Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. John 12:12-26 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from the One who comes in the name of the Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been seeking a better understanding of what the kingdom of God looks like. We jumped ahead, looking at the interaction of Jesus and Pilate on that Passover day, on that Good Friday. Trying to more fully understand the revelation of God’s kingdom. That, when the world offers us its truth, it is a truth that often comes out of a desire for power and control, and a truth that perpetuates hatred and diminishes life.
The world’s truth is countered by God’s truth--a truth that is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. A truth that is about love. A truth that gives life instead of diminishing life. A truth that God’s kingdom is not of this world, but, yet, that God. Loves. This. World.
We also looked at the unexpected nature of God’s kingdom. That when the world challenges us to cling tightly to our status or power as we so desperately seek to belong, God challenges us to be vulnerable. To bare our souls. To be fully who we are in all our humanity. And, in that vulnerability, to unexpectedly find connection and belonging. With God and with each other.
Today, we jump back in time to the Sunday before Passover. Five days before, to be exact. And we find Jesus entering Jerusalem for what will be his last time. We know it. But the characters in our story today--Jesus’ disciples and the crowd gathered around him--have yet to know it.
What brought us to this point? In the days leading up to the Jerusalem entry, Jesus performed his last and most significant sign--resurrecting his friend, Lazarus, from the dead. After four days in the tomb. Stinky. Smelly. His body perhaps even beginning to decay. Suddenly, he heard Jesus call his name and was brought from death back to life. This sign was the turning point. Not only for Lazarus. But, especially, for Jesus. Because it was this sign--this miracle--that was the last straw for the religious authorities. They witnessed the growing number of people who were following Jesus because of this miracle. They began to see Jesus as a threat to their own power and their political relationship with Rome. They decided that they would kill Jesus. And, not only Jesus, but Lazarus, too. Because Lazarus was walking proof of the miraculous work of this Jesus. Of Nazareth.
As the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem opens, it is not the same crowd that surrounds him. Instead of the crowd following him because of Lazarus’ resurrection, this is a Passover crowd. It is a crowd numbered in the tens of thousands--probably around 75,000 people on top of Jerusalem’s existing population of 30,000. People who have come to Jerusalem for this annual festival--a festival that God commanded them to commemorate. A festival that remembers that Passover night and God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt.
This festival has taken on a growing meaning for the Jews. Since the collapse of Israel and then Judah, the Jews have undergone constant captivity. First, the Assyrians. Then, the Babylonians. Then, the Greeks. And now, the Romans. As the years have passed, there has been a growing yearning for the promised Messiah--the one God promised to them who would free them. Once again. Just as with that first time from Egypt. But this time, forever.
So, as the people witness the signs that Jesus has performed--the turning water into wine, the healing of the blind man, the resurrection of Lazarus--they have begun to wonder and even hope. “Is he the one?” “Is this the Messiah?” Hoping that Jesus will be the king they yearn for. This is why Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. Because, donkeys are what kings ride after they have been victorious in battle. This is why they throw palm branches down into his path. Because palms are a symbol of victory in ancient Israel. Signs of triumph. Triumph over oppression and bondage.
Huge crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem for the Passover. Crowds so large that the Jewish leaders virtually throw up their hands. “See!” we read verse 19. “See!” You’ve accomplished nothing! Look! The whole world is following him.”
And, in fact, this is true! The whole world was following Jesus. Because in the very next verse, we read that some Greeks were there. Gentiles. They sought out Philip and Andrew--the two disciples of Jesus with Greek names. These Gentiles, these Greeks, sought out the disciples who were like them. And asked to meet Jesus. They, just like the Jewish people, were caught up in the fervor. In the possibility that, finally, the Messiah had come “Look! The whole world is following him.”
But, the experience of that day was deeply ambiguous. Because we know the rest of the story. We know that soon the world would reject and turn against him. Soon, he would be crucified. And die on the cross.
This is the last revelation of God’s kingdom. That God refuses the world’s “no.” And says, “Nevertheless, I came for you.” Because, everyone gets the invitation to “come and see.” Everyone. Come and see this kingdom of God that offers a truth that is about love and life. Come and see this kingdom of God that offers connection and belonging. Come and see this kingdom of God that is for everyone. Everyone. No one out. Everybody in.
What are you looking for? Who are you seeking? As we move into this holy week, I extend God’s invitation to you to come and see. Come and see. And experience the full revelation of God’s kingdom in the Messiah, God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The Word made flesh. A revelation that is for you and for me. And for everyone.
No one out. Everybody in.
Preached March 25, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
Readings: Psalm 24, John 12:12-26