Righteous Judgment (John 7:19–24)
Series: “John: Life in Christ’s Name”Text: John 7:19–24
By: Shaun Marksbury Date: July 9, 2023
Venue: Living Water Baptist ChurchOccasion: AM Service
The last verse of our passage today contradicts a popular misunderstanding about Christianity. People twist the famous words of Christ in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not,” to mean that believers should never judge others. They usually do so hypocritically; sometimes it’s worth asking, “Are you judging me for judging?”
Consider their claim for a moment. Even in Matthew 7, such an assessment is unjustified. Jesus highlights those who would call out others for relatively smaller problems in their lives while ignoring the larger issues in their own. For instance, He says there in v. 5, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” That’s the same principle Paul applies in Galatians 6:1 — “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” There certainly should be a removal of the brother’s speck, but only after self-examination has occurred. Note that identifying specks and logs requires that nasty word judgment; Jesus never tells His disciples they are wrong for seeing them and helping others to remove them.
Jesus says immediately after that in v. 6, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” He would not perform miracles for unbelievers who had no interest in Him, and He instructs His disciples to discern who is actually open to the truth. In doing so, they will have to determine what is holy so it would not be wasted, and they need to figure out who the dogs and swine might be who would not appreciate it. Some might call that judgmental, but that’s only five verses later from Matthew 7:1!
Christians do need to engage in judgment, but not self-righteously or with partiality. We need to judge truth from error. For instance, in civil cases, our Lord commands, “You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s” (Deut. 1:17). This is still true in the New Testament era; for instance, we need to judge in cases of church discipline (Matt. 18:15–20; 1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1). And this includes evaluating all truth claims, even those which are religious, engaging in the activity of the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11). Judgment must be just, not with visceral or knee-jerk conclusions.
Discernment between right and wrong is an essential part of the Christian life. Therefore, judgment is a key component to being a Christian. Yet, that judgment must be righteous and impartial, aligning with all Scripture. Superficial judgments lead us to swallow lies and even believe incorrectly about Jesus Himself! So, how does one ensure that he is utilizing righteous judgment? First, it comes from obeying Scripture, and second, it comes from contemplating Scripture. Let’s consider the first of these:
First, Righteous Judgment Comes from Obeying Scripture (vv. 19–20)
First, Righteous Judgment Comes from Obeying Scripture (vv. 19–20)
“Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill You?”
This harkens back to vv. 17–18. Jesus just said, “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. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” A person knows the will of God by going back to Scripture.
So, He asks them a question and expects an affirmative answer: “Did not Moses give you the Law?” Jesus upholds the authority and inspiration of Scripture, by the way. He believed that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible and that believers should obey those words. Most Jews of that day would say they also believed that, just like many Christians would today, but the question is whether they believe it enough to practice it.
Thus, He calls them on their hypocrisy. They have Moses, but they don’t carry out the Law! This is a sweeping condemnation that catches every one of His listeners. As one author notes, the leadership “marvelled at Christ’s ‘ignorance’ and boasted of their own knowledge of the law of Moses. And yet they violated that law by not practising it.” The rest of the people would also be in violation if they allowed their leaders to go astray and followed them into error.
Jesus’s next question drives the point home: “Why do you seek to kill Me?” They contemplated violating one of the most basic laws of the Torah, found in the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exod. 20:13). Moreover, since He is the Lord, they reject the first commandment! He was right to call them on this hypocrisy.
Jesus earlier left Jewish leadership in Jerusalem with these words: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (5:46–47). He now ropes everyone in the crowds with this charge. They are not willing to keep the words of Scripture and thereby seek to do God’s will (vv. 17–18), so they will not believe in Him. If the people followed the hypocrisy of their leaders, then they were just as culpable.
Yet, we’re told here in v. 20 that the crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill You?” Now, to be clear who this is, consider that, back in v. 12, the word “crowds” is plural (it’s singular here). There were several groups of people there that day, Jew and Gentile, leaders and laity. It’s unlikely that these are Gentiles. This crowd, asking this question, also wouldn’t include leadership (unless they were dishonest about their intent, which is possible). This crowd wouldn’t be the people native to Jerusalem, because in v. 25, we see that the Jerusalemites already knew that their leaders wanted to murder Jesus. That only leaves us with the Galilean Jews, as they may have largely been ignorant of the plot against Jesus.
So, because they have a hard time swallowing the notion that a plot exists against Jesus’s life, they respond that He is possessed. Now, it’s possible that they were using hyperbole to basically say that He has a crazy idea. But it’s also likely that they were literally saying He must be possessed.
Why do I say this? The scribes said this about Him — “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons” (Mark 3:22). People said that John the Baptist had a demon (Matt 11:18). Moreover, they accused Jesus several times (John 8:48–52; 10:19–20; Matt. 12:24). One study notes, “Insane raving was one of the symptoms of demon possession (compare Mark 5:5; Luke 9:39).” The ancients understood that there were differences between physical and mental health problems and demon possession. Then there were cases like King Saul, an otherwise rational man, who, after being tormented by an evil spirit, developed the irrational belief that David wanted to kill him and usurp the throne. Certain kinds of beliefs cannot be attributed to a natural madness or mental decline — they arise from demonic and devilish influence.
In this case, though, Jesus was right and the crowd was ignorantly casting doubt on His claim. He wasn’t crazy or entertaining a demonically-imposed notion. We’re told they wanted to kill Him, as early as 5:18 — “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” They will continue to seek His life until He hangs on that cross on Calvary.
But the Galilean Jews don’t know this. They think He has some kind of persecution complex. So they ask, perhaps sarcastically, who is trying to kill Him.
There is some light there. Though they are essentially blaspheming Him at the moment, they understand the importance of following due process according to Moses and not murdering another person. They have trouble thinking that their holy leaders up in Jerusalem would contemplate such a blatant and high-handed violation of the Law.
Would their seeming value of the Word cause them to break free from the deceptions of Christ’s enemies? Some of the people obviously will disobey it and therefore will be calling for His crucifixion in the not-too-distant future. Yet, here in v. 31, we do see that “many of the crowd believed in Him.” Some understand that Jesus is not demon possessed and believe in Him.
Those who are unwilling to follow the clear commands of Scripture will never have sound judgment. The leaders were willing to kill their political enemy, meaning that they were in no spiritual condition to judge the claims of Christ. Those following them in sin likewise reject Christ’s claims. Similarly, those of you who continually violate the commands of God will not be able to wield righteous judgment over the matters of life, maybe even being fooled about the true nature of Jesus Christ.
Even if you believe in Jesus but find lack of sound judgment in certain areas of your life, it may well arise from an unwillingness to bow to the clear commands of Scripture. Some Christians want to accommodate some sin in their lives that God forbids. Churches begin to drift because they won’t follow God’s outline for them. Unbelievers refuse Christ because they don’t want to give up their freedom from God’s commands. This is the same sin, and when we find it, we must squash it. Otherwise, we can have no hope of having righteous judgment in life.
Now, that is just for starters. As Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We will begin to execute a right and proper judgment in life when we reverence God’s clear commands. Even so, we should go a step beyond this, as Jesus demonstrates next.
Second, Righteous Judgment Comes from Contemplating Scripture
Second, Righteous Judgment Comes from Contemplating Scripture
Jesus answered them, “I did one deed, and you all marvel. For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
I don’t know if you ever thought about this, but there’s no clear directive declaring that it’s okay to heal on the Sabbath. That is, if you are looking for a Bible verse that excludes healing from prohibited works on the Sabbath, you won’t find it. That doesn’t mean that Jesus shouldn’t have done it, nor does it mean that it’s impossible to know God’s will on the matter. Not only is there a means of righteously judging the matter, but Jesus charges the Pharisees for not following through as they should have.
He says, “I did one deed, and you all marvel.” This one deed is, of course, healing on the Sabbath, specifically His healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2–9, 16; cf. 7:23). While He performed other works, this was the one that pushed them over the edge (5:18).
They focused on this one work out of all Jesus’s other works. The term used for their reaction here is “marvel.” However, this can have a negative connotation; someone can be astonished at what he perceives is evil. This is the case in Mark 6:6, where we read that Jesus “wondered” at their unbelief. In this case, His healing on the Sabbath caused them to stumble to a point of grave disobedience.
Yet, it really shouldn’t have, had they impartially judged the biblical principles at play. Jesus says in vv. 22–23, “For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?” Jesus calls them to consider the reasons for the Sabbath, for circumcision, and their order of priority in Moses.
First, instruction on circumcision comes in the Old Covenant Moses introduced — for instance, every male child would be circumcised eight days after birth (Lev. 12:1–3). But, it did not start there; it started with the Abrahamic Covenant, which included circumcision to mark all the male children of Abraham (Gen. 17:9–14). Moses taught that it wasn’t simply a physical act (Deut. 10:16), but the command to circumcise remained in his covenant, even though the sign of covenant inclusion under Moses was Sabbath-keeping.
Every covenant had a key sign, and each had priority underpinning the next. The sign of the Noahic Covenant is the rainbow, and it stands for God’s promise to never again flood the world again. Those Jews under the Abrahamic Covenant who didn’t circumcise their children didn’t spark a worldwide flood because the former covenant had priority over the latter. Similarly, circumcision occurred eight days later, even though that might fall into conflict with Moses’s Sabbath prohibition against working; the Abrahamic Covenant had priority over the Mosaic Covenant.
Applying this forward, God doesn’t just say He’ll forget sin under the New Covenant. Moses’s Old Covenant demanded a sacrifice for sin. Abraham’s Covenant required the Deliverer descend from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The work of Christ, His substitutionary atonement for our sins, had to fulfill all of Scripture, including the previous covenant stipulations, if it was to usher in the New Covenant.
Now, as we apply this to circumcision and Sabbath keeping, we begin to understand the thinking of the Jewish rabbis. They employed a method of ethics known as casuistry to resolve any moral conflicts which might arise in their religion. They would see competing notions, perhaps cases of conscience, and prioritize them. In this instance, they looked at the command to circumcise every eight-day-old male and the command to do no work on the Sabbath and explained that the older command took priority over the newer one. The Mishnah records that “One can do anything that is necessary for circumcision on the Sabbath.” No rabbi, therefore, would refuse to pick up the knife and perform the surgical procedure of circumcision on the Sabbath, for the moral reasoning was settled ahead of time.
In simpler terms, they pondered the commands of God and understood that certain truths must come first in order of obedience. In fact, they also had reasoned other cases, as well. If a person is stuck in a ditch on the Sabbath, he may die if left for the next day, so it was okay to save his life on the Sabbath. Similarly, the priests also worked hard on the Sabbath, sacrificing animals and conducting temple worship. These are examples of loving God and loving one’s neighbor, commands through which the other commandments should be read.
So, if that’s the case, then there should be nothing wrong with Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. As such, Jesus says, “are you angry with Me?” or “Why are y’all angry with Me?” He argues like they do, from the lesser to the greater — you circumcise a part of a man, and “I made an entire man well on the Sabbath.” In contrast to their sanctifying a part of the body, Jesus healed a whole man on the Sabbath.
If circumcisions are permissible on the Sabbath, then healings also should be, supernatural or otherwise. After all, it’s more work to take up a knife and circumcise than it is for the Creator of all to speak healing over a person! Moreover, since the Sabbath is for man’s good, as Jesus says in Mark 2:27, then it is fitting that Jesus should heal a person on this day. To refuse doing good on the Sabbath is to do harm, as Jesus suggests in Luke 6:9. It is rather simple ethics in their system.
Yet, they reject His logic due to their preconceived notions about Him. So, He calls them on their inconsistency. He says in v. 24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Theirs was a superficial judgment about Jesus’s healing on the Sabbath, not reflecting the same kind of thought they gave to circumcision and the Sabbath. It was rather hypocritical.
One of the problem of the Pharisees was the addition of man-made laws to Scripture. Yet, that’s not what Jesus highlights here. Those who don’t consistently think through the implications of Scripture can also fall into a legalistic trap. They may think they are righteous when they aren’t because they superficially follow the commandments, like with the rich young ruler. And such people don’t ultimately follow Jesus because they think they have everything figured out on their own.
This is a problem in both the modern church and culture. People want a quick chapter and verse, something that takes all of three seconds to think about, and nothing more. They don’t want to think through the implications of the commandments; they’d rather spend three hours scrolling through a random assortment of Reels and Tik Toks. They don’t want to resolve difficult ethical questions from Scripture; they’d rather watch the game. And when an unbeliever asks us why we could possibly believe in Jesus, they roll their eyes at a multi-faceted response and walk away, because they’ve already seen a couple of memes that convinced them otherwise. We live in an over-entertained society, and it’s robbed us of our desire to think deeply about anything.
The Jewish leadership thought deeply about some issues over the years. But, when the time came to think about Jesus, they didn’t want to apply the same kind of thinking to Him. He was a threat to them, so they chose to use uneven standards. They didn’t mind doing the good work of circumcisions on the Sabbath, but they couldn’t countenance Jesus doing a good work of healing on the Sabbath. They had the same problem many do when it comes to Jesus — they see a reason for rejecting Him because they were looking for it, judging partially and unrighteously against Him.
We can see that resulted in a rapid, downward spiral for them. They were even willing to break the commandments of Moses. Some today are already there; those of you who continually violate the commands of God will not be able to wield righteous judgment over the matters of life, maybe even starting with Jesus Christ. The reason you don’t believe is because you won’t bow your knee to Scripture.
Hear His words today: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”