DISCUSSION WITH NICODEMUS (PART 1) – John 3:1-7

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This passage of Scripture, John 3:1-21, is one of the most familiar, and also one of the most unusual conversations in the Bible.  From the previous chapter we learned that the Lord Jesus had performed many miracles during the week of the Passover celebration.  Many people were amazed when they witnessed Jesus’ miracles.  He was told that many were believing in Him, but Jesus did not commit Himself to them because there was no genuine commitment on their part.  However, in this passage of Scripture we find an exception.  There is a person who earnestly wants to know more about Him.

I.  AN INTRODUCTION TO NICODEMUS (verses 1)

Verse 1 says, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”  We learn two important facts from this verse.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, meaning “separatist” or “separated one”, and the Pharisees were very strict about following the Law of Moses and the traditions.  During the lifetime of Christ on earth, there were about 6000 Pharisees.  I wondered,  “What did a Pharisee look like?”  “Did they wear distinctive clothing and wear their hair and beards a certain way to set themselves apart as “separatists”?  The answer to those two questions is “yes” among those Pharisees who criticized Jesus, and He rebuked them because their motive was to be seen and acknowledged by others.  Nicodemus, as we shall see, doesn’t appear to fit that description, and he may not be alone.

Nicodemus is also described as a “ruler”.  This means that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews, composed of 70 members.  The word Sanhedrin means “seated with” and refers to a person who sits with the council of elders.  The Roman equivalent was the Senate.  So Nicodemus was in a position of power and influence, as well as being a caretaker and administrator of God’s Law.  One of his responsibilities as a member of the Sanhedrin was to keep the Jewish religion pure and undefiled by examining and dealing with false teachers and false prophets

II.  THE UNANNOUNCED VISIT (verse 2)

Verse 2 begins with the words, “this man (Nicodemus) came to Him by night”.   The sun had gone down, and the evening meal was probably finished at the place where Jesus was staying.  An unexpected visitor was entering the courtyard hoping to talk to Jesus.  He was, no doubt, dressed in the elegant garb of a Pharisee, and probably wearing a serious, puzzled look on his face, considering how he is going to begin the conversation as Jesus greets him.  Verse 2 continues:  “and he (Nicodemus) said to Him (Jesus). ‘Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him’ “.

Nicodemus came by night, either so that he might not be seen by his companions, or because Jesus was surrounded by crowds during the day, or both.  His desire is to have a quiet, uninterrupted conversation with Jesus.  Nicodemus greets Jesus respectfully and begins the conversation with a confession, and seems to indicate that the religious leaders privately recognized that Jesus spoke with divine authority, even though they opposed Him publicly.  He uses the word “we”, probably including the other 69 members of the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus doesn’t know it yet, but he is going to learn much more from this conversation with Jesus than he could ever have imagined, and he’ll have many things to ponder when the conversation is over.  Jesus is now going to take the lead in the conversation and is going to use four different illustrations:  birth, the wind, the serpent on the pole, and light and darkness.  These illustrations will be used by Jesus to instruct Nicodemus about the basics of salvation.

I.  BIRTH (verses 3-7)

Jesus begins in verse 3 by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you”.  He’s telling Nicodemus that what He is about to tell him is a very important truth.  Then He says, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  The Greek word anothen” literally means “from above”, but can also be translated “again”.  As we shall see from the context, Jesus meant “from above”. Unless this happens, you “cannot” see the kingdom of God because it is an impossibility.  Commenting on these words of our Lord, preacher and evangelist Dwight L. Moody said:  “You can see many countries, but there is one you shall never behold unless you are born again.  You can look abroad and see many beautiful trees, but you shall never behold the ‘tree of life’ unless your eyes are made clear by faith in the Savior.  You may see the beautiful rivers of the earth, but bear in mind that your eyes will never rest upon the river which bursts out from the Throne of God and flows through the Upper Kingdom, unless you are ‘born again.’  When you are in London you may go to the Tower and see the crown of England which is worth thousands of dollars, and is guarded by soldiers, but bear in mind that your eyes will never rest upon the ‘crown of life,’ unless you are ‘born again’.  You may see ten thousand beautiful things in this world, but the city that Abraham caught a glimpse of – and from that time became a pilgrim seeking the Lord – you shall never see unless you are ‘born again.’ ”

Those are some sobering words from Jesus and from Mr. Moody.  It must have been discouraging for Nicodemus to think that his strict observance of the laws and his position and responsibilities would not get him into the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ words were puzzling to Nicodemus.  He thought that Jesus was talking about physical birth, and couldn’t make any sense of that.  He responds with these words:  “How can a man be born when he is old?  He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”  I am amazed by the composure of Nicodemus.  Any other Pharisee would have become angry at Jesus and told Him that He was crazy.  But out of respect for Jesus, and with a desire to know the truth, Nicodemus is trying to sort this out and make sense of it.  Have you ever used the following phrase in a conversation:  “This may sound stupid but I’ve got to ask . . . “?  You took the risk of having the other person in the conversation be angry or impatient with you for having to take the time to give you an explanation because you just had to understand what that person was saying.  That’s especially hard to do with someone you don’t even know, isn’t it!?  You’re wondering whether the person is going to stare at you, take a deep breath, exhale loudly, and then drone on like a father explaining something to his child for the umpteenth time!  But Nicodemus overcomes his pride and humbly asks that question anyway.  Bravo!

William Barclay, in his commentary on the Gospel of John, has given me a new perspective on those words spoken by Nicodemus.  Barclay puts himself in the sandals of Nicodemus and then explains his dilemma:  “I know that it is necessary (to be born anew), but in my experience it is impossible.  There is nothing I would like more; but you might as well tell me, a full-grown man, to enter into my mother’s womb again and be born all over again.”  It is not the desirability of this change that Nicodemus questioned; that he knew only too well.  it is the possibility.  Nicodemus is up against the eternal problem, the problem of a man who wants to be changed but who cannot change himself.” 

Jesus responds by giving Nicodemus another important statement which adds some clarity to His first statement.  He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  I personally get the impression that Jesus is welcoming the question of Nicodemus, so that He can provide more information for Nicodemus  to remember and consider.  I also think that the Lord Jesus is testing his attitude.  If Nicodemus is truly a “learner” then he will keep asking and keep seeking.

The Lord Jesus is not talking about baptism when He says “born of water and the Spirit”.  Baptism is a symbol of death, not birth.  As the apostle Paul says in Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 “buried with Him in baptism”.  Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he has the wrong perspective.  He is focusing on the physical and material, but Jesus is talking about the spiritual.  You not only have to be born physically, you must also be born spiritually.  Every year we celebrate a birthday.  For some of us there are too many candles to put on the cake!   But it’s actually not a birthday, it’s the anniversary of our birthday.  We are only born once physically, at a specific place and time.  The same is true spiritually.  We can only be born once spiritually, and it is at a specific place and time.  We may not be able to remember the specific time and place, but God does, and the resulting change in our lives is evidence to us and those around us.

Jesus continues in verse 6, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is Spirit.”  The two events are not related.  What Jesus is saying is, “Nicodemus, you’ve been born physically but you haven’t been born spiritually yet.”  Nicodemus must have been thinking, “I’m a Jew, one of God’s chosen people; I’m a Pharisee, a strict observer of the Law and Traditions; and I’m a ‘ruler’ of the Jews; how much more ‘spiritual’ can you get?”  Jesus took notice of the fact that the eyes of Nicodemus widened in astonishment, and his jaw dropped in surprise and bewilderment, because He says in verse 7, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  It’s a mystery.  Evangelist Billy Graham uses an illustration from his past to convey the problem and how it must be resolved.

“I was born and reared on a dairy farm.  How can a black cow eat green grass and produce white milk and yellow butter?  I don’t understand that.  I might say, ‘because I don’t understand it, I’m never going to drink milk again’.  And you’d say, ‘You’re crazy.’ —  I don’t understand it but I accept it by faith.  Nicodemus could only see the physical and material, but Jesus was talking about the spiritual.”  In Part II of this conversation, we will see how Jesus uses an illustration from nature to help Nicodemus better understand what He is saying.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED:+

The example of Nicodemus provides some lessons for us to learn.  By coming to meet with Jesus, he probably did what no other Pharisee or member of the Sanhedrin would ever do.  I’m sure he fought off many excuses that came to his mind – excuses similar to the ones given by those who don’t go to church.  For example, the excuse:  “people will judge me”.  There’s no doubt that he could have used that excuse because it’s true.  His colleges would definitely not approve.  How about this excuse:  “I don’t have the right clothes to wear.”  Nicodemus was wealthy and dressed that way.  He probably didn’t have any “poor people’s clothes” around his house.  He wouldn’t want to embarrass Jesus by “out-dressing” Him and making Him feel even poorer.  Do you see what I mean?  There are always excuses to be found for not doing the right thing.  One of the unmentioned excuses that Jesus addresses is “I’m already good enough”.  What excuses do we use for not wanting to know the truth, or not wanting to see ourselves as we really are?  Nicodemus is an example to us of one who considers the knowledge and application of God’s truth to be more important than his personal reputation.

There are lessons to be learned from Jesus so far in this conversation also.  The Lord Jesus demonstrates in these first seven verses that He is not in a hurry to convince Nicodemus of the truth of His words.  He realizes that many people aren’t “born from above” overnight.  His words are not easy to understand because He is talking about the mystery of salvation.  The Lord Jesus demonstrates his concern and kindness by not applying any pressure.  Instead He offers illustrations from life and from nature, giving Nicodemus time to think it over and respond.  He’s providing a comfortable and caring environment for open conversation.  It is a lesson for us that it is not the method of proclamation that brings souls to Christ.   Though methods can be useful; it is the Word of God, empowered by the Spirit of God that causes change.  This occurs according to God’s timing as we build relationships and let the light of Christ shine through us.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

This work-in-progress is finished for now.  I may do some detailing later.   John 3:1-21, which was originally intended to be a “house”, is now turning into a “condominium”!  There is going to be a Part II, and maybe even a Part III and Part IV.  Much to be learned from this conversation!  Thanks for visiting.  There are 99 completed sites on this blog.  Hope you’ll take a look around the block and see if there is something that interests you.  I also hope that your life is still under construction and that God is your Master Builder.

 

 

THE WORD BECAME FLESH – John 1:14

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I.  HE BECAME FLESH

John chapter 1, verse 14, is one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring verses in the Bible.  It reveals a mystery that we can’t comprehend with our finite minds.  The apostle John has been saying that the “Logos”, the “Word”, used by the Greeks to describe the force that created the universe and holds it together, is actually the Creator-God.  Now he is saying, in verse 14, that this Creator-God “became flesh”.  The verb is in the aorist tense, signifying an action that took place at a point in time.  By “becoming flesh” the Word became something that He previously was not. He not only assumed a human body, but took on the whole nature of man:  body, soul, and spirit.  He took on our limitations.  Romans 8:3 says that He took on “the likeness of sinful flesh”, but “He knew no sin” (II Corinthians 5:21).  Martin Luther said of Jesus, “He sunk Himself into human flesh”.  That’s a long way to sink!

In his book entitled “Miracles”, British author C.S. Lewis uses several illustrations to try to depict the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  His illustration of the diver is somewhat similar to the previous statement made by Martin Luther.

“Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing downward through green and warm water into  black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to color and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks the surface again, holding in his hand the dripping precious thing that he went down to recover.  He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light; down below, where it lay colourless in the dark, he lost his colour too.”

As we consider the incarnation, let’s be reminded that Jesus Christ was not a created being.  He is the Creator, but He chose to become part of His creation at a specific place and time in human history.  His essence, divine nature, and oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit did not change.  We cannot understand how this can be, but we can accept it by faith.

One of the early church fathers, Augustine of Hippo, expressed his amazement.  He said that in his pre-Christian days he had read and studied the great pagan philosophers and had read many things, but he had never read that the word became flesh.  To the Greeks that was impossible and ridiculous.

II.  HE DWELT AMONG US

Here in verse 14, John describes Christ’s incarnation in three words, in contrast to the 2500 words used by the Gospel writer Luke.  He “dwelt among us”.  The Greek word translated “dwell” is “eskenosen”, which means “to pitch a tent”.  He “tabernacled among us” is another way to put it.  The tabernacle in the Old Testament was made of plain white linen.  The glory of the tabernacle was hidden inside.  There was no beauty in its outward appearance.  So too, the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ was a hidden glory.  When He came to pitch his tent among us, He did not lay aside His deity, but He did veil His glory.

The tabernacle in the Old Testament was only a temporary dwelling place.  It was used while the people of Israel were journeying in the wilderness and until the temple of Solomon was built (Exodus 24:8; 40:34-35; I Kings 8:10-12).  It’s interesting to note that the people of Israel used the tabernacle in the wilderness for a little less than 35 years, the approximate lifetime of the Lord Jesus on this earth.

III.  WE BEHELD HIS GLORY

Years ago an old pioneer journeyed westward across the Great Plains of North America until he came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  He gawked at the sight before him – a vast chasm 1 mile deep, 18 miles across, and stretching out of sight.  He gasped, “Something must have happened here!” (Our Daily Bread, 12/22/02)

Something even more amazing happened when the Creator-God came to His earth in the Person of Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures declare it and changed lives continue to provide evidence for His birth, life, death, and resurrection.

John says, “we beheld His glory”.  This may bring to your minds the Shekinah glory that filled the tabernacle in the wilderness.  When the pillar of cloud that guided them by day would begin to settle down, there the sons of Israel would camp.  Once the tabernacle was set up, the cloud would settle over the tabernacle (Numbers 9).  Exodus chapter 40 describes the glory of the Lord.  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. . . . For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”

The apostle John knew this information since childhood, having grown up in a Jewish home.  But John and the other disciples had the privilege of witnessing this glory in the Person of Jesus Christ for about three years.  “The Word” was not an abstract concept but a real Person.  John begins his first epistle with these words:  “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have beheld and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life.”

John, Peter, and James were with Jesus when He was transfigured before them.  His garments became dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah appeared alongside Him and were talking to Him (Mt. 17; Mk. 9).  What a spectacle that must have been!  But John is writing here about the inner glory that he saw in the Lord Jesus.

John was the “beloved disciple”, the one who knew Jesus so intimately.  He describes Jesus as One who was “full of grace and truth”.  This is a Hebrew expression for the fullness of the revelation of God.  “Grace” reveals God as love; “truth” reveals God as light.

The words “grace and truth” would probably bring to the minds of his Jewish readers two passages of Scripture from the book of Exodus.  One of them is in Exodus 33, and the other in chapter 34.  God tells Moses once again to make two stone tablets and meet with Him again on Mount Sinai.  Moses makes this request of God in Exodus 33:18:  “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!”  In responding to Moses, God first describes Himself to Moses.  Then He  responds to Moses’ request and describes Himself more fully.  I think you will gain a greater understanding of the meaning of grace as a result of reflecting upon God’s description of Himself.  This is what God says in Exodus 33:19 and in 34:6:  “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you, and I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion. , , , Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.’ “

I believe that the Lord Jesus demonstrated those qualities of God in His character and His actions while He was here on this earth.  I also believe that the apostle John is purposely using the words “full of grace and truth” to connect his description of Christ in his Gospel with God’s description of Himself in the Old Testament Scriptures.  The best Person to give an accurate description of God is God Himself, and He has been gracious enough to do so through various means.

In the next passage of Scripture, verses 15-18, John will be elaborating on the words of verse 14 more fully.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading and re-reading a poem written by Marv and Marbeth Rosenthal entitled:  “Mary Had The Little Lamb”.  It briefly describes the Person, life and ministry of Jesus Christ from beginning to end.  If you’ve never read this poem before, I encourage you to read it several times.  If you are familiar with the poem, please read it again.  Here it is:

Mary had the little Lamb, who lived before His birth
Self-existent Son of God, from heaven He came to earth.
Micah 5:2

Mary had the little Lamb; see Him in yonder stall–
Virgin-born Son of God, to save man from the Fall.
Isaiah 7:14

Mary had the little Lamb, obedient Son of God;
Everywhere the Father led, His feet were sure to trod.
John 6;38

Mary had the little Lamb, crucified on the tree,
The rejected Son of God, He died to set men free.
I Peter 1:18-19

Mary had the little Lamb — men placed Him in the grave,
Thinking they were done with Him; to death He was no slave!
Matthew 28:6

Mary had the little Lamb, ascended now is He,
All work on earth is ended, our Advocate is be.
Hebrews 4:14-16

Mary had the little Lamb — mystery to behold!
From the Lamb of Calvary, a Lion will unfold.
Revelation 5:5,6

When the Day Star comes again, of this be very sure,
It won’t be Lamb-like silence, but with the Lion’s roar.
Psalm 2:12
Revelation 19:11-16

May you experience the meaning of the grace and truth that are in Christ Jesus; and may you experience the joy and peace that come as a result of knowing Him personally, depending upon Him completely, and giving Him all the glory.

 

 

 

 

JESUS ENTERS JERUSALEM – John 12:9-19

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INTRODUCTION:

I imagine that most of us are familiar with the song, “The King Is Coming”.  We know that the king spoken about in that song is Jesus Christ.  When you think of Christ as King, what image or picture do you see in you mind?  Do you see Christ seated on a great throne ruling the universe?  Do you see Him on a white horse as He is described in the book of Revelation, leading the armies of heaven?  Those are probably the most common mental images.  In this passage of Scripture, John 12:9-19, we find a different description of Christ as King; one that is equally true and especially important for us today.

I.  THE BACKGROUND AND SETTING (verses 9-12)

Lazarus was now a walking miracle ever since Jesus raised him from the dead, and this put Lazarus in a place of danger.  Now the Jewish leaders wanted to kill both him and Jesus.  They wanted to put Lazarus back into the tomb because he was leading people to faith in Christ.  Since they weren’t willing to accept the evidence, the were going to try to get rid of the evidence.

The next day was Sunday, the Feast of Tabernacles, remembering the period of time when the people of Israel lived in tents as they travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land, and God dwelt with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  The time was ripe for Jesus to make a public appearance.

Picture this, if you will.  The word is getting around that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and a large crowd of people is following Jesus and wanting to see Lazarus.  Meanwhile, over two million Jews are arriving in Jerusalem to make preparations for celebrating the Passover.

II.  THEIR RESPONSE (verse 13)

The response of the people was a greeting fit a king.  It says that they “took palm branches” and went out to meet Jesus.  Palm branches had nothing to do with the feast of Passover.  It was on the feast of Tabernacles that the people were commanded to rejoice before the Lord for seven days with “branches of palm trees.”  This command is found in Leviticus 23:40.  However, history shows that over 150 years before the birth of Christ, palm trees and palm branches became the symbol of the Jewish nation.  So the use of palm branches during Christ’s entry into Jerusalem symbolized the people’s hope that their nation would soon be set free by Jesus, and this is supported by the words which they used to greet Jesus.  In verse 13 the people cry out:  “Hozanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.    They were quoting from Psalm 118:25-26.  The crowd was expecting Jesus to lead them in triumph over the Romans.  The word “hozanna”  literally means “save us, we pray thee”.

III.  JESUS’ RESPONSE (verses 14-15)

In the midst of all this celebration, Jesus finds a young donkey, sits on it, and has His disciples lead Him in a procession.  A donkey is a symbol of humility and peace, and the kings and judges of Israel rode on donkeys when they were on a mission of peace.  Jesus was a King on a mission of peace:  peace with God through His shed blood on the cross just a few days later.

Jesus was also obeying God’s Word and fulfilling the prophesy written about Him in Zechariah 9:9, which says, “Fear not, Daughter of Zion:  behold your King is coming seated on a donkey’s colt.” Jesus knew that prophesy and knew that it would need to be fulfilled.  I think Jesus made arrangements for that colt to be ready for Him when He came into the city.  He knew exactly what day this would be, for the book of Daniel gives us that information.  Almost five humdred years earlier an angel had appeared to the prophet Daniel and told him that a certain amount of time has been marked out by God for the fulfillment of certain climactic events which concerned the people of Israel.  And the time this was to begin was clearly given.  It would be when the Persian king, Artaxerxes, issued an edict for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  You will find that edict recorded in chapter 2 of the book of Nehemiah.  And when this heathen king issued the edict, he unknowingly set in motion God’s clock for the Jewish nation.  Daniel was told that 490 years must pass before all of God’s events would be fulfilled, and the passage of 483 of those years would be marked off by the arrival in Jerusalem of Messiah the Prince.

Many years ago there was a brilliant lawyer who served for a long time as the director of England’s famed Scotland Yard.  His name as Sir Robert Anderson.  He was also an avid and devout Bible student.  Sir Robert Anderson, with his precise mind and his training in logic, analyzed the book of Daniel and determined the exact date when that decree of Artaxerxes was issued:  March 28, 445 B.C.  Counting from that date and making the necessary corrections for calendar errors, he determined that on April 6, 32 A.D. Jesus rode into Jerusalem – exactly 483 years later.

Now, if a man in the 19th century could take these Scriptures and figure out the very date on which this event took place, surely the Son of God also knew it very well, and He made arrangements to enter the city, and come riding down the slopes of the Mount of Olives on a donkey, on a colt on which no one had ever sat, in the fultilllment of the predictions of Zechariah and Daniel.  And it was as they were about to enter the city of Jerusalem and the people were cheering, that Luke 19:41-44 says that Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because of what was going to happen to it because the rejected their Messiah.

IV.  THE RESULT (verses 15-19)

After the procession there was a lack of understanding of what Jesus came into this world to do.  His disciples were confused.  The Jewish leaders were angry and said, “look, the world has gone after Him.”  The crowds had a wrong understanding about Jesus.  They didn’t realize that before Jesus Christ could enter into His power and glory, He had to suffer and die for the sins of the world.  It may well have been that many of those who were shouting “Hozanna to the Son of David”, later changed their cry to “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

APPLICATION:

Let’s ask ourselves this question:  “Why do you and I follow Jesus?  Do we have expectations we want Him to meet?  Do we think He’ll deliver us from life’s hardships?  Are we just following the crowd?  Or have we accepted Jesus Christ as King and Lord of our lives and serve Him out of gratitude and worship?  As we think about this day in Jesus’ life, and His death and resurrection that will happen just a few days later,  let’s remind ourselves of these words of the apostle Paul in II Corinthians 5:15 and put them into practice in our lives:  “And He (Jesus) died for all that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”