Palm Sunday – "He Came To Die" – John 12:12-19

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He was born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judea, grew up in Nazareth of Galilee, baptized by John at the Jordan River. He recruited disciples and traveled throughout the land of Israel. Some thought He was John the Baptist, some through He was a prophet, some called Him Rabbi, teacher. Some called Him, ‘Lord.’ Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”

• He taught people about God and the Kingdom of God and the people were amazed because ‘He taught with authority’, unlike all the other teachers, even the demons obeyed Him.
• He performed miracles, demonstrating a power over nature and over the human body. He even raised the dead. And those who witnessed it were ‘greatly afraid.’
• He pronounced absolution on sinners, forgiving their sins before God, and the forgiven worshipped Him.

All of this would have been enough to solidify His reputation in history forever.
• No person has ever done what Jesus did.
• There has never been anyone like Him, nor will there ever be.
• Jesus Christ is without a doubt, the most famous man in history.

And yet, this is not what He came into the world for. For none of this accomplishes what He came to accomplish. His purpose could only be fulfilled in one way – HE MUST DIE.
• Only by His death is the world that He created, ‘redeemed’ from sin and death and destruction.
• Only by His death is God the Father reconciled to rebellious men and women whom He created in His own image.
• Only by His death are the unjust justified and the wrong made right before God.
• And only by His death is God glorified.

Jesus came into this world to die. Every other person ever born of a woman was BORN TO LIVE. We were not born to die. But Jesus was born to DIE.

On the day that we call “Palm Sunday,” He entered Jerusalem for that very purpose.
• From this point on, there are no more miracles, save for the greatest miracle of all on Easter Sunday.
• His teaching is directly solely to His 12 disciples. And even they fail to grasp the meaning of what He is saying.

St. John tells us that it was ‘six days before the Passover’ when Jesus came to the village of Bethany “where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.” (John 12:1) “The next day,” Jesus left Bethany to go to Jerusalem as He had done countless times before. But this time was different.

Every other time He had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover, whether it was a child with Mary and Joseph or since His baptism by John, it was to celebrate the Festival, choosing the lamb to be sacrificed, eating it at the Seder meal and returning home.

But this time was different. This time, He would be the Passover Lamb that was slain. He would gather His disciples around the table for the Seder meal and they would eat His body and drink His blood.

To get the picture straight, you’ve got to see two separate crowds of people who greet Him on the road as He makes His way into the city.

First, there’s a crowd of people who were at Bethany. John writes, “a large crowd of the Jews” had come to Bethany, “not only on account of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.” (John 12:9) As Jesus leaves Bethany, that crowd, which includes His disciples follow behind Him.

Shortly after Jesus begins the journey which He had walked countless times, He stopped and ordered two of His disciples to go into the village in front of them called ‘Bethphage,’ and acquire a donkey for him to ride on.
From St. Mark’s gospel we read, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Unite it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.”

And sure enough, “they went and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, ‘what are you doing, untying the colt?’ And they told them what Jesus has said, and they let them go.” (Mark 11:1-6).

The second crowd of people comes out from Jerusalem to meet Him. St. John tells us that “many [Jews] went up from the country to Jerusalem” for the Passover. “They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, ‘what do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?”

As the two disciples bring the ‘colt’ to Jesus, the two crowds meet. Several offer their cloak as a saddle and Jesus took His seat on the donkey. St. Matthew tell us that as Jesus sits on the donkey, “most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road. And others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” This is the custom when a nobleman or king entered a city. It was their version of ‘rolling out the red carpet.’

And the crowds that went before Him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our Father David. Hosanna in the highest.”

John, who was one of the disciples traveling with Jesus, tells us that this whole scene caught the disciples by surprise. He writes, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” (John 12:16).

John reports that “the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.” (John 12:17) They were anxious to tell the crowd that had come out of Jerusalem what they had seen with their own two eyes – a dead man alive.

There is also another group in this great crowd that we haven’t identified yet – the Pharisees. John reports, “the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” In their anger and frustration, Luke reports that they make a desperate appeal to Jesus Himself, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” Jesus points to the stones and replies, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:39-40).

John and Matthew both make the connection to what happens on Palm Sunday and Zechariah’s prophecy. “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your KING is coming; seated on a donkey’s colt.” (Zech. 9:9).

Jesus enters Jerusalem as KING. He is the Son of David and the heir of David’s royal throne. But just as Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand these things at the time, neither do the crowds. He is not the kind of King that they expected Him to be. They expected Jesus to be the kind of King that would replace one earthly kingdom with another. They want Him to lead them back to the ‘good old days’ when their nation was strong and independent and respected by all the other nations in the world. They had been ruled over by foreign powers long enough. It was time for Israel to rise up and be strong and overthrow the yoke of oppression and reestablish their reputation as ‘God’s chosen people,’ all to the ‘glory of God,’ of course.

And indeed, Jesus is the KING. He is KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS. But His Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom just as He is no ‘earthly king.’

Pontius Pilate doesn’t understand any more than the crowds or the disciples. “Are you the King of Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:33-38).

His Kingdom overlaps every earthly kingdom on the planet from the smallest to the largest, the weakest to the mightiest. And the citizens of His Kingdom live in every earthly kingdom on the planet – or at least, that’s the goal.

King Jesus rules His kingdom, not by threats and force, but by love and mercy. He rules His people like a ‘good shepherd’ and like a ‘loving father.’

In the book of Genesis we are introduced to a very strange character named “Melchizedek” who meets Abraham on his way home from rescuing Lot from captivity. We’re told that “Melchizedek” is the “king of Salem.” It’s an interesting name. In Hebrew, “melech” is the word for “King” and ‘zedek,’ is the word for “righteousness.” “Melchizedek” is the “king of righteousness.”

And kingdom is the nation of “Salem,” which is “shaloam” in Hebrew which means “peace.” His kingdom is the kingdom of “peace.”

This “Melchizedek” goes out to meet Abraham and does something very strange. Normally if you meet a King, you give the King gifts. That’s what the Magi did when they met Jesus. But in this case, Melchizedek offers Abraham gifts.

“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. And he blessed [Abraham].” (Gen.14:18).

The author of the letter to the Hebrews puts two and two together for us, telling us that “Melchizedek” is the type of Jesus Christ who is the true King of Righteousness and Prince of Peace, who brings gifts of bread and wine for His citizens to eat and drink. And He blesses them.

The Psalmist writes the text for George Handel to put to music,
“Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!” (Psalm 24)
That’s the kind of King that Israel was expecting their Messiah to be. “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” And that is precisely the Messiah King that Jesus is. But until Easter comes, all of that is hidden from our eyes, just as it was from theirs. In fact, it will not be until He comes again that the Psalmist vision of the King will be what ever eye will see.

Until then, we see Jesus riding on a donkey. And He rides into Jerusalem to die. The enthusiastic shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel,” will turn to the caustic shouts of “Crucify Him, Crucify Him,” and “we have no king but Caesar.”

He will be fitted with a crown made out of thorns and seated on a throne made out of rough wood. At His birth, He received gifts from men – good, frankincense and myrrh. Here He will be presented with gifts of spit, nails and a spear. A sign posted over His head will read, “The King of the Jews.” But no one will believe it.

And He will die.

It is what He came to do.

For in doing this, He has done it all.

And all that we can say is, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

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