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Monday, January 3, 2011

Why Did The Crowds Stop Following Jesus? Journeying through John (John 12)

Why Did The Crowds Stop following Jesus?

Journeying Through John (John 12)

The eleventh chapter of John tells the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. After Jesus brings Lazarus back to life several dramatic things happen. First the crowds go wild. Word gets around that Jesus has raised Lazarus from the grave and hundreds of people flock to Jerusalem expecting that Jesus will be their knight in shining armor and put down all of their enemies. They will proclaim Him their earthly king, and expect Him to free them from Roman rule. And the second thing that happens is that Jesus’ enemies, the powerful religious leaders, become all the more determined to put Him to death.

The priests and Pharisees are furious that the crowds are running after Jesus and they plot to kill Lazarus. (John 12:10) Maybe if they can get rid of Lazarus the crowds will forget that Jesus has raised him from the dead. They could cover this miracle up! There is no crime these supposed men of God wouldn’t stoop to in order to get their way. Later they will stir up the crowds with lies and threats! Scare them into believing that Jesus has blasphemed and is worthy of death. They’ve got to do damage control!

It would seem that these religious leaders didn’t want to believe, even when the evidence (Lazarus being raised from the dead) was right in front of their eyes. They refused to see the truth and then tried to cover it up with twisted lies. They had to reject the truth that Jesus had come from God. Too much was at stake for them. They might have to give up some power and status if they were to recognize Jesus! They might have to pay a price if they believed! Might be too risky!

In chapter 12 of John we read that a great crowd met Jesus as He was riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. They waved palm branches and proclaimed Jesus to be their king, the King of Israel and the One who comes in the name of the Lord. But were these followers of Jesus fickle? The people who welcomed Jesus on a Sunday (Palm Sunday) might have been some of the same folks who were calling for Jesus to be crucified just five days later (Good Friday). How could this crowd change its’ mind so fast? What is happening here?

The crowds were looking to Jesus to give them wealth and earthly power and Jesus was thinking about dying and giving them spiritual life. Jesus knew that His time to die was near and He said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life---” (John 12:23-25) I believe Jesus was saying that in order to have life (or follow Him) a person must deny himself and not love their earthly life more than God. There is a price to pay in following Jesus. Was the crowd ready to pay the price?

Perhaps the crowds following Jesus turned away because they loved their earthly lives too much. Was Jesus warning them of that? They were following Jesus for the wrong reasons. They were looking for an earthly king and Jesus’ kingdom is the kingdom of heaven. These followers knew how an earthly king should act. They expected Jesus to take over and rule. But instead Jesus talked about sacrifice and dying. The crowds were looking for a political leader and Jesus wanted to lead them spiritually. Jesus told the followers: “---Now is the time for judgment on this world: now the prince of this world will be driven out. But when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:31)

The crowds didn’t like what Jesus was telling them and they complained that He should be with them forever and not be lifted up or taken away! Jesus told them to put their trust in the light so that they may become sons of light. (John 12:36) He told them that He only spoke what the Father told Him to speak. The crowds didn’t listen. Jesus wasn’t saying what the crowds wanted to hear. Since they didn’t understand everything He was telling them, they weren’t willing to trust Him with the details. It wasn’t working out! He left and hid himself from them. (John 12:36)

Scripture says that some of the religious leaders were impressed by Jesus’ miracles and actually believed that He was the Messiah, but they were afraid to share their beliefs with anyone. “---they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” John 12:42b) Even though Old Testament prophecies foretold Jesus’ coming and though Jesus healed the sick and performed many miracles, the adoring crowds weren’t willing to stay with Him when the going got tough. He had set His face towards Calvary and the crowds weren’t willing to follow Him there.

Chapter 12 of John records the sad story of the crowd turning away from Jesus and then adds that this rejection had been prophesied in Isaiah. “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ (John 12:37-38) Isaiah also prophesied that because of the people refused to believe, their hearts would be deadened and their eyes blinded to the truth.

If we had been part of the crowd back then following Jesus, would we have turned back with the rest when He didn’t perform the way we had expected? If we had been there when He told the crowds that whoever loses his life will find it; would we have walked away with the others not wanting to lose anything? Would we have trusted Him enough to follow when we didn’t know where He was leading? Or would we have joined the crowd and given up? Would we have wanted to protect our reputation like the religious folk back then who believed in Jesus but didn’t tell anyone for fear of losing their positions in the synagogue?

If we’re going to follow Jesus we have to follow Him all the way. Following Him half way with a luke- warm faith won’t do! Scripture warns that God will spew us out of His mouth if we come with a cautious luke-warm faith. (Revelations 3:16) We need to be hot! We need to be willing to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. (Mark 8:34) (Matthew 16:24) If we deny that we know Jesus for fear our reputations will suffer, Scripture says that Jesus will deny us before the Father! (Matthew 10:33) Jesus told the crowd that if they were willing to lose their life then they would find it and have eternal life. (John 12:35) The faith that God is looking for in us is a faith that is willing to lose or abandon anything keeping us from Him. If we are willing to sacrifice to follow Him all the way, He will lead us to eternal life. Let’s give up anything that is holding us back and follow Him all the way!


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