Sunday, January 27, 2013

John 12, Part One

Mary anoints Jesus (vs. 1-8)--This appears to be the same event as recorded in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. There are some differences in John's account, but not contradictions. Jesus came to Bethany "six days before the Passover" (John 12:1), but doesn't say exactly when this supper was held; Mark tells us it was two days before the Passover actually began (Mark 14:1). Matthew and Mark both indicate that Mary poured the ointment on Jesus' head; John says on His feet. Obviously, she did both, and then wiped His feet with her hair. John emphasizes that Judas complained about the waste (John 12:4); this apparently started a murmuring among other disciples (Mark 14:4). The cost of the ointment was almost an entire year's wage at that time (300 Roman denarii), so it wasn't cheap.  Jesus praises her actions, though, obviously because it came from her heart; to Mary, doing something for Christ was more valuable than the money it cost her.  “The poor you have with you always”, Jesus tells us in verse 7, and it is a Christian’s duty to take care of those who are less fortunate, financially.  We have largely abdicated that role to government nowadays, of course, which is why people look to government, not to the church, for financial assistance.  That’s partly the church’s fault; we spend so much money entertaining our youth, building our elaborate cathedrals, and hiring our “staff” to do our work for us that we have little money left over to help those who truly need our help.  I suspect that over half the budgets of most churches are spent on things—church buildings, “youth ministers,” “involvement ministers”, etc. that are nowhere mentioned in the Bible and did not exist in the first century Christianity we reputedly are trying to restore.

Kill Lazarus, too (vs. 9-11)—Lazarus was a walking embarrassment to Christ’s enemies—and proof of His true identity to the open-minded (he still is).  So, rather than accept the implications of his resurrection, the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also” (v. 10).  These people saw the resurrected Lazarus and still rejected Jesus.  Denial of Christ is not a matter of evidence, folks; it is purely a matter of the heart.  Of course, acceptance of Jesus has consequences, mainly, denial of self and sin, and submission to Him as Lord.  That is a price too high for many to pay.

Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem (vs. 12-19)—Here we have another indisputable proof of the deity of Christ—the fulfillment of prophecy.  Zechariah has specifically mentioned this event almost 500 years previous (Zechariah 9:9); humans do not have a capacity to know detailed, precise events that far into the future.  We can make general prognostications for the near future, based upon historical trends and principles; but to know actual occurrences, 500 years in advance, is far beyond our abilities.  God reserved that for Himself, and indeed mocks other “gods” for their inability to predict the future (Isaiah 41:23).  To put Zechariah’s prophesy into perspective, let the reader remember that 500 years ago, Columbus had barely discovered the New World.  Could anyone, in the year 1513, have predicted Barack Obama or even the current United States of America?  Of course not.  The Old Testament, in effect, writes the entire life of Christ hundreds of years before He was born.  Only God could do that.  Jesus’ obtuse disciples did not understand all of this at first (John 12:16), and the occasion further riled the Pharisees:  “Look, the world has gone after Him!” (v. 19).   It is important to remember that Jesus always had a large following among the common people; such is why the religious leaders had to kill him at night, illegally, before the people knew what was happening.  Of course, the people did not truly understand Jesus, either, but they did sense His love and concern for them.  Envy killed the Jewish Messiah.

“The hour has come” (vs. 20-26)—Being the Passover, there were Jews from many places in Jerusalem, including, apparently, from Greece.  There is some difference of opinion as to who these people were—Jews who lived in Greece?  Grecian converts to Judaism?  Or, were they actual Gentiles who, having heard about Jesus, wanted to meet with Him?  The first idea seems to be the best to me, given John’s statement about people “who came to worship at the feast” (v. 20).  Gentiles wouldn’t be doing that.  Regardless of their identity, they had the right idea—they wanted to see Jesus (v. 21).  They spoke this request to Philip who, for reasons unknown, took it to Andrew, who then brought the matter before the Lord.  Jesus, as He usually did, turned it into a spiritual lesson not (always) easy to follow:  “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be gloried” (v. 23).  What, exactly, that had to do with some Greeks wanting to see Him is not immediately obvious, but then, we are dealing with the mind of God here.  Jesus speaks of His death, comparing it to a seed that must “die,” be planted in the ground, and then “live” again.  Jesus isn’t discussing horticulture here, He is describing His coming crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.  He once again, though, tells us, in effect, why so many will reject Him:  the cost is too high.  “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (v. 25).  This is simply a statement that we must love Jesus more than we love this world, or even ourselves.  Most people don’t want to do that.  But those who serve Christ will one day be honored by the Father (v. 26).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

John 11, Part Two

Gathering at the tomb of Lazarus (vs. 27-37)—Martha may have sensed, given Jesus’ last words to her, that He was going to do something momentous.  She went to her sister Mary, in secret, to tell her that Jesus wanted her attendance as well.  We probably aren’t privy to all of the conversation Jesus and Martha had, so some of the motivation here escapes us.  However, Mary quickly arose and went to Jesus (v. 29), not telling her friends why she was leaving.  They presumed, “She is going to the tomb to weep there” (v. 31).  That would be a reasonable presumption, but erroneous, of course.  Jesus’ presence was, apparently, not yet publicly known (v. 30).  Mary’s agony touched Jesus deeply (v. 33), to the extent to where He even wept (v. 35).  Controversy followed Him, even at this sad time; some couldn’t resist taking a dig at Him:  “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” (v. 37).  I am reminded of the current situation in America where liberals, especially, use every event, such as a tragic mass murder, to try to make political gains.  The concern of such people (and, as we see, they existed in Jesus’ days), is not for the well-being of others, but advancing their own cause.  Such small-minded people have always existed, and always will.  If Jesus was aware of their gibes, He wisely ignored them, having a far more important mission.

The raising of Lazarus (vs. 38-44)—John tells us that Lazarus’ tomb was “a cave, and a stone lay against it” (v. 38); apparently, such burial plots were not unusual among the Jews.  When Jesus commanded the stone be removed, Martha, skeptical, was concerned about the smell.  What was going through her mind?  Why did she think Jesus wanted the stone removed?  We don’t know, but her statement doesn’t manifest much faith in Christ at this point.  So, Jesus, with a pointed question, redirects her attention to where it should be:  Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (v. 40).  It wasn’t her faith that raised Lazarus, of course, it was the power of God, and Jesus fully intended to bring Martha’s brother back from the dead, whether she believed or not.  In verse 42, in His prayer to the Father, Jesus once again states the purpose of the miraculous:  that they may believe that You sent me.”  Miracles were performed not because of people’s faith, but in order to create it!  Miraculous evidence to support a miraculous claim.  And there is no better evidence than that produced in this chapter, which is, no doubt one reason why the Holy Spirit, through John, spends so much time discussing it.  Only God can raise the dead; man can’t do that.  Jesus raised the dead, ergo, Jesus came from God.  That is the only conclusion that can, logically, be drawn from this story.  The only way to deny that is, of course, to deny that this event ever happened in the first place, i.e., call John a liar, which means that everything he, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, and other Bible writers wrote and said was pure fantasy.  That is an awful lot of evidence to simply toss in the trash without any attempt at refutation.  John, in effect, is saying, “Here is what is happened.  Refute it, if you can.”  Nobody can, so it is easy to simply deny it and, more than that, try, through ridicule and mocking, to intimidate believers into silence.  Historical evidence is stubborn, though.  When Jesus spoke—“Lazarus, come forth!”—not even death could defeat Him.  Can you imagine the awe, and probably sheer terror, of the people standing around when Lazarus came walking out of that grave!  Jesus, however, had only one other thing to say:  Loose him, and let him go” (v. 44).   Human words fail at trying to explain the magnificence of this event.  The reader is invited to use his/her own imagination and creativity in order to properly appreciate what happened on that day.

Wouldn’t it have been interesting to talk to Lazarus, after he was raised, to ask him where he had been and what he had experienced!

Belief and obstinacy (vs. 45-57)—Many honest individuals did, indeed, believe in Jesus after this event (v. 45), but some hearts are so stubborn and cold that no amount of evidence can ever be persuasive (v. 46).  The Pharisees and other religious leaders soon gathered together to take council about what to do about Jesus (v. 47).  They could not deny the miracles He did, yea, admitted them:  “For this Man works many signs.”  Their fear was for their own honored position:  “If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation” (v. 48).  That statement shows such utterly convoluted thinking that it is hard to imagine intelligent men talking like that.  If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, come from God, with the intent of establishing the kingdom the Pharisees wanted, then the Romans could have done nothing against Him; not even Rome could defeat God.  But the Pharisees did not draw the correct conclusion from the evidence they themselves admitted; they did not believe that He was God, and thus, if the people tried to make Him an earthly king (which Jesus never intended, of course), then the Romans, who had no king but Caesar, would come and destroy Israel, and, more importantly, the power and prestige of the Pharisees.  Why not accept the evidence—and the explanation of He who gave it?  But that is something they would not do.  So the high priest, Caiaphas, announced, prophetically (v. 51) that Jesus had to die—it was either him or the nation (v. 50).   So, from that day forward, the plot to kill Jesus picked up at a feverish pace (v. 53), so much so that Jesus could no longer walk “openly among the Jews” (v. 54).  The final Passover of Jesus’ life was near (v. 55), and He continued to be “the talk of the town” (v. 56).  A general order was given that, if anyone knew where Jesus was, they were to report it to the Jewish authorities (v. 57).  Now, the Pharisees were serious about killing him, and the last days of His earthly sojourn are upon us.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

John 11, Part One

The death of Lazarus (vs. 1-16)—This is one of the most remarkable stories in the New Testament which, if true, forever verifies the divine nature of Jesus.  The Jews understood this, too, of course, which is why they wanted to kill Jesus—and Lazarus (John 12:10-11).  Some have expressed surprise that the other three gospel writers did not include this story, but that is perhaps because they wrote while Lazarus was still alive and did not want to draw undue attention to him because of the Jewish leadership’s desire to kill him.  For whatever reason, John includes it.  This isn’t the only example of Jesus raising someone from the dead, but it does seem to have been surrounded with the most fanfare and consequences.

Lazarus is identified in vs. 1-2 as the brother of Mary and Martha, the same Mary who had anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and wiped them with her feet (Matt. 26:7).  The family was good friends of Jesus, and lived in the town of Bethany, a small village about two miles (“fifteen furlongs,” KJV) from Jerusalem.  Lazarus was sick (v. 3), and would temporarily die; that is the meaning of Jesus’ statement in v. 4.  In that verse, Jesus states the purpose of this whole event—to bring glory to God and Himself.  For again, if this account actually happened, then Jesus certainly is God and requires our allegiance and obedience.  The Lord waited where He was for two more days (v. 6) before making the decision to go to Bethany, probably waiting until his beloved friend was dead.  His disciples express surprise that Jesus would go anywhere near Jerusalem again, since the Jews were so threatening (v. 8).  But Jesus came to the earth to work and had to do that (during the “day”).  One doesn’t work or travel in the dark, that’s dangerous, and in a spiritual sense, will be disastrous (vs. 9-10).  Lazarus had died and Jesus was going to go to him, “that you may believe” (v. 15)—more evidence to convince the disciples who Jesus really was.  His apostles were willing to go wherever He went (v. 16).  At least for the moment.

“I am the resurrection and the life” (vs. 17-27)—By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days (v. 17).  A crowd had gathered to comfort, and mourn with, the family (v. 19).  It was a perfect setting for a notable miracle.  When she heard that He had arrived, Martha came to meet Jesus; for unknown reasons, Mary remained in the house (v. 20).  The following conversation between Jesus and Martha is striking and enlightening.  Martha’s incomplete, yet growing, knowledge of Jesus is evident from her statement, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (vs. 21-22).  Jesus did not have to be there heal Lazarus, He certainly could have done it from a distance, so Martha was still confused as to the totality of His power, and thus His full identity.  Yet, she had enough faith in Him to believe that He could raise Lazarus from the dead if He asked God to do so.  Jesus tells her that Lazarus would live again, which she misinterprets as the final resurrection (v. 24).  Jesus then speaks some of the most beautiful, and comforting—and breathtaking —words, recorded in Scripture:  “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (vs. 25-26).  If Jesus isn’t God, then He was utterly insane.  How could any mere human make a claim like this?  Many such statements by Jesus could only be based upon Him being the Son of God, i.e., God in the flesh, an earthly, living manifestation of deity.  If indeed Jesus is God, then the words here are among the most comforting He ever spoke—eternal life awaits the believer.  Martha expresses her belief in Jesus being the Christ, though, as noted, her understanding was apparently somewhat faulty.  She, like all other Jews, had been (erroneously) educated to expect certain things from their Messiah, things which Jesus wasn’t providing.  That confused them and made them fully unsure of His plans and power.  But her faith was deep enough, and her love for Jesus was certainly deep. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

John 10, Part Two

“I am the Father are one” (vs. 22-30)—The scene here is three months later, the Feast of Dedication, which took place around (our) December 18 and lasted for eight days.  It was not a Mosaic feast, but rather was instituted in 164 B.C. by Judas Maccabees.  A Greek emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes, had grossly defiled the temple, but a revolt, led by the Maccabee family, actually gained independence for the Jews for about 100 years.  Judas had cleansed and rededicated the temple in 164, and this feast was a commemoration of that event.  The word “winter” in verse 22 implies nasty, inclement weather, which is why Jesus was in Solomon’s porch (v. 23), which was the covered entrance at the east of the temple.  The question the Jews asked Him doesn’t suggest sincere curiosity, but anger, frustration, and malice.  And, once again, Jesus does not give them a direct answer, but points them to the evidence (v. 25).  Words are virtually useless; proof is in deeds and Jesus had done “works” that “bear witness of me” (v. 25).  A person must have the right kind of heart, however, to accept truth (Luke 8:15), and these Jews did not (v. 26).  Those who remain faithful to the Lord shall have eternal life (vs. 27-28); because the Father is greater and more powerful “than all”, Jesus’ sheep are secure in the Father’s hand--as long as they remain faithful.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life(Rev. 2:10).  Jesus then closes this section with a remarkable statement:  I and the Father are one”--“the Father (ASV), not “My” Father (KJV; NKJV).  This is an obvious claim for deity, and the Jews understood it as such.

“You are gods” (vs. 31-42)—That the Jews understood that Jesus was claiming to be God is evident from the next verse:  they were going to stone Him, which was the Old Testament penalty for blasphemy (Lev. 24:14-16).  They told Jesus that was the reason:  You, being a man, make yourself God” (v. 33).  Jesus then throws them a curve by quoting an Old Testament passage to them, I said, You are gods (Ps. 82:6).  The context of Psalms 82 refers to judges, or prophets, who had received the Word of God; they are perhaps given that title, “gods”, because they were given God’s message to pass on to the people. Jesus’ point here is that, if these mortal men, who were simply spokesmen for God, could be given the appellation “gods,” then how much more should Jesus, Who had truly done the works of God and proven by proper evidence that He indeed was God, be rightly called “God.”  Since these Pharisaical Jews did not, themselves, do the works of God (v. 37), then it is not surprising that they would not recognize someone who did.  But the Lord again encourages them to look at what He was doing, not just at what He was saying (v. 38).  Jesus never asked anyone to believe simply on the basis of what He said.  Any fool can claim to be God; only Jesus did works that proved He was.  Most of those who saw Him didn’t believe Him, so it’s hardly surprising that so few people today believe Him.  The Jews tried to seize Him again at this time, but He escaped in a manner which John does not explain.  Jesus then went to the location, east of the Jordan River, where John was initially baptizing (John 1:28).  Many people accepted the evidence Jesus provided (v. 41) and believed on Him (v. 42).