Long Live the King! ~ April 14, 2019 ~ John 12:12-16
Ok, we are in John 12. A couple weeks back I said when I preached on the triumphal entry story that this is the story that everyone preaches on Palm Sunday. So, guess what? What day is this? So, we are going to listen to it again, only this time from the gospel of John. John’s perspective. Beginning in the twelfth verse:
The next day…
Well, the next day after what? Let’s back up a little bit. In the beginning of chapter 12, six days before the Passover, Jesus shows up in Bethany at the house of His friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus – Lazarus, the dude who was dead for four days and Jesus brought back to life – and that is significant. Four days is significant, because culturally the Jews believed after three days, your life-force, your soul, whatever you want to call it, left the body never to return to go wherever it went. If you’re dead four days, you were just a meat sack, that’s it. So, Jesus waited specifically for four days, and then raised Lazarus from the dead, so they were all like, WOW.
So, anyway, He goes to visit them again because they were friends of His, and Mary took a twelve ounce jar of expensive perfume – and I mean expensive perfume, it was the equivalent of a laborer’s full-day’s wage – and poured it on Jesus’ feet, and anointed His feet. Judas is upset, because he’s saying, “We should have sold that perfume and given the money to the poor!” And Jesus says something pretty amazing, pretty shocking – not necessarily what you would expect Jesus to say. He says, “You will always have the poor. You will not always have me,” alluding to the fact that His time on this earth is growing short, it’s coming to an end.
Our reading picks up in verse 12:
The next day, the news that Jesus was on the
way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors
took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, [“Hosanna! Praise God,” which the Greek literally means, “God
saves.”] “Praise God! Blessings on the one
who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel! [Long live
Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said: “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem. Look, your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.”
His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.
So, the news of Jesus’ arrival sweeps through the city, and large crowds begin to gather. Why is everyone so excited? Because more and more people were beginning to believe Jesus was the Messiah, the real deal, the one that prophets had talked about coming for thousands of years was finally here! What made them think that? Who else but God could do the things that Jesus did? I mean, He turned water into wine at a wedding. He gave the blind their sight, including a person who was born blind – no one had ever seen that before. He cured all manner of diseases, including leprosy, which people thought to be incurable at the time. He had the lame, the paralyzed, get up and walk. He had a bunch of fishing miracles – not only to the point of the guys being out on the water, they couldn’t catch any fish all night long, and He says, “Yeah, throw the net on the other side,” and boom, a net full of fish – but feeding thousands of people with a few fish and some bread. Jesus commanded a storm to stop and it stopped by the power of His word. And then He walked toward the boat on the water. Who else could do things like this but God? Including, just a few days earlier, raising Lazarus, His friend, from the dead after having been dead for four days. I can understand the excitement! But I’m sure that some were holding out, uncertain that this time it was true.
Interestingly enough, they had been disappointed before. Jesus was not the first, nor would He be the last person to be accused, if you will, of being the Messiah. In 167 BC, there was a man named Judas Maccabeus. He led a successful revolt against the Seleucid Empire, and many people thought he was the Messiah because he was a warrior king like they were expecting from the Messiah. He also freed the Jews from foreign domination, and many of the events of Judas Maccabeus’ life paralleled prophesies in Daniel 8. So, they thought he was it! And then he died in battle. It turned out it wasn’t him.
After Herod the Great died, there were several more revolts. Remember, Jews for the most part really thought that the Messiah was coming to free them from the oppression of the Roman Empire. There were several more revolts after Herod the Great died against the rule of his son, Herod Archelaus. Many thought the leaders of those revolts – Judas, son of Hezekiah, or Simon of Perea – that they were the Messiah. So, this was not a unique claim.
But this had to be the guy, right? I mean, Jesus was different. Raising a dude who had been dead for four days? He had to be the real deal! So, more and more people were getting on board, and Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph! People yelling and screaming, people waving palms, all excited as Jesus comes in on His donkey into the city, and they believe now everything will change, right!? Did it?
Not how they expected. See, those who were waiting for Jesus to gather up some forces and storm the Roman Garrison like Judas Maccabeus or Simon of Perea, they would be greatly disappointed. That’s not what happened. We know what happens, right? On Thursday, He has a meal with His disciples, He celebrates the Seder, the Passover. Then they go to the Garden of Gethsemane. He is betrayed. He is arrested. He is put through a sham trial. He is convicted of sedition, sentenced to death, crucified and put in a tomb. That’s not what they expected.
That’s why so many people turned from Him. They expected military victory; they got arrest, trial, and conviction. That’s why so many shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on those who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel! Long live the King!” And then four days later, they are shouting, “Crucify Him!” They didn’t understand.
The disciples didn’t understand. How many times have I said that? The disciples didn’t understand! To me, I find that encouraging, because if there is something in here that I don’t understand, I’m in good company! Because a good portion of the time, the disciples are clueless! The disciples didn’t understand. The Jews thought that the Romans were the problem – get rid of the Romans, get rid of the problem! In time, that did happen, but long after the Jews were gone. In AD 70, the Jews were kicked out of Jerusalem, kicked out of Judea, they spread all over Europe in parts unknown. But even after they left, the Roman Empire did fall. But then it was replaced by the Byzantines, then by the Persians, then by the Muslims, then by the Ottoman Empire. Israel did not have a nation again until 1947 with the creation of the modern state of Israel. (And it’s been smooth sailing ever since, right?)
So, they got rid of what they thought was the problem – the Romans. It didn’t help. Now, 2000 years later, 2000 years after these events, we have what is called hindsight, right? We are blessed with hindsight, and hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. We know, looking back, the problem was not the Romans. And it would not be the Byzantines, or the Persians. In fact, the most important issue facing the Jews, the most important issue facing the Gentiles, the problem facing all of humanity is internal, not external. The biggest problem facing all of humankind is, as I mentioned last week, sin.
You see, Jesus didn’t come to get rid of the Romans and replace it with the Kingdom of Israel. Who was in charge in their city didn’t matter. Who was in charge in their hearts – that’s what mattered. And knowing the difference is critical. However, I want to talk a little bit about knowing. I want to show you something. Let’s run that clip…
[Pastor Adam shows the trailer for the Elvis Presley movie]
Any chance I have to show an Elvis clip, I’m going to show you! When I was growing up in the 70s, a young boy, I loved Elvis Presley! He was the King! I knew everything there was to know about him! I knew he was a twin, and his brother Jesse Garon was a stillbirth, didn’t survive. I knew that the first record he made was for his mom, Gladys, whom he loved dearly, and was devastated when she died young. His father’s name was Vernon. His first job was as a truck driver. His first hit was in 1954, “That’s Alright Mama!” He was a big hit on the Louisiana Hayride. Three songs later, he released Heartbreak Hotel, and everything changed. In 1958, he entered into the armed services, the United States Army. He didn’t ask for special treatment. He did his tour and came back. He married Priscilla, they had a daughter, Lisa Marie. In 1970, he came back to the stage. In 1973, he did a world-wide satellite broadcast of a concert from Hawaii. But you know what? No matter how much I say I love Elvis, how cool I think he was, how much I enjoyed his music. And I don’t care what anybody says – to a teenaged boy, those jumpsuits were the bomb! That’s why I still prefer high-collared shirts. It’s as Elvisy as I can get! But nonetheless, no matter how much I knew about Elvis, it didn’t change me – not as a human – it didn’t change my life at all, really. I was on vacation with my family in August 1977 when he died, and I was heartbroken. But even his death didn’t really have a life-altering effect on me.
Why is he talking so much about Elvis? Because I can!
My point is, I knew a lot about Elvis, but it didn’t change me. You can know a lot about Jesus too. You can know that He was born in a manger. You can know that when He was a toddler, three kings came and visited Him and gave Him gold, frankincense and myrrh. You can know that He said amazing things, He did amazing things, He performed incredible miracles. You can quote facts and figures about His life. You can memorize and quote Scripture. You can even shout out, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!” You can do all that, and still not be changed, and still not be saved.
You see, becoming a Christian is not about passing a test, like a Citizenship test. You know, when an immigrant becomes a citizen of the United States, they have to take a test. Did you guys have to take a test? Good thing, we’d never pass it!
What year was the Constitution ratified? 1787
The first thing they passed after the Constitution was a block of Amendments called the… Bill of Rights! How many were there? Ten, like the Ten Commandments.
How many Amendments to the Constitution completely are there? 27!
What’s the 19th Amendment? Women, the right to vote!
How many Senators do we have? Too many! (50)
How many Congress people? 435.
We wouldn’t pass the Citizenship test! We’d all have to leave! Thank God there is no Salvation SAT. How many books of the Bible are there (66)? How many in the Old Testament (39)? How many in the New (27)? How many books did Paul write (14)? How many gospels are there (4)? How many of each kind of animal did Moses bring on the ark? None, Moses didn’t do it, it was Noah!
There is no test for salvation. So, those welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem, they may have known a lot about Jesus’ act, what He’d done up to that point, but they still thought He was coming to change things externally. Their circumstances were going to change, they thought.
Well, let me tell you this. The circumstances of my life before I got saved in 1989: I was married. I had three sons. I worked for the United States Postal Service during the day, and at night I was trying to be Elvis’ drummer, traveling up and down the eastern seaboard playing at any dive bar that would hire us. In 1989 I get saved! Guess what my circumstances now are? I’m married. I have three sons. I work at the Post Office during the day. I’m trying to be Elvis’ rock ‘n’ roll drummer at night. Nothing changed externally! The change was internal. That’s what mattered – the heart changed. And when we realize – as I said last week – that we are sinners, and Jesus died so that we could be forgiven, that’s when things change internally. That’s why it’s called being born again, because it’s like starting over, a new slate. And when that happens, when we are born again, we realize our circumstances don’t matter anymore, because we discover what’s really important.
I’ll tell you what changed for me, and I think for most people, when your heart is transformed. I just wanted Jesus! I just wanted Him more. I hungered for Him. I wanted to go to church every Sunday. If I missed church on a Sunday, I just felt a little off the rest of the week. I’ve told you before, when we used to go camping, we’d set up somewhere in New England on a Friday night. Saturday at some point during the day, I’d hop in the van and drive around town, find a local church nearby, and I went to church on Sunday morning. I needed to be there. I wanted to read my Bible, because I wanted to know more of Him. You start listening to different things. I love Elvis – praise God, he sang gospel too! I started listening to more of that. You start listening to KLOVE, right? Or in my day, the other band I used to listen to was Striper! Christian heavy metal! It was awesome!
Why? I don’t know, why, you tell me? Why? Because something internally has changed. I want you to think back to your childhood for a moment, when you were younger. Whose posters hung on your walls? The Beatles? Donny Osmond? David Cassidy? The Bay City Rollers? Jackson 5? I love the Jackson 5 before Michael imploded; they were awesome! Maybe you were more a Whitney Houston fan? What was the one poster every red-blooded American male had on their wall? Farrah Fawcett in the red bathing suit! Yeah, baby! Don’t deny it, Tony, I know you had one! My future wife’s grandfather had that poster on the back of his door! (That’s how I knew Pepe was cool).
We wanted to be like these folks. They were our heroes. We wanted to look like them. There was a time when I used to pay big money to a hair stylist to make me look like Andre Agassi from the 1980s, remember that? Praise the Lord, I don’t believe we have any photos of that! But that’s what I wanted! I walked in with my picture of Andre Agassi, and I said, “Make me look like him!” We wanted to dress like them. My first day as a freshman at Triton Regional High School in Byfield, Massachusetts, I walked in on platform shoes. That’s right. But you couldn’t see them, because my bellbottom pants completely covered them. It was like I was gliding down the hallway. I’m telling you. (No, you’re not getting any pictures of those either). But we wanted to look like them, we wanted to dress like them, we wanted to act like them. They were our heroes. To this day, I don’t quite understand when you watch that film of all those young girls just screaming and crying because Justin Bieber came to town!
Well, my point is, you can just know facts and figures about Jesus, too. You can just know stories about Him. You can shout, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” You can hang a poster of Him on your wall. You can wear a nice new cross (and if you’re looking for some, I suggest going to see Kyle over at Morningstar in Manchester). You can wear a t-shirt with a very cool Christian saying on it. You can put a bumper sticker on your car. But you know what? Oftentimes, that’s all external. Lots of people can fake external change. In fact, lots of people actually do fool themselves into thinking they are saved when they are not.
Dr. D. James Kennedy served as the senior pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from its inception – he was the founding pastor in 1960 – until his death in 2007. Forty-seven years Dr. Kennedy was the pastor at Coral Ridge. Listen to what he said:
“The vast majority of people who are members of churches in America today are not Christians. I say that without the slightest fear of contradiction. I base it on empirical evidence of twenty-four years of examining thousands of people.”
Ouch. How could he say such a thing? It’s simple, really. His years, twenty-four of them at that point, of interacting with people showed him mostly external, superficial changes. People wearing new jewelry and clothing. But so many so-called Christians were still producing bad fruit. In Matthew 7 when Jesus says:
“A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad
tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree
can’t produce good fruit.”
Dr. Kennedy saw that the desires and the behavior of so many so-called Christians had not changed – outside of church. Anybody can fake it for an hour or two on Sunday morning. But in his counseling sessions it was obvious to him. Husbands were not loving their wives, and wives were not respecting their husbands any differently than they were before they became a Christian (supposedly). Teens who “got saved” at church camp, or at a conference, or in youth group, weren’t honoring their parents any differently than before they were so-called Christians either. I mean, if Dr. Kennedy had lived long enough, I’m sure he would have wondered, as do I, why so many so-called Christian women read “Fifty Shades of Gray,” and then later went and saw the movie. Even though people were saying they were Christians, the fruit hadn’t changed. The behavior hadn’t changed. It was external.
I mean, when I was going to high school – back in the day, but I’m sure it still happens – there was always that one dude who drove a 1974 Toyota Corolla piece of crap, right? Then he goes out and he buys a spoiler for the back trunk, and he gets decals down the side. He spends $500 on tires, maybe puts a new muffler on it. It looks the bomb! It’s still a ’74 Toyota Corolla with a four-banger under the hood that I could probably beat on my ten speed! But it looks great! If you want that car to really change, you’ve got to go under the hood. You’ve got to put a new engine in there if you want it to get up and go.
Jesus came to make internal changes, and that’s why so many people missed it. We cannot make the same mistake. We need to understand that on judgment day, we will all face a holy God who abhors sin and will turn away unrepentant sinners. Matthew 7:23, Jesus says:
“I never knew you. Get away from me, you who
break God’s laws.”
However, if we do repent, and ask God’s forgiveness, change happens internally. Our desire is suddenly to fill our lives with more of Him, and as we do, He begins to replace all of those other things we thought were so cool, so important (thank you very much). We now want to be like Him. We want to act like Him. We want to love like Him. We want to serve like Him. We can’t help ourselves, because the change is internal. So, I just want this Palm Sunday to celebrate Jesus not just coming into Jerusalem, but coming into your life. I want us to shout out, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Long live the King of my heart! Praise God! Hosanna! Blessings on the one who has changed me forever.” That’s why I want us to wave our Palms. Would you stand up and pray with me?