This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on April 17th, 2011. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Jn12/Ecc9.
JOHN 12:12-19 & ECCLESIASTES 9:11-10:2 — MISGUIDED DISCIPLESHIP
In my Bible study with the college guys, we are going through Ecclesiastes. I like Ecclesiastes because it is very honest about life. The “preacher” of Ecclesiastes says things that sound shocking and wrestles with life in a way few of us are willing to.
The other week, we looked at this passage from Ecc.9 and as we talked about it, something about the passage reminded me of The Triumphal Entry and Palm sunday.
Palm Sunday is celebration of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem which is characterized, on the one hand, by then entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem as a King, and on the other hand, by the false expectations of both the crowds and the disciples. The celebration of Jesus as King both fulfills prophecy (Zech.9) and is, at the same time, a misguided attempt by the crowd and the disciples to force Jesus’ hand.
This morning, I want to use Ecclesiastes 9 to talk about what is going on in John 12 – and as a way to understand what drives misguided discipleship.
CHASING AFTER WHAT IS IMPRESSIVE IS DECEIVING.
“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all”.
The Disciples Got Caught Up In What Looked Impressive: In John’s Gospel, by the time Jesus starts to head towards Jerusalem, the Disciples have finally understood that Jesus is going to suffer and die. They know that the Chief Priests mean to arrest him and Jesus himself has made it clear that this has to happen. In fact, they expect it – Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
But after the Triumphal Entry the disciples expectation has changed. They are so caught up with what the crowd was saying and Jesus impressive entry into Jerusalem, that they no longer have any thoughts of Jesus dying. In fact, Jesus has to correct them in Jn.12:20-23
When The Church Gets Caught Up in What Looks Impressive We Go Astray: ( Illustration of the 3 churches where I grew up. People hopped from one to another based on who had a new big name preacher -who had a new talented organist – who had a new building – created a shallow environment)
We tend to believe that if we get the most talented, brightest, most impressive preacher, organist/ worship band, building – if we build the strongest argument for what should happen in the church – if we have the biggest following – that we will thrive spiritually – that the church will thrive spiritually and that we will be blessed. This belief affects the way most churches operate today – but it also often influences who we are impressed with – whose books we read – who we like to listen to. This belief strongly influences the kind of Christian life we pursue – and therefore what our discipleship looks like. The belief that the battle is to the strong drives us to a “results” based mentality” in which we look for impressive results as confirmation that we are on the right path.
In other words, discipleship becomes externally focused on visible results. We tend to focus on spiritually impressive goings on outside of ourselves, but not on our own need for Jesus – our own spiritual need for the cross.
Focus on What is Internal to You Not on What is Outside and Impressive: Jesus in the beatitudes uses the same kind of intentionally counter-intuitive language as Ecc.9: “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…”
Most of what Jesus says in the beatitudes is not about the external experience of the impressive movements and moments of Christian life, but about the interior life. Our desire to follow what is impressive and to create a life of experience actually distances us from God. We allow ourselves to be caught up in what someone else is doing – or in what people think of us – or in what is happening around us. We become distracted by what impresses us, and we miss what God wants to do in us.
Jesus was truly alone on the colt because, in getting caught up with the crowd, the disciples – his closest friends – became like his admirers who did not understand him. True discipleship pays attention to what is going on in the heart – our response to God’s call.
LISTENING TO THE SHOUTS OF THE CROWD IS DECEIVING.
There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man.
So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
Even when wisdom saves people from trouble, they don’t pay attention to it for long. People go along with whoever is shouting the loudest.
The Disciples Allowed the Shouts of the Crowd to Drive Away What Jesus had Told Them in Private: In the same way, the disciples allowed the shouting of the crowd to overwhelm what they (Jesus’ inner circle) had been told by him in private. Remember the conversation Jesus had with Peter in Matthew 16 – where Peter, rebuked Jesus for saying that he was going to suffer – and Jesus rebuked Peter for not having in mind the things of God but the things of men? The Disciples knew that Jesus was going to suffer – but they were overwhelmed by the shouts of the crowd and not only followed along, but forgot all that he had said about suffering.
People are Always Shouting About Something: We probably know enough not to run after the next big thing in church culture (the Prayer of Jabez, the Mega-Church movement, The Holy Laughter Revivals), but we are pretty easy targets when it comes to the National News.
We read the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6 about not running after what we will eat or drink or wear – that God is our provider and that he will provide good gifts for us if we ask him – and then we hear the “crowd” shouting: The economy is doing this or that – buy gold, buy stocks, sell stocks, worry worry worry – and we panic as though we had forgotten the promises of Scripture and our call to discipleship completely.
(Can also talk about our culture of fear engendered by insurance, how we listen to the crowd by complaining about and criticizing our leaders rather than praying for them, how our focus on our bodies has become one of appearance rather than glorifying God with them – all of which relate directly to our discipleship)
Listen to the Quiet Wisdom of the Word: Whether the church is shouting about some new easy discipleship or some new method of becoming holy – or the world is shouting about some new fear or some new solution – we are called to listen to the word and to evaluate all things by the word.
Again, the beatitudes set up a dependent relationship between God and us. The poor in spirit are the unspiritual who need God. The mourners are those who need comfort from God. The meek need the protection of God, etc.
In other words, Jesus is saying, it is good to be needy. It is good to recognize your need before God – that which is internal – what is going on in your heart. The needy come to God to be changed. The needy come to God with their fears for comfort and to learn to trust. The spiritually needy are blessed precisely because they are willing to come to God to find help and salvation.
This morning, as we close the season of Lent and look forward to the cross on Good Friday and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, our last confession is that we tend to be misguided disciples. We have gone astray following what is impressive. We have gone astray listening to many voices other than that of Jesus and the Scriptures. This week, let’s focus on asking God to lead us into true discipleship and dependence on him.