Bethlehem. He  will also come from Egypt. He will be a deliverer like Moses out of Egypt. And if you’re sitting there reading the Bible and you’re confused, the Jews in Jesus’ day also said,  “But even though He comes from Nazareth and Bethlehem and Egypt, we really won’t  know exactly where He’s from.” And in truth, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and His  family had to run to Egypt, and He was coming out of Nazareth when He showed up on  the scene. And they’re saying, “Could this be the guy? But wait a second, we know He’s  from Nazareth. I thought you didn’t really know exactly where the Messiah is from.” 


And Jesus says, “I’m going to remind you of something. I actually didn’t come from  Nazareth or from Bethlehem or from Egypt, I came from heaven. And those that are on  their way to heaven, they’re going to recognize me.”  


You can’t miss what He says to these religious leaders. “You, jokers, who have studied  the Bible your whole life can’t see that I’m from heaven because you’re not on your way  to heaven.” And you should be thinking to yourself, “If that’s possible that they’ve  studied the Bible their whole life and are not on their way to heaven, what about my  friend or my neighbor who gets up and goes to church and lives any way that they want  to live? Is it possible that they’re not on their way to heaven?”  


See, this crowd is a little bit confused and some are now starting to say, “I think this  really might be the guy, but I can’t say that out loud because the religious leaders will kill  me if they hear me say something like that.” 


5. Believe they can change you 


This is where they are just preaching a false gospel to you. They’re preaching a gospel  of good works, telling you that by doing better, God will love you, and he’ll let you into  heaven, where the Bible says, “There’s no amount of good deeds that I can do, good  dudes getting into heaven, good deeds that I can do that’s going to get me or you into  heaven. It doesn’t work like that.”  


John 7: 32-36 The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these  things about him, and so the chief priests and the Pharisees sent  servants to arrest him. Then Jesus said, “I am only with you for a  short time. Then I’m going to the one who sent me. You will look for  me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”  Then the Jews said to one another, “Where does he intend to go  that we won’t find him? He doesn’t intend to go to the Jewish people  dispersed among the Greeks and teach the Greeks, does he? What  is this remark he made: ‘You will look for me, and you will not find  me; and where I am, you cannot come”


You see, they believe that they can change you at the soul level. And I can’t change you  at the soul level. I pour out my heart to you, but at the end of the day, when I lay my  head down on the pillow at night, I know I can’t change another human being’s soul.  That is a miracle that only God in heaven can do. 


What they’re really trying to do is to get you to change your actions instead of really  getting to the essence of what’s going on and reminding you how much you and I need  the blood of Jesus to change our soul. And then our actions will follow after that.


Jesus is basically describing the difference between intellectual head knowledge and  believing something so much that it changes your life. You see, what the Bible  described is people that said, “Okay, we’ve just heard Him, and we’re starting to know  that this really might be the Messiah.”


Don’t miss this Bible word because this Bible  word is different than “pray in a prayer” or understanding a few Bible concepts, or even  believing something in your head. That kind of knowledge is the rock solid certainty so  convinced that I’m going to stake my life on it. And if this isn’t true, I am totally and  completely helpless. 


Some people in the crowd started to hear Him. They started to put the message and the  miracles together and say, “I think this is the dude. I think he really is the Messiah.” And  they started to know it. And those Jewish leaders started to get threatened. Those  religious leaders started to say, “We’ve got to do whatever it takes to stamp this out.”  


They were really preaching a false gospel, a gospel of, “Do this and don’t do that. And  God will love you and he’ll let you into heaven.” Now I just want to get real with us for a  second.


You know somebody, I know somebody, more than a few people, who are  super critical and very judgmental. They call themselves a Christian. The essence of  what’s coming out of their mouth, I can’t help but wonder, are you believing in a false  gospel? Do you believe that if I will do good and not do bad that God will love me and  he’ll let me into heaven? 


Are you believing that if you do good and not bad, God will love you, and He’ll let you  into heaven? Because if that was the case, these religious leaders would get in, and  Jesus makes it abundantly clear today, “You don’t recognize me because you’re not  going to be in heaven with me one day. You don’t recognize the one who sent me, and  you’re certainly not going to be with me when I get into heaven.” 


This false gospel is really when we use the wrong tape measure. What we are doing is  measuring ourselves against other people when what God has really said is, “If you  want to know who you are, if you want to know how things stand in your soul apart from  me, you got to measure yourself against the only standard measurement out there. You  got to measure yourself against my son, Jesus. 


And when you measure yourself against my son, Jesus, it will be very clear to you. I  don’t measure up. I don’t even come close to measuring up. The people that are  measuring themselves against somebody else, they do it because this is a  measurement that I can achieve.


I can live up to that measurement. But if I’m supposed  to measure myself against Jesus, nobody’s going to be able to live up to that  measurement. 


And so, they choose the easier ruler, and they make themselves feel good by making you feel bad when what the Bible is saying is, “Come to Jesus. Run to Jesus, and admit to Him that you don’t measure up.


And He’s going to say, “I know you don’t measure up, nobody does. There hasn’t been a human being ever who’s measured up to me. But you don’t have to measure up. You see, I was willing to leave heaven and come to earth because you don’t measure up. I was willing to become your sacrifice for all of your failures, all of your mistakes, all of the times that you’ve ever messed up. I was willing to pay the price for that. And if you will trust me, and I mean stake it all on me, I will make you measure up, not by any good that you’ve done, but by the perfect life that I’ve lived. I will take the penalty for your sin, and I will give you the credit for my perfect life.


And when you stand before God, you more than measure up because the sin has been washed away. And he’s giving you the credit for a life that you didn’t live, that you couldn’t possibly live.”