3. The Pressure to Perform

Reading List

One passage per day for a whole week, based on the sermon.

  1. Exodus 16, God provides manna in the wilderness
  2. Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness
  3. John 6:1-24, Jesus feeds the 5,000 then walks on water
  4. John 6:25-70, Jesus says “I am the Bread of Life”
  5. John 7:1-24, Jesus goes up to the Festival of Booths
  6. John 7:25-52, the people are divided over Jesus
  7. Matthew 6:1-18, don’t show off your spiritual practices
  8. Bonus: Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

eGroup Curriculum (Discussion Questions)

Pressure Points

Jesus experienced several “pressure points” (Pastor Steven didn’t use this phrase but it made sense to me based on the subject of the sermon). We face similar pressure points in our lives: from the devil, from those close to us, and from other people.

I’m going to list these pressure points in chronological order of how they appear in the Bible, which will shift around Pastor Steven’s points just a bit, but to me it’s easier to explain things this way.

Pressure Point #1: The Devil

Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness. The Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen has a great book on this very topic on the temptation to perform, using the devil’s temptation of Jesus and Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter as backdrops: In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. I read it about 10 years ago and would recommend it to anyone.

Pastor Steven emphasizes the moment where the devil says, “If you really are the son of God…” where Jesus’ identity is being tested:

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Luke 4:3, NIV

We all struggle with thinking there’s a deep flaw within us, which psychologists today call “Imposter Syndrome.” The devil is good at convincing us of the lie that we’re not truly God’s chosen people with a purpose set apart.

The temptation by the devil here is an attack on Jesus’ identity because one of the key messianic figures in Jewish culture was Moses, through whom God fed the Israelites wandering in the desert (See Exodus 16).

Fast forward to John 6. Jesus knows that he isn’t coming to provide me bread (although he does) but he is my bread. In John 6, he feeds the 5000 (this number includes just men, so the actual estimate is probably closer to 20,000 if you include women and children). Later in that chapter, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (v. 35) and “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (v. 51). He’s one-upping Moses. He’s not just providing bread, he is the bread.

He says that only those who eat his flesh and drink his blood have any life in him, which is a difficult thing for the Jews to believe. So many of his disciples fall away (John 6:66). This is the context for John 7.

The pressure to be special comes from the devil, not from God. We are already special/made in God’s image; we don’t need to prove ourselves to him. He is our provider!

Performance does not equal purpose. Jesus knew his purpose and it wasn’t to impress the devil, or impress anyone else. He knew his life was headed toward sacrifice.

REFLECTION QUESTION: In what ways do you feel pressured by the devil that you’re not good enough? — God calls you his beloved child!

Pressure Point #2: His Brothers

The main text for Pastor Steven’s message comes from John 7, which is about Jesus going down to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths. Pastor Steven explained that the Feast of Booths was a time where the Jews would celebrate and remember God’s provision in the wilderness by staying in temporary dwellings (booths) during the weeklong festival.

1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do.No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not [yet] going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”
12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”
Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.

John 7:1-13, NIV

I’m not sure what translation Pastor Steven used for his sermon; the main translations I typically go to do not use the phrase “not yet” (when Jesus says he will not yet go to the festival) but a footnote in some translations suggests that some manuscripts include “yet”. This typically means that early copies of these writings (which had to be copied by hand) had some differences, depending on which copy you read. Most of them did not include the phrase “not yet” which almost makes it sound like Jesus lied to his brothers, then went to the feast anyway. The emphasis of Pastor Steven’s message isn’t changed by this fact, but I thought it was worth pointing out why sometimes a footnote in the Bible will say, “Some manuscripts” and then include different wording.

In any case, here, Jesus’ brothers are trying to get him to “go public” (v. 4) in order to become a public figure. They assume that Jesus is trying to become a public figure–the Greek here literally means “seek to be known publicly” or “secure publicity.”

Ancient Greeks had two words for time: Chronos (time as we understand it, as in “chronology”) and Kairos (opportunity for action). In John 7:6, the word Kairos is used, meaning Jesus is saying “the right time to act isn’t here.”

Jesus wasn’t trying to impress people. “I’m not running for something. You don’t have to vote for me. I can’t please everyone” but he died to redeem everyone, which was pleasing to God.

REFLECTION QUESTION: In what ways do you feel pressured to perform–to “go public”? We can’t just make dinner anymore. We need to prove it. If you didn’t post it, did it really happen? Other than social media, how else do you feel pressured to perform for others?

Pressure Point #3: The People

The Pharisees were looking for anything to peg Jesus with (not following the law to a T). They were not just critical of him doing the wrong thing, but doing the right thing at the wrong time (healing on the Sabbath).

Sometimes we get confused between clout and calling. The most significant thing may not happen on a post with the most likes.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to lose followers. He wasn’t going to the Feast of Booths for popularity; he was going for a purpose.

Some of us are doing the right thing for the wrong audience.

“Widespread whispers” – Everyone feels free to say whatever they want online but no one is bold enough to say it to their face.

Private devotion v. public praise – I’m not going to live for applause. (Jesus teaches on this in Matthew 6:1-4 and is echoed in his last week in Jerusalem when he enters to cries of “Hosanna!” but closes out the week with cries of “Crucify him!”)

Do the right thing for the right reason and you’ll get the right reward.

I do not serve got out of pressure to please him; he’s already pleased with me. Pressure doesn’t come from God (Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” – Matthew 11:30)

REFLECTION QUESTION: Ask God, “What cup have you given me to drink?” (which is a reference to Jesus’ request in the Garden of Gethsemane – Matthew 26:39) or “What purpose have you put me here for?”

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