When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, an event we commemorate with Palm Sunday, we hear about two distinct groups. First there are those enthusiastic about his presence, and especially now as he demonstrates by the manner of his entrance his own claim to be the Messiah. They were hoping for the coming messiah and all indications were that yes, this Jesus just may well be him. The other group is made up of the religious leaders and they are not happy with Jesus at all. Many of them are also hoping for the messiah, but they are hoping and expecting that when the messiah comes he will not look and act like Jesus. Instead he he will look and act a lot more like them. There is actually a third group of people present in Jerusalem on that day. There was a multitude who did not show up to see Jesus. Perhaps they had not heard, perhaps they didn’t care, or perhaps they had heard something and were interested, but not interested enough to let Jesus take them away from their plans for the day.
With regards to Jesus, people still fall into these three categories. There are those who are enthusiastic about his presence and seek to honour him with theirs. There are those who reject Jesus as Messiah, Saviour, Lord, and may be active in trying to convince others likewise. These are religious leaders today, even if they are strongly atheistic, they are still religious leaders. Then there is the third category, those who really have not given Jesus much thought at all.
Why does Jesus bring such division among people? Has there ever been another person of history who has caused such a stir, causing people to fall, or rather dive, into camps based on their estimation of him or her? No, and as you read the New Testament the reason becomes clear. There has never been another person in all of history who makes such bold assertions as Jesus does about himself.
We have already seen that Jesus has claimed to be the way and the truth, but today we are looking at perhaps the grandest claim of all, “I am the life” (see John 14:6). When Jesus claims that he is the life, he is claiming to be the source of life. He does not say “I am a source of life,” or “I have some advice about how to live a good life,” but “I am the life.” He has said this before, in fact not too many days before when his friend Lazarus lay dead in a tomb. Jesus arrives at the scene very late, much to the chagrin and astonishment of those who know Jesus could have healed Lazarus and kept him from death. Jesus finally shows up and has this conversation with Martha:
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world (John 11:23-27 NRSV emphasis mine)
Martha recognizes that Jesus is in fact the hoped for messiah, but she does not seem to grasp that he is more than that. He is the “resurrection and the life.” Jesus has raised people from death before, but that always happens fairly soon after death. Sceptics could point to resuscitation which is more a case of restoring life, than giving it. But Lazarus has been dead for four days. Decomposition has already begun:
39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days. (John 11:39 NRSV)
If Lazarus is raised from the dead, this is no mere resuscitation, a bringing back of what was momentarily lost, this is something only God could do: breathe new life in. By saying he is “the life” Jesus is making a very bold claim indeed.
The religious leaders very quickly got together following the raising of Lazarus to plot the death of Jesus. If Jesus could be killed, then his pretensions to being the messiah would be squashed. However what they did not know was his death was God’s way to secure eternal life for His people:
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. (John 11:49-52 NRSV)
By raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus backed up his statement “I am the resurrection and the life.” By being raised from the dead himself following his crucifixion, Jesus backed up his statement “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
There are those who do not believe that Jesus is alive, or the life. There are those who haven’t given it much thought. Then there are those who are enthusiastic about Jesus. They cannot keep quiet about him. In fact it was the crowd that had seen Jesus’ power to give life that stirred up the excitement about Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem:
So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. (John 12:17-18 NRSV)
Are you like the religious leaders, seeking to make Jesus disappear? Or perhaps you are like the many who have not given his identity much thought? I pray that if you don’t already know that Jesus is the life, that you will, and so become a witness to the living and life-giving Christ.