Palm Sunday 2006
We are seeking to recover a Christian sense of time, and in some sense this means a recovery of the Church year. But though we are seeking to escape a secularized calendar, we must never forget that we got this secular calendar (in part) because of a reaction away from the problem of “saints days glut.” And this means we cannot just be aware of the problems with our immediate past. We have to look farther back than this, and hence it is a means of guarding the future. What we need is balance.
On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord . . . (John 12:12-26).
Quite a few people heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem (v. 12), and when they heard this, they cut down palm branches and went out to meet Him (v. 13). Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it (v. 14), and thus fulfilled the words of the prophet Zechariah (v. 15). The disciples did not get the import of the Triumphal Entry until after Jesus was glorified (v. 16). People were in Jerusalem, talking about the raising of Lazarus (v. 17). This, in part, was why such a crowd gathered (v. 18). The Pharisees had trouble seeing outside the immediate moment (v. 19). There were some Greeks there, who came to worship (v. 20), and they had heard about Jesus and asked Philip if they could see Him (v. 21). Philip and Andrew come and ask Jesus about it (v. 22). Jesus answers (although it does not appear to be an answer), and says that the hour has come for Him to be glorified (v. 23). Death is necessary in order to bear fruit (v. 24). He then applies the principle more broadly, to all His followers (v. 25). Follow Me, Jesus says, and the Father will honor you (v.26).
The Time For Openness:
Throughout His ministry, Jesus had spent a considerable amount of effort to get people to keep His miracles quiet. But His hour has come, and He does nothing to get the crowd to be quiet—as He says elsewhere, if the people were quiet, the stones would cry out. This crowd is here because of the resurrection of Lazarus, and Jesus does nothing to discourage them.
The disciples were caught up in the moment, and all they knew was the glory of it (and it was real glory). But it was only glory in preamble form, and there was a deeper glory coming. But in order for that deeper glory to arrive, it was necessary for the “corn of wheat” to fall into the ground and die (v. 24). Jesus had to explain this to His disciples. The exultation they felt was not the grand moment of victory.
In the same way, the Pharisees (with the same carnal eye) looked at the triumph of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a royal mount, heard the crowds, and lamented their loss— “behold, the world is gone after him” (v. 19). In other words, this was to be a roller coaster ride for them: despair, scheming, victory, and then ashen despair again. The disciples were operating on the same carnal level—only opposite. And this shows that there is a kind of “opposite” that is not really a demonstration of the antithesis at all, but is simply a matter of “taking sides.” This is why we have left and right, conservative and liberal, and so on. But the real antithesis is death versus life from the dead.
We Would See Jesus:
In the pandemonium, certain Greeks came and wanted to see Jesus. Philip and Andrew ask about it, and Jesus gives a cryptic answer. But the answer is not a change of subject; the Lord is actually explaining how it is possible to see Jesus. But the answer involves much more than simply arranging for an appointment (which may have been what they were asking for).
The hour is coming when the Son of Man will be glorified (v. 23). How will that glorification occur? The seed must die (otherwise it remains solitary), but if it dies, it will bring forth much fruit (v. 24). The one who hates his own life shall regain it in eternal life, and the one who grasps to keep it will lose it (v. 25). This principle is now being extended by Jesus to His followers. What He is going to go through, they must go through also. If these Greeks want to really see Me, Jesus is saying, they must follow me. If they follow Him, they will be where He is and will do what He does also. They will also die, and they will also be fruitful. If this happens, then the Father will honor them. Now this is the only means these Greeks have of “seeing” Jesus that was different from how the Pharisees were also “seeing” Him at that moment.
The Greater Lazarus:
Now the crowd was there because they had seen Lazarus raised, or had heard about Lazarus being raised (vv. 17-18). This meant that the multitude with the palm fronds knew that Jesus had authority over death. But what they did not know is that He had authority over death from the inside of it. If Jesus was here and death was there, then Jesus could fight with death the old-fashioned way, the way a knight might fight with a dragon. But Jesus was interested in far more than simply being opposed to death in some form of external combat. He walked into the maw of death in order to be swallowed by it, and to defeat death while a dead man. It was this feat that defeated all death at one blow, instead of having to bring people back, one at a time, like Lazarus.
The disciples did not realize until later that they had been the instrument of fulfilled prophecy (v. 16). They did not know these things at the first. But when Jesus was glorified, they realized it all. But Jesus talked to them about His approaching glorification (v. 23), and so it had been part of their conversation on that day. They talked about glorification, but it was not until they saw Jesus as glorified that any of this made any sense to them. But note what Jesus had taught here. It did not suddenly make sense to them simply because time had elapsed, because Jesus had died and was now glorified. It made sense to them because they had also died. They had gone through this death in different ways—Peter and John, for example, were quite different. But the shepherd had been struck and the sheep scattered. This, in a way, meant that the sheep had been struck as well. And when Jesus rose from the dead, so did His followers.
Jesus did not die so that we might live. He died so that we might die; He lives so that we might live.
Death and Fruitfulness:
Many Christians glibly talk about having a fruitful Christian life, or a fruitful Christian ministry. They often mean nothing more than learning how to not mess up in obvious ways. But we use phrases like this in a way that should make us think of the request made of Jesus, that two brothers might sit on His right side and His left. Do you know what you are asking? The answer was yes, but the answer was really no. When you ask to be fruitful, do you know what you are talking about? Not fully, but Jesus still issues the graceful invitation in the midst of His triumph. Come with Me. Come and die.”