THE SERVANT KING

Bible Reading: John 13:1-17

You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right in doing so, for that is who I am. So if I, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet as well. For I gave you [this as] an example, so that you should do [in turn] as I did to you. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” [John 13:13-17 Amplified Bible]

So often we think of discipleship as a method of teaching a subject in the context of a speaker and a class, but for Jesus it was very different. His disciples were never out of class and He taught them by example. Never do we see this more clearly than in the way that He washed His disciple’s feet. Knowing that the time of His death was so close, Jesus specifically wanted His disciples to understand the importance of serving one another.

We read of two occasions in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus had to correct His disciples because of pride. On one occasion they were discussing among themselves which of them was the greatest [Mark 9:33-37], and the second time He had to correct two of His disciples for being over ambitious and wanting a place of honour [Mark 10:35-45]. On both occasions Jesus had to rebuke His disciples, and make it clear that if one wanted to be great they had to become a servant. In today’s Bible reading Jesus demonstrates this.

The Greek noun agape [love] and the verb agapao [to love] occurs only eight times in the first twelve chapters of John’s Gospel, but thirty-one times in chapters thirteen to seventeen. The great emphasis of Jesus in the last five days of His earthly life was love! Jesus’ act of washing His disciple’s feet symbolised the washing away of sins that would shortly take place on the cross.

To wash the feet of a guest in the house of a Jewish family was assigned to a servant. It was a lowly and menial task. For Jesus to take the water and the towel and wash His disciple’s feet was an amazing example of both love and humility. Jesus had to be secure in Himself and His identity [John 13:3], to wash His disciples feet. There was no seeking to gain social advantage, competing with others to appear important or proudly exalting Himself in order to appear great. If we are to humbly serve then we need to be secure in our identity. It is the natural outworking of love to serve one another, and when we are walking with God we will do it without any conscious sense of humility!

Questions:

Why is our security in our identity in Christ such a key part of being able to effectively and humbly serve others?

What is the greatest lesson that we can learn from Christ’s action of washing His disciple’s feet? How can you live that out in your own life?

It is good to know the truth but what actually brings blessing [John 13:17]?

A SUMMARY OF JESUS’ MESSAGE

Bible Reading: John 12:44-50

In the last few days before His death, Jesus spent time with His disciples, and then was betrayed, tried and crucified. Today’s reading is the last time He spoke publically to the crowds and He shares with them a summary of His message. The fact that He cried out [“shouted” NIVUK] indicates something of His passion. Let’s take a closer look at this final summary of Jesus’ message.

Firstly, that He is God. To trust Him is to trust God [v.44]. Jesus made it very clear that those who see Him see God, because He is God [v.45]. Jesus was more than a good man, or a moral teacher – He was God in human form! In the mind of the Jewish leaders this was blasphemy, and the basis on which they demanded His death.

Secondly, He speaks what His Father who sent Him commands Him to speak [v.49]. He knew that the words His Father gave Him lead to eternal life [v.50]. His words were truth, but they were also spirit. Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” [John 6:63]. His words are truth, life giving and feed the human spirit. The officers of the Jewish Council were sent to arrest Jesus, but failed and reported back, “No man ever spoke like this Man” [John 7:46].

Thirdly, He shines as light in the world [v46]. In a spiritual sense darkness is the absence of light. The world is in darkness but Jesus came to save us from the darkness. Paul puts it like this; “He [the Father] has delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son [Jesus] of His love” [Colossians 1:12]. We become light in the Lord [Ephesians 5:8].

Fourthly, He came not to judge but to save [v.47]. Whether people receive, obey and trust Him or not, His mission to earth was to save. Earlier in John’s Gospel we read, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” [John 3:17]. In a sense, those who refuse to believe on Him condemn themselves [John 3:18]. Does this mean that there will not be a judgment? No, but that was not the purpose of Jesus’ first mission to earth!

Fifthly, when He comes the second time it will be as Judge [v.48]. When Jesus comes those who have rejected Him and His message will be judged! He enlarges on this in verse 47, when He speaks of those who hear Him but did not obey Him. Not even calling Jesus Lord will free from this judgment, but it is hearing Him, believing, and doing the will of God [Matthew 7:21-23].

Questions:

What is the meaning of being a child of the light?

According to Matthew 7:21-23, what is the evidence that a person is a real believer in Christ? What does it mean in your life to do the will of God?

Why do you think that Jesus was so passionate in reiterating and summarising His message at the beginning of His last days before the cross?

THE FEAR OF MAN

Bible Reading: John 12:42-43; Proverbs 29:25

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God”  [John 12:42-43]

The Bible says that the fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe [Proverbs 29:25]. In our verse today we see that men believed in Jesus but did not confess Him, because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. The fear of losing their credibility and being rejected by men meant more to them than pleasing God.

Writing to the Galatians, Paul said, “If I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” [Galatians 1:10b]. It is impossible to be a servant of Christ and live for the approval of men. However, when we genuinely live for Christ, seeking God’s favour and honouring Him, He will often give us favour with men as well. The key is to honour God and not fear men!

Jesus condemned the Church of Laodicea for being lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold [Revelation 3:14-22]. To be lukewarm means to accommodate Jesus only at your convenience and especially when it might not be politically correct or be to your advantage. These people believed but would not confess their belief in Him. Jesus said, “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven” [Matthew 10:32].

In the 6th century before Christ Aesop wrote a remarkable fable about a man, a boy and a donkey. As a man and his son were walking to market, alongside their donkey, someone commented that one of them should ride the donkey. The man put the boy on the donkey, but people criticised this and said that the boy was lazy in letting his father walk beside the donkey. The man ordered the boy off the donkey, and got on himself. Two women saw this and said, “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along. Finally, he got up beside the lad on the donkey and they rode together. As they came into the town people said, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours – you and your hulking son?” Finally, in frustration, the man and his son decided to carry the donkey! They tied its feet to a pole and carried the donkey on their shoulders. As they came to the Market Bridge the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and because his two front feet were still tied together he was drowned. If we seek to please men we will ultimately fail, but if we always make it our goal to confess Christ and seek His praise and glory we shall be safe!

Questions:

What does it mean to confess Jesus before men?

Why do you think that people might be afraid to confess Jesus publicly?

What does Romans 10:9 say about confessing Jesus with your mouth?

What do you learn from Aesop’s fable about the man, the boy and the donkey?

FOR THIS PURPOSE

Bible Reading: John 12:27-36

Now My soul is troubled and deeply distressed; what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour [of trial and agony]’? But it is for this [very] purpose that I have come to this hour [this time and place]” [John 12:27 Amp. Bible]

Jesus never wavered from the purpose of His life on earth, but that purpose was not without struggle. Every step of Jesus’ life and every word He spoke were measured and purposeful. The Bible says, “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” [Luke 9:51,53]. In our verse today, we read of Jesus being troubled and deeply distressed, and even having the thought of asking His Father to save Him from the pain that the purpose would involve. It was in that moment that Jesus prayed one of the shortest prayers recorded in the Bible, “Father, glorify Your Name.” Here was His purpose – to glorify His Father, and to do His Father’s will. Immediately the Father responded with an audible voice from heaven, which must have strengthened His Son.

The outworking of Jesus’ purpose to glorify His Father was that He should be ‘lifted up’. Several times in his Gospel John uses the words ‘lifted up’ to signify by what death Jesus would die – death on a cross! Jesus’ purpose was to glorify His Father by dying on a cross, and it is imperative that we understand why, because the whole of our eternal destiny hangs on that purpose.

In these few verses of our reading today we see the purpose of Jesus dying on the cross. Firstly, everything that Satan, the usurper, and ruler of this world had done would be judged, and he would be cast out [John 12:31]. Secondly, through His death on the cross Jesus made a way for all peoples, both Jews and Gentiles to come to God and be saved from the power of sin [John 12:32]. Thirdly, Jesus made it possible for us to become sons of light so that we would no longer be prisoners of the darkness but walk in the light [John 12:35-39].

Just as Jesus had a clear purpose in His life, so God has given us a purpose too. It is to glorify God in all that we do. It is tragic that so many people do not find a real, and lasting purpose in life. It is only found in God. In whatever realm it is, whether sport, the arts, culture, the family, work, or play we should do everything for the glory of God, and like Jesus make it our goal to please the Father. Writing to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul quoted from Jeremiah, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” [1 Corinthians 1:31].

Questions:

Even though we may not understand why God takes us the way that He does, why is it true that God’s way is always best.

How would you answer someone who asked you the question, “What is your purpose in life?”

Why is it so important to have a clear understanding of God’s purpose for our life personally? What happens when people have no clear purpose?

DYING WE LIVE

Bible Reading: John 12:24-26

I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone [just one grain, never more]. But if it dies, it produces much grain and yields a harvest. The one who loves his life [eventually] loses it [through death], but the one who hates his life in this world [and is concerned with pleasing God] will keep it for life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must [continue to faithfully] follow Me [without hesitation, holding steadfastly to Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me]; and wherever I am [in heaven’s glory], there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honour him” [John 12:24-26, Amplified Bible]

We are looking today at a powerful and fundamental spiritual principle –there is no life without death! Knowing that His death was imminent, Jesus described it as being like a corn of wheat that falls into the ground and dies. He uses the analogy of a physical law to explain a spiritual reality. A grain of wheat, though containing the germs of life, would remain alone, held captive by the husk, and not really live until it fell to the earth. The life-germs would then burst forth, and the single grain, in its own death, would give life to the new plant, first the blade, then the stalk and the ear of corn. This life power would multiply in successive grains until a whole field had a harvest of much fruit. While Christ remained on earth this life existed but in its germ form. In His death, it would burst forth, grow and multiply into a great, worldwide spiritual harvest.

Immediately after speaking about His own death, Jesus applies this same principle to us. If we, Jesus followers, hold on to and love our own life, then we will lose it. If we die to ourselves and live for Jesus, then we will keep it for eternal life and a harvest of others will be reaped for God’s kingdom.

Here is a dying to self so that Christ can live His life through us. Paul says, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me” [Galatians 2:20]. The world says, “Get and enjoy,” but Jesus calls us to renounce the world. This does not mean that we have no fun, hobbies or enjoyment, but that we enjoy all the good things that God gives us, but at the same time, “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity” [John 2:15-17 The Message].

Questions:

God’s Word says that we should not love the world. What do you think this means?

In what way does God call us to die? Read Luke 9:23-26 & Galatians 2:20. What do Jesus and Paul say about dying in these verses?

HOSANNA TO THE SON OF DAVID

Bible Reading: John 12:12-19, 37-41

It is remarkable that beginning with our Bible reading today almost a third of John’s Gospel is given to a description of the last five days of Jesus’ life! Those five days began with the acclamation of His Kingship and ended with Him dying the death of a common criminal.

Jesus deliberately chose to go into Jerusalem as the time of the Passover approached. Huge crowds would have gathered there, and many of them had heard about the amazing signs and miracles that Jesus had performed and wanted to welcome Him into Jerusalem as Israel’s Messiah.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, to fulfil the prophecy of Zechariah who wrote, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey; A colt, the foal of a donkey” [Zechariah 9:9]. That Jesus should ride on a donkey sends a message that people did not yet really grasp – why a donkey and not a majestic stallion? He rode in lowly pomp because He knew that He was not the kind of warrior king that they were hoping for.

Having seen the amazing signs that Jesus had performed the people hoped that He would use His power to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to its former glory. The waving of palm branches was a nationalistic way of declaring victory over their enemies. They were looking for a military and political Messiah but were totally deaf to the words of their prophets [see John 12:37-41] and wrong in their understanding of the true mission of Jesus.

So it was that people welcomed Jesus with cries of praise and Hosanna, which in Hebrew means “Save Now!” They sang Psalm 118:25-26 and added the words, “The King of Israel” [John 12:13]. Their fervour was at fever pitch, and yet five days later, when they realised that Jesus would not fulfil their expectations in the way that they wanted, they turned against Him and cried, “Crucify Him!”

The crowd, the disciples [v.16], and even some Greeks [v.20] had their agendas, but what really mattered was Jesus’ agenda. Jesus said, “If anyone serves Me, let Him follow Me” [John 12:26]. It is not a question of us telling Jesus what to do, or trying to use Him, but of us seeking His will, and following closely where He leads!

Questions:

In what way is it possible to try and use Jesus, expecting Him to do things our way, rather than listening to Him, and obediently following Him?

What was the reason that the crowd were so excited about Jesus and yet five days later were calling for His death?

Why do you think that the people failed to understand their prophets and the real meaning of Jesus’ mission?

PERVERTED BY MONEY

Bible Reading: John 12:4-8; 13:18-27

The cynical and critical attitude of Judas Iscariot stands in stark contrast to the loving and sacrificial act of Mary. Whilst Mary was open and extravagantly generous, Judas was penny-pinching, and had selfish and hidden motives behind his seemingly spiritual criticism of Mary and her act of love.

Judas was living a lie, and sadly, the more he did so the more the devil had a control over him. Jesus chose Judas Iscariot to be His disciple, and yet He also knew from the beginning that Judas would betray Him [John 6:64]. Not only did Jesus know that, but He also made Judas the treasurer for Himself and His disciples [John 12:6; 13:29]. Judas held the purse! It is possible to be with Jesus, appear to be righteous, and yet to be living a lie. All that glistens is not gold!

Jesus told a remarkable parable about the kingdom of heaven, using a picture of chaff and the wheat [Matthew 13:24-31]. To pull up the weeds risked pulling up the wheat as well. There was a right time when they would be separated, but that was the responsibility of the angels and not ours. Jesus makes it very clear that weeds were the work of an enemy.

Judas was a thief, who stole from the funds! His criticism of Mary’s act of love, saying that the expensive spikenard should have been sold and given to the poor, was just a cover for his desire to benefit financially. Such an impure attitude gives a foothold to the enemy, and sure enough that moment came when Satan entered him [John 13:27], and Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Speaking of the moment when Judas left Jesus to betray Him, the Bible says, “And it was night” [John 13:30]. The darkness within Judas became gross darkness, and the lie he lived eventually destroyed him.

Don’t tell me that Satan cannot enter a believer. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira [Acts 5:1-11], are a parallel example to that of Judas. They were almost certainly baptised believers in the Early Church. Again the issue concerned money and deception, and the apostle Peter challenged them, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” For them too their lying led to a sad and untimely death.

Let us take these examples as a warning. Jesus made it clear that the way to avoid this was to be honest, transparent and to walk in the light. Jesus said, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” [John 12:46]. Satan looks for a foothold, so that he can build a stronghold in your life. This could become a stranglehold that will destroy you if not dealt with! Give no place to the devil [Ephesians 4:27].

Questions:

What important lessons can you learn from the story of Judas?

Why is it always dangerous to pretend to be something that we are not?

What do you think is the meaning of walking in the light?

A SACRIFICE OF WORTH FOR JESUS

Bible Reading: John 12:1-6

One of the loveliest acts in the whole of the New Testament was Mary’s anointing of Jesus. Let’s look at four aspects of what Mary did that day.

Mary’s act was spontaneous. It was not something carefully thought out or planned! She saw Jesus and just couldn’t help herself! Gratitude at what Jesus had done for her brother overwhelmed her. There is something beautiful when we break out of the organised and planned, and in the Spirit act with spontaneous love. May the Holy Spirit help us to do this!

Mary’s act was prophetic. Mary had kept the spikenard specifically to anoint Jesus in preparation for His burial [v.7]. Mary anointed Jesus for burial before He died, but everyone else who anointed Jesus did so after He died. How did Mary understand this? I would suggest that she knew that Jesus was going to die because she had sat at His feet and carefully listened to what He had said. Even His close disciples did not fully understand this! Isn’t it remarkable that the only person who anointed Jesus for burial before He died was a woman, and the first person to see Him after His resurrection was a woman? Jesus gave great value and dignity to women in a culture that believed in the superiority of men.

Mary’s act was sacrificial. The oil with which Mary anointed Jesus was pure spikenard, and one of the most expensive of all perfumes. Spikenard was an extract of grasses that grew only in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in Northern India. Judas reckoned that the fragrant oil was valued at 300 denarii [v.5], which was about a year’s wages of a labourer. In today’s money that may have exceeded £30,000! This was the kind of oil used to anoint the heads of kings. It seemed that cost did not really matter to Mary, in comparison to her love for Jesus. When David Livingstone was asked if his sacrifice for Africa was not too great, he replied, “I never made a sacrifice!” I suspect that Mary had that same spirit and would respond, “What sacrifice?”

Mary’s act was self-effacing. Protocol, political correctness and order went by the board. Mary did not care what people thought of her – her only desire was to honour Jesus. In a similar way King David forgot all about dignity and danced with all his might before the Lord as the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem [2 Samuel 6:14]. Unlike most kings he was “leaping and whirling before the Lord” [2 Samuel 6:15]. Both Mary and King David were bitterly opposed, Mary by Judas and David by his wife Michal, and for both Judas and Michal the result was devastating.

Questions:

Why do you think it is that both Mary and David Livingstone did not regard what they did as sacrifice? What does the Bible say is better then sacrifice?

Why is it that people are so often afraid of doing things that are spontaneous, extravagant and outrageous acts that express love for Jesus? How can we see a breakthrough in a religious and reserved culture? If you were in the same position as Mary, would you have done what she did? If not, why not?

REACTIONS TO THE RAISING OF LAZARUS

Bible Reading: John 11:45-57; 12:9-11

The raising of Lazarus was the last of the seven-recorded miracles of Jesus in John’s Gospel. It happened within a week of Christ’s death and clearly hastened His arrest and crucifixion. Remarkably, John does not record the reaction of Lazarus but the reaction of others was very clear, and it brought the opposition to Jesus to a head.

Many of the Jews now believed in Jesus and He was increasingly popular. It was this popularity that He had sought to avoid in the early part of His ministry (Luke 8:55-56, etc). Sadly, we see something of man’s fickleness, because many of those same Jews who believed in Jesus would shortly welcome Him into Jerusalem with palm branches and shouts of hosanna, yet within a few days cry, “Crucify Him”

Some of the Jews were very unhappy at what Jesus had done, and reported Him to the Pharisees [John 11:45-46]. They immediately gathered together and plotted to kill Him. For them Jesus’ crime was blasphemy, because He had made it clear that He was equal with God, and that He and His Father were one. They also plotted to kill Lazarus, because so many people had believed in Jesus because Jesus had raised him from the dead [John 12:9-10].

When people came face to face with Jesus they had to make a choice. That same choice is just as real today as it was when Jesus was in Judea. His own words were, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” [Matthew 10:34]. The message and ministry of Jesus was radical, controversial and won converts, but also made enemies. He was like a sign post at a crossroad, where a choice had to be made about which way to go. Many years ago a young Christian missionary, named Jim Elliott spoke of being a signpost at the crossroads of people’s lives. When they met him, so real was Christ in His life that they would be faced with a choice – God’s way or their own way!

I recently heard a preacher speak about intrinsic and extrinsic Christians. He said that the intrinsic Christian is the one whose whole life is intertwined with Jesus. On the other hand the extrinsic Christian is the one who only ‘accommodates’ Jesus when it is convenient. It is the life of the intrinsic Christian that will challenge others and point them to Jesus.

Questions:

Read John 12:11,19. What do you think were some of the things that made the Pharisees oppose Jesus so strongly and want to put Him to death?

Is your life like a signpost that points others to Jesus or are you like the extrinsic Christian who only accommodates Jesus and follows Him when it is convenient?

Why do you think that the extrinsic Christian has no real spiritual cutting edge?

WHY DID JESUS RAISE LAZARUS?

Bible Reading: John 11:39-44

Jesus deeply loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and found a home in their home. So the raising of Lazarus was an act of compassion towards this family that Jesus loved. There was, however, a far deeper purpose to it than that. Jesus said that it was for the glory of God and that the Son of God may be glorified through it [John 11:4]. It was a sign that was intended to help people believe, including Jesus’ own disciples [John 11:15].

He deliberately raised Lazarus from the dead rather than heal him, because He wanted people to see something even greater than healing, and that in doing so it would help them to believe. He wanted them to see the glory of God, but what exactly does the phrase, ‘the glory of God’ really mean? A dear friend of ours once said that he finds it difficult to understand what the glory of God is.

In one of his sermons John Piper said, “The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections. The infinite beauty—and I am focusing on the manifestation of his character and his worth and his attributes, all of his perfections and greatness are beautiful as they are seen and there are many of them. That is why I use the word manifold.” [John Piper’s sermon, “To Him Be Glory Forevermore” preached on December 17, 2006]. It is so difficult to describe the glory of God, except to say that it is who He is! It is the manifestation of His presence, His beauty, character, and attributes!

Isaiah said that everyone who is called by the Name of the Lord was created for God’s glory [Isaiah 43:7]. Our attitude towards everything in life will change when we catch a glimpse of the glory of God. Our whole reason for living will be different. The apostle John saw the resurrected Christ, but his vision of the glorified Christ in all His majesty and splendour must have been even more special [see Revelation 1:9-17]. John could never have been the same again after that experience.

So often it is our own human desires that get in the way of God’s glory. Many years ago a dear friend of ours died following childbirth. Her husband was devastated, and asked us and other friends to meet with him at the mortuary and believed that his wife would be raised from the dead. Nothing happened! Today, the husband is happily married for a second time, with a lovely family, and he recognises the remarkable things that God has done in his life as a result of the pain of his first wife’s death. God has been glorified as a result of the death of this lady, just as He was glorified in the raising of Lazarus. Truly, the ways of God are beyond human understanding. May we never lose the sense of the mystery of godliness!

Questions:

How would you answer someone who asked you why Lazarus was raised from the dead, when someone they loved was not raised from the dead?

In what way would you say that your life glorifies God?

Would you pray the prayer of Moses, “Lord show me your glory” [Exodus 33:18] and believe for a new experience of God in your life?