Did you realize that many of us are only about twelve inches from the Kingdom of God? Did you know that? Some people are a few inches further away than others. Typically, children are usually a couple of inches closer to the kingdom of God.
The last few weeks of Jesus' life were spent trying to get this very point across. The last few days were -intense for Him. About twelve inches is all that separates us from a wonderful eternity with Jesus. Yet for many, this short distance is like a million miles and will never be traveled.
In Jesus' last week, the tone of His ministry seems to change. Or maybe it is the intensity that changes. Do you remember a few weeks ago we talked about His first miracle at Cana, and what He said to His mother. "My hour is not yet come." Well, the tone and intensity of His ministry has now changed because His hour has finally come!
Today, we will be looking at the last week of Jesus' ministry before His death. Actually, we will be looking at only the first portion of that week. The last portion of that week will be covered in the next sermons by Pastor Gettys. The order of events is somewhat confusing from Gospel to Gospel. Stories are placed in different order to get different points across. The order that I have chosen is from combining the Gospels and comparing them with the book Desire of Ages. by E.G. White. Of the time period that we will cover today, I counted twenty topics that could be easily be made into sermons without even using the imagination. So I will not attempt to be exhaustive in order to keep you from being exhausted! We're only going to touch a few highlights. But there is a central theme I believe you will see that is coursing through each of the events that took place in the closing days of the life of Jesus. That theme had to do with the twelve inches that can keep us from the kingdom of God.
I believe that the "hour" of Jesus began with a broken bottle of perfume. Open your Bibles to Luke 7. Here we find the story taking place in the house of Simon the Leper, whom Jesus had healed. We find a dinner given in honor of Jesus, for His resurrection of Lazarus.
Luke 7:36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is--that she is a sinner.
Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
"Tell me teacher," he said."
"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give Me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing My feet. You did not put oil on My head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
Well, that's not the whole story. There's another version of it told in John 12. And this time it's not so much about Simon, but one of the disciples. John 12:1-8.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended , that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me."
Here, we find Mary in her usual position, at the feet of Jesus. She was there when drug before Him for condemnation. She sat there to hear Him speak while Martha worked. She was there to wash them with her tears. She was there when He was on the cross. She tried to cling to them after His resurrection. What a great place to be, constantly at the feet of Jesus!
In the first version of the story, Jesus gets the point across that Simon's feast for Jesus was given not so much to honor Jesus but to bolster Simon's own reputation and standing in the community by having some popular person at his house. But what Mary did for Jesus was out of genuine love for Him.
And that's the difference. Don't you like genuine people? Have ever met someone that was not genuine? In a church I pastored long ago and far away, I noticed that every few weeks one of the members would give my child a toy. At first, I thought, that was very sweet. But that very same person was cantankerous at every board meeting. She wanted strange things to happen. And then my slow mind began to comprehend; the toy arrive the Sabbath before the board meeting which was on Sunday. Hmm. Don't you love genuine people? Well, just as I figured out that I was trying to be boss, she figured out that I couldn't be boss. And the toys quit coming.
Well, in the second version that we read, Judas is seen as being falsely generous to the poor while Mary is revealed as being genuinely concerned with even more important matters. The point is made that our help of the poor, or any other good work, is ultimately meaningless apart from Jesus.
One of the most surprising parts of the story is when Jesus tells that what Mary did was to anoint Him for burial. After all, customarily, bodies were not anointed for burial before they were dead. Anointing was traditionally performed on corpses, not on living people. But there was an exception to their tradition. Thus Jesus' interpretation of Mary's act seems to be correct, because criminals were anointed before their death. And Jesus knew that He would die the death of a criminal and would be buried without proper ceremony.
The name "Messiah" means "Anointed One." After being anointed, like a king, it was time for Jesus to take a ride. This is the only time ever recorded of Jesus riding an animal. He walked where ever He went, unless He was on the water and then He rode on a boat. But even then He once walked on the water. Let's read about this unusual ride in the book of Matthew.
Amazingly, this story is recorded in all four Gospels. Matthew 21:1-11. As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethpage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, tell them that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
Say to the Daughter of Zion, "See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted,
"Hosanna to the Son of David!"
"Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Hosanna in the highest!"
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?"
The crowd answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."
Here is another indication that Jesus' "hour" has come. He is riding into the city in triumph! The crowds are there because of the Passover celebration. But they are also there to see Jesus who had raised Lazarus from the dead. Seeing Him riding upon a donkey spurred their hopes of a coming King. It should also have indicated to them that this King was one of peace. When a king rode in on a donkey, it indicated that he came in peace. If he were to ride a horse, it would indicate that he came as a conqueror. Did Jesus ever ride a horse? Be careful. Compare this story to the one in Revelation 19 where Jesus is riding a white horse when he comes to conquer the world finally. But, in this instance, He's riding on a donkey, coming in peace.
Luke adds to this story the part about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Jesus wept because He knew that the unbroken donkey on which He was riding was more genuine a servant than the people who were praising Him. The donkey was willing to be used by Jesus at any time or was content to wait until called. But the people who were crowding the streets to honor Him would in a few days be crowding the courts demanding His death. I'd rather be a genuine donkey, wouldn't you?
The next day, Jesus is again found doing things that seem uncharacteristic. He cleanses the temple, for the second time, and He curses a tree! Look at the book of Mark 11.
What a strange story. Mark 11:12-14. The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to find out if it had any fruit. When He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And His disciples heard Him say it.
Well, when I read this, I thought, 'Wasn't this a bit rash. After all, it wasn't the season for figs. What was He expecting?' But then I learned about fig trees. As was said, this was not the season for figs. This was late March or early April. The early crop of figs was not due till June. If a fig tree was full of leaves, it meant that it would also have fruit. What attracted Jesus to this particular tree in the orchard was it's leaves. If it had leaves, maybe it had at least some unripe figs. Unripe fruit in oriental lands is often considered great eating! The other trees had no leaves. They did not cause the disappointment that this tree caused. So Jesus cursed it as a lesson to His disciples about the chosen people who professed to have the truth but bore no fruit. The other trees represented the Gentiles who were not a disappointment because they were not professing to have something that they didn't have. They were not bearing fruit, but none was yet expected of them. This living parable helped to prepare the disciples for what was to happen in the next few days. It may also have reminded them of the words of John the Baptist to the Pharisees that a tree that produces no fruit will be cut down. Their claim of being decedents of Abraham were baseless or useless.
Now, look at the book of Matthew 21 to find out what happened in the temple.
Matthew 21:12-16. Jesus entered temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," He said to them, 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'"
"Do you hear what these children are saying?'they asked Him.
The blind and the lame came to Him at the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things He did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant.
Yes," replied Jesus, "Have you never read,
"'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?"
Once again, a difference is seen between people. The leaders of the Temple are seen as shallow and false. They have ordained the crookedness of the Temple system. They have filled the courts with a barnyard of noisy, smelly animals but get bent out of shape at the singing of children. The children and the blind and the lame are seen as genuine. The priests are not. Up to this point, Jesus hadn't spoken much with the priests. In fact, in Matthew they had been mentioned only three times. But after this story in the book of Matthew the priests are mentioned another thirty two times. Jesus is now taking on the formal religious power structure and the priests are joining forces with His other enemies. Look again at Mark 11. Mark 11:20,21. Right after the temple was cleansed: In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"
Just like the Chosen People! They had withered into a useless stump and didn't even know it. Their actions did not coincide with their promise. They were not genuine.
After the Priests question Jesus' authority for doing these things, Jesus told them some stories. He told them a parable about the two sons, a parable about the tenants, and one about the wedding banquet. Each of these parables has it's own lesson but when added together they are concerned with who is acceptable to God and who is not. We will look mainly at the first parable which is also the shortest. The parable of the two sons. Matthew 21:28-32. "What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.'
"'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
"Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go.
"Which of the two did what his father wanted?"
"The first," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you."
Here, the father represents God. The first son (who represents the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other outcasts) verbally refuses to work in the father s vineyard but repents and works anyway. The second son (who represents the Jewish leaders) verbally obeys but doesn't put his words into practice.
Jesus, using an excellent teaching technique, involves His audience in arriving at the parable s lesson. "Which," He asks His hearers, "did what the father wanted?" The answer is obvious. It is also an answer that we find driven home elsewhere in Matthew. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father," Jesus had already said in the Sermon on the Mount.
It is not the hearers but the doers of the word who enter the kingdom of God. Righteousness is not passive acceptance but active obedience. Faith is belief that acts. Belief is demonstrated in our daily life. It should be noted that this is not a message of salvation by works but rather a salvation of love. "If you love Me, you will do My works. You will keep My commandments." All to often we focus on the keeping of the commandments and leave out the motivation. Which came first? "If you love Me this is how you will act. That's how you'll know if you love Me, if you're following what I say." Thus, Jesus not only stands against those who are just verbal in their acceptance of Him, He stands against those who believe that by adhering to certain doctrines is the way to salvation. Jesus is showing that salvation is based on both accepting Jesus and living the Christlike life on the basis of our love for Him. "If you love Me, keep My commandments." Many often concentrate on the last part of that phrase, leaving off the motivation of the first part.
Obedience is not a surface thing. It must come from the heart. Love for God and other people flows naturally from the heart of a person who has met Jesus. "Many today claim to obey the commandments of God, but they have not the love of God in their hearts to flow forth to others." (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 279 - Ellen White)
When the priests realized that the parables were spoken against them, they sent in the troops: the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees. All enemies of each other, but join together in this common cause to trap Jesus. But their questions about taxes and resurrections don't phase Jesus. Jesus sees through their schemes and answers them skillfully. But one question in Mark 12 seems to be genuine.
Mark 12:28-34. One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. (I don't think he was part of the troops sent to trap Jesus. He heard them debating and he said, "Hey, I've got a question.") Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," Jesus answered, "is this: 'Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
That is what this sermon is all about! How far are you from the kingdom of God? There are a number of other events that happened during this last week of Jesus, including the story of the widow's mite and the woes to the Pharisees that demonstrate the concept of the genuine verses the false. But I will end here with this scribe who is not far from the kingdom of God. The question that he asked was loaded. It was a question that had caused many a heated debate among the Jews. But when He heard the truth that came from the lips of Jesus, He accepted it. The love that Jesus spoke of is the key to all that has been said. It is the key that will unlock the heart so that it can merge with the mind. For, you see, the mind is only about 12 inches from the heart. But they are often so far apart. But once our heart is into the love of Jesus the commandments that we know in our mind will come naturally. We need to experience this love, because that love alone will breaks (break wooden ruler) the distance between our minds and our hearts. Between head- knowledge and genuine love and belief so that they can act together in a Christlike life. It is my prayer that each of us will let nothing be between our heads and our heart, us and the kingdom of God, our soul and the Savior. There will be nothing between us and our God.
Hymn of Praise: #187, Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners Scripture: Matthew 21:709 Hymn of Response: #322, Nothing Between
Major sources: The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier: Matthew, by George Knight The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier: John, by Jon Pauline The Desire of Ages, by Ellen White Christ Object Lessons, by Ellen White S. D. A . Bible Commentary, Vol. 5
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last updated 3/19/2001 by Bob Beckett.