The Teacher Got Schooled

JC and Nick

Please read John 3:1-21.

          CONTEXT = As this is only the third chapter of John’s gospel, this encounter obviously happened early in Jesus’ ministry.  That is important, however, because Jesus’ teachings in John 3+4 set forth facts that are foundational to our faith.

Faith requires a willingness to learn.

  1. The bell rings: school is in session. (1-2)

What we know about Nicodemus the “teacher/student.”

– He was a Pharisee. (1)

– The name “Nicodemus” meant “victory of the people.”

– He was on the JEWISH RULING COUNCIL; aka the Sanhedrin, aka the Seventy (it had 70 members).

– John 7:50 tells us he was ONE OF THEIR OWN NUMBER; a follower of Jesus.  This proves the teaching Jesus gave Nicodemus here in chapter three took root and bore fruit.

– John 19:39 informs us that, along with Joseph of Arimathea, he buried Jesus.  As Jesus’ burial is one of the chief proofs of His Resurrection, this means the conversion of Nicodemus has great historical significance.

This passage gives evidence of Nicodemus’ belief in Jesus at that moment. (2)  HE CAME TO JESUS AT NIGHT.  We suppose this is due to fear of being seen.  This may imply anything from a case of curiosity to a tentative faith (I do not believe John would include this detail in his narrative if there were not some significance to it), but it clearly shows Nicodemus’ initiative.

“YOU ARE A TEACHER,” Nicodemus said to Jesus.  Jesus was not part of the religious establishment.  His status as a rabbi was not recognized by the established authorities, so this statement implies anything from simple respect to a decision that Jesus held authority regardless of the recognition Nicodemus’ own party (Pharisees) extended or withheld.

“WHO HAS COME FROM GOD.”  Nicodemus is volunteering his opinion here.  As we unfurl his statement, he is making a greater and more accurate assessment of Jesus.

On the basis of the miracles Jesus had wrought, Nicodemus was convinced God had sent Jesus. “FOR NO ONE COULD PERFORM THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS YOU ARE DOING IF GOD WERE NOT WITH HIM.”  Nicodemus is not expressing a belief that Jesus is God, but is, with his words, confessing there was a great deal more to Jesus than any of his colleagues were willing to allow.

  1. Nicodemus’ first lesson: you must be born again. (3-8).

Jesus taught Nicodemus something brand new: “Be BORN AGAIN.” (3)  This teaching had no connection to Nicodemus’ opening statement; it is unrelated to the MIRACULOUS SIGNS he’d mentioned or Jesus’ role as a TEACHER.  This teaching had nothing to do with any previous Jewish teaching.  For these reasons, Nicodemus’ surprise (as Jesus recognized it in verse six) is understandable.

Nicodemus surprise is also implied in his first reaction: he took Jesus too literally (4).  Obviously, it is not physically possible to re-enter the womb and be born a second time.  People tend to say things like this in moments of surprise.  They are thinking out loud, checking their perceptions to see if they misheard or misinterpreted the speaker.

Jesus explained the teaching as a figure of speech in verses five to eight.  Being BORN AGAIN is figurative; not a physical repetition of childbirth, it is a spiritual event.  It is the formational spiritual event, required to enter the KINGDOM OF GOD (5).  Jesus developed the difference between physical birth and spiritual birth by making a distinction is between WATER birth and SPIRIT birth.  Being born of WATER refers to physical birth, what Nicodemus assumed Jesus was talking about.  Being born of the SPIRIT is the spiritual act of faith.

In nature, each species reproduces in kind.   Similarly, in matters of faith, FLESH reproduces FLESH and SPIRIT, SPIRIT (6).

Though Nicodemus was surprised, Jesus informed him this call to be saved is like the wind, coming unseen and unanticipated (7-8).  This is another description Jesus used to make a distinction between being born and being BORN AGAIN.  Like the WIND, the Holy Spirit comes to whomever He wills.  As the WIND is invisible to our eyes, the Holy Spirit is invisible to physical senses.  His coming and going, His actions, can only be perceived in the effects the Spirit has on people.

Jesus’ explanation of the second birth puts the initiative for salvation where it belongs; on God.  The Holy Spirit acts; we observe the effects of His ministrations and react by faith in order to be saved.

  1. Nicodemus’ second lesson: you must believe. (9-18)

Nicodemus questions this.  He doesn’t yet understand but deserves credit for hanging in there.  Because he’s asking questions, we see he’s trying to get it (9).  The idea of being born again boggled him (4) and Jesus’ explanation involving the Holy Spirit (5-8) didn’t clear it up as much as Jesus hoped.  As a Pharisee, Nicodemus’ theology must have included belief in the Spirit, but the part about the Spirit’s role in spiritual rebirth was news to him.  So he asked, “HOW CAN THIS BE?”

Jesus’ response starts with a mild rebuke, “YOU ARE ISRAEL’S TEACHER AND DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THESE THINGS?” (10-12) Jesus is effectively saying, “You’re the authority on all matters of faith and you don’t get this?”

His remarks assess the reaction of the Seventy to His teaching.  Jesus’ teachings are THE TRUTH.  They are all things He has learned and have been confirmed by His experience.  Even though His teaching is with divine authority, Nicodemus’ party (the Pharisees) had rejected His teaching.  Since they had rejected His teaching on EARTHLY THINGS, they could not hope to understand His teaching on more advanced subjects: HEAVENLY THINGS.  To paraphrase Jesus, He said to

Nicodemus, “Your people have rejected my message so it’s plain you don’t understand it.”

Jesus concludes His second lesson by clarifying His authority and mission in verses thirteen to fifteen.  In verse eleven Jesus taught His teaching carried divine authority because it was testimony of the things He had seen.  His teaching was authoritative because His experience had been in HEAVEN.

He taught them the TRUTH because He had personally experienced the TRUTH; He’d seen it for Himself in HEAVEN.  Referring to Himself as the SON OF MAN, Jesus related that His life did not begin at birth, but He existed in heaven before then.  This is a proof of Jesus’ divine nature.  The SON OF MAN exercised divine authority and told the truth because He was in HEAVEN was sent to Earth to do that very thing.

There is another aspect to Jesus’ mission.  He didn’t come just to tell us the truth, but to save us from the penalty of sin (14-15).  Verse fourteen refers to an incident that happened as the Hebrews moved from Egypt to the Promised Land.  It is recorded in Numbers 21.  Some of God’s people complained and rebelled against God.  As a disciplinary measure, God sent poisonous snakes into the camp.  Only the bellyachers were bitten.  All of those bitten got sick.  In mercy, God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze snake.  It was held aloft on a pole and everyone who saw it was spared death.

Jesus used this historical account as a symbol of His own mission.  He came from heaven to earth to be lifted up on a cross to impart life.  One difference being, with Jesus being lifted up, belief – not sight – is what is required to be saved.

Another difference is that the Hebrews were only restored to earthly life; they still died later (hopefully older and wiser).  Jesus’ being lifted up achieved ETERNAL LIFE for all who believe in Him.

In verse sixteen to eighteen, Jesus explained the promise of ETERNAL LIFE.  Verse sixteen is the familiar one-sentence explanation of the Good News; ETERNAL LIFE is available to all people because God’s Son perished on the cross.  Those who believe in Him receive the life God the Father offers.

Verse seventeen explains that saving people is what God intended in sending His son from heaven to Earth.  As 2 Peter 3:9 states, God’s will is that all people be saved.  Unfortunately, most people will exercise their will negatively to reject Him, and are self-condemned to hell.

Verse eighteen promises that the invitation to be saved is universal: WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM IS NOT CONDEMNED.   Free will is not really “free” if there is no actual choice involved.  Refusal to believe must logically be an option, but that option has the most negative consequence possible: the unbeliever is CONDEMNED.  The consequence is eternal death instead of ETERNAL LIFE.

  1. Nicodemus’ third lesson: you must step into the light. (19-21)

THIS IS THE VERDICT (19) means, “This is the decision of God the Righteous Judge.”  God sent His Son to be the “Light of the World (John 1:1-9).  LIGHT is a biblical symbol of purity, knowledge, and understanding (“enlightenment”).

Because Jesus has revealed all this truth about God and His salvation (v. 11), people are without excuse.  Instead, when they have seen the LIGHT and been told the TRUTH and they still reject God, they are utterly self-condemned.

Why would anybody see the LIGHT and still make the choice to reject God?  Why would they do the foolish thing and turn down His offer of ETERNAL LIFE?  Jesus explains in vs. 19-20.  They reject the LIGHT because they love the DARKNESS; they mistakenly think it hides the fact that their DEEDS WERE EVIL.  The LIGHT exposes their true nature.  They FEAR being seen for who they truly are, their deeds being accurately seen as evil.

On the other hand, everyone who is truly a believer comes into the LIGHT (21).  They live by the truth and want others to do the same, so they will also be saved.  The LIGHT here is not a “spotlight.”  True believers don’t want to draw attention to themselves through their deeds.  Instead, they want to draw attention to Jesus.  Just as the LIGHT exposes evil, it also verifies the TRUTH.  The LIGHT helps people to become believers by showing them the truth.

Faith requires a willingness to learn.

True disciples are revealed in a humble attitude that acknowledges their need to mature and acts upon it.  Nicodemus is an example of that attitude and the way Jesus taught him is an example of how to work on it.

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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.

More than One Kind of Blindness

blindness

We must open our eyes & hearts to see God at work.

          One morning, while mom and pop were seated at the breakfast table, the doorbell rang.  It took a moment for the older couple to hear it, and the husband said over his paper, “The door bell is ringing.”

The wife reluctantly got to her feet and went to the door.  Opening it, she saw a man standing outside.  His shirt said “Best Blinds.” The man said, “I’m here for the Venetian blind.” Excusing herself in a preoccupied way, the wife went to the kitchen, fished a dollar from the loose change jar, and returned to the door.  She pressed the coins into the man’s hand, then gently closed the door and returned to the table.

“Somebody collecting for a foreign charity,” she explained, pouring herself some more coffee.

“When is somebody gonna get here to fix that shade?” the man asked resignedly.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/77765/aging-by-gordon-curley?ref=TextIllustrationSerps

Get it?  Venetian blind?  Well, not everyone knows good humor when they see it!

That joke illustrates how misunderstandings arise, especially when we aren’t looking.  Today let’s open our eyes to see Jesus’ teaching.  In John 9 we see three kinds of blindness; one physical and two metaphorical.

  1. Mental blindness: ignorance. (9:1-5)

As we all do, the disciples struggled to understand God’s reasons for a tragic circumstance (vs. 1-2).  All blindness is tragic, but the disciples were moved by this man born blind.

Let’s think about their question.  First, it is evidence of a frequent human shortcoming: fault-finding.  When something is wrong, the first thing we want to do is find someone to blame.  Sad, isn’t it?

Second, the question itself doesn’t sound right to our ears.  The first half of the question sounds ludicrous: how could an unborn baby be guilty of any sin, let alone one deserving of such a penalty?  We need to evaluate this question in the light of the Scripture and the traditions that gave rise to the inquiry; what information the disciples had at that moment.

In Psalm 51:15, David wrote, SURELY I WAS SINFUL AT BIRTH, SINFUL FROM THE TIME MY MOTHER CONCEIVED ME.  This indicates David had at least wondered if an unborn child could be considered a sinner.   Jewish teachers of the time thought that if a pregnant woman committed a sin, the baby within her was guilty too.  In verse 34, the Pharisees accused the former blind beggar of being “STEEPED IN SIN AT BIRTH;” they believed him guilty.  The first half of the question made more sense in Peter’s situation.

The other half of the disciples’ question sounds unfair: why punish a baby for the parents’ sin?  In the Second Commandment the Lord warned, “I, THE LORD YOUR GOD, AM A JEALOUS GOD, PUNISHING THE CHILDREN FOR THE SIN OF THE FATHERS TO THE THIRD AND FOURTH GENERATION OF THOSE WHO HATE ME (Exodus 20:5).  To be fair, this warning is later replaced with a promise NOT to do that but our point is simply that this was a legitimate issue at the time this miracle occurred.

Though we have shown there were biblical and traditional bases for this question, the disciples’ question is still the wrong one to ask as the focus of the question is on the people, not on God.  A better question is, “How is God at work here?  How can we join Him?”

Jesus explained the ultimate reason for human suffering (vs. 3-5). The man’s blindness was not a punishment for sin but an opportunity for THE WORK OF GOD TO BE DISPLAYED IN HIS LIFE. Every circumstance has this purpose because God is ALWAYS at work in ALL our lives.  Verses four to five tell us the WORK OF GOD was to be displayed by Jesus while He ministered among them.  He had a limited time to minister but the world needed a lot of LIGHT shed on it.

  1. Physical blindness: inability to see (9:6-8).

Jesus used unusual means to heal this man’s blindness.  The miracles Jesus performed were as individual as the people involved; there is no set pattern to them.  For a set of reasons not expressed in this passage, Jesus chose to make mud out of spit and put it on the man’s eyelids.  This required him to wash his face in the Pool of Siloam.  John saw the name of the pool as being significant; Jesus SENT the blind man there to receive his sight and Jesus was SENT by God the Father to give LIGHT to the world.

The man’s blindness was cured.  One reason for Jesus’ method in this case may’ve been that it required an act of obedience on the part of the blind man.  Once he demonstrated his obedience in going there and washing his face, he could see.  Afterward, he wanted to go was home to see his parents for the first time in his life.

  1. Volitional blindness: refusal to see. (9:9-41)

Some of HIS NEIGHBORS refused to believe he was healed (vs. 9-12).  It’s stunning how some people refuse to acknowledge what’s right in front of them.  We might call “selective seeing.”

Look at verse nine.  The blind beggar’s appearance in the neighborhood caused quite a stir.  Some recognized him but others denied it, saying “NO, HE ONLY LOOKS LIKE HIM.”

Do you ever wish people would stop and listen to themselves?  If these doubters had just listened to what they were saying, they might’ve heard how ridiculous they sounded.  It’s as silly as if they’d said, “No way.  It’s the 1st century!  Nobody believes in miracles anymore!  That’s so B.C.

Once they were ready to accept his identity, they had to know how it happened.  The newly-seeing man told them about Jesus.

The Pharisees refused to see beyond a Sabbath violation (vs. 13-34).  The situation caused such a ruckus the busybody neighbors brought the man and his family before the Pharisees for them to decide the truth of the matter.

Vs. 14-34 are almost comical to read.  It’s almost as if the meeting was run by the Three Stooges.  At one point (v. 28) they even resorted to name-calling.  As is typical with hypocrites, the Pharisees didn’t care much about the man’s healing; they cared about the comparatively trivial matter of Jesus making mud violated the command to not work on the Sabbath.

On the other hand, this was serious business as the Pharisees could have barred the man from the temple or given corporal punishment.  Verse 22 tells us the parents were afraid of them.  The end of the matter was throwing the man out of the meeting.

Jesus condemned the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees (vs. 35-41).  When Jesus heard the outcome of the investigation, He sought the man out.  As they conversed, the formerly blind man confessed faith in Christ; he said simply, “LORD, I BELIEVE” (v. 38).  Jesus received his confession with an explanation of His mission; ‘FOR JUDGMENT I HAVE COME INTO THIS WORLD, SO THAT THE BLIND WILL SEE AND THOSE WHO SEE WILL BECOME BLIND.”

Some Pharisees were on the scene and took Jesus’ comment personally.  They said peevishly, “WHAT? ARE WE BLIND TOO?”  Jesus confirmed their spiritual blindness when He said, “IF YOU WERE BLIND, YOU WOULD NOT BE GUILTY OF SIN; BUT NOW THAT YOU CLAIM YOU CAN SEE, YOUR GUILT REMAINS.”  The Pharisees had spent their lives studying the Scriptures and hundreds of interpretations of it but still didn’t see the truth.  They were guilty of a willful, intentional blindness; they refused to acknowledge the truth about Jesus.

We must open our eyes & hearts to see God at work.

          In this passage we’ve seen how physical blindness – a congenital birth defect resulting in the inability to see anything ever in his life – lead to Jesus’ confrontation of two forms of symbolic blindness.

Jesus’ disciples exhibited a kind of “mental blindness” that was typical in that culture, a willingness to blame the victim, explaining trials as punishment for sin.  The disciples asked an innocent, theological question.  Jesus’ answer opened their eyes to new theological truth; tragic circumstances cannot always be blamed on sin.  However, all circumstances can always be seen as a circumstance in which THE WORK OF GOD might be DISPLAYED.  Every experience of life is an opportunity to glorify God, to make Him known in how we react to what happens to us.

Some of the blind beggar’s neighbors and many of the Pharisees chose not to believe in Jesus’ miracle.  They didn’t want to believe.   They preferred to make a fuss about their legalistic approach to Sabbath-keeping.  I guess it’s just easier to disbelieve.

Faith requires looking at the world in a different way.  It requires putting what the world calls “common sense” on the back burner and its so-called “scientific worldview” one burner further back.  Faith involves adopting God’s point of view first and foremost.  It’s a change of mind where we seek His wisdom from the word and from the Spirit.  Faith requires us to tear down the idols of self and all other material things and build an altar to God in our hearts.

Faith is looking at our self and our world with eyes that once were spiritually blind, but now see the spirit world.  As we grow and mature in our faith, God gives us increasing sensitivity to what actually true, truly important, and worth expending our lives upon.  Open your eyes to see it.

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.