Welcome, friends! John 21:1-19 is a story of Jesus and the disciples in the six weeks between Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It’s an awkward time for the disciples, as they try and come to grips with a new reality in which all the old rules have changed. Click the videos below and let’s help each other move into a new reality….
Before us it is blessed, behind us it is blessed, below us it is blessed, above us it is blessed, around us it is blessed as we set out with Christ. Our speech is blessed as we set out for God. With beauty before us, with beauty behind us, with beauty below us, with beauty above us, with beauty around us, we set out for a holy place indeed. Amen. –A traditional Navajo blessing
As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends, from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.
Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. (Good News Translation)
We are moving, step by step, inexorably to the cross of Christ. Along the way we will face opposition, ridicule, misunderstanding, and betrayal. We will be befuddled and feel confused. The path of discipleship is not easy.
And yet, on this Holy Wednesday, today’s New Testament lesson informs us that all the suffering of Christ was motivated and animated because of joy.
The road to the cross, along with the cross itself, is painful, in every sense of the word. None of this tortuous suffering seems joyful, at all! There’s no definition, in any dictionary, of joy including severe spiritual anguish, bodily harm, and emotional shame. Joy isn’t remotely mentioned when talking about betrayal from someone close to you.
Jesus did not relish the pain. He was no masochist. Pain with no purpose is nothing but tragic despair. Rather, Jesus clearly understood what the end of his suffering would accomplish: the saving of many lives.
It is most necessary that we do not try to sanitize Christ’s death.
Although many beautiful crosses can be found in stores, the cross of Jesus was anything but lovely to look at. It was bloody. The cross was a harsh implement of torture and execution, meant to expose the condemned to public shame.
Trying to make sense of this great sacrifice on our behalf can be difficult. No earthly illustration or word-picture can begin to adequately capture the idea of vicarious suffering. Perhaps, then, we may understand the necessity of discipline, effort, endurance, and yes, pain, in order to accomplish a goal. We know from agonizing experience that the realization of our most important goals requires a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears.
In a former life I was a cross country runner (back far enough for Sherman to set the way-back machine). Whenever I was running on a road or a golf course, I would sometimes get that very nasty and sharp pain in my side while running. It is called a side cramp, or side stitch.
If you have never experienced such a cramp, the pain feels like an intense stabbing, as if someone were taking a knife and twisting it inside you. Runners know there’s only one thing to do when this occurs: Keep running through the pain, and then it will subside in a few minutes. To stop running only exacerbates and prolongs getting over the hurt, not to mention losing a race.
Jesus endured the cross knowing he was going to experience terrible excruciating pain. He also knew that avoiding the shame and agony would only make things worse; it wouldn’t take care of the problem of sin.
Jesus persevered through the foulness and degradation of the cross for you and me. All of the wretched pain was worth it to him. Christ did not circumvent the cross; he embraced it so that the result would be people’s deliverance from guilt and shame, death and hell.
The end game of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross was joy over deposing the ruler of this dark world and obliterating the obstacles to people’s faith.
Suffering often does not fit into our equation of the Christian life. However, it needs to. No suffering, no salvation. Since Jesus bled and died for us, it is our privilege to follow him and walk with him along the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering.
Holy Week is a time to reflect and remember on such a great sacrifice, and to consider our Christian lives in the face of such great love. On this Wednesday, allow yourself to feel the bittersweet experience of simultaneous pain and joy – the very real bitterness of seeing the Lord crucified, along with the exultation of joy over being washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.
Gracious Lord Jesus, I give you eternal thanks for your mercy toward me through the cross. It is a small thing for me to follow you even it means great suffering on my part. My life is yours. Use it as you will, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, the man he had raised from death. They prepared a dinner for him there, which Martha helped serve; Lazarus was one of those who were sitting at the table with Jesus. Then Mary took a whole pint of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard, poured it on Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot—the one who was going to betray him—said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would help himself from it.
But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Let her keep what she has for the day of my burial. You will always have poor people with you, but you will not always have me.”
A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death.So, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many Jews were rejecting them and believing in Jesus. (Good News Translation)
Jesus entered Jerusalem, the day before, on Sunday, with the people waving and lying down palm branches, along with shouts of “hosanna!” Although Jesus had been speaking about his death, weeks before his triumphal entry, most folks were clueless as to what was about to happen.
But Mary Magdalene did. She truly listened to the Master. Her spiritual ears and eyes were fully opened to the significance of this week. Mary was completely aware.
A woman with a sordid background, Mary Magdalene had her life thoroughly transformed through meeting Jesus. She became a follower, in every sense of the word. As an attentive disciple, Mary knew her Lord. She observed every little thing about Jesus, hung on every word, knew each voice inflection and every gesture.
Now, near the end of Christ’s earthly life, and only days from being arrested, tried, tortured, and killed, Mary sensed what was happening. She saw the pained affect on her Lord’s face that no one else noticed. She was cognizant of what was happening, while the others seemed clueless.
Mary’s own brokenness cracked open to her the true reality of life, the real meaning of the unfolding days, and the deep gravity of this week.
The surface event itself is a touching and tender moment in history. This woman, whom everyone knew as a damaged person, took a high-end perfume, and broke the entire thing open.
Mary then proceeded to anoint Christ’s feet with it. You can imagine the aroma filling the house with an expensive perfume for all to smell. Giving what she had to Jesus, Mary demonstrated the path of true discipleship.
Mary’s act of faith in anointing Jesus was deeply symbolic:
The broken jar of perfume shows us the brokenness of Mary and our need to be broken. (Matthew 5:3-4)
Mary used an extraordinary amount of perfume, picturing her overflowing love for Jesus. (John 20:1-18)
Mary applied the perfume to Jesus with her hair (hair is a cultural symbol of submission and respect). (1 Corinthians 11:14)
The perfume directs us to the death of Jesus. (John 19:38-42)
The perfume highlights for us the aroma of Christ to the world. (2 Corinthians 2:15-17)
There is more to Judas than his words about perfume; he is not actually concerned for the poor. (Matthew 26:15)
Judas and Mary serve as spiritual contrasts: Mary opens herself to the sweet aroma of Christ; Judas just plain stinks.
The perfume presents a powerful picture of the upcoming death of Christ, for those with eyes to see; he was broken and poured out for our salvation. (Luke 23:26-27:12)
Christianity was never meant to be a surface religion which merely runs skin deep. The follower of Christ is meant for deep personal transformation, inside and out, so that there is genuine healing, spiritual health, and authentic concern for the poor and needy.
Keeping up appearances is what the Judas’s of this world do. But the Mary’s among us dramatically point others to Jesus with their tears, humility, vulnerability, openness, and love.
In our contemporary social and cultural landscape of fragmented human ecology, our first step toward wholeness and integrity begins with a posture of giving everything we have – body, soul, and spirit – to the Lord Jesus.
Sometimes it takes a woman to show us the way.
On this Monday of Holy Week, a tangible act may help us to express and deepen our faith. Take a bottle of unopened perfume or cologne, pour it completely out into a used tin can, and set the can in a central place in your home, just for the day* The aroma will likely linger into the next few days, as well. Let the smell be a continual reminder of both the sadness of death and the joy of salvation.
Loving Lord Jesus, my Savior, and my friend, you have gone before us and pioneered deliverance from an empty way of life and into a life of grace and gratitude. May I and all your followers emulate the path of Mary and realize the true freedom which comes from emptying oneself out for you. Amen.
*When you are ready, it is appropriate to dispose of the perfume by pouring it down the drain. Even this can be a ritual in which you visualize discarding your old life in order to take up a new one on Easter Sunday.
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you – you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (New International Version)
King Herod of Judea, who was in the pocket of the Roman Empire, was issuing threats against Jesus. And those threats had some teeth behind them. Herod had recently beheaded Christ’s friend and cousin, John the Baptist (Luke 9:7-9). Yet, Jesus seemed unconcerned by the warnings. He made it clear that he was going to keep doing what he was doing, unfazed by Herod’s bluster.
Jesus had no intention of halting his travels, even because of a credible threat by the governing powers. Christ emphasized his words by assuring his listeners that the work he is doing will be done today, and the next, and the day after that—building ultimately to his greatest work of securing redemption through his crucifixion and resurrection.
I hope to be always journeying towards Jerusalem with a heart full of compassion that will not waver in the midst of violent killing and injustice. That isn’t easy, yet I know that my humble pilgrimage with Jesus will be worth it all, in the end.
A pilgrimage is an apt description for the Christian season of Lent. Believers journey with Jesus, making the slow trek with him through his earthly ministry and to Jerusalem, up the Mount of Olives. There Christ is crucified – and we with him:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, NIV)
So far, we have made a stop in Bethlehem, following the star to the place where the newborn king was laid in a simple stinky feeding trough. The juxtaposition of that reality could not be more pronounced. The rightful Lord of all, far more powerful than old King Herod or the Roman Emperor, comes to earth not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)
In our walk with Jesus, we observe him deliberately posturing himself as a lowly servant throughout his earthly ministry. Whereas Herod acted the predictable part of a power hungry worldly ruler, squelching all rivals to the throne, Jesus shared his authority with others, along with a promise of continual presence. (Matthew 2:16-18, 28:16-20)
There is nothing romantic about this journey, this walk with Christ. It is often a hard road, and many count the cost of discipleship and choose to walk away.
Yet, Jesus is down for the struggle. He knows that injustice and systemic evil must be carefully rooted out. He understands that hearts and minds aren’t changed overnight. It will take time. So, we walk slowly with our Lord because Christ is in it for the long haul. We see Jesus is patiently, and sometimes imperceptibly, using divine power and authority to preserve the good and weed out the bad.
Dealing with human sin and the awful fallenness of this world will take a while. It will be an extended process because there are so many hard hearts. Jesus was ready, willing, and able to gather people together, as a mother hen gathers her chicks – yet there was an unwillingness to it.
And Christ, the heavenly ruler, isn’t in the business of twisting arms and manipulating others, like Herod, the earthly ruler.
Instead, Jesus invites. He doesn’t squeeze people like an orange to get their juice. Christ carefully prepares a meal. He sets the table himself. He gives of himself. Like some wildly potent superfood, a bit of wine and morsel of bread is more than enough to fill the hungry soul and the thirsty spirit.
With Jesus, there is always room at the Table.
There is room for you and for me. There is room for every kind of person – from every nation, race, gender, ethnicity, class – no matter the distinctions and no matter the past. It is the love of God in Christ, not the judgment, which brings people peace and salvation. It comes through a baby who grew and learn and suffered, just like us, and not through some wily old fox of a ruler.
Eventually, the phrase will be uttered, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus pulled this phrase from the Old Testament psalms. He did this, knowing quite well the context surrounding the verse:
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. (Psalm 118:22-26, NIV)
The chicks may scatter and refuse to be gathered. The builders might reject the crucial cornerstone and still try to build. Yet, it will not always be this way. As we journey with Jesus, eventually along the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering, the road to Calvary, with an eye to where this will all culminate at an empty tomb and a great celebration of new life.
We will not be looking down at our feet forever in sorrow but will lift our faces toward the clouds. Just as we see Jesus ascending, we shall see Christ coming again. The time is near….
Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him— even those who pierced him. And all the nations of the world will mourn for him. Yes! Amen! (Revelation 1:7, NLT)
The triumphal entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday is followed by a triumphal entry into my heart, and the hearts of many. And there is coming yet another triumphal entry, back to this earth. All things will made new….
“There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.” Then the one who sits on the throne said, “And now I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:4-5, GNT)
May it be so, to the glory of God.
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls so that we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.