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.

 

RESOURCES:

Messages #1169, 685, 33

Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Ben Witherington III

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The Devil DIDN’T Make Him Do It

tempting

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.

 

RESOURCES

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.

THE DISCIPLES WENT BACK TO THEIR HOMES

  • 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.

BUT MARY STOOD OUTSIDE THE TOMB CRYING.

  • 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.

AS SHE WEPT, SHE BENT OVER TO LOOK INTO THE TOMB

  • 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.

[SHE] SAW TWO ANGELS IN WHITE, SEATED WHERE JESUS’ BODY HAD BEEN, ONE AT THE HEAD AND THE OTHER AT THE FOOT.

  • 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.

THEY ASKED HER, “WOMAN, WHY ARE YOU CRYING?’

  • 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.

“THEY HAVE TAKEN MY LORD AWAY,” SHE SAID, “AND I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY HAVE PUT HIM.”

  • 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!

AT THIS, SHE TURNED AROUND AND SAW JESUS STANDING THERE, BUT SHE DID NOT REALIZE THAT IT WAS JESUS.

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

“WOMAN,” HE SAID, “WHO IS IT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR?”

  • 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.”

THINKING HE WAS THE GARDENER, SHE SAID, “SIR, IF YOU HAVE CARRIED HIM AWAY, TELL ME WHERE YOU HAVE PUT HIM, AND I WILL GET HIM.”

  • 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.

JESUS SAID TO HER, “MARY.”

  • 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.

SHE TURNED TOWARD HIM AND CRIED OUT IN ARAMAIC, “RABBONI!” [WHICH MEANS TEACHER.]

  • 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,

“DO NOT HOLD ON TO ME, FOR I AM NOT YET RETURNED TO THE FATHER.  GO INSTEAD TO MY BROTHERS AND TELL THEM, ‘I AM RETURNING TO MY FATHER AND YOUR FATHER, TO MY GOD AND YOUR GOD.’”

  • 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 MAGDALENE WENT TO THE DISCIPLES WITH THE NEWS: “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD!” AND SHE TOLD THEM THAT HE HAD SAID THESE THINGS TO HER.

  • 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.”

<https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2019/04/the-notre-dame-fire-civilization-burning/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&spMailingID=59057872&spUserID=MTI3ODAxOTkxODkwS0&spJobID=1622644128&spReportId=MTYyMjY0NDEyOAS2&gt;

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.”

<http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/faith-to-sleep&gt;

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.

 

Resources

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.

 

RESOURCES

Message #748

The Anchor Bible, Raymond E. Brown

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

Ready to Die

Please read John 12:1-11.

maryanoints080316_01

Do I love Jesus as much as Mary did?

          The subject of the Sunday School lesson was missions.  The class of eager eight year-olds had just met their first missionary and they were excited to hear about life in far-away Africa.  The teacher wanted to capitalize on their enthusiasm, so she asked the class if they’d like to give the missionary $1,000.

“YES!” the kids replied enthusiastically.

“How about $100?”

“YES!” they shouted.

“Would you give a dollar to help this missionary?”

All the boys responded with another loud “YES!” except for Johnnie.  The teacher noticed this and asked him, “Johnnie, why didn’t you say ‘yes’ this time?”

“Well,” he said clutching his pocket, “I HAVE a dollar!”

That’s human nature, isn’t it?  As long as sacrifice is merely theoretical or in principle, we’re all for it.  When it becomes actual or personal, we suddenly have reservations.

In our passage, we see Mary making a huge sacrifice to honor Jesus.  While we obviously don’t measure love with dollar signs, we do measure a sacrifice by what it costs us.  The more precious the thing we sacrifice, the more love that indicates.

John referred to Mary’s action before he gave us any details of it.  In 11:2, he explained who Mary was; THIS MARY, WHOSE BROTHER LAZARUS NOW LAY SICK, WAS THE SAME ONE WHO POURED PERFUME ON THE LORD AND WIPED HIS FEET WITH HER HAIR.  This detail is out of chronological order.  If John had been written for the Internet, 11:2 would be preceded by the words “Spoiler Alert!”  He’s teasing what will appear in the next chapter.

  1. Mary’s sacrifice. (12:1-3)

Verse one provides us with the context for this event.  The time was SIX DAYS BEFORE PASSOVER, the last week of Jesus’ life.  The place was the village of Bethany; the home town of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.

John does not record the incident in Luke 10:38-42 but story is in keeping with Luke’s characterization of the sisters.  In Luke, Martha worked in the kitchen and complained that Mary wasn’t helping her.  Here in John, Martha served the meal.  In Luke, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to His teaching.  Here in John she is at His feet again, but this time to perform a lavish sacrifice.  John goes into some detail to assure us Mary’s sacrifice was great.

She poured out A PINT OF NARD, AN EXPENSIVE PERFUME.  This was a fragrant oil make from the nard plant which grows in the mountains of northern India.  Pure NARD was diluted or combined with other ingredients to make incense, cosmetics, perfume, or medicines.

As Jesus would refer to it in verse seven, dead bodies were also covered with the stuff.  This not only masked the smell of decay, but it made the linen cloths covering the body stick to it.

The fact that Mary POURED IT ON JESUS’ FEET is a detail that is hard to explain.  Normally, a person’s head was anointed, not the feet.

That she WIPED HIS FEET WITH HER HAIR is another striking and out-of-the ordinary detail.  In Jesus’ culture it was inappropriate for a woman to bare her head.  In Luke’s account the woman had LIVED A SINFUL LIFE, so she might be willing to flaunt cultural norms.  In that culture as well as ours, this was an intimate act, an extreme show of emotion.

Set aside the cultural norms for a moment: it was illogical to apply perfume and then wipe it off with anything, especially one’s hair.  Mary’s action here is impossible to explain.

John noted THE HOUSE WAS FILLED WITH THE FRAGRANCE OF THE PERFUME.  This is a wonderful poetic description.  This is the first of two clues that Mary poured the whole thing out on Jesus’ feet, an extravagant use of an expensive possession.

  1. Judas’ objection. (12:4-6)

Judas objected to Mary’s action (vs. 4-5).  I imagine Judas’ rebuke coming after a moment of stunned silence after Mary surprised them all.  Mary’s action was not at all practical; a little bit of that concentrated perfume would have been sufficient to be hospitable.  It was an intimate and expensive way to demonstrate her love for Jesus.

“IT WAS WORTH A YEAR’S WAGES” Judas protested.  Turns out, his assessment was quite accurate.  An alternative reading in the Greek texts provides an amount: three hundred denarii.  As a one of these coins was the typical day’s wage for a laborer, 300 would be about a year’s worth.

His objection masked his real motive: greed.  Judas had never before demonstrated any great concern for the poor.  As treasurer, Judas had been trusted with the group’s purse; a trust he violated to add to his own purse or buy things for himself.  People have tried to understand what motivated Judas to betray Jesus, but the only personal motive the gospels offer is greed.

This situation will come up again in 13:29-30, where Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer.  When Jesus sent Judas away, the others assumed Jesus had sent their treasurer to get provisions for the Passover or to make a donation to help the poor.

The other explanation of Judas’ betrayal is a spiritual one: he was a tool in the Devil’s hands (Luke 22:3; John 6:70; 13:2+27).  It’s likely greed was the door Judas opened and the devil walked right in through it.

  1. Jesus’ explanation. (12:7-8)

John doesn’t explain Mary’s motive, an omission which stands out because of the extremity of Mary’s act.  He does, however, explain why this pint of nard was available in the first place.  It seems Mary and Jesus originally had planned another use of the nard.  Jesus said, “IT WAS INTENDED THAT SHE SHOULD SAVE THIS PERFUME FOR THE DAY OF MY BURIAL.”

Instead of following that plan, she poured it all out – she did not dilute it or reserve it for Jesus’ burial.  This is the second of two clues that point to this (the first is in verse three).

Jesus’ statement about the poor (v. 8) has been misused to justify any less-than-compassionate attitude toward poor folks.  We should moderate our urge to personalize or make a rule out of everything.  The first question we should always ask of the Bible is, “What did this mean at that time?”  In this case Jesus warned them that He would not be around much longer, so now was the perfect time for Mary to anoint Him.

Jesus knew human nature and the sinful condition of the world.  Those two facts insure there will always be poor folk.  He also affirmed what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 15:11 = THERE WILL ALWAYS BE POOR PEOPLE IN THE LAND.  THEREFORE I COMMAND YOU TO BE OPEN-HANDED TOWARD YOUR BROTHERS AND TOWARD THE POOR AND NEEDY IN YOUR LAND.

  1. Meanwhile, back at the Sanhedrin. (12:9-11)

Jesus attracted a LARGE CROWD even while doing nothing more than eating dinner (v. 9).  John 11:19 tells us MANY JEWS were in Bethany to comfort Mary and Martha on the occasion of their brother Lazarus’ death.  It’s reasonable to believe part of the LARGE CROWD had witnessed Lazarus’ death and hung around to see what would happen next.

This scene is a dinner given to honor Jesus, with Lazarus invited.  Verse nine reports the CROWD had also gathered to see Lazarus.

The Pharisees’ fear of the CROWD surfaces in vs. 10 and 19, “LOOK HOW THE WHOLE WORLD HAS GONE AFTER HIM!”  The crowds following Him intimidated THE CHIEF PRIESTS so much that they planned to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.  Only John reports this detail. We have no evidence they ever murdered Lazarus.  This information explains why the Jewish leaders were determined to kill Jesus.

Two factors combined to put pressure on the Jewish leadership.  The raising of Lazarus caused Jesus’ popularity to skyrocket just as people were travelling to Jerusalem for the Passover.  I presume they wanted to kill Lazarus to eliminate this important evidence of Jesus’ power and to end his “celebrity status.”

Do I love Jesus as much as Mary did?

          The question gets at the heart of our faith – what am I willing to sacrifice as a demonstration of my love for Jesus?  Mary sacrificed a great deal of money and humiliated herself to make an extravagant gift.  Do I love Jesus enough to sacrifice my pride?

As we conclude, allow me one more example of sacrifice.  Of the 56 men who signed our Declaration of Independence, five were captured by the British and tortured until they died.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  Two lost sons in the Revolutionary War.  One signer had two sons captured.  Nine fought and died in the war.  One saw his ships sunk by the British navy and died in poverty.  More than thirty of the fifty-six signers made great sacrifices to advance the cause of liberty.  We would honor their sacrifice by taking our involvement more seriously.

Those signers who endured heart-breaking loss made great sacrifices in the name of securing freedom for succeeding generations of Americans.  While we may never be called upon to make such deadly sacrifices, we are all called upon to demonstrate our love for Jesus in daily sacrifices of self.  We must surrender all to the one who gave His all for our salvation.  We gather around this table to remember Jesus, who laid down his life for us, the most unselfish act in all human history.  In light of all He did, how much do we love Him for doing it?

 

Resource:

The Anchor Bible, Raymond C. Brown.

Disappearing Disciples

reject Jesus

Following Jesus is necessary; it is not easy.

          We live in a time when the people who exert the greatest influence on American culture think it fashionable to flaunt and condemn Christianity.  With an assertiveness and obnoxiousness that would be condemned as “intolerance” if it were directed at any other faith, these self-appointed guardians of political correctness work to marginalize everyone who lives and practices the true faith.

          In my generation, the most notorious opponent of Christianity was Madalyn Murray O’Hair, a woman who brought suit to remove prayer from public schools.  It’s an amusing testimony to the power of her legacy that though she’s been dead several years, Ms. O’Hair can still cause an email firestorm when spam about her taking a case to the FCC makes the rounds every 2 years or so.

Her atheism flowed from a poisonous personality that gradually gave way to some of the vileness only hell itself could devise.  It may interest you to know that Ms. O’Hair’s son William Murray, became a Baptist minister, author, and lobbyist for conservative values.  As a child, he was named by his mother as the plaintiff in the lawsuit she used to remove prayer from public schools.  Rev. Murray says of his mother, “she was just evil.” She was murdered by members of her own organization in 1995, the dismembered bodies of O’Hair, her son, and her granddaughter were recovered in the woods near Camp Woods, Texas five years later.

https://www.religiousfreedomcoalition.org/2011/04/05/the-madalyn-murray-ohair-murder/

Good news – the Church has survived all of Ms. O’Hair’s activism.  The Church will also survive the current crop of “talking heads” who are likewise so eager to remove Christianity from the public sphere.

Bad news – things will get more difficult before Jesus comes again.  Following Jesus in America is certainly not as difficult as it is in other parts of the world, but it has never been an easy thing to do.  As a reminder to be faithful, this morning we’ll see how some people who identified themselves as Jesus’ disciples turned their backs on Him.

  1. Accept Jesus’ teaching though it can be hard to take. (vs. 60-65)

John reported MANY OF HIS DISCIPLES COMPLAINED. The may have been complaining about what Jesus taught earlier in the chapter.  Here are couple examples of the teaching to which they were reacting.

“UNLESS YOU EAT THE FLESH OF THE SON OF MAN AND DRINK HIS BLOOD, YOU HAVE NO LIFE IN YOU.” (53)

“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE (48).  THIS IS THE BREAD THAT CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN.  YOUR FOREFATHERS ATE MANNA AND DIED, BUT HE WHO FEEDS ON THIS BREAD WILL LIVE FOREVER.” (58)

Their complaint was this teaching seemed HARD to them.  As we see in v. 52, they took these words very literally, saying, “HOW CAN THIS MAN GIVE US HIS FLESH TO EAT?”  Taken literally, the idea is repugnant, against God’s law, and physically impossible.

Taken as a figure of speech, it was meaningless to them.  They did not understand the symbolism Jesus used.  Further, Jesus’ reference to their FOREFATHERS might have made them feel defensive and a little more peevish.  So, HARD = difficult.  The teaching was difficult to understand and accept.

John also wrote they were GRUMBLING and offended by what Jesus said.  The Greek word translated as GRUMBLING can also be rendered “complaining, murmuring.”  They bellyached, but not to Jesus

When operating in our flesh alone – that is, without spiritual insight – it’s easy for us to take offense.  Maybe they felt Jesus was trying to make them look ignorant.  Jesus was not responsible for offending them; they chose to take offense at His words.  As a result, they did not BELIEVE and He called them on it (64).

Jesus’ reply revealed four more truths about Himself.

He predicted He would ASCEND TO WHERE HE WAS BEFORE. John told us in chapter one where Jesus was before, and that was with God the Father.  John’s gospel does not tell us about the Ascension of Jesus but we read about it at the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts.  It marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  This is a proof of the divine side of Jesus’ nature; He existed before all creation and participated in creation.  Jesus is telling them He is God but they’re not having it.

Their complaints were materialistic (of the FLESH) but the Spirit’s contributions bring life.  They missed the symbolism in His words because they had no sense of the Spirit’s testimony in what Jesus was saying.  Jesus clearly informed him of the spiritual origin of His teaching and promised that those who believed them would have LIFE.

We saw in 2:24-25 Jesus knew the content of people’s hearts but here He reveals this supernatural insight to them.  He said, “SOME OF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE.”  Jesus said this before many of them turned away and left Him, predicting and explaining their response before it happened.  Jesus knew FROM THE BEGINNING who would turn and walk away.  He also knew which of the Twelve would be His betrayer.

He repeated what He said in verse 44; it was impossible to come to the father apart from His words.  Many of His listeners supposed they were in God the Father’s good graces because they were descendants of Abraham.  Jesus exposed that assumption as false.  The truth is, there is no relationship with God the Father without believing His words.

  1. Do not turn your back on Jesus. (66-71)

This was the last straw for MANY OF those who had claimed to be HIS DISCIPLES.  In chapter two we saw the superficial faith of those who were wowed by His miracles.  In chapter six we see the superficial faith of those who wanted another miraculous meal.

Jesus exposed their motives in v. 26: “I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, YOU ARE LOOKING FOR ME, NOT BECAUSE YOU SAW MIRACULOUS SIGNS BUT BECAUSE YOU ATE THE LOAVES AND HAD YOUR FILL.”  If He had continued to feed them and ask for nothing in return, they would have hung around.  As it was, I guess you can say they couldn’t “stomach” the truth!

Jesus asked the essential question: “Do you want to leave me too?”  It’s a question each of us answers daily by the choices we make.  We’ve established Jesus knew people’s hearts, so this is not a question He asked for information’s sake.  There may’ve been some frustration or other emotion behind this, but I believe His purpose in asking is to draw out His disciples and give them a chance to declare faith.

Peter gave the correct answer.  Is there frustration or disappointment in Peter’s reply, “WHERE ELSE CAN WE GO?”  Even so, we have to credit Peter with having the faith to realize two important things:

“YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF LIFE.”  This statement implies Jesus alone has the WORDS that lead to LIFE.  There are all kinds of things competing for our attention but only Jesus has the WORDS OF LIFE.

“WE BELIEVE AND KNOW YOU ARE THE HOLY ONE OF GOD.”  This is how we are saved: the Holy Spirit works in every life to draw us to Jesus.  By belief in the works and words of Jesus, we gain access to God the Father.  By faith we accept the salvation Jesus provided for us and receive the forgiveness of God the Father.  We then have life eternal.

Jesus affirmed Peter’s statement of faith as true, as if He’d said, “I hear you and that’s why I chose you to be my TWELVE.”  However, He also knew that one of the Twelve was not faithful; worse, he was a DEVIL.  The word DEVIL means “slanderer” and is not usually used to refer to a human being.  Here it is a figure of speech to show how diabolical Judas was being.

John’s editorial comment in v. 71 explains who the unnamed DEVIL was and why he was devilish.  John 13:2 says THE DEVIL PROMPTED JUDAS to betray Jesus.  In 13:27 we read Satan ENTERED INTO Judas.  This does not excuse Judas’ choices; it merely explains how he was able to betray Jesus.

Following Jesus is necessary; it is not easy.

We spoke briefly at the beginning about opposition to our faith coming from outsiders.  This event reminds us that sometimes people who claim to be disciples oppose and reject the teaching of Jesus.  It’s necessary to remind ourselves that current situation exists in part because the Church in America allowed it to happen.  We dozed peacefully at the wheel and wonder how we landed in the ditch!

The American Church will most effectively resist the conductors of culture to the degree we choose to follow Jesus truthfully.  We must take up the message Peter defined in vs. 68+69, without any compromise with this culture.  We must affirm, with our words and deeds, that Jesus is the sole means of eternal life, the HOLY ONE OF GOD.  This message must go out by our love and be proven by our integrity.  Friends, this must happen as millions of convinced Christians live their daily lives in the Holy Spirit.  We must give our all to Jesus but not give an inch to the world.

 

RESOURCES:

Greek Lexicon, Walter Bauer.