Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: John 12:19, O.T.: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-2, N.T.: John 12:12-19
Politics are about attracting large crowds. Public interest in leadership is measured by crowds wanting to hear a candidate. When a candidate for national leadership attracts only a few people the media turn to a candidate with a larger following. Crowds are identified with good polls. Polls indicate electability.
When a nobody becomes a somebody – it’s because of a crowd’s size. We’ve seen this play itself out during primaries across the United States. When a political office holder sees a nobody attract crowds, the office holder takes notice.
The Sadducees of the Temple in Jerusalem were office holders. Their grip on Judaism was only matched by King Herod. But they had even greater power than Herod. They were responsible for the nation’s absolution of sin.
In a national culture where showing faithfulness to God was the national focus, the Sadducees held everyone’s future. Their ritual offerings in the Temple daily protected Judah’s people from divine wrath. Only the Sadducees could satisfy Judah’s faithful honoring of God. Only the Sadducees’ sacrificial rituals in the Temple abated God’s jealousy when the people sinned.
God is a jealous God. Exodus 20:4-6 makes it clear:
You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any likeness of anything that’s in heaven above or is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.
Again, in Exodus 34:14, “for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Divine jealousy does not tolerate worshipping other deities. Worshipping other gods is the ultimate sin.
So the Sadducees were alarmed by Jesus’ crowd. They sensed something extraordinary was happening. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem this day was greater than Rome’s occupation of Judah. Jesus’ arrival was more ominous than Roman legionnaires patrolling the streets searching for Jewish sedition.
Jesus’ crowd had all the earmarks of idol worship as far as the Sadducees were concerned. People were flocking to His side. The claim Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead was unprecedented. Who but God Almighty can give new life to one who is dead?
No human being can be God! No human being can overcome death. The resurrection from the dead is impossible except with God’s own power and might. Certainly the reports are erroneous. But the people believe. They think Jesus can do God’s work!
Jesus had said, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up!”
This was blasphemy! Jesus was taking on the roll of God who established the Temple, preserved the Temple, restored the Temple after its destruction by the Babylonians, and inhabited the Temple!
No human being can assume the role of God by claiming to raise up God’s own Temple where the Jews worship God! Jesus was equating Himself with God!
It’s blasphemy, and the crowds are loving it!!
Jesus had rid the Temple of money changers. Didn’t He accept that coins with Caesar’s image were forbidden in the Temple?
Jesus was destroying a practice the Sadducees had instituted to keep the Temple pure since the Romans had occupied Judah almost 100 years earlier. Graven images were prohibited from the Temple, even on coins! Money-changing was necessary to exchange Roman coins for Jewish coins that had the Temple on them.
Jesus was violating the Temple’s purity by stopping the money-changing!
From the Sadducees perspective, the Palm Sunday crowd was sinning.
It appeared to be praising someone instead of Judah’s God. God will avenge the sin of a nation that is not faithful to Almighty God. Just a few people in a crowd that had lost their minds could bring judgment on the entire nation.
God is a jealous God. God’s jealousy justified the Sadducees’ plan to kill Lazarus and Jesus. You can see the gears grinding in the Sadducees heads.
Were the Sadducees so calmly measured in their judgment, they might have realized their role as priests was not to prevent Judah from sinning. God had granted the people of Judah the freedom to sin. The Temple priests weren’t in a position to prevent Jerusalem’s crowds from sinning.
The Sadducees’ role was simply to offer sacrifices for the peoples’ sin before Almighty God. In a nation where obedience to God was at stake every day, the priests could only appeal to God on the peoples’ behalf for forgiveness. That appeal came through Temple sacrifices.
Had the Temple priests accepted the limits of their role as Judah’s leaders, they wouldn’t have been so personally threatened. They would have realized the crowds’ interest in Jesus was of no consequence to what they did in making sin-offerings to Almighty God for the peoples’ forgiveness. The Sadducees had nothing to lose with Jesus’ ability to raise Lazarus from the dead.
However, the Sadducees were only concerned about the allegiance of the people to them. They were looking at Jesus’ crowds politically. They were frightened the people would no longer need them. They weren’t concerned about allegiance to God. They were jealous that the people of Jerusalem were more interested in Jesus than their sacrificial rituals in the Temple for Passover.
The Temple’s rituals remembered God’s past protection of the Jewish people from God’s wrath that brought death to the Egyptians’ first born. Without people’s allegiance to Passover’s ritual, the priests would lose their leadership role in Judah.
The Sadducees’ jealousy over Jesus’ work had lost track of the real issue. Jerusalem’s crowds yearned for God to give the people of Judah new life. Jerusalem was teeming with people who saw Jesus offering new life from God. The crowds were excited by Jesus’ potential to bring God’s new life in a world dominated by fear of death and a wrathful God. The crowds were responding to God’s life-creating work through Jesus. Had the Sadducees not been so preoccupied with preserving their own station in Judah’s life, they might not have been jealous of Jesus’ influence upon the crowds. They would have recognized Jesus’ work as being from God’s own hand.
Jealousy does terrible things. It generates sinister impulses within the human heart. It utters false claims against a good-hearted person. It tries to destroy God’s good work. When jealousy infiltrates religious communities, it hides behind the mask of Godly righteousness until God’s work is lost. Jealous people in churches are certain they know God’s purpose when they’re really protecting their own certainty they know the mind of God.
Jealousy restrains congregations from offering God’s gift of new life through Jesus Christ. Jealousy kills the spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control that celebrates God. It does not recognize God’s work in middle of the congregation’s life. It cannot honor God’s spirit that raises new life to glorify Almighty God. It leads to conflicts and arguments that erode the joy and celebration of God’s efforts among His people.
When sincere people of faith keep their eyes fixed upon God, they recognize God’s power at work in others. Their humility of spirit honors God’s work when they see it. When faithful people keep their minds on God, they celebrate God’s power that’s evident in others. Their grateful spirit supports God’s work when they see it. When gracious people keep their hearts on God, they appreciate God’s spirit that’s alive within the faith community. Their joyous spirit endorses God’s work when they experience it.
A sincerely holy people do not protect their own place in God’s salvation plan. They praise God from whom all blessings flow through the Godly work they see in others. They live with gratitude for the contributions others are making in Jesus’ name.
They celebrate the sacrifices made by others in the example of Jesus Christ. They honor the devotion of others who are serving the mission of Jesus Christ. They promote the sincerity in others who are doing Godly work because they love Jesus with all of their hearts.
When we look beyond the Sadducees to see God’s handiwork in Jesus, we’re reminded that God ultimately overcomes jealousy in the middle of His people through the sacrifice Christ makes to atone for their sins. It’s just a shame what the cost is to the one offering new life through Godly love. Amen.