At the beginning of this year when we began to write 2000, I thought about what the defining event of the year, the decade, the century and the millenium might have been. I thought that perhaps the proliferation of computer use was the defining event of the decade; the communist revolution the defining event of the century and the industrial revolution, the defining event of the millenium. You may not agree with me on this, but I am sure that you will agree that the defining event of all of human history is the coming, death, resurrection and reign of Jesus Christ.
In the 50 day spiritual adventure, you have been examining Jesus Christ who is the central figure of all human history. I have heard of the 50 day spiritual adventure, but I have never participated in it. What a marvelous adventure. I commend you for pursuing such a worthy goal as trying to get to know Jesus Christ better. There is no activity that is more worthwhile than that. This morning, we will look further at Jesus and why he is the most significant person in all of human history. We will think about why he is worthy of our praise, our obedience and our love.
Have you ever watched a swallow build a nest on your house? No matter how many times you knock it down, they continue to build, if not in one location, then in another. They have such a drive to nest that they keep at the task until they have nested and raised their brood. Now as much as it is annoying to have swallows on your house, you have to admire their persistence in accomplishing their task.
One year when we flew home from my mother’s place in Phoenix, Arizona, we flew in a 747. As we flew I was amazed that such a large plane could stay up in the air. Just 110 yeas ago, in 1890, French engineer Clément Ader built a steam-powered airplane and made the first actual flight of a piloted, heavier-than-air craft. However, the flight was not sustained, and the airplane brushed the ground over a distance of about 50 m. For that reason, we are more familiar with Orville Wright who at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903, made the first successful flight of a piloted, heavier-than-air, self-propelled craft called the Flyer. That first flight traveled a distance of about 37 m. We admire the determination of such men who persisted in striving for the goal of being able to fly so that now 100 years later flight is almost something we take for granted and is safe, comfortable and fast. They probably failed many times, but eventually persevered and eventually succeeded.
We admire persistence especially when it follows failure or continues in spite of difficulties. How much more ought we to admire Jesus who accomplished the greatest task on earth, the most needed task ever and accomplished it through great difficulty. As we consider this thought, we want to worship Jesus and we want to consider what He means to us today.
Although there are some people who believe that Jesus’ life and death were the result of a series of accidents, the Bible is quite clear that He came to this world with a purpose and through great difficulty accomplished that purpose.
You have heard it said that if you aim at nothing, you are sure to hit it. When Jesus came to this earth, he did not come aiming at nothing. He had a clear sense of mission. He knew that He had been sent by the Father.
Already early in the gospel of John, he declares this sense of mission. While waiting for the woman at the well to bring the people out of the city of Samaria, Jesus said to his disciples in John 4:34, “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” This sense of a mission was not only something that appears once, but is presented throughout the gospels. Especially in the gospel of John this idea appears in at least 14 verses.
What was the mission Jesus came to accomplish?
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is about the inner consequences of evil. Macbeth, at the urging of Lady Macbeth, murders Duncan, the king of Scotland in hopes that he can take the throne. Afterwards, he and Lady Macbeth are destroyed by their own guilt. In Act 5, Scene 1, Lady Macbeth is so overcome with guilt because of the murder that she has a nightmare in which she tries to wash the blood off of her hands. The physician who observes this scene says, accurately, that she does not need a physician, but a clergyman. She needs God’s forgiveness. Macbeth, however, is not merely about some specific evil and the guilt for it. It is about our own evil and the sense of guilt we have. All of us are filled with guilt because we know that we have done things wrong. I read somewhere that many people have a general sense of guilt about nothing in particular. The guilt is not there for nothing because we are all guilty before God. The mission Jesus came to accomplish was to remove our guilt and set us free. Paul puts it this way in I Timothy 1:15 where we read, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
I heard on the radio the other day that there are people who have a problem with addiction to prescription drugs. For example, one lady took 50 pain killers a day. We may not be addicted to alcohol, smoking or even prescription drugs, but every person on earth is addicted to sin. We sin and we seem to have no power to overcome sin. The mission Jesus came to accomplish was to remove the power of sin so that we do not have to live in its bondage anymore.
This past week, we were visiting with my uncle, my dad’s brother, who is visiting from Russia. His son and daughter-in-law and his sister live here and he and his wife came to visit them. When he showed us on the map where he lived, I noticed that it was not very far away from Grozny. He told us that it is about 100 km away from their home. Then he added that the bombs from that conflict fly over their house. How would you like to live in such a place? However, even in the most peaceful place on earth, we still experience illness, conflict and uncertainty. The mission Jesus came to accomplish was to bring peace to people who live in a world at war.
I have met people who work all week so that they can earn enough money to have a drinking party on the weekend. How sad to have a life that is so devoid of meaning. There are many in our world whose life may be full of things, but who do not experience joy and significance. The mission of Jesus was to bring us, as John 10:10 says, “abundant life.” Life to the full.
Several years ago, a young fellow, a friend of ours, full of life and strength went up north to go hunting. When he didn’t return, they began to look for him and after several days of searching, found his body floating in the lake on which they had been hunting. He had died of exposure as the result of a boating accident. I conducted the funeral together with another minister. It was a sad time, but the sadness was significantly changed because we recognized that Jesus came to take away the sting of death and give us eternal life.
This is the mission Jesus came to accomplish - a mission to bring forgiveness, freedom, peace and abundant and eternal life to people who are lost in hopelessness. Jesus came to bring what we need most.
The road to the accomplishment of this task, however, was no easy road. Jesus could not just dip into a fat bank account and write a check to buy a way out of these problems. The road to the accomplishment of his mission led through the cross.
The Greek word for “necessary” is the small, three letter word, “dei.” Even though small, it is very important for repeatedly in the gospels, Jesus uses this word to talk about what he had to do. It is used each time he told his disciples that it was necessary for him to go to the cross. In fact, there is a movement which occurs in each of the gospels, a constant movement towards the cross. For example, if we trace it in Luke we learn first of all from Luke 9:22 that he announced to his disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Jesus awareness of the cross is evident in his conflict with those who wanted to destroy him. We read in Luke 13:32,33, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”
Jesus saw beyond the cross to the great victory which was coming, but was aware that victory would not come before the cross. In Luke 17:24,25 he says, “For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”
And as the final day approached he continued to move towards the cross. As he awaited his betrayer he said to his disciples in Luke 22:37, “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
Jesus knew that he had come to die and moved steadily towards that goal.
Having a baby is a wonderful thing. Although it is very difficult, women are willing to go through the discomfort of pregnancy, the pain of childbirth and the struggle of raising a child because it is a wonderful thing. As a man, I have no idea about the discomfort of pregnancy or the pain of childbirth, but having listened and observed the birth of three children, I have come to appreciate that it is no easy thing.
Sometimes we have the idea that because Jesus was God and because he knew what the outcome would be that it was easy for Him to accomplish his mission. Scripture reveals how difficult it was and we need to listen so that we can appreciate the difficulty he had in accomplishing his mission. Jesus knew he had come for a purpose, knew that his purpose was significant and knew that it led through the difficult terrain of the cross. On at least three occasions, he was tempted to avoid the road to the cross.
The first temptation came after the 40 days he spent fasting in the wilderness. Satan came to test him and in the third temptation which Satan presented to Him in Matthew 4, Satan offered him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would only bow down and worship him. This was a temptation to avoid the cross. How much easier it would have been for him to go that route.
That was not to be the last time that he was tempted to avoid the full assignment. In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus announced that he was going to die. Peter could not get his mind around this and told him, “Never, Lord!” he said. ‘‘This shall never happen to you!” Jesus said to Peter, “get behind me Satan.” His response tells us that this also represented a temptation to him to avoid the cross.
The final temptation came in the garden of Gethsemene just before he was going to be arrested. It is recorded in Matthew 26:36-46.The terrible struggle in prayer which occurred there was another and the final stage of struggle to actually go through with what he had been sent to do. In agony he cried out, “Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”
How much easier to find another way out. No exposure and shame, no death, no bearing the weight of every sin ever committed in the world.
He knew what he was to do, the temptations were strong. What happened?
In the last week of his life, things came to a head. For a short while, it looked like victory might come more easily.
The Triumphal entry, recorded in Mark 11:1-19, occurred at a time when many Jews were coming to Jerusalem for one of the great annual festivals. In this case, likely the Passover. Jesus was among a large group of pilgrims who had come from far and near. As was the custom at each of these festivals, they marched in procession towards the city, coming to celebrate God’s presence in this great city. They sang songs and quoted scripture, particularly scriptures of approach or what is known as the “Hallel(praise) Psalms.” The one quoted in Mark 11:9, 10 is from Psalm 118:25, 26.
But there was something different about this procession into the city. The final stage of the pilgrimage into Jerusalem was usually completed on foot. Jesus, however, came on a donkey. As he did so, the people would have remembered the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, “Behold your king comes to you, gentle, riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Suddenly it became clear that this was no ordinary pilgrimage. The picture in this passage, supplies three essential elements of a messianic proclamation. The entry into Jerusalem, that it was upon a foal and the jubilation of the people. As the people spread their cloaks and palm branches in the way, all of these things were a clear signal that this was the approach of the king. The cries of “hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” were cries that were a normal part of the procession, but in combination with Jesus riding on the donkey, they proclaimed the coming of “the Messiah,” the anointed one who was sent by God. Malachi 3:1 provides another Old Testament background for this occurrence. There it says, “Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.” In going to the temple, Jesus was fulfilling this prophecy.
As Jesus entered the city proclaiming that He was the king the people had the opportunity to accept Him and crown Him king and accept the kingdom of God that had now come among them.
But as we read on in this text, we see this did not happen. Have you ever wondered why as the people arrived in the city, suddenly the crowd dispersed and there was nothing further? Doesn’t it make you wonder why when they came to Jerusalem, no one cried for Jesus to be crowned king? Why was nothing more made of this event when it came to its conclusion? Jesus simply looked around and left.
The next day when Jesus returned, he enacted a parable which tells us why nothing happened. He was walking along and saw a fig tree. It had leaves on it and so there was an expectation that there might have been some early figs on it. Since it was not the season for ripe figs, the expectation was small. Jesus cursed the tree for its lack of fruitfulness. In the following section, we find that the fig tree had withered and would indeed bear no more fruit. The story is a puzzling one. Why would Jesus curse a fig tree? Why would he curse one on which he did not expect fruit? The best solution to the problems is that he intended it as a parable. The use of a fig tree as a picture of Israel is common in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 8:13; 29:17; Hosea 9:10, 16; Joel 1:7; Micah 7:1-6). When Jesus was cursing the fig tree, he was declaring that the people of Israel had failed to be the people of God, had failed to be ready for the coming of God’s anointed and had failed to recognize Jesus. It was a parable of his rejection.
The failure of Israel is further demonstrated when Jesus came to the temple. In the only display of anger from Jesus which we have recorded, Jesus drove out the money changers. Those who were to be the people of God who were to invite people to God had failed and had instead blocked the way to God. The place where the buying and selling was taking place was the court of the Gentiles. In effect, the Jews had prevented the God fearing Gentiles from coming into the presence of God. They had blocked God in the very temple that was to be a place to meet God. Thus they once more demonstrated their rejection of God and of his sent one.
The consequence was that the chief priests began to plot his death. Mark 11:18a says, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him…”
In John 1:11 we read, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” The time had come. He must now go to the cross.
It was not easy, but throughout, he maintained a steadfast direction.
To Satan he said in Matthew 4:10, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
To Peter he said in Matthew 16:23, ‘‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
To the crowd he said in John 12:32, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
In the garden he said in Matthew 26:39, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
At the point of his arrest in Matthew 26:45,46 he affirmed, “Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Always he drove towards the goal to accomplish what he had been sent to do. In spite of the temptations to go another way, He completed his task. The most poignant moment of the crucifixion is the point of his death when according to John 19:30 Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” When he died, he knew that he had now accomplished all that God had called him to do.
Don’t you marvel at the way in which Jesus accomplished his task? He had a mission and with single minded determination he accomplished it. As I contemplate these things, I find myself responding in three ways.
First of all, I am brought to the point of worship. I stand in awe at what Jesus has done. I bow in humble adoration at the great love which has brought me forgiveness, peace and life. I rejoice to join in the song of praise to Jesus which is found in Revelation 5:12,13, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” … “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” I join in this song of praise because Jesus was willing to do what God called him to do. I agree with the song of thanksgiving because his death, resulted in our salvation.
Secondly, I am filled with peace. Since Jesus was willing to go all the way to the cross, I am assured and comforted to know that he will continue to work in me and eventually bring me to eternal life. In spite of days of doubt and questions, in spite of days when sin still seems in control, I know that he who completed what he was sent to do, will complete His work in me. In Philippians 1:6 we have this assurance, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Furthermore, I am challenged to complete my course in life. We read in Matthew 10:38,39, “…anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There are times when life and following Jesus seems so hard. Someone I spoke with last week was very discouraged with the fact that although they knew all the right things to do, sometimes it was so hard and they just wanted to give up. Whenever we think of that temptation, let us remember that Jesus had a much more difficult path to follow. Let us be encouraged to follow His example and finish the course. The final words of Puritan pastor Richard Baxter on his death bed were, "Lord, what thou wilt, where thou wilt, when thou wilt." As we remember that Jesus completed his task and as we thank him and worship him for doing so, let us also follow His example.
As you reflect on these things, don’t you just love Jesus?