John 12:21
Seeing Jesus: The Practice Of Doctrine

Original English Sermon
Authored by Rev. Mike Furey, Georgetown, IN, USA

The world is a dark night.  Being human is like walking in the dark with no lights on unable to see the nose in front of you.  But, a light has come into the world.  Jesus Christ.  By knowing Christ, we have the light.  Christ is the virgin born incarnate son of God, second person of the Trinity, king of kings, and lord of lords, the inexplicable and unexplainable Jesus.  That is the doctrine we need to believe.  In other words, I think of Jesus as the north star.  A guide for our uncertain paths in a dark world.  I think of the call we have upon our lives to be stars in the blackness of the world for the lost to look at and find guidance for their lives.  And I look at how Jesus reveals himself to us in our every day lives, giving us proof of his presence in our lives in the little miracles that happen from day to day as stars to help us in our faith walk.

How does a person get to see Jesus?  How can we get those stars to light up the way?  Stars of certainty amidst a deep uncertainty.  How do we know that we know?  Doctrine & Ethics, Theology & Practice. Truth lived out.

Text: John 12:1-50

Context: The resurrection of Lazarus preceded this text.  This chapter is a response to that miracle.  In this text it is what we now call Palm Sunday, (today and next Sunday is Easter).  The context is To Pasca The Exodus [c. 1440 BCE] victory fills the air.  The practice of the palm branches goes back to another victory involving Judas and Simon of the Hasmonean family knicknamed, the Maccabees or the Hammer [1].     It goes back to the second century before Christ, the Jews were under Syrian rule. In particular, when the king by the name of Antiochus IV governed, they experienced terrible persecution.  The scriptures were burned up, circumcision was forbidden, and the temple at Jerusalem was made into a shrine for idols.  They were then even forced to offer swine as a sacrifice.  Many who resisted died by martyrdom.  Under these circumstances, a rebelion at last arose against Syria.  It was the family of priests of the Hasmoneans who lead the rebelion and they succeeded in ousting the enemy for about 100 years.  1 Maccabees 13:51 says, "Simon and his people were filled with joy and held up palm branches, they sounded the harps, the cymbals, and the twelve stringed instruments, and they entered the citadel while singing songs of praise."   2nd Maccabees 10:7 says, "They held up thyrsus, branches with fruit attached, and leaves of palms, and offered up song of praise to the One who would lead them to the cleansing of the holy place."  Now my high school football team lost every game for 4 years straight.  It was embarassing.  When would we ever win?  The Jews felt worse than that at the time of Jesus.  They wanted the Romans out so bad.  Jesus was the man to do it.  He DA Man, as they say in pop culture.  But, they made a serious mistake.  They saw Jesus as a political messiah.  Jesus tried to correct their mistaken notion that he was the king to come to overthrow the political enemies of the state.  That's why he rides a donkey and not a horse. The donkey represents a peaceable king, and Zechariah 9:9, 10 is used to prove this point[2].

So the crowds saw Jesus the wrong way?  Their theology was wrong.  The scary part is that these people had read their Bibles.  In 12:34 it says, "The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Christ remains for ever.  How can you say that the Son of man must be lifted up?  Who is this Son of man?"  Why was their theology wrong even though they had been well versed in the scriptures?  Is our own theology perhaps skewed in any way?I think the answer is in the words that Jesus gave to their question.  Jesus says in 12:35, "The light is with you for a little longer.  Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes."  In other words, they had the words of the Bible down to a Tee, but they were not walking it or practicing it or living it.  They knew the Bible intellectually but didn't know the Bible practically, in their practice.  They knew the Bible with their head, but not with their feet, their hands, their heart, with their being.  Therefore, theology is not sufficient in knowing God, we must live the truth to see Jesus.  The greatest blindness in our lives does not come from Satan as much as it does from our own disobedience and lack of repentance.

John 14:21-23, Jesus said we will make our abode in those who believe and keep the commandments.  We will show ourselves to those who keep the commandments.  If you want to see God in your every day life, you must keep the commandments.

How does the world see Jesus?

Newsweek, March 27, 2000 had an article called Visions Of Jesus by Ken Woodward with Anne Underwood and Heather Won Tesoriero, that was interesting[3]. It described how Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism see Jesus.

Judaism:  For most of history, the Jews refused to even mention his name.  A few veiled references are made to Jesus in the Misnah, but only Josephus uses the name of Jesus.  It is only in modern times that Jews now accept Jesus as a rabbi of sorts.  His words are studied as a primary source document for understanding Judaism.  Jesus is a reformer and teacher.  The church made up the stories about the resurrection, and myth needs to be separated from fact.

Islam: Jesus is a great prophet but not God's son, and Mohammed is greater and the perfect model for humankind.  Jesus and his mother were born untouched by Satan and virgin born, but Muhammad had to be purified by angels before receiving prophethood.  In the Qu'ran Jesus does not die, nor is he resurrected.  Muslims believe that Jesus asked God to save him from crucifixion, as the Gospels record, and that God answered his prayer by taking him directly up to heaven.   The crucifixion was a myth that never happened.  At the end of the world Jesus will return to defeat the antichrist and will eventually die a natural death after he unites the world in total submission to the one God.

Hinduism:  The gospels are silent about the life of Jesus between his boyhood visit to the Jerusalem Temple and the beginning of his public ministry at age 30.  But in India there is a strong tradition that a teenage Jesus slipped to Asia and learned yogic meditation and learned to be a guru.  When Jesus proclaimed he and his father were one this confirmed the basic Hindu belief that everyone is capable through a rigorous spiritual practice of realizing his or her own universal "god-consciousness."  The cross and resurrection are not important.

Buddhism:  Jesus and Buddha are like brothers who teach the highest form of human understanding is "universal love."  The goal of a buddhist is to achieve enlightenment or to become a buddha.  Buddhists do not really believe in god, but in becoming one with all beings.  The Dalai Lama says trying to meld Jesus into Buddha "is like putting a yak's head on a sheep's body."  It doesn't work.  Indeed, nothing shows the difference between Jesus and the Buddha better than the way that each died.  The Buddha's death was serene and controlled - a calm passing out of his final rebirth, like the extinction of a flame.  Jesus, on the other hand, suffers an agonizing death on the cross, abandoned by God but obedient to his will.

A conclusion of  the Newsweek article is this: 

Clearly, the cross is what separates the Christ of Christianity from every other Jesus.  In Judaism, there is no precedent for a Messiah who dies, much less as a criminal as Jesus did.  In Isalm, the story of Jesus' death is rejected as an affront to Allah himself.  Hindus can accept only a Jesus who passes into peaceful samadhi, a yogi who escapes the degradation of death.  The figure of the crucified Christ, says Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh," is a very painful image to me.  It does not contain joy or peace, and this does not do justice to my Jesus."  There is, in short, no room in other religions for a Christ who experieinces the full burden of mortal existence- and hence there is no reason to believe in him as the divine Son whom the Father resurrects from the dead... That most of the world cannot accept the Jesus of the cross should not surprise...

Then they have completely missed Jesus and not seen him.

In John 12, several persons and groups of persons are mentioned.  How did they see Jesus?  I have already made mention of the crowd.

How did Martha see Jesus?  Just as in Luke 10:38 ff, she was busy serving and cooking up a dinner for the Lord.  In Luke, she was corrected for being distracted and not listening to the teachings of Christ as Mary was doing.  I think she had gotten her theology of the Lord straightened out and here she is still serving and being obedient.  No wonder she experiences Jesus at the resurrection as one of the first witnesses in all the world to his resurrection.  She saw the Jesus of the cross, the burial and the resurrection.

How did Mary see Jesus?  12:3 Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesu and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.  Scholars wonder if Mary understood that Jesus would be dead in seven days and that she was symbolically preparing him for his death.  In any event, she had a very high view of Jesus because she spent a year's worth of wages on this act.  This bottle of expensive ointment must have been passed down to her from her family who must have seen better days economically because at this stage Mary is hardly more than a peasant with a deep faith in God.  She finally saw the time had come to use this heirloom for the One worthy of it.  She saw the light.  She added a star in her faith life.  She knew this day would be special for the rest of her natural born days.   Her ancestors would have approved.  But, there was a disciple who did not approve of this act.

How did Judas see Jesus? 12:4, "But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?:  This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take [lift] what was put into it."  Judas saw Jesus as a money making opportunity and as a king with lots of favors to lavish upon him as his royal secretary of finance.  But, he was dead wrong.  Not wrong in seeing Jesus as the king, but wrong in letting his greed distort his view of Jesus and block his mind from hearing all the sermons Jesus preached, all the parables, all the occasions upon which Jesus foretold to his disciples I must die, I will rise again, Judas never got the message, but his heart was in love with money and full of darkness.  Judas was right there with the light, but Jesus was not his kind of star.

How did the chief priests & the Pharisees see him?  In verse 19, the Pharisees say, "The world has gone after him."  12:10, The chief priests want to go so far as to murder Jesus and Lazarus.  Why did the chief priests see Jesus as an enemy? Verse 11, because many of the Jews were leaving their teachings and going the way of Jesus.  Jesus caused them a lot of shame because he exposed their teaching as false and contrary to the word of God, and he showed the entire lifestyles they espoused as unnecessary and counterproductive to spirituality.  They wouldn't be number one any more.  They wouldn't be able to walk around in their fancy robes in the market place and get the respect of the people.  They wouldn't be the celebrities and superstars of their day.  Their fan base was dying out and Jesus was the reason.  In addition, this had economic and political ramifications.  Jesus upset the way they cheated worshippers at the temple in the money conversion process (you could only buy a sacrifice with Hebrew money, not Roman money and most people did not travel with the animal lest the animal be injured and therefore be unacceptable for sacrifice).  Later Caiaphas the High Priest's words at the trial of Jesus show the political ramifications of Jesus, that he was so revolutionary even the Romans would have to respond.

How did the rulers see Jesus? 12:42-43 "Many of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."  They had pc fever.  They wanted to be popular with the leaders of this world and loved their famous reputations.  They are like the chiefpriests and the Pharisees.  They want to be the stars rather than to see the Star.

I mentioned the crowd.  The crowd represents the people of Israel and Israel's attitude and reactions to Jesus.  Then we have the Greeks mentioned, 12:20.  How did the Greeks or the world see Jesus?  All it mentions is their desire to see Jesus.  The entire Gospel of John is actually an answer to this question from the Greeks to please let us see Jesus.  The Gospel Of John is very antiJewish in sentiment but not for lack of love for the Jews, but for their sinfulness and unrepentant condition.  It really finds fault with Israel all over the book from the Good Samaritan story, the woman at the well, all the way through.  A major motif in John is that Jesus came unto his own [the Jews] but they received him not, but as many as did receive him he gave them the authority to become sons of God.  Jesus is announced as the saviour of the world.  Some would say Jesus did not directly give the Greeks an answer here and he didn't, but that's because the entire gospel is the anwser and the problem at hand or the issue in the spotlight is the Jews.  This moment belongs to the Jews and they will reject their messiah and a week later he will be hanging on the cross as the king of the Jews but in mockery and full irony.

How did Jesus see Jesus? 12:23 to the end.

Jesus says oh you want to make me a glorious king.  In John 6:15, he turned down the job and walked away from the crowd[4].  Here he explains what kind of king he must be.  He will be lifted up, but not in the way they think.  He will be lifted up on a cross, die, rise again, and then be exalted as king in heaven until his second coming.

Jesus saw Jesus as a grain of wheat that must die.  But along with theology comes ethics, the practice of doctrine.  And anyone who would follow him must not love their life.  To hate your life doesn't mean you have suicidal tendencies.  It means you don't make yourself number one[5].  You don't decide the direction of your life, God does.  It is nothing but being devoted to making yourself happy, satisfying yourself, and steadfastly pursuing after your own self actualization.  Simply put, it is living with your own satisfaction and happiness as your greatest goal.   The Greek word apolluei means lose or destroy.  You will shipwreck your life if you are the captain of your destiny.  Saving faith is the kind that says I hate my life.  Saving faith is the kind that says I want to live the way Jesus says to, he is my north star.  I want God to give me a new life in Christ.  Then, to see Jesus we must give up our life, not just once, but daily.  That's how we get stars in the dark night.  That's how we know that we know.  Judas loved his life and lost it.  The chief priests and Pharisees loved their fame and money.  The rulers loved their status and reputations.  The crowd knew the Bible, but didn't walk it.  It is by walking that we see Jesus more and more.  In particular, it is by walking in a life yielded to the Lord's will that we see Jesus more and more.

How do you see Jesus?  Do you believe tht he was crucified on a cross, buried in a rock tomb, risen from the dead?  How are you walking day to day?  Are you seeing Jesus like he promised he would show himself to you in John 14?

Seeing Jesus begins at the cross.  But, the Jews did not want that kind of Jesus  I repeat one of the conclusions of that Newsweek article: 

Clearly, the cross is what separates the Christ of Christianity from every other Jesus.  In Judaism, there is no precedent for a Messiah who dies, much less as a criminal as Jesus did.  In Isalm, the story of Jesus' death is rejected as an affront to Allah himself.  Hindus can accept only a Jesus who passes into peaceful samadhi, a yogi who escapes the degradation of death.  The figure of the crucified Christ, says Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh," is a very painful image to me.  It does not contain joy or peace, and this does not do justice to my Jesus."  There is, in short, no room in other religions for a Christ who experieinces the full burden of mortal existence- and hence there is no reason to believe in him as the divine Son whom the Father resurrects from the dead... That most of the world cannot accept the Jesus of the cross should not surprise...

End Notes

1. Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Hitotsubu No Mugi, Sunday, April 9, 2000, paragraphs 2-6.

2. George R. Beasley-Murray makes the comment that:

The Evangelist's stating at this point in the narrative that Jesus procured a donkey on which to ride into Jerusalem emphasizes the intention of Jesus to correct a false messianic expectation, for to enter the city on a donkey instead of on a horse, which was associated by Jews with war (cf. Isa 31:1-3; 1 Kings 4:26), was itself a demonstration of the peaceable nature of the mission of Jesus, and the relation of the event to Zech 9:9 makes that motive explicit; for Zech 9:9-10 describes the joyous coming of the King-Messiah -- he is righteous, gentle, bringing salvation, riding on a donkey, proclaiming peace to the nations.  Nothing further from a Zealotic view of the Messiah could be imagined.

Quote from George R. Beasley-Murray, John in Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36, (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987), p. 210.

3. Ken Woodward with Anne Underwood and Heather Won Tesoriero, "Visions Of Jesus" in Newsweek, March 27, 2000.

4. Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Hitotsubu No Mugi, Sunday, April 9, 2000, paragraph 7.

5. Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Hitotsubu No Mugi, Sunday, April 9, 2000, paragraph 12.

Author's note: In the three years that I have been translating Tako Kiyohiro's Sunday sermons this is the first time we preached the same text at about the same time. He preached it last week and I preached it this week. I used his sermon for research notes. His messages are excellent and I only hope that in the years to come I may become a better translator.

 
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