Reading. Jn.12 :12-19
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD
Not long before the time of the Passover festival Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. This had provoked quite a stir and many Jews began to believe in Jesus because of what he had done. The Jewish leaders however weren’t at all happy and they upped their opposition towards Jesus actively planning to put him to death. Jesus decided to withdraw for a time to a town called Ephraim.
As the Passover week drew nearer Jews began arriving in Jerusalem. Numbers in the city would grow enormously at this time – describing a later Passover Josephus wrote of 2.7M being present. Now while Josephus can’t be relied upon for the accuracy of his stats they do point to a large influx of visitors for these religious festivals.
Some of the early arrivals who had come to perform the necessary purification rites began to discuss among themselves as to whether or not Jesus was likely to turn up – after all, they knew of the hostility of the Jewish leaders towards him and they knew how they wanted to arrest him. Tension and excitement was growing in the capital.
It was at this point that Jesus decided to return to Bethany, Lazarus’ home town, which lay just a couple of miles away from Jerusalem. On the Sabbath a special dinner was served in his honour.
Sometimes on the radio you’ll hear the question being asked: who of all the people throughout history would you like to be able to invite as a dinner party guest. I wonder if your list would include Jesus. After all we know from our reading of the gospels that he readily accepted invitations and we often find him eating with others. It is interesting to note however that such occasions were not always comfortable affairs. This dinner in Bethany wasn’t comfortable.
During the meal Mary took some very expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with it and her action provoked some very different reactions amongst those who were there. Some of the disciples led on this occasion by Judas Iscariot were only critical of Mary extravagant waste. Jesus, on the other hand, defended Mary’s behaviour as fitting for his coming burial!
It didn’t take long for the word to get out that Jesus was back in Bethany and crowds flocked there. They came to see Jesus but they also came to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead – in fact many believed in Jesus because of Lazarus and so the Jewish authorities planned to kill Lazarus too.
The scene was set for Holy Week, Passion Week, to unfold. And make no mistake talk of death was in the air – the Jewish leaders laid their plans to kill both Jesus and Lazarus and Jesus himself was talking about his own burial. The regular Passover feast culminated with the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. This year it would culminate with the sacrifice of Christ our Passover lamb, the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Let’s see how that eventful week began. And the opening event is important, which is highlighted for us by the fact that this is one of those events that is recorded in all four of the gospel narratives. This morning we will limit ourselves to what John has to say in the account he has given us. John’s account is the shortest of the four as he focuses upon what he considered to be the most important aspects of the event.
When did it happen?
"The next day" of v.12 is 5 days before the Passover. It is Sunday, the first day of the week. This will indeed prove to be the first day of the last week before the introduction of the new covenant era. Do you remember Jesus’ words which Paul would later quote concerning the Lord’s Supper? In his explanation about that feast Jesus declared "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." (1Cor.11:25). What a climactic week it would turn out to be! And this was a week that began in an impressive manner!
Who was involved?
Well there were a range of participants who played various roles. Firstly, we are told that there was a large crowd (v.12) that was involved. It was a large crowd because it involved all those who had gone up to Jerusalem in order to participate in the feast of the Passover. This large crowd included those who had actually witnessed Jesus’ raise Lazarus from the dead and they certainly hadn’t kept the news to themselves. They had kept on talking about it to whoever would listen. Then, as word arrived that Jesus was on his way to the city, this word spread quickly and openly amongst them all. How these people wanted to see a man who could raise the dead!
Jesus, the man who could raise the dead, was of course central to the events of that day, indeed he was right at the very heart of what took place – he was the focus of attention then and he remains the focus of attention now. Is he the focus of your attention?
We have already noted that the crowds had been asking questions of each other, well, now they had their answer. Was Jesus going to show up at the feast? Yes, he was because Jesus was not running scared. The threat of arrest and harassment could not force Jesus into backing down, and nor could the threat of death itself. Even now Jesus was nearing the city accompanied by his disciples. John doesn’t have much to tell us about the role of Jesus’ disciples that day – for that information we have to read the other gospels – all John has to tell us is that while his disciples were there they really didn’t understand the significance of what was happening at all and wouldn’t do so until sometime later. John doesn’t want us to take our eyes off Jesus for long.
Then of course those leaders who opposed Jesus were also there. They didn’t have a big part to play in these events, they didn’t want to be a part of what was taking place. How frustrated they were by the way Jesus was welcomed into the city with such enthusiasm! How helpless they felt as they failed to stop what they considered to be all that inappropriate admiration of that man from Nazareth! How they lamented their failure to counter the growing influence of this upstart! How they exaggerated the current following that this man had secured when they complained that "the whole world has gone after him" (v.19) and yet how prophetic their words would turn out to be in the coming months, years and centuries!!
What did those crowds do and say?
The answer to these questions lie in v.13 where we read:
v.13 "So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him..."
This was the red carpet treatment. This was the open top bus trip. This was the military cavalcade procession. This was the conquering victor coming home!
Jerusalem was surrounded by date palms – it was then and it still is today. The branches with their fronds were used in ancient times as symbols of victory and of the peace that would follow conquest in war. The crowd, in using them that day, was out to enjoy itself as it welcomed its conqueror and doubtless the feeling of nationalistic fervour was running high as the accompanying shouts of acclamation make clear.
You’ve seen demonstrating crowds on your TV screens marching and chanting their slogans well here was a crowd joyously and enthusiastically celebrating and they too had their slogans ready to repeat:
The word literally means "give salvation now" and how appropriate that would have been as a cry been but by Jesus’ day it had come to be used as a more general word of praise. Every Jew knew that it was a word employed in Ps.118:25 – the whole verse reads:
"Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!"
These are very suitable words with which to address a coming, conquering king.
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
This whole sentence also comes from Ps.118 and v.26 where it conferred a blessing upon the pilgrim heading up to Jerusalem. It is possible that it was also used to welcome and to bless a Davidic king as indeed the very next phrase makes explicit. For the people of God these were most welcome and encouraging blessings.
"Blessed is the King of Israel!"
This cry serves to expand the preceding sentence and to explain exactly who the one who comes in the name of the Lord is.
What the crowd is doing as cried out is to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed king, God’s anointed conqueror and deliverer!
This type of thing had already happened earlier in Jesus’ ministry when a crowd had recognised his importance and tried to make him their king by force (Jn.6:5). Their perception of his kingship was however far too worldly; they were wrong and Jesus would not allow them to proceed. Similarly on this occasion Jesus acted in such a way that would have immediately diffused those misplaced nationalistic hopes and expectations.
What did Jesus do?
A conquering king coming to lead an army into war would come riding to a city upon a fine, impressive and warlike horse – in the OT we’re told that the great King Solomon had four thousand stalls for this kind of horse (2Chron.9:25). But Jesus did not come riding on a horse!
As the crowds cried out he deliberately took a young donkey and sat on that (to find out just how there came to be one at hand for him to use you’ll have to read the other gospels – that’s a detail that didn’t interest John). Jesus would not enter Jerusalem as a war-maker but he would come at that time humble and mounted on a donkey. Listen again to how the prophet had written about him some five centuries previously:
Zech.9:9-11 "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."
Do you see the important elements that are to be found in Zechariah’s words? Here is not the coming of some nationalistic king whose role is merely to further the political interests of one nation:
He comes humbly though he is fully a king - so think of verses like
Phil.2:5-8 "Christ Jesus... though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
He comes as one who is righteous - so think of verses like
Jn.8:46 "Which one of you convicts me of sin?" or
1Pet.2:22 "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth." and
1Pet.3:18 "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,"
He comes to speak peace to the whole world - so think of verses like
Mt.28:18-19 "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,"
Rev.7:9-10 "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
He comes to set the prisoners free by the blood of his covenant - so think of verses like
Jn.8:36 "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
Mt 26:28 "for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
Rom.3:24-25 "redemption ... is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood,"
Jesus was not coming to Jerusalem as some kind of military commander about to lead an army in order to liberate the nation from Roman rule he was coming to Jerusalem to engage in another kind of warfare altogether. He was coming to Jerusalem to take on an enemy against whom the weapons of this world are ineffective. He was coming to Jerusalem with weapons of divine power that were capable of destroying strongholds, the strongholds where Satan held sinners captive. He was coming to Jerusalem longing to gather his people as hen her chicks and because no prophet could die away from Jerusalem.
Reactions to it all
The religious leaders didn’t at all like what they saw – they almost despaired of the situation all their efforts seemed to be coming to nothing, but they persisted in their opposition. There would be a redoubling of those efforts until finally they would have their way.
The crowds were fickle. They had gone out to greet him because of the marvellous signs he had done and they were hoping for more – it wouldn’t be long before another crowd would be shouting out about Jesus only this time it wouldn’t be to praise him but to call for his execution.
The disciples were in the dark. They had seen the crowds. They heard the praises and they had seen what their master had done. But they remained in the dark. They had their own hopes but they didn’t understand what was really going on and they were to stay that way for a while longer. And then the moment came when they did understand! They understood "when Jesus was glorified" that is when he was raised from the dead, when he was exalted and ascended into heaven. The turning point would his death that would take place at the end of this tumultuous week.
And now it is our turn. How will we react to it all? What do you make of King Jesus riding into Jerusalem intent on humble laying down his life as a sacrifice? Have you understood what he was doing? Have you grasped the significance of it all?
The apostle Paul years later wrote:
1Cor.2:8 "None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."
But Jesus’ disciples had come to understand it. Paul himself, the arch-persecutor of the church had come to understand it:
1Tim1:13 "though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,"
Have you understood that Jesus came to die for you as a sinner? Have you called on the name of the Lord to be saved. If you have then give thanks and rejoice and cry out with heartfelt thanks your own "Hosanna! Blessed is he who came in the name of the Lord." Praise be to the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me!