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John

Triumphal Entry

John 12:12-26

Depending upon the wealth, location and bravery of the congregation, one of the delights of a Christian upbringing is the chance to participate in the recreation of the Triumphal Entry. To be six years old, with a palm branch larger than you are (rather restricted to warmer climates) and a chance to pet the donkey before the service, is a grand thing. Indeed, there is a sense in which we understand this better as children – for children know that this is for the praise of Christ, while the adults might wonder, “Why?” Let us examine the Scriptures.

Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!£

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”£

“Blessed is the King of Israel!”

14Jesus 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.”£

16At 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.

17Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.

17Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

20Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast.

One reason why this passage makes great pageantry and little sense to us is that we are not familiar with the symbols that these people would have recognized.

McDonald's logoHere’s one you recognize, I’m sure. Whether you wouldn’t set foot in one, or think it the only place to go (when you have the grandchildren with you), you certainly recognize this symbol. In our time and place, it is well known. There are symbols in their time that they would have recognized with equal ease. We don’t, because as a society we ignore the Scriptures (especially the Old Testament). They were steeped in the Scriptures, and they would have recognized these items:

  • The use of the East Gate – the one nearest the Temple – is the gate which (in Ezekiel’s prophecy) belongs to “the Prince” and is to be kept shut because the glory of God comes through that gate.
  • He rode on the foal of a donkey. The donkey is the symbol of a king, coming in peace. A conqueror would have ridden a horse.
  • The foal in question had never been used for any agricultural purpose – which was required of a sin offering.
  • As he entered, the “Hosanna” we hear is actually known as the Conqueror’s Psalm – the one sung for Judas Maccabbeus when he entered the city and liberated it.

Do you see what these things would have meant to the ordinary citizen of the time? The Messiah has been promised for over a thousand years. Here comes a man whose entrance is very much like that which they would have expected – just as much as you would expect to see Ronald McDonald® at that restaurant.

Presentation

From the symbols and songs, we can see that Jesus is presenting himself to the people as being the Messiah, for he claims to be these things:

  • He claims to be a king. That’s what the donkey was for; formal presentation of Jesus of Nazareth as King of the Jews.
  • Because he accepts the crowd’s “Hosanna,” he is claiming to be savior. “Hosanna” means “save now.”
  • He comes to them in the character of a prophet – particularly in the sense that he has a message to deliver. Nothing is more characteristic of the Old Testament prophet than conflict with the ruler of the day. Jesus certainly has shown this with the Pharisees.
  • By his comments about the stones crying out, he claims to be the Creator. No one but God the Creator could make such a claim.
  • He comes primarily to be their sacrifice for sin. It is Passover, the time at which the Jews remember the Exodus and how God passed over those houses who had the blood sacrifice on their doorposts.

That’s who he claimed to be, in symbolism clearly understood by the people of the day. Indeed, we can see from their reaction that most understood his claim quite well – even if they rejected it.

Reaction

Three groups of people see this, and react in different ways:

  • The crowd sees him as the conquering King – which fits their preconceived notion of what the Messiah will do. They ignore the passages in the Old Testament which deal with his sacrifice. This is “wishful interpretation.”
  • The disciples see the same symbolism – but knowing Jesus, they can’t believe him as conqueror. Sometimes these boys were a little slow in the uptake. They know of his greatness – but they don’t see the objective of this. Therefore, they are confused.
  • The Pharisees, enlightened by the Old Testament, see most clearly what he is claiming to be. Those who should know best, reject their Messiah.

The fascinating thing to be observed is that this rejection is essential for the spread of the Gospel to the world. Indeed, Jesus now recognizes that the time has come for the Gospel to go forth.

The Greeks

20Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

The Greeks seek Jesus

The specific Greek word used here tells us that these particular Greeks were what were called “God-fearers.” They did not accept the Old Testament Law – but they worshiped the same God. The Jews accepted this, for the Law was given to none but the Jews. There were certain things that were prohibited to these Greeks; one of them was entrance to the Temple. A low wall surrounded the outer court of the Temple (the “Court of Women”) which prohibited those not circumcised from entering. As they cannot go in, they ask the disciple with the Greek sounding name, Philip, to have Jesus meet with them.

Philip thinks he knows the answer. On a number of occasions, Jesus has told those who are not Jews that he has come only to the lost house of Israel. He thinks these men will be rejected, too. But he has compassion on them. So he gets his brother, Andrew, (strength in numbers) and goes to Jesus.

Why did these particular Greeks get this treatment? Perhaps Andrew saw in them what the Lord did:

  • These Greeks came to worship – which necessarily precedes all actions of the faith. They were not the idly curious, or the philosophically inclined, nor were they the ones who (like people today) would look upon Jesus as a religious oddity.
  • They also understood that true religion is not a case of “what” – but of “who.” Thus they do not approach the Lord themselves, but seek the help of those who are his friends.
  • Ultimately, their contact with him is “friend to friend.”

The great curiosity in this passage is what Jesus did not do. He did not announce great things to the Greeks, nor did he ignore them. He announces great things to the world – because they have come. How is this?

  • The Greeks, symbolically, represent all the thinkers beyond the Jewish culture. We frequently see in Paul’s writing that Christ is Lord of “both Jews and Greeks.” Combined with the Jews, they represent the whole world.
  • In particular, Greek culture represented science and philosophy – whose basic tenet is the superiority of man; man the decider of all things.
  • Unlike previous occasions, where Jesus has rejected those outside the House of Israel, Jesus takes this group to be the signal of the time. It is as if these particular Greeks are the alarm clock of history, announcing the great change from God’s relationship only with the Jews to his love for all mankind.
  • This, by the way, explains the answer that appears not to be an answer. Jesus, as is his custom, answers the question they should have asked.

Loving and Losing

23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.

Speaking about God

The answer doesn’t seem to answer, does it? Jesus takes their “we would see Jesus” and makes it the herald of a new age. Then he explains it in a parable which must have seemed more mystery than explanation.

The key to understanding this: remember, Jesus is God. As such, we cannot describe the limitless One with our limited minds. The technique Jesus taught us for such situations is that of the parable, the metaphor, the simile. His ways are far above hours, and we must use these pictures to understand that which we can.

Power of Paradox

So what does it mean, this grain of wheat? How is it that saving your life loses it, and losing it saves it?

Consider, for the moment, a true hypochondriac – a man totally consumed with worrying about his health. The more he visits the doctors, the more apparent it becomes that he has a mental problem. The very thing he worries about – his health – is sacrificed to his obsession about it.

Or consider the man who is thoroughly greedy. The more he gains, the more he wants. Like a man drinking salt water to quench his thirst, he can only long for “more.”

Both of these men are shaping their attention to the things of this world. Both – if they were to “die to this world” would be much better off. The greedy man might indeed have less money – but greater joy. The hypochondriac will have fewer pills – and better health.

To show us this principle – dying to the world so that we might live to Christ – our Lord does two things:

  • He proclaims this truth to us by parables, so that we might understand it clearly, and then in plain language, so that we might not mistake his meaning.
  • More than that, he becomes the example of his word. He will fall to the ground only to rise up in much greater power.
The Paradox

If we honor ourselves, we get what we bargained for: ourselves. No death, no growth. If we honor him and serve him, we get the reward of God Almighty. We, therefore, should imitate him. He came to bear our sins on the Cross, to die so that we might live. We are rightly his servants; by his compassion his friends, and by the grace of God his brothers and sisters. We are not greater than he; rather we are less. He came in obedience to God the Father; the example could not be clearer. If we die with him, we will reign with him.

The example

Would you like to see how this works? Take a look at our example.

  • Christ died a shameful death, the execution due a criminal. In that death, God the Father brought glory to his name.
  • If we will die to self, the Father will reward us in the same way.
  • But only if we, like Jesus, are completely committed to him. The servant is not greater than the Master, and the Master was completely obedient and devoted to God the Father.

Lessons to take home

It is not wise to leave you with such an abstract concept. Therefore, gentle reader, permit me a few questions:

  • Do you proclaim him as King? In particular, do you proclaim him as King by the way in which you act and speak?
  • Do you proclaim him as Savior? Most of us do – as long as it doesn’t involve obedience, or imitation of his ways. Do you proclaim him as Savior in all ways?
  • Do you know him as Prophet? Or do you go through life expecting him to be as surprised as you are by events? Should you not rather count on him who holds the future to work all things together for good?
  • Do you honor him as Creator? Do his wonders awe you? Does the sweep of nature serve as a picture of his power?
  • Do you honor him as our Sacrifice? What are your thoughts during the Lord’s Supper, for instance?

There is more. Let us learn from our Greeks:

  • Do you approach Jesus in an attitude of worship, or an attitude of one who “is entitled?”
  • When the opportunity arises, are you like Philip, taking your friend with your friends to your great Friend?
  • Do you seek his face? Or do you want and worship the impersonal God who can be bribed with prayer?

And finally, learn from your Master.

  • If you are partially his, how can he be all yours?
  • Is your relationship with him one of devotion, or mutual back-scratching?
  • Most important, are you prepared to abandon your claim on yourself, giving it up to him? Whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake shall find it. Where do you find your life?

I cannot forbear a personal point. My life is best when I abandon all care and give it to my Lord. When I make sacrifices for him, not investments, my love is at its height – and my life is most real, most joyous, most satisfying. The joy of abandoning yourself to him is seldom spoken of today. A pity, that. We have given up the gold of the kingdom for the brass of Churchianity. A very poor trade indeed, no matter how prudent it appears.

Seek the pearl of great price. Nothing else satisfies like Jesus.

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