April 9, 2017 – Sunday
Read: John 12:1-16
Focus: 9-11, 13
9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They 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!”
Why is it that so many of our leaders, throughout history, are assassinated? Surely there are many reasons but often it’s simply because they have become too dangerous to those who don’t want to lose their power. More recent examples in American history might include such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. Go back a whole lot further and add Jesus to your list of those who became too dangerous to the powers that be.
In John 12:12-16 we have the curious event of Jesus entering Jerusalem to the waving of palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” Taken alone these verses lack the context necessary to understand what is going on. If we open it up to the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus we learn that this event was foretold in such places as Zecharaiah 9:9 where it says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This was also the time of the Festival of Booths (Feast of Tabernacles) in Jerusalem where Israel remembered their exodus from Egypt and God’s provision in the wilderness. It was also at the Feast of Ingathering that recognized the end of the harvest that happened sometime in September or October. This was a time when many Jews made a pilgrimage to the temple so the city was filled with a lot of people. On the seventh day of the festival the people would wave palm branches and quote Psalm 118:25-26 saying, “Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you.” In verse 27 it says, “With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.” By the way, check out verses 22-24 in that Psalm where David talks about how “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” There’s a lot going on here!
Oh, and the Jewish leaders were watching and they were getting worried about this dangerous man known as Jesus. To better understand the context of our passage you really need to back up a bit. In John 12: 1-7 we see Jesus in Bethany at the house of Lazarus. This is the place were Mary takes a pint of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus feet before wiping it with her hair. We talked about a similar event a few weeks ago when we looked at the story in Luke 7:36-50 (the woman who was forgiven much, just like us) that happens much earlier in Jesus ministry. Mary understands she was forgiven of much as well and this special act of devotion has a different meaning here as Jesus claims this perfume was for the day of his burial which, he knows, will be soon. He’s a dangerous man.
Now we need to back up a little bit more. Back in John 11 we see why Jesus came to Bethany. It was where Mary and Martha lived along with their brother Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. By the way, John 11:2 tells us that it was this same Mary we read about in Luke 7 who cried at the feet of Jesus and wiped those tears off with her hair. Here we learn that Lazarus is sick. Jesus receives this word but waits two more days before coming. The disciples don’t want him to go because the leadership is hostile to him there. But they must go and, in John 11:11 he tells them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I’m going there to wake him up.” The disciples don’t realize that Jesus is saying the man is dead and he’s going there to reverse the unreversable; to revoke the irrevocable. He says to them, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. (vss. 14-15)” This would be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.
You know the story. When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany he finds a funeral and Lazarus has been in a tomb for four days already. Martha comes out to meet him but Mary stays home, fixed in her grief. How many times had she seen Jesus heal another? Surely, if he had been there on time, Lazarus would still be alive. Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again (vs. 23.” Yeah, sure, on the last day – at the final resurrection. “No,” Jesus says. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Mary comes and they take him to the tomb where we find the shortest verse (John 11:35) in all the bible: “Jesus wept.” The stone is removed at his command people are starting to worry about what it might smell like. Then he utters the command that rocks the world: “Lazarus, come out!” You know what happened. Lazarus comes walking out all wrapped in the strips and linen he was embalmed and buried in. What else can Jesus say? He says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Wow.
Now is when things get crazy as the Jewish leaders hear about what happened. What would you do if you heard about an event such as this? Might you believe this man was who he said he was? Or would you see him as too dangerous to keep around? Oh the hardened heart that chooses the second option and sees Jesus as too dangerous. Yet so many still see him that way today. Witness all those who attempt to stamp out our Christian faith and deny it. They will do anything to get rid of it because it still stands in the way of their designs today.
Fast forward again to John 12:12-16. This is the Palm Sunday event. This is Jesus entering Jerusalem just a few days after he raises Lazarus from the dead and the people are buzzing. Everyone knows what he has done and they give him a triumphal entry into the city, just as foretold in prophecy. The people had decided he was a king but the day before it was the chief priests who decided he was too dangerous. They plotted to kill him. The made the decision in their minds and hearts and that was the only option they were willing to accept. It had to be done and, if they waited much longer, he would be too popular to do the deed safely.
This is the beginning of Holy Week and it comes in triumphantly with the dangerous king named Jesus. By the end of the week he will be crowned – but not with gold – this crown will be made of thorns. And the Cross, something that is so often nothing more than a symbol worn around your neck, will be the instrument of his death.
I want you to think about this dangerous man throughout the week. When next Sunday dawns we will see Jesus crowned with the crown only worn by the King of kings and ruler of all there is. Our greatest enemy, death, will be defeated with a resurrection even more amazing than that of Lazarus. But, to get there, we have to go through Good Friday. This is the Way of the Cross and we’re almost at the starting point. The Way of the Cross follows this Dangerous King and we must die with him. This is the total sacrifice and He has paid the penalty of our sins on our behalf.