The Forty-First in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Jesus has entered Jerusalem in apparent triumph. As he heads along the road from Bethany to Jerusalem a huge crowd spontaneously assembles and begins the messianic chant, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The people expect Jesus to enter the city, to his take his place on David’s royal throne, and then free the nation from their Roman oppressors. But Jesus is entering his city only to be rejected by Israel, to suffer and die for the sins of his people, to bear the wrath of his Father in his own flesh, and to rise again from the dead. When Jesus does take his rightful place on David’s throne, it will be a heavenly throne when Jesus ascends into heaven. In John’s Gospel, Jesus reveals what he is about to do to a group of Greeks (Gentile God-fearers), who have come to Jerusalem to witness Israel’s Passover celebration. In revealing what is about to transpire, Jesus tells these Gentiles that his hour is now at hand. Jesus speaks openly of his own great anguish, and his mission is audibly confirmed by his heavenly Father. Jesus tells the crowds which assembled as he began speaking, that he must be lifted up in order to draw all people unto himself. Jesus is, of course, speaking of his cross. And those listening to him are struggling to make sense of it all.
We continue to work our way through the Gospel of John. We have come to John chapter 12, and we are considering a remarkable teaching discourse which takes place soon after Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday. The remarkable thing about the content of John 12:20-36, is that Jesus begins to speak about his coming death and resurrection soon after he had entered Jerusalem to the messianic chants of the people. On the face of it, Palm Sunday looked as though this was the long-expected day when Jesus enters Jerusalem to the accolades of the people of Israel to claim David’s royal throne. While the people correctly sense the messianic implications of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, they cannot yet know that events are about to take a very dramatic and unexpected turn.
The sad reality is that Palm Sunday is every bit as much a tragedy as it is a triumph. Although the people of Israel cheer and shout messianic anthems, the reality is that Jesus is not the king they want or expect, and so the very moment when Jesus is arrested and stands helpless before Caiaphas (the Jewish high priest) and then Pilate (the Roman governor), the people turn on him and began calling for his death at the hands of a hated Roman bureaucrat–Pilate. On Palm Sunday, the people see Jesus as the successor to king David and they are thrilled. By Friday (the Passover), they see Jesus as a mere messianic pretender who should be put to death for causing so much trouble.
The events recorded at the end of John 12 serve to set the stage for the lengthy teaching discourse (the so-called Upper Room Discourse) of John 13-17, when Jesus prepares his disciples for his unexpected departure from them. In light of Jesus’ dramatic entrance into Jerusalem, the disciples cannot understand how the whole course of Jesus’ messianic ministry will change so drastically in the next few days. Jesus had raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, just the week before. This was his seventh and most dramatic sign yet, confirming that he is both the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah. On Sunday he entered Jerusalem in triumph, but as we read in the synoptic gospels, immediately after entering the city, Jesus went to the temple to pray and saw that the outer court (the so-called court of the Gentiles), was filled with merchants and money-changers selling their wares. According to Jesus, these men had turned the temple from a place of prayer into a den of thieves and robbers. Acting in righteous anger, Jesus drove them out. The conflict between Jesus and the Sanhedrin will rapidly escalate in the days ahead.
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