So, they decide to set up a guy who will pretend to be Ned Devine when they come. The whole village had to be in on it and there was one woman who didn’t play along with it and was going to tell on them. She was actually moving in that direction and she was in this phone booth when, of all things, a truck knocks the phone booth over a cliff and the opposition is, well, eliminated. The lottery man comes in to make sure things are legitimate and he is about to leave when he hears some music from the church. He goes to see it and it is the funeral for Ned Devine.
But, here is what happens. Just before they use the name ‘Ned Devine,’ every one turns around and sees him, and they change it right at that moment. Here is what he says to the fellow playing Ned Devine: “Michael O’Sullivan was my great friend, but I don’t remember ever telling him that. The words spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man that is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral and to sit at the front and hear what was said and maybe even say a few things yourself.”
Now, he is still looking at his friend, and he continues, “Michael and I grew old together. In the times that we laughed we grew younger.” Isn’t that a nice image? “If he were here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man and thank him for being a friend.” Isn’t that a great line? I think it is lovely because it is an illustration of what we ought to do, in a very real way. Why do we wait for a funeral to tell people we are thankful for them? We should tell them directly. You see the point? If we could do for our friends what Mary did for Jesus, we would speak our love, our gratitude, and make sure that all things were well between us. Because, really, who is so presumptuous that we think we will see a person another time? Many has been the time I have recalled the last time I was with somebody and it was actually the last time.
But, I didn’t know it was the last time. I knew it with my mother and father. I knew it for sure and I had my closure with them. I did not know it with many of my uncles and aunts. In a way, I would have liked to have been able to see them.
But, thankfully, I had already shared what they meant to me. I shared my gratitude and I shared my love, so I had no regrets, but I would have liked to have had more time. You see the idea? There is such a finality on this planet and it forces us to remember our last time with a person and what the relationship was like. To me there is a wonderful implication and there is wisdom to doing this in our relationships with other people. Continuing on, Mary would not give to Jesus what cost her nothing. If you looked up 2nd Samuel 24:24, that is exactly what David says. I will not receive this for free. I will pay for it because I am not going to give to God something that cost me nothing. I am not going to be cheap that way. And so, the blessing of her deed has, indeed, as Jesus predicted, spread throughout the whole world.
Now, Judas started the criticism, as I said, and the other disciples picked it up but I want to say that the Gospel sets affairs right. Jesus goes on to say, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” There is an interesting implication for this. Have you ever been in a situation where there was a great cathedral, or very nice church, and it was fairly ornate and they put in this magnificent pipe organ? The complaint often is that it is too extravagant and they think they should give the funds to the poor instead. I am not saying in every case that is a good thing, but I am saying there are some forms of extravagance that are pleasing to God. When they were extravagant, and they were, with those cathedrals, my view is that poor actually benefited from them. That is the glory of God that they saw that they never saw anywhere else in their lives. At that time the average person had nothing in the way of luxury at all.
So, when they saw these magnificent cathedrals, and they could see them from miles away, it was unique. The Ely Cathedral in Norfolk, as you drive toward it, you will see it from 20 miles away.
So, the people would come on a pilgrimage to these glorious places, and what would they see? They would see the story of the Gospel made evident in the stained glass windows. It goes from Creation to the Fall and to Redemption and finally the work of Christ and the Last Judgment. All this could be seen, and don’t forget, these were people who could not read.
So, that became their book. They saw the marvelous vaulting, the flying buttresses, and the heavenly- oriented vaults, and they marveled at that and they felt they were getting a hint, an intimation, of the city of God. Indeed, they were. It was the most glorious thing they had ever seen. In my view, we have never equaled the gothic cathedrals of Europe. I don’t know of any building made in that 200 years that can even touch them, in terms of esthetic beauty and quality and excellence.
It doesn’t mean, though, that you can only build great things and ignore the poor. That goes to far the other way. If you look at the text here in John, in verse eight, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” That is very emphatic. He is saying they only have Him for a short time. In verse nine, “The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they also might see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead.” Remember, the Jews sought signs. The Greeks always looked for wisdom. They were always looking for something.
So, they were looking for Lazarus, who by this time had become something of a local celebrity. “The chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” There was a resurgence of belief. A combination of two things were going on here. In the last chapter He has just raised Lazarus from the dead and the word got out very rapidly. Secondly, you have to understand that the population of Jerusalem, which may have been 50,000, would burgeon to 100,000 during the Passover, because all male Jews were required to go up to Jerusalem for the Passover.
The point is that the whole place would be filled with Jewish believers, but also certain Gentiles, called ‘God fearers’. Remember Cornelius was called a ‘God fearer’ and the Centurion was a ‘God fearer’. We are going to see Jesus encounter some of these Greek ‘God fearers’ and it is a very important thing that we see as John concludes at this point. The point I am making here is that Jesus is now bringing things to a head and for the very first time He actually allows them to exalt Him, because it is a Messianic implication and claim. Of course, they also wanted to put Lazarus to death as well, because many of the Jews were moving away and believing in Jesus.
So, what they want to do is put him back in the tomb. They can’t accept the evidence, so they have to get rid if it. Lazarus, at this point, had a good deal of confidence about the tomb, knowing that it didn’t have the last word. In the text, now, we have a sudden shift from a quiet dinner to a public parade and in verse 12, “On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” Now, my view is that this dinner took place on a Saturday, right after the Sabbath. This crowd “Took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him.” These date palms, by the way, had tremendous significance. They were used to illustrate Jewish nationalism in the Maccabean period. What they are trying to do is identify their national aspirations with this Jesus. They are hoping He is going to fulfill something that they want Him to accomplish.
So, the whole situation here is that they are awash in political fervor. But, I want to put it this way; the crowd was cheering a fantasy. They were not cheering the real Jesus. They were cheering an image, a fantasy. We often say, how could it possibly be that those crowds would turn on Him? I will tell you why, because when they saw what was going on later, they realized He was not the one they were looking for after all. In other words, it wasn’t that they were so much believing in Jesus as it was that they were believing He was a political liberator. Hence, the date palms and so forth.
So, you have all these tensions and all these themes working together simultaneously. “They began to shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel’.” So, they quote that Psalm, Psalm 118 verse 26.
But, then they add this extra phrase, “Even the King of Israel.” It is reminiscent of John chapter six, when they wanted to proclaim Him King. Then John makes sure that we don’t miss the illusion. “Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” This is a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. It was a specific prophecy. He would not come on a powerful steed, in glory and honor; He would come in humility, on a donkey.
As a side line have you ever noticed that a donkey has a cross on it’s back? It goes down it’s back and crosses at the shoulders. Now did donkey’s start having crosses on their backs as an intimation of what Jesus had to bear? Possibly, I really don’t know, but in my humble opinion I would say yes. It’s also possible that the baby Jesus’ manger laid next to a donkey as well as other animals to show the humbleness of the king.
Now back to the lesson, Revelation 19 gives us another image. There, He does come in power and glory and you see Him on a white horse. So, there is a very different image here.
So, what we have is an open announcement that He is, in fact, the promised Messiah. I think, in effect, He is forcing the hand of the leaders, and how the Sanhedrin would act during the Passover. The Lamb of God had to give His life for the Passover lamb being slain. It is critically important that all the details must be graphically and literally fulfilled. And, so it was. When Jesus died it was on the Passover, when the temple lambs were being slain. It was not an accident. It is not an accident, either, that when the Holy Spirit came, He came on the day of Pentecost. What you have there, in John’s parallelism, is he is showing the two responses once again, that of belief and that of unbelief. That is why, on the Cross, you have the two thieves flanking Him, symbolizing two responses. When one thief said, “Lord, remember me when you go into Your heavenly Kingdom,” Jesus responds, “This day you will be with Me in paradise.” But, the other thief continues to mock Him.
Now, in Mel Gibson’s film, he has a crow plucking out the eyes at the point when he is mocking Him. What that does is symbolize spiritual blindness, and the idea here is that he has reached the point of no return. He is now hardened in his heart. Let us continue.
So, it tells us then, “His disciples did not understand at first.” Now, it is very important for you to see this. These Spiritual truths must be spiritually revealed. You will not know Spiritual truth unless it is Spiritually communicated. The Spirit must make these things known. “They only understood it when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.”
So, at the moment it was happening, they were till fairly clueless. “So, the people who were with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him.”
So, John is explaining that for this reason, the people went and met Him, because they had heard He had performed this sign. As He is coming from Bethany, He has to go through the Kidron Valley, which would have been swollen with the tents of those who had come to Jerusalem for Passover. There were tens of thousands of people there and they see the parade and everyone wants to join a parade. Many of them, perhaps, didn’t know what they were doing, but many of them did. And so, there was a swell of anticipation. Word traveled fast about the sign He had performed.
So, the Pharisees were extraordinarily frustrated with it. Thus, again, it is another of the many emphases in this Gospel, that the time of His rejection, the time of His Passion has come.