Friday, March 23, 2012

B, Lent 5 – John 12:20-33, Hebrews 5:8-10 “To Come and See Jesus”

The place was abuzz. People were expectedly excited as the numbers of visitors made the city's population swell. Jews from all corners of the world had flooded Jerusalem for the Passover, and even more so as the Passover fell on the Sabbath, making the Jewish day of rest, even more special.
But even with this high Sabbath approaching the excitement was not on what was to come, but on he who was already there, and what had just happened.
Jesus seemed to be the man of the moment, everyone scrambling to see this man who had just raised Lazarus from the dead at Bethany. And Lazarus has not just died, but was four days dead! He would have been a decomposing dead man when Jesus opened his tomb and brought him out to his sisters, Mary and Martha.
The temple town was in turmoil. All the attention should have been on the preparation for the Passover. The animals amassed for the sacrifices, the lambs ready for the Passover meal. And yet those who upheld the Jewish Law throw their hands up in disgust that the world has gone after Jesus and showered him with celebration amidst palm branches, just as they once did for King David. (John 12:19)
But unlike the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders, the rest wanted a piece of Jesus. Not only did Jews from all corners of the earth greet Jesus riding on a donkey, but some Greeks wanted to get amongst the excitement and requested an audience with Jesus too.
One can only imagine how the events which had just unfolded would have puzzled the Greeks. After all the Jewish public had signs from Jesus and now the Greeks sought to make sense of Jesus' sign by looking for what wisdom might come out of raising Lazarus, and Jesus receiving a hero's welcome amidst the palm fronds.
We hear the Gospel as it's recorded in John 12:20…
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.
"Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."
The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:20–33 ESV)
Now we can't be sure if the Greeks eventually had their audience with Jesus. But from what Jesus said after they made their request through Philip, and the lack of any account of a conversation between Jesus and these Greeks, we must suspect not!
If you think Jesus not speaking with these Greek men puzzling, put yourself in the shoes of the Greeks. They would have been completely confounded by Jesus saying he must be lifted up from the earth to draw all to himself. It might have seemed possible if it wasn't for the fact that, days earlier Jesus had reinstated the life of Lazarus. You see Greeks believed death was the perfect escape from the imperfections of the flesh. Why then would this Jewish hero give life back to Lazarus if he had just escaped his imperfect decaying body?
Nevertheless, they wanted to see Jesus, but Jesus says he is going to be seen by everybody because, "the hour has come for the son of man to be glorified." And, "when I am lifted up from this earth I will draw all people to myself." Jesus glorified God's name in his life, and now he was going to glorify it again in his death and resurrection.
Jesus glorified God's name in his life, he was perfect in God's eyes, and in ours he should be too. Yet God sent him to suffer so in his perfection we might see him be made perfect despite being already perfect and complete. We hear from Hebrews Chapter five…
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:8–10 ESV)
It seemed the whole world had gone after Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey after raising Lazarus from the dead. The hopes of Jerusalem had been raised that they would have a king like David on the throne once again! But little did anyone know this man who had captured the hearts and minds of both Jews and Greeks would be designated by God to be the highest of high priests. A perfect priest and a complete king!
Yet it didn't happen in the way we would think! Jesus' completion and coronation as king didn't follow the usual route to power, and once there the judgement bestowed was greater than the judgement of any earthly king, overpowering even the devil, the ruler of this world. Jesus was not only a king but a priest in the order of Melchizedek, who was the king of Salem. A town that was to become Jeru-Salem!
Melchizedek was a priest in Abraham's time. By his name we know he was the king of Salem too. For his name means king, from where we get the name Malachi, and the second part of his name "zedek" means righteousness. He was the high priest and king of Salem, which means peace, from which is derived the Jewish greeting "shalom". And so in Abraham's day much peace flowed to him from Melchizedek the priest and king of righteousness.
But in these days of Jesus, Jerusalem was not peaceable in the least. The crowd was at fever pitch, the priests were worried, and the excitement of the special Passover seemed it might be passed over in favour of Jesus raising Lazarus. Who would have known Jesus' death was the crowning glory of his coronation as king! This was far from being a perfect sign for the Jews and was complete folly to the Greeks.
Yet this was God's plan to have our King of Righteousness enthroned in glory so the entire world might be drawn to him. And so God draws you to him!
His invitation stands everyday for every person to come and receive the Jeru-Shalom – the flow of peace from our High Priest and King in the order of Melchizedek.
You see we are the Greeks in this narrative. Just like them we are Gentile believers looking to the righteousness of Christ on the cross, receiving the flow of peace from the true source of eternal wisdom. And this happens despite all other excitements, disappointments — every good and bad event!
It may have seemed the Greeks lost out in not seeing Jesus that day. But in Jesus' death and resurrection he has been glorified eternally so that all who hear his word are met by him in all his glory as we are daily raised to life by the Holy Spirit having been drowned in our baptism.
This too is an unlikely way, one might think, of being conjoined to Christ's coronation on the cross and victorious resurrection. But, nevertheless, baptism is God's wisdom that through Christ crucified you are receiving forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. You are free to come and see Jesus! Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

B, Lent 4 – Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-21 “Too Good Not To Be True”

All they had to do was look at the bronze serpent and live. It sounds like a hoax. The venom of a deadly desert snake kills a person in minutes. A snake's neurotoxin floods the body's lymphatic system causing bodily organs to fail. A pressure bandage and medical attention needs to come quickly to stop the deadly effects from the snake's bite.
Therefore, look at a bronze snake and live! Sound fair enough? I don't think so! How can looking at bronze pole stop the lymphatic system from pumping the venom around the body? It sounds too good to be true!
After the resurrection Jesus said to the eleven Apostles…
"Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." (Mark 16:15–18 ESV)
Therefore, we should go out looking for tiger snakes, brown snakes, cobras, and vipers to see if we're made of the right stuff? Ah no! Not a good idea! God may call for this to happen but only when he desires it, when it serves him to his ends, and when he calls an individual or a group of people into this situation to glorify him alone!
Nevertheless, he did call the Israelites in the Sinai wilderness to look and live. They were being bitten and many were dying. So they came to Moses and pleaded he pray to God to take away the snakes. So Moses prayed on behalf of the people, and God didn't take the snakes away. Instead, he commanded Moses to add a bronze snake to the equation.
All they had to do was believe, and healing they would receive. It was no different to the food and the water God had been supplying. If they trusted him, looked to him, he would continue to sustain them. But despite God being with them they saw their situation as being in greater peril of perishing than when they were slaves in Egypt.
Jesus names this event when he speaks to Nicodemus, who had come to him at night. He introduces Nicodemus to the idea of being born again through water and the Spirit, and ties it to his being lifted up just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.
In the same way Jesus connects baptism and belief, unbelief and condemnation in the hearing of the disciples after the resurrection, as he had done so here with Nicodemus too.
John 3:16 are Jesus' words to Nicodemus, but we do well to hold the text of Moses and the bronze serpent with this well know verse, so we might get the full volume of what Jesus is saying here. If we don't then we're in danger of turning John 3:16 or for that matter the gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us, into a cheesy feel good cliché.
Yes it should make us feel good, but in a way that leads us to glorify God for the eternal salvation he gives to us through his Son. In the next verse, verse seventeen Jesus says…
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17 ESV)
And lets couple this verse with what we have heard from Numbers twenty-one…
Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." (Numbers 21:6–8 ESV)
What did God want with the Israelites in the wilderness; to starve them, to have them die of thirst, or to poison them with snakes? No! Why then would he have bothered to save them in the first place! Rather he sought to save them because he loved them and wanted to take them from the land of slavery and oppression into the land of milk and honey.
Similarly we are called to see Jesus lifted up alone on the cross, as the one who exposes and lifts up our sin. We first have to believe we are bitten with sin, to believe the being of sin is within, in order for us to look to him on the cross in faith to have our sin forgiven so we may not eternally perish.
If we choose to shun the seriousness of our sin, we become like one in the wilderness bitten by a fiery serpent; thinking it's only a scratch, it's not that bad, refusing to stop, look and live. Sin is serious and like the bronze serpent, Jesus lifted up on the cross is too good not to be true.
When someone makes the fatal mistake of thinking it's too good to be true the person fulfils what Jesus tells Nicodemus in verse eighteen…
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18 ESV)
If the Israelites didn't believe they were bitten, if they didn't believe the brass serpent to have any power, they too were condemned to death even before their death inevitably came.
So how does one believe, and what does believing do? Surely we first must be brought to an understanding of our need. This is not a mental or cognitive understanding; rather it's the deeper yearning of our inner being for what life was originally created to be, before the fall.
Jesus tells Nicodemus what believing does in John 3:21…
But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." (John 3:21 ESV)
Those who do what is true allow themselves to be brought into the light so they might have sin exposed and expunged, to have sin revealed and its power removed! Therefore, it is clearly seen that a person's works have been carried out in God. This means, that everything that's done is shown as being done by God himself. But how does he do it?
We find this answer in Ephesians 2:8…
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)
It is faith that enables a person to believe, and this faith is not of us it is the gift of God. Unfortunately, many today are deceived into a faith that is of themselves and not a gift of God at all. But for those being saved Christ dwells within, because having heard his word, we stop, look and live.
So to keep it concise, I pray we might continue to stop, look, and live. Let the light shine on us to expose and extinguish sin. To let the light shine on us disempowering sin and empowering the Holy Spirit who works through hearing the word, to give us the ability to believe and receive, Jesus' death and resurrection for you, for me, for all who stop, look, and live.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14–16 ESV)
Surely this is too good not to be true! Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

B, Lent 3 Psalm 19:14 John 2:14-16 “Acceptable in His Sight”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14 ESV)
In the temple Jesus found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." (John 2:14–16 ESV)
What makes one's muttering and musing acceptable to God? Out of the mouth and the heart comes words and thoughts too many to number. What makes them acceptable to God? Pleasing, desirable, delightful, favourable, and a joy to hear?
Jesus made a whip of chords and sets about driving them out of the temple. We know he was without sin, and so the actions and words, which came from his heart and mouth, were pleasing to God. Why were they pleasing to God when Jesus was anything but pleased himself?
Jesus himself says …everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22 ESV)
Jesus not only calls anger to account but says anger receives the same judgement as murder. Yet Jesus not only rages against those in the temple but while he was on his unbending march to the cross he said many things which insulted and were harsh to the ear.
To his disciples he constantly enquired, "Have you still no faith?" (Mark 4:40 ESV) Before his disciples he says to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." (Mark 8:33 ESV) And even after the resurrection he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. (Mark 16:14 ESV)
His teaching didn't seem to encourage either, Jesus says… for from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." (Mark 7:21–23 ESV)
…whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— (Mark 3:29 ESV). No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18 ESV) …go sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (Mark 10:21 ESV) …everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28 ESV)
He gets stuck right into the Pharisees for the self-righteousness of their piety, saying… You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:33–37 ESV)
Jesus calls the Jews hypocrites (Luke 6:42 ESV), even naming them murderers and liars; children of the devil (John 8:44–47 ESV). And he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15 ESV)
And he came proclaiming much woe, "…woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. "Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:24–26 ESV)
Jesus even cursed a fig tree for not producing fruit out of season. He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." (Mark 11:13–14 ESV)
And knowing he was going to be crucified, how were these utterances and meditations pleasing to God? "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36 ESV) And just before death on the cross he cried out in a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34 ESV)
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14 ESV)
Put yourself in the hearing of all this. Jesus' words and meditations were pleasing to Yahweh, our Heavenly Father, but how do they sit with your hearing? Is Jesus acceptable to you? What would keep you going with him on his earthly ministry; as he marched to the cross?
Perhaps you might be encouraged to stay with him, because of some signs. Perhaps if he did some healings and miracles, you might put up with the mediocrity, the homelessness, the hardships, and the stinging statements of who you really are? Maybe not! Maybe you wouldn't!
Or maybe because of you inability to answer him, you might depart from him thinking this is just an exercise in madness. You might think his way is foolish and completely moronic. Mediocrity and much suffering for what… death and destruction! As if that makes any sense!
We respond today similar to those of Jesus' day. We look for signs and wonders. Something to titillate us in the meantime — while wisdom is sought from the collective reasoning of the mob. Still today the cross is a stumbling block and folly to many. Even amongst us inside the church, we seem to follow Peter, rather than Jesus Christ our Rock and Redeemer.
Am I standing on Christ the Solid Rock or am I tripping over it? Am I returning to my First Love, the God of love? Does this love manifest itself with words and meditations acceptable to he whose Word is perfect and holy?
We often need to be tripped up by something to find out its useful. Like the rock a horse called Norseman tripped over, whose rider was to discover the stumbling block was in fact gold.
And so too we find no need of a redeemer until we see clearly our inability to save ourselves. Where our First Love is lost and forgotten, One came to restore us and pay the price to have us reinstated as God's children.
Jesus is our Rock and Redeemer! His Word is harsh, rocking our lives, because it's true. But even more so he is the Rock who saves. Where we stumble over the Rock and are broken, he purchases us with his blood, more precious than silver or gold. We are set on Christ the Solid Rock!
Jesus was angry, he spoke harsh words over sin, and he gave you a sign, one that has eternal power over every sin that crushes you in this world. His anger glorified God, not himself, nor human sin. His words and meditations were honest, yet submissive to God.
Jesus' anger wasn't a foolish act but rather one which took our foolishness on himself, alone on the cross. You have the cross, and his resurrection from its death. To some that might seem foolish, but to me, a sinner, it's the wisest thing anyone's ever done for me! And it's my only chance of salvation from the foolishness of eternal death.
Put yourself in this place! On the Rock of Salvation you stand. You carry Christ and his perfection of the Law. When God sees you he sees his Son, Jesus; that is, the temple of his body, destroyed and raised from the dead in three days, in you!
Therefore, the words of your mouth and the meditation of your heart are acceptable in God's sight, when God sees his Son, Jesus Christ — your Rock and your Redeemer, in you. Amen.