The presence of the Lord Jesus brings in the heavenly standard, the heavenly laws, the heavenly system, and it is not easy for anyone unless you are on the side of heaven. Jesus was the sign which was spoken against. They could not get Him to conform to the customary thing, because He was not going to be a party to their falsehood, their hypocrisy, their formality, to their unspiritual condition which lay back of their outward ritual; and therefore He was a provocation; and He is always like that. He will find out whether we are governed more by policy than by principle, whether temporal interests concern us more than eternal considerations.
When He said to His brethren after being urged by them to go up to the feast, “Go ye up unto the feast: I go not up unto this feast.” “But when his brethren were gone up unto the feast, then went he also up, not publicly, but as it were in secret” (John 7:8-10). It looks a little difficult, does it not? – as though He is involved in some duplicity. But what does it mean? It was the feast of tabernacles and it celebrated the consummation of the emancipation from Egypt and the entrance into the kingdom of God, the deliverance from this present evil world and translation into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love. That kingdom was embodied in Christ Himself, not in Jerusalem, nor now in any earthly celebrations of historic feasts. He is the kingdom of God; therefore He does not make it a matter of mere occasional celebration in an external way like that. The celebration was empty, false. Thus in no way would He allow it to be thought that He was in that. He was apart from it, and if He did go up “not publicly but as it were in secret” it was because He went to try to get people out of the false representation of heavenly things, to bring them to Himself as the embodiment of the heavenly thought of God about the feast of tabernacles.
He was a provocation because in His own behavior He signified something of another, a heavenly, order. It is ever so. Where the Lord’s children are living by heavenly principles, what provocation it arouses, what speaking against! You cannot be a heavenly child of God and not be spoken against. Do not try to escape being spoken against. You signify something, and everything of this world is against that something.