Monday, March 17, 2008

This week's sermon: Sacrifice

John 11:45-12:26.
This morning I want us to pay close attention to three examples we are given in this passage: the example of the Pharisees, the example of Mary, and the example of Judas. Each of these people make choices about what they are willing to sacrifice, and by doing so reveal their top priorities. We are continuing on from last week, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Because of this miracle some put their faith in him, but like any other time when God reveals himself, there were those who chose to go their own way. Some went straight to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. These people saw him raise the dead, and instead of falling on their faces before him, they ran to the religious authorities and turned him in for miracle working without a license.

The plot to kill Jesus: Human sacrifice.

The religious leaders had a meeting, and things got serious. They began to plot how they might kill him. Pharisees and other Jewish rulers saw Jesus as just another Messiah wannabe. They saw this in political terms. Their mindset was “If everyone joins his sect, it will put us in jeopardy.” Things were pretty good for Israel, even thought they were ruled over by the Romans. They had their own king, granted Herod was a Roman puppet and more gentile than Jew, but it was a sacrifice they were willing to make.
Messiah wannabes always started a war for Israeli independence. If Jesus got too many followers, Rome would take away their independence because the threat of insurrection would be too great. The Jewish leaders were afraid, not only because their place in Israel’s religious system was threatened, but because their very nation was threatened. Caiaphas was the high priest and he had prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and to bring the people of God together and make them one. I wonder if anyone really knew what that meant, or if in their minds it was a way to justify their plot against Jesus. If Jesus were sacrificed, the nation would retain its independence. It would keep the peace. At this meeting, they did not even discuss whether Jesus was the true Messiah. They didn’t care whether he was or wasn’t. All they cared about was staying comfortable. Keeping the status quo.

Mary anoints Jesus: Fragrant offering and sacrifice.

Unlike the priests and Pharisees, Mary was interested in pouring herself out for her master. They are trying to protect, to preserve their comfort. Mary is here at Jesus feet anointing them with expensive perfume. This display of affection is so extravagant that it is offensive to at least one disciple. Judas saw this wasteful behavior and it was too much for him. This perfume was worth a year’s wages.
Judas said, “that money could have been used to feed the poor!” So what if he did help himself to the money in the treasury, in his mind it was not nearly as bad as wasting a year’s wages. In this moment, his self-righteousness rears its ugly head. In this moment we see him for who he is. Mary made an extravagant sacrifice of worship and praise to Jesus, the Messiah, the one who had raised her brother from the grave, and Judas thought that was worse than his theft. Many believe this is the turning point for Judas; the moment when he decides to turn Jesus over to those who are plotting against him. Judas is willing to sacrifice his rabbi in order to hold to his views that keep him on top in the category of righteousness without the cost of personal sacrifice.

The triumphal entry: Jesus coming to sacrifice himself.
Jesus comes in riding on a donkey. The people give him honor and praise, but he doesn’t just sit and wave to the crowd. In the account of the triumphal entry in Luke’s gospel, he tells us that as Jesus rides into Jerusalem he is weeping over them. His heart is broken because he knows where they are headed as a people, as a nation, and they don’t even understand that he is the answer to the trouble they will face. The Pharisee would have chosen to ride into town on a white horse. The Pharisee would have rejoiced over being given honor and praise. Jesus came weeping and riding a donkey’s colt. He came in love and humility. He came to be a sacrifice, and to call those who serve him to sacrifice in love. If Jesus had come playing games of political power and intrigue, maybe the Pharisees would have understood him, but he came to set a different kind of example. He came to give us glimpses of this kingdom in everything he did.
Jesus begins to tell his disciples again, more clearly this time, that soon it will be time for him to finish the work that he was sent to earth to accomplish. He tells them that in order to produce fruit, the sacrifice of the seed is required. He is telling them about his death. He is not doing this to warn them, but to tell them that this is the cost of the kingdom. Jesus did not just come to die. He did not just come to be the sacrifice for us. He came also to call us to sacrifice ourselves. He tells his disciples that whoever seeks to go the way of self-preservation will end up losing their lives. In contrast, the one who is willing to lay down his life will save it, maybe not in this world, but for Eternity.
The most important statement of this whole passage is found in Jesus’ words in verse 26. He sums up the entire section by saying that whoever serves Jesus must follow him. Sometimes we picture sacrifice on our part as having no reward. But Jesus says here that the one who follows him will be honored by his father, and will gain eternal life. What earthly reward is greater than that? If we want to remain comfortable and sing little songs and never sacrifice, never move out of our comfort zone, never approach the untouchables in our society, the question I have is are we following the example of Judas, the Pharisees, or Mary. Are we trying to hush up the teachings of Christ so our way of doing things is not threatened? Are we selling Jesus out because even though we follow him, we don’t want to die like him? Or are we pouring out our lives as a fragrant offering before him, not caring who sees, not caring about the cost, only caring about serving the Lord who has given everything for us?

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