“Coming in Humility”

John 12:12-19


            Re-enactments.  Re-enactments are a popular thing which allow people to observe, to recapture the moment, the experience an event from the past.  Walk into Silver Dollar City in Branson and you are taken back to the olden days of blacksmiths, horse and buggy, saloons and other frontier living conditions. Visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and you can observe the re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Visit any of the Sight and Sound theatres and you can recapture different events of the Bible brought to life.  Visit Eureka Springs, Arkansas and you can recapture the action and experience the feelings which come from the re-enactment of the Passion of our Lord.

            On Palm Sunday, churches have all kinds of different entrances to bring out the event of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  I read a story of a church where everyone gathered outside in the parking lot where the palm branches were distributed.  The person carrying the processional cross led the people around the property, up the stairs of the church.  There at the main door, the bottom of the processional cross was pounded on the middle of the doors.  There was a calling for the gates to be open that the king might come in.  The doors are opened and the people processed into the church, singing, and waving palm branches.

            I’ve been to a church where you receive your palm branch in the narthex and you waited there till the service started.  Once the service started, everyone walks up to the altar singing “All Glory Laud and Honor”.  As people got to the front of the church, they laid their palm branches down on the steps leading up to the altar and then went to their seat.

            This morning we didn’t do anything extravagant like that, but we did have the kids walk in with their palm branches waving as we all sang the first verse of “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna.”

            Each of these, even our own little procession this morning, they all try to take us back to the time of Jesus.  They try to help us to look back and imagine what might be like to stand with the crowd and somehow recapture that moment.  They try to help us experience the triumphal entry of Jesus as if we were really there.  What would it had been like?  What would I have done if I was actually there that day?

            All four gospels include the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem which we celebrate today.  And even though all four gospels include it …  John’s gospel … it’s different.  How so?

            Well, in the other three gospels, the writers record the event as it unfolds.  You have Jesus going up towards Jerusalem.  As he gets to the Mount of Olives, he sends two of the disciples on ahead giving them specific directions on how they should find, untie, and bring the colt of a donkey to him.  If they are stopped, Jesus gives them the words which they are suppose to say.  You have the prophecy from Zechariah being fulfilled.  You have the rulers watching from a distance and their disgruntle response to the events playing out in front of them.  Only in John’s gospel do you get this verse of recollection, this verse of remembering.

            After John tells us about the waving of palm branches, after the praises from the crowd, after the prophecy from Zechariah he says, “At first the 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” (12:16). 

            Notice, John is not asking us to step into the moment and to try to experience it.  It’s actually the exact opposite.  John wants you and me to take a step back and reflect on it.  And why?

            Well, because when you are living in the moment, how much do you really realize and understand what’s going on?  John, the author of this gospel, knows that after the mocking and beating of Jesus, after the crucifixion of Jesus, after the resurrection of Jesus … things look different.  After we see Jesus bear the burden of the punishment for our sin which we deserve, after we watch Jesus offer up his life for our salvation, after we have witnessed his resurrection from the dead, after we see how Jesus now rules over all things at the right hand of God … after all this … this moment of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey takes on a new and deeper meaning.

            People tend to get lost in the fanfare of an event.  We love the lights, the fireworks, the show.  People gravitate toward winning teams and popular things because they want to be a part of something, something special, a part of something which is so much bigger than themselves. 

            This seems to be the case with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  The crowd which was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover dropped everything they were doing when they heard Jesus was coming, that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.  John even tells us, “Many people, because they had heard that {Jesus} had given this miraculous sign, this sign of raising Lazarus from the dead, because they had heard this, they went out to meet him” (12:18).  The people knew that there was something special about Jesus and they wanted to be a part of it too.  So they came out waving their palm branches shouting, “Hosanna!”, which means save us.  They shout the words of Psalm 118, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And then they add, “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12:13).

            But Jesus doesn’t come to receive the fanfare.  He doesn’t ride into Jerusalem as a conquering king.  Instead, Jesus comes among his people in humble ways.  In the midst of the Palm Sunday celebration, we remember this reality … when Jesus approached his greatest work, when he approaches the cross, beaten, battered, and bloodied … he did it without fanfare.  He did it in humility.

            Over these last five weeks or so, we have been working our way through the Passion Narrative of Jesus.  We started on Ash Wednesday in Upper Room and we have been following Jesus as he moves from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane.  From the Garden to the Courtyard and then last week onto the trial.  In our reading today, we pause to take a step back from the Passion Narrative.  Today, John brings us right up to the beginning edge of the Passion, right up to the edge of the hour of glory.  John brings right up to the beginning of the most holy week of year … and yet, it is strangely anticlimactic. 

            You see, Jesus is not part of some royal procession with white horses, chariot, soldiers, captives, or the spoils of war.  No, he comes to sinners unarmed with regular fisherman walking alongside him.  Jesus comes riding on the back of donkey, on the back of a beast of burden.  Only in thinking back, only in recollection do the disciples realize what happened on that day.

            John says, “they realize that these things had been written about him” (12:16b).  The disciples remember the word which God had spoken in the Old Testament.  They remembered how God had promised to come into His kingdom, not riding on a white horse in military power, but by riding on a colt in humility.  “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king comes seated on a donkey’s colt” (Zechariah 9:9). 

            After Jesus is glorified, after his death and resurrection, after their minds were opened by the Holy Spirit do the disciples reflect on this Palm Sunday moment and begin to understand the wonder of Jesus.  A wonder which Jesus had then, and a wonder he retains still today.  As Jesus goes about his work in the world … he does so though the way of humility.

            In the midst of struggles, in the midst of trials and temptations, hardships … in the midst of the storms of life … we can still rejoice and sing and offer our praises to God!  Even though things may not be like they were before, even though we may live in the faint shadow of days of glory gone by … we can still rejoice and sing and offer our praises to God.

            Why?  Because God come to you in humility.  Jesus comes today to bring you salvation, but he chooses to do so, he chooses to be here in humble ways.  In John’s gospel, Jesus approaches his greatest work on the cross without fanfare.  In our lives, God comes to us in ways which are humble and quiet.

            We don’t need to recreate that “you were there” experience.  We don’t need to re-enact the procession of Jesus as if we were there and to try to recapture the emotions of it.  Why?  Because God is already here.  He is here in His Word that is read and spoken, He is here when we participate in the Lord’s Supper.  Today as we celebrate Palm Sunday, John encourages us to join the disciples.  Join them, not in the mesmerizing mess which is the entry into the Jerusalem, but join them in the clear contemplation, the clear recollection which follows.  John encourages us to remember how God comes to us, how God is here … in the humblest of ways. Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.


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