Sunday, April 13, 2014

In the Swirl of the Passover Crowd: A Sea of Responses (John 12:12-36)... Sitting Under the Fig Tree: Encounters With Jesus in John's Gospel And Now (part 10)

John 12:12-36

Leading into Palm Sunday this year perhaps in New Zealand we’ve caught a glimpse of what can happen when a future monarch comes to visit. Crowds gather excitedly, people are expectant of even a glimpse, a wave, a walk by and chat, a photo op, although I wonder if you’d need to be a bit careful these days reaching into your coat pocket to pull out the ol’ cell phone for a quick selfie with the royals. Maybe that was what Jesus entry into Jerusalem was like, except with palm branches not Union Jack flags and cell phones.

We are rapidly working our way to Easter as we look at encounters with Jesus in John’s gospel and now. Today we are looking at Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  As you read John’s account you get the idea of the swirl and movement of the crowd as Jesus comes into the city, we catch a glimpse of how the powers to be see things, and Jesus public ministry comes to an end. Not with the acclimation of the crowd and growing worldwide acclaim  but with Jesus speaking openly of his coming death and one last plea to his own to believe and find light and life in him. Today I want to invite you to step into the swirl of the Passover crowd and encounter Jesus with me, as he comes into the city and speaks, to find yourself amidst the sea of people and responses to Jesus.

Jesus comes up to Jerusalem from Bethany, he’d stopped there and a feast had been thrown in his honour. Many people had come because they heard of the great miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Now Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, at a time of heightened tension and nationalistic expectations, Passover where the Jews remembered their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. John tells us a crowd came out to meet him. Pilgrims from all over the country had come to Jerusalem for the festival, maybe many in this crowd were from Galilee and last time Jesus had been with them they had wanted to make him their king and he had slipped away to pray. Now here he was coming to Jerusalem. Could this be the time to throw off Roman oppression? 

There is excitement and expectation, while this event is mentioned in all four gospels. John is the only one who tells us what sort of branches the crowd used Leon Morris says “both the words they spoke and their actions express their praise.” Palm branches were an emblem of victory, and John’s mention here points to the triumph of Christ. The words are from the Old Testament we used them as a call to worship this morning. Hosanna means “save us” and echoes Israel’s hope that God would send a messiah to save them, the blessed coming one’. They were the usual words sung by pilgrims coming to Jerusalem.. But John records that the people add “Blessed is the King of Israel”  this was not part of the psalm but summed up the hope of the crowd.

John tells us that Jesus responds to these calls by finding a young colt to ride on. In the synoptic gospels it goes into great detail as to how Jesus found the colt that it was all worked out in advance. But here in the swirl and whirl of this spontaneous but predestined event, Jesus symbolically shows them what sort of King he is and what sort of Kingdom he has come to establish. This is not the triumphant warrior king, riding on a white charger, or conqueror marching at the head of an army, rather it was a humble person , here RVG Tasker says is the prince of peace. Again in this action Jesus fulfils scripture and John quotes it for us from Zechariah 9:9…

The disciples didn’t understand what was going on,   John tells us it was only after Jesus had been glorified that they realised that these thing had been written about him. In his teaching at the last supper, Jesus talks of sending the spirit, the one like him, who would come alongside and lead them into all truth and here we see that in action. It only from the other side of the cross, only from the other side of the empty tomb, with the spirit at work in us that Jesus is fully revealed. The crowd can have an idea of who Jesus is and his mission and it is often that that understanding of Jesus fits into what we want, our hopes and expectations… But it is only as we allow the spirit to minister to us that the reality of Christ crucified is revealed, and that reality stands starkly against the mass moves and expectations of even his followers.

Now the home town crowd hears about Jesus, not just the country bumkins, who could be excused for thinking Jesus was someone special. The people who had been with him when he called Lazarus from the grave, the Jews who had travelled down for Jerusalem, start telling people about what they know, what they saw and more people come out to meet Jesus.  The people that the religious leaders might have thought would have been a bit more sceptical and circumspect, instead of flocking to see Jesus.  John’s transports us into the back rooms, the shadows and the Pharisees who had plotted against Jesus they see this as a sign that the whole world has gone after Jesus.

And we are no longer caught up in the crowd, but the words the Pharisees spoke seem to come true as we find a group Greeks who were at the festival come and see Jesus. The Greeks were probably what was known as ‘god fearers, people who were drawn to Judaism because of its Lofty morality and monotheism, but who did not want to go the whole hog of becoming proselytes and be circumcised.    They talk to Philip, and Philip tells Andrew, who in turn tells Jesus. And maybe they think this is a sign that Jesus is about to go global, that the big time beckons, if I maybe a little cheeky here they think it’s like he’s lorde, that is L ORDE. Our world beating teenage pop sensation… and Jesus does take it as a sign, but a very different sign.

Jesus sees this as a sign that his time has come. His mission is about to be fulfilled. In John 3:16 John had told us that Jesus had come as the saviour of the world, now he sees that about to be fulfilled, the Greeks represent that wider context for him. Jesus speaks to Philip and Andrew and the crowd around him. He tells them that just like with a seed falling to the ground and dying to produce much fruit that he too must die. This is not to be a popularist uprising, but as he will say later a sacrificial uplifting.

That to follow Jesus calls us to be willing also to give up our lives so that we might find eternal life. It would be great if the way of Jesus was simply all triumphant entry, but it is a call to sacrifice and costly love. Not that the Christian life is like sucking lemons, no it is full of joy and wonder and finding eternal life… but couched in different terms than our society sees them… it comes from being with Jesus  and in finding our honor and purpose and worth being meet by God, as we follow Jesus example. AS he will tell his disciples the night he was betrayed, after he has washed their feet and invited them to do likewise, and love one another as he had loved them,  that  he will give them peace and joy that are beyond the powers of this world to take away. But the road there leads through the cross.

John does not provide us with a narrative of Jesus prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, but amidst the hustle and bustle of the festive crowd we have an account of Jesus wrestling with what is before him. “His hour has come” he is aware what that will mean.  Being human it tells us that Jesus heart was troubled, But his faith and his trust in God do not weaver.  Our emotional response to an adverse situation, our experience of the pain of loss, facing suffering does not equate with a lack of trust in God. Jesus here wrestles with those very human feelings but expresses his knowledge and trust  that God will be glorified in this hour.

Amidst the business of this day and this place, we hear an audible voice from heaven; an affirmation that God will indeed glorify his name and will glorify his Son. That what is about to happen is God’s will and God’s way and God’s purpose and God will  be victorious despite it looking as if the powers of this word have won.  It’s interesting that John takes the time to work through how people respond to what happens here… We get Jesus understanding that God has spoken, not to gee Jesus up so he’ll go through with it, but as a way of showing those around that Jesus has been sent from God. Some simply write it off as very opportune thunder, yet in Psalm 29 we have the fact that God’s speaks in the thunder and the storm. Some thought an Angel had spoken. Ina very pragmatic way it shows how our the ears of the crowd and our ears can be closed to hearing what God has to say.

Jesus then translates what this voice means to the crowd. He speaks of Judgement that God has chosen to judge the world. And it’s not the picture that we often carry round in our mind as to what the judgement of God might mean. It’s not the negative I’m going to make you pay for all you’ve done wrong, you are never good enough for me kind of stories that we tend to carry round in our heads and our hearts.  Rather it is a judgement of liberation and victory that fits very nicely into the triumphant entry of the king into Jerusalem. The prince of this world, Satan, will be cast out.  Death and sin will be defeated; darkness will be driven out by the light. There is the hope of new life and living in the light. Jesus did not come to condemn but to all who believe in him he came that they may have life.

Now we do need to unpack this a bit, firstly, the crowd and Jesus understood the idea of being lifted up to mean death and death on a cross. This is an affirmation that this liberation this freedom this life, comes because of the costly sacrifice of Jesus. But also it needs to be seen in the context of the Greek’s coming to see Jesus. They kind of got lost in the swirl of this narrative, but remember they are the trigger for Jesus words here. Some have seen this as a sort of universalism, that everyone will find life in Christ. But it speaks more of a universal mission, that Jesus salvation and the life that he gives will be open to all peoples… “Jesus will draw all peoples”…  Not just the chosen people, but Jew and gentile, men and women, free and slave, rich and poor.

Now the crowd raise their voice again, they had been silent since the beginning of this narrative. They had been simply observing and listening. They respond with misunderstanding and disarray. If there was an expectation of a messiah and a king, Jesus had now managed to destroy that, he’d put the kibosh on it, dampened it all down, with his talk of his death. Yes they are looking for a messiah, their worldview is crafted and built on an understanding of scripture and now Jesus does not fit that. He had come to his own and now they were rejecting him.  And Jesus finishes his ministry with one last plea that these people may come to the light. That they may believe in him. And sadly the narrative finishes with Jesus leaving and hiding himself from them.  We’ll it finishes beyond where we read today with the voice of Isiah telling us that this was according to scripture and Jesus crying out pleading and praying that people may come to know him and have life.


Where do you stand today in the swirl and whirl of this triumphant entry? There is the crowd around Jesus with their expectation and hopes… Jesus invites them to go beyond those to follow him even to the cross. What does that look like for you?


Are there people who have come to you and are asking to see Jesus? Maybe they don’t fit the bill, they are outside what you’d normally expect. Do you need to find an Andrew to help them to see Jesus?


Are our ears and eyes open this Easter, to Jesus lifted up? It’s an ugly sight but beyond it there is hope for the people round us in darkness. 

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