Behold Your King is Coming | John 12:12-33
Brian Hedges | March 1, 2020
Turn in your Bibles this morning to John 12. At Redeemer Church we study through books of the Bible together. That’s kind of our normal diet as far as teaching series go. We’re currently in a series in the Gospel of John where we are looking at two chapters, really, in the middle of the Gospel of John. We looked at chapters 1-10 in a previous series; later on this year, Lord willing, we’re going to pick up in John 13, take up the next section of the book; but right now we’re looking at "the hinge" in the Gospel of John, these two chapters, 11 and 12, and they represent for us the turning point in the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ.
In fact, this morning in John 12 we come to a passage of Scripture that’s usually known as the triumphal entry. Usually sermons like this are on Palm Sunday, right? I’m not doing it on Palm Sunday this year, we’re doing it this morning: it’s the next passage in our exposition.
But this is the week leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion. This is the Sunday before his betrayal. It’s Passover, it’s that time of the year where hundreds and thousands of Jewish pilgrims would come from all over Palestine to Jerusalem. In fact, the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote some time after Jesus, kind of in the late first century, tells us of one Passover where he estimated there were 2,700,000 people who had come to Jerusalem. Now, he may have inflated the figures, but any possible estimation would mean that there was a large number of people.
So the crowds are there, Jesus is better known now, at this point in his ministry, than ever before. He has just performed this seventh sign recorded in the Gospel of John, the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, and the hopes of the people are really, really high. That’s where we encounter Jesus in the text that we’re going to read this morning in John 12.
It’s really all about the entry of the king into Jerusalem. I want us to think about Christ as a King and the kingdom that he’s going to bring, and I want us to think about it in three segments. Here’s the outline this morning: I want you to see that everyone longs for a kingdom; we’re going to see that in the text and also see how that’s true in our own lives. Everyone longs for a kingdom. Secondly, that Jesus is a different kind of king, he’s a better kind of king, than any other human king; but he’s very different. So what Jesus does here overturns some of the expectations of the people. Everyone longs for a kingdom; Jesus is a different kind of king; and then I want you to see, thirdly, how he establishes his kingdom. I think you’ll see that there are some really important lessons for us here.
1. Everyone Longs for a Kingdom
Okay, so first of all, everyone longs for a kingdom, and you see this in the hope and the longing, the expectation that’s expressed in just the first two verses of this passage, John 12:12-13. Let me read the text. It says, “The next day, the large crowd that had come to the feast [this is the feast of Passover] heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”
Right there you see the longing and the hope and the expectation of these crowds of people who are ascribing to Jesus this worth, this glory, they are ascribing to Jesus kingship of Israel. You see it in several different ways. You see it in their actions as well as in their words. It says that they “went out to meet him,” and the commentaries tell us that this is a phrase that’s commonly used in a special, an official sense, to signal the official welcome of a newly-arrived dignitary. This was a royal welcome, and they welcomed him with these palm branches.
Have you ever wondered why they had the palm branches? I mean, this is why we call Psalm Sunday Psalm Sunday, right; it’s because of the palm branches. What are the palm branches? If you read the Old Testament, there’s nothing about palm branches in association with Passover, so what’s the background here?
What we have to understand is that the time of the New Testament, the palm branches were a symbol, a national symbol, for royalty and for kingship and for victory, and it really all dated back to 145 B.C. and the Maccabean revolt. This was when Judas the Maccabee and his brothers led a revolt among the Jews against the Syrians, and they kicked the Syrians out of Jerusalem, out of the temple.
There’s a place, actually, in 1 Maccabees (it’s a Jewish book—it’s not Scripture, but it’s helpful from a historical perspective), after Simon has expelled these Syrian forces from the temple, he’s taken back the citadel in Jerusalem, and 1 Maccabees 13:51 tells us that “the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.”
So when the people here are pulling out palm branches as Jesus, whom they’re calling the King of Israel, is riding into Jerusalem, that’s what they’re thinking about. They’re thinking that, “Here is, finally, our deliverer,” and a deliverer not from the Syrians this time, but from the Romans. They want to kick the Roman boot off of the Jewish neck. They are looking for a military and a political victory.
So they cry out, “Hosanna!” That word “hosanna” literally means, “Save us!” In fact, it is the translation of Psalm 118:25, which we just read this morning, “Save us, we pray, O Lord.” That’s hosanna. “O Lord, give us success.” Then the passage in verse 13 continues with Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.” Then they call Jesus the King of Israel.
So, what I want you to see here is that in their words and in their actions they are expressing their hopes for a kingdom. They’re looking for a kingdom. They’re hopeful for a kingdom.
I would suggest to you today that every person in the world, some way or another, is also looking for a kingdom, or at least the kinds of things that we often associate with a kingdom.
For example, sometimes this takes on political aspirations. We don’t say that we want a kingdom; after all, we’re Americans, we revolted from a monarchy, we’re a democratic republic. But what do we want? We want truth and we want justice and we want liberty and we want freedom. Those are ideals that we pursue through politics.
Whether you’re on the left or the right, both sides would say they want those things. Sometimes they have vastly different perceptions of what that is. Justice for one group often looks like injustice for another group. But everybody would say, “We’re longing for justice. We’re longing for freedom.” It’s actually because our conceptions of that are so vastly different that it’s almost impossible for people to come together and agree; but they’re all looking for it. They’re looking for a kingdom.
Sometimes we see this expressed best in our stories and our songs. As I was thinking of an example this week, I went back to something I go back to fairly often, which is Les Misérables. Anybody ever see the musical of Les Misérables? It was in South Bend maybe a year or so ago, and it was the second time I had seen it. The music is still utterly stirring to me, the story is stirring as well. As you know, it’s the story of Jean Valjean, who is this ex-convict who has finally received a parole, and it’s kind of the drama of his life and the intersection of the various people in his life.
Now, what sometimes we may miss is the historical setting. The historical setting for Les Misérables is not the French Revolution, it’s actually the Paris Uprising of 1832, which was a populist rebellion against the monarchy, as people were looking for greater justice, greater freedom, and so on.
You can hear the longing for a kingdom in the lyrics of this song. If you’ve seen the play or heard the music you’ll recognize this.
“Do you hear the people sing,
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again.”
See, they’re wanting freedom.
“When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums,
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.
“Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight
That will give you the right
To be free!”
Well, I think everybody in the world can resonate with that or some version of that. There’s a world we long to see. We want to see justice, we want to see freedom, we want to see liberty, we want to see truth, we want to see peace.
We want to see these things, but here’s the problem. The problem is that man’s approaches to establishing a kingdom always eventually fail. They always fail.
There’s an Old Testament scholar named Alec Motyer, who’s written a wonderful little book called Look to the Rock, where he looks at these various themes in Scripture. He says something really interesting about the theme of kingdom—kings and kingdoms. He says that the Old Testament, and especially from about the book of Judges through all the history (Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles), he says what basically is going on there is you have this "moving spotlight." The person who’s narrating this history is moving the spotlight north and south, north to the northern kingdom after the kingdom divides, south to the Davidic kingdom; moving the spotlight, looking for the perfect king, looking for the ideal king.
As you know, the book of Judges establishes that there’s a need for a king, because when there’s no king in Israel everyone does what is right in their own eyes. Then Israel rejects God from being their king and they want a king like the nations, so they choose King Saul, and he’s an utter tragedy, right? It’s a Shakespearian drama. You read the first half of 1 Samuel where Saul just goes utterly bad.
So God chooses another king, a man after his own heart, King David. David is a wonderful character—until you get to 2 Samuel, and then in 2 Samuel David begins to go wrong! He’s still a man who loves the Lord, but you remember what he does. He commits adultery and he commits murder and he loses his family and he has all this strife among his children. His son Absalom rebels against him. It’s an utter disaster.
Then you have Solomon, and it looks like Solomon is going to be the great king, the son of David who’s going to reign. Solomon has all this wisdom and all this wealth and the nations seem to be streaming to him; but by the end of his life, what has he done? He’s married a thousand women, he’s formed alliances with the pagan nations, so the Davidic hope looks like it’s going to be eclipsed in darkness.
Then the kingdom divides, and in the south you have David’s house, with something like five centuries of kings, 22 kings, most of whom are bad. There are a few good ones; occasionally there’s a renewal or revival, but most of them are bad. Then in the north you have kings that don’t belong to the household, these aren’t kings that are coming from a dynasty; instead, these are kings that are rising up on the merits and the virtues of their charisma or their ability, their leadership abilities. They’re overthrowing the king before them or whatever. And all of those kings are bad!
So you have 19 kings in the north, they all go bad; you have 22 kings in the south, most of them go bad; and in both cases, first for the north, then for the south, Israel ends up in exile, and it looks like the whole dream of the kingdom is over. So the whole Old Testament ends up being something like this longing for the ideal king who never comes.
Then we get to the New Testament, and people have these messianic expectations of Jesus, they’re calling him the King of Israel, they’re throwing out the palm branches, they’re welcoming him into the city, because they think, “Oh, he’s finally come. He’s finally come to deliver us from our enemies.” But what they don’t understand is that Jesus is a different kind of king than we expect, and he’s establishing a kingdom in an utterly unique kind of way.
2. Jesus Is a Different Kind of King
That leads us to the second point: Jesus is a different kind of king. You see this in several ways. First of all, just look at verses 14 and 15. This is after the people are welcoming him, right? This is what Jesus does. It says, “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written: ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.’”
Of course, it’s a quotation from the prophet Zechariah conflated with a little piece from Isaiah. Zechariah 9:9 reads like this, “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.”
What’s Jesus doing here? Well, he’s fulfilling prophecy, but he’s doing that N.T. Wright says is like street theater. D.A. Carson calls is a parabolic action.
Essentially, Jesus, in complete distinction from all of the emperors and the kings of that day, rather than coming into the city on a white charger, rather than riding into the city on a warhorse, a black stallion, coming in in a chariot, or whatever; he takes the young foal of a donkey, he rides in on that. Why is he doing that? Because it’s showing that he’s a different kind of king. He is a king and he has authority, he has sovereignty; but he’s not a tyrant king. He is a servant king. He is a humble king. It’s humble authority. It’s sovereignty married with servanthood. It’s completely different than all the charismatic kings of Israel, all of the kings of Israel who went bad. It’s completely different from them! It’s a different kind of kingship.
Let me give you a couple of illustrations of this. It’s the combination of characteristics in Jesus that I think is utterly unique. Here’s one illustration. C.S. Lewis, the great author of The Chronicles of Narnia and so on, also wrote lots of essays, and he wrote a really interesting essay (I think) on chivalry, the whole concept of chivalry.
You know, when we think about chivalry, we may think about anything from knights in shining armor, knights in battle, to a man giving a woman a seat on a train. Lewis is commenting on this, the different conceptions we have of chivalry, but then he goes back to medieval literature (that was actually his specialty; he was a professor of medieval literature). This is what he says. I think it’s really interesting.
He says, “If we want to understand chivalry as an ideal distinct from other ideals, we cannot do better than turn to the words addressed to the greatest of all the imaginary knights in Mallory’s Morte D’Arthur. Sir Ector says to the dead Launcelot, ‘Thou wert the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies, and thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.’”
Here’s Lewis’s comment. He says, “The important thing about this ideal is, of course, the double demand it makes upon human nature. The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike, guest in the hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth.”
That’s what you see in Jesus. You see Jesus, who is the mighty warrior, but he’s also the gentle shepherd. You see Jesus, who is clothed with majesty—I mean, this is very God of very God—and yet he’s also utterly meek and lowly. He’s very man of very man. You see a combination of characteristics.
Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon, put it like this. He says that “we see in Jesus an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.” It’s a combination of greatness and lowness, of justice and grace, of glory and humility, of majesty and meekness. He’s an utterly different kind of king, an utterly different kind of sovereign. He is the Lord of thunder, and also the man of sorrows. He is the sovereign King of Israel, and he’s also the suffering servant of Isaiah. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and he is the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world.
He’s an utterly different kind of king. He’s different in character, and then here’s one more thing. He’s also different in his agenda. You see that both in John and you see it in the Zechariah passage. Oftentimes when Old Testament passages are quoted in the New Testament, you get one verse, but it’s often right to suppose that the authors mean us to read that verse with its surrounding context. They’re not just proof-texting. They quote a verse, and that verse is meant to suggest to us the other things that are going on in that passage. I think that’s certainly the case here in Zechariah.
Look at Zechariah 9:10. This is after the king is coming mounted on a donkey, the humble king. Verse 10 says, “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak—” get this “—peace—” to Israel? No. “...peace to the nations. His rule shall be from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.”
This is a different agenda. This is certainly different than what the Jewish people of the day wanted. They want a military conqueror who will defeat the Romans and kick those dirty Gentiles out of Jerusalem. That’s what they want. But Jesus is coming to bring peace not just to Israel; he’s coming to bring peace to the nations. He’s coming to bring his rule not just for a local tribe, one small, little nation; he’s coming to bring it to the world. It’s a global reign.
You also see this in John. You see it in two different ways. In verses 17-19 John describes the responses to Jesus, and one of those responses is the response of the Pharisees. Look at verse 19. The text says, “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’”
This is one of those notes of irony in the Gospel of John. He does this all the time, where the characters in the story say something, but what they say means more than they even understood. They say, “The world has gone after him.” They mean the crowds of pilgrims flocking to Jerusalem, but that word “world” in the Gospel of John is a word that is almost always pointing us to not just Israel, but it’s pointing us to the world that is comprised of Jews and Gentiles. It’s a loaded term, right?
John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin” of Israel? No, “the sin of the world.” Or John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Or John 4:42; Jesus is called the Savior of the world. Or chapter 8:12; he says, “I am the Light of the world.” They say, “The whole world is going after him.”
Then, just two verses later (well, the next two verses, verses 20-21), you have these Greeks—these are not Jews, they’re Greeks—who are in the area, and they come seek out Philip (Philip has a Gentile name), and they say, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” What do you have? You have Gentiles who are beginning to seek the Savior.
I think what John is doing here is, in a not-so-subtle way, he’s showing us that Jesus is more than just a tribal deity, he is more than just the King of Israel; he is the King of the nations. The kingdom that he’s going to bring is a global kingdom. It is a kingdom that will encompass all of humanity.
This is so important for us, because we live in such a pluralistic age, so when people are thinking about kingdoms, when they’re thinking about freedom and justice, when they’re thinking about religions, this is what almost everybody wants to say. They want to say, “Well, each religion has its own distinctive customs, each culture has its own distinctive religion, its customs, its culture, and so on, its practices. The one thing we must not do is try to change those. We must not interfere in those. We must make room for all of those.”
This would be one of the biggest objections to Christianity. People will say, “Well, Christianity’s just a white man’s religion, and you can’t impose Christianity on other people in the world.” They would say every culture has its own religion; they all deserve equal respect; they’re all ultimately equal, they all ultimately bring us to God.
But here’s something that’s really interesting about Christianity in distinction from the other religions of the world. Someone compiled statistics on how the various religions of the world are represented in different parts of the world. Listen to this.
Did you know that 90 per cent of Muslims live in the Middle East? 10-40 window. Middle East, North Africa, Southern Asia. Ninety per cent of people who hold to Islam live there. Eighty per cent of Buddhists live in East Asia. Ninety-eight per cent of Hindus live in India.
But when you look at Christianity, look at how spread out it is. Twenty-five per cent in Europe, twenty-five per cent in Central and South America, twenty-two per cent in Africa, fifteen per cent (and it’s growing all the time) in Asia, and twelve to fifteen per cent in North America.
You know what that means? It means that—and I’m quoting somebody named Richard Bauckham here—it means this, that “almost certainly Christianity exhibits more cultural diversity than any other religion, and that must certainly say something about it.” It means that Christianity is not just the white man’s religion. It didn’t even start that way. It’s not just truth for some groups of people.
Christ is the King of the world, so Christianity is embracive of the whole world, but it also corrects every culture in the world, including our own. It’s a different kind of kingdom. It’s global in its extent. This is the agenda. Christ’s agenda is to bring peace to the nations, and it will take something utterly remarkable and different from any other kind of king in order to bring that about.
3. How Jesus Establishes His Kingdom
That leads us to the third thing. How then does Jesus establish his kingdom? You get clues throughout this passage. Remember, we are at Palm Sunday and we’re leading right up to Passover. It’s holy week, it’s leading up to Good Friday, the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. The hints are all over the place right here in this text.
Here’s the first one; look at verse 16. John is commenting now. “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified [underline that word], then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”
“When Jesus was glorified.” That term, glorified, in the Gospel of John, the glory and glorification of Jesus in the Gospel of John, it of course includes the resurrection of Jesus, but it also includes the cross. You see that in this passage, verses 23-24. The Greeks have come, “Sirs, we would see Jesus.” The disciples come and tell Jesus, and this is what Jesus says in response. He says, “The hour has come.”
Again, if you know the Gospel of John, you know that Jesus, throughout the first eleven chapters, is saying, “My hour has not yet come. The hour is not yet. The hour hasn’t come yet.” But now Jesus says, “The hour has come.” For what?” “For the Son of Man to be glorified.”
Okay, how do you explain that glorification? What’s going to happen, Jesus? Look at verse 24. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Let me ask you something. How is a seed glorified? You know how a seed is glorified? By being covered up with dirt and dying and decaying so that it brings a harvest. How will Jesus be glorified? He will be glorified not by ascending the golden throne with a scepter in his hand; he will be glorified by being nailed to a wooden cross, beaten with reeds, a crown of thorns pounded down into his brow.
We know we’re on the right track with this interpretation because of what verses 27 and following say. Again, notice the language here of the hour. Verse 27, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” There you have it again, glory and hour, that language. “Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’”
Drop down to verse 31. Jesus says, “Now is the judgment of this world. Now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
That phrase “lifted up,” that’s another key phrase in the Gospel of John, and it always has a double meaning. It means lifted up in the sense of being exalted—he is lifted up—but it also means lifted up on the cross. We know that because verse 33 says, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”
How does Jesus bring his kingdom? How does he establish his kingdom? He establishes his kingdom by dying on the cross. He achieves his glory by suffering. Life through death.
I mentioned Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, awhile ago, on "The Excellencies of Christ." At the end of that sermon, Jonathan Edwards says that it’s especially at the cross that we see this, the conjunction of excellencies. He said that on the cross we see Jesus both in his humiliation and in his glory. He humbles himself to death, even death on a cross, and yet the glory of God is displayed in it.
We see Jesus showing love to God as Father as he obeys him all the way to the end, and at the same time we see Jesus showing love to his enemies. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We see Jesus upholding the justice of God. Romans 3 tells us that Jesus died as a propitiation, and he did it in order to display the righteousness or the justice of God. God’s justice is seen when Jesus dies for our sin, because God is punishing those sins in Jesus, yet at the same time he’s upholding the justice of God and he is suffering the greatest injustice that has ever taken place in human history.
We see Jesus, who is supremely worthy of all the worship, all the honor, all the love, all the obedience that human beings could ever give him; and yet on the cross he is treated as the most unworthy. Utter contempt from people.
We see Jesus on the cross, delivered over to his enemies, and it looks like they win. It looks like they win, and yet what is he doing? He is triumphing over his enemies! Jesus says, “The hour has come. The ruler of this world will be cast out.”
You see, when Jesus came to establish a kingdom, he was thinking about far more than just current political issues of his day. He was thinking about the ultimate problems that human beings face: the problems of sin and death and that agent of evil and wickedness who came into the world and brought sin and death in the first place, the ruler of this world, Satan. When Jesus died on the cross, it was the ultimate triumph, the ultimate defeat, the ultimate victory over all of these enemies; and he did it by dying and then rising.
I’ve quoted this many times before; I think I quote this about every six months. There’s a wonderful hymn that William Rees wrote, and it just brings together everything I’m trying to say, so I want you to hear these words as we draw to a close. William Rees, talking about the cross, says,
“On the mount of crucifixion
Fountains opened, deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.”
Listen to this.
“Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above;
And heaven’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.”
It all comes together in the cross. He’s a different kind of king, and he brings his kingdom, he establishes his kingdom, by dying for his subjects.
Here’s the final thing to say. Jesus is King of the whole world, but he is either the King who saves or he is the King who condemns; it’s one or the other. It boils down to this: how do you respond to this King? If you submit to the King who died for you, if you believe in the King who died for you, if you trust this King, he is the King who brings salvation. If you resist him, if you rebel against him, if you insist on continuing the failed human kingdom projects, which ultimately boil down to, “I want to be my own ruler, I want to do it my own way, I want to have my own kingdom”—if you insist on that, there will come a day where you will bow the knee and you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, but you may do it through gritted teeth, and that will lead to condemnation.
The question this morning is this: Have you submitted to the King? Have you believed in the King? Have you trusted in the King?
You say, “Well, I don’t like authority.” But listen, look at the kind of authority it is! This is authority that goes all the way to death for you. This is authority that is utterly self-denying. This is the Lord, who is the King, who deserves your allegiance, and he died for you! Why would you not want to serve a king like that? I hope you will. Let’s pray.
Lord, your word shatters our conceptions of what authority is, of what a kingdom is, of what power is, and it shows us a way of embodying power through weakness, authority through servanthood, might and majesty through humility and meekness, that is utterly astounding. We thank you for it, we thank you for what it shows us about your character and your heart, we thank you for what it shows us about Jesus and the gospel, and our prayer this morning is that as we contemplate the cross of the King that that contemplation would give birth in our hearts to the kinds of affections of love and worship and surrender that Jesus is due.
As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, we pray that we would remember the King who died for us and that the remembrance of his death would lead to real joy and humility and love in our hearts. We pray it in Jesus’ name, Amen.