Follow the Leader

John 12:12-19 (ESV)
The Triumphal Entry
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
    sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”


            Today is a special day in the church year.  It’s a day which usually filled with loud chants of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  It’s a day which is usually filled with children walking toward the front of churches waving palm branches.  Palm Sunday is a celebratory day within the church. … But today, there is no loud chanting of Hosannas and there are no children walking down the aisle waving their palm branches.  Today it is ironically quiet.

            But this is not the way it was on this Sunday before the gruesome crucifixion and the glorious resurrection of Jesus when he walked on this earth.  This Sunday was one filled with a large crowd lining the streets going into Jerusalem chanting loudly “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  This Sunday was one were people within the crowd were waving their palm branches in the air and then laying them down at the feet of Jesus as if they were welcoming a victorious king coming back from battle.

            The thing is though … the battle hadn’t officially started yet, nor did the people in the crowd, the Pharisees standing in the background, or the disciples of Jesus know what was really going on.  John specifically says that Jesus’ “disciples did not understand these things at first, the praises from the crowd, the fact that Jesus was into Jerusalem riding a donkey, but when Jesus was glorified, so after his resurrection, then they remembered that these thing had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16). 

As we look back on this, it’s understandable that no one living in the moment knew what was going on.  There are lots of times when we’re in the moment that we question why this or that is happening.  It’s usually not till sometime after the event has passed that we really begin to realize the reason or any sort of significance from it.

But there is something from John’s account of Jesus riding into the Jerusalem which has always struck me as rather odd.  It is found in the reasoning of why the crowd is there.  Listen to these words again from verses 17 and 18.  “The crowd that has been with him {Jesus} when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.” 

I may be looking at this all wrong but to me it seems as if the people were really gathering around Jesus on Palm Sunday not to welcome Jesus as king, but rather to see if what they heard he did with raising Lazarus from the dead was really true.  It is almost as if they wanted to see if Lazarus was truly alive.  If Lazarus was alive, well then that is all the proof they would need to then follow Jesus.

If this is the case, then why are the Pharisees there?  For the same reason really.  You see, once Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, some of the people who were there ran and told the Chief Priests and the Pharisees all about it.  The Sanhedrin, the ruling council, they became extremely concerned that people would quit following them and go follow Jesus.  If people went and followed Jesus, well then they thought that the Romans, who were over them, would take away their position of authority.  When Caiaphas the high priest heard about the raising of Lazarus, he convinced the ruling council that Jesus needed to die in order to keep a revolt from occurring.  The Pharisees were feeling threatened and so they wanted to see if what their heard was true or not.

After the raising of Lazarus, Jesus went away from the Jews and out into the wilderness.  Upon coming back to Bethany, the Jews rushed out to see him and Lazarus.  The chief priests instantly noticed this sudden withdrawal of people and decided that not only did Jesus need to die … so does Lazarus.  John tells us that “the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:10-11).  The chief priests were afraid because they were losing control of the people.

So at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday we have the crowds who come out to see Jesus, the crowds who only want to see if Lazarus is alive, and then we have the Pharisees who seem to be arguing amongst themselves as they try to salvage what is left of their careers and lives.

So why do these different groups of people bother me?  Let me share an illustration which I hope will help clear things up.

One night a woman was driving home from work.  The weather was really nasty as the rain was coming down in buckets and visibility was extremely poor.  Seeing a set of taillights ahead of her, she began to follow.  Not being able to see well, the car in front of her seemed to be going in the right directions, so she stuck with it.  All of a sudden this car in front of her came to a stop. This woman started to wonder what had happened.  Did the person she was following hit something?  Were they lost?  What was going on?  Being stopped, the woman began to feel uncomfortable thinking that being stopped here in the middle of the road was dangerous and could lead to an accident.  All of a sudden, the car in front of her turned off its lights.  Her concern was changing over to anger.  What in the world is this person doing?  She was quickly startled by a knocking on her driver side window.  She looked up and there was a man standing in the pouring rain wanting to speak to her.  Cracking the window open she asked what the problem was.  The man replied that he was going to ask her the very same thing.  She snapped back at him that she wasn’t the one who stopped in the middle of the road and then turned off their lights.  The man replied … “We aren’t in the middle of the road.  We are in my driveway.” 

Obviously this woman had chosen to follow the wrong leader.  She had chosen the wrong leader and thus the wrong road.  The leader she chose took her not where she wanted nor where she needed to go.

You see, in light of our gospel reading … people are following the wrong leader for the wrong reasons.  The Jews came out to see if all the talk about Lazarus being raised from the dead was true or not.  If so, if Lazarus was alive … then they would turn and follow Jesus.  But this would be following Jesus for all the wrong reasons.  They praise him, they follow him only because he does signs, he does miracles.  Jesus fascinates them, he entertains them.  They aren’t following him because he is the Son of God who is riding into Jerusalem on a donkey to free them from their sins.  They think he is riding in to do more signs and give them freedom from the ruling Romans.

In light of the gospel reading, the Pharisees are following their own egos and agendas.  They’re opposed to Jesus and even Lazarus because the Jews are leaving them high and dry.  The Jews are about to begin to follow someone who the Pharisees consider to be a fraud and lower than themselves because he interacts with sinners.  So in order to try to regain the people’s attention, the best they could do is accuse Jesus of some crime and eliminate him.

But the question I have for you and me today is simply this … who do you follow?  Who is your leader and why do you follow him?  Are you like the Pharisees who are only worried about themselves?  Are you like the people in the crowd who are only following Jesus because he can do wonderful things and make your life better?  Or do you follow Jesus because you realize that you need forgiveness from your sins and that he is the only one who can grant you that forgiveness and give you a sense of peace in the midst of heartache and trials?

If you are like the Pharisees … I invite you to forget about yourself because no matter what you do … you will never be truly happy.  If you are like the people of the crowd who follow Jesus because you think he will satisfy every need with wonderful things … then you will be severely disappointed.  If you follow Jesus because you realize your sinfulness, realize that you need help walking through the valleys of deep darkness, realize that you need the loving help from someone bigger than you … well then … the Jesus who rides into Jerusalem today under a shower of hosannas, the Jesus who rides in on a beast of burden with palm branches waving, the Jesus who is later beaten, bruised, and battered, who suffers the total isolation from his Heavenly Father and the full effects of hell on the cross, who freely gives up his life for you … know that through this body and blood of Christ which He sacrificed for you … you are forgiven and made right with God.  And because Jesus rose on Easter morning … know that because he lives … you live in him now and will live with him in the new creation forever and ever.

It’s my prayer that you follow the right leader … the leader who does not lead you astray with unfulfilled promises but who does what he says.  A leader who wants you so badly to be with him that he was willing to sacrifice himself for you.  A leader who has and continues to walk alongside you through dark valleys.  A leader who leads you to everlasting life in Paradise.  A leader who gives you the peace of God, which truly surpasses all human understanding, which guards your hearts and your minds now and forever, who is Jesus Christ your Lord.  Amen.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forever.  Amen.