Sunday, April 9, 2017

John - The Gospel of Light and Life ~ Jesus Is King

Today is Palm Sunday which is the day that we remember and celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the time of the Passover.  We hear this story in John 12:12-15, 18-19.  What John really wants us to see here is that the Jesus has come as a king.  The palm branches were signs of victory that were waved when a king returned from battle and it was the prophets who said that the King of Israel would enter Jerusalem riding on the donkey.  John makes clear that Jesus isn’t just celebrated as the King of Israel, however, he is coming as the King of all Kings and the king of the world because it is John who tells us that the leaders of Israel were complaining that the whole world was following Jesus.

John continues this idea as Jesus as King and really drives it home during his account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion.  John’s account of the final day of Jesus life is very different than Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Matthew, Mark and Luke focus on the suffering of Jesus.  We see from them the very human side of Jesus as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, struggled under the weight of the cross and cried out in agony before his death.  John however, wants us to see the divine nature of Jesus.  John’s entire gospel has been to reveal to us that Jesus is God in the flesh and so his focus isn’t to show us the suffering of Jesus but the glory of Jesus as King all the way to the cross.

We begin to see things differently when Jesus goes to Gethsemane.   In Matthew, Mark and Luke we are told that Jesus was in agony as he prayed.  His soul was burdened, he asked God to find another way for him to complete his mission on earth and even his sweat was said to be like drops of blood, but John doesn’t record any of this.  Listen to John’s telling of the story – John 18:1-6.

John tells us that the group of soldiers who came to arrest Jesus was a detachment or a cohort which was 600 soldiers.  In the face of this show of force and power, John tells us that Jesus made them all shrink back in fear by using just a few words.  When they ask if he is Jesus of Nazareth his response is I am he, but what he really says is  I AM.
The words that Jesus has used to describe himself over and over again and the very name of God is what Jesus says and when he says it – there is power.  Jesus is a real king who can strike fear into soldiers and leaders alike just by his words but then he allows himself to taken away.

From the very beginning we see that Jesus is the one who has all the power but he doesn’t use that power for himself, he lays it down so that he can save others.  Look at John 18:8.  Already we see that Jesus is giving his life in exchange for his friends.  Jesus has all the power and glory, he is the great I AM, and the King of Kings, but as the King, Jesus is willing to suffer and die for his friends and the world and it is because he is the king that his suffering and death is able to save the world.

After Jesus is arrested, he stands trial and the real difference in how John tells the story is that he records more of the conversation between Pilate and Jesus.  Pilate is symbolic of all worldly authority.  Pilate stands for the Roman Empire which in essence was all the authority in the world at that time and Pilate and Jesus talk about kings and kingdoms.  In fact, as we read through this part of John 18 and 19 the word king or kingdom is used 15 times which tells us clearly that John wants us to see Jesus as the king and that he has come to bring in God’s kingdom.  While Jesus doesn’t specifically come out and say, Yes I am the king, he does say, My kingdom is not of this world.  Jesus acknowledges that he is part of another kingdom and that he has come to bring this kingdom, God’s kingdom, into this world.  Jesus has come to bring the values and direction and love of God’s kingdom into our world and through Jesus we see the goodness and power of God’s kingdom at work.

Just before Pilate condemned Jesus to death, we are told that all this took place on the Preparation Day for the Passover which was the day people would killed and roasted the lamb for the Passover meal, John 19:14-16 .  In the other three gospels we are told that the Last Supper was the Passover meal, but here Jesus dies on the preparation day of the Passover and John does this for a reason.  John wants us to see the death of Jesus in the context of all the lambs being killed for the Passover.  John is making it clear to us that Jesus is the Lamb of God whose blood is going to save the world.  Jesus is the King who saves us.

Let’s remember what the Passover was all about and why the people were sacrificing a lamb.  When Israel was living as slaves in Egypt, God said he would deliver his people by sending the angel of death through the land and anyone who had the blood of a sacrificial lamb over their door would be saved.  After that night, Pharaoh did let God’s people go – they were set free from bondage.  They were finally victorious and had their freedom.  Every year the people were told to celebrate God’s victory and their freedom by sacrificing a lamb.  By saying that Jesus died on the preparation day and putting that detail in right as Jesus is handed over to be crucified, John is making a clear statement that Jesus is THE Lamb of God whose blood will bring freedom and victory.  In this moment God is going to be victorious.  In Jesus’ death, God is going to be glorified.

So John tells us the death of Jesus took place on the Preparation Day but the other gospels tell us it was a few days later.  How do we reconcile this difference in timing?  Why does John have it on this day while the others place it on a different day?  The truth is we don’t know for sure, but one thing we do need to remember is that John was not writing his gospel as a work of history.  He wasn’t interested in getting all the details right, his primary goal was for us to see who Jesus really is.  So John didn’t care about getting the day right, he was more concerned that we would see Jesus as the Lamb of God and the king of glory.

Now all the gospels do tell us that Jesus died as part of the celebration of the Passover because they all wanted us to know that Jesus was the lamb of God, but this idea was so important to John that he chose to connect the crucifixion with the preparation day so we could clearly see Jesus as the sacrificial lamb.  Historical accuracy was not a concern to John, having us see Jesus as the Lamb of God is what mattered.

There is also a difference in how John talks about Jesus carrying the cross.  In John we are told that Jesus carried his own cross, John 19:17, but Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Jesus had help carrying the cross from a man named Simon.  John doesn’t include this detail because he wants us to see the strength of Jesus who chose to make his way to the cross.  The cross was not something thrust on Jesus and he didn’t fall under the weight of what was going on.  John wants us to see that Jesus is the King so omits the detail about Simon so we see that Jesus is powerful and always in control.

John also tells us that the sign posted on the cross as Jesus died said Jesus of Nazareth, The king of the Jews - John 19:19-22.  John tells us that it was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek which were the three languages spoken throughout the Roman Empire.  Again, John is telling us that Jesus is the King not just of the Jews but of the entire world.  He is the king of Kings and the lord of Lords and it is on the cross that Jesus is finally enthroned in glory.  Jesus has embraced this way of being king because he knows it will be his blood that will wash away sin and make people clean. Jesus knows it will be his death that will bring new life.

John drives this point home by providing one more detail.  In the moments before Jesus utters his final word it says they lifted a sponge up to Jesus that was filled with wine vinegar to quench his thirst.  The branch that was lifted up to Jesus was the branch of a hyssop and John wouldn’t include that detail if it wasn’t important.  Hyssop branches were important to the people of Israel.  It was the hyssop branch that the people of Israel used to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their homes.  It was also the branch used in rites of purification for God’s people - look at Psalm 51:7.

So right before Jesus dies when a hyssop branch is lifted to Jesus it is to remind us that it is Jesus whose blood will save us and it will be Jesus who will wash us clean.  It is Jesus who not only forgives sin but sets us free from the bondage of sin and death.  Everything in John’s gospel points us to Jesus being the king of all Kings and truly the king of the world.

Now the final word of Jesus on the cross that John records isn’t a cry of pain or rejection it is a cry of victory – John 19:30.  It is finished is really just one word – tetelestai – which isn’t a cry of defeat but a cry of victory.  Bishop Will Willimon said it’s like what Michelangelo might have said when he finally put down his brush after completing the Sistine chapel.  Or think about a buzzer beater to win a basketball game.  The ball goes through the net with the last tenths of second ticking off and every shouts – it is finished – as they run around the court in victory.  This final word of Jesus is a cry of victory.  The king has won – not through violence or physical force but through love.  Jesus laid down his life; it says he gave up his spirit. No one took anything from him.  From beginning to end, Jesus was in control and he had all the power and he chose to lay it down in love to bring life to God’s people and light to the world.

So from the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem that we remember and celebrate today, to the final word of Jesus on the cross that we will hear again on Friday, John shows us that Jesus is the king.  Jesus is operating from a position of strength and he is in control.  He has all the power and on the cross Jesus is showing us not defeat but victory – the victory of God’s love.  Remember what John said early in his gospel, for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  God’s love has brought us the victory of life and for John that moment of glory is this moment on the cross where we see Jesus as the king.

Now all of this leads us to ask one very important question.  Is Jesus my king?  Am I part of God’s kingdom?  John doesn’t go through all of this so we can just sit back and say, wow look at who Jesus is, John goes to such great lengths to reveal to us Jesus as the king so we can claim him as OUR king.  This is a choice we need to make.  We have been given all this information and we have been shown that Jesus is God and that Jesus is the king, will we now make him our king and will we give ourselves over to God and live as part of God’s kingdom?

Pilate was given this opportunity.  Pilate knew in some way that Jesus was innocent and he tried to set Jesus free but in the end Pilate gave in to what was expedient and not what was right.  Pilate thought more about his career and what people would say about him and he thought about what was best for him and he gave into the religious leaders that pressured him.  Pilate chose to go with the kingdom of this world and not with God.  Pilate chose himself as king over Jesus.  What choice will we make.  Will we choose what is easy or what is right?  Will we choose to live for ourselves or to live for God?  

When we choose Jesus to be our king and when we choose to live in the kingdom of God – God gives us the gift of life and we are given the power of God’s light and glory to help us through.  With Jesus as King, not everything will go well in this world – look at Jesus.  We will have problems and struggles, but when we make Jesus our king we open the door to experiencing the power of God’s light and life.  When we make Jesus our king we receive the gift of forgiveness, we are filled with God’s love, we are equipped with God’s power and live in the light of God’s glory.  When we claim Jesus as our king, it does mean our lives might need to change as we lay ourselves down and give ourselves over to God but when we do this we are given light and life.

I want to invite you to make Jesus the king of your life.  Ask him this day to be your savior and your lord.

Next Steps
John – The Gospel of Light and Life
Jesus The King

1.  This week read John chapters 18-19.
Use the following questions during your reading:
What is said in this passage about Jesus?
In this passage, how does Jesus bring life to me?
What response do these verses require of me?

2. John’s account of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus highlight the divine nature of Jesus.  Which is more comfortable for you to think about, the humanity of Jesus or the divinity of Jesus?  Why?

3. Why did Jesus choose the time of the Passover to come to Jerusalem to give his life and take up a cross?  (Read about the Passover in Exodus 12.)  What does the Passover tell us about who Jesus is and what he has done for the world?

4. John is clear to tell us that Jesus is the King and that he has come to bring God’s kingdom.
What does it mean for you to call Jesus your king?
Have you made this decision?
How has your life changed because of this decision?
How does your life need to change with Jesus as King?

5. Worship with us during Holy Week
Easter Cantata – This afternoon at 4:00 PM
Maundy Thursday Worship – Thursday at 7:00 PM
Good Friday Worship – Friday at 7:00 PM
Easter Sunrise Worship – Sunday at 6:30 AM
Easter Worship – Sunday at 8:15 and 10:45 AM