Tuesday, July 01, 2014

When the World Goes After Jesus (John 12:12-19)

The Gospel According to John is remarkably unique when compared to the other Gospels of the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record so many of the same incidents in the life and ministry of Jesus that they are known as the “Synoptic Gospels.” The word “synoptic” means that they “see together.” John provides more unique incidents than any of the others. He was writing this Gospel decades after the others were completed, and had the ability to fill in details and information that the others had omitted. Therefore, when John records the same incidents that the Synoptic Gospels record, it is because these events are extremely significant in redemptive history. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on the Sunday preceding Passover is one of these events. So important are the events of this final week of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry that nearly half of John’s Gospel is devoted to it. We call this week “Passion Week,” because this week culminates in the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the week begins here at this point in John 12, and continues to the end of the book.

In the passages leading up to this one, we have been seeing the growing antagonism and animosity toward Jesus, culminating in the decision of the Sanhedrin to apprehend and execute Him. In 11:53, we read, “From that day on they planned together to kill Him.” But so far, the plan is futile. Try as they may to silence Jesus and intimidate His followers, we can see their exasperation in verse 19 as they say, “You see that you are not doing any good.” In other words, “This is useless! It is getting us nowhere!” Why are they so frustrated with the futility of their plan? Because after seeing the demonstration of the people celebrating the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, they have concluded, “Look, the world has gone after Him.”

Certainly there is a bit of hyperbole here. At no point in history has the whole world gone after Jesus. But the public response to Him was overwhelming upon His entry into Jerusalem. And since that time, multitudes have continued to go after Him. Many have believed and trusted in Him as Lord and Savior. Others are merely intrigued and curious about Him. But one thing is true, and has been since He came into the world: the world simply cannot ignore Jesus Christ. So it will continue until He returns. Indeed, the world is going after Him. In the account of His entry into Jerusalem, we see a glimpse of what this looks like when the world goes after Jesus.

I. When the world goes after Jesus, their expectations will be challenged (vv12-15).

A few years ago, I was in Louisville for a meeting and a friend texted me and said he knew of a place we could go that had the best steaks in town. So, I loaded up a car full of pastors and we drove over to this place – it was a hole in the wall on the bad side of town – and we went in and said, “We’re here for the best steaks in town!” The waitress just looked at me funny and chuckled as she said, “We don’t serve steak.” I asked, “Did you used to serve steak? My friend said you had the best steaks in town.” She said, “We’ve never served steak. We are famous for our fried chicken.” Everyone at the table was looking at me like, “What have you gotten us into?” But we ordered the fried chicken and it was excellent. In fact, it was so good that I’ve been back several times since. But, there was that initial disappointment that was a little hard to get over. We had our minds set on steak, and all they offered us was chicken. Our expectations were challenged.

There’s a similarity in that story with the one we have just read. The people coming out to meet Jesus and cheer Him on as He entered Jerusalem had high expectations of what He was coming to do. They had gone to great effort to gather the palm branches that they would wave and spread out on the roads as He entered. The palm branch was a symbol of the nation of Israel and it was a symbol of victory. They indicate that the people expected Jesus was coming in to bring victory to the nation over its political oppressor, the Roman Empire.

Then they began to shout, “Hosanna!” That’s a familiar word for most Christians; we hear it often in our songs and sermons and Sunday School lessons. But what does it mean? If you look it up in Greek, you find the Greek word underlying “Hosanna” here in our English Bibles is “Hosanna.” That’s not helpful. Basically, the English translators just transliterated the word, meaning that they simply made the Greek word an English word. So what does the Greek word mean? Well, it actually comes from Hebrew, and when the word was written in Greek, the Gospel writers essentially did the same thing. They just carried over the Hebrew word. In Hebrew it is Hoshiya-na, and it means something like, “Save us now!” In the Old Testament, it is found in only place: Psalm 118:25. What is interesting here is that they go on to exclaim the rest of the words from Psalm 118:25-26: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” This passage had come to be one of great significance for Israel as they awaited the Messiah. It was a plea for God’s deliverance, and then a praise, by faith, that the deliverance for which they asked is, in fact, coming. It is as if they are saying, “Lord, we pray that you will save us, and we bless the name of the One who has come in Your name to do so!” But then they go on to add words that are not in the Psalm – “Even the King of Israel.” And here is where their expectations go astray.

It is clear from their jubilant praise that they expected Jesus to come in as a warrior-king, metaphorically riding on the white war-horse, to overthrow Israel’s oppressors. Their minds were set on a political king, who would establish a political kingdom by military might, to rescue them from earthly oppression. But this is not how Jesus came. Ironically, He came in riding, not on a white stallion, but on a young donkey. The donkey is not a symbol of power and triumph, but a symbol of humility and servanthood. And it is this picture of the coming King mounted on a donkey that Scripture had foretold about the coming Messiah. The ruler who would come from the tribe of Judah was promised in Genesis 49, who would tie his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, before washing his garments in wine, and his robes in the blood of grapes. It was this imagery that was captured in the prophecy of Zechariah that John quotes here. While the people were expecting one kind of King, this King came, in the words of Zechariah, “righteous, and having salvation, humble, and moutned on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). At the sight of Him coming, the people of Jerusalem (the daughter of Zion) should not fear, but in the words of Zechariah, should rejoice greatly and shout in triumph.

They were rejoicing and shouting in triumph, but with the wrong expectations. They were rejoicing and shouting in triumph because they thought that Jesus was coming to throw off the oppression of Rome. But in fact, Jesus was coming as the righteous and humble king, to serve humanity by ransoming His people from their sins, at the cost of His own life-blood. He was not what they wanted, but He was what they most desperately needed! Better to die under Roman oppression with sins forgiven before God through His atonement than to die as free men while still enslaved to sin. And so if these would truly go after Jesus, they must have their expectations challenged and see Him, not as the King they wanted, but as they King that that needed.

It is still the case today. If the world would go after Jesus, they must have their expectations challenged. It is with great shame that the leading spiritual export of the United States today is that theological garbage known as the “Prosperity Gospel” which proclaims that if one will follow Jesus, he or she will be free from sickness, free from poverty, and will be able by faith to simply name it and claim it, whatsoever they ask. Around the world, multitudes are led astray, rejoicing to welcome a Jesus that will make their wives fertile, and make their livestock healthy, and make their incomes greater, and their children successful. Here at home, it is on every television station and in a vast majority of books sold under the heading of Christian literature. And it is a lie! What is more deceptive is the subtle variety of this that creeps into even Bible-believing evangelical churches. People are told that if they follow Jesus, their business will succeed, their marriage will be better, their children will always obey, their golf game will improve, and so-on, and so-on. They are promised that nothing bad will ever happen to them, and if it does, then it is evidence that one’s faith is weak. Friends, I plead with you to adjust your expectations accordingly when you go after Jesus! He has not promised to make you healthy, wealthy, popular and beautiful – that is, at least not in this life. The Bible promises suffering and hardship for the people of God, and we are not suddenly immune to the pressures and problems of life in these fallen bodies in this fallen world. I believe it is true that life here-and-now is better by far with Jesus than without Him, but I also believe that it is “through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). It is better to leave this world, beaten and broken by the hardships and sufferings of life, and know that eternal life with Jesus awaits because He has come to impart salvation through His shed blood to rescue us from sin and its eternal penalty. How much worse off is the one who has it all here and now, and departs this world to enter eternal condemnation in hell because they were not saved from their sins through the blood of Jesus? 

He came to be the King, but He had come to be a King in a way that the people did not expect, or even want. That is why, before this week is out, some of this very crowd crying “Hosanna,” will begin to cry out, “Crucify Him!” They were not willing to receive the Jesus who did not meet their expectations – the One who was not exactly what they wanted, but who was what they most desperately needed. This brings us to the second point here in the text …

II. When the world goes after Jesus, they must see the greatest demonstration of His glory in the cross (v16)

When Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, he had one burning desire in His heart. He longed to see the glory of God. After experiencing the presence of God in the burning bush, seeing God bring judgment upon Egypt through the unfathomable plagues, seeing Him part the Red Sea to bring His people out of bondage and wipe out their enemies, seeing Him lead His people by a visible pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, after seeing countless miracles, and meeting with God on the top of the mountain where He received the Law inscribed by God’s own hand, Moses could still look toward heaven and cry out, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” Do you long for the glory of God? I imagine that in the heart-of-hearts of every human being who has ever lived, there has been this insatiable yearning. Every desire that we have for things that are beautiful, things that are majestic and splendid, things that are truly great, is ultimately rooted in our desire to behold the glory of the Lord. David prayed, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that shall I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.” He longed for God’s glory to be displayed.

Maybe you have been in worship services before, when the music was beautiful and the praise was emotional, and the hairs on your arms stood on end, and you thought, “We have beheld the glory of God!” If there was ever a time of public, corporate worship such as this, it was on the Sunday when Jesus entered into Jerusalem. Their exuberance and celebration would make most church’s Sunday services look like an insurance seminar. There was singing, there were tears, there were hands lifted high, there was an emotional fervor. But this is not where Jesus’ glory was most greatly displayed. Notice if you will in verse 16 that the disciples did not yet fully understand all that was taking place there on that day. They didn’t understand the cries of “Hosanna!”, the massive public celebration, the calls for Jesus to be their King, and most of all they did not understand the donkey. And then notice this key phrase half-way through verse 16: “But when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.” It is pointing to something yet future. Jesus had not yet been glorified. But soon, He would be. And when He was glorified, everything changed.

So, when and where was Jesus “glorified” in this ultimate sense. There are indicators throughout John’s Gospel. In Chapter 7, when Jesus spoke of living water that He could give, John says, “This He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (7:39). Later in Chapter 12, Jesus will say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23). In Chapter 13, as Judas leaves the upper room to go cash in on his promise to betray the Lord unto death, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him ” (13:31). So, when and where is Jesus most “glorified”? It is clear that His glory is most expressly demonstrated in His death and resurrection.

That’s not what you expected is it? It is not what anyone expected either. It is in the betrayal, the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus that He shines with the greatest glory. It is centered on the cross – the things leading up to it, and the things that follow after it are included, but the cross stands at the center of it all. The reason why the cross is the focus of the greatest demonstration of the glory of Jesus Christ is because the cross is the reason for His coming into the world. He came to die on this cross to rescue us from sin and reconcile us to God. In the cross, the mercy, the love, the grace, the power, the wisdom, and the holiness of God-in-Christ are put on grand display. Here He bore our sins, so that in God’s holiness, the penalty of sin could be paid in full; while in God’s mercy, sinners could be saved. Here He poured out His life and His love, through His blood, that you might be brought near to God for eternity. Here, He made it possible for you to be cleansed of sin and covered in His righteousness, that you might be filled with His Spirit, and transferred into His Kingdom as the adopted sons and daughters of God.

Is the cry of your heart to behold the glory of God? You will find it displayed nowhere more clearly than in the cross of Jesus Christ. If you would go after Jesus, look to the cross upon which Christ died for you, and there you see the glory that your heart desires and that you were created to behold! The cross of Christ must become the center of our lives, the focus of our very existence. It is only as we see all of life and all of history through the glory of Christ manifested upon the cross that the things of this world and the world to come begin to make sense. The disciples didn’t understand what was going on around them, until Jesus was glorified. Then, filled with His Spirit, they perceived the purpose and plan of God in the things that they witnessed and experienced. The same will be true for us. It is only as we see the cross that we behold the glory of Christ, and all other things are illuminated by the brilliant light of His glory. 

Now we come finally to verses 17-19, where we find this …

III. When the world goes after Jesus, it will be because His people have testified faithfully to Him (vv17-19)

Every now and then Donia and I will go to a great restaurant or find a shop that we love, and we tell our friends about it. Pretty soon, we go back, and it is more crowded than it was before. Soon thereafter, we go back, and can hardly get in the door. So, we’ve learned a lesson. Now when we find some place we really like, we say to each other, “Let’s let this be our little secret.” That way no one will ever find out about it, and the crowd won’t get too big. Obviously, this is not how the people who had experienced the power and grace of Jesus felt about Him. On the contrary, they couldn’t stop talking about Him. And it was through their testimony that we find that the world was going after Jesus.

There are two groups of people that comprise this multitude that have gone after Jesus. Verse 17 tells us about one of the groups. These were those “who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead.” Verse 18 tells us about the other group. These are those who “went and met Him because they heard that He had performed this sign.” Now how did they hear that Jesus had raised Lazarus? Because verse 17 says that the group that was with Him when He did it “continued to testify about Him.”

Surely, the Lord in His omniscient wisdom, His omnipotent power, and His complete sovereignty, could have chosen to bring the world to Himself by any means whatsoever. And given His manifold perfections, we must trust that He chooses to always and only do that which He deems to be the best thing. And beloved, what He has chosen to do, by His grace and mercy, is to entrust the winning of the world to Jesus into our hands. Each of the four Gospels, and the book of Acts, record for us in five different ways the final words of Jesus to His disciples before He ascended into heaven. And in each of those writings, we find those last words to contain what we call “The Great Commission.” That it is recorded in five different ways must only mean that He spoke it to them in different ways over and over again as if to drill into their heads that the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ has been entrusted to His church. How will your family members and friends go after Jesus? How will those who live within this nation who are yet unsaved go after Him? How will the unreached multitudes go after Him – the over 251 million people who live among 3,052 people groups that have no access to the gospel, and the 4 billion who live among 6,546 people groups with limited access to the gospel? My friends, they will only go after Jesus as we who know Him and have experienced the power and grace of His salvation continue to testify about Him. We must go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). We must go and tell others that He who died for them is risen from the dead and will receive them (Mark 16:6-7). This gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed to all the nations, and we are the witnesses who must proclaim it (Luke 24:46-49). As the Father sent the Son into the world, so He has sent us into the world to testify of Him (John 21:20). We have received power because the Holy Spirit has come upon us, and we are His witnesses in our own community, in our nation, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The book of Revelation tells us that Jesus was slain to purchase for God with His blood those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev 5:9), and we see the vision there of His throne surrounded by those from every nation and tribe and people and tongue (7:9). It will happen. God has declared it. And He has determined that the means by which He will bring the world to go after Jesus is through the ongoing testimony of His people. We must proclaim the glory of King Jesus and His bloody cross until He comes. Then the world will go after Jesus.

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