The Cross-Centered Resolve of Jesus
Text: John 12:12-26
Have you ever gotten distracted from what you were doing and found yourself doing something totally different because you got distracted? Kids do this easily. You tell them to go and clean their rooms and you check on them and find they are playing with something in a room that's still destroyed. Or maybe you walk to the printer or copying machine at work and start talking to someone, only to forget why you were down there to begin with. I'm the king of those "squirrel" moments.
Sometimes I'll be doing sermon prep or writing something, and I'll pick my phone up to Google something, and will look at social media, and then I'm going down a rabbit hole of information. I see a post about the 10th President of the United States, John Tyler, who was born in 1790. 1790 is forever ago. 1790!! But this guy has a living grandson alive right now. A grandson! So I start going down the rabbit-hole of information, and I pick up all these useless facts about history and the world. And I tell Katrina who is looking at me like "how did we get married?" And before I know it, a little alarm is going off in my head like "I know I was doing something before I started looking at this..." and I finally remember, "Oh yeah, I'm writing a sermon and I was going to look something up!" LOL
So you see, kids are easily distracted from the task.
The reason I bring this up is because we see in our passage today the focus of Jesus to stay on mission. He does not get distracted or easily deterred from his mission, even when everyone else is seeking to pull him in another direction. It's this focus and determination from Jesus that often leaves us disappointed, yet at the same time, is the only reason why our souls are saved. I'll show you what I mean as we explore this text together.
Exegesis of John 12:12-26
Last week we looked at the first 11 verses of ch. 12. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus hold a dinner in honor of Jesus at their home in Bethany. Mary pours out an expensive ointment on Jesus' feet, Judas objects that it is a waste. We spoke about how the love of Jesus' followers either matches or falls short of the actual worth of Jesus. Great crowds gathered in Bethany when they heard Jesus was there, and when the heard Lazarus was there.
vs 12-13 -- The next day, after this dinner at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the crowds that had poured into Jerusalem for Passover heard that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him. They lined the roads and offered a reception of Jesus as he came into the city. They shouted out:
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
This is a quotation from Psalm 118:25-26. Psalm 118 was one of the Hallel Psalms which were recited at Passover time. All 4 of the Gospels record that Jesus entered Jerusalem in the days leading up to Passover to gathered crowds shouting that Jesus is the one "who comes in the name of the Lord." In all 4 of the Gospels, which supplement each other well in accounting for this event, calls Jesus the Son of David, the king-protector, the king-peacemaker, and the King of Israel.
vs 14-15 -- Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written:
“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!”
This is a quotation from Zechariah 9:9. There is a lot of Scripture fulfillment going on here. It is important to note that Jesus doesn't have a list of prophecy fulfillments he is checking off. It's not like "ride donkey into town" was next on his list, so he found a donkey. No, he is going about the plan written from the foundation of the world. The prophecy only looked forward to what God determined would happen, and the prophecy simply serves as a sign of its being from God.
Now, let's take a minute to give some historical context to what is taking place in this moment as Jesus enters the city on a donkey with palm branches because we've grown used to talking about this story, and kids act it out in church plays, but we don't often understand all the symbols at work.
About 200 years prior to Jesus' arrival, Jerusalem lay under Greek rule. Alexander the Great had conquered much of the known world. But after his death, his kingdom was divided. And the Israel, including Jerusalem laid under the rule of Seleucid Empire, one of the 4 sectors of the divide Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great. Eventually a group of Jews revolted against their rulers, led by a man named Judas Maccabeus. The revolt began in the countryside and small towns. Along the way they built an army up that they took into Jerusalem and won victory and independence. They cleansed the Temple of idols. By the way, this whole event is what Jews celebrate Hanukkah each year. Judas Maccabeus rode into Jerusalem on horse as victor over Israel's captors and oppressors. The waving of palm branches became a national symbol of this victory and independence.
So here comes Jesus, the one who raised Lazarus from the dead, who taught the Kingdom, turned water into wine, defied the religious leaders, cleansed the Temple, and many other signs, riding into Jerusalem at Passover, on a donkey, and the crowds gather with palm branches. Make no mistake: the crowds believe he is the king. But they don't understand how this king is different than Judas Maccabeus. They think Jesus is coming in like the Maccabee revolt to overthrow oppressors. The crowds think the Romans are going to be defeated, just as the Greeks were. But they should have recognized that Jesus didn't ride in on a horse, but on a donkey. The prophet Zechariah saw Israel's king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. This king isn't coming to deal with freedom from earthly captors, but from spiritual captors and principalities. He's not coming to swing the sword to free his people, but to lay down his life to purchase his people's freedom.
Principle: 1. Jesus doesn't shift his plans according to others expectations of him. Why? Because he is acting in accordance with eternal plans, not hastily reacting to what others want or expect. They are ready to make him king, and waving the palm branches because they expect him to follow the actions of Judas Maccabee, but this same crowd will later yell crucify when Jesus doesn't fulfill their expectations.
Application: A. Idolatry is creating Jesus in our own image. It is important that we grasp this in our lives. We can create expectations of how Jesus is suppose to act or respond. We can project our aspirations and agendas on to him, but he is under no constraint, obligation, or pressure to act accordingly. B. Many are disappointed with God, not because He ever lets us down, but because He doesn't fulfill promises He never made. The crowds lining the streets with palm branches did here, but we need to be careful not to do it too. We can do it when we expect that frequent church attendance and financial giving is going to equate to that job promotion we've wanted. Or when we think that we can manifest that spouse into our lives that we want, or to finally get pregnant, because we're thinking positive thoughts and trying not to live too sinful.
vs 16 -- John inserts for readers that Jesus' disciples did not understand what was happening. In the moment, they were not discerning. Only after Jesus' death and resurrection, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in them, did they remember these events later with more discernment. Only later did they connect what they watched to what Scripture foretold.
Principle: 2. Some of the things God is doing in our lives are not discernible until we've gained more spiritual wisdom.
Application: A. God is always at work around us, and in us, but often times we treat things as random or arbitrary. When we didn't get the job. We we lost our parent. When the relationship fell through. When the anxiety or depression doesn't immediately lift. We think in these moments, and many others, that God is outside of these things. God is above them, and they are just random events, hurts, or inconveniences in our lives. But God is always at work. And this is where trust is birthed. This is where faith lives. Often times in looking backwards we see the hand of God clearer than when we were in the moment.
vs 17-19 -- Meanwhile, what is happening in and around Bethany and Jerusalem is that the people who saw Lazarus raised from the dead, or heard from people who had, continued bearing witness. They kept talking about. Word was spreading. John tells us that this is one of the reasons why they went out to meet him is because they heard he had done this sign. The Pharisees respond to one another that many of the people have left them, and their authority, and have gone after Christ instead.
vs 20-22 -- There are Greeks there in Jerusalem for Passover. They are non-Jews. Why are they there to worship if they are not Jews? Because there were many non-Jew who believed the God of Israel was the One True God. These people in Scripture are called God-fearers. Some of them approach Philip, one of the twelve disciples, and ask for an audience with Jesus. They reason they need to ask is because of the great crowds, and prominence. Jesus is surrounded by people. Philip responds by going to Andrew, then Andrew and Philip both went to ask Jesus.
Principle: 3. Access to Jesus got harder as he grew in prominence. This is true with lots of people. The more someone grows in demand, the more selective and strategic they have to be with their time. This happens in all aspects of life. These Greeks had heard about Jesus, they were in town, and they pulled aside Jesus' disciples asking for time with Jesus.
Application: A. Marvel at this reality: you have unhindered access at all time in prayer. Our prayer lives should reflect that we believe we have access, and that Jesus is worth going to. It is a privilege to access God, especially in light of our sinfulness and failures. We don't deserve by any means, but he gives it graciously.
vs 23-24 -- Jesus answered Philip and Andrew one of the most significant comments in all the Gospels. He says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." Throughout the Gospel of John, we've heard Jesus say, and John say, that nobody was able to lay a hand on Jesus because his hour hadn't come. Or it would say Jesus resisted their efforts to boost his popularity further because his hour had not yet come. The "hour" in this case is the hour of his death. The climax and mission of his coming is to go to the cross. He says the hour HAS COME now. And that hour will glorify him.
Jesus says that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He uses an agricultural analogy here as a lesson. There is a physical law of nature at work here. If a grain of wheat doesn't fall to the ground, it cannot reproduce. But if it falls to the ground, and goes into the earth, and the death of that single grain gives life to a blade, then a stalk, and then an ear of corn. Only in dying does the grain bring forth a harvest. Why does Jesus connect this to the Son of Man about to be glorified? Because he is the grain of wheat. He is the one that is about to die so that a harvest of salvation can come.
Principle: 4. Jesus' death on the cross bears the fruit of salvation for all who believe. Again, the words of Jesus to Philip and Andrew probably don't land with the force that they do with us, because we know what happens at the end of this week. They do not. We know the cross looms before him. His eyes are set on Jerusalem and what awaits him there. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus is riding to his death for us.
Application: A. Salvation is offered to us through Christ alone. B. We must believe that his death covers our sins and cry out for him to receive us. This is passive in that it is done FOR us, but it is active in that we MUST confess and believe.
vs 25-26 -- Jesus teaches that whoever loves his life will lose it. He doesn't mean that you can't love life, or things in your life. He's saying you can't love your life in terms of owning it and leading it. If you do that, you lose your life. It's spiritual death for anyone who doesn't lay it down to Jesus. If you are going to serve him, you must follow him. Where Jesus is, there his servants will be. And the one that serves Christ is honored by the Father. In other words, your relationship with God the Father is directly related to your relationship with God the Son. You can't have one without the other.
Principle: 5. Belonging to Christ means serving him wherever he goes. And what brings this teaching on? The desire of the Greeks who travelled in to Jerusalem for Passover who wanted to meet the man everyone was talking about. Jesus uses this moment to teach them. He's not there to sign autographs. He's there to covenant with a people. He's not there to win an election. He's not shaking hands and kissing babies for photo ops. He's there to call people to lay down their lives (as he's about to do) and follow him in building the Kingdom of God.
Application: A. This is what it means to lose your life in order to gain it. You follow him and not yourself. You obey him, and not yourself. You listen to him, and not yourself. B. You have gifts, resources, and time given by God intended for the building of His kingdom. Where Christ is at work should be a place where you leverage these God-given assets. Jesus says that the one who serves him will be honored by the Father. The Father delights when we serve His Son. Are you serving the Son?
It's this focus and determination of Jesus to keep his eyes on his mission that often leaves us disappointed, because we want him to do what we want. We often want him to fulfill our desires and plans. But he is too focused on the eternal plan, and living in accordance with the divine will, to do otherwise. Yet at the same time, praise be to God, it is only because he is that focused and unable to be drawn away, that our souls are saved. How? Because his determination lead him to the cross. His mission was our redemption. His purpose was our restoration.
Let's repent today of every effort we make to squeeze Jesus into our plans.
Let's repent today of every fit we pitch when Jesus acts according to His will and not ours.
Let's repent today of every instance of making Jesus into our image instead of worshipping him as he truly is.
Let's respond today with a heart of gratitude that he doesn't give us what we want, but gives us what we need.
Let's respond today with trust that his plans are far greater than our own, despite our wise and good we think ours are.
Let's respond today with faith that only Jesus' death can make us whole again from the brokenness of sin.
Let's respond today with willingness to serve Jesus and His kingdom for the rest of our days.