Saturday, March 28, 2015

150329 The Journey to the Cross (2)

John 12:12-16 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
It was an exciting time in Jerusalem. Crowds were coming from all over the known world to be in the city for Passover. Little did they know that they were being gathered to witness the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Among the local people there was a sizable contingent that had been present when Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. On the Christian calendar this day is referred to as “Palm Sunday” because the crowds gathered and spread branches from palm trees on the road along with their cloaks so that the donkey carrying Jesus would not touch the ground. They were shouting, “Hosanna”, and using the term, “the King of Israel”, as Jesus was coming into the city.
Jesus picked his time to enter the city and the way he entered the city. He had sent his disciples ahead of him to bring a donkey with its colt so he could ride on the unbroken colt. Jesus was constantly confusing the prophecy students by the things that he did. We are told that there was great expectation at that very time in Jerusalem that the Messiah was coming. However, they expected the Messiah to come on a white horse; raise an army and remove the Romans. They completely missed Zachariah’s vision of the King entering the city. When the disciples brought Jesus that donkey…
Prophecy was being fulfilled. Listen while I read Zechariah 9:9. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zachariah had seen the vision of Jesus entering the city. But what he saw was not a kingly Messiah mounted on a white horse with an army behind him. That will come true when Christ returns in all his glory at his second coming. But for his first “triumphal” entry into the city he would come riding on a young donkey that no one had ever rode on before. And by the way, that is pretty much a miracle because donkeys are not well known as gentle riders. They are stubborn, recalcitrant critters that require a lot of breaking and training to serve as a riding animal. However, when this unbroken colt was brought to Jesus he was able to sit on it and ride it into the city!
Jesus came into the city through the Tyropoeon Valley, also known as the Valley of the Cheesemakers, it was not a very classy neighborhood. In that poor area lived the highest concentration of the followers of Jesus. Even though there were people from all classes, and all walks of life, in Jesus’ entourage the majority of the people who followed him were of the lower-class. Later, Paul would write to the Corinthians and say that “not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26b-29)
It was in that working-class neighborhood that day that Jesus would be surrounded by…
The curious crowds. Turn with me back to John 12:17-18. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.
Jesus’ popularity had increased rapidly when he called Lazarus out of the tomb. Ever since that day the rumors had spread all across to the area. There was no news media, no TV, no radio, only word-of-mouth but it was spread rapidly so that the curious crowds gathered. Those crowds “rolled out the red carpet”, so to speak, by spreading branches on the ground and covering them with their cloaks.
They were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” The Pharisees and the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” His answer was very simple. “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” This added to the intention of the Pharisees to condemn him to death. He had claimed so much honor from the curious crowds that he now was raising the ire of…
The furious enemies. Let’s read on John 12:19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
Among those who had been at the tomb of Lazarus were spies of the Pharisees. After they reported on Lazarus’ resurrection the council, at least those who opposed Jesus, gathered to determine what they could do about Jesus. It wasn’t just a matter of jealousy. It was a matter of political expediency. Many of these leaders of the Jews genuinely believed that these gathering crowds would eventually lead to a rebellion against the Romans and the destruction of the Jewish nation. Caiaphas, the high priest that year, had said that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish. John told us that he did not say this on his own accord but as high priest he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation. The Pharisees did not realize that they were fulfilling prophecy. (John 11:50-53)
Along with the curious crowds; mixed in with the furious enemies were…
The sincere seekers. Let’s read on in John 12:20-22. Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
I suppose the Greeks that had come to worship came to Philip because he had a Greek name and may himself have been a Greek, who had converted to Judaism. They made a request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” That request has been on the lips of many sincere seekers down throughout the history of the Christian church. We may think that they want to see beautiful buildings, magnificent choirs and eloquent speakers. What they are really looking for is JESUS. They do not want to see us they want to see Jesus. It seems that Philip did not quite know what to do with the request. So he went to Andrew. I believe he went to Andrew, rather than Peter, because Andrew would be more open to these Greeks. We know from other instances in Peter’s life that he was pretty prejudiced with regard to anyone not born a Jew. So Philip went to Andrew and I suppose might have simply asked what should he do. Andrew knew immediately what to do! They went to see Jesus.
I think it’s interesting that while Jesus was still alive Gentiles were seeking him. I realize that these Gentiles were proselytes, having converted to Judaism, but they were Gentiles nonetheless. This experience would have supported the future events leading to the church moving out into the world away from the synagogue.
In the early years of the church it appears that everyone in its membership were Jews, either born or converted. When the church was scattered because of persecution the gospel went out, first to the Samaritans, then to an Ethiopian eunuch, then on to a Roman centurion and his cohort, and finally, through Paul and those who traveled with him, the gospel went to the Gentiles of the world.
Apparently the Greeks asking to see Jesus confirmed for him that…
The hour had come. Let’s read on in John 12:23-26. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
I’ve always been a little curious about the fact that Jesus did not call the Greeks to himself. Instead he immediately said that “the hour” had come. And he described “the hour” is being the time for him to be glorified. Now the word that is translated “glorified” has several meanings. Every meaning for it is positive and uplifting. This word can mean, among other things, “to honor” or “make glorious” or “clothe with splendor". From the human viewpoint, Jesus was not about to be glorified.
Jesus was about to be arrested, chained, beaten, then dragged through the streets. He was going to be mocked and abused. Finally he was going to have a crown of thorns pressed down his head and be taken to a place of execution where he would be nailed to the cross. “Glorified”? It stretches my imagination to fit all that was about to happen to him into that word.
But he goes on and emphasizes what is about to happen not that it would be abuse but that it would be “a grain of wheat” dying! As long as the grain of wheat is alive it is alone. A grain of wheat can live for centuries — alone! And then after hundreds of years it can be placed in the ground, watered and kept warm and it produces fruit. In fact, that’s what that grain of wheat is intended for – to produce much fruit! Jesus saw the glory of the Father being poured out on him to produce much fruit because he was willing to fall to the ground and die. A grain of wheat is designed to produce many more grains of wheat. Jesus, in facing his death, was going to produce more replicas of himself. In fact, the word “Christian” means “Christlike” or “little Christ”. It was first used at Antioch of Syria as a derogatory term. Very soon those who followed Christ gladly embraced the name “Christian”!
Jesus knew that he was going to die for the sins of the world. I do not know how much information about his coming trial was clear to him but I do know he had told his disciples, at least three times, that he would be arrested in Jerusalem and turned over to the authorities and die! Later, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus would pray, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours, be done”. (Luke 22:42) I do not believe he was shunning the punishment that he was about to receive. I believe he was shrinking away from becoming sin for us. The Bible tells us that Jesus had no sin of his own but in order to give us eternal life he became sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) He had never been filthy with sin until he came to the garden of Gethsemane. Beginning there, he took our sin into his own body and paid the penalty called for in the law. The wages of sin is death and eternal separation from God in hell. Jesus did not go to hell but he did die for us so that we could live for him. He understood that he would have to fall into the earth and die. He also emphasized that those who followed him would also face death. In facing death his followers would be honored by the Father.
Throughout history, beginning with the first disciples, a great many have laid down their lives for Christ! Out of the original disciples only the apostle John, so far as we know, died of old age. All the others were martyred in one way or another. The early church leader, Tertullian, is said to have pointed out that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The Muslim world is going to now see how true this is. There has never been a time in history when God does not honor the death of his saints by raising up more to take their place. The Islamic state will see a multiplication of Christians after the first reduction caused by their cruelty. In fact, it should be the common experience of Christians to give their life for their faith. Jesus had said that his disciples would be like him. (John 15:20) Paul had expressed a desire to be like him in his death so that he could be like him in the resurrection. (Philippians 3:10-11) Throughout history millions have been called upon to give their lives to honor Christ. During World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die!” In the last days of the German Reich Bonhoeffer paid the price with his own blood. Time doesn’t allow any detailed list of those who have given their life for the faith. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the world is not worthy of them. (Hebrews 11:38)
Jesus continues his statement leading us to see…
The witness of the Father. Let’s continue to read in John 12:27-32. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
When Jesus had told his disciples that he was going to be taken and killed they either did not respond at all or they responded with a rebuke. Peter had said that it would never happen to Jesus. At that point Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23)
That day during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem Jesus knew what he faced. Rhetorically he asked, “And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” He knew and understood that what he was about to face was what he came into the world to do. So instead of asking the Father to protect him he asked the Father to glorify himself! The very thing that the Father always intended to do — GLORIFY HIMSELF! In fact, only the Father has an innate right to glorify himself. The psalmist tells us that everything tells the glory of God. (Psalm 19) In the book of Revelation the song of heavenly worship connects God’s creation of all things with the fact that he is worthy to receive glory from them! (Revelation 4:11)
When Jesus asked the Father to glorify his name he understood that the Father would be glorified by his death. In response to Jesus’ words the Father spoke, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Jesus then went on to say that he would be “lifted up” and then he would draw all people to himself. John tells us that he said this to show what kind of death he would die. He would be hung on a cross after being beaten almost to death. Jesus had said that the gospel would be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then the end would come. (Matthew 24:14) The proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom is a part of glorifying God. It is an amazing thing that we can be a part of bringing glory to the Father. Jesus was lifted up from the earth on the cross to draw all people to himself. In his triumphal entry into the city the process was begun that would end in his death and our salvation.
A side issue that may very well be more important than we realize is the fact that with Jesus crucifixion the ruler of this world would be cast out. The cross of Christ and the empty grave was a defeat to Satan. Later Paul would write to the Corinthians telling them that Satan and his minions would not have crucified the Lord of glory if they understood the power of the cross and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 2:8)
It is difficult to imagine what might have been going on in the minds of all the people that were there that day. The curious ones probably just wanted to see another miracle. The furious ones wanted him to be put to death and all of this nonsense to be ended. The sincere seekers wanted to see Jesus — and they still do! I praise God that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Since we have all sinned as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve we face eternal separation from God the Father in hell. However, Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. That will only happen if we repent of our sin and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord! Have you received Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Today can be the day of salvation for you.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

150322 The Journey to the Cross (1)

John 12:1-11 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
The Gospel of John is not a chronological account of the life of Jesus. So we cannot be sure how much time might have elapsed between the resurrection of Lazarus and the events recorded here. I am inclined to believe that several days, at least, had passed between the two events. After he had called Lazarus from the grave the opposition to Jesus became very great. Jesus knew that he must be in Jerusalem for the coming Passover. In the meantime, so as not to confuse the issue, Jesus withdrew toward the wilderness of Judea until it was time.
Before the events, recorded in John 12, Jesus had begun his journey to the cross on the east bank of the Jordan River near where John the Baptizer had been baptizing before he was taken and executed. While Jesus was in this secure area he received word that his friend Lazarus was sick. He told his disciples that this illness would not end in death but it would lead to the glory of God. Jesus waited until he knew in his heart that Lazarus was dead. Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” They did not want to make that trip because they knew that Jesus was in physical danger there.
Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus had died but he was going to go to him to wake him up. Thomas told the others that they should go with him so that they could die with him. Thomas was never very optimistic.
Jesus often went to Bethany. After all, it was only a couple of miles from Jerusalem and some of his friends lived there. He had come back from his stay in the wilderness to bring Lazarus back from the dead. He had waited until there was no doubt that Lazarus was dead. He had been in the tomb four days!
Martha was very quick to rebuke Jesus for not being there to heal Lazarus of his sickness. She had no idea that Jesus was about to do something way beyond a healing! Jesus was about to perform the ultimate healing.
Yet when Jesus came on the scene and approached the tomb he wept. I’ve often wondered about Jesus’ weeping since he was about to call Lazarus back to life. His tears were evidence to the people that were there that he loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha. He may have wept because he was going to call his friend back from heaven. He may have wept because of the unbelief of all those around him and he knew they would turn this into an opportunity to persecute him.
John tells us that Jesus was deeply moved when he came to the tomb. He then commanded that the stone be removed from the opening of the cave over the protests of Martha.
Jesus offered a prayer of thanks to the Father so that those who were standing around would know that it was God the Father that was doing the work that day. When Lazarus came out of the grave he was still wrapped in burial clothes.
Jesus commanded that they should unbind him and let him go. This is a picture of what should be done for every person that Jesus calls from death to life. When a person hears the call of Jesus to come to salvation they are bound up by grave clothes -- the habits and sins of the past. The church has, as one of its purposes, the responsibility of unbinding them. In other words we are to help them put aside the habits of the past and take on a new role as a part of the body of Christ.
When this happened many people believed in Jesus. The Pharisees could see that Jesus was gathering many followers and they believed that the Romans would destroy the nation if they didn’t stop Jesus. John tells us that from that day they made plans to put him to death. Since it was not yet time for him to face his accusers and be arrested he withdrew into the wilderness where he stayed with his disciples. Jesus knew that he was the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. He, himself, was the Passover lamb and he would have to arrive in Jerusalem at the right time. On his way to the cross…
Jesus came to Bethany. Turn with me to John 11:17-18. Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off,
We see from John’s earlier account that Bethany was the place where he had raised Lazarus from the dead. Since it was so close to Jerusalem, and was the home of his friends, Jesus had often been there. I suspect that Jesus’ friends lived in a humble house. They would’ve not had room to put on a dinner for Jesus to which they could invite many people.
The problem is simply solved, as Matthew and Mark tells us, Jesus came to Bethany to a very public dinner…
As a guest in the house of Simon the leper. Turn with me to Mark 14:3-9. And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Mark, and Matthew, both give a slightly different account than John. Neither of them identify the woman who anointed Jesus as Mary. Both of them tell us that it was Simon the leper that hosted the dinner. It obviously was a large event. After all…
There were two guests of honor. Anytime a major dinner is put on there is a reason, such as an event, or a person, to be honored. By this time Jesus had become the center of many crowds of people. Everywhere he went crowds gathered and he was constantly being pressed by the crowds. So anyone that put on a public dinner in Jesus’ honor should be prepared to provide for the crowds that followed behind him. We can see in the Gospels that there was more than one time when Jesus was honored with a meal. That day at the home of Simon the leper one guest of honor was…
Jesus. Let’s look at two other times when Jesus was honored at a meal. Turn with me to Luke 11:37-38. While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. In this example the Pharisee was simply trying to find out what Jesus was all about. Most of the time, when the Pharisees appeared to be generous, they were simply trying to find a way to arrest him and get him off the scene. The other example shows us more clearly what this was all about. Turn with me to Luke 14:1. One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.
Anytime Pharisees appear to be nice you better watch your back! They were trying to find out what they could charge Jesus with.
There is no indication that Simon the leper was doing anything other than providing a large enough place to have a nice meal to honor Jesus and…
Lazarus. Obviously, the primary reason that Lazarus would be considered an important guest at a meal would have been what happened to him several days before. Turn with me to John 11:43-48. When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
Some have speculated that it was necessary for Jesus to actually say the name “Lazarus” when he said “come out”! Perhaps if Jesus had not been very clear as to who was being called from the grave his command to come forth might have affected all the dead in the area.
This had become a very newsworthy event. After all, calling people back from the grave was not a common experience. Earlier Jesus had stood by the casket of the young man in Nain, brought him back from death, and gave him to his mother. Also Jesus had gone into the funeral scene at the home of Jairus and called his daughter back to life. I don’t recall any other resurrections. But both these events would have happened within hours of the death.
With Lazarus’ death four days had passed making it a more complicated miracle. It is obvious to me that Lazarus would have been one of the special guests at the dinner that day. The crowds gathered round to see this man that Jesus had brought back to life. Each one of these resurrections I have mentioned returned the person to life only to have them face death at a later time.
Nonetheless the guest of honor list would’ve certainly included Lazarus along with Jesus. The meal itself would be…
Served by Martha and Mary. Jesus had seen the sisters at work previously. Turn with me to Luke 10:38-42. Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Even though they were in the home of Simon the leper Martha would’ve insisted on helping to serve the meal. And as we can see from the earlier event Martha would’ve also insisted that Mary help out. Jesus does not rebuke Martha for her stern work ethic. He does say that Mary’s desire to learn from him is “the good portion”. We need to remember that our work for the Lord is important, however, our learning from the Lord is the most important and can never be taken away from us. Jesus is well aware that he is coming to the cross. At least three times he has told his disciples and they did not understand. Along the way to the cross Jesus performed one of his greatest miracles in the resurrection of Lazarus. We need to recognize that Jesus is prepared to call the spiritually dead — the unsaved — to life. If you hear him call please respond! If you hear his voice that’s an indication that you are one of his sheep.
It must’ve been an amazing experience to sit in the room with Jesus and Lazarus as the honored guests. It is hard to imagine that of those who witnessed all of this there were some who were willing to turn Jesus in to the Pharisees and allow him to be crucified. In a few days Satan will enter into Judas Iscariot and he will sell the information needed by the religious leaders for Jesus to be put death. For someone to walk with Jesus for much of three years and then to betray him requires Satan’s participation. It is sad that Judas will allow himself to be so used.
For the next two weeks we will be following Jesus, using John’s account, from the wilderness to the cross. Next Sunday is traditionally called Palm Sunday. Today we have learned that Jesus was conscious of the plans of the Pharisees. He knew that the Father had approved his death on the cross. Now he has begun the course of events that will lead to his death. We have seen that there was a lot of excitement about Jesus. We’ve also seen that Lazarus was a target of the enemy. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world. He came into the world so that through him the world could be saved. Everyone who is willing may come to him and be delivered. Without him there is no hope of salvation. Everyone is born deserving death and hell and needs to repent of their sins and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in order to receive eternal life and heaven. Have you surrendered your life to him? Today is the day of salvation we have no promise of tomorrow.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.