John 12:12-16

Hands up if you’ve got a satnav, a satellite navigational system in your car or if you have ever used one.

Even with a satnav you can still make a wrong turn, can’t you. One author humorously wrote: “At one point [on a recent journey], I was quite sure the lady in the guidance system was wrong. She said to go left, and I didn’t go left. I went right because I knew she was wrong.

Then the lady with the irritating voice said, “Recalculating route. When safe to do so execute a U-turn… turn around if possible.”

I knew she was still wrong… so, know what I did? I unplugged her. That’s the beauty of that little box – you can unplug her – but, then, would you believe it, I got completely lost and ended up driving round and round in circles! So I plugged the lady back in again, and you know what she said?

“I told you so you little idiot. You think I’m going to help you now? No way, Jose! Find your own way there yourself.”

No, she didn’t really say that. She said, “Recalculating route… Turn around if possible.” Citation

And I want to say that’s an illustration of what God’s grace to us is like. Whenever we wander off track or we make a wrong turn, God is always there ready to forgive and set us back on the right path again. As soon as we are ready to listen, as soon as we are ready to surrender; to repent, God will say, ‘Recalibrating. This is the way to go. Execute a U-turn.’

When we unplug from our relationship with God we get lost, lonely, and disorientated and we lose our closeness and intimacy with Him. But he is always there, ready to welcome us back, to forgive us and restore us again and again.

Today, on Palm Sunday, as Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem, in full and certain knowledge that he is headed for the cross, he is doing so to open the way for us; so that we can be recalibrated and restored into a right relationship with God.

As we come to look at our Bible passage together I want to take a moment to set the scene…

Passover is fast approaching. Thousands of pilgrims have flocked to Jerusalem for the annual festival. Amid the hustle and bustle and excitement and noise, people are talking about this preacher and teacher, Jesus; could he be the one, the Messiah? People are saying he is anointed by God; a miracle worker. In fact, just over a week ago, it’s reported that Jesus actually raised a dead man back to life; Lazarus, who had been dead and buried in the grave for four days. The news about Jesus had spread like wildfire, and now, as the festival is about to begin, huge crowds of people have flocked into the city to see Jesus for themselves, and also to see the certified dead man who had been brought back to life!

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as told by John, is linked with the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (told in the previous section, John 11:1-44), and also with subsequent dinner given in Jesus’ honour, where Mary (Lazarus’ sister) anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and which, Jesus said, was done in preparation for his burial (John 12:3-7). And so immediately prior to the account of the triumphal entry we are told (John 12:9) that the large crowd came not only to see Jesus but also to see Lazarus.

Our passage this morning is full of prophecy and symbolism, and I want to pick up on some of this so that we can see God’s plan in the Bible unfolding. So let’s jump in…

The Feast of Unleavened Bread also known as the ‘Passover’ is just four days away (Maundy Thursday). As we pick up our reading in John 12:12, Jesus is going up to Jerusalem to commemorate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; the ‘Passover’ feast which will become his Last Supper, his last meal here on earth – a meal that we will symbolically remember in a little while, when we share in the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion together; the bread and wine which symbolise Jesus’ body and blood; his death and sacrifice on our behalf, to pay for our sin, so that we can be forgiven and restored – Recalibrated – and brought back into a right relationship with God. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem inaugurates the beginning of Passion Week or Holy Week. His riding into Jerusalem happened on a Sunday; Palm Sunday, today.

In Luke’s account of the triumphal entry we are told that as Jesus approached Bethpage and Bethany, which are about two miles southeast of Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples ahead of him into the village, telling them: “As you enter the village you will find a colt tied there, which no-one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it’” (Luke 19:30-31). Jesus, himself, is here claiming his own unique status as Israel’s Lord and King. He said, “Tell him the Lord needs it.” (Presumably the use of the colt, a young donkey, had been pre-arranged with the owners… this wasn’t the first time Jesus had been in Bethany.) The colt – like the tomb that Jesus would be buried in less than a week later – had never been used or ridden before. Unused, unblemished animals were regarded as especially suitable for religious and sacred purposes. Citation

Most people today think of a donkey as a humble beast of burden: donkeys being capable of pulling or carrying extraordinarily heavy loads. We don’t usually associate the modest donkey with kingship, but in those days donkeys were looked on as an animal fit for a king. In fact it was the royal animal of Jewish monarchs, and when David appointed his son, Solomon, to be king after him, he had him sit on his own mule (his donkey) as a public declaration that here was the new king (we read that in 1 Kings 1v33, 44). So the donkey was an animal symbolic of humility, peace and Davidic royalty – in the line of David.

Interesting also, that in divine providence God created donkeys to have the shape of a cross on their backs. (See front cover of your service sheet.) Tradition has it, that it was a donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem when she was heavily pregnant with Jesus, and it was also a donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. How fitting that the donkey carries the symbol of a cross on its back!

So… on the first day of the week Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt, a young donkey, which itself fulfilled the ancient Messianic prophecy from Zechariah 9v9 (originally written around 520BC), and which says: ‘Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Did you get that? A King clothed in righteousness, having salvation, humble and riding on a colt.) The crowds welcomed Jesus as He entered the city in messianic fashion mounted on a donkey, and Jesus is greeted by the crowds shouting: “Hosanna!” and they waved palm branches, and laid their cloaks on the road for Jesus to ride on. Hosanna means “Save!” it also became a shout of praise: It’s like saying, ‘God save the king. Long live the king.’

(Let’s try that together: wave your palm crosses and shout…‘God save the king. Long live the king.’)

And the crowds greeted Jesus using the prophetic words of Psalm 118v26: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! Blessed is the king of Israel!’ ascribing to Jesus another Messianic title, as the agent of LORD, the coming King of Israel; God’s anointed.

Way back in Genesis an early messianic prophecy speaks of a ruler from Judah who will command the obedience of the nations and who rides on a donkey. It reads: ‘The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until it comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes’ (Gen 49:10-11). Jesus is the One who fulfils prophecy.

Let me ask you this:

Was Jesus betrayed and deserted by his friends? (Yes) It was fulfilment of Psalm 41v9: “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”

Was Jesus painfully oppressed and repudiated? (Yes) It was in fulfilment of Isaiah 53v3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”

Did he maintain a dignified silence before his judges? (Yes) It was in fulfilment of Isaiah 53v7: “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

Was he flogged, punched, slapped, and spat on? (Yes) It was in fulfilment of Isaiah 50v6: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.”

And so we could go on and on. One biblical scholar has worked out that there are 332 distinct prophecies in the Old Testament, prophesying the coming of the Messiah, all of which were literally fulfilled in the person of Jesus (29 of them in one day, on Good Friday).

The problem was, the people shouting ‘Hosanna’ hadn’t got a clue why Jesus was there and what he had come to do. There are still many people like that today: they come to church and follow the crowds joyfully singing ‘Hosanna’ – because it’s a nice catchy tune – but they don’t really understand what Jesus came to do; why He had to die and what it means to know God personally.

Let me ask you, do you realise what Jesus has done for you? Do you understand and accept that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin, so that we can be forgiven, restored and recalibrated into a right relationship with God? Do you know Jesus this way? Do you want to do? (Mention Alpha starting on ?)

We are told in Luke’s Gospel (19v36), that the people spread their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus, which was an act of royal homage. Again there are other examples of this in the Old Testament: in 2 Kings 9v13, when Jehu was anointed King of Israel, the people took off their cloaks and spread them under him. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!” Similarly here, spreading cloaks in front of Jesus was an act of royal homage. In Matthew and Mark we read that people also spread branches in front of Jesus, but it’s only in John’s Gospel are we told that people took palm branches and went out to greet him (John 12v13) – which is why this day has become known as Palm Sunday, and why we still wave palm crosses… to remember our coming King and what He did for us at the cross.

Earlier Jesus had frustrated the efforts of some of his followers to ‘take him by force to make him king’ (we read that in John 6:15), but now He openly rides into the Jewish capital mounted on a donkey in fulfilment of the messianic prophecy. The palm branches are also significant in that it was a bit like waving the national flag. Ancient coins have been discovered that were minted during the Jewish revolts of AD66-70, and which depict the palm tree as a national symbol. The crowds waving palm branches give us a clue to the sort of king the people were expecting. They were waiting for another David-like figure, a conquering king who would overturn the Roman occupation and restore the Jewish nation to its former glory. But the Jews got it wrong: they misunderstood and misapplied the Scriptures. They wanted the Messiah to be a conquering king who would restore the nation, not a humble king, who would conquer sin and death; and restore our relationship with God.

Even the disciples did not understand. We read in John 12v16: ‘At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realise that these things had been written about him.’ Like everyone else in Israel, the disciples misunderstood what the Messiah would come to do. They mistakenly saw the Scriptures foretelling how God would set the Jewish nation free from bondage to Rome and usher in the kingdom of God. They thought prophecy spoke of how God would redeem Israel from suffering, but instead it was how God would redeem His people through suffering; in particular, the suffering laid upon Israel’s representative, the Messiah.

Jesus’ death was part of God’s predetermined plan for our redemption.

The disciples didn’t understand that Jesus had to die and that He would rise from the dead. It was only after Jesus was glorified – after the resurrection – that the disciples got recalibrated. That’s when they finally understood the gospel and the way to be made right with God; through Jesus, who says, “repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15); turn your life around; execute a U-turn. Jesus who says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

In entering Jerusalem as He did, Jesus was boldly announcing that he was indeed the Messiah. In declaring himself King, He chose a time when all of Israel would be gathered together at Jerusalem to celebrate Passover; when huge crowds would see him… the public proclamation was unmistakeable. The disciples and the crowds were jubilant and rejoicing, and Jesus acknowledged and accepted their praises but… how do you suppose Jesus really felt inside, knowing what lay ahead?

Jesus knew what was in store for him. On many occasions he had predicted and foretold his death and rising again (Matthew 16v21; 20v17; Mark 8v31; 9v31; 10v33-34; Luke 9v22; 18v31-33) but even the disciples hadn’t understood. For now, the crowds were jubilant and rejoicing but in just a few days’ time these same people would bow to political pressure and desert him.

Jesus knew He would be rejected; mocked; insulted; spat at; flogged and killed. He purposefully offered himself as the Messiah, knowing full well that this will provoke the Jewish leaders to take action against him. In Mark’s account (14v1-2) we read: ‘The chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot.”’ The Jewish leaders had decided not to arrest Jesus during the Passover Feast… but God had determined otherwise. The Lamb of God must die at Passover.

If we now fast-forward to Good Friday and Jesus’ crucifixion we see from the gospels that it was the ninth hour when Jesus breathed his last and died. (The Jewish clock started at 6:00am, the first hour, and so the ninth hour was (what time, anybody?) 3 o’clock in the afternoon, which is the time the evening sacrifice was made each day in the Temple. Citation ) It is not a coincidence that Jesus died at the exact same time as the Passover lamb was being sacrificed in the Temple.

The ‘suffering servant’ who would take away the sins of the world was just not on the people’s agenda! They were deaf to the words of the prophets and blind to Jesus’ real mission. When it became apparent that Jesus wasn’t going to fulfil their hopes of vanquishing Roman rule and restoring Israel, many of the people turned against him. The people didn’t get what they expected so they abandoned the Messiah. They had not understood that Jesus’ conquest would be spiritual not military.

But how about us, what kind of king are we wanting Jesus to be? Do we go along with the crowd singing Hosanna, but only as long as Jesus fulfils our expectations; our agenda? Or do we really understand what Jesus achieved for us at Calvary, and are we ready, not only to wave our palm crosses and sing His praises, but also to follow him? Do you need recalibrating?

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(For further resources see Purpose and Serving)