That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God
- Psalm 118:22-29
- John 12:1-19
We continue our series of sermons following the Gospel of John. We follow the theme of life and death, as we follow our Saviour, from closely before He was arrested, to the end of his ministry.
Towards the end of his Gospel, John explains the purpose of his Gospel in these words:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV).
Any sermon and worship service of the Lord should have this as purpose. We do not get together to get a message to hear what we should do with our depression, or our financial troubles, or other worries. The Bible is not a do-it-yourself pocket guide for “get-better” and “feel-good-about-yourself” help. The purpose of the Gospel is to bring us to bow before Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
It is therefore my desire to bring to you this message with one prayer in my heart, and that is that everyone here this morning will hear about the Son of God and find in Him the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.
If there is anything we need to understand from the reading of John 12 it would be that Jesus is the Lamb of God who gave his life to set sinners free. In the centre of the drama unfolding in front of us is Christ on his way to be killed and to be handed over to the heathen to die the death that we deserve.
When did Jesus die?
I made a discovery this week in my preparation for this sermon. I am cautious to proclaim what I have discovered as absolute truth, but there is enough evidence in the Scriptures that made me rethink the traditional view of church history.
When did Jesus die, and why is this question of any significance? Did He die on a Friday – which in the tradition became Good Friday? Or is there a possibility that He died on Thursday?
I want to stress that the exact day He died will not make much difference in the bigger scheme of things: The fact that He did die to take the sins of the world upon Him is the main thing here. This is what you and I need to believe to experience his wonderful grace of salvation.
It seems as if the Bible does indeed place some significance on the days of the last week of our Saviour before He died on Calvary’s Hill.
We find ourselves with Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper where Mary poured out the nard perfume on the feet of Jesus. John states the following:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. (John 12:1, NIV)
There were actually two festivals happening at the same time, one being the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the other Passover; Passover came first.
Passover was celebrated on the 14th of the month Nisan.
On the fourteenth day of the first month the Lord’s Passover is to be held. On the fifteenth day of this month there is to be a festival; for seven days eat bread made without yeast. (Numbers 28:16–17, NIV)
Herman H. Goldstine published a book New and Full Moons from which it is possible to calculate the days of the week upon which the Jewish Passover had to fall in any given year during Christ’s lifetime or thereafter. Computer analysis points to 6 April A.D. 30 as the 14th of Nisan, which happened to be a Thursday. Now, the day following the Jewish Passover was treated as a Sabbath day. This means that apart from the normal weekly Saturday Sabbath, there was another sabbath that week – one on Friday and the other Saturday. Keep in mind, Jewish days started on sunset of the previous day and ended on sunset the next day. So, the Thursday we talk about actually commenced on the Wednesday evening and went through till the sunset of Thursday night. That was the Day of Passover. That evening was the beginning of the Sabbath of the Festival of the Unleavened Bread, which took them through till Friday night. The weekly Sabbath started on Friday night and lasted till Saturday evening with sunset.
If we now take the words of our Lord serious which spoke in Matthew 12:40,
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40, NIV)
We see the three days and three nights of this verse of Jesus being true if He was indeed crucified on the Thursday. There are a few verses we also need to take into account. When the Jews sent Jesus to appear before Pilate we read:
Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. (John 18:28, NIV)
Here it speaks about the Passover, not the weekly sabbath, which would be the next day.
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. (John 19:31, NIV)
The Day of the Preparation was that Thursday followed by the special sabbath of the 15th of Nisan. This sabbath was the special sabbath which was celebrated on the Friday, followed by the weekly sabbath of Saturday.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1, NIV)
Something interesting about this verse: the Greek of this verse actually has the word “Sabbath” as “Sabbaths”, plural. Most translations, however, translate the singular “Sabbath”. Why? One wonders. But Matthew was probably perfectly correct in referring to “Sabbaths”, one which was the beginning of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread following the Passover of the 14th of Nisan, and the other the weekly Sabbath.
Jesus, the Passover Lamb
Why did Jesus enter Jerusalem as He did on Palm Sunday? Well, if the crucifixion occurred on a Thursday (the day of Passover when the Lamb was slaughtered in Egypt, which signalled the rescue of Israel), then counting backward we find that Palm Sunday was the tenth of Nisan. This is important, because it was on that day that the thousands of Passover lambs that were to be sacrificed were taken up to Jerusalem and kept for three days in the homes of those who were to eat them. I quote Dr James Montgomery-Boice:
“Not all are aware how many lambs were involved. So it is necessary to note that there was a great number. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that one year a census was taken of the number of lambs slain for Passover and that the figure was 256,500. In other words, with numbers this large, lambs must literally have been driven up to Jerusalem throughout the entire day. Consequently, whenever Jesus entered the city he must have done so surrounded by lambs, himself being the greatest of lambs. Four days later, at the time the lambs were killed, Jesus himself was killed, thereby becoming the ultimate Passover lamb on the basis of whose shed blood the angel of spiritual death passes over all who place their trust in him. (Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: An expositional commentary (932). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)
Preparation for the burial of Jesus
With what we understand about Jesus being the perfect Passover Lamb as the central figure of this chapter, we now understand the lead-up to his crucifixion. We understand the words of our Lord:
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7–8, NIV)
So, what Mary did was not to show us how much we should love Jesus, but why we should love Him much. The precious nard perfume she used was not pointing to her love for Him, but to his precious death for those He loves so much that He would give his life.
Judas, on the other hand, wanted to distract the attention from Jesus by saying that the money for the perfume could have been given to the poor. Mary did not want to draw attention to herself, but to Christ. Deep down she understood that what He had told his disciples all along is about to take place. He told them this over and over again:
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31, NIV)
Somehow Mary understood it but the disciples did not. Even in our chapter we read these words:
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. (John 12:16, NIV)
On that Saturday night, immediately following the day hours of the Sabbath, sitting at feet of Jesus who raised her brother from the dead, she understood that He would indeed give his life and die to be buried. She anointed Him for his death.
See, brothers and sisters, the message of the love of Christ our love for this world can easily bewarped. The message of love we hear these days has become so horizontal that the message of the cross is rarely heard. The death of Christ is taken as exemplary and not substitutional. It then sounds like the message of Judas who had no perception of the meaning of the death of Christ. This passage tells us that true love for our neighbour cannot happen before we understand that we need to begin at the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Love for our neighbour which does not begin and end in the love of Christ who makes everything new as He brings us in the right relationship with the Father, is nothing but humanistic philanthropy. But the substitutional love of Christ who gave his everything as the Passover Lamb to bring us back to the Father defines our love for our neighbour. We then are not only concerned about their earthly needs of bread and clothing – surely that should not pass us by – but we will be concerned about their relationship with the Lord as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of this world.
This is what Mary’s act of anointing of our Lord should teach us: look at Him, He died and was buried to give you new life as He would forgive your sins and give you eternal life.
The king on a colt
The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday has been regarded by many as a last public offer of himself as King to the people of Jerusalem. Some say that Jesus at this point made a final attempt to gain a following, as if He would try to re-establish the throne of David in Jerusalem to overthrow the authority of the Roman Empire and set Israel free from political oppression.
But his kingdom was not of this world. He would be King of another kingdom. He knew about it. A third time He told his disciples:
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:32–34, NIV)
He entered Jerusalem not to win over the people (the time for that had long passed) but rather to provoke the Pharisees and chief priests into action and thus trigger the events that He knew awaited Him. He said He would lay down his life for his sheep. Now was the hour.
Jesus considered Himself bound by Scripture as an infallible expression of the will of the Father. Both Matthew and John refer to the prophecy of Zechariah in which was written,
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).
The most important reason why Jesus entered Jerusalem, particularly when He did, was to show Himself to be our Passover Lamb who was to take away the sins of the world.
Later that week when He appeared before Pilate, when asked about his kingdom, Our Lord answered:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36–37, NIV)
What the people shouted when He entered Jerusalem was indeed true, although they did not understood it that way:
“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13, NIV)
The heading on most translations of this paragraph of the Bible says, “The triumphal entry.” These words are not part of the original text. It is correct but not in the sense that Jesus had some political victory; it is correct in the sense that it was the fulfilment of the Scriptures referring to Him as the King who was righteous and having salvation. The words of those along the streets of Jerusalem had the same weight as the words of Caiaphas who prophesied that it is better that one man die than that the whole nation perish – neither understood or meant what they said.
But they were words of eternal significance in the scheme of God’s Kingdom. The words screamed out in pure emotional ecstasy along the streets of Jerusalem, find its true meaning around the throne of God:
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10, NIV)
In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12, NIV)
The Gospel is preached – even today it has been preached. It is the Word of God. It was God’s eternal plan for us to hear it. Why?
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV)
Did we hear his voice? Sure we have. The question now: Is Jesus Christ, by faith in Him, your King; is He your Passover Lamb? Have you brought your sins to Him to be washed away? Or: are you sure you have eternal life because you believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God?
Reject Him in unbelief, shout meaningless good-sounding words with the crowd who eventually crucified Him, or worship Him as the Son of God.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 28 April 2013