Good Intentions Are Not Good Enough – John 2

While he was in Jerusalem during the Passover Festival, many believed in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. Jesus, however, would not entrust himself to them, since he knew them all and because he did not need anyone to testify about man; for he himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25, CSB).

John 2 describes the launching of Jesus’ public ministry through two gospel stories that are very familiar to us – the first miracle of Jesus and the first cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem.

In the first miracle story Jesus was attending the wedding of a family friend when it became apparent that the celebration was low on wine. Jesus’ mother asked Jesus to take care of the wine problem and in a sort of obtuse remark, Jesus responded to His mother that His time hadn’t come (probably meaning the time for Him to be identified as the crucified Messiah had not yet arrived).

Yet, the time to begin His public ministry had arrived and he performed an inaugurating miracle by turning large vats of water–specifically, over 100 gallons–into fine wine! This act didn’t go unnoticed by both the maitre d’ of the ceremony nor by His disciples: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him” (vs. 11).

Jesus next goes to Capernaum with his disciples and his brothers and mother. Capernaum would eventually become the headquarters for much of Jesus’ public ministry (see Luke 4:29-31).

In the first cleansing of the temple story Jesus traveled from Capernaum to Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover celebration. Jesus observed people merchandising animals for temple sacrifice and exchanging currencies for profit within the Jewish Temple. Jesus opposed them and drove them out of the Temple–Old Testament prophet style–with a hand-made whip!

Certainly, both the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem and Jesus’ disciples understood Jesus’ actions as prophetic and with messianic implications.

While John records this confrontation with the money changers as taking place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) record a similar event at the end of Jesus’ ministry prior to His arrest in Jerusalem (see Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46). Certainly, this act of cleansing the Temple performed both at the beginning and end of his public ministry served to both establish and confirm His messianic purpose.

Jesus must have performed many miracles during His mission trip to Jerusalem because many believed in Him when they saw the miracles. As a result of His evangelistic successes Jesus apparently had many offers of support among those who believed. But, building an acclaimed evangelistic ministry in Jerusalem was not His mission or purpose.

Jesus did not want His ministry to fall into the hands of the religious power brokers in Jerusalem. There were likely those of high esteem among these new believers who could have bolstered Jesus’ brand and endorsed His ministry. But, Jesus knew what His calling was and He didn’t want to entrust his ministry to these well-meaning religious people.

Instead, Jesus returned to rural Galilee to preach and teach and thereby distinguished His ministry from the religious establishment in Jerusalem: “After this, Jesus and his disciples went to the Judean countryside, where he spent time with them and baptized” (vs. 3:22).

These verses (23-25) explain that Jesus did not yield His ministry to these well-meaning believers in Jerusalem because (1) He didn’t need to rely on people to promote His ministry and (2) He knew what evil lurked in people’s hearts (even though they believed in Him).

An old English proverb comes to mind that succinctly describes the biblical message in these final verses of John 2: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Although people may mean well, good intentions do not guarantee good results.

People often mean well and can still do bad things. People may intend to do good but then fail to do anything at all. Or, people may intend to do good but perform actions that have bad outcomes.

T.S. Elliot stated the concept more deliberately: “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”

When we become Christians, we may think we become immune to selfish ambition. As our faith grows, we may also grow less aware of our sin nature and believe if we are well-intentioned then we are obedient to God. We may even start to believe that our good intentions always have good consequences because we are Christians. Then, if our actions produce failure or result in evil, we justify ourselves with our good intentions.

Good intentions are not an excuse for our failures and shortcomings.

There is a big difference between good intentions and God’s will. As Christians our concern is to do God’s will, not what we think is good. Our good intentions should never supplant God’s will.

We can avoid falling victim to the excuse of good intentions for our bad decisions by following Jesus’ example in these verses. Recognize that our fallen nature is still present in ourselves and other Christians no matter how saved and sanctified we think we are (read Romans 7:14-25). And, don’t rely on other people to tell you what’s right or good for your life but decide according to what you know is God’s plans and purpose for you.

Don’t live your life according to your own good intentions but know God’s truth for you and live accordingly!

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12, CSB)

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