Sunday, August 28, 2016

Triumph through death, John 12:12-26

In the Christian church today, I think we are sometimes guilty of saying things, repeating phrases, or even going through certain ceremonies, which are part of our tradition, but which we don’t really understand.  For instance, we often hear the word “hallelujah” in church.  We may sing or say this word in various liturgies or songs.  Yet a lot of us may not know what it really means.  It’s a Hebrew word which means “praise the Lord” by the way.  “Amen” is another one we hear often.  Amen is another Hebrew word, which means “let it be.”   Today in the passage we are looking at, there is the transliteration of another Hebrew word, which we hear oftentimes at Christmas or on Palm Sunday.  The word in our text is “hosanna.”  It means “O save us,” or “save, I pray.”   

But I would suggest that at the time in which this word was shouted in celebration of Jesus’s triumphant arrival into Jerusalem, the vast majority of those present did not really know the true  meaning of that word.  I’m sure that it was used much like the way we use such words a hallelujah or amen, it was merely a word they had associated with Messianic themes found in the scripture.  And in this case, it finds it’s reference in Psalm 18, which was read or recited as part of the Hallel, which was recited at the Feast of Tabernacles and the Passover Feast.  And as the text reminds us, the Passover Feast was at hand. So this word was already on the lips of those coming to celebrate the Passover.

Now I make that point because I want to emphasize that the things that the Jews were saying about Jesus came not as a result of spiritual insight, but out of a nationalistic fervor.  In other words, they really didn’t understand the nature of Jesus’s ministry, or the nature of the Kingdom of God.  Matthew 4:17 tells us that when Jesus had begun His ministry 3 years earlier, He did so by preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  

But in spite of all that Jesus taught concerning the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, the vast majority of the Jews heard what they wanted to hear, and as a result they misunderstood the true nature of Jesus’s ministry.  The Jews were looking for a Messiah on the order of a revolutionary political figure such as Judas Macabbeus, who had lived 150 years before and brought about a great military victory for Israel; and who restored the temple for service.  And their incomplete understanding of scripture was such that at the time of Jesus they were looking for the Messiah who would be first and foremost a king, a Son of David, who would restore the throne of David to Israel, and would overthrow the Roman oppression.  So they were not looking for a savior, but for a deliverer from their political problems.

So because of that expectation, there had already been a couple of times that the Jews had wanted to make Jesus a king, particularly after feeding the 5000, and yet Jesus slipped away. He went away from the crowds in order to avoid them taking Him and making Him King by force.  And He avoided that because the scripture says, His time was not yet come.  It wasn’t the right time in God’s schedule.  But now at the Passover, it is the right time.  It is the week before Christ’s death on the cross.  And contrary to many theologian’s views, God’s plan was that Jesus would suffer before He would be glorified.  God’s plan was for the redemption of man by offering Jesus on the cross as the Passover lamb, slain for the sins of the world, and then afterwards, Jesus would be exalted and glorified.  Jesus made that  priority clear later on when He was with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, as recorded in Luke 24:26 He said, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” It’s the sufferings first and then the glory. That order is very important. 

But now it seems that Jesus is willing to let the crowd coronate Him as King. This was to fulfill prophecy, to coronate Jesus as King, but not King of the nation of Israel, but of the spiritual Kingdom of God. And it says that even the disciples were confused by that.  Because up to this point, Jesus had done everything possible to avoid this from happening.  But now, we see the disciples wondering what is going on.  In vs. 16 we read, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.”

But now it was the appointed hour.  Jesus said in vs.23, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  However, He is not talking about receiving the adulation of the Jews.  He is talking about the hour of His death.  This is the reason that He came to earth.  To offer Himself as the sacrificial Passover Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world.  And so He says in vs. 27 "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”

So Christ came into Jerusalem riding upon a donkey, the colt of a donkey.  He did not choose to enter mounted upon a white stallion, with sword flashing, dressed in royal raiment.  But He chose a donkey.  So John quotes from a prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 which emphasizes in this triumphal entry the humility of Christ, and that He came to bring salvation. ”Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This was the concept that escaped the Jews.  That the Messiah, the Christ, who was the King of the Kingdom of God, would come first and foremost as the author of salvation from their sins.  He would be the Lamb slain for the sins of the world.  He would humble Himself and take upon Himself the form of a servant, so that He might bear the sins of the world.  Thus He entered upon a donkey, a beast of burden.  

It is ironic that the Jews, even His disciples, could have been so close to the truth, and yet so far away.  They wanted a King who would deliver them from their enemies.  But the only enemy that they could see was the Romans.  Jesus came to deliver them from the greater enemy which was Satan, who held the world in his power and control, who kept men in bondage to sin, through the fear of death.  Jesus came to deliver men from that fear.  Thus vs. 15, quoting Zechariah says, “Fear not, daughter of Jerusalem, Behold your King comes sitting on a donkey’s colt.”  He came according to the purpose stated in Hebrews 2:14-15 which says,  “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,  and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”

Here is the thing, He had to be the Sovereign King of Creation, if He were to be able to free mankind from the bondage of sin and death.  No one less than than the person of God Himself could possibly do that.  A mere king of the type of David could have possibly freed the Jews from Rome, but only the King of Glory could free men from the dominion of Satan.

But the vast majority of the Jews could not see that.  They could not see past their immediate longing for a better political and social situation. They were primarily interested in a better quality of life.  And so Luke tells us that even though they were shouting “Hosanna,” O save us! even though they were laying their coats and palm branches on the road in front of them, Jesus wasn’t impressed by their nationalistic fervor.  In fact, the effect was just the opposite. Luke says in Luke 19:41-42 that “When the procession approached Jerusalem, Jesus saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” 

I want to mention something that maybe you have never thought of before.  The Bible never tells us that Jesus ever laughed. In fact, it says in Isaiah 53 that He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  We have no record of Jesus ever laughing.  But we have a number of accounts of Jesus weeping, of His soul being troubled.  And I say that not to paint Jesus as some sort of sad sack.  But I would say that to refute a lot of the demonic activity that is going on in the church today in the name of the Holy Spirit, things like the so called holy laughter, or being drunk in the spirit, etc. Jesus never did anything that even slightly resembled such things. And I would suggest to you that neither does the Holy Spirit.  Because Jesus said that the Holy Spirit does nothing from His own initiative.  John 16:13-14  "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”  

The point being that Jesus said again and again that He did nothing of His own initiative, but He did what the Father was doing, He did the deeds of His Father and He spoke the words of the Father.  And that is how He said you could know that He was of God, because He did what the Father did.  And in chapter 16 which we just read, Jesus says the same thing about the Spirit.  He does nothing of His initiative, but He only does what Jesus did, He glorifies Jesus.  That is the doctrine of the unity of the trinity.  So if you see something going on which is supposed to be a work of the Spirit, but it’s not something that Jesus did, then you need to be skeptical of it.  Test the spirits, Paul said, for there are many spirits sent into the world, but not all of them are from God.

And let me expand that out to another level.  What Christ was doing, we are supposed to be doing. That is the purpose of Christianity.  We are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, that means we do what He did, and we do that through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us.  I’m not talking about having the ability to walk on water or heal people, I’m talking about walking in a fallen, corrupt world even as He walked, righteously, holy, spotless. We are to be holy even as He is holy.  And we will expand further upon this in a moment.

But I think the example of the Jews response to Christ that we have before us today is very pertinent to the church in modern times.  Because as the church, we have to be careful that we worship God as He is, and not as we want Him to be. The sin of the Jews was that they proclaimed worship of Christ with their lips, but their hearts were far from God.  They wanted a Messiah King to save them, but they had the wrong view of a savior.  It’s interesting that Caesar was called the savior of the Roman Empire. That title was stamped on Roman coins.  A savior according to the popular idea was someone who delivered one from their enemies.  He was a military conqueror.  But the idea of Jesus as the Savior from their sinfulness was abhorrent to the Jews.  Because they were self righteous and self satisfied with their spiritual status just as they were. They didn’t feel any need to be forgiven or be changed spiritually.  They had no need of repentance. And so they rejected Jesus as their Savior.  That is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  Because though they wanted a king, they rejected the Prince of Peace.

This is the sin of modern Christianity, if I might generalize it for a moment.  There is no sense of the need for repentance today in the church.  Sin is not preached against.  People’s hearts are hardened to their sin.  Church members today live in immorality and think nothing of it.  Divorce is rampant in the church and no one thinks anything of it.  Worldiness and fleshly lusts are exhibited as evidence of  a sort of divine blessing. The church looks like the world in all it’s excesses, in all it’s pride and no one thinks anything of it.  We just praise the Lord once a week or so.  Hosanna! we sing.  Glory to God!  Praise the Lord!  But in reality, we just want God to bless our mess.  We want a better political situation.  We want a better social situation, and we would like God to take care of that for us.  But we don’t need a Savior.  We don’t feel the need for forgiveness.  And consequently there is no repentance.

Well, what is the proper response to Jesus supposed to be?  Well, I think John gives it to us in the text.  After Jesus has entered into Jerusalem amid all this fanfare, some Greeks who are probably proselytes, ask the disciples if they can see Jesus. And this prompts a curious response from Jesus.  It seems curious at first glance, but actually John uses this event to show the real purpose of Christ’s coming into Jerusalem.  Vs. 23 “And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

What does he mean by that? He is talking about himself. Jesus speaks of Himself as  the grain of wheat. Unless He is willing to die, unless He goes to the cross, His whole purpose in coming to earth will have been wasted, and the Kingdom of God will not be established on earth. "But if it dies, it bears much fruit." Jesus sees these Greeks as emblematic of the great harvest of souls in the world for which He came.  The world would not see the full outcome of his work and his life until he went to the cross and He was eager to accomplish HIs sacrifice so that all the world might know the good news of the gospel.

Because of the cross Jesus was able to break the power of sin.  Because of the cross He was able to draw all men to Himself. Because of the cross men might have peace with God. Because of the cross He was able to proclaim victory over death.  Because of the cross He would be resurrected victorious over the grave and ascend to the right hand of the Father, above all rule and authority, after everything and all power had been subjected to Him.  Because of the cross He would be able to reign over His spiritual kingdom in the hearts of His people.  Because of the cross He would send us the Comforter who would indwell and empower the church to be able to take the gospel to the whole world.  The cross had to come first, and then His glory would be made known throughout the world.  

So the grain must die and be buried, and when it did, it sprouted and brought forth life again, life multiplied by the thousands upon thousands, then millions upon millions.  But first He had to die.

But as I said earlier, as He was in the world, so are we to be.  And so as Christ died, so also must we die. That is our response of worship. As Paul said in Romans 12:1 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” We too must come to the cross, and offer up ourselves as our spiritual service of worship to God.  So Jesus said to us in vs. 25 "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

Here is the great Christian paradox, the unmistakable mark of the authentic gospel: It begins with dying, with a cross. If the gospel that you hear proclaimed in church, or on  television, or wherever, does not begin with a cross, does not begin by telling you that something in you has to die, it is not the true gospel. The cross is the identifying mark of the gospel. No matter how appealing the message of self actualization, or  the message of self improvement that you may hear presented as Christianity may sound, the truth of the gospel is that you must lay down your life if you want to really live. 

AW Tozer said, “That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the gospel.”

Much of the message of the church today is simply a Christianization of the world’s philosophy, which is “Be happy! Do whatever makes you happy.”  That’s the mantra of the worldly church.  “God loves you and just wants you to be happy. So do whatever it you want that makes you happy.” But as Tozer says, that is a cruel lie.  

Jesus declared that if you follow that philosophy you will lose everything. Life will slip through your fingers no matter what you do to embellish it by the world’s standards. You can gain all the material abundance you could ever wish for, the acclaim of the crowd, recognition by the whole world, but if you live that way you will end up losing the most important thing. Jesus said in Mark 8:36  "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”

The answer, Jesus said in Matt.16:24, is to follow His example.  Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

In terms of practical experience, what does Jesus mean, "He who comes after me must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me"?  What does it mean to bear your cross daily? It means two things: First, to take up your cross is to surrender of the rule of your life to Jesus. It is a recognition that your life is not your own. I Cor. 16:20 says, ”You are not your own, you are bought with a price.”  The illusion from the world is that we are the captains of our soul, that we have a right to do whatever we want.  But that’s a lie.  The Bible says “The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.”  We are His creation.  And He is the Sovereign King over all.  And we must bow to Him.

So this is the beginning of true life: To recognize HIs sovereignty, to surrender your claim to yourself, to give up your right to run your own affairs, and to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, to do what he says, and to stop what he says to stop. That isn’t always appealing. It means submitting my plans to the Lord’s master plan. But that’s what it means to die to yourself.  To take up your cross. 

And it also means to daily follow up on that decision.Paul said I die daily.  Keep doing what is right. Stop doing what is wrong, and do it all in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Die to the flesh so the you might live by the Spirit. That is how you will truly begin to live.  And as a result of dying to your will, the power of new life will come, the power to do what is right. That’s the way to joy and the inner peace that Jesus spoke of earlier, true peace from knowing you are right with God, and a child of God.

And that is the source of fruit in your life.  You won’t have spiritual fruit until you die to yourself.  I’ve been praying for a revival in this community, and even for a revival in this country.  I would love to see this country experience something like the Great Awakening of the 18th century when preachers like George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards and the Wesley brothers fanned the flames of a  revival that set this nation on fire for God. But if we are ever going to see another revival like that again, then we need to learn the truth of what it means to die to ourselves.  To die to the world’s agenda, to the social agenda, to the self actualization agenda of the world.  When Christians learn to take up their cross and follow Jesus, then we will start seeing the fruit multiply and a harvest of souls for the kingdom of God.  

We’re going to celebrate with a young man right after our closing song who is going to be baptized in the ocean.  He has decided to follow the Lord with all His heart and soul and serve the Lord for the rest of his life.  And baptism symbolizes that beautifully.  In baptism, our old way of life is buried with Christ in the likeness of His death, and raised with Him in the likeness of His resurrection to a new life, a fruitful life in Christ.  I hope you will consider joining us immediately following this song to celebrate his decision.  And I invite anyone here who has not yet made that commitment themselves to consider being baptized today.  This is God’s way of making a public confession of your faith and commitment to die to the world and live for Christ.  Today is your opportunity, this is your invitation.  Acts 2:38  Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 

Jesus said in vs.26 of our text; “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”  You can ensure that honor from God today by coming to be baptized as a token of your faith and repentance in Christ.  Jesus said in Matt. 10:32 "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.”  Today is your opportunity.  Let us pray.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mary’s sacrificial love for Christ, John 12:1-11

For the last couple of weeks, we looked at the last miracle that Jesus did which is recorded in the book of John, which was the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  And now we have come to the final week of Jesus’s ministry before His crucifixion.  And in anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross 6 days later, John presents us with this dinner that is being held in Bethany to honor Jesus and Lazarus.  It’s now been a few months since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and as He heads back to Jerusalem to meet His predetermined destiny, He stops in to visit His friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  And the other gospels tell us that a man named Simon, who was formerly a leper, hosted a dinner at his house for Jesus and invited many people there who wanted to both see Jesus and see Lazarus as well.  The fame of this miracle had by that time reached all through the surrounding countryside, and so there would be many people that wanted to see Jesus, and to see Lazarus as well, knowing that he had been dead and was now made alive.

Now as I indicated, John uses this event to point to Jesus’s impending death which was foreordained by God, which would coincide with the Passover, just 6 days later.  But at the same time, John is illustrating the nature of true worship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is illustrative of the heart of worship that God desires.  And Judas illustrates the opposite of worship, which is self righteousness.  So let’s get into the story and see how this contrast is illustrated in the actions of these two people.

This man Simon hosts a dinner in his house for Jesus, presumably to honor Jesus and Lazarus as well, as he had become somewhat of a celebrity due to being raised from the dead.  As vs.9 says, “The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead.”

So there was a good sized crowd that showed up at this man’s house to see Jesus and Lazarus.  The indication is that Simon himself had at one time been healed from leprosy by Jesus, and that is why he hosted the event.  But it also may be because he had a large home to accommodate everyone.  Because we know that in addition to Simon, Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus, there were also the 12 apostles.  So there were at least 17 people in attendance, but as vs.9 indicates, there were possibly dozens more that showed up.

You know, when we have our worship services on Sunday mornings, I always pray that we will have a good attendance for our service.  But more important than the numbers of people that come, is that Jesus Himself is here in Spirit.  Jesus said, where 2 or 3 of you are gathered together in my name, there will I be in your midst.  Without the Spirit of Christ here, there is no worship, there is no church.  It doesn’t matter if you have a building that you call a church or not, Jesus does not dwell in temples made with hands, but in the hearts of His people.  So we come together to worship Jesus, believing that He is here, and we are His body. 

But as this story illustrates, people come to worship the Lord having various motivations.  We see a number of people in this story, no doubt drawn by the excitement about the recent miracle, yet it’s interesting to notice the various responses of the people involved. But out of all of them, only Mary receives the commendation of Jesus.  In Matthew and Marks parallel accounts of this event, Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” (Matt.26:13)

There are obviously many people who have come there because of the notoriety of Jesus. There is a lot of excitement in the community at that point due to this miracle. Jesus was at the height of His popularity with the people in Bethany and the surrounding areas right at that time. 

So there is this outpouring of response to the miracle that Jesus did.  The town hosts a dinner party to honor Jesus.  But even so, we have to wonder if those in attendance were there to worship Jesus, as much in hopes of reaping some sort of benefit.  Be it social, material, financial, or otherwise.  The point being being that there can be a lot of motivations to coming to a celebratory event, presumably to worship the Lord, but that is not always what is really going on underneath the surface.

And John doesn’t tell us about everyone’s motivation. But he does tell us about Judas.  And Matthew and Mark tell us that the disciples seemed to side with Judas.  So to some extent we can gauge from their response where their hearts were.  He tells us what some of the Jews response was who either were there or who heard about the supper.  John mentions that Martha as usual she is working in the kitchen.  Lazarus is sitting with Jesus, perhaps somewhat overwhelmed by his celebrity status.  Simon the Leper’s response was to hold a dinner party for the community, and we might wonder if he  had ulterior motives in hosting the dinner at his house because of the celebrity status of the miracle.  I don’t know, and perhaps we shouldn’t speculate too much.  But I guess what I want to point out here is that we can come to worship God, perhaps out of some religious excitement or enthusiasm, and yet our hearts can still be far away from the Lord. I read somewhere recently a theologian who said that it was a good thing for a person who was right with God to be in church, but it was a dangerous thing for someone who was not right with God to be in church.  It’s a dangerous thing to come to worship before God in public, without having a right heart before God in private.

The Lord made it clear in Isaiah that He did not desire ceremonies and rituals and worship that did not come from a right heart. Isaiah 1:11-17  "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” says the LORD."I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer,Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies--I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer,I will hide My eyes from you;Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen.Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.Cease to do evil,  Learn to do good;Seek justice,Reprove the ruthless,Defend the orphan,Plead for the widow.”  What this is telling us is that God doesn’t want empty praise or adulation from men.  This idea that all that God requires is for us to praise Him in public worship, when our hearts are far from Him is not what the Bible teaches us that God requires.

Well, the example of how we should come to worship the Lord is seen in Mary’s example.  John says Mary took a pound of ointment, a costly perfume and anointed Jesus head with it, and then washed His feet with her hair.  Now let’s consider what this represents.  First of all, Judas tells us that this perfume was worth 300 denarii.  Now a denarius was considered a day’s wage.  So this perfume was extremely valuable.  It was worth 300 days wages.  If we estimate that a laborers wages are $100 a day in our currency, then we might say that this perfume was worth $30,000 in todays money.  That’s a lot of money.  

But there is more to it than that, I believe.  In those days, it was customary for a young woman to receive a dowry from her family to be used to help her acquire a husband.  Now this worked both ways.  On the one hand the bridegroom gave gifts to the parents, but the woman also had a dowry which was used as a financial gift to the groom from the brides family. Women were not considered in those times as we think of them today. Marriage was many times a financial as well as a social arrangement.  And so the dowry would sometimes be a financial incentive for a woman to get a husband.  And without a husband, a woman was very limited in terms of owning property or having any sort of income that would provide for her living.  

So I believe that this alabaster vial of very expensive ointment was Mary’s dowry.  In those days, they didn’t have banks such as we have today where you could put your money.  So these vials of expensive perfume acted as a sort of savings account for the woman which would become her dowry which was given to her husband.  And in the case that she didn’t find a husband, she could sell this perfume and it would help provide financially for her.  

Now if that is the case, then we can see Mary’s worship of Jesus in a new light.  Not only was it a very rich offering, as Judas indicated, but it was indicative of her sacrificial love for Christ.  Her act showed her willingness to give all that she had to Christ, and give up all that she had hoped for in this world, all for the sake of knowing Christ.  And I would quickly add, that this was not romantic love.  It was sacrificial love. 

I think sometimes we fail to understand that love should be our response to Christ.  And perhaps part of that is that we fail to understand what love should be.  I’ve said before many times that love is not just sentimentality.  And I would even go so far as to say that is not the type of love that is necessary in marriage either.  We tend to believe the Hollywood stereotype about love, that it is head over heels, love at first sight, and love conquers all sort of romantic love.  And there can be that kind of romantic love in marriage.  And perhaps it should be.  But marital love is much more than just romantic love.  It is also sacrificial love.  It is putting the needs of the other mate above your own needs.  I was counseling a lady some time ago who was considering leaving her husband because she said he did not love her enough, and my advice was that you are using the wrong equation.  The question should not be how much does he love you, but how much do you love him?  You are responsible for your love to be pure and unrestrained and fully committed first and foremost.

Ephesians chapter 5 says that husbands are to love their wives even as Christ loved the church and laid down His life for her.  So that sacrifice defines marital love.  It is sacrificial love.  And our love for God is to be the same kind of love as that which He had for us.  He laid down His life for us, and our response is that we should lay down our life for Him.  There is a lot of talk in the church today about the love of God.  Many contemporary Christian songs have substituted “Love” for God’s name because of this emphasis.  But I want to tell you that love is not a one way street. The Christian’s relationship to the Lord is pictured as that of a bride and her husband.  And in order to have a healthy marriage, love needs to be fully expressed by both parties.  God’s love for us has been unquestionably established by Jesus dying for us on the cross.  It is our love for God that we must focus on.

In fact, when Jesus was asked to name the most important, foremost commandment, He said in Mark 12:30 that it is “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.”  That kind of love, all consuming love, all encompassing love is what God desires.   He is not talking about sentimentality, or emotion that ebbs and flows depending on the circumstances.  But He is talking about a sacrificial love, putting Him first.  And if we are truly the bride of Christ, then that is what we will want to do.  

God is a jealous husband. He desires first place in our lives.  He says in Matt.10:37-38 "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”  There it is again, the sacrificial quality of our devotion to God.  

Let me show you a great Old Testament example of that.  There is a principle in biblical hermeneutics  which is called the principle of first mention.  Which means that if you want to understand a word in the Bible, find the first time it is mentioned and see how it is used in that example.  And that will provide the basis for your subsequent interpretations.  And so in the word “worship” for example, the first usage of it is found in Genesis 22:5, when Abraham is going to offer Isaac on the altar at Mount Moriah.  And Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”  Now that is a powerful illustration of what it means to worship. Abraham was talking about an act of sacrifice.  The most important person in the world to Abraham was his son, and yet God called him to offer Isaac up as a sacrifice to God.  And Abraham called this worship.  

What do you call worship?  How do you worship God?  How much do you love God?  How do you express that love?  What are you willing to give to God?  What are you holding back from God?  I dare you to ask yourself these questions honestly this morning, and examine your worship in light of what Mary did.  She gave up her hope of a husband for Christ.  She gave up her hope of financial independence for Christ.  Mary didn’t just pour a few drops out of her bottle, she broke it, and poured everything she had out in love for Christ. 

And notice what effect this sacrificial love had.  First of all, it pleased God.  As I pointed out earlier, Jesus said in Matthew 26:13, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” In essence what the Lord says is, “This example of worship is going to be a permanent, everlasting memorial to the love of this woman for the Lord.”  And seeing that,  we should ask ourselves this question, how all encompassing is your sacrificial love for Christ?  How much will your love of Christ speak for you in eternity?

Notice one other effect of Mary’s worship.  It says the whole house was filled with the fragrance. Mary poured out a pound of this expensive perfume. I’m sure that not only did Mary smell like that fragrance for days afterwards, but Simon the Leper and his whole house smelled like Mary’s fragrance for probably a week or more.  I’m sure that the disciples all smelled like that fragrance for days.  And I would submit to you that when you truly love the Lord and worship Him with an all encompassing, sacrificial love like Mary had, then it’s going to start affecting others in your house.  You live with a husband who is a bum, and who doesnt’ care about things of the Lord?  The answer is not to nag him to death, but to so love the Lord with an all encompassing, sacrificial love that he cannot help but be affected by it.  Your kids don’t seem interested in the things of God?  The answer is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind.  And when you are consumed with the genuine worship of God, that fragrance is going to affect everyone in your house.  Every marital problem, every family problem, every sin problem, finds it’s solution by putting Christ first and foremost in every place in your life.  When you get worship right, then those other things are going to start to fall into place.

Well that is the example of genuine worship.  Mary is the premier example of true worship.  But let’s look quickly at what worship is not.  And for that we need look no further than this text, in the example of Judas.  I would point out first of all, that proximity to the Lord does not necessarily equate to preeminence in relationship. Judas had been part of Jesus’s inner circle for 3 years.  And yet we know that his heart was far from the Lord. He was only interested in what material benefit could be gained from the Lord.  

Couple of other points to make about Judas.  He was the only disciple from Judea.  Judeans were the educated people of Jewish society.  They were the aristocrats, especially in comparison to the uneducated Galileans who made up the bulk of Jesus’s disciples. So it’s interesting to note that Judas was probably considered above reproach by the others.  That’s why they made him treasurer.  He was considered the most trustworthy of all of them.  That’s why on the night of his treachery the disciples didn’t realize Jesus was speaking of him being the traitor.  

I think that this example in our text shows that Judas’s sin was that of self righteousness.  Self righteousness is anything but righteous. It is the sin of pride. And yet many times it looks to others as if such a person is extremely pious.  But Judas’s self righteousness is apparent in his indignant response to Mary’s true worship.  He said in vs 5, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” And John after the fact, gives us insight saying, “Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.”  

What we see in Judas is a self righteous indignation, not only because he was a thief, but because he wanted to take the focus off of Jesus and put it on himself.  Worship is focused on the Lord only, but self righteousness takes that focus off of the Lord and directs it to one’s self.  And notice that is exactly what Judas does.  There is nothing wrong with taking care of the poor. In fact, we are instructed to do so.  But as Jesus said, the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.  Christ must always have the preeminence.  I see a lot of churches today that are involved in a lot of social projects, but they have failed the gospel because they have left out Christ.  They do not preach Christ crucified, they do not preach the need for repentance and faith in Him as your Savior, they do not preach the Lordship of Christ.  We cannot substitute anything, no matter how noble the cause might seem, for the immediacy and the urgency and the priority of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And I will say that this attitude of self righteousness manifests itself quite often in the church today, masquerading as worship.  But it is not true worship. It’s self serving. It’s self righteousness that is taking away the honor due to the Lord and putting it on individuals, who are perhaps in positions of leadership, positions of worship leaders, or even pastors.  They focus attention on themselves and away from true devotion to the Lord.  I will tell you what Mary’s example shows;  that true worship is humble. You can’t wipe someone’s feet with your hair unless you are practically prostrate on the ground.  Humility is the beginning of worship.  And yet Judas is the exact opposite of that posture.  He is indignant.  He is haughty.  He is looking down at Mary.  And his worship is self directed.  Any so called worship that brings undue attention to oneself is not of God.  No matter how pious it may seem on the surface, or how noble the acclamations of the participants. Genuine worship magnifies the Lord, not people.

Let me tell you one more attitude we see represented here.  And that is the worship which is  based on reciprocality.  What I am talking about is that kind of attention we show the Lord when it serves our purposes to do so.  The kind of worship we give the Lord when we want something from the Lord.  And I believe that many of us are guilty of this kind  of worship.  Judas wanted something from his relationship to Jesus.  He was looking for money and material gain from his relationship.  And so he feigned spiritual concern.  I’m sure none of us think we could ever steal from God like Judas did.  

But I think what is a more common attitude is that we only get focused on the Lord when we want something.  When things are going great in our lives, we have very little interest in the things of the Lord.  We lose our diligence in church, we don’t read our Bibles, we fail to pray.  but when we want God to do something, especially when some sort of crisis hits our lives, now we become all fervent in our faith.

I think the lesson we need to take from this example is that we should love the Lord for who He is, rather than for what you want Him to do for you. You know, we talked about the relationship between a husband and wife earlier, and maybe that is a good illustration of how our relationship with the Lord should be.  How would you like it if your mate only showed you any attention when they wanted something, or wanted you to do something?  I don’t know about you, but I know that I want my wife to love me for who I am.  I want her to love me for me.  I want her to want to spend time just with me. 

I think we sometimes only come to the Lord with a long list of what we want him to do.  And we rarely come with just a desire to know Him and to love Him. To listen to Him.  To talk to Him.  To have a time of intimacy with Him.  I think that is genuine worship.  A time to tell Him what you think of Him.  A time to tell Him how thankful you are that He is in your life.  To tell Him how thankful you are for all that He has done for you.  Not just a relationship based on what you can get  Him to do for you.

Let me just mention one final point in closing.  I don’t have time to touch on everything here in this passage, but I do want to mention this final point.  And that is, even though Jesus was all knowing, and He knew that Judas was pilfering from the money box, yet Jesus never rebuked him, never had that “I caught you!” moment with Judas.  Right up to the very end, even when Judas was betraying Christ with a kiss, Jesus was giving Judas the opportunity to repent.  The Bible says that the kindness of God draws you to repentance.  Jesus was very patient with Judas.  

That reminds me of the scripture which says, that in the days of Noah, the patience of God was  kept waiting, waiting for men to repent of their wickedness.  This idea that God is hiding around the corner with a baseball bat ready to whack you over the head if you get out of line is not biblical.  God is patient, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.  Judas never did repent.  He kept hardening his heart, until it says that Satan himself entered into him and he went out from the Lord.  And as a result he never found forgiveness and hung himself in a fit of despair.  

I hope that there is no one here today like Judas.  I hope that this message has perhaps shown the light of truth upon your relationship to the Lord.  Perhaps you have seen in yourself this morning a self righteousness that you know is not pleasing to the Lord.  I hope that you have seen in Mary’s example the kind of humility and response to the Lord that is to be expected in genuine worship.  I hope you have seen the standard for the love of God as exemplified in Mary’s sacrificial gift of her vial of perfume.  That as Eph. 5:2 says, we might imitate God and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” 

The Lord wants all of you this morning.  Only you know if you are holding back something from the Lord.  On the outside, you all look like earnest worshippers of God.  I can’t tell the ones who are sincere from the insincere.  But God looks at the heart.  I hope you will examine your heart today in light of this scripture and take this opportunity to commit to love the Lord with all your heart, soul mind and strength, even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, and may your love and genuine worship of the Lord be a fragrant aroma which is pleasing to God, and which will affect all that is in your house.  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Seven Principles of the Seventh Sign, part 2, John 11:16-57

Today we are looking at part two of a message I have called, Seven Principles of the Seventh Sign. This miracle that Jesus did in raising Lazarus from the dead, is the seventh and final sign or attesting miracle that John records Jesus doing in His public ministry. It is a long text, and as such we don’t have the time this morning to spend exegeting every verse.  However, the story as a narrative is pretty self explanatory.  But there are some important doctrinal truths which are illustrated by this story which is what I want to make the focus of this message.

As I have said on numerous occasions, every miracle presented in the gospel is a parable meant to teach us spiritual principles.  So is the case here in the resurrection of Lazarus.  It is more than a cool story, it is given to teach us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him you might have life in His name. So to that end I have prepared this message, and the seven principles taught by this sign are these; 1, the Love of God, 2, the timing of God, 3, the Light of God, 4, the Comfort of God, 5, the Life of God, 6, the Power of God, and 7, the death of God.

Now rather than spend half our time reteaching the first four points we covered last time, I am just going to review them briefly, and encourage you to go to our website ( and read last’s week message if you missed it.  In our last message, we noticed the first point, which is the Love of God.  The emphasis of the text being that  of Jesus’ love of Lazarus and not vice a versa.  This  principle is restated in 1John 4:10 which says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” His love for us is both familial and sacrificial.  Familial, like His love for Lazarus, Mary and Martha who were like His family.  And sacrificial because He was willing to lay down His life for His friends.  Ephesians 5 says that Christ loves the church in a similar way as a husband loves his bride. And the sub point from that was that God’s love for us does not mean that we will not suffer, but that He will be with us in our suffering, even as Jesus’ love for Lazarus did not mean that Lazarus would not suffer, but that his suffering was to further the kingdom of God.

The second principle we pointed out was the timing of God.  We saw in vs.6 that after hearing that Lazarus was sick, Jesus did not leave for two more days.  And we learned through this principle that in our petitions to God and expectations of God, we must submit to the timing of God.  His ways are not our ways.  His time is on a different scale sometimes than ours.  But ultimately, we need to trust that He is good, and that He is working all things together for good, to those that are called according to His purpose.

The third principle was the light of God. In vs.9, Jesus said “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.”  So if you have the light of God’s truth within you, then you will never be in darkness.  Darkness being in this case a simile for death.  Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  The light of God produces the life of God which can never be extinguished.

And the fourth principle that we spent a lot of time on, was the comfort of God. In vs.11, Jesus said, ““Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.”  We discussed the meaning of the phrase “fallen asleep” and how that relates to the death of believers, whose body sleeps in the grave, but whose spirit is alive in Paradise.  And we showed you several scriptures which talk about the comfort that believers have in Christ when they pass from this life to the next.  We examined the story given by Jesus about another man named Lazarus, who was a lame man who laid at the gate of a rich man, and Jesus said when he died the angels took him to Paradise, which He referred to as Abraham’s bosom.  So we understand the comfort which we have in Christ is that He will take us to be with Him in Paradise, where we will live and be comforted until the day of resurrection, when we shall be raised with an incorruptible, new body and be forever with the Lord.  So the comfort is that even in death we will live if we are in Christ.

So up to this point we have seen the love of God, the timing of God, the light of God, and the comfort of God.  And that brings us this morning to #5, the life of God.  Jesus said in vs.25, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,  and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"

And let me preface this principle of the Life of God by saying this; man was not designed to live independently of God.  We were designed to live with God, as one with God and to have spiritual life in God. God said in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that He has planted eternity in our hearts, that is, we are designed to have the eternal life of God in our hearts.  And without that life of God in us, there is a void in our hearts that nothing on this earth can fill.   

Now we can only know that kind of life through the Spirit of God, who gives life to our spirit.  If you will remember, when Adam and Eve sinned, they were separated from the presence of God, and their spirit died immediately.  That was the death promised by God that would happen if they ate of the tree in disobedience.  Their spiritual connection and communion with God was the  source of life.  Without Him, their spirit died.  The body followed soon afterwards.  But from the moment of separation from God they were actually considered dead, because they were dead spiritually.  They were separated from the life and light of God which sustains life.  As a result of their sin, spiritual death passed on to all men, so that all men are born spiritually dead.

But because God loved mankind, God prepared a way to reconcile man to Him once again.  God became flesh and blood like us, in the man Christ Jesus, and as our substitute, He paid the penalty of death for us, so that we who believe in Him might be reconciled to God.  That means we were given life once again to our spirit.  That’s what Jesus meant in John 3:16 when He said, “You must be born again.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” That means that once we are born again in the spirit we have fellowship/communion once again with God. We walk with Him spiritually and physically. That means we are one with God, because His Spirit dwells in us, and as such He is our head, our authority, our ruling authority. He is the governing entity of our life.  He guides us in every aspect of life.

Not only then is Christ the life which gives life to every man, but as He said, He is the source of life; the resurrection and the life.  He resurrects us from spiritual death that we might have spiritual life.  That is why He said He who believes in Me will live even if He dies, and everyone who lives (that is spiritually is made alive) will never die.  Those who by faith believe in all that Christ is and came to do are resurrected from spiritual death and given new life, which will never be affected by physical death.  That is the promise of Christ unto salvation.  And that is the picture that we see illustrated in baptism, which we are celebrating this morning.

And that resurrection power is what Jesus is illustrating by this miracle.  Jesus did not come to Earth to raise every dead person just to live for a little while longer but then die again eventually.  But He did this miracle to show conclusively that He was the source of life; that is the Creator, that He had authority over life and death as God; and that we might have real life in His name. Jesus spoke of His authority over life in John 10:17-18 "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”  And in an even more explicit declaration, Jesus said in John 14:6, ”I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Now there is so much more we could say, but we must hurry, our time is limited.  So let’s look at the next principle; #6. The Power of God.  The power of God is encapsulated by the words of Jesus is vs.46, “Lazarus, come forth.”  Jesus spoke to Lazarus, not in the grave, but in Hades, in Paradise.  What power, that speaks from the abode of the  living to the abode of the dead, and exercises power over that realm and the spirits there.  Who not only has the power to beckon spirits with a word, but the power to reclaim ruined flesh.  Lazarus’s body had already started to decompose after four days.  And yet he came out of the tomb as normal flesh and blood without deterioration.  That is the power of the Creator.  The power of life in God.

There are three sub points under this heading that I just want to bring out though briefly.  And that is that the power of God finds it’s origin in the compassion of God, it finds it’s expression in the call of God, and it finds it’s manifestation in the glory of God.  The compassion of God we see illustrated in vs.33 and 35, when Jesus sees their grief and was deeply troubled in His own Spirit.  And then in vs.35, Jesus wept.  As the old hymn says, He had no tears for His own grief, but sweat drops of blood for mine.  Jesus wept out of compassion for His creation who were held in bondage under the fear of death. So because of that compassion, God sent Jesus to suffer and die for mankind, even while they were yet sinners, Christ died for them.

The second sub point under the power of God is the call of God.  Jesus said in chapter 10, My sheep hear my voice, and I call them by name and they follow Me.  Lazarus was called by Christ and He came forth from death in answer to that call, just as certainly as those whom Jesus calls today hear His call and come in response to that call.  The Bible says that Jesus is the author and finisher of our salvation.  His call is what awakens us out of our deadness and darkness, and calls us into light and life as illustrated by His effectual call of Lazarus from the dead.

As Paul says in Romans 8:30 “and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Predestined means that He chose us for salvation  before we were even born, and glorified means that He will finish the good work in us that He has begun.  That speaks of the power of God over the future.

And that segues into the third sub point of the power of God which is it manifests the glory of God.  Jesus said in vs.40, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”  The glory of God is the power of God manifested. John, speaking of the transformation with Moses and Elijah, when Jesus was on the mountain and the glory of God came upon Him so that He glowed with a tremendous light, said in John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus revealed His glory when He called Lazarus to come forth from the dead.  He revealed His power, the power of God, which is able to raise the dead into life.  This power is the hope that we have, that Christ will one day come in the clouds in all of HIs glory, to take up His church, His bride, and then we will be raised in a glorified body to be with Him forever.

The final point we will look at quickly this morning is the death of God.  And we don’t need to spend a lot of time on this point because we have mentioned it in almost every principle so far.  But at the end of this chapter, we see Christ’s enemies, the Pharisees and chief priests, convene a council to discuss what to do about Jesus.  They have already tried to kill Him numerous times.  Now they say that His fame after doing this miracle will mean that even more people will believe in Him and they will lose their positions of power among the Romans. 

But Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”  

So though the chief priests and Pharisees meant this for evil, yet God meant it for good.  In this principle then we see the plan of God come full circle.  It was decided before the world began that God would create a world, and on that world He would make man, that He would love mankind, that mankind would be His companion, be His helpmate, even would be His bride.  But God wanted mankind to not respond to Him as the animals who act instinctively, but to choose to love Him and to obey Him.  So though Satan would seduce man to fall through sin, yet God had a plan from eternity past to send Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins.  The love of God provided a substitute to pay the penalty for our iniquities. Jesus would voluntarily lay down His life for His sheep, that we might be brought into the fold of God.  

This sign of the resurrection of Lazarus is an illustration, not of just a dramatic supernatural miracle,  but of the entire majestic scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As I quoted earlier it is the illustration of the verse which says Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. But it is more than just a lot of doctrinal theory.  It offers practical hope for the spiritually dead men and women who are living in this world without the light of God, without Christ in their life.  It is the hope of spiritual life that is available through faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior.  It is the hope of life that will never fade away, that will never die, but will continue to live even if it dies.  And this hope can be your hope.  You can know the life that is possible in Christ.  Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. And the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”  And Jesus said in John 5:24  "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

Today is your opportunity to receive the free gift of life that is possible through Christ. Simply confess Him as your Lord and Savior, and believe in Him for salvation.  I pray you do not let this opportunity pass you by.