The Triumphal Entry
Topic: Expository Passage: John 12:12-26
Kids can be dismissed; turn to John 12:12-26. Grateful for the opportunity to preach today, and that Pastor Kit gives me that opportunity from time to time, even when he’s still here. Anyone know the significance of today in terms of what we might call the religious calendar? Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem prior to His subsequent crucifixion one week later. With that in mind and since I’m preaching a stand-alone sermon, wanted to look at one of the passages in the gospels that describes the Triumphal Entry. But before we talk about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, I’d like to contrast that story with the coronation ceremony of another lesser-known king.
Story of Bokassa coronation (mainly quoted from R. Kent Hughes)
On December 4, 1977
Bokassa made himself king of the Central African Empire.
Coronation took place in converted stadium; trumpets and drums announced entry
8 of Bokassa’s 29 official children led the procession down the royal carpet and to their seats.
Young son who was declared heir to the throne was dressed in a white admiral’s uniform and seated on a red pillow on the platform near the throne.
Bokassa’s favorite wife (he had 9 of them) was wearing a $73,000 French-made gown, strewn with hand-picked pearls.
Bokassa’s robe weighed over 30 pounds and was decorated with 785,000 pearls and gold embroidery.
Ascended the platform, seated himself in his $2.5 million throne, and, as Napoleon had done 173 years before, placed his own crown upon his head. The crown cost as much as the throne ($2.5 million), and was bedecked with an 80-carat diamond.
The entire price tag for that one event was over $20 million, a staggering number, especially considering that the country’s entire GDP for that year was only about $250 million.
Now obviously, Bokassa’s approach to his life was one of extreme arrogance and selfishness. What’s amazing is to contrast that with the humility of Christ. This morning, we are going to consider another king—Jesus Christ–and we’ll seek to answer the following question: “What was Jesus’ approach to His life?” And by doing so, we will also answer the question, “What should my approach to my own life be like?”
With that in mind, let’s read John 12:12-26 (John 12:12-26).
II. Main points
What was Jesus’ approach to His life?
He understood His identity (vv. 12-13).
Our text describes Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The event took place about a week before Passover, as Jews from all over the world were spilling into Jerusalem. A couple of decades later, the historian Josephus estimated the number of attendees at a Passover to be almost 3 million. Now, many people believe that number to be an exaggeration, but even so, this was a huge event!
Just to give a little perspective, the city of Rome itself was home only to about 1 million people.
So the crowds mentioned in v. 12 were probably massive.
And the buzz amongst many in these crowds was that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. And there was a particular miracle which had the people all worked up. Do you remember what it was? (the raising of Lazarus, as described in John 11)
John 11:19 tells us that when Jesus arrived at Bethany to raise Lazarus, many Jews, who had come to comfort Mary and Martha were also present at that time. And these Jews were residents of Jerusalem.
In 11:45, we are told that many of these visitors believe in Jesus after seeing Lazarus miraculously raised from the dead.
However, others go and tattle-tale on Jesus to the Pharisees, who in turn gather with the Sanhedrin and plot to kill Jesus! Can you imagine that? The undeniable fact that Jesus raised a man from the dead is their impetus to kill Him? Why? Well, because they fear that Jesus may try to lead a rebellion against Rome, which they are afraid the Romans will crush. More pointedly, they fear the loss of their positions of power and prestige. So they decide that Jesus must die.
In fact, Caiaphas, the High Priest, not knowing what he was saying, said this, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Caiaphas spoke better than he knew.
A short time later, a dinner is held in Jesus’ honor in Bethany, where Lazarus was raised. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are all present. Also present according to 12:9 are a “great many Jews” who came not only to see Jesus, but to see Lazarus, who has been raised from the dead.
And in 12:10 we read that because many of the Jews were believing in Jesus as a result of Lazarus being raised, the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death, too. Poor guy!
And that brings us to this morning’s passage. It is Sunday of the Passion Week, the feast at Bethany having taken place the night before, and Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem. He has probably already sent two of His disciples to find a donkey and her foal and to bring them to Him so that He may ride into the city. But while they are gone, a massive crowd from the city comes out to meet Him.
And many in the crowd come carrying something in their arms. What are they carrying? Palm branches!
Palm branches were a prescribed part of the celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacles, but they had also become associated with nationalist uprisings.
The people had waved palm branches before Simon the Maccabee when he had driven the Syrians out of the Jerusalem citadel about 200 years before.
Palm branches were printed on coins produced by various insurgent groups around this time.
So the fact that this crowd met Jesus with palm branches in hand is evidence of their nationalistic spirit. They wanted Jesus, upon His entry to Jerusalem, to start a revolt and lead them to victory over the Romans, like the Maccabees had led them to victory over the Greeks hundreds of years before. And in fact, they pleaded with Him to do so (read v. 13b again).
The word “hosanna” is the combination of two Hebrew words that mean “save, we pray,” or “save now.”
The words come from Psalm 118, so let’s go ahead and turn there. Psalm 118 was probably composed for the first celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacles following the rebuilding of the temple after the children of Israel were brought back from captivity. Every Jew would have been familiar with Psalm 118 because Psalms 113-118, called the Hillel, were sung every morning at the feast of Tabernacles and were also associated with other Jewish feasts (Read Psalm 118:25-26).
In its original context, verse 25 is a prayer for the God who had done so much for Israel in the past (specifically by releasing them from captivity) to continue to bless His people. However, on the lips of the crowd that gathered when Jesus entered Jerusalem, these words took on a slightly different meaning. Rather than asking for God’s continued blessing, these people are asking Jesus to save them from whom? From the Romans! Just like God had saved them from Persia over 400 years before.
Verse 26 was originally a blessing pronounced on pilgrims who were entering Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. “In the name of the LORD” modifies “blessed.” In other words, “Blessed in the name of the LORD is he who comes.” However, this verse had also been interpreted messianically, and that is what the crowd intended by it on the day of the Triumphal Entry.
The confirmation that the crowd understood Psalm 118:25-26 in this way is found in the summary expression that they tack onto the end of their cry— “the King of Israel.” This mob greeted Jesus as their rightful King.
Application: What a welcome! Isn’t this the kind of reception all of us secretly long for? To be praised. To be surrounded by adoring fans who are willing to follow you anywhere. To be declared king! This is surely the type of reception Bokassa, the man from our opening illustration longed for and tried to artificially create.
And what was Jesus’ reaction to this situation? Well, we are going to see that it was mixed. We’ll see in a minute that Jesus tried to redirect their nationalistic frenzy.
However, first, it is important for us to realize that Jesus made no attempts to silence the multitudes! He didn’t say, “Hush! What are you saying? I’m just a man like you are! Stop praising Me like that!” No, rather, He accepted their praise! How could He do this? Didn’t Paul and Barnabas tear their clothes when the inhabitants of Lystra tried to worship them? How could Jesus accept this praise? This is key, folks. This is one of the main points you must get from this sermon. Jesus accepted the people’s praise because He deserved it, and not only that, but He knew that He deserved it. Jesus understood His identity. He knew in the words of John, that He was “the Christ, the Son of God.”
PBS put out a documentary years ago called “From Jesus to Christ.” Have any of you heard of it? (By the way, you need to be careful of shows about the Bible on the History Channel or PBS. 9/10 times it seems like they are heretical.) We need to ask ourselves, what is the thesis behind that title, “From Jesus to Christ”? Well, there are a lot of people who think that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah. Others like Paul came along behind Him and made those claims for Him, but He never claimed those things for Himself. In other words, Jesus did not think He was God, so why should we? By the way, this is what Muslim apologists will say about Jesus, as well. So how would you respond to a claim like that? Here’s one way: take them to John 12 and show them that Jesus willingly accepted the people’s worship. And lest you think this is an anomaly, He does it again with Thomas in chapter 20! Jesus knew He was God.
Not only did Jesus knowingly accept praise; He also purposely took steps to fulfill messianic prophecy! Verses 14-15 tell us that He found a donkey and sat on it.
Now at first glance, that detail may not seem to be significant. But it is extremely important when you consider the significance of the donkey as it relates to Old Testament prophecy (v. 15).
John appears to combine two OT passages in this verse.
The words “fear not” appear to be a reference to Isaiah 40:9. Isaiah 40 marks a turning point in the book of Isaiah and sets up the next twenty-something chapters in which so many incredible messianic promises are found. The chapter begins with the words, “Comfort, yes, comfort my people.” It goes on to describe a voice in the wilderness crying out, “Prepare the way of the LORD!” And then we come to v. 9 (Isa 40:9). What is Jerusalem to cry? “Behold your God!” On that day when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people were beholding their God. They are not to be afraid because God loves them and has come to save them. So that’s Isaiah 40:9.
Now let’s look at Zechariah 9:9. Zechariah 9:10 is a prophecy about the future worldwide reign of the Messiah. (None of the NT writers quote it in relation to the triumphal entry.) But verse 9 is a prophecy about the humility with which Jesus would enter Jerusalem at His first coming (Zech 9:9).
Zechariah gives four characteristics of the Messiah: First, he is just, or righteous. Second, he is having salvation. Third, He is lowly, and fourth, He comes riding in on a donkey.
Jesus is self-consciously fulfilling these prophecies for Himself by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. He is effect saying to these crowds, “Yes! It is right for you to waive palm branches and hail Me as your Messiah or even your God–for so I am.” “Save now” was exactly what those people should have been saying! The problem is that they needed a deeper form of salvation than they had ever realized.
Jesus takes specific steps to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Why? Because He understood His identity.
TRANSITION: But not only did Jesus understand His identity, He also accepted His mission.
He accepted His mission.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why a donkey? What’s the significance in that?” A donkey is a burden-bearing animal, so it’s associated with peace. If you are going to war, you ride a horse, not a donkey!
Zechariah described the coming Messiah as “lowly” or humble. I can only imagine how the Old Testament saints scratched their head when they read those words. The Messiah? Lowly? What does that mean?
We must understand Jesus’ humility in terms of His mission. So on the one hand, yes, Jesus is the one to whom every knee will bow. But prior to that, He is also the one who emptied Himself, “taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
You see, one day, Jesus will come to reign, but first, He had to die. He was the silent Lamb of Isaiah 53–stricken, smitten, and afflicted.
It appears that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not just to fulfill prophecy but also to gently redirect the crowds, who were worked up into this messianic frenzy.
I mean, think about it. It would have been difficult for Him to have talked to them in this state in order to calm them down. But by means of symbolism He could communicate all that needed to be said. He was not coming to do what they were expecting. He was not coming to conqueror, but to die.
Verse 16 tells us that the disciples did not at that time understand the significance of what was taking place.
Surely they understood the messianic significance of the words and actions of the crowd. They may also have recognized that by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus was purposefully fulfilling another OT messianic prophecy.
So what did they miss? They missed the full significance of the donkey and of the humble Messiah. They didn’t understand the gap between Zechariah 9:9 and 9:10. They didn’t understand that the Messiah would come twice, first to die and then to reign. John points out that they would understand one day! After the resurrection, they would have an “aha moment” in which they put all of these things together. But for now, they were still in the dark.
Verses 17-18 describe the convergence of two crowds, those coming with Jesus from Bethany and those coming out from Jerusalem with palm branches to meet Him.
You can see why the Sanhedrin were so scared. Look at what they say in v. 19 (v. 19).
When the Pharisees said that the world was going after Jesus, they were probably using hyperbole or overstatement. However, as is so often the case in John, they spoke better then they knew because we are going to see in vv. 20-22 that not just the Jews, but also the Gentiles were showing interest in Christ.
TRANSITION: The Pharisees probably feared that all Jesus would have to do is say the word, and the rebellion against Rome would be ignited. But they had nothing to fear. Jesus came riding not a war horse, but a donkey. Why? Because He had accepted His mission. And that mission called for Him to sacrifice Himself. So that’s what He did. He understood His identity, He accepted His mission, and finally, He sacrificed Himself.
He sacrificed Himself.
Verses 20-22 relate for us a short story. There were some Greeks (probably a reference to non-Jews, whether Jewish proselytes or not, it is hard to say) who had attended the feast. (Apparently it was not uncommon for Gentiles to attend the Jewish feasts. Take, for instance, the Ethiopian eunuch.)
And these Gentiles request a meeting with Jesus. They go through Phillip. We are not told why. But regardless, they request a hearing with Jesus.
Jesus does not respond to their request per say, but rather to the situation as a whole.
The Jewish leaders have soundly rejected Him. In fact, they wanted Him dead.
The general populace appears to have accepted Him with open arms, but we are told in vv. 37-41 that the majority of the people did not possess true saving faith (read vv. 37-38).
And now, at the same time that His people have rejected Him, Gentiles are showing interest in Him. And this set of circumstances apparently triggers a crucial turning point (read v. 23).
Jesus says that “his hour has come.” In the context of the entire book, this is a very weighty statement. You see, in the past, His hour had always been a future prospect; but now, it is here. And from this point forward, Jesus’ hour is presented as a present reality. The time has come.
“The time for what?” You might ask. Jesus answers that question in the next verse. What did He mean by “His hour”? He explains with an illustration (read v. 24).
The illustration is simple enough. If a grain of wheat is never put into the ground, it will remain one grain of wheat. But if it is planted, and “dies,” so to speak, it will reproduce itself—in the case of grain—millions of times over.
So what’s the point? Just as a grain of wheat must die in order to reproduce itself, Jesus must die in order to secure eternal life for all who will believe in Him (repeat).
He sacrifices Himself for the good of His followers–so that all those who believe in Him would receive the gift of eternal life–and for His Father’s glory (read vv. 27-29).
TRANSITION: Now, at this point I’m counting on you to ask a very important question. “So what?” That’s a good question! All preaching should ultimately drive to that point. So after all of that story and theology, what is the point for us? I trust that you’ve been following along and that Jesus’ approach to His own life has become clear to you—He embraced His mission and sacrificed Himself. Now here’s the kicker. Jesus expects the same from you. Wait a second. He expects me to humble myself and die? Right, He expects you to humble yourself and die (vv. 25-26)! Folks, there is so much theology under the surface of this verse! Those who are in Christ will follow in His steps! What is the Christian life about? You could summarize it with these two words: the Christian life is about dying and living, in that order. Our old man dies, and we become born again–that’s justification. We die to self daily–a thousand little deaths–and at the same time, the resurrection life of Christ flows through us by means of the Spirit, thus changing us into Christ’s image. That’s sanctification. And after we actually die physically, we will be resurrected and raptured, just like Jesus. That’s glorification. It’s all dying and living, in that order.
So what should be our approach to our own lives be, right now, today?
We must disregard our lives and serve Jesus (read v. 25).
There’s a double paradox here. First of all, the one who loves his life loses it.
Application: Do you love your life? You may not love everything about your life, but you probably love being alive as opposed to the alternative! Self-preservation is in our very nature! But self-preservation at all costs must not be our approach to living! If it is, then we are not following the crucified Christ! If self-preservation is your approach to life, Jesus has news for you: You are going to lose everything. “He who loves his life will lose it.”
Application: If your primary goals in life are safety, security, and comfort, you are going to waste your life. You will lose it. It will slip between your fingers. You will lose the opportunity to invest your life for the kingdom.
We live in world in which we have come to believe that if we buy enough insurance and plan ahead, we can eliminate risk. When was the last time that you did something risky or dangerous for the sake of the gospel? You say, “God doesn’t want me to be risky, does He?” Have you read any missionary biographies? Yes! Absolutely, we are to take calculated risks for the gospel! Not lack of wisdom, but steps of faith! Some of us are so addicted to control that we never step out for God! And then we wonder why American Christianity is so weak and anemic. (I’m preaching to myself.) What would those first century Christian say if they saw our lives? What would the apostles say? What would Jesus say? If your basic approach to life is one of self-preservation, you will waste your life away! Don’t waste your life!
But it goes even deeper than this, because the second half of the verse goes on to talk about eternal life. In other words, what’s at stake here is not just physical life. If you are not willing to “come and die,” then you may “be lost” in the ultimate sense, because dying is what Christians do! You may be like the rich young ruler, who went away sorrowful because he had too much to give up. If you don’t repent of your sins and give your life to Jesus, you will be eternally lost to hell. Some people don’t want to get saved because they are afraid of what it may cost them. But the massive irony of this verse is that in trying to preserve your life, you end up losing it! “What will it profit a man,” Jesus said, “if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Do not trade control of your life for your eternal destiny! Well, what’s the flip side of the coin? (read v. 25 again)
He who hates his life will keep it.
The Greek word translated “hates” here means “disregards.” It’s not that followers of Jesus are to hate their lives, in the sense that they are suicidal or something. The point is that they are to approach their lives with a spirit of disregard.
Now, our normal expectation would be that if you approach something with disregard, you are going to lose it.
Illustration: If you don’t care about your marriage, it’s going to fall apart. If you don’t care about your health, you are going to be unhealthy! If you don’t take care of your stuff, it is going to get ruined. We understand these things.
And yet Jesus says something that goes completely against our normal expectation here, which is what makes this saying so memorable. He says, “If you have disregard for your life, you will…” What? “Keep it!”
Literally, you will “preserve” it. My wife and I went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls last summer. It was incredible! You are looking at copies of the Old Testament that are literally 2,000 years old! And let me tell you what, the Jewish people have gone through incredible lengths to ensure that those copies of Scripture are preserved. Jesus says, “The one who disregards his life will preserve it."
Preserve it unto what? Eternal life. The one who approaches his life with a spirit of disregard will actually experience eternal life.
Of course, we have to qualify that, don’t we? Not any type of disregard will do.
Illustration: Jesus is not talking about the extreme sport-loving adrenaline junkie or the suicidal person here. What’s he talking about?
Well, if you are going to disregard your own life, what are you going to regard? If you are going to take your focus off of yourself, what are you going to focus on? (read v. 26a)
What’s the alternative to self-preservation, according to v. 26? Answer? Serving Jesus. That’s what we must focus on. And we must serve Him with abandonment.
Application: Do you do that? Do you serve Jesus in that way? Is your approach to life one of selfless service [like Jesus] or one of self-preservation [like the Jewish religious leaders]?
What does you budget have to say about the answer to that question? What do your spending habits have to say about that?
Does the way you use your time indicate a spirit of self-abandonment and service for Jesus? Are you willing to spend and be spent for God?
Are you willing to get involved in situations with people that demand a lot out of you?
Would you go the mission field, if God called you?
William Borden was a missionary who was born into great wealth. His high school graduation present was a trip around the world. He enrolled in Yale and thrived academically. He was also a tremendous athlete. Along with family connections, he could have done anything. But he was convinced that God wanted him as a missionary, so he went to seminary and then set sail for China. In his will, he left all of his money to Christian causes. Can you see yourself doing that?
Acts 4 describes the early church. It says, “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common…. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Can you see yourself doing that?
All of the apostles except John preached the gospel until they were martyred. Can you see yourself doing that?
I always think of hymns when I am prepping sermons. Do you know the hymn, “Give of Your Best to the Master”? Give of your best to the Master, Give of the strength of your youth. Throw your soul’s fresh, glowing ardor into the battle for truth. Jesus has set the example. Dauntless was He, young and brave; Give Him your loyal devotion. Give Him the best that you have.
Or how about this one? Give of your sons to bear the message glorious; Give of your wealth to speed them on their way. Pour out your soul for them in prayer victorious; and all you spend, Jesus will repay.
Maybe there are some moms and dads here who need to make the decision to relinquish their children to God’s will for their lives, no matter what that means and no matter how far that takes them.
What is the reward for the type of self-sacrificial lifestyle Jesus demands?
First of all, we will be with Him in heaven (read v. 26). One interpreter aptly pointed out that the word “following” summarizes our whole duty and the words “with Him” our whole reward. That’s beautiful. You see, Christian rewards are not apart from God. God is the reward. And as we get to know Him and learn to love Him, we come to realize more and more that there is no joy that compares to the joy of fellowship with Him. Even heaven itself is not primarily about streets of gold; it’s about being with God.
The second reward is this: we will be honored by God.
What an incredible thought—to receive honor from God. For Christ, suffering led to glory. And the same will be true in our lives, if we selflessly serve Him.