Monday, April 2, 2012

God Speaking: Like a Master Planner

Preached on Palm Sunday, April 1, 2012

Scripture readings: Psalm 118:19-29; John 12:1-19

When I was a kid my mom was our vacation master planner. The rest of us had our plans, and our plans played their part in the plan, but the real plan was my mom’s master plan.

For my dad, vacation had to mean camping. We all liked to camp. So camping was almost always in the plan. For me, it had to mean visiting historical places, so visiting those was almost always in the plan.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what my sisters wanted. I hope they got some of what they wanted as well.

But the master plan came from my mom. If she didn’t want to do it, it probably didn’t happen.

When we read the gospels we learn that what people think and what Jesus thinks are two different things. This is true not only of people in general. It is true of the Lord’s own people; his disciples; us.

We see one thing; Jesus sees another. We want one thing; Jesus wants another. We plan one thing; Jesus plans another. And just who’s plan gets done?

We see it in the parade on the first Palm Sunday; the celebration that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem. The people welcomed Jesus to their ancient capital because their plan was for him to be the King who led them against the Romans. Jesus welcomed the people who greeted him because his plan was to be the King who led his people by dying for their sins. Those are very different plans; or else they represent a different order or level of plan.

There is the same difference of plans in Lazarus’ home. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and the family planned a feast in Jesus’ honor. Lazarus’ sister Mary planned to show her thanks by pouring out a rare perfume imported from India. It was so expensive that it cost almost a year’s wages for a common worker. Lazarus’ family was clearly very rich.

Mary planned to show her thankfulness by pouring this treasure on Jesus’ feet, and letting her hair down, and using her hair as a towel to work the rare perfume into Jesus’ feet. Women let down their hair only in the privacy of their family, or in their deepest grief and mourning. Mary and Martha probably let down their hair when their brother Lazarus died, and they may have poured ashes on their heads. Everyone had seen them with their hair down.

Mary’s plan was her way of saying that she refused to have any dignity, or any reserve, in the presence of Jesus. She would have no pretence. She would hold nothing back. She would have no inhibition between her and Jesus. She would not play a part, or act out a role, with Jesus. She would always be, with Jesus, simply what she was. Her gift to Jesus was her expression of an absolute and eternal devotion, and this was inspired by her absolute and eternal thankfulness.

This was Mary’s plan. As good as her plan was, Jesus had a different master plan. Mary planned to celebrate the wonder of Jesus bringing her dead brother to life. Jesus planned to show Mary that she was involved in his own death. Jesus’ coming death involved Mary personally.

This was not a part of Mary’s plan. She would have done anything she could to prevent Jesus’ plan from taking place. All his friends would have done the same. They did not share Jesus’ plans.

Jesus had clearly talked about his own death before this. But the family of Lazarus did not connect Jesus’ talk of his own impending death with the raising of Lazarus.

Jesus told them, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus spoke the words at the grave, “Lazarus, come forth, come out!” (John 11:25, 43) They thought Jesus could make such claims, and make such commands, because he was above it all. Jesus was untouchable.

The truth is that bringing Lazarus back to life was a sign, and the friends and followers of Jesus got the sign wrong. They were confused.

The master plan was a scary one. The sign of bringing Lazarus back to life pointed at Jesus’ own death. Jesus planned to lock arms with death, and get himself actually swallowed up by death. Jesus planned to destroy the power and the rule of death from the inside. The power of Jesus over Lazarus, and over the death of Lazarus, came from the fact that he was going to enter the belly of the beast himself.

Jerusalem was also like a beast. It was a beast that spoke with many voices. Some of those voices were glad to see Jesus. Those voices wanted Jesus to come inside and lead them forth. Other voices wanted to kill Jesus and stop him at all costs.

Each one of us is like the beast of Jerusalem. Each one of us is like a beast that speaks with many voices. We have desires for Jesus, and we have desires against Jesus. We have areas of our lives where we want him to lead and succeed. We have areas of our lives that we would rather hide from Jesus; where we would want Jesus to fail.

Both kinds of voices, speaking our inner motives, really want their own plans. The many voices coming from our heart have different plans than the master plans of Jesus.

At our best we want Jesus to lead us forth, when Jesus really wants to invade us. We want Jesus to conquer our situations when Jesus really wants to conquer us. We want Jesus to take us out of our story when Jesus wants to lead us through our story.

When I was a kid I would have scary dreams about falling. In those dreams I would usually fall from a high cliff; a Grand Canyon sized cliff. Most people who have those dreams wake up before impact. I never did. I always landed, I always hit the bottom; but it was always OK.

It was OK in the sense that the dream went on. There was more for me to do in that dream, and I had to go on and do it. I was never saved from that dream.

Jesus saves us not by taking us out of our dream, but by coming into it and leading us through it. We are the belly of our own beast and Jesus comes in and fights the beast that is ourselves. Following Jesus means following him through our own belly.

Jesus’ master plan required getting his friends involved. They had to stand in the court where Jesus stood trial, and hear the false charges and the false witnesses, and hear him condemned. They had to stand at the foot of the cross, and see Jesus die for them. They had to visit the empty tomb and wonder about it. They had to go back to Galilee, go back to their old life and do some fishing, and let the risen Jesus feed them. They had to be involved in the whole story of Jesus and what Jesus did for them.

We will see this as we go through the Gospel of John. We have the same journey to make with Jesus, in his own story, in his own master plan; in order for it to become part of our story, as the friends and followers of Jesus.

In our own lives we will learn to be on trial and tested. We will learn to carry our cross, and to die to ourselves. We will learn to let Jesus raise us from the dead and give us a new life in him.

In the Gospel of John, there is the special gift of seeing how Jesus brings into the open whatever is in the heart of those with whom he comes in contact. Jesus brought out the devotion and thanks in Mary’s heart. Jesus brought out the greed and selfishness in the heart of Judas. It happens over and over again.

When we follow Jesus, when we are in his presence, he brings into our view the secrets of our hearts. They play themselves out before us and we can accept them and follow Jesus’ plan.

Or we can embrace the secrets of our heart in the opposite direction. We can harden our hearts, and blind ourselves to what Jesus shows us. We can try to hold onto our old plan; a plan that has no life in it.

With Mary, Jesus brought out the thankfulness of her heart, and led her to the next thing. There was so much more to see, and do, and learn. It had to do with Jesus’ sacrifice for her. It would draw her to him in a way that she would only understand later. Jesus led her through the story, not out of it, and it would take her to new places of the heart. And maybe even lead her to a whole new life that she would never have foreseen. She was in for a surprise.

No matter how close we may be to Jesus; not matter how close we may feel; no matter how far away he seems, we have our own ideas of what coming to Jesus and following him means. We have our own plans. The Bible teaches us to expect to find that we have been confused. There will be some surprise in this.

We seem to be designed by God for the element of surprise. It is only when we are surprised by God’s surprises that we feel confused.

Why should we live in God’s world, and why should we live as part of the movement of God’s new creation, and not expect to be surprised? Psalm 118 tells us that God’s master plan is the plan we would never have dreamed of choosing. “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:22-24)

The surprising plan of the Lord is the good news of Jesus. The gospels always show Jesus to be the master planner.

Even after we become the friends and followers of Jesus, we will find that he has plans of his own. Planning is a good thing, and we should make plenty of plans. But we also need to plan to be surprised, because Jesus is the master planner.


  1. good morning Pastor Dennis,

    absolutely loved reading your inspirational post! your words are really divine!

    God has a plan for all his creation. he has revealed it to us in many ways, but mostly through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    i am eternally grateful for your wonderful comments.

    happy easter!

  2. Inspiring words , pastor.
    Last Saturday my husband had a terrible night: and I prayed "in the name of Jesus" as I always do; but i had never really thought about the words "in the name of Jesus as that day: there I understood the real meaning: Jesus was begging for he carried my sins so I could be pure... (My English does not say the things i deeply felt then) Sorry!
    God has "The Plan for each one of us"!

    God bless you

  3. BlueShell, I am so sorry for the ordeal your husband and you are going through with his health. I pray for you.

  4. Betty, Gosh! What kind words! I love reading your blog and am glad to have fellowship with you.