LIFE TO THE DEAD ENTRY
by Pastor Mike Fortune
September 27, 2008
Life Comes From...
- Joining Jesus daily [John 12:12; John 12:29; James 4:8]
- Singing His praises [John 12:13-15; Zechariah 9:9]
- Even when we don't understand His leading [John 12:16-19; Romans 8:26-27]
Horatio Spafford was a 43 year old lawyer who lived in a north side suburb of Chicgao with his wife Anna and five children. In 1871 his only son died. A few months later, the great Chicago fire of 1871 consumed Spafford’s real estate investments. He lost his entire life savings. Two years later, Spafford and his family decided to take a vacation to Europe. However, Spafford was delayed by last minute business. So he sent his wife and four daughters on a boat as scheduled promising to follow in a few days. But on November 22, 1873, the ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and it sank twelve minutes later killing 226 people in the process including all four of his daughters. When the survivors of the shipwreck landed in Europe, Anna Spafford cabled her husband, “Saved alone. What shall I do?” Spafford immediately left Chicago to bring his wife home. In the midst of his sorrow, while sailing near the place of his four daughter’s deaths, he wrote the words to the song “It is well with my soul.” In spite of that tragedy, that they could not understand, husband and wife continued to join Jesus daily, singing His praises, even going as missionaries to the Middle East sharing what they did understand about Him. And because they did, we still sing that song: “It is well with my soul.”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series entitled Life to the Dead. Since last week’s episode occurred on a Saturday, according to John 12:1, six days before Jesus would die on the cross, and because our passage today begins with “The next day”, we know this is Sunday morning of the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. The title of the narrative in my Bible says, “The Triumphal Entry.”
But whether it was triumphal depends on whose point of view you’re taking. Since the death and resurrection of Lazarus, the writer of the Gospel of John has described 3 main reactions to this miraculous event. According to John 11:45-53, the miracle makes the Jewish religious leaders want to kill Jesus for fear of what will happen to them if they don’t. So His grand entry into Jerusalem wasn’t triumphant to them.
According to John 12:1-8, the resurrection of Lazarus fills Mary with gratitude and self-sacrificing love. But since she knew Jesus was about to die, I’m not sure His entry to Jerusalem where He would soon be arrested and beaten, falsely accused and tried, and eventually crucified would be considered triumphant to her either.
But at the same time, the resurrection of Lazarus inspires the crowd to try to use Jesus to meet their own nationalistic expectations as we shall see soon [John 12:12-15]. Only to them and to the disciples who got caught up in their excitement, did this grand entrance into Jerusalem seem triumphant.
So let’s dig in today to John 12:12-19. I hope everyone brought their Bibles with them! “12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!" 14Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, 15"Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt." 16At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him. 17Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
Join Jesus daily
Point number one this week comes from the first three words of verse 12. “The next day.” “12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.” The Jewish historian Josephus said that on Passover, 2.5 million people were gathered in Jerusalem. Though most scholars think most historians, Josephus included, exaggerate their numbers, this was still a really big crowd. And undoubtedly in such a large crowd, some of them were children. And they ran ahead to join Jesus. Which is what I think God wants of all His children, scattered from all over the earth as John 11:52 describes, to do. To run to Jesus. My fave Christian band Third Day has a great song about that with the lyrics “Run to Jesus.” Which is something the Psalmist clearly understood as well since Psalm 8:2 says, “ 2From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise.”
Children just get it. They somehow instinctively know that life comes from joining Jesus every day. Which is point number one. Adults? We have all kinds of problems remembering this. Proof of this can be seen in the passage that follows probably just a couple days later because John 12:29 says, “29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” So day one the crowds join Jesus. Day three they didn’t. The same fickle crowd just a couple days later was doubting. Like Mary before the death and resurrection of Lazarus [John 11:20], they were withholding their adoration and praise.
And isn’t that just how it is with us today? We have our good days and our bad days. Days when filled with the peace that passes understanding, when we sing His praises, and then days that we don’t. The cool thing is on the days that we don’t, Jesus doesn’t abandon us. He draws nearer to us. Waiting for us to draw near to Him. James 4:8 says it this way, “8Come near to God and he will come near to you.”
Yes, we have a job to do. But our job, just like those children, is to run to Jesus. Embracing His perfect life lived in place of ours. Jesus will say it this way in John 15. “Abide [which means stay] so Stay in Me, and I will stay in You. Then, you will bear much fruit.” If we want our children to obey better, we must teach them how to abide better. Never the other way around. Does this make sense yes or no?
Verse 13 says the crowd “Took palm branches and went out to join meet him [to join Jesus] shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!" The word “Hosanna” technically meant “Save now” although it was used as an expression of praise and acclimation. The rest of their shouts were quotes from the Old Testament descriptions of the Messiah found in Psalm 118:25-26, Isaiah 40:9, and Zechariah 9:9 which we’ll read shortly.
Two crowds ran to Jesus
But did you know? There were actually 2 crowds joining Jesus that day. The first crowd who witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus came from Bethany and followed Jesus to Bethpage on the side of the Mount of Olives according to Luke’s account. But it combined according John 12:18 with another crowd from Jerusalem who had heard about what happened in Bethany. Running to Jesus from both directions, these crowds combined to form a ticker tape coronation parade of epic proportions.
Which reminded me of that combination of victorious people Revelation describes in chapter 7 verse 9, “Before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” That’s what it looked like then. And that’s what it will look like again. Anybody else want to be a part of that crowd and victory parade?
In the meantime, verses 14 and 15 add these words: “14Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, 15"Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt.” John omits from his account the details of how Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead to secure the donkeys. That’s right people. There were 2 of them. You can read about that in all three of the other Gospels if you want. Which you should because it’s simply miraculous how those donkeys were secured. But after you do, if you keep reading, you’ll notice how this combined crowd in addition to shouting Hosanna and Blessed is the King of Israel also threw their cloaks on the ground and started waving palm branches and foam fingers in the air.
Just joking about that last part. Has anyone here ever seen those foam fingers at sporting events? People put them on their hands and wave them and shout Hosanna! Hosanna! We’re number 1!! Then the marching band comes out and does a little number while the crowd does the wave. Not really. It doesn’t say the crowd did the wave or the kids had foam fingers in addition to their palm branches in John 12, but I like to think it does. Because if everyone in the crowd had a foam finger and did the wave, that would’ve looked pretty cool. It would’ve looked like a literal wave washing ashore from the hillside of the Mount of Olives, that would go up over the walls surrounding the city, before crashing onto the beach of the temple steps in the city of Jerusalem.
They sang His praises
But amidst all the excitement and fanfare, please don’t miss point number one: Life comes from joining Jesus daily. And point number two: Life comes from singing His praises. The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had prophesied 600 years earlier that the Messiah would come riding into Jerusalem seated on a donkey’s colt.
Listen to what he said word for word: “9Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!” By the way, does it bother anyone else how easily we cheer for a football team but how hesitantly we cheer for Jesus?!! I just don’t understand that. It really worries me. That’s why I tell people I’m raising Pentecostal Adventists. A community of believers like those in Acts 2 when on Pentecost the power of the Holy Spirit fell down on them like the blowing of a violent wind and later when this group gathered in the temple to worship and in their homes to eat, they did so with glad and sincere hearts. The Bible doesn’t say anything about them having trouble praising God or enjoying the favor of all the people. The Bible says instead that worship for them was full of awe. Man, doesn’t that sound great to you too?
“Rejoice greatly,” says Zechariah. I think he means, “Enjoy Jesus more than a football game O Daughter of Zion!” Or if that’s too uncomfortable for you, at least let’s say a little Amen every now and then. Can we do that? I’m not asking you to roll around on the floor and sway in your pew or do the wave in church. Just a little feedback every now and then. So your pastor knows you’re tracking with him. Can we do that? I’m not asking for my sake. I’m asking for your sake. Because I want you to experience what church in Acts 2 feels like. It should be something we experience together. Amen? Now that’s more like it!
The King of Kings rode a donkey
So rejoice GREATLY says Zechariah. “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” No doubt, Jesus knew the power of both Scripture and visual aids. I love this picture. Today it would probably grace the cover of the New Yorker or appear in the satire section of the political columns. Because kings going to war against Rome rode horses. But kings coming for peace rode donkeys. That’s a historical fact.
But apparently, our humble suffering servant king came riding a donkey and the donkey colt baby. Neither of which was probably big enough to prevent his feet from dragging on the ground. Coats falling off and getting dragged in the dirt. I don’t know.
What I do know is Jesus tried to show the crowds the kind of King He was declaring Himself to be. He was trying to remind them of the prophet Zechariah’s words. But they weren’t paying attention, listening, or responding to the word picture Jesus was painting. And neither were the disciples. Verse 16 says, “16At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.”
And as sincere followers of Jesus, that could happen to us too couldn’t it? Sometimes talking and counseling with people I get the idea that we wished God would just roll out our entire lives before our eyes so we could clearly see what we should do and when. But if He did, don’t you think that would eliminate a lot of the joy and awe we talked about earlier? If we didn’t have the bad times, would we appreciate the good?
And besides, the truth is, even if we knew how He was leading in every specific situation, that’s no guarantee we’d actually do it! We would still have to choose to do so. Like Mary did in good times. And like Horatio and Anna Spafford did in bad. My hope and prayer for you my church family is that, like the disciples that confusing day, we will courageously run to join Jesus daily, point number one. Singing his praises in good times and bad, point number two. Even when we don’t understand how He’s leading us, point number three. Is that your desire today? If it is, raise your foam finger. Or maybe just your index finger. Amen. So let it be.