As We Approach Good Friday and Easter, Let Us Prepare Our Hearts!
Dear Lord Jesus, as I prepare to worship You this day, please, send Your Spirit both to inspire and instruct me. Open my heart so that I might break forth in joyous praise of Your holy name. Open my ears to hear the glorious truths of Your inspired Word. Lead me to grow in faith, love, and hope so that I might serve You with faithfulness all my days. It is in Your saving name that I pray. Amen.
Paul urges us to have the same mind (attitude) as Jesus, who humbled Himself as a bondservant to the point of death on the cross. Thereafter He was exalted above all to the glory of God the Father!
God provided Old Testament Israel with manna in the wilderness, even as He now provides us with “the bread of life”—Jesus, to whom we come and in whom we believe with great blessing!
Text: John 12:1-8, 12-16
Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”…The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The King of Israel!” Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.
In Christ Jesus, an integral part of our individual stories, dear fellow redeemed:
Many of us who are older will remember Paul Harvey. He was a radio news broadcaster of the last century. For over fifty years he brought his daily news broadcasts to listeners across our nation. He also produced “The Rest of the Story,” a series of biographical sketches in which he took little known facts about famous people in history and wove a story that would catch your interest and often leave you amazed, inspired, and encouraged. That is the power of stories!
You know that power through personal experience. Children love stories! How often do you have to read the same story to a child? So often that if you miss a word, you will be corrected: “You missed a word, Mom.” Stories present us with things to which we can relate, experiences which we may well have shared, and opportunities about which we may often dream.
God knows this, for He created us with minds that think, that remember, and that can imagine. That is one reason why He crafted His Word in the way that He did. God did not make His Bible one long Leviticus! Rather, it is filled with the stories—stories sadly filled with the tragic consequences of sin, but also gladly highlighting the triumphs of faith. The greatest of all stories, however, is that God entered our story in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. His story reached its earthly climax when Jesus died on the cross and then arose from the grave, events which we will remember and celebrate this week. His story wonderfully intersects with ours still today!
My dear friends, our text today tells four such stories. All four reveal the impact of Jesus on people’s lives—impacts that Jesus also desires to have upon our lives today! Therefore AS WE APPROACH GOOD FRIDAY AND EASTER—LET US PREPARE OUR HEARTS!
First of all, to serve, as Martha, in view of Jesus’ presence! Martha’s story began, we are told, “six days before the Passover.” Jesus arrived in Bethany late Friday afternoon, one week before His death. He spent the next day, the Sabbath, quietly with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. That Sabbath evening a supper was arranged. We are told in Matthew’s account that the supper was held in the home of Simon the Leper (cf. Mt. 26:6). We do not know much about Simon. Some scholars suggest that Simon may have been the father of Lazarus and his sisters. Others think he may have been Martha’s husband. We do not know for sure, but we are told that Martha “served” the meal and Lazarus was in attendance along with quite a few others.
Just imagine seeing Martha bustling about the kitchen tasting tidbits of this and that to make sure the food was just right, and then directing all of the servants in the dining area as they met every need of her guests. She was in her glory! But wasn’t she forgetting what Jesus had told her earlier about the one thing needful? Not at all! Earlier Martha had been “worried and troubled about many things” (cf. Lk. 10:41). She had been upset, resented her sister’s lack of help and quite frankly was a bit exasperated with Jesus. There she was fulfilling her responsibilities, and He did not even seem to care about her predicament. But all that had changed. She had learned the one thing needful! She knew and believed that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of God” (cf. Jn. 11:27). She had come to know Him as “the resurrection and the life” and had been thrilled to see Him manifest His power as He had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead(cf. Jn. 11:25, 40-44). Now she willingly, joyfully, and with great devotion wanted to use her gifts and talents to serve her Savior God!
Martha’s stories reveal the difference between distracted service fulfilled as an obligation and joyous service flowing from a faith empowered by the Holy Spirit. Have you…do you ever serve your God or your fellow human beings merely out of a sense of duty and obligation? Do you often find yourself tired, resentful of others who seem uninvolved, and angry with those who seem unconcerned about the stresses and strains you are enduring? We can often find ourselves in just such situations! The solution is to fill yourself up with the one thing needful—the precious gospel message of Jesus as the Son of God and your Savior! The solution is to recognize that Jesus is present with us always and truly cares about us! AS WE APPROACH GOOD FRIDAY AND EASTER—LET US PREPARE OUR HEARTS to serve, as Martha, in view of Jesus’ presence!
LET US PREPARE OUR HEARTS, secondly, to love, as Mary, in view of Jesus’ passion! It was during the meal that the second of our stories took place. Mary approached Jesus with “a pound of very costly oil of spikenard.” She then anointed Jesus’ head and feet with the fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her own hair. What she did was a beautiful act of devotion, albeit a bit unusual and quite extravagant. Judas Iscariot immediately criticized her, citing the cost of that oil—nearly a year’s wage for the average workman. Hypocritically he suggested that the oil could have been sold and the money donated to help so many poor! Jesus, however, defended Mary: “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.”
Was it possible and could it have been that Mary both understood and knew that Jesus’ passion lay ahead? Jesus had frequently spoken of His upcoming sufferings and death, but the vast majority of His followers remained oblivious to what was coming. Call it womanly intuition, but Mary seems to have known and acted upon that knowledge to reveal both her faith and her love for the One she revered most—the One who would soon die and be buried.
My dear friends, have you taken the time to sit at Jesus’ feet, to meditate upon His words, to drink in His promises, to rejoice in the future He is preparing for you, and so to stoke your faith’s devotion? If you have, you may well find yourself the object of criticism by others as you show your love through unusual and perhaps even extravagant acts of devotion. A friend recently commented to me that as he grew up his family was religious, but only moderately so. He had the impression that religion was fine, but only up to a certain point. You certainly would not want to go overboard! Do you think Jesus had that view as He trudged up the hill at Calvary? “This plan of my Father’s is fine, but dying on the cross is taking things a bit too far!” We can thank God that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame” (cf. Heb. 12:2) and with extravagant love delivered our lost souls and has promised us the joys of heaven! AS WE APPROACH GOOD FRIDAY AND EASTER—LET US PREPARE OUR HEARTS to love, as Mary, in view of Jesus’ passion!
Yes, LET US PREPARE OUR HEARTS, thirdly, to worship, as the multitude, in view of Jesus’ coming! The third story in our text involved the multitudes that waited and then greeted Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on the morning of Palm Sunday. When they heard He was coming, they cut down palm branches and spread them on the ground along with their outer garments to prepare a special path for His coming. When He came they cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The King of Israel!” Luke’s account of this event describes it a bit more fully. He writes: “The whole multitude…began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest'” (Lk. 19:37). The multitude was so enthusiastic in what was clearly worship that the Pharisees called out to Him and told Him to rebuke the crowd, to which Jesus responded: ‘I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out” (Lk. 19:39-40).
My dear friends, just as Jesus came into Jerusalem and was present with that multitude, so He presently comes to us! He has promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20). Oh, yes, that multitude was able to see Him and we cannot, but remember the words of Jesus to Thomas one week after His resurrection: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29). I hope and pray that our hearts will be prepared for worship this Holy Week and every week thereafter! Jesus, our Savior came to this earth to fulfill His earthly ministry; He comes into our hearts and lives by faith; and He will come at the end of time in all of His glory! His coming is reason for joy, and that joy should lead us to worship! Paul told the Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual sons, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). AS WE APPROACH GOOD FRIDAY AND EASTER— LET US PREPARE OUR HEARTS to worship, as the multitude, in view of Jesus’ coming!
LET US PREPARE OUR HEARTS, finally, to remember, as the disciples, in view of Jesus’ glory! Our fourth story involves Jesus’ disciples. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He did so riding on a donkey. While the disciples did not realize it at the time, Jesus thereby fulfilled an ancient prophecy. We read it responsively earlier in our service: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). After Jesus’ resurrection He instructed His disciples concerning all of the prophecies He had fulfilled. That instruction both informed and strengthened those disciples. They had been chosen by God to help found and lead the early Christian church. They were the individuals through whom the Holy Spirit would reveal God’s truths and record for us our New Testament. They were the individuals who would direct the eyes of every generation of believers ahead to the glory of Jesus that will come!
My dear friends, this week is Holy Week! We will remember Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper. We will remember His arrests, trials, crucifixion, death, and burial—all undertaken as our Substitute and in order to make atonement for our sins! We will remember angels rolling away a tombstone, so that we might be assured that Jesus had arisen! This is not a mere spiritual exercise with little lasting meaning or purpose. No, as we remember these blessed truths, God the Holy Spirit is confirming, uplifting, and strengthening our faith, so that we might endure and ultimately share with others the glories of heaven! AS WE APPROACH GOOD FRIDAY AND EASTER— LET US PREPARE OUR HEARTS! Amen.