The Great Divider

Read:  John 11:45-12:19

I’m thinking that no one ever divided men and women quite like Jesus. It wasn’t so much that he deliberately drove people away. In fact, he’s best known for his open armed appeal to every broken person. He said, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) But his demands were uncompromising. (They still are, by the way.) When he said, “Come unto me,” he absolutely meant for people to come to him, and no other. He wasn’t willing to negotiate, or try to meet them half way. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Many who began to follow him were later offended by something he said and walked away. (eg. John 6:60, 66) Jesus never ran after them to apologize for anything. He continued to insist that they had to come to him.

Everything he did was an occasion for controversy. This was especially true after he raised Lazarus from the dead. John tells us that many believed in him after that. (11:45; 12:11)) But others went straight to the Pharisees to report everything they had seen. (11:46) The Pharisees then called the chief priests and the entire council to discuss their common problem. They couldn’t deny that Jesus continued to perform many mighty works. Lazarus was only the most recent, and the most powerful, example. Their problem was that if Jesus continued to do this, everyone would begin to believe him. Rome would, interpret this as one more insurrection among the people. They would send troops to crush the rebellion. Their nation would be lost, and with it, their own position would be gone. They could not take that risk. For them, there was no alternative. Jesus must die! (11:47-53, 57)

So, with the Passover approaching, Jerusalem was a boiling kettle of controversy. Many wondered if Jesus would even dare to attend the feast at all. The chief priests had spread the word that anyone who saw him should report him, so he could be arrested. (11:55-57) But this year’s Passover was very much on Jesus’ “to do” list. It was the whole reason he came to earth in the first place. (12:27-28)

These are the circumstances under which Jesus arrived at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus for the last time. The Passover was just six days away. That meant his death was only six days away. And he knew it.

If you knew with certainty you only had six days to live, how would you spend your time? You would fill your daily agenda with only the highest priority items. Don’t miss the fact that people were on Jesus’ priority list. Beginning with these close friends.

I smile as I watch this scene unfold. Martha immediately runs into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Someone might object, Hey, “Martha! Didn’t you learn anything from the last time you tried this? “ (Luke 10:38-42)

But Martha was a servant. She couldn’t possibly sit still when there was work to be done. Someone needs to fix dinner for this bunch! Her problem wasn’t that she felt compelled to serve. The Lord knows we need servants. Her problem had been that she allowed herself to become overwhelmed in the task of serving. This usually happens when we lose our perspective and continue to serve without taking the necessary time to renew our strength. (Isaiah 40:30-31)

Lazarus immediately took his place with Jesus. For starters, he needed to say thank you—again. Beyond that, I can imagine he had a lot to talk about, and ask about regarding everything he had seen and heard during those four days he had been experiencing the world to come.

But where was Mary? She wasn’t at the table. She was looking for something. Soon, she brought a vial of expensive perfume to the table. The average worker of that day would need an entire year to earn enough to purchase the contents of that bottle. We’ll never know how she originally obtained it; but she quickly brought it to Jesus and emptied it all on his feet.  The fragrance of her gift poured out filled the entire house. It probably lingered for days to come.

One of the things about this story that interests me is how everyone instinctively took their natural place—and no one was wrong. The servant immediately began to serve. The one who had received the miracle lingered to give thanks. And the one most known for her sensitivity and reflection felt compelled to reach back even farther than normal and bring her most prized offering as an expression of worship.

That’s how the family of God should work. Each one contributes what they have. And it all blended together into a beautiful evening that is still remembered two thousand years later.

Of course, Judas had to speak up. His complaint that the gift had been wasted said more about his greed than his concern for the poor. (12:4-6) So, even in this intimate gathering of closest friends, the dividing continues. The great battle between the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness is about to begin.

Timing is everything now, and on the next day, it was time for Jesus to make his final entrance into Jerusalem. Answering everyone’s speculation about whether he would appear at all, Jesus chose to ride down the center of Main Street on a donkey. From the thousands of worshippers gathered for the feast, many began to join the welcoming party for the Son of David. It was clear that most of this crowd expected him to issue a call to arms any time now against Rome. So, Jesus rode, largely alone, into the heart of the city.

From the beginning, Jesus had boldly declared, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” But this had never been a call to arms. Rather, it was a call to repentance. (Mark 1:14-15) The kingdom was not of earth, but of heaven. The servitude he came to end was not to Rome, but to Satan. Among the shouting multitude that surrounded him that day, almost no one understood that.

Luke tells us that as Jesus approached the city, he wept.  (Luke 19:41-44) He wept as he had earlier at the tomb of Lazarus, and for many of the same reasons. So many people. Each one caught up in their own set of expectations, their own agendas. None of them seemed to have a clue about the true nature of the kingdom that was indeed at hand. It broke his heart.

Almost everyone there that day would have immediately lined up to declare their willingness—their eagerness to follow Jesus wherever he went. But none of them had any idea about where he was going. If they had known, they would have quickly lost their enthusiasm for the journey. In fact, before the week was done, most of these same people would be standing in a different place, shouting a completely different message. Rather than “Hosanna!” they would be shouting “Crucify him!”

Within a few short days, Jesus’ path will take him to a place called Gethsemene. From there, he will go to another place called Golgotha. And then, to a grave. No one there that day could begin to understand where he was going, or what he was doing, or why.

Nearby, the Pharisees continued to huddle in the dark corners, waiting for any opportunity to arrest him, and kill him. But that exact hour had not quite come. Not yet.

Yet everything was rapidly falling into place, fulfilling everything the prophets had said about him. The climactic scene in this greatest drama of all time is about to begin. The actors are taking their places. The battle lines are being drawn.

On which side would you stand?


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