The King Arrives

Posted: August 31, 2015 in John

John 12:12-19, “The King Arrives”

So what’s the deal with Palm Sunday?  There are many Christian holidays in the year, some of which we know & others with which we’re unfamiliar.  Palm Sunday is an unfamiliar day for many people.  It’s not that the basics are confusing: after all, it’s only some palm branches & Jesus’ joyous arrival in Jerusalem.  But what does it all mean?  Why is it such a big deal?

For much of Jesus’ ministry, He’s shied away from publicly walking in the role of a king.  It’s not that He’s made anything about His identity a secret…on the contrary, He’s repeatedly encouraged people to believe upon Him and come to faith.  He stated in no uncertain terms that He is God, the I AM seen by Abraham, and He’s taught of His divine character in many ways.  He is God the Bread – God the Good Shepherd – God the Door – God the Resurrection and the Life, and more.  But to date (at least in John’s gospel), He hasn’t often proclaimed Himself as God the King.  Certainly in other gospel accounts, Jesus was referred to often in Kingly Messianic terms (Son of Man, Son of David, etc.), but by & large in the gospel of John that language has been absent.  The apostle John wrote of Jesus’ deity far more than His royalty.

All of that changes here.  Earlier, Jesus had actively resisted being received as the King of Israel (6:15), but now He freely allows it.  What made the difference?  The timing of God.  Earlier, Jesus still had much to do in His earthly ministry.  Now, the time is fulfilled & He is only days away from the cross.  Now was the time for other prophecy to come true, specifically the recognition and rejection of Jesus as the rightful King of Israel.

It seems like such a strange thing: to be first received with such joy & acclaim, but to have that so quickly turn to hatred & rejection.  It may be strange, but it’s human nature.  We are a fickle & evil people.  And it’s for that evil that Jesus came to die.

What follows in our text is the story of Jesus’ reception by Jerusalem as the King of Israel.  It is of such importance to the plan of God for Jesus that it’s included in all four gospels.  This is the event that (from a public standpoint) triggered everything else that happened that final Passover week.  After all, Jesus could never be rejected as Israel’s king if He had never been seen as a possibility to be that king.  Joe Blow on the street is not rejected as being the president if he’s kept from entering the White House – it takes someone who’s seen as a formidable candidate to do that.  Here, Jesus is seen as a candidate.  The people of Jerusalem had known Jesus in the past, witnessed the things He could do, and heard His teaching.  This was their moment of clarity.  This was their opportunity to finally see Jesus as He really is: the King of Israel.

Sadly, they would not maintain their conviction, and some of the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna!” would later shout “Crucify Him!”.  But for the moment, they did what was right as they proclaimed Jesus to be the King of Israel.

John 12:12–19

  • Praising the King

12 The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!”

  • Since John specified the date, we need to ask ourselves which day that it is. “The next day” after what?  After the anointing of Jesus by Mary in the town of Bethany.  We cannot give a specific date for the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but we know it happened & afterwards Jesus left the general area for a bit.  As the time of the Passover approached, people expected to see Jesus in Jerusalem, including the Pharisees who were actively looking for Him & plotting against Him.  That’s when Ch 12 opens up and tells us that Jesus returned to Bethany six days prior to Passover.  He came to celebrate a supper (presumably the completion of the Saturday Sabbath) at the house of Simon the Leper (formerly) and was joined by Lazarus the corpse (formerly).  Martha served & Mary worshipped Jesus in her own unique way by dousing His head & feet with expensive perfumed oil.  Unbeknownst to her, she had anointed Jesus for His dead, something that was only six days away.
  • So now it’s the “next day” (Sunday) and Jesus made plans to enter Jerusalem.  John doesn’t go into the details of the plan (though it’s thoroughly recounted in the Synoptics), but we might wonder why plans were even necessary.  After all, it was only a 2-mile walk from Bethany to Jerusalem, and it was something that Jesus did many times before. (1) The way that Jesus came was important, as it would be a fulfillment of prophecy (something we’ll see later on).  (2) A plan was simply practical.  After all, a crowd had already begun to gather around Jesus.  They had come to Bethany not only to see Him, but also Lazarus – wanting to get a glimpse of the man that Jesus raised from the dead.  (When Jesus gives life, it’s a big deal!  It attracts attention…and it should.)
  • This crowd didn’t passively sit around while all of this was going on.  They made plans of their own.  Some of them went ahead of Jesus & told the other Jews of His coming – engaging in a bit of unintentional evangelism perhaps.  By the time they got done, now a “great multitude” was involved.  They all wanted to see Jesus & welcome Him to the city, and that’s what they did.  They gathered up “branches of palm trees,” and waved them like flags as they saw Him approach.  They were overjoyed & visually showed their praise of Jesus.
    • How do we visually show our praise of Jesus today?  It might look different for each person.  One might raise his hands in worship.  Someone else might go to her knees in prayer.  All of us can be mindful of showing ourselves as a public witness of Jesus.  Not being obnoxious in how we represent Him, but being intentional to represent Him in public.
    • In regards to posture & other physical things, be careful not to dismiss it altogether.  Obviously our faith is spiritual, and we certainly cannot manipulate God by the way we raise our hands, bow our heads, or whatnot.  We can’t prove ourselves to be somehow “more” spiritual by physical expressions.  But don’t forget, we are physical beings.  Yes, we are living souls in physical bodies, but we will have physical bodies into eternity.  They will be made new in the resurrection (praise God!), but they will be physical nonetheless.  So find ways to praise God with your physical body.  Maybe it’s an act of worship – maybe it’s an act of service – maybe it’s as simple as raising your hands in worship. Throughout the Bible (OT & NT), the people of God praise Him visually & physically, and we can do the same.
  • There was more to those palm branches than simple praise.  It was that, but it was also a cultural symbol.  In the OT, palm branches are mentioned in regards to the Feast of Tabernacles, but that can’t be the case here because it was the Passover.  Here, the reference is cultural.  The Romans were known to wave palm branches during military victory parades, and it was something the Jews were known to do as well.  After the victory of the Maccabean revolt, the people waved palm branches in celebration of their freedom.  Thus when people waved palm branches in front of Jesus during His entrance to the city, they were proclaiming His victory in advance.  They were right to praise Him as the victor, though they got the nature of His victory wrong.  King Jesus wasn’t coming to free them from the Romans; He was coming to free them from sin & death.
    • People still misunderstand the victory of Jesus.  They are looking for temporary prosperity in this life, rather than to the eternal prosperity offered by Jesus.  They are looking from freedom from discomfort, rather than freedom from death.  Some of what Jesus promises in His kingdom will come only when His kingdom is fulfilled & we are physically standing in His presence.  The main victory that He offers is the victory over sin – and that is by far the most important victory anyway.  He didn’t come to make us comfortable; He came to give us life.
  • Not only did the people show their praise of the King, they spoke their praise as well, quoting Psalm 118.  Psalm 118:25–26, "(25) Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity. (26) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD."  When compared with the different gospel accounts, the crowds are recorded saying a bit more or a bit less, depending on the writer – no doubt many people were saying many things & a few things were said in common, including Psalm 118.  Although vs. 26 is obvious in the quote, it might not be obvious about vs. 25 – but it’s present as well. “Hosanna” = “Save now.”  It’s usage in the language by this point had pretty much morphed into a “Hail to the King” sort of phrase, but when used in combination with Ps 118, its original roots and meaning are inescapable.  The people of Jerusalem called out with praise to their King.  They called out with their desire for Him to save & deliver them, even if they didn’t reality what their greatest need for deliverance actually was.  That said, the One who could save them was the One who came in the name of the LORD Yahweh of Israel.  The One who came in the name of the LORD was blessed.  The One who came in the name of the Lord was the King.  In fact, He was the “King of Israel.”  Not “Judea” (or even “Palestine”), the name given by the Romans – not “Judah,” the name of the southern kingdom; “Israel.”  ALL of Israel, the people of God descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The blessed One of God is the One who would rule over all of God’s people, exactly according to the promise that God gave to David.  This blessed One of God would be the One to bless all the nations of the earth, exactly according ot the promise that God gave to Abraham.  This blessed One of God is the blessed Messiah – the Christ – the Son of David & Son of God.  And He is most worthy of our praise!
    • How might we speak our praise of the King?  Many ways: actual declarations of praise as we pray to Him – our confessions of faith as we abide in Him – our proclamation of the gospel as we testify of Him.  There are all kinds of ways to praise Him.  So often our challenge isn’t the lack of opportunity, but the lack of will.  Jesus is the great & glorious King – we are to praise Him with our lips!  It is the very least He deserves.
    • Think for a moment specifically in terms of your prayer life.  What do you spend the most time doing in prayer: asking or praising?  Don’t misunderstand…asking is important.  Asking is Biblical.  We have not because we ask not.  Asking isn’t even a necessarily selfish thing to do – there are many prayer requests that are intercessory & have nothing to do with us.  So asking in prayer is a good thing.  The problem comes when it is the only thing.  Too many times, we spend our prayers asking God for His blessing, and never take any time to bless God.  Just look through the Psalms…so much of it is spent in praise, with David & the other writers in simple amazement of God.  They don’t hesitate to bring their requests, but they are abundant in their praise.  May we be the same way – be abundant with our praise!
  • Prophecy fulfilled

14 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.”

  • So the people praise Jesus as the King, welcoming Him to Jerusalem as a victorious conqueror.  Yet how does Jesus actually approach?  As a humble son.  Jesus could have come in a chariot, like the one that accompanied Elijah as he was whisked to heaven in a whirlwind.  Jesus could have arrived on a warhorse, summoning all of the angelic hosts of heaven with Him.  In fact, that would even have been Biblical.  When Jesus returns, it will most definitely be on a warhorse, and we will be among the army following Him!  Yet here, Jesus humbled Himself.  The One deserving of all praise and exaltation humbled Himself to this point of lowliness, by arriving on a donkey.  Not even on a hearty strong donkey, but a young colt.  The animal was suitable for short distance slow transport, but not much else. (Though from the donkey’s perspective, it more the most precious burden in all history!  That little donkey was the chosen steed of the King of kings!)
    • What a wonderful picture of Jesus’ incarnation!  All of the glorious Deity that He is, humbled to the point of humanity.  He is the Eternal Word of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Co-creator of the universe.  And yet there He was incarnate, walking around getting His feet dirty with the dust He created, and out of which He made man.  He put up with every inconvenience of being human (hunger, thirst, sleepiness, etc.) – even putting up with humans themselves! All of His glory, squeezed into this humility.  That is the incarnation.  And praise God for it!  Without it, we would have no sacrifice, no substituted, no Savior.
  • As wonderful a picture it was of His humility, there was more to this donkey ride that met the eye.  John points this out when he quotes the Scripture that Jesus fulfilled.  John didn’t realize it at the time (as he says in vs. 16), but it was eventually clear as to what happened.  When Jesus rode in that day on the donkey, He rode in fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah.  Zechariah 9:9, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey."  Originally, Zechariah preached of God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from her pagan neighbors.  God on the donkey would cut off all of the chariots and horsemen of her enemies within the land.  That military victory of God is played out by Jesus’ spiritual victory on the cross – demonstrated as He approached Zion (Jerusalem) in all lowliness, but still as her King.
    • The fact that this seemingly simple act was a fulfillment of prophecy underscores something: the sovereignty of God.  God oversaw even the smallest of details surrounding Jesus, and in many cases, put it down in writing.  He left a trail through the OT – a breadcrumb that led straight to Jesus.  Even when the fulfillment of prophecy wasn’t obviously seen at the time, the disciples could look back and be astounded.  In fact, that’s the point that John goes on to make…

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.

  • There were many things the disciples did not initially understand, and it’s not difficult to see why.  We have the benefit of 2000 years of Christian tradition; not them.  It was all new to them.  They were seeing these things first-hand for the first time.  Even for the most spiritually astute of men, it would take time to process it all – and even then, they might not get it.  After all, to come to the unwavering conclusion that that rabbi you’ve travelled with for three years is actually God incarnate is quite a leap of faith.  You might get glimpses of it, but it’d be easy to question and waver.  All of the things that make the incarnation so wonderful would also make it incredibly difficult to believe if you lived with the man.  Why?  Because as the incarnation proclaims, Jesus became fully human.  How quick would you be to believe that the guy you had dinner with & walked with on dusty roads was actually God?  After all, He looked just like you & had the same discomforts as you.  Would God actually get rocks in His sandals?  He’s just like every other guy.  He may have worked miracles & been an amazingly insightful teacher, but at the end of the day, He slept in the bedroll just across from yours, just like any other man.  It’s no wonder the disciples wavered in their belief.
  • So what made the difference?  What caused them to believe?  The resurrection.  The disciples didn’t understand the fulfilled prophecies at first, but something caused a radical change in their perspective: Jesus’ own bodily resurrection from the dead…when He was “glorified.”  A little resurrection makes a big difference!  In fact, it makes all of the difference in the world.  When Jesus rose from the dead under His own power, it provided definitive proof of His deity (Rom 1:4).  The resurrection has no other explanation apart from Jesus being God.  No prophet had gone to raise Him, as Jesus did with Lazarus.  Jesus was dead going into the tomb, as verified by the centurion.  His body wasn’t stolen, as evidenced by the guard.  Jesus left that tomb of His own will and power.  If He had been anything less than God, then He would have remained dead.  God the Father certainly would not have raised a liar & blasphemer.  Jesus both claimed to be God & showed Himself as God.  The resurrection profoundly changed the way the disciples looked at Jesus. (How has it changed you?)
  • The apostle John also gives a bit of hint as to the inspiration of Scripture here.  Jesus was raised, and then the disciples understood and “remembered.”  They remembered His words, His actions, their actions done to Him, and even how He fulfilled prophecy.  How did all of that happen?  Surely by the power of the Holy Spirit.  They Spirit not only gave them the words to write, but the ability to remember even the smallest details
  • Testifying of the King

17 Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.

  • There were actually two groups of people that were present with Jesus that day, both of which bore witness that Jesus is the King of Israel.  Group 1 is listed in vs. 17.  These were the ones who had witnessed the miracle with Lazarus.  Whether they also went out to Bethany the previous night, we don’t know for certain.  At the very least, they knew what happened with Lazarus, and they were able to testify of the miracle.  They knew that Jesus had power over the grave, and when given the opportunity to tell others, they spoke up.  Especially in light of Jesus’ arrival to the city – if there was any moment that was appropriate in telling others about Jesus, it was then.
  • Sound familiar?  It’s not much different with us.  We know the power & person of the Lord Jesus.  We have personally experienced His resurrection power when we received new life after putting our faith in Christ.  We certainly have the ability to testify of Jesus to others, just like the crowd in Jerusalem.  We also have a similar reason: He’s coming!  Just like the crowd needed to tell others of Jesus because He was about to enter through the gates of Jerusalem, so do we need to tell others of Jesus because He’s about to come back to earth.  Jesus could sound the trumpet and call us home at any moment, beginning the countdown to His 2nd Coming.  The time is short & Jesus is at the door!  Who will you tell of His soon arrival?
  • Guess what?  Out of everyone you tell of Jesus, eventually someone will respond.  That’s what happened with the second group of people…

18 For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.

  • The 2nd group heard the testimony of the 1st group, and they came to see for themselves.  They heard of the “sign,” the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and they came out to meet the One who had done it.  The testimony they heard concerning Jesus compelled them to come, and they came.
  • This is the point of evangelism!  Our goal is to get people to see Jesus for themselves.  We tell of what He has done – we tell of who He is – and then we get out of the way.  The Holy Spirit is the One to bring conviction & a change of heart.  We simply pray that our testimony is used by Him to help others want to know of Jesus.  We cannot personally save anyone – we cannot make anyone come to faith.  All we can do is tell others about Jesus, so that they come and see for themselves.  Many may not come, but some will.  When Jesus is presented clearly for who He is, people cannot help but be intrigued.  Who wouldn’t want to see the Man who told the Samaritan woman everything that she did? (Jn 4)  Who wouldn’t want to see the Man who gave life to a corpse 4 days dead? (Jn 11)  When people see the change in you, when they know the evidence surrounding Jesus is real, then they will want to see that Jesus, too!
    • That’s key, isn’t it?  They wanted to see Jesus because they heard of what He did with Lazarus, and they knew it was real.  If people don’t want to see Jesus today, could it be (at least in some cases), that they don’t believe the change He gives is real?  They might hear the testimony that Jesus gives life, forgives sin, and changes heart, but they don’t see evidence of the last part.  The last part is the only part they are able to see.  No one will see who receives eternal life until we get to eternity.  No one knows the forgiveness of sin except the one who received it.  The only publicly evident result of Jesus in our lives today is our transformed heart.  If that isn’t evident, where’s the sign that people will believe?  We need to tell of His work, but as we do so, we need to give evidence of it as well.
  • And again, some people did respond.  In fact, a great many people responded!  Vs. 12 called the crowd meeting Jesus a “great multitude.”  Surely some came just because of the commotion, but many others came because they knew about Jesus.  They had either seen His work with their own eyes, or they had heard about Him from others.  And what they heard was enough to draw them near.  They wouldn’t have come unless they were told, but they did, and now they could see Jesus with their own eyes.
    • May we be those who tell!  How many people are there simply waiting to be told of Jesus?  It’s difficult for us to imagine, especially living in the Bible belt – but there are untold multitudes of people who know nothing about Jesus.  That’s true not only overseas, where they barely even know His name, but also right here in the USA.  Here, they may know His name but they don’t know anything about Him in truth.  They’ve heard about a political Jesus or a legalistic Jesus or a mystical new-age Jesus, but they don’t know anything about the real Lord Jesus.  They need to be told, and we are the ones to tell them.
  • Frustrated by the King

19 The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!”

  • Not everyone was grateful to see Jesus that day, especially the Pharisees.  They were dismayed to see the crowd, this great multitude, gathered to greet Jesus.  There they were, waving palm branches & shouting “Hosanna!” praising Him as the King of all Israel.  The Pharisees had been looking for Jesus earlier, but this isn’t how they planned to see Him!  AT Robertson notes with no small irony, “And the Sanhedrin had advertised to “find” Jesus! They can find him now!”  They hoped that the people of Jerusalem would spy on Jesus to turn Him into the authorities.  Instead, they saw the people rejoice over Jesus and proclaim Him AS the authority!  (God’s ways are marvelous, are they not?)
  • All of the Pharisees’ conspiracy was “accomplishing nothing.”  They believed they could trap Jesus in their own ways, and they were wrong.  They were completely frustrated, and the very thing they hoped to avoid was coming true right in front of their eyes.  They had hoped to convince the people that Jesus was false, but instead, they were following after Him as their King.
  • Did the Pharisees exaggerate?  Of course.  Obviously the whole world had not “gone after Him,” and most of the people in the crowd likely had no idea what kind of Messiah King Jesus actually was.  Again, they were looking for a deliverer from the Romans; not from death.  Later in the week when it became clear that Jesus had no intention of overthrowing the Roman army, the multitude would turn against Jesus.  At this point, the vast majority of people were not following Jesus in true faith.  They had a false hope in a king of their own imaginations; not of who Jesus is in truth.  That said, some DID follow Jesus in truth.  And for the moment, the people DID exalt Jesus as He deserves.  And eventually, many in the world WOULD go after Jesus as Lord.  After Jesus rose from the dead & ascended to heaven, the disciples took the message of the gospel into the world, and one of the complaints against them is that they turned the world upside-down (Acts 17:6).  The gospel of Jesus Christ makes an impact!  It cannot help but do so.
  • The enemies of God were frustrated by the sovereignty of God.  They had no control over the situation, and it seemed that multitudes of people were following Jesus as Lord.  What’s one of the best ways to frustrate the devil?  To see people get saved.  The grand enemy of God is infuriated when people come to faith in Christ.  After all, he knows that he’s destined for hell, so his desire is to take as many people him as possible.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is the ultimate frustration for the devil!  When people hear of Jesus, repent of their sins & come to faith in Jesus, they are automatically transferred from the power of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God (Col 1:3).  IOW, we’ve gone from the dominion of the devil to the kingdom of Jesus.  People are gloriously saved, and they are sealed for eternity by God the Holy Spirit Himself.  That is truly frustrating for the devil.  Good. J  We are engaged in a spiritual war, and what is at stake is nothing less that the eternal destiny of the souls of men.  Satan no doubt wants people to suffer in hell right by his side…let’s frustrate his plans!  Tell others of the good news of Jesus, show them how He is the King of kings & the Savior of the world, and give them the opportunity to follow Him in faith, just as we have.

The crowds would do many things wrong in the days ahead, but on this particular day with this particular crowd, John shows them doing some things right.  They praised Jesus as the King – they saw prophecy fulfilled in Jesus as the King – they testified to Jesus being the King – and they even followed after Jesus, much to the chagrin and frustration of the Pharisees.  All in all, they treated Jesus as the Messiah King that He is, even if they didn’t truly understand the nature of His kingdom.  Things would soon fall apart, and some of those in the crowd on Sunday were undoubtedly among the mob on Friday.  But at least for one shining moment, the world got a glimpse of what it will be in the day that Jesus’ Kingdom is fulfilled.  Jesus is worthy of praise because Jesus it the Messiah – the King – the One who came in the name of the Lord.

Do you know Him in this way?  People see Jesus through all kinds of lenses.  Some see Him as a genie or butler – some as a guru – some as a weakling.  Jesus is none of those things.  He is God in the flesh come among us, so that He might offer the salvation of God, reconcile us to God, and set right what went wrong at the dawn of humanity.  He is the Savior King, and He is to be worshipped and followed as such.  If you don’t personally know Him in this way, then you don’t know Him at all.  Jesus is more than a creed or an idea – He is the Living Messiah of God.  He is the King who offers to save, but that is an offer to which we must respond.

For some, your charge is to see and follow Jesus as the King – for others, it is to exalt Jesus as the King & tell others about Him.  It is too easy in American Evangelicalism for people to think, “OK I’m saved…I’m done.”  Because the work of salvation is already accomplished on our behalf, we think there is nothing left to do.  Not so!  We are first of all to praise our King.  Be it through our actions and/or our words, we are to exalt Him and give Him the praise He deserves.  Our praise is to be public and yet still personal.  It’s not done for show, but it is shown unto Jesus for He is the worthy King.  Our prayers are to be filled with proclamations of praise, declaring His worth and His deeds.

And as our words of praise are directed unto God, our testimonies are to be told unto others.  People need to hear the good news of Jesus.  They need to know who He is, and what He’s capable of doing – not just with Lazarus and other people of the past, but what Jesus is capable of doing with people right now.  They need to know how Jesus still transforms people right now, and gives them a new heart & a new future in new life.  They need to hear it from us, and they need to see it in us.  And when they do, not only will some of them follow after Jesus for themselves, but we’ll be engaging in spiritual battle as the ultimate enemy of God is frustrated once more.


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