Following Jesus Requires Sacrifice

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John 12: 20 – 28

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

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The passage right before the verses above described for us the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem.  The crowds proclaimed that their Messiah, their King, who had come from the royal line of King David, had just entered into Jerusalem.  They were all ready to proclaim Jesus as their Royal King of Israel.

No doubt this caused a great stir among the people, for the local residents of Jerusalem as well as those who were visiting there to celebrate the Great Feast of Passover.  Our passage here starts out then with some foreigners, some Greek-speaking men who had come in from some outlying area or some distant land and they hear reports about Jesus.

They wanted to meet Jesus, but notice who they approached first?  They went to Philip, who probably came from a Greek culture background himself since he had a Greek name.  So these men took the path that made the most sense to be able to gain an audience with Jesus – they approached Philip who would be sympathetic to their request to meet this very famous man – the Man who could do the miraculous.

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Jesus’ response though did not line up with this desire of the people who wanted Him to become their new King on earth.  He does declare in verse 23 that it is finally the time for people to know who He is exactly.  His favorite term for Himself “The Son of Man” contains both the idea that He is God’s Son, and also the idea that He is truly a man who had come to live among us.

And now He says that the time had come for Him “to be glorified”.  It is always hard to translate the word “glory”, but each time we do, we learn more about what it means.  Within this context, Jesus was saying that it was going to be revealed just how “wonderful” and “glorious” the true nature of Jesus really was.

The surprise comes is in the next sentence.  We should expect that someone who is the Majestic Son of God, who had just been publicly acclaimed to be the King of Israel, and who will now at this point reveal the true identity of Himself to the people, we would expect Him to ascend the throne in Jerusalem.

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Instead, we see Jesus speaking out one more time in metaphorical language.  He states that a seed by itself is nothing.  To be something of great value, it must be dropped into the ground where the seed will figuratively “die” as it breaks into small pieces.  But from these broken pieces, many roots can shoot out of this one seed and actually bear much food for the people.

You see, Jesus’ path forward required Him not to go forth in a victory march towards a throne, but to walk the road of shame and suffering, and to die on the Cross, in order to win people back to God.  Jesus recognized that those who would follow Him, must be ready to fully give up their lives and souls to God, and count the things of this life as being of such low worth compared to the promise of eternal life with God.

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This is not to say that it was an easy thing for Jesus to make the decision to give up His life on our behalf.  We see Him in verse 27 wrestling with this decision.  If it was possible to fulfill the will of God without having to actually die on the cross, I believe Jesus would have chosen that path.  But He has barely asked this question of God when He also states the answer – He knows that this was the path that He must walk.

And so Jesus asked God for something else: He asked for God to reveal His true and glorious nature.  And God’s voice answered back that He already had and will again do just that.  What was He referring to?  I believe it refers to how God showed His awesome power in resurrecting Lazarus (from John 11) and how He would raise Jesus from the dead (John 20).

The promise and the challenge for us are in verse 26.  If we truly want to serve Jesus as the Lord of our lives, we are to follow in His footsteps.  So we must also be ready to lay down our lives for God.  That is the challenge.  The promise is that we will be with Him where He goes.  And where will that be?  By the side of God in Heaven for all eternity.  Praise God!  Praise the Lord!

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Christian Compassion vs. Religious Criticism

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John 5:1 – 15

5  1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 

6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 

9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

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In this story which records for us how Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for 38 years, we get our first glimpse in John’s Gospel of the tension between Him and the Jewish authorities which ultimately led to His crucifixion.  In this event, we see the compassion that Jesus has for those who suffer.  On the other hand, we see the Jewish leaders lack of concern for the sufferer who had been healed as they criticize Jesus for breaking their religious rules and regulations.

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To more fully understand this story, let me first unpack some of the cultural and religious aspects that are going on here.  The story opens with Jesus leaving the province of Galilee and going up to Jerusalem.  (The city of Jerusalem is situated on the top of a mountain ridge, so almost all biblical writers talk about going “up” to get to Jerusalem.  There were three major Jewish festivals that occurred in a year that caused many thousands of Jews to come to Jerusalem in order to celebrate and worship God.)

We don’t know for sure which festival this was here in chapter five, but in any case, we see Jesus coming to attend, partly I think to fulfill the requirement to come to Jerusalem for this festival, but also I’m sure to continue doing God’s Kingdom work among His people.  What we do know from this text is that many sick and disease stricken people were also there lying beside a pool of water which was near one of the large entry gates into Jerusalem.

(The footnote in some versions, which is considered to be verse four, states that when the water was stirred up for some reason, the people believed that an angel had come down and was causing this and that by going into the water, a person could be healed.)

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So when Jesus entered the city, even though He would have been surrounded by thousands of people, His attention was immediately drawn toward this man who had been paralyzed for so many years.  Jesus went over to him and then asked him, “Do you want to be well?”  Now that might seem like a dumb question to ask a paralyzed man, but really, I think that Jesus was basically asking the man if he wanted Jesus to help him to be healed.

The man misunderstood Jesus, thinking He was offering to help him get down into the water once the water would begin to stir.  But Jesus was going to bypass the use of an intermediary agent and by His own authority He healed the man.  He then basically asked the man to trust His word by standing up (something he hadn’t done by himself in 38 years), picking up his mat and walking away with it.  When compassion and Divine Will come together, amazing and miraculous things happen.

But then religious ritualism reared its ugly head.  When the Jewish leaders saw the man carrying his mat on the Sabbath (the day set apart to only worship God), they accused him of doing work on the Sabbath, which they proclaimed to be forbidden by God in their laws.  (In reality, this was their narrow human interpretation regarding this law which we know to be part of God’s “Ten Commandments”.

The problem is that the Jewish leaders were so zealous to observe religious rituals that they could not see the hand of God working in this man’s life.  They thought that “proper” human behaviour took precedence over the needs of the human soul which needed deliverance from the curse and bondage of extreme physical sickness and disease.

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We must all remember that God’s compassion extends itself to mankind in order to bring honour to Him and freedom to us to willingly return our love and submission back to Him.  Rules will never save a person from sin and bondage.  If that was true back then, it is still true for us today.  Let us now be careful not to impose religious ritualism on fellow believers in hopes to make them more “acceptable” to God.  God already accepts us just as we are, if we have turned to Him in faith.

The Power Of A Testimony

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John 4:28 – 30, 39 – 45

28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.

                                

This is the third and final section in John chapter four that highlights the Samaritan woman, with whom Jesus had spoken.  In the earlier section of this story, Jesus had shown to the woman his omniscience by describing in detail the true nature of her relationships with multiple husbands.  That prompted the woman to consider Jesus to be a prophet.

But as Jesus and the woman talked further about the true nature of worshipping God, an even greater aspect of His nature became clear to the woman.  In her desire to worship the true God, the woman mentioned the promise of God that an anointed man, the Messiah, would be sent by God to teach all people about God.  Jesus responded by saying basically, “I am that Man.”  (Read the earlier article here.)

    

Now recall how this woman had come to the well in the heat of the day to draw water.  (We drew attention in the first article to the idea that this suggests that she was an outcast from the nearby town since the practice would have been for the ladies of the town to go together in the cool of the morning to draw water.)  But now in the excitement of the moment, this woman dropped her jar and ran back to town to testify to the town’s folk that just perhaps she had met the promised Messiah, the Christ who would come to lead God’s people.

If we are seeing this event as it really happened, that was quite a bold move by that woman.  If she had been a social outcast, having been married to five men, and now living with a sixth man, then it would be highly doubtful that the town’s folk would stop to listen to anything this woman had to say.  But she was so excited and so hopeful and so insistent on what she had experienced, that the people really had to come out to meet Jesus and find out for themselves.

    

In fact, this woman’s testimony concerning the nature of who Jesus was and what He had done was so powerful that it says, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him…”  That is a pretty strong testimony, wouldn’t you say?  So the people ask Jesus to stay with them a few more days, and as they too came to see the real Jesus, they too put their trust in Him as God’s anointed Messiah, the “Savior of the world.”

This would be a good spot for us all to stop and reflect on our own faith in Jesus.  Especially for those of us who have believed in Jesus for many years.  Do we still have the desire to tell others about Jesus with great excitement and energy?  Did we have that kind of excitement when we first accepted Jesus into our lives?  Perhaps we need to reflect a bit more on the amazing freedom and salvation from sin that Jesus gave to us when we stepped out of darkness and into His light.

    

Our passage goes on, and we see Jesus is ready to leave the Province of Samaria.  But I wonder if He did it with a bit of a heavy heart.  No one is quite sure what John meant when he wrote in verse 44, “Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown”.  This clause is being used differently than how Matthew, Mark and Luke used it, when Jesus was not accepted in his home town of Nazareth.

It is possible that Jesus was thinking of how his own people in general, the Jews, were not very receptive to Him, which stands in strong contrast with how the Samaritans believed in Him.  Or it might refer to Jerusalem where He had just come from.  And how awfully sad it is that the Holy City, where the Temple of the Living God stood, was the very place that Jesus, the Son of God was most rejected.

    

And yet, there was still an openness and acceptance that Jesus found among the Galileans.  Perhaps it really is true that God can be found better by those who live more simple and down-to-earth lives.  It seems to me that the hustle and bustle of the “big cities”, and also the highly institutionalized religious centers, are not the places where the lowly and humble Jesus can be found.

And what about you my friend?  Has the busyness and distractions of life, and even “religion”, kept you away from having a deep personal talk with the Lord, such as this Samaritan woman had?  Open your eyes, and your heart, and let the testimony of this changed woman also help change your life.

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