Sunday, March 29, 2020

032920 The Tears of Jesus

 Since Christmas, when I have preached, we have followed the life of Jesus. It is impossible to have a single, seamless gospel. The books we call “Gospels” were never intended to be one single book. I believe that each one: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have a different target audience. I have read them through many times yet I do not claim to be smart enough to know how to blend them together.
About half of the gospel of John focuses on the last few days of his life. John was there and he saw it all. It is commonly believed that John wrote toward the end of the first century.
I have often imagined the scene. John sitting at his table with at least three books, or scrolls, in front of him. He must’ve read over each of them several times. He could remember parts of the story that were not included. I can imagine him taking his pen in hand and beginning to write, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) From there he told about a man named John (not the Disciple but the Baptizer) who introduced Jesus to the world. In last week’s sermon we looked at a man who had been born blind and we listened to Jesus explain that this blindness from birth had nothing to do with someone sinning. The blind man was part of the work of God given to the Son. John especially taught that the miracles were signs each of which taught a different truth.
Today, let’s look at Jesus the Messiah that Isaiah told us (Isaiah 53:3-5) would be a man of sorrows — rejected by men. Yet, he would bear our griefs and sorrows he would be pierced for our transgressions.
For 700 years Scholars of the Book read Isaiah’s words and marveled at them. They had difficulty understanding the story of a weeping Messiah who was a suffering Servant. One who would lay down his life for mankind.
John recalled a part of the story the others did not include. The story of Jesus’ friends: Lazarus, Martha and Mary! That story included the shortest verse in the Bible — John 11:35! I remember that verse because I made it my memory verse.
Our Sunday school teachers often asked us to pick out a verse and memorize it. While the other boys and girls chose John 3:16 and other meaningful verses I stuck to John 11:35!
Let’s get back to John’s story. Jesus had come to a point in his life when he needed to wait out the days until Passover. Now the Pharisees really didn’t want to arrest him during the Passover feasts! They feared the crowds who believed Jesus was the Messiah and knew that he loved them.
Jesus was with his disciples across the Jordan where John the Baptist had baptized and waited until it was time to go to Jerusalem, die on a cross and be raised to life on the third day. At least three times Jesus had told them very specifically that he would go to the city, be arrested, be beaten and crucified, be buried and brought back to life. The problem was, for the disciples at least, they did not understand. The very last time he told them what to expect they spent the rest of the day debating which of them would be first and second in his kingdom! (Matthew 20:17-21) James and John, the sons of thunder, even brought their mother in to plead their case. They just didn’t get it!
Setting the scene, John wrote about the man named Lazarus of Bethany. He was sick. (John 11:1). His sisters sent for Jesus knowing that he could heal their brother. When Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4). Immediately, Jesus and his disciples waited two more days before going to the family that he loved. (John 11:5-7). When Jesus proposed that they would go to Judea the disciples were very disturbed. They knew that the Jewish leaders were looking for an opportunity to arrest him.
Jesus assured them that he knew what was going on and so he said “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). Immediately they could see the opportunity to keep Jesus where he was at. They reasoned if Lazarus was sleeping he would get well. So Jesus had to tell them plainly “Lazarus has died” (John 11:14). Then he assured them that he was glad for the death of his friend. The circumstances would allow him to go there and demonstrate his power over life and death. Now, they began to understand him! Thomas — the twin — called on the disciples to go where Jesus was going so they could die with him.
When Jesus arrives on the scene in Bethany Lazarus had been in the tomb four days.
Martha hurried to where Jesus was and Mary stayed behind. John doesn’t tell us why Mary stayed behind after all she was probably the most devoted to Jesus of any of the family. When Martha came to Jesus she rebuked him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Jesus was not offended in any way by the words of his friend. He simply told her “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23).
Martha then gave expression to her faith saying to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” Jesus responded with these words of assurance: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  She answered him “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:24-27).
Then we come to the context of my childhood memory verse. Martha, having made her confession of faith, called Mary. She knew something about Mary’s emotional makeup so she took her aside to tell her, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” (John 11:28b).
There is a need in all our lives to hear those words said to us. “The Teacher is here” or, as the King James Version would tell us, “The Master is come” Jesus waited for Mary to come to him. He did not go into the village but he waited to speak to her in private.
Again, I believe that Mary needed a quiet, personal confrontation with Jesus. Not with the crowd of mourners who would want to hear whatever Jesus would say.
Mary responded to him with almost the exact same words as her sister Martha. “IF” you had just come Lazarus would not have died! Since Mary had gotten up to come to where he was the other people followed her thinking she might be going to the tomb. When Jesus saw the sorrowing crowd and the deep, deep emotion of Mary. John tells us that Jesus was deeply moved by what he saw. He asked the question, “Where have you laid him?” They extended the invitation to him that we should be able to extend to our family and friends “come and see.” With those words hanging in the air Jesus was overcome and “Jesus wept” (John 11:28-35).
A man named Samuel Trevor Francis composed a tune in the late 1800s. I do not know exactly what his inspiration was but it certainly reflects Jesus’ feelings as he stood outside the tomb of Lazarus! It goes like this:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, Is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward To Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, Changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches over His loved ones, Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, Watcheth over them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, Love of every love the best!
Tis an ocean vast of blessing, Tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, Tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, For it lifts me up to Thee!

I have often wondered about Jesus crying. Was he crying because the crowd around them was also crying? Was he crying because the sisters did not understand? Was he crying because it was now necessary to bring Lazarus back to life?
After all, Lazarus had been in Paradise for a period of four days more than 90 hours! I can imagine Lazarus being in the presence of those who had gone on before him. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the great crowd of witnesses described in Hebrews chapter 11. As I see Lazarus in my imagination he was suddenly called to attention. “Lazarus, come out”!
Leading up to this pronouncement Jesus had called for the tomb to be opened. There was a protest because the body would certainly have deteriorated. Martha said “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days”
I don’t often look for hidden meanings in Scripture. Ordinarily I would say that the Bible says what it means and means what it says. God said it and that settles it. But here I will take a little liberty. Our loved ones who do not know the Lord are in the same condition, spiritually, as Lazarus was physically. In fact, we were born spiritually dead! Paul’s letter to the Ephesians chapter 2 makes that very clear. Since we were dead in our trespasses we need the grace of God to make us alive together with Christ.
Paul continues, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
(Ephesians 2:8-10). All people everywhere, until they come to know Christ, are spiritually dead. We need the love of God found in Jesus Christ to give us life. Continuing the spiritual picture given to us once the dead person comes to life it is essential that they be loosed from their sins. Just as Lazarus had to be loosed.
Too often, when a person comes to faith in Christ, the church keeps them bound in their past. Perhaps we can’t just forget what life has been like but we can forgive and memory of past sins will fade away. Whenever we see that a person has come to faith in Christ we need to take off the memories of their past and replace them with new life. We need to remember that our Lord spent a lot of time with people who effectively were wrapped in the grave clothes of their past.
The examples of Jesus’ acceptance of people with a bad past are too numerous to be recounted here.
There is one other reference to Jesus crying. Luke, in his research, added to Jesus’ approach to the city on what we call Palm Sunday. And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41-42). Jesus must have often wept over the condition of the world he had created. I believe he is grieving over the spiritual condition of our world.
This was nothing new.
Remember, 700 years before the birth of Christ Isaiah had written, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)
Have you accepted what God did for you? Have you placed your faith in him? Today could be the day of your salvation! Confess your need and ask him to give you the faith to believe.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

032220 Who Sinned?

 John 9:1-7 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
It is very natural for us to ask the same question the disciples asked when we see bad things happening, especially when they happen to good people. Who caused this? Was it the sins of the parents? Or is it possible that this man sinned even before he was born? These questions are based on the belief that many people still hold that God punishes us for someone else’s wrongdoing or He punishes someone else because we had done wrong. God is a better shot than that. He will not hurt an innocent person to get to you or to make your life more miserable.
The people in Jesus’ crowd knew the Old Testament really well. They would have known that the law of Moses said, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16)
This shows very clearly that each person is responsible for their own actions and not for the actions of others. Yet people continue to hold such opinions against all good sense. Perhaps a child would become very sick, or even pass away, and the parents would wonder, “What did we do wrong? How did we cause this to happen?” Or, “Why is God punishing us?” This places a lot of responsibility on the parents. In such a situation I can say that I do not know why the child was sick, or even died. The older I get the more often I have to say, “I do not know!” when I am asked, “Why?” about most anything. My opinion, of course, does not change the situation in any way at all.
There are things that we are responsible for. These are always things that we had some choice in. If we did what caused the bad thing that happened then we are responsible to that degree. For instance, when someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol and has an automobile accident resulting in someone else’s injury, or death, then they have responsibility for that action. But, if they are doing the very best they can with a clear head driving down the road and someone pulls in front of them and there is a collision resulting in someone else’s injury, or death, it is not their fault! It was an accident and no one should ever be grieved over it as though they had caused it to happen.
With regard to the man born blind in John chapter 9, many people hold the opinion that God allowed this man to be born blind so Jesus could heal him! There were many blind people in the land during Jesus days. He did not have to cause someone to be born blind. If the point of the story is to simply heal the man there are many people already blind who could have been healed by Jesus. Possibly the questions of responsibility were made worse by the fact that the man was born blind.
God did allow the man to be born blind and He could have prevented it. In fact any of the bad things that happen in life could have been prevented by God anytime He chose. At the same time, everything that we see as bad can have a good result. Or, could have happened simply because they happened. 
Some people who believe in God still say that bad things happen to us simply because God doesn’t care one way or the other and it is all circumstantial! It just happened! That would be the view of a person we might call a deist. A deist believes that God is there but is unconcerned about our day-to-day activities. Is it possible that God placed us here and yet does not care about us? Jesus had another way of making this concept go away. Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31) There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus is saying that God cares about everything in our life.
We usually do not know how God uses the bad things that come into our lives. We only observe that they happened and usually complain about them. I have wondered many times how much God has protected me from. When someone says that they had difficulty getting to their destination on time, for instance, they may have had engine trouble, or a flat tire, or some such thing, I have learned to say to them, “I wonder what God protected you from?” Once when I was a very young man I was driving alone in the city of Orlando. I turned onto a side road in an industrial area. The building on my right was right up against a railroad spur. If I were talking to a group of young people I would have to explain what a railroad spur is. But I’m pretty sure most of today’s audience knows what I’m talking about. There was no crossing gate, or warning lights, just the railroad track. I didn’t even think about its presence. As I drove forward, without warning, there was a switch engine on the tracks coming my way. It was so close that a railroad worker who was standing on the front of the engine ran towards the back because he was sure I was about to be crushed. Had I been one or two seconds later there is no doubt in my mind I would’ve died that day. God had other plans for my life and I arrived at that spot just in time to clear the train. I’ve often thought about that experience. I would like to say that it made a much safer driver out of me but I doubt that that’s true. I am sure there were many other times that only a slight difference in my schedule could have resulted in a serious accident. I am glad that we are more valuable than many sparrows.
Now let’s get back to the problem found in John chapter 9. There was no doubt in the minds of Jesus’ disciples that someone sinned in order for the man to be born blind. Almost all translations of the Bible doesn’t help us understand the situation.
The problem is, in the original languages, there were no punctuation. In fact in many of the early copies of the Biblical text there are not even spaces between the words. We would think that would cause real difficulty. It really doesn’t. If you’re accustomed to all the words being together your mind soon sorts them out as you read. Now, with that explanation, let me give you an idea of the passage with a different punctuation.
Rather than saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God but be displayed in him.” Let me present it this way, “it was not that this man, or his parents sinned.” By putting the period after the word “sinned” we find Jesus making no opinion about the reason for the man being born blind. Then we go on with a new sentence, “That the works of God might be displayed in him we must work the works of him who sent me…”
No one sinned causing the man to be born blind. But since the man is in front of them, and Jesus has direction from the Father, Jesus was prepared to do the work of God in this situation. Then Jesus healed the man.
Does this mean that Jesus healed every person that He met that was in need? I can answer that very clearly, “No He did not!” How do I know?
Let’s look at a couple of examples. The first is from John’s gospel Chapter 5:2-9. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Parts of this story is difficult question understand. Apparently a five roofed pool was surrounded by invalids. They were there waiting for a stirring in the water.  Some other translations, including the KJV, include some information concerning this stirring all the water. In verse four of the KJV adds “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”
Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be healed. In effect the man said that he had no one who would help him into the water. The crowd of similar sick people kept him from the healing. Jesus had looked around at the crowd and in obedience to the Father’s command told him to get up and take his bed and go home
A second example is found in Acts 3. Peter and John were going to the Temple to pray. As they approached the Temple they saw a man who had been lame all his life and who was more than 40 years old. That man was brought to the Temple gate to beg every day. If he came there every day, and we know he did because the Bible says so, Jesus would have seen him many times.
I have often imagined to myself what Jesus might have done as he approached the man. I think that every time Jesus saw a need he immediately consulted the Father. It might’ve gone something like this, “Father, do you want to heal this man now?” To which God the Father might have replied, “Not now.” You see God had a plan that involved this man. Who, like all of us, was worth more than many sparrows. God intended that Peter and John would be the instruments He used to bring healing to the man. Jesus left lots of work for His disciples to do by the power of God after He was gone.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.