Bible Text: John 12:12 – 19 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: John – A Better Life | John 12:12 – 19
Imagine a crowded street …
I know it’s hard for us to imagine now, but once upon a time, the streets of London were packed with crowds!
Well, really it was just a few days ago, wasn’t it?
But I mean a time when one of the largest crowds ever assembled in London lined the streets of our city.
It was the second of June 1953, and the occasion was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the second.
It’s estimated that 3 million people turned out, no social distancing required,
Many had even slept on the footpath the night before, all in the hope of caching a glimpse of the Queen on her way to be crowned.
She was wearing the George the 4th State Diadem which is made of more than 1300 diamonds,
Her robe was over 6 metres long.
The Buckingham Palace staff assembled to see her off on the short journey to Westminster, accompanied by over 250 church, Commonwealth, and military leaders, who were joined by a procession of over 30 thousand others, in a pageant that took over 2 hours to pass.
That is, quite the way to welcome your monarch, don’t you think?
God’s king has come (12:12 – 19)
But it’s immediately obvious that there are both similarities and differences, to the way that King Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem in about 33 AD.
There’s a crowd, much celebrating, symbols of the nation, but also, a donkey!
John, the eye-witness records,
The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” u
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
God’s king has come.
There’s already a huge crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the festival, that is, the Passover, and they’ve heard that this Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead is going to be there, so they go to meet him.
The most pressing need that people felt, the problem they’re most powerless against;, death, this guy has a cure for, and that draws a crowd.
Imagine today, word gets around, someone in London has the cure for COVID-19.
That draws a crowd.
The Passover was the greatest of the festivals in ancient Israel. It celebrated God’s miraculous rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt, when God judged the sin and wickedness of the Egyptians, but his judgment passed over his people, those who had trusted in his rescue plan, symbolised by the marking out of their homes with the blood of a lamb.
The historian Josephus, says that Jerusalem, normally a city of something like 50,000 people, at Passover time, would swell to over 2 and a half million.
Now, he’s almost certainly padding the numbers a bit, but there’s no question;, it’s a big crowd.
If you remember, we talked about the Maccabees a few weeks ago, the Jewish freedom fighters from about 160 years before Jesus.
Well since their day, Palm branches had become a symbol of Jewish Nationalism.
Some Sundays I wear my St George’s Cross cufflinks, given to me before I left Australia by a man in my former church who happened to grow up just around the corner from here.
I wear them so there’s no doubt about my allegiance!
But the palm branches were a bit more subversive than, a St George’s cross, or the Union Jack,
Palm branches were a bit more like the umbrellas in the Hong Kong protests of 2014.
They weren’t just saying “this is who we are”, they communicated something about what we want.
God’s people want salvation (v 13)
And certainly the crowd tells us, exactly what they want, and what they thought they were doing.
They quote from their Bible!
They’re crying out the words of Psalm 118.
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
Hosanna means “save us”, and if you look up Psalm 118 verse 25 later on, you’ll see that’s how it’s translated there.
When the Old Testament pilgrims sung the Psalm crying out “Hosanna!”, “save us”, they were praying for God to work his saving purposes out for his people.
When life was uncertain,
When the future wasn’t clear,
When there seemed plenty of reason around, to be anxious, remembering that God had acted to save his people in the past, and had promised to send a king, the Messiah, who would do that once again, they were great things to remind each other of!
To cry hosanna is to cry to God for salvation. It’s asking God, “act now for salvation, like you acted in the past, like in the dramatic rescue from Egypt.”
Or to put it in, slightly less refined terms. The crowd are shouting out “What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
See, this isn’t just a polite Christian gathering.
This is an occupied and oppressed people, welcoming Jesus as the one who is going to save them and their nation!
There’s no mistaking the fact that the crowd are welcoming Jesus as their king, or that they want him to be their king, and that they’re expecting him to save them.
But they don’t think that Jesus is just any king.
When Psalm 118 was first written, those words “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” were words that pilgrims to the temple spoke to each other.
It was a way of saying “Isn’t it great that we’ve come here, that we can gather in God’s name.”
But by the time of Jesus, no one sang the Psalm anymore meaning, “It’s great that you and I have come”, they all meant, “Won’t it be great when God’s king comes.”
And you can see that’s exactly what the crowd are thinking here, because they cry out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, And then they tack on a bit that’s not from the Psalm;, “Blessed is the king of Israel!”
This is a royal entry,
This a king, arriving for his coronation.
The Messiah has come!
God’s long-promised king has arrived.
And we think, that’s great!
God’s king has arrived,
God’s people recognise that their king has come,
They call out to Jesus as he passes them on the road;,
“We want salvation,
We want you to be our king,
We want you in charge of our lives,
You’re the one God promised”,
And yet, within a week, this same crowd is crying “crucify him, crucify him.”
The crowds imagine that if Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead, then he’s the kind of guy we want as our king.
But sadly they don’t understand any of what that means.
The salvation he offers isn’t the salvation they want,
And so they very quickly turn on him.
The crowd’s welcome of Jesus is all about salvation,
And Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem is all about salvation. He’s about to say, in the next section, “The hour has come”, that is, it’s time for his death as the true Passover lamb, as both judgment and salvation play out side by side.
But it’s not the salvation the crowds are looking for.
They’re crying “Hosanna!” “save us”, but they have no idea what they’re really asking.
I mean, they want to be saved,
But Jesus doesn’t bring the salvation they’re looking for,
The enemy he’s come to defeat is not the enemy they’re most afraid of.
It made wonder about what salvation we think Jesus offers.
Do we think that Jesus offers salvation from adversity, that we’ll never face tough times?
Do we think that Jesus offers salvation from opposition and hostility?
Salvation from sickness?
What if Jesus walked into London today, and people recognised that he had some kind of power, over sickness, even death.
There’d be a crowd!
But if Jesus said, what you really need saving from, is something much, much, worse, than what you’re afraid of and in lockdown over now, then I think the next week after his arrival in London, would look exactly like the week after his arrival in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.
Jesus can offer the temporary salvation from any of those things I mentioned.
Jesus can heal the sick!
Jesus can raise the dead!
We’ve seen him do it in John’s gospel, as he demonstrates his identity and confirms his message.
But that’s not what Jesus has promised us,
That’s not the rescue that he’s said he’s come to bring,
That’s not what the Passover and all God’s other great rescue missions in the Old Testament were there to point forward to.
The salvation that Jesus offers is salvation from sin.
Every single one of us has lived in God’s world with no regard for God,
We push God to the very edge of our lives, and then beyond, even though, every single thing we have, comes from him.
That’s what the Bible calls “sin”, and so you can be a good person, a nice person, and still be a “sinner”, in fact, we all are.
And the penalty for sin, is death and separation from God and his blessings forever.
But the rescue Jesus provides is the rescue from sin and its consequences.
And because it’s a rescue from ultimate death,
It’s also a rescue from hopeless,
A rescue from fear,
A rescue from worry in the face of the unknown.
In fact it’s a rescue that more and more obviously, we need today.
But do you see the danger?
Why does it matter what salvation Jesus brings?
What does it matter if it’s, salvation from sin,
Or if someone else says it’s salvation from ever getting sick?
Why do we have to understand the salvation Jesus offers?
Well, firstly, because you can’t receive something from Jesus if he’s not offering it to you in the first place,
But also, look what happens to the crowds, who think they Jesus is offering, temporary, short-term salvation.
When they realise he’s not offering the kind of salvation they want, what do they do?
They turn on him!
They kill him!
They deny that he’s their king at all. By chapter 19, the crowd are crying, “We have no king but Caesar.”
How quickly their allegiance changes, when they realise Jesus isn’t holding out what they thought he was.
What salvation do we think Jesus offers us?
We don’t want to be like the crowd, and ignore what Jesus says we need, because we’re hanging out for some cheap imitation, only to then turn on Jesus, when we realise we don’t want the salvation he offers.
God’s king comes in humility (v 14 – 15)
So God’s people want salvation when their king comes but even now there’s a hint, well, it’s more than a hint, it’s a blatant statement, that Jesus is a different kind of king.
King Jesus comes to his people in humility. See from verse 14, 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
Daughter Zion was a way of speaking about Jerusalem, and her inhabitants, and so here’s a promise that a king would come to Jerusalem seated on a donkey.
Typically an ancient king would enter the city for his coronation on horseback, or riding in a chariot.
Queen Elizabeth rode to her coronation in the Gold State Coach, which weighs four tons, is pulled by 8 Windsor Grey horses, and is worth something in the order of 14 million pounds.
Riding to your coronation in that, as every British monarch has since George the 6th, that says something about who you are, and what kind of ruler you want to be, doesn’t it?
Well, the same with Jesus.
The way he arrives into the city, declares what kind of king he is.
There’s nothing grand about riding a donkey is there?
If you’re trying to make a good impression on someone, if you want them to think well of you, arriving on a donkey is probably not the way you’d go!
First day back after coronavirus working from home, if you turn up at work on a donkey, people will probably encourage you to keep self-isolating!
Plenty of people rode donkeys in Jesus’ day, it’s not that it was an uncommon mode of transport,
But it was very basic.
It’s the second-hand bike bought on GumTree!
But it’s more than just basic.
You’ll see that John tells us, and the NIV Bibles have a foot note there, that Jesus chooses this slightly unusual mode of transport because of what was written in the prophet Zechariah.
Zechariah brought God’s word to his people in Jerusalem about 500 years before Jesus,
And in chapter 9 of Zechariah’s prophecy, God speaks about what will happen when his king, the Messiah, comes to be with his people.
And unlike every other king, God’s king comes in humility, riding on a donkey.
Here was God’s promise that Israel’s king would come, not on a war horse,
Not with all the pomp and ceremony of a king who wants to be recognised as something great,
No, God’s king would come on a donkey.
In fact Zechariah 9 goes on to say that this king proclaim peace to the nations.”
This is not your average king, is it?
This is the rule of the prince of peace, being promised.
Jesus is deliberately and self-consciously choosing to fulfil the Zechariah prophecy.
Jesus doesn’t choose a donkey because, that’s all there was available, you know, the Tube is shuting down at the moment, and maybe Uber’s completely booked out, so all that’s left is just a donkey.
No, Jesus, chooses the donkey, because he’s claiming to be the Messiah as promised in Zechariah 9.
Actually, the expectation of the Messiah coming on a donkey goes back even further than Zechariah;,
Way back in Genesis 49, when Jacob, the father of the nation of Israel is blessing his sons before he dies, he speaks of the ultimate ruler who will come from Judah,
The one to whom all authority belongs,
A leader who will rule over all the nations,
And this great, world-wide ruler, he comes on a donkey;, this lowly, humble animal.
Way back before Israel was a nation, and it was just, one bloke’s family, God had already revealed something of the character, of the king whose coming was still centuries in the future.
This king would be humble,
Jesus could have walked, he’d have done this trip dozens of times before, but in choosing to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, he’s showing just what kind of king he is;,
He’s a Zechariah 9 kind of king,
A king who comes in humility,
A king who brings peace.
And this is the thing we need to understand about King Jesus;
He’s a new kind of king,
With a new kind of kingdom,
Which comes about in a new and completely unexpected way.
To us a donkey means big ears and a funny noise,
To Israel, a donkey meant peace, and humility.
Of course, we know how this story continues.
That by Friday, this king dies, to usher in his kingdom.
Tellingly, in the very next verse of Zechariah’s prophecy, God had said just how this kingdom would come about,
As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. 9:11
This kingdom is ushered in with a sacrifice.
The king himself sheds his blood, so that others can enter, and enjoy the benefits of the kingdom.
Just, cast your minds back through history,
Call to mind the kings and rulers you’re aware of today,
Do any of them rule like this?
I mean, our Queen is pretty great as far as rulers go, isn’t she? She’s probably pretty close to the top of the list.
But even she, on that summer’s day in 1953, didn’t walk from her coronation to, say, Tower Hill, to die for the people who had just welcomed her as Queen.
Jesus’ rule is different,
And he came, not to be honoured by his people, but to die for his people.
There’s much more about that coming in the following part of this chapter which we’ll see in the coming weeks.
But let’s not miss the fact that if this is Jesus’ leadership,
If God has been promising for centuries that this is the kind of ruler the Messiah is going to be,
And if Jesus deliberately chooses to act in fulfilment of those promises,
Then the leadership of those who follow Jesus, can only be in the same mould.
This isn’t a passage about Christian leadership. It’s a passage about Jesus. But since he’s our example, he sets the culture for his kingdom, we don’t want to miss the lesson for us.
God’s king comes in humility, and so it would seem very odd indeed, if we thought that humility was unnecessary for us.
“Sure, Jesus comes on a donkey, but I expect, the gold state coach,
I expect, to be recognised, and praised, and put up on a pedestal.”
Jesus deliberately chooses for humility and peace to be the markers of his kingdom, leaving us in no doubt, what our life under the leadership of King Jesus will look like.
Jesus’ disciples don’t understand, yet (v 16)
But Jesus’ disciples don’t understand all this, yet.
They see it all unfolding before them, but John tells us, At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
The disciples hadn’t realized that Jesus was riding on a donkey in fulfilment of Zechariah 9, and most significantly, that middle phrase of verse 16, they didn’t realise that these things, had been written about him.
Now, John’s not just having a go at the disciples, of which, he was one remember!
He’s just telling the truth.
They didn’t understand.
This is one of the many pieces of evidence as to why we can have great confidence in the eye-witness testimony of the New Testament.
If John was making this stuff up, or even if he was just a little bit prone, to exaggerating or embellishing things to make the Christian message seem more compelling, what would he do here?
Well, I can tell you what I’d do here, if I was trying to convince people of the truth of what I’d witnessed, and why they could trust it.
I’d write, “And immediately it dawned on them, first Clayton, and then the other disciples, that this was all happening in fulfilment of God’s promise through Zechariah hundreds of years before.”
If you’re making stuff up, or putting a better spin on it, that’s what you’d write.
The fact that John’s willing to tell the truth, even when it means painting him and the other disciples as not quite understanding what’s going on, gives us reason to be confident that he is in fact telling the truth.
But he’s doing more than just telling the truth about the disciples’ understanding.
He’s teaching us the doctrine of Scripture.
He’s teaching us how the Bible fits together.
John, writing in the, last quarter of the first century AD, under the influence of Holy Spirit, teaches us how to read the Bible.
In fact, we learn here, what the Bible is.
The Bible is one story of salvation that centres on Jesus.
Zechariah 9 was written about Jesus, John says and the things that were written, had been done to him.
That is, done to him as the king,
Done to him because he’s the Messiah,
Done to him, because Zechariah 9 and Psalm 118 were about him in the first place.
See, I could choose to act in fulfilment of those verses in Zechariah 9, couldn’t I?
I don’t own a donkey, but I looked up animalco.co.uk, and they’ll hire me a donkey! They hire them to Disney, and Harrods, and the BBC, so once we’re no longer being discouraged from unnecessary travel, I could ride up into Westminster on a donkey, proclaiming myself to be the king promised in Zechariah 9:9.
They also hire out reindeer, penguins, and alpacas, if you wanted a slightly different approach!
But do you see that me choosing to act in the way described in Zechariah 9, communicates what I’m trying to say about myself, that I think I’m the king,
That I want to be humble,
That I’m not a warrior.
It would communicate lots of other things, too, I’m sure!
But just because I choose to act in fulfilment of those words, doesn’t mean those words were written about me.
But John says they were written about Jesus.
Jesus didn’t just take those words and apply them to himself, they were always about Jesus.
They were written about him.
It doesn’t matter how many other people hire a donkey from Animal Co and ride it into town, Zechariah 9 will always have been about Jesus.
And the same thing is true about that passage from Genesis 49, and all of the Old Testament.
Jesus isn’t God’s king, because he happens to fit the prophecies.
The prophecies speak about him, because he is God’s king.
And it was only later, after Jesus was glorified, that is, after his death and resurrection, that the disciples understood that Zechariah had been speaking about Jesus all along.
Already in his gospel account, in chapter 7, John’s linked the idea of Jesus being glorified with the giving of the Spirit, so it’s likely that’s what he’s thinking of here;, It’s not just hindsight, but the Spirit helped the disciples understand the Scriptures.
So at the time that this is all happening John doesn’t understand that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise of salvation,
But by the time he’s writing, he does.
Which I think is why John misquotes the Old Testament!
There in verse 15.
That’s not what John’s Bible actually said.
Of course, he doesn’t really misquote the Old Testament. Rather he adds his own interpretation, and remember he’s being inspired by the Holy Spirit as he’s writing, so he’s allowed to!
But in verse 15, the verse quoted from Zechariah actually reads, Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Remember, talking to the people of Jerusalem.
John says Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion.
There’s not a single copy of the book of Zechariah, where it’s translated that way. John has chosen this language himself.
Because now that he understands that the Old Testament prophets were speaking about Jesus as the Holy Spirit carried them along and gave them words, he realises that even though the crowds didn’t fully know what they were crying out for, Jesus did know.
Jesus knew that he was the king of Zechariah 9:9,
And Jesus knew he was the king of Zechariah 9:11, the one who says, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Jesus knows that the salvation the crowd need, only comes by the shedding of blood,
He knows the road to salvation is awful and terrifying,
That on the way to salvation it looks like evil triumphs.
So John interprets Zechariah 9, Do not be afraid,
What looks like God’s king losing control,
What looks like evil and Satan are gaining the upper hand,
God’s plan of salvation, is working out, exactly as it is written.
And in fact it’s a timely word to us, even though we know how the story continues.
If we’ve read to the end, we’re probably not sitting here, heart in our mouth, afraid that God’s purposes are going to come to nothing with Jesus’ crucifixion,
We’re possibly not like the person hearing this for the first time,
And yet how wonderful to be told, do not be afraid, because here is your king!
How wonderful to be reminded, that Jesus is the antidote to fear.
That because of this king, about whom the Old Testament is written, and to whom it points, we have no reason to be afraid,
Afraid of evil,
Afraid of death,
Afraid of Satan,
Afraid of Coronavirus,
Afraid of national turmoil,
How brilliant, that because Jesus is God’s chosen king, who brings salvation at the cost of his own blood, we don’t need to be afraid.
If we trust this Jesus, we’ve been reconciled to God!
Do not be afraid
I can think of no better news, in a time of upheaval, and anxiety and uncertainty, that is unprecedented in my lifetime at least, than to be reminded that since Jesus is the king who makes peace with God through his blood, we do not need to be afraid.
King Jesus is on his throne,
We do not need to be afraid.
Two responses to Jesus – Welcome, or rejection (v 17 – 19)
And so very briefly, to close, as we’ve seen time after time in John’s gospel, there are 2 responses to Jesus.
The first is one of welcome.
Verse 17, Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to spread the word.
This crowd has been with Jesus, they’ve seen the signs, especially the sign of the raising of Lazarus, demonstrating as it did, Jesus’ claim to be the resurrection and the life.
And they do what people do, when they encounter the power of Jesus;,
They continued to spread the word verse 17.
That’s the natural outworking of an encounter with the resurrection and the life;, a desire for others to hear.
Charles Spurgeon, the London Baptist pastor once asked in a Sunday morning sermon, “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!”
He went on, “What is the most natural plan to use for the salvation of others, but to bear your own personal testimony?”
Now, he’s not saying “unless you’ve told 3 people about Jesus this week, you’re not a Christian”, but that people who have truly met Jesus and been changed by Jesus, speak about Jesus, and usually part of that is to speak of their own experience of him being the resurrection and the life. Which is what’s happening here.
Notice though, that the response to this evangelism is not widespread and deeply-rooted revival.
Verse 18, Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.
That’s a distinctly low-key response isn’t it?
There’s no evidence of belief,
There’s no trust in the salvation Jesus brings,
Just, a crowd who went out to meet him, and we’ve just seen, that a crowd going out to meet Jesus can completely misunderstand him and his mission.
It’s positive. People are hearing Jesus. Some will come to faith, as God draws them to himself through Jesus’ words.
But let’s not mistake crowds being intrigued by Jesus, or interested in him, for whole-hearted obedience and discipleship.
And so we shouldn’t be discouraged, if our evangelistic efforts don’t immediately have the effect of transformed lives in those we speak to.
But there is also a response of rejection, as there has been throughout Jesus’ ministry. See verse 19, 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
Again, an encouragement to us, that even during Jesus’ earthly ministry, simply hearing the good news isn’t enough to “make” someone his follower.
There will be some who, sadly, persist in their rejection of him.
Rather than be shaken out of their complacency and rejection by the response and interest of the crowds to what Jesus is doing,
Though there’s now enormous plausibility in wanting to hear Jesus’ words and believe what he says, they can only see that for Jesus to increase in influence means for them to lose influence.
Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
There’s a note of irony, in that in the very next verse, some Greeks want to meet Jesus, and so there is very much a sense that as of this moment, the whole world has begun to go after Jesus.
Now, lots of us would think that’s great!
But for those who are opposed to Jesus, it’s annoying and disturbing.
See, our assessment of Jesus, makes such a different to how we evaluate things.
Makes such a difference to how we respond to him,
Make a difference to the way we look at our world,
How we look at our city, through our closed doors,
Whether we think we have reason to fear, or to not be afraid.
Whether we think Coronavirus is the worst possible thing we could face, or whether meeting Jesus, as God’s king, having ignored him, is far, far worse.
You see, Zechariah goes on to describe Jesus arriving again, this time, as king over the whole earth.
We don’t want to be unprepared to welcome King Jesus on that day.
But the good news is, we have a chance to respond today.
Let me pray.
We thank you for Jesus, our king, that is a humble and gentle ruler,
And that he died for his people, bringing the salvation we so desperately need.
Thank you that we do not need to fear anything, because King Jesus is on his throne.