BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 22, 2020
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 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. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 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 honor him.
— John 12:20-26, ESV
Americans come to Christ casually. Getting baptized, confirmed, or otherwise joining one of the churches on every corner is virtually a birthright. Even Tom Petty’s main squeeze in Free Falling “Loves Jesus, and America, too.”
We Americans do love Jesus. But do we really know Jesus? Do we really understand Jesus? Do we accept the claims Jesus makes on the lives of those who claim to believe in Him?
In this first passage past the Triumphal Entry into the last Passover, some obscure characters come to Jesus’ disciples to request an audience with the Messiah. “We wish to see Jesus,” they said. Don’t we all? But let us be careful what we wish for.
A Closer Look
Almost nothing is known for certain about these “Greeks” who approached Philip and Andrew. Remember, a million or so people crammed into Jerusalem for the festival, the devout and the demure and the deranged. They could have been committed Hellenistic Jews, curiosity seekers from Alexandria or the Mediterranean, or just a bag of nuts. But I think they should get credit for coming to the Lord in a serious way.
These Greeks obviously knew the two Greek words for “see,” one that refers to sight (ref. 9:25) and the other insight (vs. 21). One can see the light, by looking at sun, moon, or stars; or, one can see the light by gaining an understanding of a complex problem or person, like Jesus.
They chose the latter word. They wanted a lengthy, personal interview. They wanted a deeper dive, a better understanding, some satisfying answers to the four diagnostic questions suggested by the late James M. Boice: Who is Jesus? What did He do? Why did He do it? What does it require of me?
The typical American Christian has not taken the time to seriously ask and seek answers to these questions. Don’t be typical. Do be Christian. But make sure you’ve taken a long second look into what Christ and Christianity is all about. Jesus is about to tell us.
A Critical Hour
As far as we know, Jesus did not meet personally with the Greeks. There was just not enough time. Christ had arrived at the final, desperate “hour” of His earthly life and ministry. Of course He is not speaking of a literal sixty minutes, but of the last few days spent in His incarnate body, which was predestined for a long, slow walk to the cross.
Jesus addresses His farewell address to His current addressees, Philip and Andrew. He was equipping them for the Great Commission, for the taking of the gospel to Jews, Greeks, and all the nations. It is short, precise, and powerful, containing tips for all earth travelers who want to understand Christ and the Christian life.
Christ is fully committed to God’s glory. Everything Jesus ever did was calculated to give God the most glory. This includes being silent for most of His life. Did you ever think about how not saying something can give God the most glory? When Jesus finally spoke up, however, He did so in full allegiance to God, not man. He spoke of the sinfulness of man and the necessity of sovereign grace. This, of course, got Him killed. This was that desperate hour.
Christ’s death results in life. Jesus explained, pre-cross, that He had to die in order for others to live. This is true, as any good doctrine of the atonement or a discussion of double-imputation can prove. Jesus sowed seeds of blood that have yielded a crop of believers going on two thousand years now. And the first full resurrection was His own.
Christ’s life now exists on a higher plane than this present world. Jesus left the earth but is still with us, in Spirit. Therefore, His concerns are overwhelmingly spiritual, not earthly. This is not to say He does not care about Covid, or your electric bill, or your final exam in math class. He does, He is a loving God. But He is mainly concerned about matters of holiness and righteousness. He wants to see those who see Him partaking in worship, discipling the nations, and loving one another.
Christ is rewarded in Heaven. We cannot see Him now, but one day we will crown Him with many crowns. His trophy case will be full, and it is doubtful there will be any golden hammers there for winning “Carpenter of the Year.” Such prizes give a temporary high, but one that does not last higher up.
Do you “wish to see Jesus” in this way, not as some Santa Claus in the sky, but as a real man who really died to prove He really is God, the God who demands complete worship and comprehensive discipleship? See Jesus, then take a second look at the Son of God. Now take an honest look at yourself.
A Call to Discipleship
To understand Christ, you have to absorb the things He said about Himself. To understand Christianity, you have to apply them to yourself. Here is a clarion call to Christian discipleship.
The Christian must be fully committed to God’s glory. Lot’s wife turned back, and she died. Achan took back, and he died. Ananias and Sapphire held back, and they died. God will not settle for half of you, and you cannot know and enjoy God until you are fully committed to His glory. As Westminster informs us, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Christian faith is sacrifice, trust, obedience, and the joy of pleasing God.
The Christian's death results in life. Jesus repeatedly admonished those who would be His disciples to take up their own crosses and follow Him. Paul taught we must die to ourselves to have life in Christ. And it is our many crosses, our many deaths, our many sacrifices, that bear the fruit of other souls coming to Christ as well. Do those closest to you know you are so close to Christ than they can see your cross?
The Christian’s life now exists on a higher plane than this present world. Jesus, James, and John taught us to love God and His kingdom far above any earthly loves. Some of these sayings are cloaked in hyperbole and contrast, but the meaning is clear. If you love anything more than the Lord Jesus Christ, then you don’t love the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Christian is rewarded in Heaven. God has not come to us to give us glory, and He will not accept our works for salvation. But if you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you will get an astounding reward: honor. Do you know what it feels like to be honored by your spouse, your children, some school or organization? Imagine what it will be like to be honored by God, when you see Him face to face.
You can wish for an understanding of economics and investments, make a lot of money, and leave it all behind when you die. You can wish for fame, notoriety, and practically nobody will remember you two days after you are gone. Or, you can say, “We wish to see Jesus,” come to Him on His terms based on His word and live for Him in this life, and this flicker of a life will give way to an amazing, unimaginable place of glory and honor. The glory is all God’s, but the honor can be all yours.
Do be careful what you wish for.
A TALE OF TWO TOMBS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 8, 2020
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
— John 12:12-19, ESV
All four Gospels record Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem for the holiest week in human history. John’s account stands out by letting the resurrection of Lazarus linger over the proceedings. This is because this Gospel is essentially a tale of two tombs.
The first half of John’s Gospel ends at an empty tomb. So will the second. But to get from one empty tomb to the other, Jesus had to enter a certain place, as a certain person, for a certain purpose. Such certainties will become crystal clear in this triumphal text.
The Place: Jerusalem
Jerusalem is the most significant city in all of human history. The name is derived from Yeru or Jeru, which is best translated as foundation or place. Salem, or Shalom, definitively means peace. Jeru-Shalom, then, is the foundation or place of peace. And it is there where Jesus Christ paid the price for our peace with God.
Jerusalem is the most significant city in biblical history, too. It is the capitol city of Israel, the Old Testament people of God; and, it is the birthplace of the Church, the New Testament people of God, born out of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Passover and the ascension of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. These things happened in that certain place, the city of Jerusalem, to consummate the Old Covenant and inaugurate the New Covenant.
The event described in the text took place at Passover, the setting for Christ’s most important work in this most important place. The historian Josephus wrote that over two million people packed into Jerusalem during Passover week, though most of his critics say he exaggerates two fold. Still, a million people is a lot of people.
Most of the citizens piling into the city on the Sunday before Passover Friday were pilgrims from Galilee. They were much more familiar with Jesus than the Judeans, since most of Jesus’ words and works were offered in Galilee (as covered by the synoptic Gospels, while John’s focus is Jesus in Jerusalem). I doubt the Judeans would have welcomed Jesus with such a “triumphal entry,” but the mostly Galilean crowd was glad to do it.
Their messianic expectations were very high. They shouted “Hosanna,” which means “save us.” They looked to Jesus as Savior. They quoted the messianic 118th Psalm, and they knew the difference between blessing someone in the name of the Lord and blessing the One who comes in the name of the Lord. They looked to Jesus as Lord. They waved palm branches, which were plentiful in and around Jerusalem, as symbols of praise and peace. It is if they were saying, praise the Lord for peace with God through the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
This was a God moment. This was a gospel moment. But what the people could not fathom at the time was the price God would pay for the gospel. They did not expect on this first day of the week that by the last day of the week Jesus would be buried in a tomb, just like Lazarus, and that He would rise again, just like Lazarus. So begins the tale of two tombs.
Of course, Jesus knew what He was doing, which is why He rode in to the exact place where He needed to be, Jerusalem, the city of prophets, priests, and kings.
The Person: Jesus
Jesus came to Jerusalem to present Himself as three persons in one: Prophet, Priest, and King.
Jesus was a proven prophet, and He would prove to be the prophet, the messianic fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18. Prophets speak truth to power. Prophets often rub people the wrong way. Prophets are seldom popular. And, prophets tend to get themselves killed, especially in Jerusalem.
Jesus knew this exactly and had said earlier, “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” So in this certain place, Jerusalem, Jesus came as a certain person, the Messiah the Prophet, the Prophet who would fulfill prophecies, like Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 53.
Jesus came to Jerusalem as a priest, too, the most high priest. Unlike prophets, priests were particularly popular in Israel, for they offered sacrifices according to the word of God that symbolized the forgiveness of sins. Who does not want their sins forgiven? Priests were valuable people.
Jesus is unique, however, insomuch that He came to the city on that fateful Passover to be both the high priest to offer the sacrifice; and, the sacrifice offered by the high priest. The Lord and the lamb are the same, hearkening back to the words of Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (ref. John 1:29).
Jesus came to Jerusalem as prophet, priest, and king. The crowd acknowledged it, calling Him “the King of Israel.” They just did not understand, at the time, what kind of king He was when He came the first time to earth.
Jesus was a servant king, riding a donkey instead of a white horse. Just wait until He comes again, however. In the first advent He was a suffering servant king, lifted up before the people on that Palm Sunday, lifted up on the cross on Good Friday.
Know with certainty that this is the person of Christ. He is the Prophet, He is our High Priest, and He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He came to a certain city, Jerusalem, as this certain person, for this certain purpose: to save God’s people.
The Purpose: Salvation
The people cried, “Hosanna,” save us, we pray. The Pharisees seethed, and repeated their jealous mantra that Jesus needed to be killed. It is a great gospel irony that one could only be accomplished by the other.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die, as He prophetically preached throughout His ministry, especially in the final year. Prophets preach about the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation through atoning sacrifice. Prophecy preaches salvation.
Sacrifice accomplishes salvation. Those of the Old Covenant were symbolic and ritualistic. Holy Communion in the New Covenant is symbolic and ritualistic. The tragedy and beauty of bread and blood is about salvation, accomplished by the sacrifice of our High Priest, Jesus Christ, on the cross in Jerusalem.
Death, however, as Jesus foreshadowed at the death of Lazarus, is not final for Christ and Christ’s followers. For Christ is risen today, and He is King and Lord over all. You just cannot see it, yet, except with eyes of faith.
The salvation celebrated on the original Palm Sunday led to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. There is salvation in no other prophecies or prophetic texts, other than Jesus Christ and the word of God. There is salvation in no other priests or religions, other than Jesus Christ and Christianity. There is no other king and kingdom above the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.
So walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, from Lazarus’ tomb to His own. Believe in the miracle, believe in the Messiah. Lay down your life for what happened in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and rose again, and enjoy the salvation of the Lord forever.
DISCIPLESHIP ON DISPLAY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 1, 2020
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
— John 12:1-11, ESV
The Gospel of John was written to promote faith in Jesus Christ and for use in making disciples for Him. Nowhere does it ask you to ask Jesus into your heart and become a member of the church. Rather, it calls you to totally repent and fully believe in order to become a true follower, or disciple, of Jesus. Just like the verb “believe,” John handles the noun “disciple” frequently and mostly positive. Of over eighty mentions of disciple or disciples in the Gospel, almost all of them sing in high fidelity, with the exception of a few bad notes (ref. 6:66, 11:4).
All sorts of disciples are on display in this story, which depicts a delightful dinner party in Bethany. The occasion is a celebration of Jesus in view of the recent raising of Lazarus from the dead. It had to be delayed for a few days while the Lord laid low in Ephraim (ref. 11:54) to escape momentarily from the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were laying a trap to arrest and kill Him. Jesus needed to compose Himself before willingly walking right into it.
The text now takes us to the beginning of the last Passover. The family is all together. Friends have gathered around the table. Jesus is the guest of honor, as He should be, and He is surrounded by His disciples: real ones, fake ones, and potential ones.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are three of the most real and robust disciples of Jesus Christ mentioned in the Gospels, even though the sisters only appear twice (ref. Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-12:11), and Lazarus once (ref. John 11:1-12:11). Despite their scant mention, we feel like we know them. They each have their own individual traits, but they share a common love for the Lord, a sincere faith in the Lord, and a willingness to sacrifice for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Like Emmylou Harris was “Born to Run,” Martha was born to cook, and serve. That is what she is doing in both of her biblical appearances, and by the second time she’s learned not to complain about it. Serving is what God made her and called her to do. She is like most Christians are supposed to be, serving Christ by serving others. It is the mark of a true Christian, for if you ain’t serving, you probably ain’t saved.
Mary is the most glamorous of the three, given Jesus’ compliment of her sitting at His feet in the Gospel of Luke. She tops that in the Gospel of John with her extraordinary act of sacrifice and worship. By the way, she should not be confused with the sinful woman of Luke 7:36-50, who invented perfume anointing near the beginning of Christ’s ministry. Mary simply repeats it, perhaps sensing the Lord’s ministry is now near its end. In doing so, she shows the primary purpose of Christianity, to publicly worship Jesus Christ.
Lazarus doesn’t say much. No biblical quotes are attributed to him. As we said about his older sister, not every disciple is on display for speaking or singing. Lazarus simply shows the evidence of a changed life, of one brought back from the dead to walk in newness of life, following Christ, listening to His word, bearing witness to the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Though there were distinctly different, they shared one important thing in common. They all paid what the late, great Dietrich Bonhoeffer titled, “The Cost of Discipleship.” Real discipleship is just that, costly. God’s grace is free, faith is a gift, but following Jesus costs you everything you have.
For Martha, it was her time and her culinary resources, a great sacrifice in her day.
For Mary, it was a year’s salary spent on a special perfume for her yet to be realized wedding day. Perhaps she became the first Nun, married to Christ, so to speak, as she gave her life and her life’s greatest treasure away, broken and spilled out upon the Lord.
For Lazarus, living for Jesus raised the specter of dying for Jesus, as many heroic missionaries and martyrs have done over the past two thousand years.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are poster children of real disciples. Your need to be on the poster, too. But remember, it will cost you.
Honest John always gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly. We boo when the Pharisees appear on the screen. Now it is time to hiss, as Judas Iscariot, one of the first and foremost fake disciples of all time comes to the forefront.
The irony of the Pharisees and Judas is that they were among the most respected men in Israel in Jesus’ day. Judas may have been the most admired of the twelve Apostles. He is suspected to have been a Zealot, renowned for their faith and courage. He had been appointed the treasurer of the Jesus of Nazareth Evangelistic Association, which implies a great deal of trust. And in this scene, he is an outspoken advocate for social justice and helping the poor.
But the Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, cuts him open and exposes his sin, his selfishness, his spurious discipleship. Judas, like most phonies, was hyper-critical and hypocritical. He wasn’t following the Lord for what he could give, his soul, his life, his all. He was getting close to Jesus for what he could get, monetary gain, power and prestige, much like the infamous televangelists of our day.
They say that Benedict Arnold looked like the quintessential U.S. soldier. He had even received high praise from General George Washington before he sold out his fellow Americans. Now his name is synonymous with traitor.
Even more so is Judas Iscariot. The character Pete, when betrayed by his first cousin in the film O Brother Where Art Thou, lashed out and called him “Judas Iscariot Hogwallop.” Traitors, however, can find forgiveness. Thieves can make restitution. But there is no remedy for the false disciple, their guile is too great and their hearts are too hard. They go through their lives pretending to be Christians, fooling their fellow church members, deceiving members of the community, but you cannot lie to the Lord. He knows who His real disciple are, and who they are not, the faithful, and the fake.
At the end of this story, which concludes the first half of John’s Gospel (the second half will be devoted to the final week of Jesus’ life), a “large crowd” gathers. Jesus was not particularly fond of crowds during His ministry, but He keenly looks into this one. I suppose they are a good group of potential disciples, some who will follow, some who will fake it. What would you do, if you were in the crowd.
You would have to make up your mind about Jesus. There He is, eating, talking, laughing, celebrating. Is he a mere man, a mad man, or is He the Messiah, God and Savior?
You would have to make up your mind about Lazarus. Was he really dead? Did Jesus really, miraculously bring him back to life? Can the messages and miracles of Jesus really be trusted?
You would have to make up your mind about the chief priests’ plans. They were going to kill Jesus, the most dastardly deed ever done in this old world. But Jesus came to die, the most wonderful thing ever done for this whole world. Why did He do it, and what does it require of you?
You would have to make up you mind about “believing in Jesus.” It is something to be embraced, totally, heart and soul and mind and strength. Would you trade everything you own to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Would you really follow, or would you fake it?
My son-in-law is a United States Marine and we love him. He is one of the few and the proud being trained to run into the storm, rather than away from it. That’s love for your country, that’s faith in your fellow Marines, that’s saving lives.
Jesus is about to run right to the cross, not away from it. That’s love for the world, that’s the basis of true faith, that’s saving souls.
Souls that are saved show it by being real disciples. Disciples believe, sincerely. Disciples follow, fully. Disciples pay the cost, entirely, for grace and glory that money cannot buy. Be a disciple, and let it be displayed for Jesus and the whole world to see.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org