March/April – 2015
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The Way to Jerusalem
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21). (All scripture NASB unless otherwise noted.)
It was AD 33 as Jesus began his final journey to Jerusalem. Beginning in Galilee, he would travel 80-100 miles to Jerusalem, the Jewish capital where his earthly ministry would come to an end. Let us consider five of the notable events that took place during the journey.
Going to His Death
“As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way he said to them, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and will hand him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify him, and on the third day he will be raised up” (Matthew 20:17-19).
Jesus had told the disciples earlier he would be killed in Jerusalem. We remember how negatively Peter reacted to this. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You” (verse 22). His natural mind could not understand why Jesus, the Messiah, would have to die.
Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (verse 23). Jesus’ words to Peter must have truly stung. However, by opposing our Lord’s desire to go to Jerusalem, Peter was opposing God’s plans.
Jesus added that to be his disciple, Peter must be willing to sacrifice his earthly life, just as Jesus was doing. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). The disciples had understood the concept of sacrifice. They had given up all to follow Jesus. What they did not yet recognize was that the sacrifice would lead unto death.
Despite Jesus’ plain statements, “the disciples understood none of these things: and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them” (Luke 18:34). Why did they not understand? The disciples were expecting that Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel. He was the Messiah, the son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). It was inconceivable to them that he would die. Plus, the meaning of this statement was hidden from them so they could not oppose Jesus’ sacrifice or thwart his attempt to surrender to the authorities.
Why did Jesus tell the disciples he was going to his death? First, because it was true. “He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to him” (Mark 10:32). He was preparing them so their faith would not be destroyed by his betrayal, rejection and death.
Second, Jesus was curbing their expectation of the immediate establishment of his earthly kingdom. Just before this journey, Peter asked Jesus in Mark 10:28, what would they receive, because they had given up everything to follow him. Jesus answered Peter: “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Based on Jesus’ answer and the fact that they were going to Jerusalem, the disciples were expecting that Christ’s earthly reign and their sharing in it, was imminent. Jesus knew that this would not be the case.
What lesson can we derive from this experience? First, we see Jesus’ commitment to doing God’s will no matter what it cost him. Jesus spoke of his commitment to providing his life as a ransom in John 10:17-18. “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life so that I may take [receive] it again. No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on my own initiative” (Diaglott notes).
We also see Jesus’ courage in facing suffering and death. His courage was based on his great faith in God. He did not flee from doing God’s will as Jonah did but headed straight for his death. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life (soul) loses it; and he who hates his life (soul) in this world will keep it to life eternal” (John 12:24,25).
To be a successful follower of Jesus, we need to have the same commitment and courage based on our faith in God. We should head straight for our sacrificial death as Jesus did.
As Jesus was passing through Galilee and Samaria, on his way to Jerusalem, he gave the disciples a parable that: “at all times, they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
“In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city; and she kept coming to him, saying, Give me legal protection from my opponent. For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, Even though I do not fear God, nor respect man; yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise, by continually coming she will wear me out” (Luke 18:2-5).
Lest his disciples misunderstand his point, Jesus explained the lesson they should take from the parable. “Now, will God not bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly” (Luke 18:7-8).
Why did Jesus choose to emphasize prayer now? Because he knew how crucial prayer would be to the disciples to follow his example and path of life. Jesus had a strong prayer life — so much so that the disciples had asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Jesus prayed frequently: before making decisions, before healing people. Jesus used prayer to keep in continual contact with his Heavenly Father and to make sure he knew and was following God’s will. His disciples would need to follow this same approach to be pleasing to God.
Jesus gave the disciples many lessons on the subject of prayer. When they failed to cast out
the demon, Jesus told them their failure came from a lack of prayer (Matthew 17:21). Likewise, we cannot be successful in doing God’s will, in any circumstance, without prayer.
When Jesus selected the 12 apostles, it was essential that the choice be in harmony with God’s will. So, Jesus “went off to the mountain to pray, and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13).
As a part of his preparation for the final hours of his earthly ministry, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray to the Father for guidance and strength. He told his disciples: “Sit here until I have prayed” (Mark 14:32). When Jesus became grieved to the point of death, he prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass him by. “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36).
In contrast, Peter failed to pray even though Jesus warned Peter that he would deny Jesus thrice before the cock would crow. When Jesus came back from his prayer in the garden and found Peter and the others asleep, he said: “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:37-38).
Prayer was crucial to Jesus’ success in the final hours of his earthly ministry. Lack of prayer played a large factor in Peter’s failure during this same time period.
What is the lesson for us? Persistence in prayer is essential for our success as a New Creature. Persistence is an evidence of our faith in God that he will answer our prayers. We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV). In Reprint 2865 Bro. Russell writes: “God wishes us to be persistent, and our persistence measures and indicates the depth of our desires.” This persistence includes devoting our entire life to prayer and then watching for God’s answer just as our Lord Jesus did. “Devote yourselves to prayer and watch in the same with thanksgiving, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).
Faith that God will answer our prayers is the key to receiving what we request. “Therefore, I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted to you” (Mark 11:24-25). Notice the present perfect tense in this verse, “have received them.” We must ask believing we have already received them and if we do, they will be granted to us. The Apostle James adds, “but he must ask in faith without any doubting” (James 1:6). Jesus believed and had great confidence God would answer his prayers. We must believe as Jesus did. As the Apostle Paul writes, “pray with unceasing prayer and entreaty on every fitting occasion in the Spirit, and be always on the alert to seize opportunities for doing so, with unwearied persistence and entreaty on behalf of all God’s people” (Ephesians 6:18 Weymouth).
Sitting on Jesus’ Right and Left Hand
Despite what Jesus told them, the disciples still thought Jesus was going to implement his kingdom when they got to Jerusalem. Because of this expectation, their position in Jesus’ kingdom became an important issue.
“James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you … Grant that we may sit, one on your right and one on your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:35-37).
Matthew 20:20-21 tells us that Salome, their mother, was present with James and John and made the request for them. In response, Jesus took the lesson of his sacrifice unto death and now applied this lesson to the disciples. They would have to share in his baptism and in his cup, to be associated with him in his kingdom. “Jesus said to them, You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? They said to him, We are able. And Jesus said to them, The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on my right or on my left, this is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared” (Mark 10:38-40).
James, John, and their mother did not realize what it would take to be associated with Jesus in his kingdom. But Jesus did and he mentioned it in his answer using the symbols of the cup and baptism. The cup pictured Jesus’ experiences. Baptism pictured Jesus’ covenant of sacrifice even unto death. James, John, and any disciple would have to partake of both to be with Jesus in his kingdom.
The cup Jesus referred to is the same one described in John 18:11: “Jesus said to Peter … the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” The Father allows us a cup of experiences similar to Jesus to prove our loyalty to Him, our obedience to the principles of truth and righteousness and to develop us to be part of the merciful Melchizedek priesthood. These experiences include the hatred and persecution of the world and the adversary.
“Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. … The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:19-20). To be with Jesus in his kingdom, we must drink the cup of ignominy, suffering, and persecution to its bitter end just as Jesus did.
The baptism Jesus mentioned was the same one Jesus described in Luke 12:50: “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). This describes our Lord’s life of sacrifice from Jordan to the cross. Jesus sacrificed his earthly life for the life of world. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). James, John, and all of Jesus’ disciples have to share in his baptism unto death before reigning with him.
Paul makes this same point in Romans 6:3-5: “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death … we have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection.” To share in Jesus’ kingdom, we must share in his death.
“And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers” (Matthew 20:24). Here we see the spirit of rivalry and ambition that affected the disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Even in the upper room: “There arose also a dispute among them as to which of them was regarded to be greatest” (Luke 22:24).
Jesus knew about this spirit of rivalry so when the 10 became upset, he responded by saying, “whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28 KJV would be achieved through service, sacrifice and humility, not through ambition and grasping. Jesus taught the lesson of humility and service when he said in Matthew 18:3-4: “Truly I say to you, except ye turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of the heavens. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” He taught them about humility and service when he washed their feet in the upper room.
“If I … washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them (John 13:14,15,17).
The lesson of sacrifice, humility, and service is placed directly before us in the example of Jesus. He is the role model that we are to follow. The apostle Paul writes: “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach” (Hebrews 13:11-13).
Let us share, members of the Lord’s body, in his offering for sin, laying down our justified humanity in sacrifice unto death. Let us humble ourselves as Jesus did (Philippians 2:5-8). Let us be clothed with humility as Jesus was (1 Peter 5:5-6). Like Jesus, let us serve one another by love. “You were called to freedom, brethren … but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
Healing Blind Bartimaeus
As Jesus approached Jericho, he encountered the blind beggar Bartimaeus. “Now hearing a crowd going by, he [Bartimaeus] began to inquire what this was. They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he called out … Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me! Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, Son of David, have mercy upon me! And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to him; and when he came near, he questioned him, What do you want me to do for you? And he said, Lord, I want to regain my sight! And Jesus said to him, Receive your sight; your faith has made you well. Immediately, he regained his sight and began following him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God” (Luke 18:36-43).
“The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:4 KJV). Bartimaeus is such a beautiful example of those few during the Gospel Age who have recognized their spiritual blindness and have come to Jesus to be healed.
How did Bartimaeus know about Jesus? Bartimaeus recognized Jesus as the Messiah because he called him the “Son of David.” Bartimaeus must have heard about the miracles of Jesus and concluded: (1) Jesus was the Messiah and (2) Jesus could heal his blindness.
When Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, the crowd rebuked him. Why? Perhaps they were thinking that a great teacher like Jesus should not be bothered by a lowly beggar. They had forgotten that Jesus typically healed those who called out to him for help. This reminds us of the personal responsibility we each have of looking for those who are spiritually blind and responding to their calls for help.
Bartimaeus paid no attention to those who rebuked him. Instead, he cried out all the more. His blindness could be healed if only he could get Jesus’ attention. Bartimaeus’ persistence demonstrated his faith and this is what caught Jesus’ attention. He recognized that faith, and called for Bartimaeus. Jesus asked him, what did he want? Riches? Honors? Other temporal blessings? No, Bartimaeus just wanted to regain his sight. His faith in Jesus, his sincerity, and his persistence paid off. Jesus healed him.
Bartimaeus showed his sincerity after he was healed by becoming a follower of Jesus, rejoicing in his healing and praising our Lord. Like Lazarus, Bartimaeus became living proof that Jesus was the Messiah. In Jesus’ day there were many blind. But only a few received their sight from our Lord. Others did not have the necessary faith. During the Gospel Age, many have been spiritually blind. Only a few have had their spiritual blindness healed like Bartimaeus. Others have not expressed sufficient faith.
What is the lesson for us? We, like Bartimaeus, have had our blindness healed. We should be so thankful that Jesus has opened our eyes to the truth about God’s plan of salvation and our Lord as the Messiah. Let us follow Bartimaeus’ example and both (1) follow Jesus and (2) praise him for curing our blindness. That will result in letting our light shine to all that we come into contact with.
Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem
Jesus entered Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan, the same calendar day the Passover was selected and taken from the sheep and the goats before the first Passover (Exodus 12:3-5). Jesus’ entry fulfilled Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; he is just, and endowed with salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus was presenting himself to Jerusalem as their Messiah and king. Jesus kept all of the prophecies regarding himself, demonstrating his obedience to God’s will, showing he was Israel’s king, and leaving Israel no valid reason to reject him.
During the entry, Jesus demonstrated his power by telling the disciples how to obtain the donkey (Matthew 21:1-9). He even prophesied that the owner would allow them to take the donkey. Bro. Russell suggests in Reprint 3850 that the donkey was probably white because it was the custom for Israel’s kings to ride on white donkeys. The article continues, “The Jews were familiar with this prophecy, and for long centuries had been waiting for Messiah to fulfill it. It was necessary … that our Lord should literally, actually, do what the prophets had foretold, that Israel might be without excuse in their rejection of him.”
There are three perspectives from which we can view our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem.
- The disciples and crowd that welcomed him had Messianic expectations. They were expecting Jesus to shortly establish his kingdom.
- Herod, Pilate, and Jewish leaders considered this the parade of a fanatical leader. The Jewish leaders felt threatened by Jesus and the crowd’s response to his entry made them the more fearful of his influence over the people.
- To our Lord, the angels, and the church, his entry foreshadowed the future glory of his second coming, when he returns from a far country, to establish his kingdom.
Bro. Russell suggests there were nearly one million Jews in Jerusalem for Passover. Did these all hail Jesus as their king? During his entry, there seems to have been two crowds: (1) one going before him and (2) one that followed him. The ones that followed Jesus were probably his disciples — those who had followed him from Jericho. John tells us the ones who went before Jesus came from Jerusalem to meet him (John 12:12-13).
The crowds spread their garments and palm branches in the way, honoring Jesus as their ruler. As the group descended the Mount of Olives towards Jerusalem, “The crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen” (Luke 19:37).
The crowd cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David” meaning save us, son of David (Matthew 21:9). They cried “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13), recognizing Jesus as their king. They cried “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:10), showing they expected the re-establishment of David’s kingdom under Jesus. They cried “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven, and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38), expecting the establishment of Christ’s earthly kingdom.
How did the Pharisees’ respond to this? “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples’” (Luke 19:39). Jesus responded, “I tell you that, if these become silent, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). Jerusalem needed to be told that their Messiah, their king, was coming unto them. If the disciples had not made their proclamation, then the stones would have cried out so Jerusalem was aware that their Messiah was here. How did the city respond to Jesus’ entry? “All the city was stirred, saying, Who is this? And the crowds were saying, This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matthew 21:10-11). Despite all this evidence, many Jews and their leaders rejected Jesus!
What is the lesson for us from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem? First, Jesus is our king and he has returned to establish his kingdom. Just like Jesus presented himself to fleshly Israel at his first advent, Jesus presented himself to spiritual Israel at his return in 1874. Unlike nominal spiritual Israel, we have recognized and accepted him as the Messiah, our king, our leader. Therefore, let us follow his example, his instructions, his commandments. By these, we show that we truly love him. “He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and … I will love him and will disclose myself to him” (John 14:21).
Second, as the disciples praised God and our Lord for the mighty works they had seen, let us likewise praise God and his son for their mighty works and the promise of Christ’s coming earthly kingdom. Let us show that praise through our words, actions, and path of life that Jesus is our Messiah and we are his disciples.
We are so thankful for the example of Jesus that God provided for us. Let us follow Jesus’ commitment and courage in doing God’s will and head straight for our sacrificial death as he did. Let us, like Jesus, be persistent in prayer, in faith expecting God to answer our prayers. Let us follow Jesus’ example of humility, service to one another and love, by laying down our life for the brethren. Let us be thankful that our eyes have been opened to the Truth and like Bartimaeus, follow and praise our Lord for healing our blindness. Let us show those around us that Jesus is our Messiah, our king, by proclaiming his return and following his example, his commandments and continually praising his name.