March 25, 2018
If you could speak to the world what would you say? Over the past two weeks we heard Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, give an ultimatum to Vladimir Putin of Russia concerning the use of a Russian-made nerve agent used in what she said was, “an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom.” Twenty-three Russian diplomats have been expelled. Of course there is the ongoing rhetoric between Kim Jong-un of N. Korea and President Trump. A lot of posturing and power moves take place on the part of world leaders. It is a game of high stakes
Jesus is a world leader and he has also engaged and addressed the world. But the way Jesus engages the world is very different from that of current world leaders. This morning we are looking at the story of the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in Jn.12:12-26. In the Triumphal Entry, Jesus our King shows believers how to engage the world.
I. WE ENGAGE THE WORLD WITH CHRIST-LIKE HUMILITY. Jn.12:12-19
As the gospel of John develops we see an increase in the popularity of Jesus with the people. Most of Jesus’ ministry took place in the area of Galilee to the north. His miracles and teachings drew large crowds. But in Jn.11 we read that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in the town of Bethany. Because Bethany is just 2 miles from Jerusalem, Jesus also grew in popularity with the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
But in John’s gospel there is also an increasing hostility on the part of the Jewish religious leaders towards Jesus. This hostility is not just because of Jesus’ claim to be equal with God or because Jesus performed miracles on the Sabbath. It is also because many were beginning to give their allegiance to Jesus. In Jn.11:47-48, we learn that after raising Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish ruling council called a meeting and came to the conclusion that if they let Jesus continue, “everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." The religious leaders saw Jesus as a threat to the stability of the nation as well as their own authority. So they decided that Jesus had to go. In fact, in Jn.11:54 we learn that Jesus withdrew to a town called Ephraim in the wilderness. But Passover was coming.
In Jn.12:1-11 we read about how six days before Passover (6 days before Jesus was crucified), Jesus returned to Bethany for a dinner party held in his honor. At that dinner, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anointed Jesus with a very costly perfume. Jesus said that whether or not Mary realized it, she was anointing him for his burial. John 12:12 begins with the words, “On the next day.” The next day was Sunday. It is what we call Palm Sunday. Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.
Because of his popularity and because of the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, we read in v.12 that a large crowd came from Jerusalem to meet Jesus on the road. Notice in v.13 that these people took palm branches and when they saw Jesus they waved those branches crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” These words are found in Ps.118:24-25. They are words of praise and were often used to welcome worshipers to Jerusalem. But beyond that, these words were understood to refer to the Messiah who was to come. The phrase, “Even the king of Israel,” is not part of those verses.
Let me add a little more information. By the time of Jesus palm branches had become a national symbol. Dr. Don Carson writes, “when Simon the Maccabee drove the Syrian forces out of [Jerusalem around 143 BC], he was [honored] with music and the waving of palm branches.” What is more, “Palms appear on the coins [minted] by [Jewish rebels] during the Jewish wars against Rome.” When Rome was victorious, they included palms on coins that they made. The point is that waving palms had taken on somewhat of a nationalistic significance. In welcoming Jesus and calling him the king of Israel, the Jewish people were looking to Jesus to overthrow Rome and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. They were looking to Jesus with nationalistic hopes. They were thinking that Jesus would begin an insurrection and overthrow Rome. Jesus would be their savior and king.
Clearly this passage has much to do with power. Jesus had amazing power. In Jn.6 Jesus miraculously feeds 5,000 people. In Jn.6:15 we read that he withdrew because the people were coming to take him by force to make him their king. Here in Jn.12 it seems that the people were receptive to having Jesus as their king. Rome was not just going to go away. This would require an all-out war.
But in the very next verse Jesus begins to dash their hopes. In v.14-15 we read, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!" Military leaders ride powerful horses. Jesus purposely borrowed a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. In doing so, he fulfilled a prophecy that we read in the Old Testament book of Zechariah.
In Zech.9:9-11 we read, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”
Jesus did not deny that he is the King, but he did make a statement about the kind of king he is. He made a statement about how his power is to be used. According to these verses in Zechariah, Jesus is a righteous and humble king. He is bringing deliverance but clearly it is not through battle. In fact we see in Zech.9 that he is going to cut off the chariot and the war horse. He will not use a bow. Instead he will speak peace to the nations.
Now the people did not understand this. In fact, in v.16 John tells us that at the time, the disciples didn’t even understand what Jesus was doing. They were also looking for a political kingdom. It wasn’t until after Jesus died and rose again that things began to make sense for them. So what are we to think about this?
From what I can tell, by quoting from Zechariah, John is telling us that Jesus does not use power in the way the world uses power. Jesus does not call his people to fight and use coercive force. That is the way of the world. In the world peace is often achieved through warfare and force. Jesus brings peace to the nations, but he brings peace by speaking. It is interesting to note from the book of Revelation that the sword that brings victory for Jesus comes out of his mouth. And then there is the reference to the blood of the covenant. That leads us to the cross of Jesus. Jesus is victorious through the cross.
It seems to me that if we are going to follow Jesus our King as we engage this world we must present ourselves to the world in the same way that Jesus did. This is not about becoming powerless. It is about exercising power in certain ways. Our power is not found in political manipulation and coercion. Rather it is found in our righteous, humble way of living in this world. Our power is not found in the use of deception and force, but in the body of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit. In 1Pt.3:11 Peter tells us that we are to “seek peace and pursue it.” In 1Tim.2 Paul tells us to pray for kings and all who are in high positions so “that we might live a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Jesus did not seek to exalt Israel or any other nation. He came to bring peace through the gospel and righteous living. This is not easy. My sense is that Christians serving in politics will at times find themselves misunderstood, mischaracterized, and taken advantage of as they follow Christ.
II. WE ENGAGE THE WORLD WITH CHRIST-LIKE SERVICE. Jn.12:20-26
In v.20-23 we read, “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’
John tells us that some Greeks or Gentiles had also come to worship at the feast. We don’t know if they were Jewish converts or just interested in the Jewish religion. But they had heard about Jesus and wanted to speak with him. Nothing more is said about them.
But in v.23 it seems that the mention of these gentiles wanting to see Jesus is like a trigger for Jesus. Jesus says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The word, “hour” has significance in John’s gospel. In Jn.2 when Jesus’ mother asked him to do something about the shortage of wine at a wedding feast, Jesus said, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come." In Jn.4-5 Jesus speaks about an hour that is coming. In Jn.7:30 we read, “So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.” The same idea is found in Jn.8:20. This expression refers to the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. This is how Jesus is glorified.
Then Jesus gives a brief teaching about discipleship. In v.24-26 he says to his disciples, “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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
How does Jesus bring eternal life? He brings life by giving his life on the cross. If you take a kernel of wheat and just let it lie there, nothing happens. If you bury the kernel in the ground, it produces much fruit. The way of Jesus in this world is the way of sacrificial service. He willingly dies so that we might receive his forgiveness and have his resurrection life.
When Jesus was in the world, He knew that his life was to be a sacrifice. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In Jn.6:51 Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." Eternal living is found in Jesus Christ who died for us and our sins.
But then Jesus goes on to explain that the same principle is true for all who are his followers. To love your life in this world is to secure and promote your life in this world by using the things and people of the world to your own advantage. You are a self-made person. Those who love their life in this world will end up losing their life. Followers of Christ entrust their life into the safe keeping of Jesus. They die to themselves. They do not look to themselves or the world for life and security. Instead they seek to selflessly serve Jesus in the world. How do we bear fruit in our lives, in this world? We die to self. We live a cruciform life. We seek to serve the Lord Jesus by serving others in the way that he did.
On Palm Sunday we recognize Jesus as our Lord and King. Is he your Lord and King? And if so, do you embody his righteous, humble life of self-denial, and service? Amen