The Fortieth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
There are times when things are not what they seem. What appears to be a spontaneous moment of triumph and joy when Jesus enters Jerusalem to return the nation to greatness, is actually a sign of Israel’s unbelief and hardness of heart. The people sense the obvious messianic significance of David’s son entering his royal city. But for the citizens of Israel, this was a political event with religious implications, not the moment when Jesus enters Jerusalem as the prince of peace, and suffering servant who will lay down his life for his sheep. What looks like the culmination of his three year public ministry–the messiah has come to his royal city in a triumphal procession–is but a step on the way to Jesus’ cross and empty tomb. This is a day of joy because Scripture is being fulfilled and Jesus must obey his Father’s will to secure our salvation. But on this day, the crowds do not understood the true meaning of what they were seeing. Israel’s moment has come, but the people do not understand the significance of what is happening.
We are continuing our series on the Gospel of John, and we have come to Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem–commonly celebrated in Christian churches on Palm Sunday. There are few events recorded in all four gospels–Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem is one of them. As we have seen during our time in John 11-12–which is the literary hinge of John’s Gospel uniting our Lord’s messianic mission (the first ten chapters) and our Lord’s Upper Room Discourse and Passion (chapters 13-21)–Jesus’ messianic mission is rapidly coming to its conclusion. Jesus has raised his close friend Lazarus from the dead, proving that he is the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah. Sadly, the Sanhedrin’s response to Jesus’ seventh miracle is to issue a warrant for Jesus’ arrest–which provides a pretext to put Jesus to death. The Sanhedrin takes this action against Jesus because of their collective fear that Jesus is attracting large numbers of followers and this might provoke the Romans to remove the Sanhedrin from power.
As we saw at the end of John 11, when people became aware of the Pharisees’ order that anyone who saw Jesus or who knew where he was, was to immediately report that information to the Sanhedrin, a buzz began to spread throughout Jerusalem. Would Jesus dare come to the city to celebrate the Passover, knowing that if he did so he would be arrested and put to death? That question is definitively answered “yes” when Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph the Sunday before the Passover. Jesus will defy the Sanhedrin because his chief concern is obedience to his Father’s will and that he accomplish all that the Father has sent him to accomplish. And this he will do.
In fact, the best indication we have regarding the true meaning of Jesus’ entrance into the city on Palm Sunday actually came the evening before, during a dinner given by Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in the home of Simon the leper. After the dinner concluded, Mary took a large amount of nard (a year’s wages worth) and anointed Jesus’ head, body, and feet, wiping them with her hair. When Judas complained that the perfume could have been sold and the proceeds given the to poor, Jesus rebuked him. Jesus tells Judas and the assembled group, “leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” Although the folks in Simon’s home were probably taken aback by Jesus’ rebuke of Judas, and certainly did not yet grasp the full meaning of all that Jesus said, his statement that Mary was going to anoint him for the day of his burial reveals what lay ahead in the coming days. Jesus will enter Jerusalem in great triumph the next day, but by Friday afternoon of the Passover, Jesus will be dead, and once again, Mary will anoint her Lord’s body in preparation for his burial, exactly as Jesus had foretold.
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