Text: John 12:9-26, 37-43; 19:25
We live in a society driven to “feel good” all the time. We take more time off work, take more vacations, do more leisure activities than any other generation in order to “feel better.” We use more pills to “feel good,” even at the smallest discomfort. We are geared around “feeling good” in everything we do. It has come to the place that if we can’t “feel good,” we won’t do it; and if it does “feel good,” it doesn’t matter if the Bible or anyone else says it is wrong, we do it anyway, as long as it “feels good.” Sometimes it is stated this way, “I didn’t hurt anyone” or “no one was hurt.”
This short-sighted need to always “feel good” results in shallow character and commitment. Even in the churches, these days people want church to make them “feel good” or they will find another church that will! To settle only for a “good feeling” in our walk with God will leave us spiritually shallow at best, and to settle for less than what we could have.
Illustration: Some time ago, some robbers stole a 14-foot bronze cross from Calvary Cemetery in Little Rock, Arkansas. This cross had stood at the entrance to this cemetery for more than 50 years. Thieves apparently stole it more for money than art, they cut it off at the base and hauled it away, most likely cutting it up into small pieces that they could then sell for 50 cents a pound. The cross weighed about 900 pounds thus netting them about $450. The cross’s actual worth was $10,000, or in today’s dollar about $50,000. The thieves obviously didn’t know the real value of the cross as an object, instead they settled for a much cheaper price for it as scrap metal. This is still true for many today, they are willing to settle for the less important parts of Christianity, like the feeling parts, and fail to appreciate the deeper things of God that may not have an emotional base to them. They like the celebration, not the commitment.
This was precisely the message of Palm Sunday, the crowds loved the miracle working Jesus, but they didn’t like the commitment calling Jesus!
The Bible teaches us that celebration is not enough in worship or in our walk with God; there must also be commitment beyond the celebration!
I. Celebration Believers 12:9-19
A. Frivolous Faith 12:9-13
Jesus was becoming popular! (this is happening today too!) The great miracles, especially the recent one with Lazarus, brought a lot interest in Jesus: present day revivals are getting lots of attention; modern day miracles in revivals are drawing lots of attention, even from the media. Miracles get people’s attention, and may even get great crowds, but they don’t necessarily make great converts or keep the crowds for long!
While many people came to see Jesus, they also came to see Lazarus who had been dead for 4 days and was now walking around. They hadn’t come necessarily to hear the Word of God, they had come to be amazed and be filled with wonder. While there is nothing wrong with being filled with awe and wonder, this is a part of worship, there needs to be a move from that wonder to a willful commitment on our part to Christ.
Just as in Jesus’ day, it is all too easy to get so caught up in the spectacular and lose focus on the Person of Christ.
Illustration: Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian born novelist who achieved popular success with his novels Lolita (1955), Pale Fire (1962) and Ada (1969) demonstrated on a visit to the U.S. just how frivolous humans can be. One summer in the 1940’s, Nabokov and his family stayed with James Laughlin at Alta, Utah, where Nabokov took the opportunity to enlarge his collection of butterflies and moths. Nabokov’s fiction has never been praised for its compassion; he was single-minded if nothing else. The story of that visit is as follows: One evening at dusk he returned from this day’s excursion saying that during hot pursuit near Bear Gulch he had heard someone groaning most piteously down by the stream. “Did you stop?” Laughlin asked him. “No, I had to get the butterfly.” The next day the corpse of an aged prospector was discovered in what has been named, in Nabokov’s honor, “Dead Man’s Gulch.” While people around us are dying, how often we chase butterflies! – Clifton Fadiman in “The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes”
The crowds lined the streets to welcome Jesus into their lives – but the reasons they did so were less than spiritual. They had hoped for a king who would relieve them from Rome’s pressures. They wanted an easier lifestyle, not a call to righteousness. A king that can raise the dead could take care of all their needs.
Why have you become a Christian? To get blessings? Or to be a blessing?
There would have been nothing wrong with all the celebration if it had been followed up with a strong commitment to Christ – but the crowds were gone later when Jesus made it clear what He wanted from them!
If we are not careful in Christianity today, we can put too much emphasis on celebration in worship and not enough balance with a call to commitment to Christ! When worship as celebration becomes more important than the Word – we are out of balance! It is not enough to come together and just celebrate, there is a time and place for this, but there must be more.
B. Fanfare Followers 12:14-19
Jesus attempts to send them the right message when they lined the streets to celebrate His arrival: A conquering king usually rode in on a horse, this signified his triumph over political rivals and other nations that would attempt to rule over them. Jesus’ choice of the foal of a donkey was deliberate, to ride in on a donkey spoke a message of “peace” and “humility” – not that of a political king.
In all their celebration Jesus sends them the right message with the donkey, but they were too busy celebrating to understand the message … and so they missed the message of commitment from Christ. Even in a worship service you can celebrate in worship and still not hear the Word of the Lord and its call! Today, churches are filled with worshippers who have no problems worshipping; but then openly they live in sin from week to week, with no apparent desire to submit their lives to the Word of God’s commands.
It is not enough to go to church to just “feel good”!
Too many Christians today would rather celebrate God without the effort of defeating Satan in their lives … an unacceptable decision by God’s standards!
Illustration: In his book, Fuzzy Memories, Jack Handey writes, “There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day. Since I was smaller, I would give it to him. Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons, but the instructor wanted $5 a lesson. It was cheaper to pay the bully, so I gave up karate.” Too many Christians believe it’s easier to pay the bully than learn how to defeat him. — Sherman L. Burford. From the files of Leadership.
While the crowds were willing to applaud Jesus the miracle worker, they were also ready to abandon Jesus the crucified one! How deep is your commitment to Christ? How do you judge a successful worship service?
II. Committed Believers 12:20-26; 19:25 (Matt. 12:38)
A. Fruitful Faith 12:20-22; Matt. 12:38
While the Jewish crowd had said, “We seek a sign” (Matt. 12:38); there were Gentiles that came and said, “We seek a savior.” Jesus’ own people were lost in sensationalism, but there were outsiders who were hungry to find a savior! It would be tragic if Christians were satisfied to be celebrators of Christ’s salvation, while the world hears nothing from them about salvation!!
These Greeks were seeking Christ, the word used for “see” in this text has the sense of meaning “to interview.” They wanted to get to know Christ. They chose Philip because that was a Greek name, so was the name “Andrew”.
These men wanted to talk to Jesus, not just celebrate His miraculous powers. No doubt John included these few verses to contrast their desire against that of his own Jewish brethren and to show that Christ would save all who came to Him. Jesus was not too sidetracked by all the celebration to avoid the desire of these men to see Him.
It is possible to have wonderful celebrating worship experiences and still miss hearing God!
The Words of Christ is what we need to build our lives on. The Works of Christ may get our attention, but they may not hold us long if it is not combined with the Word of God.
Illustration: A hospital chaplain kept a record of some 2,000 patients whom he had visited, all apparently in a dying condition, and who showed signs of repentance. But of those who were restored to health – though they at first thought they were going to die and hence why they repented – he felt that there were only 2 out of 2,000 that showed a marked change in their spiritual lives after their recovery. A physician kept similar records of 300 persons, among whom only 10 showed evidence of spiritual as well as physical recovery after their return to health. Whatever impact their miraculous recoveries had on them spiritually wore off after a time for the vast majority once things were good again.
A shallow faith will result from celebration only, there must be a call to commitment to sustain our faith.
B. Faithful Followers 12:23-26; 19:25
After all the shouts of praise and worship from the crowd, Jesus finally speaks: It was a call to commitment! It was a call about dying to self. It was a message about sacrifice and salvation, spiritual salvation, not political or national.
The message was a call to come and serve Christ, to follow Him, not just celebrate Him! It may have been this message that killed the celebration a bit, and the crowds may have gone home. Where were the crowds at Calvary? They were probably all at home minding their own business and getting ready for the holiday weekend, to be sure they weren’t at the cross, only a few faithful followers were beneath the cross! (See 19:25 – only John and a few women including Jesus’ mother stayed by the cross!)
The crowds had been fascinated with Jesus, but they had not fixed their hearts on Him!
Illustration: On day six of the ill-fated mission of Apollo 13, the astronauts needed to make a critical course correction. If they failed, they might never return to Earth. To conserve power, they shut down the onboard computer that steered the craft. Yet the astronauts needed to conduct a thirty-nine-second burn of the main engines. How to steer? Astronaut Jim Lovell determined that if they could keep a fixed point in space in view through their tiny window, they could steer the craft manually. That focal point turned out to be their destination – Earth. As shown in 1995’s hit movie, Apollo 13, for thirty-nine agonizing seconds, Lovell focused on keeping the earth in view. By not losing sight of that reference point, the three astronauts avoided disaster. Scripture reminds us that to finish your life mission successfully, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). — Stephen Nordbye in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.
The same crowd that had so easily celebrated Jesus at His entrance also yelled “crucify Him” days later when He didn’t deliver Rome into their hands miraculously. Jesus instead called them to repent of their sins and accept Him as savior! Even Jesus’ own disciples in large measure had missed the meaning of Christ’s call until after He appeared to them following His resurrection. They had followed Him and seen the miracles, they had even been used by God to perform many miracles – although Jesus at one point had told them “not to rejoice that the spirits were subject to them, but that their names were written down in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) It is all too easy to get enamored with the spectacular and miss the spiritual!
No doubt next Sunday (Easter), the Churches across America will be flooded with people, but the Sunday after the attendance will drop again! We need more than just a holiday faith – it needs to be a holy day faith! We must have more than just celebration in our worship experience, there must also be commitment!
Worship is much bigger than just celebration, how big is your worship experience each week?
We live in a society that is obsessed with “feeling good.” Unfortunately, this is even spreading into the Church to the extent that if you don’t “feel good” in church you will go find a church you can “feel good” about.
Things were the same in Jesus’ day, miracles could attract the crowds, a call to sacrificing faith usually lost the same crowd however! There is a big difference between fanfare and faith! The big crowds on Palm Sunday were absent on Good Friday!
Why are you a believer and what will determine whether today’s service was a good worship experience or a bad one?