Congrats! You made it to the halfway point! We never doubted you for a second. If you haven’t already, we highly suggest you watch the Bible Project video covering the 2nd half of the book of John. You can watch it HERE
Six days before the Passover celebration and Jesus knows that THE TIME is drawing near. His miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, the pinnacle of his miraculous ministry was the act that convinced so many hearts of his Divinity…but it was also the act that sealed the deal in the minds of the Pharisees. This rabbi needed to disappear. (said in the classic mob boss voice) Jesus knew that by raising Lazarus it would also usher in his own death. And yet, he chose to do it anyway. Sound familiar? Looks like a bit of foreshadowing.
Speaking of foreshadowing…we get to read about Mary and the “perfume incident” John referenced in the last chapter. Mary, Lazarus’ sister, pours an entire bottle of expensive perfume all over Jesus’ feet. I’m not sure our western-cultured brains can fully comprehend the meaning of this act. This perfume wasn’t just some expensive Chanel No.5 that she picked up at Macy’s. Although even that seems a little excessive to pour and entire bottle on someones feet. However, this is no ordinary perfume. This fragrance cost “a year’s wages.” WOW. Let that sink in. The extravagance must point to a deeper meaning than simply Mary wanted Jesus to smell good. The most likely scenario is that Mary had been paying attention to Jesus’ words and actions. She knew the prophesies from Isaiah and Zechariah and others. She sensed also that Jesus’ time on earth was approaching its sunset and she purchased this expensive perfume to anoint him for his burial. It’s worth pointing out the obvious…Mary was a woman. While most of Jesus’ followers are CONTINUALLY surprised when Jesus talks about his impending death and they (for the most part) are just not getting it, John points out that Mary, a woman, is the one who sees clearly, she’s the one to leads by example, showing her devotion by not only pouring out her monetary resources, but also releasing her pride and her grip on all social constructs in order to show her love and to point people towards what is to come.
This “perfume incident” wasn’t just lavish and excessive financially. What Mary did was not just usual, it was scandalous. She poured out the entire 12 ounce bottle of perfume. For context, that is the entire contents of a tall Starbuck’s coffee. This was not just a nice little spritz of perfume. This was messy. So messy that she took her hair down (something women never did) and wiped up the excess with her hair. Imagine the scene. The intimacy of the moment. The shocked looks on the other’s faces. Imagine how STRONG that would smell. It’s interesting that just a few days ago, they all were smelling the stench of Lazarus’ decay, and now they were all overwhelmed by the fragrance of one woman’s devotion and Jesus’ impending burial. It wouldn’t be too farfetched to imagine that everyone in this room (especially Jesus and Mary) were still smelling of this perfume and the actual day of Jesus’ burial.
When was the last time that you felt so passionate about something that you were willing to sacrifice your hard-earned money, your pride, and your social standing in order to prove your devotion and move the vision forward? Have you ever felt this strongly about the Kingdom of God? Mary’s devotion stemmed from a real encounter with Jesus and his power. She witnessed with her own eyes Jesus raising her brother from the dead. Just last chapter she was saying, “if only you had been here.” And now, here she is overwhelmed with gratitude that Jesus chose to save her brother, while sacrificing himself. Willing to pay whatever cost in order to express her gratitude. Have you ever felt this way? Overwhelmed by thankfulness for what Jesus has done for you and your family?
As you might have imagined, more than Lazarus’ family and those from Bethany had heard of Jesus, the man with the power over death. Therefore, a large crowd, full of excitement and expectation, had come to see him enter Jerusalem. You’ve probably heard what happens…we celebrate it each year on Palm Sunday. They brought palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!”
HOSANNA. The origin of this word means “God, help me please”. However, God was so quick to rescue that over the years the meaning evolved to mean, “salvation is here”. It’s a cry of praise that simultaneously acknowledges our deep need of a savior as well as expresses thankfulness that help has in fact come! Hosanna is the bubbling over of a heart that sees hope and joy and salvation on the horizon and can’t contain their praise.
This crowd was yelling “Hosanna” because they had seen what Jesus was capable of and they were hopeful and expectant that Jesus was going to save them. BUT…from what? They yell out, “Hail to the King of Israel!” They fully expected Jesus was going to march into Jerusalem and by the power of Heaven’s Armies, kick some Roman booty and reestablish Israel as it’s own sovereign kingdom. When they said Hail to the King…they meant it quite literally. They expected him to come with horses and chariots and an actual army with actual real weapons and calvary. After all, it was Passover and Jerusalem was FULL to the brim with pilgrims, which meant stricter security, which would mean Jesus would need an actual army to usher in an uprising.
But, what does Jesus do?
He rides a donkey. A small one.
Unless you were actually paying attention. Unless you knew all the boxes the Messiah would come to check. Unless you had a grander divine imagination what what (and who) the Messiah was coming to save.
Jesus responded the crowds’ “hail to king” by answering back, “Look your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt” A line directly from the prophesies of Zechariah. However, (as per usual) they didn’t get it. Where were the horses? The chariots? The flaming arrows? There had to be some flaming arrows, right? Nope, just me and my donkey. Is that enough? It is if you’re Jesus and you aren’t here to save people from temporary political oppression, but to save them from the literal grips of eternal death, forever.
As we’ll see in the coming chapters (spoiler alert) Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem for Passover didn’t meet their narrow-minded expectations. He was after something bigger. What are your expectations of Jesus? Are you hoping he’ll come into your life to kick butt and take names? Do you want him to use his power to help you prove your point? Like Jesus says, have you eyes been blinded and your hearts hardened so that your eyes cannot see and your heart cannot understand what God is actually up to? Are you so focused on the here and now of your circumstances that you simply can’t see that God is up to something bigger than you, bigger than your problems, bigger than your imagination?
Spend some time in prayer. Allow Jesus to breakthrough your expectations. Spend time opening your heart to new possibilities. Ask God to give you a prophetic imagination for what he is capable of doing in this world. Allow yourself to let go of unmet expectations and simply trust that God, the author of your life, might in fact, know better than you. Might have something bigger in mind. Something that might go beyond now, but will echo into eternity.
The time is coming, The curtain is closing. Jesus is feeling deep love for his disciples and wants to show his love and also set a powerful example. There is still so much for them to learn.
So Jesus washes their feet. Like the incident of the perfume, we probably cannot fully comprehend how wildly out of the ordinary this was. In Jewish culture there was a very clear hierarchy of power and prestige. Rabbis were important. They led. They taught. They didn’t bother with serving. They didn’t get their hands dirty. But the kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. Jesus says, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” What is Jesus’ example? A life of service…but not in a worldly “look at me” sort of way. Jesus is saying there is no hierarchy in the kingdom of God. Slaves are not less than their masters. Kings are not more important than their subjects. And a rabbi who has the power over the dead, knows that the greatest role to play is that of a servant. And he’s willing to lead by example.
Jesus says “do as I have done.” What do you think that means in the context of our 21st century American life? At New Life, we talk about doing what Jesus did. It’s on our stickers, our walls, and one of the things we are most about. But what does that mean? Are we just nice people? Do we simply do charitable work? While that may be part of it, there is so much more depth to it than just helping someone in need. Many people who are far from God are very nice people who help those in need, never thinking that they are following Jesus’ example.
No, I think Jesus is speaking to something deeper. What does it mean to truly be a servant? The way of Jesus is a path that is SO counter-cultural to the kingdoms of this world. If we actually took Jesus seriously when he told us to follow his example, I think our lives would look vastly different from our neighbors and from those who don’t know Jesus. A servant puts their own agenda aside. They put aside their rights, their privilege, their comforts, and their cleanliness for the sake of the upside-down Kingdom. They have an eternal mindset that loves God’s creation like He loves it and is willing to do whatever it takes, no matter the personal cost, in order to make His Kingdom come, His will be done,..on earth as it is in heaven.
Have you been following Jesus’ example? When you serve, do you do it in order to see heaven breakthrough on to this earth? When you serve, do you do it to look better or to be seen? Like John the Baptist, are you willing to become less so that Jesus becomes more?
Jesus’ death is getting closer and he doesn’t hold back in sharing with the group that there is a betrayer among them. He knows who it is. He’s not surprised. He knows it must happen in order to accomplish his ultimate goal on earth. (you know…redeeming all of mankind). Can you imagine being Judas? (I mean, I know we’d all rather not identify with Judas…even though we have more in common than we’d like to admit) But, imagine being Judas. You think you’re being all sneaky and about to get some personal gain off of Jesus’ less-than-favorable reputation with the Pharisees. And then Jesus straight up calls you out. How does he know? Who told him? Does he want this to happen? Did he just tell me to hurry up and get it over with? One thing is true…no one can pull a fast one on Jesus. Not Judas and not you or me.
Jesus knew what must happen. He’s been predicting it since day one. He’s been trying to tell people that he has come to serve and to lay down his life, but they keep being blinded by their circumstances and still expect him to kick out the Romans and claim victory in a very real and worldly sense. However, Jesus just got finished saying to the crowds that the wheat kernel must be buried and die in order to produce a new and greater harvest. He wasn’t talking about wheat. He knew that through his death would come a plentiful harvest of new lives.
So Jesus is not surprised by Judas’ betrayal. And he’s not surprised by Peter’s denial either. Although Peter sure is surprised. He cannot fathom denying Jesus. At this point he feels ready to die for him. Oh, how a crucifixion, the loss of hope, and a the threat of personal harm, can change a person. Sometimes trial by fire doesn’t reveal the results we wanted. Sometimes we don’t meet the challenge to stand by our convictions they way we thought we would. Thank the Lord (literally) that there are second chances, and third, and seventy-fifth chances. Peter’s life shows us that we won’t be defined by our lowest moments, but that God will still use us despite our failures. Sorry…getting a bit ahead of ourselves there. This is only chapter 13 and Jesus is still only predicting his death.
Jesus is at the point with his disciples where he knows his time is short and he needs to make sure he imparts on them all the things they’ll need to know in order to carry on his mission to the world. That means that the next few chapters are going to be very important because they are going to contain Jesus’ last words to his disciples. The things he thought were most important to grasp while he was still physically with them.
He’s already said one. Follow Jesus example of self-sacrificing service.
Number two comes right after Judas leaves the room. (probably because Jesus knew Judas wasn’t going to listen anyway). He says, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
Wow. How do you think we, as his disciples, are doing on that one? How does the world know that we are his followers? By our cool Jesus-saying t-shirts? By the way we vote? By the memes we share? By all the great points we make arguing on social media? Ouch.
All the things we SAY should be PROVEN true by our love for one another. Believer to believer. Our love for each other within our own Christian community should be so evident and attractive that those on the “outside” want to be on the “inside.” Do you think we are accomplishing this goal set for us by Jesus? Maybe sometimes.
Can I indulge you with a personal story? When I was someone on the “outside” I witnessed a community of believers who loved like Jesus did. I was in junior high and I started going to the junior high service at my local church. I didn’t really know anyone…but I observed the other kids there. I noticed there was something different about them. I probably don’t need to remind you, but junior highers are not always the most encouraging, uplifting. and kind group of humans. Many junior highers are painfully insecure and they mask that insecurity through biting comments that tear others down. I had witnessed it countless times at school. I had done it myself. However, I, as a thirteen year old recognized that there was something different about this group of adolescents. They served. They seemed to genuinely care about one another. They laughed. A lot. And I wanted in. Lo and behold they welcomed me into their community with open arms. It was a selfless act that radically changed the trajectory of my life.
We have that same opportunity to be a part of life-change today. Let’s do what Jesus did. Let’s serve one another. Let’s love one another. Not in a holy-huddle, shut the evil world out sort of way. But in a way that faces outward, ready and willing to invite others into our community. Because if we take Jesus seriously…if we serve the way he served and if we love the way he loved, the world will take notice. Those on the outside will want in. And we will be ready to welcome them with open arms and watch Jesus change the trajectory of their lives too.
What do you say? Are you in?