The Best Ways To Honor Jesus

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John 12: 1 – 11

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

9 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 putting their faith in him.

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In these opening verses of chapter 12, we see once again the many different ways in which people responded towards Jesus.  There are many characters in this story.  We have Jesus’ friends, which included Lazarus and his sisters.  We see a contrast between the two sisters in the actions they take.  We gain more insight into one of Jesus’ disciples, namely Judas Iscariot.  And finally, we read a little bit about the Jewish people and their religious leaders.  All of these characters respond differently to Jesus.

Starting from the end of the story, we read that many people were coming out to see Jesus, the miracle worker, the One who had raised Lazarus from the dead.  Some may have come simply out of curiosity, as word-of-mouth spread about how Jesus had resurrected a man from the grave.  Even so, this sense of wonder and curiosity led many of them to believe in Jesus, when they saw with their own eyes what Jesus had done.

This is in such contrast to the religious leaders.  They too had heard the stories about Jesus’ miraculous powers, but this did not lead them to seek for truth or bring them to a faith in Jesus.  No, they were reacting more out of jealousy, seeing that the people were rejecting their authority and going over to Jesus.  They saw Jesus as a threat to their religious structure and order which gave them such purpose and such power.  They were thinking of themselves, not of what God was doing through Jesus.

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Meanwhile, back at this house where the party to honor Jesus was happening, most of the people were quite content to sit and listen to Jesus.  And this is a good place to be, close to the One who had come from God and had demonstrated that God was working through Him.  But notice the differences between the two sisters.

This day was a great day, a day to honor Jesus, and what do we see Mary and Martha doing?  Martha was busy preparing and serving all the guests who had come.  Now someone might say, “Well, someone had to do this.”  But we have reason to believe that this party is not taking place in their home, for it talks about Lazarus being one of those “reclining (relaxing) at the tables”.  Most likely, they were guests also in someone else’s home.

We read elsewhere (in Luke 10:38-42) almost the same thing, that Martha was “distracted” by all the preparations, while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and soaked in all that Jesus said.  Both sisters loved Jesus as a very dear friend, but one was working to please Jesus, while the other was pleasing Jesus by her pure heart and devotion towards Him.

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Not much needs to be said about the last person, Judas.  His statement of offense at Mary’s actions might have the appearance of putting others first, namely the poor people of that area.  But all he really cared about was himself, and taking advantage of the position he had as the treasurer of the group.  As John states through hindsight, Judas was just a thief.

And this begs the question for all of us.  What are we doing when we come to Jesus today?  What is the intent of our hearts?  Are we hard-hearted like the religious leaders who are more concerned about religions rituals and regulations, than meeting the One from God face-to-face?  Are we involved in a church just because of the position of power and authority we can obtain, and seek to get all we can for ourselves?

Are we “busy” as Christians, but not taking time to develop our relationship with Christ? Are we at least coming to the table to listen to what Jesus is teaching us?  That is good, but it must not stop just there.  Can we be like Mary and find that which is most precious to us and offer it up to Jesus?  There are many ways in which we can honor Jesus in our lives.  The best ways will always involve doing things for God and others that come at some cost to ourselves.  This will show God exactly where our heart is towards Him and His Son, Jesus.

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Jesus Must Die To Save People

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John 11: 45 – 53

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed 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.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many 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 temple and our nation.”

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49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

51 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. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

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They say that “seeing is believing”.  So it is not surprising that some people “believed in Jesus” after He caused Lazarus to come out alive from a tomb, who had been dead and buried for four days.  But notice what some other people did – they ran to Jerusalem (about 2 miles) to inform the religious leaders there of what had happened in Bethany.

This immediately caused the religious leaders to convene an emergency council of the highest ecclesiastical body of leaders called the Sanhedrin.  Consisting of 70 elders of Israel, they were like the religious Supreme Court of their day.  All final decisions for the Jewish people, both religiously and some times politically were determined by this group of men.

These leaders had not personally seen the miracles that Jesus had performed, but they certainly had enough eye witnesses come to them to know that Jesus was a man who performed “great signs”.  This is another way to say that Jesus was filled with supernatural power to accomplish the miraculous.  This should have led these men also to come to a point of believing in Jesus.

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It’s interesting to see that they did not deny the facts that Jesus was able to perform miracles, “Here is this man performing many signs.”   But rather than praise God for the miraculous deeds that Jesus was doing, they saw His actions as being a serious threat to them.  Religiously, they were concerned that many more people would “believe in Him”.  Politically, they were afraid that the Romans would come in force and threaten to destroy their Temple and their nation of Israel.

To understand these fears, it would be necessary to study the 200 years prior to Christ to see what was happening religiously and politically within Israel and within throughout the Roman Empire.  After Alexander the Great had conquered most of their then known world, from Greece to India, Israel was made subject to them. But some rebel Jews rose up, brothers whom we call “the Maccabees”, who won their freedom from Greece.

But rivalries over who would become the next leaders of Israel led to more fighting and a chaotic period resulted.  As a pretence, the Romans who were now subjugating countries under the new Roman Empire, came into Jerusalem to help establish “peace”.  This peace was a fragile thing and required an “occupying force” of Roman garrisons of soldiers.  The Jewish king, like King Herod, had to be appointed by Rome, and the religious leaders had to agree to keep the people in line to not form a rebellion against Rome, or suffer the “Fist of Rome” by having their people captured and made into slaves, and their cities and their Temple smashed into the ground.

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The threat to the Jews was very real.  But these leaders took this threat personally, “the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”  Notice the pronoun “our” in their statement.  So Jesus’ popularity was seen to be a threat to this fragile peace, so he was a threat to them.  If Jesus was being hailed as the “coming Messiah” it would lead to people wanting Jesus to be their political king who ruled over a religiously free Jewish state.

Therefore, in the minds of the religious leaders, there was only one way they could see to save themselves and to save, in their opinion, the people and their religious ways, was to have Jesus killed.  If He were removed out of the picture, then no uprising or open rebellion would be presented against Rome.  They would be safe, or so they thought.

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They believed that Jesus’ death would be the end of His ministry among the Jews.  But they were wrong, oh so wrong.  We have the privilege to look forward and know that Jesus would rise again from the grave.  Jesus would demonstrate that He had the power to conquer death, and by His example, give us hope that we too will one day be resurrected from death.

But much more than that, we know from Scripture that when Jesus died on the Cross, He accepted this penalty of death for the sins that every man and woman have committed against God.  He opened up the way for men to be reconciled back into a relationship with God.  So even though the  High Priest was acting out of selfish motives, He was still used by God to declare a deep spiritual truth, “one man [must] die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Let us always be thankful that Jesus was willing to die, so that we who believe in Him will be able to live with Him forever.

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Jesus Cares & Sacrificed His Life For All People

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John 10:11 – 21

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

17 “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. 18 No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

19 When he said these things, the people were again divided in their opinions about him. 20 Some said, “He’s demon possessed and out of his mind. Why listen to a man like that?” 21 Others said, “This doesn’t sound like a man possessed by a demon! Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

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In our last study, we saw the interesting paradoxes that Jesus was both the Shepherd for the sheep, as well as the Gate for the sheep through which they must pass in order to be safe.  We touched on another Biblical paradox in our last article as we suggested that Jesus was both the Savior and Mediator as well as the Sacrifice of this covenant of love and forgiveness from which we benefit eternally.

In verse 6 of this chapter, his listeners had asked Jesus what all his figurative language meant.  But we see in this next passage of the story here that Jesus continued using metaphorical language as he went on to talk more about sheep and shepherds, and the sacrifices that shepherds would make on behalf of their sheep.  So it may look like Jesus still had not answered their questions.  Or perhaps he did.

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Actually, I believe that Jesus’ opening words in verse 11 would have spoken quite loudly to his audience that day.  In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were often portrayed in poetic and prophetic material as being sheep.  And the leaders of the Jewish people were portrayed as shepherds who were to watch over and care for the flock, God’s people.

But as is so true in any human organization or institution, it does not take very long before those who are supposed to act as humble servants of God, caring for His people, start to become dominating overlords who look out for their own interests first.  So when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd,” He was contrasting himself against the religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees and Sadducees.

These leaders were very self-righteous and exercised great influence over the people of Israel.  But they did not really care about the people, other than that they would obey all the rules and rituals that they had created and imposed upon the people.  When Jesus came on to the scene and started to preach and teach and even heal people, rather than rejoice at the power of God being displayed among them, they became very jealous and threatened by Him.  That is the primary reason why Jesus was accused, convicted and then killed on a cross.

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Jesus clearly marked out the difference between them and himself.  He said he was the “good” shepherd, who was so devoted to his sheep (the people) that he was willing to sacrifice his life in order to save them.  The religious leaders though were afraid of the Roman government which had control over Palestine back then.

If there was even the hint of a rebellion or a disturbance of the peace, there was the threat of the Romans coming back in and not only squelching the uprising, but also of destroying and dispersing the entire Jewish nation.  That is why Caiaphus, the high priest back then said in John 11:49-50, “it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.

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Jesus was not caught up in all this political religious intrigue by accident though.  He knew that He would die, but even here in chapter 10, He says that he would sacrifice himself “voluntarily”.  And not only for the lost sheep (people) of Israel, Jesus said He would do this for those who were “outside the sheepfold”.  Jesus considered people who were not Jewish to also be part of His flock, and He would die to save them spiritually too.

And thank goodness for that!  Because you and I (who are not Jewish by birth) are able to be included within the family of God.  We are the “other sheep” whom Jesus wanted to bring inside of His sheepfold.  You see, God’s love is so big that it could never be contained within one cultural group.

And that is why I and my wife and many others are working diligently at translating the Bible into these remote minority languages around the world.  Because Jesus loves them too, and gave His life for them as well.  Our work is to bring this message to them in a language that they can truly understand, so that all who accept Him, will become part of His great flock.  Praise God!

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What Should We Put Our Faith In?

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John 9:35 – 41

35 When Jesus heard what had happened, he went and found the man. Then Jesus asked, “Do you have faith in the Son of Man?” 36 He replied, “Sir, if you will tell me who he is, I will put my faith in him.” 37 “You have already seen him,” Jesus answered, “and right now he is talking with you.” 38 The man said, “Lord, I put my faith in you!” Then he worshiped Jesus.

39 Jesus told him, “I came to judge the people of this world. I am here to give sight to the blind and to make blind everyone who can see.” 40 When the Pharisees heard Jesus say this, they asked, “Are we blind?” 41 Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty. But now that you claim to see, you will keep on being guilty.”

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We now reach the climax of the story about  when Jesus healed a man who had been blind since birth.  There have been four stages to this story.  First, there was the healing event as recorded in vv. 1-12.  Next, we see the confusion of the Jewish leaders as they wrestled with the miracle which had been performed on the Jewish Sabbath day.  Some leaders were amazed by the miracle, but others who held tightly to their religious ritualism could not accept the idea that Jesus was a man sent by God.

In the third part of the story, the religious leaders questioned the man intently, to find out for sure that he had in fact been blind to begin with, and then to find out what the man thought concerning Jesus.  At this point, the man boldly proclaimed that Jesus must come from God, for never before had this kind of miracle been done among them.  Only a man of God could do such a thing.

It was at this point that the religious leaders “threw him out of the synagogue”.  Now they didn’t literally throw him out of the building.  What this means is that they were cutting him off, excommunicating him, from ever being able to enter back into the synagogue.  That might not mean much to us today, but for that period back then, it was a huge thing.  Let me explain.

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In the Jewish culture of the 1st century, the synagogue was the very center of a person’s life.  It was a wonderful thing when a Jew was able to travel up to the Temple in Jerusalem for one of the main festivals during any given year.  But week by week, Jews would gather on the Sabbath at the local synagogue to worship God, to hear the Word of God (Old Testament) spoken, and then to hear an explanation or teaching on the passage.

The local synagogue was much more though than just a place to gather for weekly worship.  Young children would be educated in the Torah (the five books of Moses), the other parts of Scripture, as well as practical knowledge for every day living.  The synagogues were the educational system of the Jewish people.

And more than that, every important event in a person’s life would most likely have occurred at one’s local synagogue.  For both boys (Bar Mitzvah) and for girls (Bat Mitzvah) there was a public ceremony celebrating the passage of life from childhood to adulthood.  Later, there would be marriage ceremonies and finally funeral events, and many other social activities that would be held at the local synagogue.

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For this young man to then be excommunicated from the synagogue by the religious leaders was to cut him off from every important social and religious event of life.  He would become both socially and religiously an orphan within the community.  No wonder that Jesus went to see him immediately after he had heard that the leaders had cast him out of the synagogue.

And Jesus’ question then holds much more importance in light of all this.  We don’t know how old this man was, but probably he was a young adult of about 20 years or more.  For all of his life, he had put his faith in the religious Jewish system.  But that system had cast him aside.  Now what was he to do about the spiritual needs of his life.

Jesus then asked him such a crucial question: “Do you have faith in the Son of Man?” (This was Jesus’ favorite title for himself.  It speaks of his humanity and his divinity at the same time.)  When this young man fully realized that Jesus, the Son of Man, was the One who had healed him, he knew that he had found the one person in life in whom he could fully put his trust and faith.

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What about you my friend?  Have you been putting your trust in human rituals and human institutions?  At the end of this whole passage, Jesus said that he came “to judge people”.  Within the context, what this means is that he came to reveal to people where they stood.  The message of the Gospel is that we are all guilty of sin in our lives.  But what do we do about that now that we know that or can “see the truth” of that.

Either we can try to hide from that truth, yet still be found guilty of our sins in God’s eyes?  Or we can own up to them, and come to Jesus, the only One who has the authority and right to forgive sins based on the sacrifice of his life upon the Cross.  The religious leaders would not accept that and will be held accountable for that.  We have the chance though to come to Jesus and put our faith in him like the young man.  Only He can heal our bodies and our souls for all eternity.

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Miraculous Signs & Belief

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Sceptics & Thrill Seekers

John 2:18 – 25

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

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Earlier in Chapter 2 of John, we read about Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, when He turned the water into wine.  Up to that point, Jesus had been choosing and collecting disciples around Him, men who would follow Him where He went, listen to His teachings, and witness the miracles He did.  It was all done in a relatively quiet manner, with hardly anyone noticing Jesus or what He was doing.

All of this changed rather dramatically when Jesus came to Jerusalem to participate in the annual Jewish Passover celebration.  (Read the article, “What Is Wrong With This Picture”.)  Jesus burst onto the scene in a very public way when He drove out all the people from the Temple area who were selling animals for sacrifice and turned over the tables of the money changers.

This undoubtedly enraged the Jewish authorities (whom John often simply called “The Jews”).  These leaders, who most likely consisted of the Sadducees, the priests and the Levites, controlled just about every aspect of religious life and regulations for the people, along with the Pharisees (the religious leaders of the Jewish synagogues) and the Scribes (those who were the experts in the Mosaic and Rabbinic laws.)

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When Jesus cleared everyone out of the Temple area, it must have been quite a shock at first for these religious leaders.  Such as act could only have been done by a madman, or by ….. well, someone who had divine authority to do such a bold and brazen act in the Temple of God.  But that didn’t make sense to them, for Jesus was not a crazy lunatic on the one hand, but on the other hand, there had been no evidence beforehand of God granting His divine authority to this man.

So instead of arresting Jesus for HIs actions of property damage and personal assault, “The Jews” come to Jesus and ask Him to perform a sign, some miraculous deed, to give some evidence that He was in fact a man whom God had approved to do such an action.  For the religious leaders, this question made perfect sense; if God had in fact sent Jesus with authority to cleanse the Temple, then He must also possess God’s divine power to do a miracle.

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Fundamentally though, there is a serious problem with the request of the leaders.  In their “holier-than-thou” attitude back then, they had already reasoned in their hearts that if someone was not a member of their established religious order, then there is no way that that person could be a man sent from God and so it would be highly doubtful that he could perform any miracle.

These leaders were sceptics from the beginning.  In asking their question for Jesus to show them a sign, they had already made the conclusion that Jesus was not from God.  And when Jesus gave them a spiritual answer, their minds were stuck upon the physical realm only.  How sad that these religious leaders were so spiritually blind.

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On the opposite side of the spectrum, there were some people in Jerusalem at that time that were ready to accept Jesus and put their faith in Him that He was a “miracle worker”.  It may seem strange at first that Jesus does not appear to be happy about this.  It would seem from the text that Jesus knew that His miracles were simply interesting attractions for them.

Could it be that these people, like many people today, were those who simply followed the latest fad or fashion of the day?  There were in fact many so called prophets and “messiahs” before Jesus who came along and claimed divine power and authority, and even performed some miraculous looking deeds.  But when they failed to perform further miracles, or been arrested, or just faded away, so too did the crowds disperse and stop following them.

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So what can we take away from today’s lesson?  We see that God worked through Jesus in miraculous ways and this was an obstacle for those steeped in religious ritual to truly believe in Him, and it was a problem for those who were just seeking the next spiritually exciting event to follow after.  In both cases, neither the sceptics nor the thrill seekers were prepared to establish a personal relationship with Jesus.  They both looked for the amazing “signs” of Jesus, instead of looking at Jesus.

Now we have to ask ourselves, are we much different from these two kinds of people?  Do we get so caught up in our religious rituals that we fail to nurture our relationship with Jesus and the Father?  Do we get “spiritually bored” at times in our Christian walk and we look for the speakers and events that are more exciting?  Either of these extremes can be harmful to our spiritual well being.