Make Way for the King
John 11:45 – 12:19
Zechariah 9:9 – 10
Make Way for the King
How would you welcome the Queen, if you were given that responsibility?
How do you get ready for her arrival?
A quick tidy up, I’m sure!
I remember someone said once that Royal Family must think that the entire world smells like paint, since every building they visit, gets a fresh coat of paint just a few days before they arrive!
That’s how people welcome them!
A friend of mine lived opposite somewhere the Queen was visiting and her car drove out of that carpark and into his driveway to turn around, and so he stood there, in his thongs and daggy shorts and T-shirt to welcome the Queen as she drove into his front yard!
And there’s a legend around the Trinity Network of Churches, that years ago, when the Queen was visiting the Adelaide Convention Centre, which is across the road from Trinity City, there was a sniper positioned in the top of the church tower, keeping guard.
Whether that’s fact or fiction, I don’t know, but that’s the sort of welcome the Queen gets, isn’t it?
3 responses to life
Our passage this morning gives us some different snapshots of how people welcome Jesus, particularly as they come to grips with his identity as God’s chosen King.
And some people respond in a way we would expect for a king,
And the response of some others, well, really, we probably find surprising.
So last week we looked at the great story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and demonstrating this identity – God’s chosen king, the Messiah, and in the first part of our passage today, we see 3 different responses to that.
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
Did you see the 3 responses?
Some put their faith in him.
Some, having seen what Jesus did, go and rat Jesus out to the religious hierarchy.
And then those religious leaders, their response is to meet together, and to plan for Jesus’ death.
And it’s useful to think about these different responses to Jesus, because they remind us, that even today, people will respond to Jesus in different ways.
In this crowd, the people had all seen the exact same sign, and yet they come to 2 completely different responses, don’t they?
For some, they put their faith in him John tells us. Which, I take it, means that having seen Jesus demonstrate his power over death, they conclude that Jesus really is God’s chosen king,
He really is worth trusting with my life and my death, because what Jesus says about life and death, is obviously correct!
For others though, same sign, same experience, but it leads to a completely different response.
They run off to the religious leaders, and dob Jesus in, apparently not the least bit interested in trusting Jesus with their life, or with their death. They want to help the religious leaders do what they’ve tried to do 3 times previously, and that’s kill Jesus.
Now, I know lots of people who say, I would believe in Jesus,
I’d trust him with my life, and with my death,
I’d obey Jesus,
If only, he’d give me a sign, some kind of miracle.
And I’m sure you know people who say that,
Maybe the people you’re praying for on your Prayer Focus card, maybe that’s their approach to Jesus.
And perhaps even you’ve thought, “If only God would perform some obvious miracle, then my friends would believe in him, and lots of Christians actually set about trying to perform and document these kinds of miracles, in the hope that people will see and believe.
And maybe even you’ve come here today, to find out about Jesus, which is great, and we’re so pleased you’re here, but maybe you think the next step is for Jesus to do something dramatic,
But what does this episode tell us? ,
A sign from God, on its own, is not enough.
If John’s eyewitness account is true, and I’m happy to talk to you later about all the reasons I think it is, If this is true, it means that simply seeing this kind of sign from God is no guarantee that you’ll respond to God.
In fact if God himself turned up physically, and raised someone to life in front of you, according to the eyewitness testimony, you’re just as likely to reject God, as turn to him.
And to those who have already decided that Jesus will have no place in their lives,
Or that Jesus’ claims are too inconvenient for them,
Then no amount of evidence will convince them, that Jesus is worth trusting, with their life, and with their death.
They recognise that a miracle has happened, did you see that?, but they don’t welcome God’s king with belief, with faith in Jesus as he reveals himself to me, but with increased opposition.
Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest? 45 – 57
Preserving our Place
So let’s think about that third response.
The Pharisees and chief priests call a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the highest level of Jewish leadership under the Roman occupation.
It’s something like parliament, the high court, and a church council all rolled into one. And so this meeting in verse 47, is like an emergency cabinet meeting in the bunker under Parliament House!
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
Now, our place doesn’t just mean (HANDS), our position, the place that we, the Sanhedrin hold, although there is an element of that. Down in verse 50 it is better for you, that one man die, so they are worried about losing their positions of power and influence
But it’s more than that, because the place, is old Testament language for the temple.
Back in Deuteronomy, before Israel entered the Promised Land, God had spoken about the place, that he would establish.
The place that would be the centre of the relationship between God and people,
Where that relationship would be focussed and expressed .
The place where God’s presence would dwell,
Where God would be made known,
The place towards which prayers could be offered.
That was the temple.
The religious leaders are afraid of their temple being destroyed.
They’re afraid that the great blessings God had given them, the land, the temple, would be taken from them.
They placed so much value on these material physical things that God had provided, that when God turns up in person, they’re so worried about the things he’s given them, that they reject God!
That’s a warning to us, isn’t it, who live in an age of prosperity unknown to any generation before us?
To us who, on the whole, exercise our faith freely and without opposition.
What a tragedy, to reject God, in an attempt to hang on to his blessings.
The council are afraid that if Jesus keeps doing these things, the people will make him their king.
And you know that whole “this town’s not big enough for the 2 of us” thing?, Well the Roman Empire wasn’t big enough for 2 kings, if Jesus is made king, a swift and bloody crackdown is guaranteed.
The temple would be destroyed,
Jewish religious practices would be outlawed,
The measure of self-determination Israel enjoyed would be gone, and their nation would be wiped out.
It’s happened before hasn’t it?
The Jews being exiled to foreign lands,
Their temple being destroyed,
And the leaders are afraid that once again, God might visit in judgment,
That God’s anger might be poured out on sin and disobedience.
One can die for many
So they decide that Jesus needs to die, in order that others don’t have to die.
And there’s lots of irony here. Verse 50, the High Priest Caiphas speaks up, 50 You do not realize that it is better for you, that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
The high priest, was supposed to stand between the people and God, as a mediator.
And yet this high priest is so caught up in his position, and privilege , that he is, in fact, still standing between the people and God, but he’s standing there blocking the way, not pointing the way.
It’s a bit like King Henry the 2nd complaining about Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”, or whatever it is he actually said, and then 4 of Henry’s knights ride off and murder Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral.
Interestingly, I discovered after we were married, that one of Kathy’s aunts is a descendent of Hugh de Morville, one of those knights who killed the Archbishop, so I’m always a little worried about telling Kathy’s family that I’m a minister!
Do you see the irony?
Someone told me the other day about an American sea captain called John Kendrick who was sailing his ship out of the Hawaiian Islands, and another ship fired a cannon to salute him, and the shot from the cannon saluting John Kendrick, hit John Kendrick and killed him.
Oh the irony!
Or when the French actor and playright Molière died . after having a coughing fit while playing the title role in his play roughly translated “The hypochondriac”!
Here John tells us, He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
See I think if you know anything at all about the story of Jesus, you know that he died for others.
He died so other people didn’t have to.
There was a student from a country where it’s illegal to be a Christian, who was studying at a university in Sydney, and he sought out some Christian students and said he wanted to become a Christian, because he’d heard about Jesus on TV, and these Aussies were surprised, knowing where his home was, how could you have heard about Jesus on TV?
And this young man said, I heard that Jesus died for my sins,
And just staggered, that in a country so opposed to the gospel of Jesus, that kind of message would be broadcast on TV, they asked, “What was the TV program called?”
And if we had more time I’d get you to guess, but I don’t think you’d get it anyway, it was , The Simpsons.
Jesus died for your sins.
It is, the most basic element of the Christian message, Jesus died for my sins,
Jesus took the punishment that I deserved, for my rejection of God.
And not just mine, but he offers it to everybody.
Jesus died, on behalf of other.
It’s such a summary of the Christian message that that’s the line that makes it into The Simpsons!
Caiphas spoke of Jesus’ death as the only means by which people could be saved.
John tells us he prophesied, this was God’s Spirit speaking
Jesus would die for the people. For the Jewish nation, and for all of God’s people scattered throughout the world.
The word translated “for”, verse 50 for the people,
Verse 51, for the Jewish nation, for the scattered children of God, it’s got the sense of “on behalf of.”
Now, there are lots of things you can do “on behalf of” someone else.
You can speak for someone, on behalf of someone. A groom at a wedding, “on behalf of my wife and I”,
You can invite on someone else’s behalf,
You can welcome people on someone else’s behalf,
I think you can even pay a speeding fine on behalf of someone else, and if you’re a really considerate husband you might even cop the demerit points on behalf of someone else!
Theoretically speaking, of course.
But dying on behalf of someone else?
How does that work?
To die on behalf of someone else implies, or perhaps demands, that the death achieves something, that there are benefits that flow from one person to another, because of that death.
Like Jonah, if you know that story, he was prepared to die, get chucked off the ship, on behalf of others,
So others would benefit,
So others wouldn’t have to die,
Because he knew it was his disobedience that had put them all in danger.
Of course, in God’s kindness, Jonah, although foolish, disobedient and selfish doesn’t in fact die, But it’s that same sense of the sacrifice of one, for the benefit of others.
In sending Jesus to death, Caiaphas sees a political solution.
It’s probably what Julia Gillard would have liked to try with Kevin Rudd,
And yet John wants us to understand this, not in political terms, but in terms of seeing the Lamb of God sacrificed, for the sins of the world.
So when the Sanhedrin set out to bring death,
They set in motion the events that under God, bring life to God’s people.
Costly devotion or greedy opposition?
And we know it’s Easter next week, so we know what happens, we know Jesus dies.
And so the decision of this council that Jesus should die for others, brings the crucifixion, from the background, where it has always been in John’s gospel, present and visible, but not normally the bit that’s in focus,
Now Jesus death for others is shifted from the background to the foreground,
We’re told Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews, verse 54, Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.
They’ve made their decisions, but Jesus is in control of these events leading up to his death.
And so we detour back into Bethany, back in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus.
And this strange episode, with anointing and perfume, complaining, gets us ready for Jesus’ death, and also anticipates the final scene of welcoming King Jesus.
So Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.
This is an anointing, like you would do to a dead body.
And Jesus speaks of it as bringing the reality of his burial into the here and now,
And it’s also the kind of anointing you would do to a king.
So this simple act is theologically loaded!
It hints at Jesus’ death and burial,
It hints at his identity as king of Israel, which gets much more explicit in the next section.
But this is also a personally costly act of devotion.
This was an expensive way of honouring Jesus as king, as sacrifice and saviour.
It was also socially costly,
Only the lowest household servant, would touch people’s feet.
All that walking around in sandals on dusty roads.
I mean, Jesus was the Son of God, but he still had stinky feet!
He didn’t have some special heavenly forcefield that kept his feet clean.
Mary is publicly identifying herself as Jesus’ servant.
And the fact that she wiped his feet with her hair,
For a woman, presumably unmarried, to have her hair down, in the presence of a man was unheard of.
The hair was a symbol of a woman’s glory, and Mary takes her glory, and wraps it around Jesus’ feet.
“I do not care what people think of me, I must honour Jesus, regardless of the personal cost. There is no low cost way of doing this”, that’s what she’s demonstrating.
Friends, there is no alternative, to whole-hearted, costly, extravagant obedience and honouring of Jesus.
This wasn’t a wasteful act, actually nothing could be less wasteful, no matter what it cost her.
To Judas though, this is a colossal waste of money. And let’s face it, a year’s wages is a lot of money in anyone’s book!
Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?
And perhaps it sounds like a reasonable question!
Sure, he might be about to betray the Son of God to murderers, but at least he has a social conscience!
And I can’t help but think of people today, who, when challenged to consider Jesus and his call on their life,
Their only response is “I do good things”
“I give to the poor”
They try to substitute something, for devotion to Jesus.
This week in the news I read about a church in New York City, which is tearing itself apart over entitlements for the retiring Senior Pastor.
The one local church owns over 1 billion dollars worth of New York real estate. And if they were able to use it for great gospel purposes, I would say “thank God for putting those kind of resources in their hands”,
And yet it seems, from what I read and from what I hear from people who know that church, that honouring Jesus as he’s revealed himself to be, barely rates a mention. In fact I couldn’t find Jesus’ name mentioned anywhere on the church’s website.
Now, I’m not trying to have a go at them,
Maybe someone should go online and check that Jesus gets a mention on our website.
For us I don’t imagine it will ever be a billion-dollar property portfolio, but the danger is just as real.
What do we think is a suitable alternative to honouring Jesus as Lord and God?
What do we think is a suitable alternative, to whole-hearted, costly, extravagant obedience?
We have a thing in our family where we speak about something that’s like obeying, but we call it over-beying. If we ask our kids to pack up 5 toys and they pack up 10 toys, we say they’ve over-beyed, and we celebrate that.
And yet so often when it comes to obedience to Jesus,
And honouring Jesus,
And worship of Jesus, and by worship I don’t mean “singing in church”, but the whole of life expression of recognising Jesus worth,
So often we look for the minimum, or we look for a suitable alternative.
It’s not just me is it?
That would be really depressing!
This jar of perfume, was probably Mary’s most treasured possession.
And as a sign of her devotion to Jesus, she poured it on his feet.
This costly, extravagant, expressive, anointing of Jesus, is a challenge to us, I think, who often like to keep faith just a private, subdued matter, and who are often tempted, to seek out some suitable alternative, rather than a costly, whole of life response to who Jesus is, and what he’s done for us
Let me just say, You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me, It sounds a little like Jesus is saying, “forget about them, just focus on me for a bit, ‘”
But Jesus is actually alluding to Deuteronomy 15:11, where God said to his people, You will always have the poor among you, Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy.
This is a command to be generous to the poor, and yet it still recognises Jesus’ mission not as one that is primarily about meeting physical needs, but he was on a mission to die, on behalf of others.
Make way for the king
And so having been anointed, as king,
Having been anointed in preparation for burial,
The king rides in, to claim his kingdom,
The next day, the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him,
This is happening on what’s now called Palm Sunday, it’s being celebrated by millions of Christians around the world today.
And John tells us this happens in fulfilment of promises God had made, especially through a prophet named Zechariah about 500 years earlier.
Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
“Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.
God had promised that Israel’s king would come, not on a war horse, God had promised to take away the war horses in Zechariah 9, but on a donkey.
This is a new kind of king,
With a new kind of kingdom,
Which comes about in a new and completely unexpected way.
To us a donkey means big ears and a funny noise,
To Israel, a donkey meant peace, and humility.
The first-century historian Josephus says there were up to 2.7 million Jews in Jerusalem at Passover time. That’s probably a bit inflated, but there’s no question the numbers were huge.
And to welcome their king, the people cried out in the words of Psalm 118, “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna is an expression that means “Save us,
Save us now,
Unleash your salvation”
They really had no idea what they were asking, did they?
I mean, they wanted to be saved,
They were waving the symbols of Jewish nationalism, that were waved every time Israel seemed to be rising up against her enemies.
It’s like when your football team looks like it’s heading for the premiership, and so you dig out the team jumper you wore when they scored that one grand final win 20 years ago.
That’s what they palm branches are, “We’re going to win!”
Their liberator has arrived!
But so many expectations are going to be proved wrong.
He’s not the liberator they’re expecting.
The enemy he’s come to defeat is not the enemy they’re thinking of.
The coronation this king needs to undergo is not the coronation they have in mind
As one commentator I read this week wrote, “The coming of this king brings a conflict of the kingdoms”
And that’s the story of John’s gospel isn’t it?
Light meets darkness,
Life encounters death,
And as we’ll remember especially on Friday, the king dies, to usher in his kingdom, the kingdom of light and life.
Tellingly, in the next verse of Zechariah’s prophecy, God says just how this kingdom will come about,
As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
This kingdom needs a sacrifice.
The king himself sheds his blood so that the benefits of the kingdom can flow to others.
So the religious leaders get what they want sort of.
But the nation got wiped out anyway.
In 70 AD, the very same Roman army, which becomes the accomplice of the religious leaders in putting Jesus to death, they march against Jerusalem.
The nation gets wiped out, not because of Jesus, but because human, and outward, and political solutions are never a substitute for welcoming God’s king.
The temple the place, is destroyed,
The nation is wiped off the map.
But actually, the place, well it’s not taken away,
God doesn’t remove from his people the place where they can encounter him,
And know him,
And see God revealed.
In 70 AD, when the place, was destroyed by the Romans, it was already obsolete.
Do you know about planned obsolesce?
It’s the design theory that if manufacturers make something that will only last a certain length of time, people will need to buy the new model.
It’s why your stuff always falls apart the week after the warranty expires.
Actually God invented it, but not for that reason.
For this reason.
God had already provided a new “place.”
Jesus. God himself.
That’s the place where we encounter God,
Where we see God revealed, “in all his glory” remember last week.
The means by which we can offer our prayers.
Jesus is the place to encounter God.
The religious leaders were so afraid that God’s anger would be poured out on sin,
That God would visit in judgment.
But of course, that’s exactly what happened, isn’t it?
God’s anger at sin is poured out on Jesus, the willing substitute.
God does visit in judgment, and the penalty for sin is paid.
How do you welcome this king?
Do you stand there in your daggy T-shirt and shorts and watch him drive past?
Have you tried to find some substitute to a real response?
Or do you welcome him with costly devotion?