Tuesday, July 26, 2016
"The Whole World Has Gone After Him" Sermon John 12:9-19
“The Whole World Has Gone After Him”
July 24, 2016 Second Reformed Church
Saturday night before the Passover of the week Jesus was crucified, Jesus and His disciples enjoyed dinner at the house of Simon the leper with Mary and Martha, celebrating the resurrection of Lazarus.
At that dinner, Mary anointed Jesus for His work of salvation through His death and burial to come, spreading all of an exceedingly expensive ointment – worth three hundred days’ pay – over His body.
And word spread of the party – and that Jesus was there, and we read:
“When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.”
And we see, first, this morning, those who are against Christ will deny and destroy evidence of Him.
A large crowd of Jews heard that Jesus had returned to Bethany, so they went to see Him. And they heard that Lazarus was with Him – the one Jesus had raised from the dead after he had been in the tomb for four days – which was unheard of – it was commonly believed that resurrection was impossible after the third day – so they wanted to see the Healer and the one who had been raised. The resurrection of Lazarus was a powerful sign about Jesus and His claim to be God the Son and Savior. The people were anxious to see them both to see if everything they had heard was true.
And the chief priests heard about the party and the crowd that was going to see Jesus and Lazarus, and they were angered. We remember that the chief priests had already decided that for the good of the nation, Jesus had to be put to death. Now, they added to that that they had to find a way to put Lazarus to death.
At least two reasons:
First, Lazarus’ resurrection after four days confirmed and gave credence to Jesus’ claims to be God the Savior. The chief priests figured that if Lazarus was dead again, people would begin to doubt Jesus’ claims – without the incredible witness of the resurrected Lazarus, Jesus would draw fewer people to Himself.
Second, we’re told that “many Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.”
Going away from what? Going away from the chief priests – the Pharisees – rejecting their teaching and authority. People were literally leaving the Pharisees to follow Jesus. The Pharisees were having their authority and teaching questioned, and they were losing their power base. People were leaving the Temple and the instruction of the Pharisees and chief priests, and they were following Jesus, believing in His teachings and Who He claimed to be. So, they figured if Lazarus was dead, the people would leave Jesus and return to their teaching and the Temple.
They thought that if they “destroyed” the evidence – if they killed Lazarus, people would forget or begin to believe those who denied it ever happened.
This is how people like atheist, Richard Dawkins, have argued, “Jesus was not the Son of God, because He did not rise from the dead. And we know that He did not rise from the dead, because people don’t rise from the dead.” See, they deny without proving it is not true – they just deny statements and draw conclusions from their denials.
One of my college roommates has argued that Jesus is not the Son of God. Because He never existed. And when I bring up evidence of His existence, he says that all of the evidence is fiction – created to make people believe that there was such a person. So, he puts the challenge forth that Jesus did not exist, and then he systematically denies all evidence out of hand because it contradicts his position.
Have you ever talked with a child (or perhaps an adult) and you say something is true, and the response you get is, “No, it’s not.” They just repeat, “No, it’s not,” in the hopes that someday you will agree.
Perhaps more insidious, is the person who destroys evidence to distort the truth --- deleting sections of tape, e-mails, shredding documents, even to attempting to wipe out civilizations and any record of their existence. The Hittites in the Bible are an example: it is only recently that evidence outside of the Bible has been found to prove that this civilization once existed – so well had others destroyed evidence of their existence.
Do not be afraid of such people! There is plenty of evidence for Jesus’ claims within and without the Bible. The problem is not that there is no evidence for the Truth of Jesus Christ and His Gospel, the problem is that non-believers are dead in their sin and cannot believe until God the Holy Spirit changes their hearts so they can receive the Gospel.
Stand firm in the faith. Present the Truth of the Gospel. Don’t be overwhelmed by those who seek to deny and destroy the evidence for the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Keep telling others and pray that God will cause them to believe.
Our text continues with John’s record of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem:
“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!’ His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”
Second, we see that God the Holy Spirit caused the crowd to affirm Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy.
Jesus began to make His way to Jerusalem. He had sent the disciples to get a donkey and her colt, and He began to ride into Jerusalem – not because it was far away, but for the symbolism of what He was doing.
The crowd that had come to the house of Simon the leper to see Jesus and Lazarus were with Him, and as Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, the crowd that had come to Jerusalem for the feast came out of the town and joined the crowd from Bethany lining the streets as Jesus rode the donkey down the road.
This double crowd took palm branches and lay them on the ground and waved them in the air – not to cool themselves off – but for the symbolism. The palm branch – and the waving palm branch – symbolized peace, victory, and joy.
And the crowd began to cry out, saying, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!”
In a time of oppression, the prophet, Zechariah, had prophesied that the day would come when Jerusalem – Zion – would be freed – and that would be when her king rode into the city on a donkey. It was to be a time of victory of Jerusalem over the whole world, led by her humble king, and there would be an eternal kingdom and peace and joy forevermore.
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit prompted them to make connections: The Passover is a feast of remembrance of God’s deliverance of Israel from their oppressors – Egypt. At that time, Israel was under the oppression of Rome and longed to have Messiah – the Savior – the Anointed One – come to set them free from their bondage. And here was Jesus, the rabbi that all the world was talking about, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, just as the prophecy for today – and at the start of the Passover. Didn’t it make sense that this would be the time and the person that God was going to use to overthrow Rome and set up the eternal kingdom of Jerusalem?
And the crowd was right: Jesus is the Anointed One – the Savior. Jesus did ride into Jerusalem to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy. Jesus did come to overthrow the oppressing that all of humanity was under – and all those who believe in Jesus – repenting of their sin – are set free from the oppression of Satan.
What the crowd missed – and what we miss at times as well – is that they were looking for the fulfillment of the prophecy to merely be an earthly king that gave them earthly salvation. They wanted to be saved from the earthly oppression of the Romans and be set free to be the theocracy – the nation under God – that they were called to be thousands of years before.
Ultimately, all thrones and powers and principalities will bow before Jesus – they are under His authority now, but the time is not yet done. Until Jesus returns, there are things that must happen to prepare the world for His return. Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to free all those who will believe from slavery to Satan and sin, but He was not setting up His earthly kingdom and forcing all those who do not believe under His footstool – not yet.
As we often see, the disciples didn’t understand – not until the Resurrection. Then their minds were opened to understand how Jesus fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy and how He is continuing to fulfill it until He returns.
We are called to transform society – and the world – through the proclaiming of the Gospel – through telling people the historical facts about Jesus. But we often go astray – especially around election time – and start talking about how this candidate must be elected to restore Christian values, or how this candidate must not be elected or Christianity will be stamped out of existence.
Jesus is not unaware of who our leaders are and what they believe. Paul tells us in Romans that the leaders we have were ordained by God to be our leaders – for our good or for our discipline – or both. We are called to submit to the government, because God has ordained the men and women who serve, though we are to oppose the government if they command us to sin, because then they are acting against their call to service by God.
But no government leader is going to save us. Christians should be involved in government, but it may not be a Christian who is the best leader for us. God has not only gifted Christians in the field of government.
So, as we seek to serve and work with the government as God has commanded, let us not be confused as they were during the Triumphal Entry in thinking that any particular governmental official will save us. Only our God and Savior Jesus Christ will save us and has saved us and will redeem us when He returns.
God is Sovereign over Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. God knows who will be president. And whoever the president turns out to be, he or she will not make us into a Christian nation or the kingdom of God. Whoever it is may do good or evil, or, probably, both. Every president – every leader at every level, is under the sovereign control of our God. The God Who rode into Jerusalem and earned us spiritual salvation and will return one day to give us earthly salvation in His eternal kingdom on earth.
Finally, we see that the two crowds joined together to witness to Who Jesus is and what He did.
“The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’”
The crowd from Bethany knew that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead after four days – and the crowd from Jerusalem had head that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead after four days – and they heard and told each other more things that Jesus had said and done – the witness to the Gospel.
We do that, don’t we? When we hear news – especially very good new or very bad or shocking news, we go and tell others. Especially through the “news” we are repeatedly informed of what they deem to be the major happenings in the world, and we spread the word.
These crowds had heard the stories of Jesus and spread them, and now them were in the presence of Lazarus, who had been four days dead – no one had ever been raised from the dead after four days. They wanted to see that Lazarus was really alive and then see Jesus and find out what happened. They were excited and filled with wonder and expectation.
Why are we bored with Jesus?
Why do we talk about Jesus here and the response we get is to be asked what we are giving away?
Let us be excited about the Gospel! Let us meditate on Who Jesus is and what He has done, and let us pray that the Holy Spirit would make us excited like those crowds, so when we go out from this place, we will tell people and be excited about the Gospel.
May the curiosity of those we talk to grow. May they want to know what this is really about.
May we be known for our vivid faithful telling the history of Jesus enough to trouble people and wonder what we’re up to. May we be a people who so trouble the devil that he takes action against us in a way that God is glorified.
The Pharisees had been making their plans, seeking ways to kill Jesus and Lazarus. Apparently some plans had been put in place, but when the Pharisees saw the crowds’ reaction to Jesus entering Jerusalem, one group of Pharisees accused the other group of not doing enough – of being ineffective in their pursuit of killing Jesus. They noted that “the whole world has gone after Him.”
All the efforts and planning resulted in people from all over the world and all kinds of people following Jesus and interested in Jesus and believing in Jesus.
The Pharisees were beside themselves with anger – so far, they had failed, Jesus’ popularity was growing by leaps and bounds.
Let us go from this place believing that God knows what He is doing and all things are under His Sovereign control. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will work through our efforts such that new crowds will be excited and interested and believing in Jesus the Savior and King of Israel.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, in the holy counsels of the Trinity, You ordained whatsoever comes to pass. You sent Your Son to be the Way for any who will repent and believe to be right with God and received secure passage into Your Kingdom. Help us to be the people You have called us to be as we anxiously await the return of Your Son. Help us to confidently and joyful speak the Gospel to others, and send the Holy Spirit to intercede and use our efforts to bring the whole world to Jesus. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.