************ Sermon on John 12:12-19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 24, 2013
"The Meaning of Palm Sunday"
From the Roman point-of-view, there was nothing great about Palm Sunday. After all, what happened was almost nothing compared to what happened in Rome. Whenever a Roman general was victorious on foreign soil, killing at least 5,000 of the enemy, and gaining new territory, he was given a triumphal parade when he returned to Rome. The victorious general would enter the city displaying the trophies he had won and the enemy leaders he had captured. The parade ended at the arena where some of the captives would entertain the people by fighting wild beasts. Compared to this, our Lord's entry into Jerusalem seemed small and inconsequential.
Yet, as we will find out, the Roman view was not the only way to look at Palm Sunday.
I The Meaning for the Jewish Leaders
A We start with the viewpoint of the Jewish religious leaders. To understand their viewpoint, we need to go back to the resurrection of Lazarus. We are told that "many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him" (Jn 11:45). Notice, "Many of the Jews" believed in Jesus. Not a few. Not some. But many.
What was the official response? The response of the chief priests and Pharisees was crowd control. The response of the chief priests and Pharisees was to reduce the size of Jesus' crowds. The response of the chief priests and Pharisees was to separate Jesus in any way possible from His crowds.
Modern police forces in the Western World use a variety of tactics in exercising crowd control:
-they require licenses
-they put up barriers
-they mount police on big horses
-they make videos of protestors or they just check out YouTube
-they use police dogs
-they spray ice-cold water
-they fire rubber bullets
The chief priests and Pharisees also tried a variety of methods in exercising crowd control:
-they questioned John the Baptist because he baptized Jesus (Jn 1:24)
-they kept their eyes on Jesus and realized, with alarm, that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John (Jn 4:1)
-when many of the pilgrim crowd put their faith in Jesus, they sent the temple guards to arrest Him (Jn 7:32)
-they challenged Jesus and His teachings (Jn 8:13)
-they closely examined the blind man healed by Jesus and kicked him out of the synagogue (Jn 9:13ff)
-they decided it is better that one man, Jesus, die for the people than that the whole nation perish (Jn 11:50)
-they plotted to take Jesus' life (Jn 12:53)
-they gave orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest Him (Jn 11:57)
-they made plans to kill Lazarus as well for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in Him (Jn 12:10-11)
To sum up: they questioned, they examined, they watched, they accused, they challenged, they tried to arrest, they plotted to kill. We are to see all of this as their attempts at crowd control.
B How successful were they? Do you remember their complaint after the resurrection of Lazarus? They said to one another, "What are we accomplishing?" (Jn 11:47). And, did you catch what they said to one another in today's Scripture reading? "See, this is getting us nowhere" (Jn 12:19). No matter what they did to control Jesus and His crowds, they were getting nowhere. In fact, Jesus was gaining in popularity.
I cannot help but observe that the chief priests and Pharisees were not always so unsuccessful. On Good Friday their crowd control efforts paid off big time. They stirred up the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed (cf Mt 27:20).
C In October 1991, a dying tropical hurricane from Bermuda collided with a cold front from the Great Lakes, resulting in an event that had never occurred in recorded history. What was the event? A "perfect storm" of previously unknown destructive impact that resulted in 100-foot waves.
In our Scripture reading, the chief priests and Pharisees faced a perfect storm in the form of the crowds of Palm Sunday. I hope you notice my use of the plural – because Scripture indicates four different crowds of people on Palm Sunday.
First, in verse 17 there was the crowd of local people that was with Jesus when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead (Jn 12:17). We are told that this crowd "continued to spread the word" (Jn 12:17). These people were witnesses to and followers of Jesus (Mt 21:9; Mk 11:9).
Second, verse 18 tells us about the crowd of people who heard from the first crowd what Jesus did to Lazarus (Jn 12:18). Upon hearing what Jesus did, they "went out to meet Him" (Jn 12:18). They wanted to see this Wonder Worker, this Miracle Worker, for themselves.
Third, in the verses immediately following our Bible reading we read that there were some Greeks present at the Feast. They asked to meet with Jesus because of what they saw and heard (cf Jn 12:20f).
Fourth, we know the scribes and Pharisees were watching. How else would they know that "the whole world has gone after him" (Jn 12:19)?
No wonder John can start our Scripture reading by telling us "the great crowd that had come for the Feast ... went out to meet [Jesus]" (Jn 12:12). How great was this crowd? Most commentaries state that the population of Jerusalem grew by 100,000 people during the Passover. Huge caravans of extended families of faithful Jews would come and offer sacrifices in the temple.
D From the perspective of the Pharisees, it was a perfect storm of people.
The Pharisees watched the great crowd. The crowds were meeting Jesus. The crowds were honoring Jesus. The crowds were greeting Jesus. The crowds were praising Jesus. The Pharisees can be excused for thinking on Palm Sunday that Jesus had won the day
No wonder the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!" (Jn 12:19).
II The Meaning of Palm Sunday for the Crowds
A What did Palm Sunday mean to the people of Israel? The pilgrims welcomed Jesus and waved palm branches as nationalistic symbols of peace and victory (cf Rev 7:9). Back then, it was said that someone who won many prizes was "a man of many palms." So Jesus was being greeted as a winner; Jesus was being greeted in triumph. The crowds also quoted from Psalm 118:25,26 – which is a Messianic psalm. And the crowds proclaimed Jesus to be "King of Israel."
B Do you remember what happened after Jesus' miracle of feeding the five thousand?
(Jn 6:14-15) After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." (15) Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.Did you hear that? The people wanted to make Jesus king. The people wanted to make Jesus king by force. But Jesus refused.
C If the feeding of the five thousand was "Take One" then Palm Sunday after the raising of Lazarus was "Take Two." This was the second attempt by the crowds to make Jesus king. The crowds thought that now was the right moment. Jerusalem was the city of the great King and the great King was coming.
From the perspective of the crowds, it looked as though Jesus was coming into Jerusalem to incite a revolution and to establish Himself as King.
III The Meaning of Palm Sunday for Jesus
A What did Palm Sunday mean to Jesus? Let's start by listening to what John has written:
(Jn 12:14-15) Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, (15) "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."
John writes, "As it is written." Do you know what follows? What follows is a quote from Zechariah 9:9. Telling us what? Telling us that on Palm Sunday Jesus was fulfilling Old Testament Messianic prophecy about a coming King. In other words, Jesus was acknowledging Himself to be the Messianic King the crowds were shouting about.
John and Zechariah both use the phrase "Daughter of Zion." This is another name for the city and people of Jerusalem (Jer 4:31; Lam 2:4,8,10).
If you compare the original, in Zechariah 9:9, to the quote in John 12:15, you will notice a subtle change. The original says, "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!" (Zech 9:9). Under the inspiration of the Spirit, John turns this into "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion" (Jn 12:15). Notice, "Rejoice" and "Shout" have been changed into "Do not be afraid."
So, what does this revised quote tell us? It tells us some scary things are about to happen. It tells us some terrifying things are about to happen. It tells us some unexpected things are about to happen. But the great crowds of people have nothing to fear because God's plan for the Messiah is being carried out.
B Let's go back to the shouting of the crowds. One of the things the crowds were shouting was "Hosanna!" "Hosanna" means "Save!" The full text from Zechariah informs us that Jesus was fulfilling God's eternal plan for our salvation:
(Zech 9:9) See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
According to Zechariah and John, we are to see the way of salvation when we look at the donkey. Jesus could have ridden into Jerusalem on a chariot like that of Solomon's (Song of Solomon 3:9-10). The frame of Solomon's chariot was made of wood from Lebanon, its posts made of silver, its base made of gold, its seat upholstered with purple, its interior lovingly inlaid (probably with ivory or precious stones). Or, Jesus could have come into Jerusalem mounted on a horse in the same way as Alexander the Great came into any of the cities he conquered. Or, Jesus could have entered Jerusalem like one of Rome's conquering generals.
Instead, Jesus came into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Telling us what? Speaking of what? Speaking of humility and humiliation. Speaking of the cross and the grave. Jesus was entering Jerusalem in order to die. He slowly rode through waving palm branches to be crucified. That's what we are to see when we look at the donkey.
Now we understand why John tells the Daughters of Zion, "Do not be afraid." Yes, things are going totally different than you expect. Yes, terrifying and scary things will be happening. But God's salvation plan is being accomplished. By means of a humble Messiah, by means of a suffering and dying Messiah.
IV The Meaning of Palm Sunday for the Disciples
A We end with the disciples. What did Palm Sunday mean to them? John says:
(Jn 12:16) 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 they had done these things to him.
The disciples did not understand what was happening. In fact, the disciples totally misunderstood what was happening. They lacked the perspective of the cross and the grave. They did not realize how Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. They did not realize Jesus was the promised Messiah Who would suffer and die. They did not realize that God's salvation plan was being carried out.
B However, after the cross and the grave, when the glorified and ascended Christ sent His Spirit, then they understood. They needed the ministry of the Holy Spirit Who guides and leads into all truth (Jn 16:12-14).
Everything seems obvious to us. But this was not the case with and for the disciples. But after Good Friday and Easter, after Pentecost, then they understood and believed.
We've looked at the meaning of Palm Sunday for the Jewish leaders, the crowds, Jesus, and the disciples. Now, let me ask, what does it mean to you?
Compared to parades after the Super Bowl or World Series, Palm Sunday may not seem like much to most of our fellow Americans. But we, of all people, know better. We know our Savior rode through waving branches to be crucified. We know He rode into Jerusalem in order to die.
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