Palm Sunday 2018, John 12:12-19

1.  Jesus enters Jerusalem

A.   The great crowd

On the Feast days (like Passover as was being celebrated here) there was an influx of people to Jerusalem.  It is estimated that there was an influx of about 125,000 people to Jerusalem during a Passover.  Normally there were only 25,000 inhabitants in the city.  The city’s population grew five times in matter of days.

The population of Cape Town is about 3.75 million people – that would mean that it would grow to 18.75 million.  That would be like the whole population of Durban, East London, Germiston, Boksburg, Benoni, Brakpan, Johannesburg, Soweto, Pretoria, Vereeniging, Vanderbijlpark, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg, and Welkom rocking up in Cape Town for the week!

There was a crowd that we read about at other times in Jesus’ ministry, but this ‘great crowd’ was the Passover-influx-crowd who knew little about the rest of Jesus’ ministry.  They had just heard that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead (read 12:17-18).  This had cause a large amount of excitement!  They didn’t really know Jesus, and this explains why he could ride in with shouts of ‘hosanna’ carried on a donkey but would walk out to shouts of ‘crucify Him’ carrying a cross.

B.   Palm branches and a donkey

This great gushing crowd lined the road with palm branches over which the donkey on which Jesus was riding walked.  The other gospels said that they threw their cloaks down in the road in an extravagant act of welcome and praise for the one riding on the donkey. He entered on a donkey as a sign of humility. He did not come riding in on a horse – the instrument of war, but rather on a lowly donkey.  In doing this he also fulfils the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. It was a claim to be a King.  Read 12:15. Jesus is of the line of David and so has the heritage to take up the throne of his father.

C.   Hopes entertained

Up until this point Jesus has purposely avoided attempts that had been made to push him forward as a revolutionary leader.  When he feeds the 500 0 (20000) in John 6 they want to take him make him king by force (6:15), in John 8:20, 59 the Pharisees are unable to take hold of him because “His time had not yet come”.  But now he allows what the people say these things and will allow his capture:

They ‘great crowd’ uses Psalm 118 to hail him as a conquering hero.  Their redeemer has arrived and so they shout “Hosanna”.  The words in Psalm 118 if you read it are “Lord, save us” (118:25).   They are making a plea for deliverance – and Christ is their would-be deliverer.  Psalm 118 was the last of a group of Psalms that was recited at the Passover celebrations.  The Passover itself was the remembrance of God’s great OT act of deliverance by the domination of Egypt by the hand of Moses.  Moses performed miracles – so did Jesus.  Israel was oppressed by Egypt then and by Rome now.  God freed them then – and they are hoping Jesus will be their champion now.  They see him as their king, saviour and deliverer and Messiah

D.   Expectations dashed

Israel had been under the heavy hand of different rulers for the 500 years before Christ – first the Babylonians who took them into captivity, then the Greeks under Alexander the Great, then the Ptolemies and the Seleucids and finally the Romans.  The chosen people of God hated being under oppression. They were looking forward to the coming Messiah – the one they thought would lose them the weight of their Roman oppressors.

Jesus could have gathered a group of people; he could have tried, like other insurrectionists, to have a show of military might.  He had had 4000 and 5000 men on two different occasions – a bit of organisation and… just like Judas Maccabeus 150 years before.  The crowd thought: this guy can raise the dead; And there are thousands of us with him; If one of us dies in fighting the Romans he can just resurrect us – an endless supply of soldier; more – festive mob mentality (how can so many people be wrong – let go).

But they would turn from being a festive supportive mob to an angry mob of hating accusers: Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him! (19:15).

2.  A salvation he couldn’t bring

The wanted Jesus to be a saviour he simply could not be.  This is a matter that has plagued gospel ministry wherever Jesus is preached.  People want Jesus to be a saviour he simply cannot be.

A.   Political leaders can’t save

The people wanted immediate and complete release from a physical situation (Roman oppression) so that they would have better lives.  They wanted Jesus to meet their immediate felt need, but they could not accept him as coming to fulfil their real need.

And many, many Christian still do that today.  It is the basis of the appeal of the health, wealth and happiness gospel that is pedalled by unscrupulous preachers.  People want a God who will fix their immediate problems: who will restore a broken relationship, provide a (new) job, fix a failing marriage, supply necessary finances food, a place for your child at primary school.

B.   Jesus does care

There are many times when the church prays (rightly) for a change in government.  There are many abuses of power that have been perpetrated by political leaders and governments – here is RSA, in Africa, in Europe, in the USA and throughout the world.  God instituted civil government for justice and protection (Rom 13:14-15, 1Pet 2:14) and to provide a social space for people to live in good conduct (Rom13:3-4).  This is especially in a transition from an evil government / one leader to a better one.

Does Jesus care about our wealth, freedom, health or happiness?

If we simply serve Jesus because of what we can get from him he is no saviour at all.  In fact, he is more like a genie in a bottle than the omnipotent God of the universe.  A genie serves your needs.  You serve the sovereign God and King of the universe.  The test is the same for us as it was for Job, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10).  Our purpose is the say, “I will be content with whatever I receive from our good God because he will always act for His glory and our good.  Let me take you to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus prays: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” and “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”  He doesn’t   pray “get me out” he prays, “get me through”.

C.   Our voice

The reality is that, in our sinful nature we would have been right there in that great crowd, palm branch in hand shouting “Save us, hosanna, save us from those Romans”.  But by Friday we our tune would have changed, “take him away and crucify that would be saviour; he can’t save us from the Romans.”   Ashamed we’d hear our mocking voice call out among the scoffers.

It is not the righteous, after all, who Jesus came to save, but sinners. Sinners like us.

D.   The only true King

Much of the plot line of the OT is involved in the search for a true king for Israel.  Again and again the king fails and falls and the people find themselves oppressed.  After so many kings, can there be a king who is powerful enough to liberate us from bondage and who is humble enough to not allow his power and privilege to terminate in himself?  Palm Sunday finishes that quest.

There is only one King who can bring true peace and hope; who will rule with truth and justice; who will always do good for his people; who serves with true humility.  There is only one king who can subdue our sinful hearts and set us free from the bondage of sin.  There is only on king who will serve our greatest need when it will cost him everything.  Christ, in his death, offers up all his power and privilege to serve our need in great humility.  Death on a cross to restore and free us eternally.

3.  Conclusion

  1. Has Christ met your true, deepest need and set you free from sin and bondage in your life?
  2. Do you want Christ to be a kind of saviour that he is NOT? Do you want something from him and NOT him?
  3. Are you willing to give all your privilege and power to serve the needs of others in humility?