John 7 – When God Changes His Plans

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Today’s PassageJohn 7

I’ve never celebrated Sukkot. Have you? Honest question. Leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve ever celebrated it. And if you don’t know what it is, you’ve almost certainly never celebrated it, because it’s not the sort of holiday you’d observe by accident. It’s the Jewish Feast of Booths, and according to the instructions in Leviticus 23:33-43, it lasts eight days, and it requires you to build and live in a temporary shelter, the titular “sukkah.” It also requires you to take leafy branches and rejoice before the Lord. I doubt you’ve ever said to yourself, “Whoops! I just built a booth with at least three walls and a thatched roof and lived in it for seven days, holding a sacred assembly for the Lord on the eighth, and all week long I accidentally rejoiced with leafy branches and presented food offerings to the Lord,” but…where was I going with this? I honestly don’t know. Let’s find out.

Here’s the thing about Sukkot, the Feast of Booths: at the time of Jesus’ ministry, it happened in Jerusalem. As John 7 opens, Jesus’ brothers are trying to convince him to participate in Sukkot and not be shy about his status as the Miracle Man from Galilee, but Jesus is intent on laying low. There are countless times in my life that I wanted nothing more than to immediately leave the party I was currently attending (and on more than one occasion I did), but this isn’t a matter of social anxiety or introversion for Jesus. With the Pharisees on his case, it’s potentially a matter of life and death.

So he tells his brothers he’s not going up to the feast. Yet he does go to the feast, initially keeping a low profile (perhaps by hanging out inside his sukkah all week? You know, I think I like this holiday), but then he starts straight-up teaching in public. And that’s weird. Because if Jesus is God, then he’s omniscient, so why would he change his plans?

I guess I know where I’m going with this entry now, because we’re about to get theological. The best answer I can give to the question I’ve posed about Jesus’ divinity and his change of plans is the doctrine of kenosis. The term means “an act of emptying,” and it comes from a line from Philippians where Paul states that Jesus “made himself nothing” (2:7), more literally translated “emptied himself.” There are several different understandings of in what sense Christ emptied himself, but one of them is that for his earthly, pre-resurrected life, he divested himself of his divine privileges, including his total knowledge of all creation. As God the human being, Jesus Christ had to learn.

And we can find scriptural support for this idea not just in Paul’s letters, but in the gospels as well. Luke records that as a young man, Jesus “grew in wisdom” (2:52). Moreover, when a woman in a crowd touches Jesus’ robe in the hopes of receiving healing, Jesus asks “Who touched My garments?” (Mark 5:30) and proceeds to find out the answer by locating the woman in the crowd. If it’s the case, as these passages suggest, that Jesus laid aside his omniscience, then we might conceive of him changing his plans to attend the festival as new information comes to light. John doesn’t say exactly what prompts to him to come out and start speaking, but it appears that Jesus is discovering and following God’s will step-by-step, as human beings do. However, he’s doing it flawlessly, because if there’s one divine attribute Jesus hasn’t laid aside, it’s his perfection.

But, just as he expected, he gets in trouble with the Pharisees, and it’s only by the skin of his teeth that he evades their grasp. The Pharisee Nicodemus puts in a good word for him, but Nicodemus’ colleagues tell him to keep an eye out for any disturbances when he heads back to Galilee after the festival. Sukkot comes to a close, and the world moves onward.

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