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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Why did your King come into Jerusalem?
Text:John 12:12-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 27:1-3

Psalm 32:1-2 (after the reading of God's Law)

Psalm 118:1,6,7

Hymn 70

Psalm 118:8

Scripture readings:  Zechariah 9, Revelation 19:1-16

Text:  John 12:12-19 (begin reading at verse 1)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved church of our Lord Jesus,

When we first moved to Australia, we had several instances of miscommunication, misunderstanding.  Australians would be saying something and we just wouldn’t get it.  We were invited to a party and the invite said to bring a plate.  So my wife and I showed up with two plates, wondering if perhaps the hosts didn’t have enough tableware.  [For Canadians:  they meant bring a plate of baking].  On another occasion, we were at a certain national park and had to use the toilets.  There was a sign in there saying “No hooning.”  For a Canadian new to Australia, that just doesn’t register.  What is “hooning” and why are you not allowed to do it in the toilet?  [For Canadians:  “hooning” is doing things like burnouts with your vehicle.]   Or the time we were invited to an engagement party and the invite told us to bring our own “top shelf.”  Why would you bring a shelf to an engagement party?  And why the “top shelf”? [For Canadians:  “top shelf” means your good liquor.]  Sometimes it’s almost like we’re speaking different languages.

Misunderstandings frequently occur in the ministry of our Lord Jesus too.  He says or does one thing and people understand something completely different to what he meant.  Even his disciples aren’t immune to this.  They’re often either baffled by what Jesus says or they’re thinking he’s saying something different.

We see that happening in our passage from John this morning as well.  There’s a profound misunderstanding of Jesus happening in these verses.  Because we’re weak and sinful human beings we’re not immune to this happening to us.  We could just as easily misunderstand who Jesus is and what he does.  The Holy Spirit has given us the book of John so we’d rightly understand everything about our Saviour and place our trust in him.  In our passage this morning, we’ll see how he answers the question:  Why did your King really come into Jerusalem?        

We’ll look at:

  1. What the crowds thought
  2. What Christ said with his actions
  3. What the Scriptures said    

Let me just spend a minute on the context of our passage here, what’s leading up to it.  We’re in the last week of Jesus’ life, the last few days before the cross.  Jesus had been in Bethany with his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.  Bethany was only about three kilometers from Jerusalem.  At the beginning of chapter 12, Mary anoints Jesus body with $43,000 worth of perfume.  She showed how Jesus is worthy of the highest honour. 

Lazarus was there too, well and truly alive after having been dead for four days.  Jesus had miraculously brought him back to life in John 11.  But the chief priests wanted him back in the tomb because his life testified to the power of Jesus.  Through Lazarus, Jesus was challenging unbelief and it was having an effect.  That provoked further the hostility of the Jewish religious leaders.

Now normally we go through a passage verse-by-verse from beginning to end.  But this is one of those passages where we need to jump ahead to make sense of what’s happening.  To understand what’s happening with the crowds at the beginning of our passage, we have to jump ahead to verses 17 and 18.  So please look with me at those verses.

Verse 17 says that what happened with Lazarus in chapter 11 didn’t go unnoticed.  Crowds of people were talking about it.  It was a big deal, not only in Bethany, but also in Jerusalem.  This miracle was the talk of the town and it was the reason why the big crowd in verses 12 and 13 went out to meet him.  They’d heard about the miracle, about “this sign.”  Notice how John calls it a “sign.”  A sign points to something else, it speaks of some greater reality. 

The crowd gets that.  They understand that when Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, that wasn’t just a stand-alone miracle.  It was saying something important about who Jesus is.  They understood that someone who can call the dead to life must be someone powerful and important.  They got that much right.

So we go back to verse 12 and we have this large crowd of Jewish pilgrims.  They’d come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, the feast which celebrated God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt.  There would’ve been thousands and thousands of extra people filling the city streets.  Some scholars estimate that upwards of 100,000 pilgrims would flock to Jerusalem.  Many of these people heard about Jesus, what he’d done with bringing Lazarus back to life, and now they hear that this Jesus is coming to Jerusalem for the feast as well.  That creates buzz, excitement. 

Along the roads leading into Jerusalem were date palm trees.  The crowds of people took branches of these palm trees and the gospels of Matthew and Mark tell us of how they spread these on the road.  Now sometimes you see artistic depictions of Palm Sunday and they portray people waving the palm branches.  However, the Bible doesn’t say they did that.  They might have, but Scripture doesn’t tell us. 

But far more important than what the crowds did with the palm branches is the meaning behind it.  What were palm branches associated with in the culture of that time and place?  It was a national symbol.  Australia has national symbols too.  Do you know why green and gold are Australia’s national colours?  It’s partly because of their association with our national floral emblem, the golden wattle.  When wattle flowers, it’s gold and green.  Wattle grows across Australia, so it symbolizes our national unity.  It’s highly resistant to drought, wind, and bushfire, so it symbolizes our national resilience.  The Judean date palm was a nationalistic symbol for the Jews.  It stood for their national pride and aspirations, especially to be free of Roman domination.  When the Roman Emperor Vespasian quelled the Judean revolt several decades later, he minted a commemorative coin to celebrate it.  On one side was a woman weeping under a Judean date palm.  It was a jab at the Jews.

But besides being a nationalistic symbol, it was also common to use palm branches to welcome someone like a king.  It was the ancient equivalent of laying out the red carpet.  That’s reflected in the cries of the people in verse 13.  They’re quoting from Psalm 118 when they shout out, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”  Psalm 118 has long been understood to be what we call a Messianic psalm.  It speaks about the Messiah.  ‘Messiah’ is a Hebrew word which means anointed by God.  The New Testament equivalent is ‘Christ.’  Psalm 118 speaks of the Messiah, the King whom God has chosen to be the Saviour of his people.  Even Jewish rabbinic writings recognized how Psalm 118 was pointing ahead to the Messiah.  In the New Testament, Psalm 118 is one of the six most quoted psalms and it’s always applied to Jesus.  It’s right to apply it to Jesus and the crowds here are doing that, but not in the right way. 

They say, “Hosanna!”  That’s Hebrew for “O LORD, please save.”  By the time of Jesus, that word was often simply used for acclamation or praise.  Sort of like, “God save the King!”  Then they also say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”  Jesus does come in the name of the Lord and is to be blessed or praised as such.  And he’s also the King of Israel, the Messiah, the Christ.  It’s true.  We should praise him the same way.  But these people don’t have an accurate understanding of what that means.  They’re thinking like this:  Jesus had the power to bring Lazarus out of the tomb.  Having power over death means he has incredible power.  He’s going to use that incredible power over death to deliver the Jews from the Romans.  They’re acclaiming Jesus as a national liberator, not as the Messiah who comes to deliver people from their sins.   If you look at verse 16, you see that even his disciples were caught up in this misunderstanding. 

Loved ones, let’s take this concretely into our lives as disciples of Jesus today.  Our text would have us thinking to ourselves:  are there ways in which we’ve misunderstood the coming of Jesus?  Are there ways in which we misunderstand his person and work, why he has come?  It’s not hard to think of examples of how that happens around us today. 

Listening to some who call themselves Christians today, the mission of Jesus was to bring about social and cultural change on issues like sexual orientation and gender identity.  Then to be a Christian means to be on board with our culture and where it wants to go.  So being a Christian isn’t counter-cultural, but mainstream and conformist.    

But what about on our side of the aisle?  Can it happen that we harness Jesus to our own agendas?  That we have a profound misunderstanding of why he’s come.  It could happen with political and social issues.  But couldn’t it also happen on a more personal level?  Jesus has come to bring about the furtherance of my kingdom.  He is useful to me just as a means to an end.  That end could be something as basic as community.  Jesus has come so I can have a social group around me.  I sometimes read stuff from online groups of people who’ve left the Canadian Reformed Churches or other Reformed churches.  Sometimes they become atheists; sometimes they go to other churches.  But I read this stuff to try and understand where they’re coming from, to understand why people leave.  But also to understand why they stayed so long when they didn’t really believe what the church was teaching, didn’t really believe for themselves.  Many times that has to do with what’s called social cohesion.  You’re part of a tight community, the so-called holy huddle.  Your friends and a lot of times your family is there.  It’s a comfortable place to be, even if you don’t believe.  That makes it really hard to leave and when you do, oftentimes you’re suddenly cut off from this social network, this tight community you were a part of for so long.  Maybe there’s someone here this morning who can relate to this.  If Jesus has any place in your life, it’s just because he’s useful in providing you with a community.  Well if that’s you, God’s Word is challenging you on that right now.  It does that by showing why your King really did come and how he said it with his actions.

What actions do we see Jesus doing in our passage?  Well, there are two of them.  The first of them is in verse 12.  It’s this:  “Jesus was coming into Jerusalem.”  That sounds like a straightforward statement, until you think a little more about who Jesus is.  Because he is God, he has a full knowledge of what was waiting for him in Jerusalem.  He knows what’s going to happen in the days ahead.  Christ knows that suffering and death are waiting for him.  He spoke about it many times before.  He knew he was coming as a King for his people, but it was going to be an upside down appearance. 

He was coming as a King.  He would be given royal robes.  But these were fakes the Roman soldiers put on him to mock him.  Jesus would be given a crown in Jerusalem, but it was a crown of thorns pressed into his scalp.  He’d get a royal scepter, but it was a reed.  Finally, at the end, he would get a throne.  On the Roman cross was a tiny little peg where those who were crucified would try to sit.  That was the throne Jesus got.  He knew all of this was coming. 

If he’d wanted to, he could’ve avoided it.  Jesus could’ve stayed in Bethany.  But he comes to Jerusalem willingly.  He knows the reaction that’ll come from the Pharisees in verse 19.  They realize that their efforts up till then have been useless.  They have to escalate, they have to act now.  They have to take out Jesus before it’s too late.  And yet he still comes, knowing all this is going to happen.  Why?  Out of love for you and for me and for everyone who would believe in him.  He came to voluntarily suffer shame and pain and the agony of hell in our place.  Jesus came into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday in order to die your death, my death on that cross on Good Friday.  Our sins, including our every sin of misunderstanding Jesus, all our sins were nailed to that cross with him.  If you believe in Jesus, all those sins are covered, they’re all paid for.  He came with purpose, a purpose which had to do with our salvation.

It also had to do with our peace. That’s the other thing his actions say.  In verse 14, Jesus finds a young donkey and sits on it.  From that point forward, he comes into the city sitting on this donkey colt.  This is important.  It means something.  You see, a King would normally ride a horse.  Especially if he was at war, going to war, or coming home from war, he’d be on horseback.  In ancient times the horse was an animal of war.  But King Jesus here isn’t riding a horse, he’s riding a donkey.  Why?  Because he’s coming with peace for sinners.  He’s coming to bring peace between the holy God and a sinful people.  King Jesus is coming into Jerusalem for the purpose of reconciliation – bringing God and humanity together into fellowship again. 

The crowds had false expectations of him.  They thought he was the Messianic King about to lead a violent uprising against Roman tyranny.  With his great power, he was going to overthrow those wicked pagan Romans.  The crowds expected him to be coming for war.  But if anyone had been paying attention to his mode of transportation, they’d have had that expectation challenged.  A King doesn’t ride a donkey when he’s coming for war.  But all those people, they didn’t get it.  The disciples didn’t either.

It wasn’t until later that they understood what had happened and how the Scriptures had prophesied it.  John says that it was after Jesus was glorified – which means after he’d ascended into heaven.  The Holy Spirit was poured out on the church at Pentecost and he brought to the disciples’ remembrance everything that the Old Testament had said about what Jesus would do.

The passage that’s specifically quoted here in John 12:15 is mostly from Zechariah 9.  But if you compare Zechariah 9:9 with John 12:15, you’ll notice some differences.  One of them is the opening words in John, “Fear not…”  That actually seems to come from Isaiah 40:9, another passage which also speaks about the coming Messiah.  But here the Holy Spirit puts those two together.  That makes sense, because the coming King is coming not for war, but for peace.  He’s coming for the peace of the Daughter of Zion, for the peace of God’s people. In Zechariah’s prophecy, this is looking ahead to healing and restoration after much hurt and brokenness.  This is what Jesus brings to his people as the Messianic King.  That’s what Jesus brings to us when we place our trust in him. 

Loved ones, that’s what Scripture calls us to do again here.  Remember the question is:  why did your King come into Jerusalem?  The answer is that he did it voluntarily for your salvation and for your peace.  But in order for that to be true for you personally, you need to place your trust in him.  You need to say, “Yes, I believe King Jesus entered into Jerusalem with my name on his heart, voluntarily, to die in my place, to procure my peace.  I’m a sinful rebel and I need Jesus to bring peace between me and God and I believe he did.”

Today the opportunity is still here to do that.  But some day time will run out for those who haven’t.  You know, outside of the four gospels, Scripture speaks in one other book about Jesus riding on an animal.  It’s in the book of Revelation, both in chapter 6 and chapter 19.  We read from chapter 19.  There Jesus isn’t riding on a donkey anymore.  Now he’s riding on a white horse.  We now know what that picture means.  In case you don’t, the Holy Spirit tells you in Revelation 19:11, “in righteousness he judges and makes war.”  And verse 15, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nation…”  The book of Revelation there is looking ahead to the future.  It’s speaking of when Christ returns at the end of age.  When he comes again, it will be for war, it will be for judgment on everyone who hasn’t repented and believed in him. 

Brothers and sisters, don’t be among those who misunderstand why Jesus has come.  He has come for your salvation and for your peace.  That’s why he came into Jerusalem as he did on that Palm Sunday so long ago.  Believe he did it for you, and you will be saved and you will be at peace forever.  AMEN.                    


O Lord Jesus, our King,

We thank you that you came into Jerusalem voluntarily on that Palm Sunday.  You came because you loved us.  Our names were on your heart.  We love you Lord for bringing us salvation, for bringing us peace through what you did on the cross.  We believe that because of this, you truly were the blessed one who came in the Name of the LORD.  Because of your suffering and death, you are truly the King of Israel worthy of our love, our thanks, our worship.  Lord, please work in our hearts with your Holy Spirit so that none of us here misunderstand you and what you’re about.  Give us all eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand that you are the Messiah, the anointed King sent for our salvation.  O Lord, please prepare each one of us for your return in glory.                      

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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