The Passover was a very important holiday to the Jewish people. The seven-day festival (eight in the Diaspora) began on 15 Nissan, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt; the sacrifice was offered on the eve of that holiday during Temple times. People would travel hundreds of miles to come to the city, with every known social and economic status imaginable represented. This particular Passover was particular exciting because there was a man named Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God. Many people had heard about the miracles he had preformed and the most recent, which involved Lazarus. Lazarus had been dead in the grave, but Jesus brought him back to life. So people were flocking into the city to see Jesus hoping to see a miracle. What is interesting is that while all the people were flocking into the city to see Jesus, He was headed the other way. Why? The largest religious event of the year was getting ready to take place, and Jesus was absent. Let’s look in John Chapter 11 to see why Jesus did not immediately come to the city.
Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus after being in the grave several days (John 11: 38-44) 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. 54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. 55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
Don’t miss the big picture in these verses. Why was Jesus not in the city? Because the Religious leaders wanted him dead! The people who had spent their whole life studying about God, practicing purification ceremonies, and being responsible for teaching about God squandered away His presence because it became all about them. Suddenly it was not about seeking God; it was about their programs, rules, and stature in the community. They were so wrapped up in their own control they denied the presence of the Lord. So here was the biggest religious event of the year and Jesus was absent. How many “religious” events do we have a year that He never attends? How many Sunday mornings do we plan and prepare, but He never comes? What is missing? We plan all the music, sermons, and other activities that go along with worship, but how often do we bend our knees during the week to beg for His presence? Do we separate our self from things to make more room for Him in our life? How often do we spend time pouring our heart out to Him so we know Him better? Think about throwing a birthday party for someone. You booked the band, purchased their favorite cake and flowers, but never invited them to the party. It was all in vain because they were not there to experience it. The same is true about our spiritual life. We can say and do all the right things, go to church, and participate in all types of programs, but if God never shows up, we have truly missed it all.
The Bible says, “Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews.” Jesus retreated to be with the ones that truly loved, served, and obeyed Him. Scripture tells us in John 12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound1 of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
There were thousands of people wanting to see and hear from Jesus in the city, but He chose to be with a handful that truly believed He was the Son of God. Sometimes we get caught up in the number game as ministers. We want to have great numbers, which we think equals great results. However, God has taught me recently that I had rather have six people that were truly seeking after God, than a hundred that were checking it off the list. I have a few ladies in my life that I consider prayer warriors. They have fasted with me, prayed numerous times daily on my behalf, read scripture over me, and encouraged me in ways I cannot even describe. Because I know those ladies deeply care about my well-being, I am going straight to them when “life” happens. Jesus felt the same way about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He knew they truly loved Him, believed Him, and sought after Him. Even after Lazarus had been dead several days Martha says, “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.” It is good to be in the presence of people who truly care about you as a person, and believe in you. Jesus was the Son of God. He did not need their affection, but just as God sent the angel in the garden for strength, I believe He gave encouragement to Jesus through these faithful few.
Jesus wants to show up and show out when people are seeking His face. In Ephesians 3:20 the Bible says, “20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Mathew 19:26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Why would we want to go one more day without the presence of God? Why would we want to form one more program or activity without being on our face before the Lord seeking His guidance? God has taught me just because I think it is a good idea does not mean it is. Just because I think it will help people spiritually does not mean it will. It is not about what I think, but about my God who guides my steps to the right decisions. Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
Dr Michael Brown had this to say:
As A.W. Tozer once said, "If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference."
In the early church, Paul instructed the Corinthians to separate themselves from people who claimed to be believers but were living in outward, unrepentant sin (1 Corinthians 5). Today, some of those people lead our churches and preach from our pulpits.
Who changed things from "Leave everything and follow Me" (see Luke 14:33) to "Pray this little prayer and you're set for eternity"?
Who changed things from "All who live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (see 2 Tim. 3:12) to "Ask Jesus into your heart and enjoy a comfortable life"?
Who changed things from a fearless proclamation of the truth, whatever the cost or consequences, to a watered down, compromised message that is afraid to offend anyone?
By what authority, by whose decree, based on what new revelation have we so blatantly departed from the faith of the apostles? Who changed things?
Who changed things from the New Testament faith, where even the disciples couldn't minister without the Spirit's presence, to today's version, where whole ministries are run with hardly any evidence of the Spirit's work?
We can debate church history and blame this group or that group, and we can point out what's wrong with this denomination and that denomination. We might even have some great historical and contemporary insights. But unless we get back to believing what is written and acting on what is written, we will continue to perpetuate our merry-go-round Christianity with lots of noise and action and bells and whistles but with little authority, little purity and little (if any) effect.
Is God present in your life today? Are you allowing the spirit to move freely in your life, or do you call all the shots?