In our text, it's Passover. Passover was such a huge festival time, perhaps the greatest attraction for Jerusalem. Pilgrims from all over would travel to Jerusalem. They wanted to be there at the Passover celebration. Josephus tells us that just prior to Titus' invasion in 70 AD that the Passover celebration had grown to 2.7 million people coming into this small city of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem is a small city, so people are camped everywhere, I'm sure. They're staying in the nearby villages, all wanting to…at least at one point…make their way into the Temple walls, into the city area itself. A time of great excitement. A time of religious fervor.
In the days of Jesus, there was also a zealot feeling, a political fervor. A desire, perhaps understated, underneath the table so to speak, that they wanted to overthrow Rome. They wanted to get away from the bondage they were in under the rule of this powerful oppressor.
They would come in the daytime, and they would celebrate the different feasts and the different elements of Passover. But in the alleys at night alone they would grumble and talk and desire to be freed from that Roman oppressor. Of course, the freedom would come from the prophesied Messiah. And by the days of Jesus, they saw Messiah as a ticket away from Rome. They were looking for that one individual who would rally them together, that would help them to overthrow those shackles…unless you were benefiting from Rome, unless you were benefiting from the oppressor.
And so with the Sanhedrin, with the high priest, with many of the Pharisees, with many of the landowners, there was a sense of not rocking the boat. There was a great desire to suppress any revolutionary attempt. Now they didn't like Rome either, but they did like what Rome had afforded them…nice living, a nice way of life. And so they wanted to protect that. They wanted to keep that from being destroyed by the takeover of the people. They didn't want insurgent activity to cause Rome to come down hard on them to punish them for letting things get out of hand. So you had these different elements opposing each other.
Jesus comes onto the scene. Jesus has no intention of being the political Messiah. He hasn't come in order to lead a revolt against Rome, but He has come to die. And He is going to die at the hands of the Pharisees, and on this particular Passover weekend…we would call it…on this particular Sunday, He is going to force their hand. He is going to orchestrate really an event that will, though not lead an insurgence, will cause the Pharisees to change their timetable to God's timetable.
Their timetable had already been stated in Scripture. They weren't going to do anything during the Passover feast. They were going to arrest Jesus, but they were going to do it after the feast. They were going to do it when people returned back home. They were going to do it when no one was watching, so to speak. They intended to kill Him. They intended for Him to die so that Rome would not come down on this new movement and mess things up, but they were going to do it later, but God was going to do it this week. And so Jesus is going to force their hand, if you will, and we see that activity take place today.
I call the message Hosanna! because that is the cry of the people when they see Jesus coming. There are two groups. There is one group of people that come with Jesus from Bethany, just about two miles east of Jerusalem itself. They will travel with Jesus as He makes His way into Jerusalem. And then there are the pilgrims who have come from Galilee, who have come from different areas, who are inside the city of Jerusalem celebrating the Passover week. They're going to come out of Jerusalem, and they're the ones really whom John focuses on as we see these two groups come together.
In John 12, beginning in the 12th verse, it says, "The next day…" And we take that to be a Sunday, "…a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: 'Hosanna! "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' The King of Israel!'"
This multitude of people that John mentions have heard that this Jesus is coming to Jerusalem. He has been threatened by the Pharisees. They've tried to stone Him, they've tried to arrest Him before, and now, low and behold, He is coming! But another rumor, another story, and other witnesses have also been circulating. And that is that He actually brought a dead man, dead four days now, back to life! And that witness has spread, and it has excited the people, and they are thinking that this may indeed be the King of Israel. This may be the long awaited Messiah.
So the multitude pours out the Eastern Gate. They come in droves down that western slope of the Kidron Valley. And along both sides of the Kidron Valley trail that leads down to the valley and then up to the Mount of Olives were date palms. And so as they're coming out, they're reaching up, and by whatever means they're grabbing these date palm leaves, and they're carrying them with them.
Now that is significant for a Jew. First of all, in the Feast of Tabernacles, they would use those date palm leaves as part of their celebration. They would sing what we call the Hallel psalms…Psalms 113 through 118. They would sing them every day. And when they got to Psalm 118, part of the process was to wave these palm branches. In fact, the palm branches became to be known as the hosannas. And they would cry out, "Hosanna!" Hosanna simply means, "Save us, O Lord. Save us, Lord."
It came to be sort of a proclamation, an acclamation, a word in and of itself. And so when they would come to that part in Psalm 118, they would sing that. In fact, in Psalm 118, verse 25, the words that they would sing are recorded for us in English, and it says, "Save now, I pray, O LORD..." Now that in Hebrew: Hosanna, "…O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity." And then the next verse: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!"
So I have the idea…they knew the music. We don't have that music. It didn't survive along with the Psalms…that as they're lining up both sides of that path from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, they're waving their palm branches, and they're singing. They're singing this song. They're singing the song the chorus of which is, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Except it's not the Feast of Tabernacles. Later on, it's the Feast of Passover six months later. But they bring those palm branches with them, and they sing what the Psalm was addressed to. And that was to the Messiah. And they see that perhaps this Jesus is that Messiah.
Now also the palm branch held another significance. In the same way that our American bald eagle is a national symbol, the palm branch was a nationalist symbol for Israel. In fact, even the Romans when they conquered Israel, and they printed the coins for Israel, they would include a palm branch on that. It therefore was almost like waving the flag. To wave the palm branch would have the implication that this coming Messiah is also a political Messiah, that He is the One who is going to lead our revolution. And of course Jesus is very well aware of that.
That is why in verse 14, back in John 12, it says, "Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: 'Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.'" Now riding in on a donkey's colt was a formal symbolic gesture of a king. When a king would come to another place, to another kingdom, to another king, riding in on a donkey showed he was coming as a prince of peace, that he was coming in terms of peace, that it was a peaceful visit.
Jesus sends His disciples. He tells them to go to what we believe to be the area of Bethphage, just another suburb there just outside Jerusalem. And they would find such an animal tied up, and they were to bring it back to Him. And so they bring this young colt back. And the disciples take their cloaks, and they lay them on this animal to sort of form a saddle for Jesus to sit on. And He chooses to sit on that young colt to show Jerusalem that He is coming in peace.
Now Jesus could have ridden a warrior horse. A warrior horse you would ride when you're coming in triumph. You see if Jesus was wanting to lead the revolt that He could have so easily led, if He was wanting to take this fervor that was at a fever pitch, and if He wanted to ignite it to a full blown revolution, He just needed to get on a big white horse. Get on that big white steed and march that same path, and the people would have literally gone crazy.
But Jesus didn't want to do that. He wasn't there to be a conquering King. He was coming in peace. But He was coming as a King. Riding that colt was the sign that you were a king. And the people saw that, and though they didn't respond with a military result, they called out, "O King of Israel! O King of Israel!"
"His disciples…" in verse 16 tells us, "…did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified…" this was after His resurrection, "…then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him." Isn't it interesting? The disciples have been with Him all this time, and obviously they're still thinking earthly kingdom. They're still thinking overthrow Rome.
If you put all the synoptic Gospels together, you come to realize they actually brought two donkeys to Jesus. They brought that colt, that foal, and they also brought the mom. Now Jesus could have ridden the warrior donkey or the peaceful donkey. He chooses the peaceful donkey, the colt, the foal. And He rides in with all of this crowd waving all of their flags and crying out, "Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" And the disciples are looking at one another, and they're looking within themselves, and they're saying, "He is missing His opportunity."
They didn't understand. "Why is He riding on a peace donkey? Why is He riding in terms of peace? Why is He not taking this opportunity to lay claim to His kingdom?" And it would not be until His resurrection, until He is glorified before them, and they begin to reflect on all that Jesus had been trying to tell them all along that they begin to see, "Ah! The spiritual kingdom! The spiritual kingdom." That is why Jesus said, "If My kingdom were of this world then My servants would fight. But My kingdom is not of this world." The disciples didn't understand that, but after His glorification, they began to get it.
We're no different than the disciples. We look to Jesus. We want physical blessings. We want physical results, don't we? We often look to material things and the reward of material things, even small material things, as the sign that we've made the right choices, that we've aligned ourselves with the right King. But it only often comes after studying, after prayer, after relationship with God, after times of travail and turmoil and trepidation in our life that we being to say, "Oh, it's a spiritual kingdom. It's a spiritual kingdom."
But yet when you're lost, they term spiritual kingdom has no meaning. It's not something you can comprehend. Your spirit is dead. That part of you is not alive. It doesn't respond to that. But when you come to Christ as Savior, when that spirit is reborn, when you are born again as Jesus told Nicodemus, when you begin to follow Him in that spiritual walk, when you begin to view the material things, even the small things, in this life in terms of the spiritual reality, you begin to say, "Oh yeah! I'm a part of a greater kingdom. I'm part of something powerful. I'm like Abraham who wondered through a land that had been promised to him, but he never attained it because he was looking to a city that was far away."
And so we wander through this world, knowing we are a child of the King who owns the cattle of a thousand hills, but we're looking to a possession, to a mansion, to a kingdom that is still yet far away. But it makes us no less a priesthood. It makes us no less possessors of that kingdom. We just change our priorities. And so did the disciples.
Before the crucifixion, the disciples, when Jesus is arrested, they run. After the resurrection, the disciples when faced with arrest, they just get arrested. When faced with their own mortality, they die for the name of Jesus. The difference? Spiritual kingdom. A spiritual reality. If all you see is this physical world, then when Jesus tells Martha, "If you believe in Me, then even though you die, you shall live. And he who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" it makes no sense to you.
But when you, as Martha had I believe, experience that rebirth, experience being born again, then when Jesus makes those statements, you look at death, and you say, "Where is your sting, death? Where is your victory? My victory has been secured. And I look for my Savior to come again, this time riding on that warrior horse, this time coming with all the armies of heaven behind Him, this time coming not with a sword, but with the sword of His mouth, and with His very words executing His judgment on this world. Not this time when He comes in peace to be sacrificed, but that time when He comes in great victory. I see it afar off now, but I still cry, 'Hosanna! Save us, God. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, the real King of Israel.'"
Verse 17: "Therefore the people, who were with Him…" with Jesus, "…when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign." The power of witnessing is given to us in this verse. There is a huge crowd lining both sides of the path leading up to the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem. And the people who are there are there because verse 17 tells us that "the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb…bore witness." That they told others what Jesus had done, that they were eye witnesses to what Jesus had done, and they told other people.
They didn't have to invite them to come on Palm Sunday. They didn't have to do any of that. They simply bore witness of what Christ had done. And then 18 says that it is for that "reason the people also met Him." I tell you, one great tool that we have that we leave sheathed so often, that we fail to get out of the box, is our simple witnessing. Just telling people what Jesus has done! Just simply telling people what He has done, what you have witnessed Him do in your life.
You don't have to invite, you don't have to sell, you don't have to try to convince. You just simply witness because, let me tell you, everybody secretly is looking for a Messiah. They're secretly looking to fill the void in their heart that cannot be filled by material things, even those little ones. They're looking for an answer. They're looking for meaning in their life. They're looking for something that is beyond them, that will explain them and explain their purpose.
And if you will just pull out of that box, pull out of that sheath your own ability to tell your story, they'll line both sides, curious about this One called Jesus. And so it was with these who had never been to witness training school. They hadn't been to any theology. They hadn't studied any particular Romans Road because it hadn't happened yet. But what they did know was what they had seen, and the results were incredible.
But along with that incredible result, we have to look at that crowd a little bit too, don't we? Because there was in that assembly those with very shallow commitment. Because in a few days, they would abandon Christ. When it came time for Jesus to be arrested and stand trial, this huge throng of people who are still there for the Passover would not be there for His defense. Instead would be a large crowd crying, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
We see then on Palm Sunday many who we would have to say had a shallow commitment. A shallow commitment. That is always the great fear that you would be one who has a shallow commitment. In fact, we may be guilty of seeking shallow commitments. I believe in church today that one of the problems we have in churches today is that we allow shallow commitment, that we don't speak of the cost of following Jesus.
And yes we see the grace of God, the free gift of God, and we don't match with that the tremendous cost of discipleship and the tremendous cost of commitment that is involved. These people have come, but they've come…many of them I think…with a shallow acceptance. One that is peer based because everybody else is doing it. How many people do you know today have followed the Lord in baptism, or they've received Christ as Savior they would say because their friends had, because that is what you do in religion. That is what my family does, and it's my turn to do that. Just peer pressure. Not the conviction of the Holy Spirit, not a response to Jesus as your Lord and Master, but simply waving the flag of Christianity.
How many have shallow commitments of wanting to just check off the religion box, of wanting to just say that they took care of that as a child, that they got their ticket to heaven, but they never had that commitment that Jesus talks about?
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