Defined by Faith and Fear


Phobias are fears that deeply affect the sufferer.  They are not entirely rational, and in fact, can be so strong that rational thinking is hijacked by the fear.  As we’re on the subject of fear this morning, I thought we’d begin with a look at some of the strangest fears people have.

“Nomophobia” is fear that your cell phone, for whatever reason, is going to stop working.  It’s estimated that over half of all cell phone users are affected by this fear.  Based on my experience, I’d say it’s worse than that!

“Ancraophobia” and “anemophobia” are two words for the fear of wind.  People with this phobia are anxious next to an open window or under a hair dryer.

You might guess “spectrophobia” is a fear of ghosts, but you’d be wrong.  It is a fear of mirrors and a dread of seeing one’s image in a mirror.

“Linonophobia” is a fear of string.  There is an online test you can take to assess the severity of your fear, but I’d think just waving a string around would be easier.

“Ablutophobia” sounds like a fear of Popeye’s adversary Bluto, but it’s a fear or bathing or cleansing.  Interestingly, this rare fear is more common in women and children than it is in men.

“Allodoxophobia” is, believe it or not, a fear of opinions.  Don’t you wish politicians and media types would get a dose of this?  The 24 hr. news channels would go out of business!

These are some unusual, new, and weird examples of things that people fear and they sound amusing.  However, in real life, phobias can be severe to the point of crippling a person’s life.  In those cases, serious steps need to be taken to relieve these fears.  God did not create us to live in fear, but in freedom.  While we may not be bound up by a phobia, fear still affects our thinking, attitudes, and decisions.  In our passage today, Jesus sets forth two kinds of fear.  One is good and necessary; the other is bad and unnecessary.  We’ll analyze this passage to understand which is which and how we are to deal with fear.

CONTEXT (v. 1) = Acc. to 11:38, this set of teachings was delivered in or near the home of a Pharisee, following some very strong rebukes Jesus delivered to the Pharisees.  It’s hard for us to picture a crowd this size gathering to listen to the goings-on in or near a person’s home, but it happens in the Gospels. There were so many people, Luke wrote that they numbered in MANY THOUSANDS and THEY WERE TRAMPLING ON ONE ANOTHER.  This is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s Gospel.

What provoked Jesus’ rebuke was His host’s fussing about Jesus not going through the ritual of washing His hands before the meal.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

  1. Three things we must not fear.

In verse four Jesus taught, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THOSE WHO KILL THE BODY AND AFTER THAT CAN DO NO MORE.”  Followers of Jesus know there is more to life than what this world holds. Everything in this world, including pain, is temporary.  In a sense, even death is temporary as we are raised to life to face judgment.  No matter the persecutions and trials we face in this life, we can be encouraged to know they’re nothing to be afraid of because they are temporary. Don’t waste a moment being anxious about worldly things, no matter how scary they may seem; God is more powerful than all of them and He will deliver you.

In verse seven Jesus urged, “DON’T BE AFRAID.”  His reason?  God has not forgotten you.  He cares for the most common kind of bird: you can be sure that He cares for you.  Put anxiety away; trust in his knowledge of you (HAIRS) and His high evaluation of you (MANY SPARROWS). Anxiety gains power when we doubt God loves us or that He exists at all.

Similarly, in verse seven, Jesus said, “DO NOT WORRY” referring to anxiety over people who oppose our faith.  Jesus warned His disciples that the leaders of their own people would drag them into court and persecute them.  He promised that they needn’t worry about such experiences, even about what they might say in their own defense.  His promise was the Holy Spirit would supply a defense; He would inspire them with the best possible words that would result in the best possible testimony to their persecutors.

  1. Three things we must fear.

Jesus commanded, “BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST THE YEAST OF THE PHARISEES, WHICH IS HYPOCRISY” (v. 1).  This section is an example of how the context aids interpretation.  We observed the context section above that a huge crowd had gathered.  Notice the detail in v. 1; JESUS BEGAN TO SPEAK FIRST TO HIS DISCIPLES.  This is a sidebar Jesus held with the Twelve.  He used this occasion to give them a warning about the YEAST that is HYPOCRISY.  In other words, don’t be a hypocrite.  Put these facts together and here’s what Luke is depicting: the vast crowd felt like a victory.  The temptation in this kind of situation will be to please the people so they will stay and come back for more teaching later.  This is human nature.  How many times have we seen people with a distinctly Christian witness in music or preaching become popular and immediately their witness changes, it gets watered down in order to maintain that popularity.

Jesus used the image of YEAST because it is something that works silently but effectively permeates the whole loaf.  That’s why He warned them about hidden and secret things coming to light.  Sneaky compromises with the world made just to be popular will always backfire.  Our God who sees all will also tell all, so avoid hypocrisy.  Be afraid of being exposed as a hypocrite and be sincere from the beginning.

Jesus delivered the most serious warning in verse five, “FEAR HIM WHO…HAS THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.”  While it may not sound good, this is the good kind of FEAR, the kind that motivates us to be wise to know what God commands and obedient to Him.  To be sure we get it, Jesus said “FEAR HIM” twice in this verse.

Don’t bother worrying over human violence that can only kill your body: instead, be concerned about God who has THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.  The worst any person can do is hurt and maybe kill you TEMPORARILY.  They are not worthy of fear.  What God does is eternal and HELL is eternal separation from God, which is literally THE “fate worse than death!”

Having delivered that warning in verse five, Jesus gave two promises in verses six and seven that are positive motivations to FEAR God.  First, God is mindful of SPARROWS and you are much more important than them.  Relax in the knowledge God has not FORGOTTEN you. Second, Jesus said God has taken the time to number the hairs on your head.  That kind of knowledge indicates intimacy and constant watch care over us.

Wise people fear God above all others and don’t have any fear left for hypocrites or violent punks or any other kind of threat the world can mount.  Fearing God means we don’t abuse grace by accepting His gifts and avoiding our responsibilities.

Verses eight to ten direct us to fear the consequences of disowning God.  Before that, Jesus made a promise to His followers.  Verse eight might be paraphrased as follows: “You be faithful to me and I promise I will be faithful to you, especially when it matters most; at the gates of heaven.”  Loyalty in this life is rewarded in eternity.  We don’t EARN eternal life by being loyal, but our loyalty to Christ is one aspect of a true, saving faith.  It’s interesting how Jesus referred to Himself directly in the present time and to Himself as the SON OF MAN at that future time.  If you understand the meaning of that term as it originated in Daniel 7, then you understand its significance.

Verses nine and ten are a warning to unbelievers.  Jesus is NOT trying to make His disciples anxious about their salvation; that is a bad kind of FEAR.  Instead, He is attempting to motivate unbelievers to come to faith & be saved.  To DISOWN Jesus is to be guilty of disbelief.  Disbelief is refusal to accept the truth and be changed by it reveals a person who has no faith at all.

Back to Jesus’ warning about HYPOCRISY (v. 1): these verses are a warning to unbelievers who have only a pretense of faith.  A superficial faith is more likely to turn from Jesus because of temptations or trials.  The consequence is dire: the worst possible circumstance imaginable.  DISOWN Jesus and He will DISOWN at the worst possible time, on Judgment Day.  Such a person will be lost for all eternity, cast out of God’s presence.

Verse ten has confused a lot of people.  Rather than list all the ways this warning has been interpreted, I want to tell you what I believe Jesus meant, based on the context.  Jesus’ warning there is an “unforgivable sin.”  As it is unforgiveable, the guilty party can’t be saved.  It is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it is a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness to an unbeliever convicting them of sin and calling them to repent, putting their trust in Jesus.  It is unforgivable because, as the previous verse indicates, the person has denied Jesus all the way to death.  When he/she stands before the throne of judgment, it is too late; they are self-condemned.  Logically, God cannot forgive those who refused His offer of forgiveness.  Our just God gives them what they wanted in this life; separation from God.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

Commenting on this passage, Darrell S. Bock wrote, “This passage asks fundamental questions about our identity.  Will we fear God or the masses?  Does our affirmation come from above or from our neighbors?”  People-pleasers are fearful folk.  We’re seeing the results of the Church in America trying to “fit in” with the culture.

On the liberal side, there is an evil spirit of accommodation.  In that case the Church has followed the dictates of political correctness, adopting it as “gospel.”

On the conservative side, there is an evil spirit of adaptation.  We have attempted to use worldly weapons of politics and money to fight ungodliness.  In fact, Charles Colson wrote in The Body, “Ironically, political flirtations and dalliances have threatened the church’s independence in the West even more than the direct opposition of Communists in the East.”

The most biblical and godly way is once again in the middle of these extremes.  We need to stay true to Scripture and away from worldly philosophies and methodologies.  We need to be sensible consumers and critics of culture, employing prayer, scripture, and positive responses as often as possible.

This battle is not for our culture, but for the people mired in it.  We direct our efforts at individuals to save them.  Culture and government are not our tools.  We rely on the Holy Spirit and the word of God.  We do not have to win in this world because we know this world is doomed to destruction and are assured that God is going to win.  Only what is of Him survives.  That is our only concern.



The Body, Charles Colson

The NIV Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock

Ten Completely Bizarre And Completely Weird Phobias


A Torn-up Love Letter

A Torn up Love Letter (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019,

You may wonder why we’re devoting such attention to the church in Ephesus.  Part of the answer is that Ephesus is arguably the pre-eminent Gentile church in the New Testament.  More is written about the Ephesian church than any other church except Jerusalem.  It’s thought the Gospel of John was written there.  What we can learn about the church in Ephesus serves us as a guide to our own problems and their solution, describing the way our life together should be, with God’s help.

CONTEXT = Between the description of Jesus in ch. 1 and the visions that begin in ch. 4, John’s Revelation has two chapters of love letters written to churches located in Asia Minor.  The fact that Ephesus appears first in the set may be suggestive of the pre-eminent place of the church in the history of how the Gospel spread throughout Asia Minor.

This morning we get to see the mind and heart of Jesus reflecting on the church in Ephesus.  The heart-breaking image communicated in RVN 2:1-7 is that of a torn-up love letter.

Legalism & ungraciousness are signs of having forsaken Jesus Christ, our “first love.”

  1. The Author identified Himself. (1)

First identifier: HIM WHO HOLDS THE SEVEN STARS IN HIS RIGHT HAND.  This image is repeated from 1:16.  The SEVEN STARS are identified in 1:20 as the angelic messengers to the seven churches receiving these letters.  STARS are associated with angels in JOB 38:7 and Revelation 9:1.  In Daniel 12:3, faithful witnesses are said to shine like stars.  The RIGHT HAND is a symbol of authority.  To be at a ruler’s right hand was to be in a place of power and security.  Put it all together and this is an image of the authority of Jesus over His church; the angels are His messengers.

Second identifier: HIM WHO…WALKS AMONG THE SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS.  This image is repeated from 1:12-13 and has already thereby been attributed to Jesus Christ.  In 1:20 the SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS are identified as the seven churches in Asia Minor.  In Zechariah 4 the prophet was given a vision of a golden lampstand with seven lights, oil fed to it directly from 2 olive trees.  The message there was, ‘NOT BY MIGHT NOR BY POWER, BUT BY MY SPIRIT,’ SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY. (Zechariah 4:6)  Placing Jesus AMONG the LAMP-STANDS implies His closeness to His people.   He is with His people, not apart.  In total, the Author of the letter has identified Himself as an authority figure who is in relationship with His Church.

  1. The Author commended the church in Ephesus.

First, He commended them for their DEEDS; for their HARD WORK. (2)  This Greek word can be translated as “wearisome toil,” yet it has NOT made them GROW WEARY.  Presumably, this work includes good deeds and witness to the Gospel.

On a related note, He commended their PERSEVERANCE. (2+3)  The Ephesian believers ENDURED HARDSHIPS FOR MY NAME – for His sake – because of association with Him.  They had NOT GROWN WEARY to the point of giving up, but stayed true to Christ.  PERSEVERANCE is commended by Paul in Galatians 6:9, LET US NOT BECOME WEARY IN DOING GOOD, FOR AT THE PROPER TIME WE WILL REAP A HARVEST IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP.

Second, Jesus commended the Ephesus church for their discernment. (2)  They did not naively assume fast talkers were apostles.  They did not TOLERATE WICKED MEN.  Rather than suffer the effects of wickedness in their midst, the rightly expelled WICKED people for the fellowship.  They TESTED THOSE WHO claimed TO BE APOSTLES, exposing their falsehood.  In this, they followed the teaching of John: DEAR FRIENDS, DO NOT BELIEVE EVERY SPIRIT, BUT TEST THE SPIRITS TO SEE WHETHER THEY ARE FROM GOD, BECAUSE MANY FALSE PROPHETS HAVE GONE OUT INTO THE WORLD. (1 John 4:1)

Third, Jesus commended their hatred of THE PRACTICES OF THE NICOLAITANS. (6)  Note they hated THE PRACTICES, not the people.  “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is the time-tested maxim.  One of the qualities of a love letter is that the text mentions things known to the lovers but unknown to another reader.  Similarly, we can only guess who these Nicolaitans were and why Jesus hated them.  Where they the WICKED MEN mentioned in verse two?  We don’t need to know the details; it is enough that the Ephesian believers didn’t put up with their false teaching and wickedness.

  1. The Author condemned the church.

The heart of the matter is expressed poignantly in verse four: YOU HAVE FORSAKEN YOUR FIRST LOVE.  This is our key verse.  This is a very emotional statement but we are not told its specific meaning.  Given the warning that follows in verse five, to REMOVE their LAMPSTAND, it is a sin, one so serious that threatened the church’s existence.  Also, the word FIRST indicates an earlier part of their Christian experience, something which they had more recently FORSAKEN. The phrase, REMEMBER THE HEIGHTS FROM WHICH YOU HAVE FALLEN (5) implies a way in which the church can regain their FIRST LOVE.

Though He commended their DEEDS, the Author called them to action. (5)  To call them to REPENT means that the church was guilty of a sin.  In addition to repenting, they were to DO THE THINGS YOU DID AT FIRST.  Here’s that word FIRST again.

Putting all of this together, we are not over-interpreting if we say that the church in Ephesus had somehow gone away from the spiritual status they enjoyed when the church was founded.  Going back to Acts 19:19 we’re reminded the new converts burned 50,000 drachmas worth of magic scrolls.  That showed a literal and figurative fire, a love for Jesus that cancelled all the appeals of superstition and the occult.  We can guess that the fire needed to be rekindled.  We have all experienced periods where our enthusiasm and the excitement of faith waned.  Whether on an individual or church scale, formalism, judgmentalism, legalism take the place of a living faith.  We quit learning and growing, and thereby start dying.

He warned them: IF YOU DO NOT REPENT, I WILL COME TO YOU AND REMOVE YOUR LAMPSTAND FROM ITS PLACE. (5)  Since the LAMPSTAND is the symbol of the spiritual existence of the church, this is a warning of death.  Church people tend to worry over the “Killer B’s,” Buildings, Budgets, and By-laws; these are not the real life of the church.  The real life is our love for Jesus Christ and any time a church loses that, they’ve ceased to be a church.  At that point, the Killer B’s that are left merely mark the presence of a corpse.  To summarize, the most important church in the Greek-speaking world was in danger of not being a church at all.

  1. The Author made a promise to the “overcomers.” (7)

An overcomer is herein identified by two qualities.  First, an overcomer is one who listens to the Spirit = HE WHO HAS AN EAR, LET HIM HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT SAYS TO THE CHURCHES.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is one of the signs of true faith.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is verified by actions in conformity with what the Spirit teaches; an overcomer follows the Spirit’s lead.

Secondly, an overcomer is one who does what the Author commends, not what He condemns.  He is faithful in word & deed.  All believers are to do the whole work of righteousness: avoid evil and do good.  We learn about overcomers in these letters and elsewhere in RVN (7:14; 12:11; 15:2).

Jesus promised that overcomers will receive an eternal home in heaven: they are given THE RIGHT TO EAT FROM THE TREE OF LIFE.   The TREE OF LIFE bookends the Bible; it is PARADISE lost and restored.  It appears first in Genesis 2:9 as one of the trees given to Adam and Eve as food.  It was lost to them when they sinned.  It appears again in Revelation 22, where it gives life to the people who live with God in the New Jerusalem.  The TREE OF LIFE is a symbol of the eternal life God gives to His people.

In both Genesis and Revelation, the TREE OF LIFE IS located IN THE PARADISE OF GOD.  The word PARADISE was borrowed from the Persian language and refers to a park or garden, exactly the place you’d expect to find a tree.  It is a symbol of life after death, the reward God graciously gives to the people who are His.

Legalism & ungraciousness are signs of having forsaken Jesus Christ, our “first love.”

Jesus warned against this abandonment of love: “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:12–13).  Notice that both the warning and the promise are the same ones delivered by angel to the church in Ephesus.

In an article entitled “Have You Left Your First Love?” Greg Morse wrote, “They had a zeal for orthodoxy, but they had lost their love for Jesus. They showed up for Bible studies and debated the heretics, but lost their pure love for their Lord. They stood against evil in their midst, but tolerated a sluggish love towards Jesus and each other.

“It is a scary reality that the road to hell is not only paved with good intentions, but good deeds and theological precision as well.”  He called it a “paralyzing lack of happiness in God.”



The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revelation, Alan F. Johnson

Harper’s New Testament Commentary, St. John the Divine, G.B. Caird

And I Heard a Voice, Brett Best

Message #868

Someone IS Watching and it DOES Matter

Sheep and Goat

Please read Matthew 25:31-46.

Our works will come under scrutiny on Judgment Day.

                The picture of the lamb and goat above were rendered to emphasize the “cute” anthropomorphic aspect of this parable.  Jesus chose to tell a parable that substituted animals for people.  Everyone hearing it understood this was a metaphor because Jesus made that clear in verse 32.

Having preached this passage three times previously in my 30+ years of preaching, I have always wondered why Jesus chose to substitute animals for people.  Part of the reason is that He often starts parables with a familiar scene and then veers off in an unexpected direction. But this one is blazing a new trail from the first verse.  Something else is going on, and that answer has never really satisfied my curiosity.

Another answer was revealed to me in a nightmare three days ago.  The details of the nightmare are gone from my memory, but I recall lying awake in bad silently crying as the Lord made it clear to me.  The use of animals and the tedious repetition of the good deeds is designed to set an emotional counterpoint to the fact that this is a nightmarish scene on the left hand of the Shepherd King.

Life is serious, folks.  To die and then face Judgment Day is most serious.  Jesus brilliantly told this parable the way He did because it emphasizes the horror of sin and its deadly consequences.  The parable packs a greater emotional punch because it was told the way Jesus told it.

The glorious light of the Son of Man on His throne is not a gentle glow, but the blazingly bright searchlight that reveals the insides of person.  Like an x-ray, it exposes human personalities, laying bare guilt and innocence.

The contrast of the sheep going to heaven and the goats going to hell reveals this scene is not just a throne room, it is more than a court room, it is also a slaughterhouse.  To make the contrast even more visceral, the condemned are sentenced to eternal conscious torment.

When you strip away the anthropomorphic metaphor and realize these are human beings – not “goats” – who are finally and eternally rejected, the scene becomes as frightening as it should be.

Let’s not confuse the Gentle Shepherd of John 10 with the Shepherd King of Matthew 25.  They occupy opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

One more thing to consider: both the sheep-people and the goat-people are surprised by the Shepherd King’s verdict.  This passage is meant to slap self-confidence right out of our heads.  This was Jesus’ last word to His disciples before His death.  It is a provocative one, meant to motivate us to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and prepare to meet our maker.

  1. The context and the one main point. (31-33)

All parables in chapter 25 deal with Judgment Day.  Understand that Judgment Day is not a trial; it is a sentencing.  God knows all and he knows all of us perfectly.  At this point the issue of heaven or hell is already decided; this is a sentencing hearing.

Of the three parables in chapter 25, this parable is the only one to describe Judgment Day.  It is written; THE SON OF MAN will be IN HIS GLORY, seated on HIS THRONE IN HEAVENLY GLORY.  In His glorified state ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE GATHERED BEFORE HIM.  All people who have ever lived will be gathered, and then separated one final time.  God will bring to pass the end of all evil.

The separation of the people is described in verse 33, the purpose for it in verse 46.  In verse 33 we see the SHEEP will be gathered to His RIGHT hand.  The GOATS will be gathered on His LEFT hand.  Verse 46 reveals that the purpose is to pronounce judgment: to reward the sheep and condemn the goats.

These parables come between Jesus’ teaching about the last things in chapter 24 and His arrest and trial in chapter 26.  Jesus would experience His own “last days.”  There is an ironic similarity between these teachings and what comes next in Jesus’ life.

The main point of the parable is this: our works are important on Judgment Day.  If all you knew was this parable, you’d think works are the determining factor.  Note that the parable doesn’t actually say that, it simply does not mention any other factor.  Parables are, by their nature, narrow in their focus, designed to reinforce the one main point. Because we have the entire Bible, we know works are a secondary factor.  The primary factor of judgment is each person’s acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

The secondary factor of works is evidence of the primary decision about Jesus.  They are proof of what’s truly in a person.  The works are evidence of God’s justice: God is right to exclude the GOATS and include the SHEEP, as their deeds demonstrate.

  1. He will keep the sheep. (34-40, 46)

The Shepherd King pronounces a blessing on those at His right (34).  There are six facts to be noted about the blessing.

One, He invites them to come into God the Father’s presence.

Two, He urges them to take their INHERITANCE, a place in God’s KINGDOM.

Three, their blessing has been in the works SINCE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.  This highlights God’s sovereignty.

Four, their reward is ETERNAL LIFE (46).

Five, in biblical culture, the RIGHT side is the side of intimacy and influence.  After He ascended to heaven, it was the place of honor Jesus occupied when He ascended to heaven.

Six, Jesus used SHEEP as a symbol of God’s faithful people because that was a biblical image.  God is symbolized by a Shepherd.

The reason given for their blessing: they helped the needy (35-36).  Six different kinds of needs are listed.  Jesus offered these as a representative sample, not as a preferred or exhaustive list. These are everyday needs involving people in ordinary situations.

Who are THE LEAST OF THESE BROTHERS? In the Bible, God identifies Himself with disadvantaged people.  That usually meant the poor, widowed, orphaned, and foreigners.

The reaction of the sheep-people to the blessing is surprise (37-40).  The text identifies them as THE RIGHTEOUS.  Their benevolent actions are evidence of their righteousness.  Their surprise is a measure of their innocence.

They had done all these things out of the love in their hearts.  They had no expectation of reward because their motive was love; they acted without any hint of a mixed motive or desire for reward.  In other passages, heavenly rewards are promised for godly living.  Acting to earn such rewards is an approved motive.

  1. The goats have got to go. (41-46)

The King pronounces a CURSE on those to His left (41).  We note four features to the CURSE.

One, He orders them to DEPART.

Two, they have no place in God’s kingdom but are exiled to a place of ETERNAL FIRE.

Three, as was the case with the sheep-people, the place of the goat-people has also been prepared, but it was created for someone else; THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS.

Four, their condemnation is described as ETERNAL PUNISHMENT.

The Shepherd Kings gives the reason for their cursing: they did not help the needy (42-43).  The same set of six needs is listed four times here and always in the same order. This attention to detail underlines God’s justice; He is comparing “apples to apples;” He is judging them fairly.

The reaction of the goat-people is also surprise, but for a reason entirely opposed to the sheep-people’s surprise (44-45).  The goat-people failed to do these things because neither the love of God nor the love of neighbor was in their hearts.

Their protest might be paraphrased as follows; “If we’d known it was You, we would have done these things.”  They are surprised to hear that Jesus identified Himself with people they dismissed as lowlifes, bums, and human trash.  They judged their fellow man as unworthy of charity; in response, Jesus will judge them as unworthy of a place in heaven.

Our works will come under scrutiny on Judgment Day.

Anyone who reads this parable and does not come away with a healthy fear of the Lord has missed the point of this parable.  The stark contrast between the sheep and the goats ought to have every one of us rethinking how we are using the magnificent gift of life.

Proverbs repeatedly tells us fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Job 31:23 puts into words the form wise fear should take: FOR I DREADED DESTRUCTION FROM GOD, AND FOR FEAR OF HIS SPLENDOR I COULD NOT DO SUCH THINGS.  This is Job explaining his personal motivation for being a good guy and doing the right thing.

Persons who hoard their gifts, legalize their definition of neighbor, or have a flip attitude about Judgment Day are in peril of being unpleasantly surprised on that Day.  Jesus warned of the peril of hypocrisy in Matthew 7:21-23.

Proverbs 11 delivers a similar warning about wasting God’s gifts on selfish pursuits.  Verse four states, WEALTH IS WORTHLESS IN THE DAY OF WRATH, BUT RIGHTEOUSNESS DELIVERS FROM DEATH.  In verse 6, it is written; THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE UPRIGHT DELIVERS THEM, BUT THE UNFAITHFUL ARE TRAPPED BY EVIL DESIRES.

The refusal to do good is sin (James 4:17).  Sin has deadly and eternal consequences.  Only the intervention of Jesus Christ will save us from the fate of eternal separation from God.

Let us spend our days vigilant for opportunities to do good to others.  Be willing to speak up, offer help, and do right by those who need you.  The consequences of failure are too nightmarish to accept.



Messages #1169, 685, 33

Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Ben Witherington III

The Devil DIDN’T Make Him Do It


Please read Matthew 4:1-11.

         Let’s go back to the Old West, to the historic transcontinental railroad.  As the Union Pacific line was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon.  Before the bridge saw use, the builder loaded a train with extra cars and equipment, doubling its weight.  The overburdened train was then driven to the middle of the new bridge and left there an entire day.

One worker asked his boss, “Are you trying to see if you can break our bridge?”

“No,” the builder replied, “I’m trying to prove the bridge won’t break.”

We have a similar feeling when trials and temptations – times of testing – come into our lives.  We think God is trying to break us.

Instead, He is trying to prove to us that we can take it after all.  He is reminding us to trust in Him, rely on Him, and believe He has already given us all we need to endure the trial faithfully.  Just as Jesus triumphed over His temptations, so can we!

Jesus won His battle with temptation by staying secure in God’s word.

  1. Prologue. (4:1)

It seems strange to read that Jesus was lead by the Spirit into temptation.  That’s the opposite of the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).  Everyone knows that God doesn’t tempt His children (read James 1:13).

The location also feels wrong.  The DESERT is where Israel disobeyed God and then had to wander around 40 years.  In worldly logic, the DESERT is the opposite direction of where Jesus should be headed: Jesus should launch His ministry In Jerusalem.

You can sense God the Father left Jesus to deal with the devil and the desert alone.  Did the Spirit lead HIM INTO THE DESERT (1) only to drop Him off?  It’s possible; the next time any supernatural support is mentioned is after it’s over (v. 11).  It is human nature to feel or assume God’s absence when we hurt.  God is not absent during our trials. That’s discouragement talking, not faith.

  1. The first temptation: bread. (4:2-4)

The devil appears AFTER Jesus endured 40 days and nights of fasting.  I have a friend who has repeatedly fasted throughout the 40 days of Lent.  If his experience is typical, abstaining from solid food  does weird things to the body.

One might assume this experience left Jesus in a weaker physical and emotional state.  Commentator Rodney Reeves interprets the lack of food as being a further sign of God the Father separating Himself from Jesus.  After all, God provided daily food for Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).

It’s no surprise the devil’s first run at Jesus involves something as simple as food (3).  But the devil didn’t just lay out a loaf of bread and invite Jesus to eat it.  Instead, he used Jesus’ hunger as bait and said, “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, TELL THESE STONES TO BECOME BREAD.”

The temptation is not eating but using His supernatural authority to feed Himself.  The promise of food appealed to Jesus’ physical body; the desire to prove His identity appealed to His pride.
In His reply, Jesus transcended mere human nature & kept His focus on God the Father (4).  All three of Jesus’ replies are quotes from Deuteronomy 6 + 8.  This quote is part of Deuteronomy 8:3, where

Moses reminded the people that God had kept them alive in the desert by providing daily bread for them.

Jesus’ reply refutes the temptation saying, “I do not need bread to survive, but I cannot last a minute apart from God’s word.”  In keeping His focus on the Father, Jesus turned away from His physical hunger.

Ironically, later on in His ministry, Jesus will miraculously provide bread in the wilderness, feeding five and four thousand men at a time.  The bread and the power are not the only issues; it’s also the timing and the motive.

  1. The second temptation: fame. (4:5-7)

The second one is about shortcuts or laziness.  The devil supernaturally and bodily moved Jesus to THE HIGHEST POINT OF THE TEMPLE in Jerusalem (5).  It’s hard to imagine a more visible location in all of ancient Judea.  If Jesus were to have done as the devil suggested, it would have been a very visible, very public miracle.  It would have launched His earthly ministry in a spectacular way.

This temptation – like the first – dares Jesus to establish His identity as the Son of God: “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD.”  The devil also knows Scripture and attempted to twist Psalm 91:11-12 to provoke Jesus into doing what amounted to a “publicity stunt” (6).

In His reply, Jesus rejects earthly power, popularity, and sensational stunts in attempts to “prove” God’s existence and/or His  character.  He quoted Deuteronomy 6:16, a section where Moses urged people not to test God’s patience with their disobedience, as they did at Massah.  Massah/Meribah both mean “quarrel.” It was there the people quarreled with one another, Moses, and God (see Exodus 17).  They complained against God and Moses and said, “Is the Lord with us or not?”  We are not to repeat their lack of faith, doubting God’s love or power.

All temptations are shortcuts because we trust our self rather than God and follow worldly ways instead of God’s way.  In this case, a successful jump from t temple’s roof might have allowed Jesus to assert His privilege and avoid that messy cross business.  It was a shortcut.

OR, in an unsuccessful jump, Jesus’ body would have been destroyed, His blood would have been shed for no good reason.  Either way, the devil would have won.  Happily, Jesus refused the shortcut and reaffirmed His trust in God the Father.

  1. The third temptation: power. (4:8-10)

The scene shifts again for the third temptation: Satan takes Jesus to A VERY HIGH MOUNTAIN (8).  Why go atop a mountain?  In ancient cultures, high places were the places where idols were worshiped.  As the devil wanted to be idolized/worshiped by Jesus, this is an obvious choice.

With this temptation the devil abandoned subtlety.  Showing Jesus ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD AND THEIR SPLENDOR, he offered them to Jesus if Jesus would BOW DOWN AND WORSHIP him (9).

As all hypocrites do, the devil thought everyone has the same motives he did.  He guessed Jesus would find this tempting for all the reasons he did.     But was this even tempting to Jesus?

My guess is that, to Jesus, this was the least appealing of the three temptations.

Jesus’ response is to go right back to the same section of Deuteronomy 6. Verse thirteen says, FEAR THE LORD YOUR GOD, SERVE HIM ONLY AND TAKE YOUR OATHS IN HIS NAME. It’s as if Jesus said, “Don’t disobey the 1st commandment; don’t worship to anything other than God.”  Jesus refused to worship anything other than God no matter what He was offered.

Jesus rejected Satan’s offer so thoroughly, He ordered Satan to get lost; “AWAY FROM ME, SATAN!”  He rejected an offer of authority by exercising His authority over Satan.

If this was possible at any time, I wonder why Jesus endured three temptations?  The experience prepared Jesus for difficulties the next three years would throw at Him.  Christ set a pattern for us to follow when we are tempted: trust God; follow His commands.

  1. Epilogue. (4:11)

The devil had to leave Jesus.  Jesus’ power is irresistible; the devil can be resisted (see James 4:7).  After the devil left Him, Jesus was attended to by angels sent by God t Father.  The text doesn’t say how they attended to Him, but my guess is that they…

…brought Him bread.

…assured Jesus they would protect Him from suffering harm before He got to the cross.

…encouraged Him that after this was over, He’d be seated at t right hand of God the Father.

In other words, as tokens of His victory over temptation, the angels gave Jesus all the things Satan had promised but never delivered.

Jesus won His battle with temptation by staying secure in God’s word.

Picture a married couple in bed.  The husband is having trouble getting to sleep.  He rolls over and says to his wife, who was having no trouble falling asleep, “Honey, are you awake?  Can I ask you a question?”

She rolls over and says, “I’m awake now.  What’s your question?”

“Is your love for me beyond temptation?” he asked.  “Say Paul Newman was trying to woo you away.  Would you still love me?”

She smiled at him and said, “Of course I would love you, dear.  And I would miss you very much!”

It doesn’t sound like she’s planning to try very hard to resist temptation, does it?  If we are to find victory over our own temptations, we have to follow Jesus’ example instead.

In this passage we’ve seen Jesus resisted the devil by doing the following:

1) Recognize temptations and trials will come – be prepared by prayer and Scripture knowledge.

2) Trust God’s promise that He has provided all you need to say no to temptation.

3) Expose falsehoods with the truth of the Bible.

4) In Jesus’ name, resist the devil; order him away.



The Story of God Bible Commentary, Rodney Reeves.

Message #1133.

A Resurrection Meditation

A Guided Meditation on JOHN 20:10-18

If you’ve never before attempted a guided meditation, here’s what I suggest.  Play some recorded music as an emotional backdrop.  The best choice is instrumental (not vocal), Christian, and of a slower tempo – something that doesn’t demand your attention.  Read the following aloud, stopping to think and feel about what you’re reading.  Don’t take notes – the emphasis here is on this moment and what may be gain by opening your heart to God.  Take your time; “Good things come to those who wait.”  Reserve an hour for yourself and God to meet privately or with a small group.  Be comfortable without becoming sleepy.  End with prayer where you tell God what you received through this exercise.


  • No one saw the scene depicted on our bulletin cover. No one saw the stone rolled away.  No one saw Jesus walk out.
  • You can understand how no one on the scene that first Resurrection morning knew just what to make of the stone rolled away and the linens left behind.


  • Mary Magdalene and the others had forgotten what Jesus had said about being put to death and rising from the dead. The darkness that shrouded her world as she journeyed to the garden is a symbol the mystery yet to be revealed to her.
  • They hadn’t yet received one of the great gifts of Easter: hope. Hope is steady confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love.
  • Feel the rough stone under your fingers as you lean on the rock as Mary might have, steadying herself against a world that shook her to her core. The sights, sounds, and smells of the garden are lost to you; your awareness is limited to your own broken heart.


  • Having steadied her weak knees and steeled her resolve, Mary decides to take a risk. To look for herself.  Not content to take the word of others, she must see with her own eyes what Peter and John described before they walked off and left her.
  • It takes courage to stare into the darkness. We have faith, but faith is hard-won when our eyesight fails us.  Like a penitent, Mary had to stoop to look within the tomb.  It was a sign, an illustration of the humility of her heart.
  • Her faith, like all genuine faith, was rewarded.


  • You won’t see the supernatural until you look for it with faith-sensitized eyes.
  • Peter and John didn’t see them. They didn’t get it.  They didn’t take any chances.
  • Good for Mary! We honor her boldness and rejoice in her privilege to see God’s messengers.  She not only saw them, but heard the voices of heaven use simple human words.


  • These angels expressed the heart of God Himself. God was concerned.
  • It was for Mary’s sake the question was asked. He wanted Mary to not just look outward, to not just dwell on the appearance of the angels; He wanted Mary to look inward too.  She would have to know her own heart in order to answer.


  • Granted this vision from heaven, Mary nonetheless fails to free her thoughts from earth. She has beheld something few mortal souls have beheld, and yet her concern is for a corpse.
  • You remember Mary came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus; to properly prepare it for burial. She had no hope of seeing Him alive; her memory of His teaching failed her.  We can applaud Mary’s single-mindedness.  She had taken the risk of leaving home before the sun graced the horizon.  She had come to the tomb to do one last thing for her beloved master and had been thwarted.
  • But she hadn’t given up. She insisted on following through with her plan.  Indeed, the spices and cloths lay on the ground near her, right where she dropped them in surprise at seeing the stone already rolled away.
  • Disappointment did not deter this woman on a mission!


  • Perhaps He stood between her and the rising sun. That would be appropriate, wouldn’t it?  The Risen Son silhouetted by the rising sun?


  • What kind of question is this for Jesus to ask her? He knows the answer full well.
  • Once again, God is trying to get Mary to look within herself. Jesus wanted her to go all the way in faith and answer, “You.  I’m looking for you, Jesus.”


  • Poor Mary. Now we begin to feel sorry for her.  She has practiced “selective seeing” and now “selective hearing” as well.  Her mind almost fully in the world, she neither sees the form of Jesus nor hears his voice.
  • In this moment, Mary is a symbol of the majority of humanity. People do not expect Jesus to be God.  They don’t believe He rose from the dead.  In their lack of faith, they neither see nor hear Him.
  • Jesus does not give up on them, however, just as He did not give up on Mary. He tries one more time.  He says her name.


  • We all enjoy hearing our name spoken aloud. It gets our attention in a way other words fail to do.
  • In that precious moment, the world fell away from Mary. She saw and heard, as if for the first time.  There was no gardener.  There was only Jesus.
  • This is how we all come to faith, if ever we listen to the voice of Jesus. If ever we have faith to see beyond what the world is willing to allow as truth.  God appeals to each of us personally.  He calls us by name.
  • We are startled by a sudden awareness of the truth.


  • Why did Mary have to turn toward Him again? When she saw and heard a gardener, Mary despaired and turned from Him.  In all our days, despair seeks to turn our gaze away from Jesus.  We look away in the moments we need Him most.  How tragic those moments are.
  • Recognition hit Mary suddenly. All her senses suddenly came alive, aware of the incredible truth: He was not dead!
  • The awareness flooded her conscious mind. Not moving by volition but purely on instinct, Mary reached out to touch Him; to hold Jesus and never let Him go again.  Like a child reaching out to grasp a flower or a butterfly or any beautiful thing, she wanted to possess Him.  But we don’t let our children crush the beautiful thing with their clumsy, excited fingers, do we?  We restrain them.  Accordingly, Jesus said,


  • With her mind now on heavenly things, Jesus commissioned Mary. He made her a partner in His Resurrection Day plans.  He made Mary one of His messengers.
  • Where God the Father had sent angels to Mary, now God the Son now sends Mary to His disciples. What an honor and privilege it is to carry the message that Jesus is not dead; He is alive forever.
  • May we see ourselves as sharing that honor and privilege with Mary, the one who held it first.


  • Mary was faithful. Mary obeyed Jesus.
  • Forgotten in the excitement and no longer needed, she left the burial spices and burial cloths in the garden. That mission was rendered obsolete and she discarded it to take up this new mission with the same single-mindedness that brought her to the garden in the first place.
  • Mary went to the garden in darkness, to do her best for Jesus. She left the garden with enlightenment, determined to do her best for Jesus.
  • Pray to be spiritually alert, receptive to the direction of God the Holy Spirit. Pray to be  God’s messenger, making the good news known to all who should be our brothers and sisters.  Pray to be a minister of the resurrection, serving our risen Lord.

Breathe in Peace

Please read John 20:19-23.

Jesus Exiting the Tomb

It’s been nearly a week since the world saw images of the cathedral Notre-Dame engulfed in flames.  As you are no doubt aware, there has been no shortage of reactions to the fire and opinions about rebuilding the historic building.

On one side you have the architectural experts who have already submitted unsolicited opinions that the cathedral should be renovated to reflect modern, politically correct sensibilities.  I heard one man condemn the cathedral as oppressive to non-Christians and non-whites.  His solution sounded to me like a kind of “religious mall” that accommodated worshippers of all faiths and no faith at all.

Chowderheaded notions like that betray the sad state of the PC crowd.  To have these thoughts, let alone express them in a public forum, is ridiculous.

On the other side I offer Mel Lawrenz, Minister-at-Large at Elmbrook Church and director of The Brook Network.  He wrote, “Notre-Dame de Paris is a church building, but also a landmark of civilization whose construction was started 858 years ago, taking 200 years to build. When its construction began, Paris only had 100,000 residents.

“What do the great cathedrals represent? Churches are built to facilitate worship. A church is a gathering place for the people of God. They stream to

it from the surrounding neighborhoods, and so enjoy a connection with each other, the basic movement that forms community and society.

“When I saw Notre-Dame burning what came to my mind was the great loss of this symbol, but also the fires burning up our civilization today.  Philosophies that deny the possibility of truth, the abnegation of morality and ethics, the devaluing of community and the descent into lonely isolationism. Churches settling for superficial sentimentalism and church leaders trading integrity for fame. Government leaders forgetting the very idea of selfless service. The laziness of crude social communication. There are dozens of fires smoldering among us, and none of us know when [one] will flare up & make us less civilized.

“A mason who worked on the beginnings of Notre Dame in AD 1160 knew he would not see it completed, nor his apprentice son, nor his son, nor his son. They all worked on something that God and the world could see 200 years after it was started. The most important things we work on in our lives will never be completed within our lifetimes.  And the most important things we will build are not buildings.”


The resurrected Jesus replaced His disciples’ fear with peace, joy, the Holy Spirit, and authority.

  1. They were afraid of the Jews.

They were afraid even though Peter and John had already seen the empty tomb (vs. 1-9) and Mary of Magdala had seen Jesus Himself (10-18).  If they’d understood from the evidence and eyewitness Jesus was raised from the dead what reason did they have to be afraid?

Clearly, they didn’t understand.    Peter and John saw only the empty tomb; they didn’t see Jesus.  This was evidence they’d misinterpreted.  They may have been concerned that the Romans or Jewish leaders were convinced Jesus’ body had been stolen, they would likely be blamed, sought out and arrested.   Without His body they had no way of proving their innocence on a grave-robbing charge, a crime that met with severe penalty: death.  The empty tomb may have added to their fears, not diminished them.

Mark 16:11 says the disciples found Mary of Magdala’s account to be unbelievable.  To be fair, Mark 16:12-13 says they didn’t believe the testimony of two others who said they’d met Jesus walking in t country.  This is nothing new; in the gospels Jesus rebukes the disciples several times for their being slow to believe (Luke 24:25).

Their fear was demonstrated in two ways (19).  One, they were gathered together, possibly believing there was strength in numbers.  Of course, they gathered for reasons other than fear; surely grief bound them together as well.

Two, they had locked the doors.  The motive for doing this is specified as FEAR OF THE JEWS.  John’s reference to THE JEWS probably meant the Jewish religious and civil authorities; the Sanhedrin.  What did the disciples fear THE JEWS would do to them?  Probably some version of what they’d done to Jesus, perhaps more quietly.

  1. Jesus replaced their fears with blessings.

He replaced their fear with peace by being among them (19). Jesus’ means of entry into their locked room is not specified, so we are left to imagine how it happened.  The point is that He STOOD AMONG THEM.  He was with them again!

Surely His presence among them, say nothing of His sudden appearance, would have been startling to already nervous people.  To calm their fears, He pronounced PEACE to them for the first of two times in this passage.  This expression is often used in response to angelic visitations and other situations where a startled, fearful response would be understandable.

He replaced their fear with joy by confirming His identity and His still-human nature (20).  Jesus SHOWED THEM HIS HANDS AND SIDE: two of the three places where His body had been pierced during His crucifixion.  This allowed them to recognize Jesus as a man, not a ghost (see Luke 24:37-39).

We could paraphrase this verse to say, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw He was the Lord.”  It was really Him!  A small part of their joy may’ve been relief that He wasn’t a ghost, but the major portion must have been that He was not dead.

He replaced their fear with peace by pronouncing peace to them (19+21).  Jesus blessed them with His peace a second time (a reminder of the peace He’d promised them in John 14:27).  Part of this PEACE was an assurance that their story was not over.  Quite the opposite, Jesus was sending them into the world as God the Father had sent Him. The commissioning we see here fits with Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 18, “AS YOU SENT ME INTO THE WORLD I HAVE SENT THEM INTO THE WORLD.”

At that time, this was a typical greeting in the Hebrew language; shalom alekem.  In a situation where they felt anything BUT peace, it was a familiar-sounding and calming blessing.  The fact that Jesus bid them PEACE twice supports the assumption that He appeared suddenly and miraculously among them, startling them.  As this is something people aren’t normally able to do, He also had to reassure them He was a man not a ghost.

He replaced their fear with the Holy Spirit by breathing on them (22).  They would go into the world to continue Jesus’ mission.  As He had, they would carry on under the power of the Holy Spirit.

The matter of Jesus’ breathing on them seems strange to us.  Consider the following:

The sight, sound, and feeling of Jesus’ breath were more proof that He had risen bodily from the dead.  Ghosts do not have breath.

In both the Hebrew and Greek languages, the word we translate as “spirit” can also be translated as “breath.”

Both of them are required for life but are invisible to the naked eye.

This action is meant to remind us of a couple Old Testament passages.  First, Genesis 2:7; how God created humans by breathing THE BREATH OF LIFE into the nostrils of the man He’d created from the dust of the earth.  Second, the vision of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37), where God breathed new life into the dead men’s bones.

We can understand Jesus’ action of breathing on them was a kind of demonstration, given the layers of meaning we have just noted.

He replaced their fear by delegating His authority to them (v. 23). As Jesus’ opponents acknowledged, only God has to power to forgive sins (for example, see Mark 2:7).  Jesus repeatedly exercised this power, demonstrating He was God as well as man.

In this verse He is delegating to His disciples the divine authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness.  The word FORGIVE literally means “to let go, to release.”  In this way it reminds us of the “binding and loosing” promise Jesus made in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18.

The resurrected Jesus replaced His disciples’ fear with peace, joy, the Holy Spirit, and authority.

A mother and her four-year-old daughter were preparing to retire for the night. The child was afraid of the dark. When the light was out, the child caught a glimpse of the moon outside the window. “Mother,” she asked, “is the moon God’s light?”

“Yes,” said the mother.

The next question was, “Will God put out His light and go to sleep?”

The mother replied, “No, my child, God never goes to sleep.”

Then out of the simplicity of a child’s faith, she said that which gave reassurance to the fearful mother, “Well, as long as God is awake, there is no sense both of us staying awake.”


Fear is one of the things Easter has done away with.  As we’ve seen this morning, fear has been defeated.  It no longer holds any mastery over us.  In Jesus Christ, our fear of death, in particular, has been put to rest.

The resurrected Jesus Christ relieves us of fear and replaces it with courage based on the peace, authority, joy, and Holy Spirit power.  Yes, fears still arise, but their voice rings false.  The world’s threats are empty.  Because we share in the Resurrection Day victory of Jesus, we shall overcome all our fears.



The Anchor Bible, Raymond E. Brown

Message #180

Zondervan Bible Commentary, David J. Ellis

Temporary Triumph

Please read John 12:12-19.

tri entry

          Matt Gurney, reporting for The National Post, wrote the following three years ago; “In 1967, Paul McCartney was 25 years old and already a legend. A founding member of The Beatles, he and his band mates had risen to global fame so gigantic that McCartney’s partner John Lennon had proclaimed, that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus now.”

          McCartney’s fame failed him when he attended the 2016 Grammy Awards ceremony. “After the show, the former Beatle attempted to enter a private party being hosted by Tyga, a rap artist. Security personnel at the event turned McCartney away as he wasn’t on the list. The entire incident was, of course, caught on someone’s smart phone and quickly uploaded to the Internet. A mini-scandal soon followed.

“Let’s not pretend that this is earth-shattering news. But there is something worth noting in the case of McCartney and the bouncer. Even for a Beatle, fame is fleeting.

“Video of the incident shows him jokingly inquiring, ‘How VIP you gotta get?’ and musing that he needs some new hit songs. It was an appropriate response to a mild but probably healthy snub — and in its own small way, a lesson in grace and humility for us all.”

Worldly things (fame, acceptance) are important only in serving God’s purpose.

          Its heart-breaking to think – in the space of a week – Jesus went from being hailed as a king to being ridiculed as the “King of the Jews.” What’s ironic about the Triumphal Entry is that the crowd blessed Jesus as the King of Israel (v. 13), but He was not crowned by them.  The only crown He ever wore was the crown of thorns shoved on his head by cruel Roman soldiers (19:2).  The only royal garment He wore was a purple robe they put on Him to mock Him before bringing Jesus to Pilate.

We remember the Triumphal Entry as the one time in Jesus’ life that He got the recognition He deserved.  Sadly, it was a moment too fleeting as Jesus’ own disciples deserted Him and His fellow Jews cheered for His murder.  While this event tells us some about Jesus, it also tells us about the fickle and superficial nature of human beings.

  1. Three clues Jesus organized this event.

First clue: throughout the gospels Jesus demonstrated sensitivity to what the crowds thought about Him and reacted appropriately.  An example of this is found in John 6:14-15.  After the miraculous feeding of the 5000 the people began to refer to Him as “THE PROPHET WHO IS TO COME INTO THE WORLD.”

Jesus knew exactly what they meant by that: THEY INTENDED TO MAKE HIM KING BY FORCE.   Appropriately He WITHDREW from them before they could act on that impulse.  Jesus’ mission was never to be that kind of king and certainly not by means of violence, so He left them for a time to allow their passions to cool down.

Second clue: even though John did not go into detail about it, the other three gospel writers offered considerable detail about the instructions Jesus gave His disciples to prepare for this moment.  For example, in v. 14, John wrote Jesus merely FOUND a YOUNG DONKEY and SAT UPON IT.  John makes it sound almost accidental.  But in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, He sent the disciples on ahead to get the animal and have it ready to use in His approach to the city.

Third clue; in v. 12, THE GREAT CROWD knew when JESUS WAS ON HIS WAY TO JERUSALEM.  They self-organized to meet Him there.  The question is, how did they know?  One answer is that Jesus and/or His disciples announced it.  Another answer is that there had been a CROWD around Jesus for days; they were there when Lazarus had been raised from the dead and hung around afterward (11:45; 12:9).

  1. Our text supplies four reasons Jesus had for doing it.

First, to give His disciples a testimony they would understand after His resurrection (16).  The Gospels often say the disciples did not understand something until later.  I have no doubt that their receiving the Holy Spirit more than 50 days later is the chief reason they understood these things later.

Second, to fulfill Old Testament prophecies that would identify Him as the Messiah (12+15).  The prominent example is the matter of Jesus riding a donkey into the city.  There are two sides to the donkey riding.  In verse fifteen, John cites Zechariah 9:9 as a prophecy of the Messiah that Jesus fulfilled by appearing on the back of a donkey.

In the customs of the time, if a king rode to the gates of a city on a horse, he announced he was coming as a conqueror.  But if he rode a donkey – a more humble means of transportation – he was coming in peace.  Surely these connections between their experience and the Scripture were also apparent to the pilgrims headed to Jerusalem.

Third, to use a public demonstration of His kingship to put maximum pressure on His enemies, resulting in His crucifixion (19).

As we observed in v. 11, the Jewish leaders were thoroughly intimidated by the number of followers Jesus was gaining.  Their statement is clearly an exaggeration and just as clearly shows their desperate state of mind.  Their actions during the days to come cannot be satisfactorily explained if we don’t appreciate how intimidated they’d become.

This was, I believe, Jesus’ chief purpose in orchestrating this event.  The passions of the pilgrims were sincere and so was the panic of the rulers of the Jews.  When the Pharisees said, “LOOK HOW THE WHOLE WORLD HAS GONE AFTER HIM,” they used a figure of speech to express two things: the size of Jesus’ following and their exasperation at His success.  They saw Jesus as a credible threat to their rule.

I wondered why the Jewish leaders would need to be prodded into action when it’s clear they feared and hated Jesus.  The reason they needed to be pushed along is indicated in all three of the other gospels; they had decided to wait until AFTER the Passover to have Jesus killed (Matthew 26:5; Mark 14:2; Luke 22:2).

Why is the timing crucial?  That was not the Father’s plan.  The Bible gives several reasons it was important for Jesus’ crucifixion occur during the Passover.

There would be more of God’s people in the city at that time; more to hear Jesus’ final teachings and witness His death.  If Jesus had suffered a private assassination and an anonymous burial, we would not have the proofs of His death and resurrection that we find in the Bible.

The connection of Jesus’ death as the ultimate sacrifice for sin with the Passover lamb bridges both testaments.  It is affirmed in three New Testament texts.  In John 1:29+36 John the Baptist indicated

Jesus was the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world.  Paul indicated in 1 Corinthians 5:7 Jesus is our Passover Lamb our sacrifice for sin.  In Revelation 5:6, Jesus is represented as a lamb that looked as if it had been slain.  John’s gospel implies Jesus died on the Day of Preparation for the Passover, the same day that lambs all over the city were being killed.

The leadership’s fear of a riot made them easier to manipulate.

History tells us that riots had occurred in the city before and the Romans ruthlessly put them down.  They were cruelly assertive in discouraging rebellion by over-punishing their rebellious vassals.

A fourth reason Jesus had for creating the Triumphal Entry was to create a “platform” from which He could deliver more of His message (chs. 14-17).  To this point, it’s instructive that about one-fifth of John’s gospel takes place at the Last Supper.  That event gets much more attention John than the other Gospels combined.   Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem created “buzz” among the people in the city.  Coming into the city the way He did prompted people pay more attention to Jesus’ message than if He’d just walked through the gate.

Worldly things (fame, acceptance) are important only in serving God’s purpose.

I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression.  Jesus was not playing to polls like a politician, worried about His “legacy,” or posturing to gain points in His “approval rating.”  In John 6 we saw how little Jesus cared about those things.

Instead, with purity of motive, He used public opinion as one of many tools to turn the tide of events toward the cross.  Because the cross was necessary, the Triumphal Entry was too

Here is Jesus as a victor, not a victim.  In orchestrating this event, Jesus was proactive, taking steps toward His own death on a cross.  In 18:18, at the moment of His arrest, after Peter had acted in Jesus’ defense, He said to Peter, “PUT YOUR SWORD AWAY!  SHALL I NOT DRINK THE CUP THE FATHER HAS GIVEN ME?”

In this, Jesus demonstrated His obedience to the Father’s will.  He will demonstrate it again in the Garden of Gethsemane and a final time on the cross.  He set an example for us to follow in single-mindedness and determination to be obedient.  None of us will have to face anything like what lay before Jesus but our obedience is very much needed just the same.



Message #748

The Anchor Bible, Raymond E. Brown

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur