The Dangerous King

April 9, 2017 – Sunday
The Dangerous King - Logo
Read: John 12:1-16
Focus: 9-11, 13

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

Why is it that so many of our leaders, throughout history, are assassinated? Surely there are many reasons but often it’s simply because they have become too dangerous to those who don’t want to lose their power. More recent examples in American history might include such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. Go back a whole lot further and add Jesus to your list of those who became too dangerous to the powers that be.

In John 12:12-16 we have the curious event of Jesus entering Jerusalem to the waving of palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” Taken alone these verses lack the context necessary to understand what is going on. If we open it up to the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus we learn that this event was foretold in such places as Zecharaiah 9:9 where it says, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This was also the time of the Festival of Booths (Feast of Tabernacles) in Jerusalem where Israel remembered their exodus from Egypt and God’s provision in the wilderness. It was also at the Feast of Ingathering that recognized the end of the harvest that happened sometime in September or October. This was a time when many Jews made a pilgrimage to the temple so the city was filled with a lot of people. On the seventh day of the festival the people would wave palm branches and quote Psalm 118:25-26 saying, “Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you.” In verse 27 it says, “With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”  By the way, check out verses 22-24 in that Psalm where David talks about how “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  There’s a lot going on here!

Oh, and the Jewish leaders were watching and they were getting worried about this dangerous man known as Jesus.  To better understand the context of our passage you really need to back up a bit. In John 12: 1-7 we see Jesus in Bethany at the house of Lazarus. This is the place were Mary takes a pint of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus feet before wiping it with her hair. We talked about a similar event a few weeks ago when we looked at the story in Luke 7:36-50 (the woman who was forgiven much, just like us) that happens much earlier in Jesus ministry. Mary understands she was forgiven of much as well and this special act of devotion has a different meaning here as Jesus claims this perfume was for the day of his burial which, he knows, will be soon. He’s a dangerous man.

Now we need to back up a little bit more. Back in John 11 we see why Jesus came to Bethany. It was where Mary and Martha lived along with their brother Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. By the way, John 11:2 tells us that it was this same Mary we read about in Luke 7 who cried at the feet of Jesus and wiped those tears off with her hair. Here we learn that Lazarus is sick. Jesus receives this word but waits two more days before coming. The disciples don’t want him to go because the leadership is hostile to him there. But they must go and, in John 11:11 he tells them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I’m going there to wake him up.”  The disciples don’t realize that Jesus is saying the man is dead and he’s going there to reverse the unreversable; to revoke the irrevocable. He says to them, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. (vss. 14-15)” This would be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.

You know the story. When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany he finds a funeral and Lazarus has been in a tomb for four days already. Martha comes out to meet him but Mary stays home, fixed in her grief. How many times had she seen Jesus heal another? Surely, if he had been there on time, Lazarus would still be alive. Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again (vs. 23.” Yeah, sure, on the last day – at the final resurrection. “No,” Jesus says. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Mary comes and they take him to the tomb where we find the shortest verse (John 11:35) in all the bible: “Jesus wept.” The stone is removed at his command people are starting to worry about what it might smell like. Then he utters the command that rocks the world: “Lazarus, come out!” You know what happened. Lazarus comes walking out all wrapped in the strips and linen he was embalmed and buried in. What else can Jesus say? He says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Wow.

Now is when things get crazy as the Jewish leaders hear about what happened. What would you do if you heard about an event such as this? Might you believe this man was who he said he was? Or would you see him as too dangerous to keep around? Oh the hardened heart that chooses the second option and sees Jesus as too dangerous. Yet so many still see him that way today. Witness all those who attempt to stamp out our Christian faith and deny it. They will do anything to get rid of it because it still stands in the way of their designs today.

Fast forward again to John 12:12-16. This is the Palm Sunday event. This is Jesus entering Jerusalem just a few days after he raises Lazarus from the dead and the people are buzzing. Everyone knows what he has done and they give him a triumphal entry into the city, just as foretold in prophecy. The people had decided he was a king but the day before it was the chief priests who decided he was too dangerous. They plotted to kill him. The made the decision in their minds and hearts and that was the only option they were willing to accept. It had to be done and, if they waited much longer, he would be too popular to do the deed safely.

This is the beginning of Holy Week and it comes in triumphantly with the dangerous king named Jesus. By the end of the week he will be crowned – but not with gold – this crown will be made of thorns. And the Cross, something that is so often nothing more than a symbol worn around your neck, will be the instrument of his death.

I want you to think about this dangerous man throughout the week. When next Sunday dawns we will see Jesus crowned with the crown only worn by the King of kings and ruler of all there is. Our greatest enemy, death, will be defeated with a resurrection even more amazing than that of Lazarus. But, to get there, we have to go through Good Friday. This is the Way of the Cross and we’re almost at the starting point. The Way of the Cross follows this Dangerous King and we must die with him. This is the total sacrifice and He has paid the penalty of our sins on our behalf.

Ashes to Ashes

March 1, 2017 – Ash Wednesday

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Read: James 4:7-10

Focus: vs. 10

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Today is Ash Wednesday and many of us will commemorate the beginning of the Season of Lent by receiving ashes, in the sign of a cross, on our foreheads. Ash Wednesday is a custom that traces back to the Catholic Church in about the 10th century and has deep roots in the Bible. Every year the Season of Lent gives us 40 days (not including Sundays) to prepare our hearts for the events of Holy Week (the death of Christ on the Cross) that conclude with Easter (Christ’s resurrection from the grave).

Ash Wednesday is best known by mark of the Cross placed on the foreheads of the faithful. This custom is a fascinating one filled with symbolism. Ashes are typically made from the palm leaves used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. This is to remind us of how Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem ends with his death on the Cross. We mourn his death as we celebrate his resurrection on Easter morning and we are mindful of how it was our sin that made his death necessary. His crucifixion was a sacrifice for us.

Ashes are also a mournful reminder our own mortality. In Genesis 3:19 God has pronounced the consequences for the sin of Adam and Eve when he says, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” At graveside funeral services the pastor is often heard to say “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” as a reminder to all of our mortality. This life does not go on forever and, thus, we must consider and prepare for what comes after.

With our mortality in mind, ashes are also a sign of repentance and humility as well. Our verse for today, from James 4:10, reminds us to come to the Lord in humility recognizing that it is He who can lift us up. This humble stature is important throughout the Bible and we often see the practice of a mark on the forehead as a sign of contrition and faithfulness to God.

Ezekiel 9:4 is a case in point. Starting just prior to the verse it says, “Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” This is verse is in reference to judgment upon Israel but the concept appears throughout the Bible. In Exodus 12:21-28 we see the Hebrews preparing for the passing over of the Angel of Death that comes to take the first born of all the households that are not marked by the blood of a lamb. This initiates the Jewish custom of Passover and offers much context for the Christian practice of Communion and the many references to Jesus as a lamb sacrificed for our sins and his blood that defeats death and sin on our behalf. Interestingly enough, the original Hebrew text from Ezekiel 9:4 specifically mentions the mark as the Hebrew letter “tav.” This letter resembles a cross and is similar to the Greek letter “chi,” the first letter in the name “christos” or Christ. This connection hasn’t evaded the Church over the years and we see this mark come back in the book of Revelation, once again to separate the righteous from the unrighteous in order to spare the righteous from the wrath of God.

So let’s put this all together. Ash Wednesday is a day for contrition and humility. Ashes represent a plea to God for mercy, compassion, pardon and forgiveness. They are a public admission of guilt, an expression of sorrow for our sins, a reminder of our impending death (a reminder of our mortality) and a pledge to reform. The mark we receive on our foreheads is symbolic of our desire to be numbered among God’s faithful followers. It is a reminder of our imperfection but shows a tenderness to the ways of the Lord and a heart-sickness as we see the sins the world around us as well as our own.

So remember today that from dust you came and to dust you will return. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. You will not live forever and your sinfulness gives you no standing with God without the precious blood of Jesus. This is a season of contrition. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.

Day 46 – Low in the Grave He Lay

Saturday – March 26, 2016

Day 46 – John 19:38-42 sealed tomb

Focus: vss. 41-42

 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

We are at the crisis point in our narrative. Jesus is dead and about to be laid in a tomb. At that point the Jewish authorities want to make sure nothing extraordinary happens so they request a guard to be placed at the tomb. Ha, ha, ha, ha! Little did they know, huh? Actually no one alive really knew anything yet. Later on, oh yes! Some of these things we know because the other Gospels record them.

Most of you reading this have endured the sadness of the death of someone you love. It is never easily handled but must be borne in some manner. I, at age 7, was too young to really remember much about my mother at the time of her death so it did not seem to have a tremendous impact on me. My father and others who have died since then had a greater effect which I can strongly remember. I think in some ways it is the manner of death and the circumstances surrounding it that cause it have more of an impact. All deaths are traumatic with some being more so than others. I’m sure you are thinking of some of those who were close to you.

The death of Jesus had a great impact on His followers and on His family. The fact remained that He needed to be buried and quickly as the next few days were high holy days when they would be unable to do anything about a burial. So what did they do? Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took care of the situation. Jesus and the two thieves would likely have had their bodies thrown on the rubbish heap if left to the Romans. But, at the request of Joseph, Pilate gave permission for Jesus’ body to be taken down and buried. We are told that because of the time constraints laid on by the Jewish Passover and the need for preparation it was laid in a nearby new tomb.

We often sing at Easter the hymn, “Low In the Grave He Lay.” This is exactly what happened. This was likely the darkest time for all of Jesus’ followers. Even though Jesus told them what would happen they could not envision it. So here they are in one of the “dark nights of the soul” just trying to make it through somehow. Have you ever been there? You are just waiting until you get through this terrible thing. You just don’t know how you are going to make it but you still have it to go through.  “Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior; Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord.”

Prayer Focus: Father God, just like those early disciples I have experienced the darkness and pain of loss. Just like them I have felt all alone. Just like them my faith has faltered. O God, strengthen me in those times. Lift my head up to see the glory of the Lord. May my eyes be fixed on eternal things and not on things of this earth? Thank you for hearing and responding to my needs in the past, right now and even into the future. AMEN.