John 12:12-19 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.”
Merry Christmas. Jesus is born! There are few things more worthy of celebrating, and I can think of no better way than to celebrate together on the Lord’s Day. I love that we get to be together this morning and this evening. I also love that our passage fits so well with Christmas. I’m eager to help you see what I mean by that.
The big idea of this sermon and passage is that Jesus is triumphant in all He is and does. The main takeaway is that we ought to live every moment of every day in light of that fact. Let’s pray and dive in.
THE FIRST TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
Our passage for this morning is commonly referred to as “The Triumphal entry”. It certainly is that in a way (although Jesus’ triumph would take a much different form than the crowds in this passage imagined). But it’s good for us to recognize that this was actually Jesus’ second triumphal entry, and we can’t truly understand the second apart from the first.
Before Jesus was even conceived, an angel visited Mary and said to her concerning Jesus, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the Most high. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).
Before Jesus was born, while He was still in Mary’ womb, when Mary went to visit Elizabeth, Elizabeth “exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me'” (Luke 1:41-43).
At Jesus’ birth, the glory of the Lord filled the sky and an angel of the Lord declared, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…” And this was followed by a multitude of angels “Praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased'” (Luke 2:10-14)!
Shortly after Jesus’ birth, wise men from the east came to Bethlehem and asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).
Jesus’ first triumphal entry came at the time of His birth. It came when the eternal Son of God took on human flesh and a human nature and dwelt among us. In the opening of his Gospel, John describes the first triumphal entry of Jesus this way (in 1:14): “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
It had been determined by the Almighty God, before the foundation of the world was laid, that Jesus would be victorious in and over all things. His first triumphal entry, His coming to earth as a baby, had been promised for ages and generations and was finally revealed at the first Christmas. The King of Glory had finally come!
That’s why this day is so special. That’s why it is right for us to be here, to dress up a bit more, to sing with more enthusiasm, pray with more faith, and come back tonight and hear this story again…because today marks the day we celebrate Jesus’ first triumphal entry.
This Christmas Eve morning, then, with the heavenly proclamations of the fact and glory of Jesus’ miraculous birth ringing in our ears, we get to consider Jesus’ second triumphal entry, along with the response of the crowds, the Disciples, the Pharisees, and ourselves to it.
THE SECOND TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
From those heavenly and earthly declarations, the crowd’s response in our passage for this morning makes perfect sense. It’s exactly what we might expect. What else might they proclaim other than, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” What other response might there be at the second triumphal entry of the one whom prophets foretold and angels heralded?!
In fact, if we didn’t know any better, we might expect a straight line from the proclamations surrounding Jesus’ birth to the response of the large crowd in John 12:12-13. We might expect an uninterrupted rise from virgin-born infant to coronated-King.
But, of course, we do know better. The rise was anything but a straight line and this peak was about to be turned into a deep, deep valley. Even though the bulk of the passage is hopeful, the last verse of our passage hints at the decline.
And with that, let’s look at the second triumphal entry a bit more closely. It was planned by Jesus, it enthralled the crowds, it confused the disciples, and it caused the Pharisees to resign themselves to this moment.
Planned by Jesus (14-16)
On the surface, at least to me, it sounds like the “large crowd” thrust Jesus into the spotlight; like the kicker unwittingly hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates after kicking the game winning field goal. Considering John 6:15, this might seem like an even more likely interpretation, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
Again, at first reading, it almost sounds like that which the crowds had been unable to do previously (make Jesus king by force), they succeeded in here.
And yet we know, both from this passage and the rest of Scripture, that just like the first triumphal entry was God’s plan, so too was the second. There are two places this shows up in this passage. The first is in vs.14-15. In that passage John states explicitly that Jesus entered Jerusalem in the particular manner He did in order to fulfill the prophecy in Zachariah 9:9, which says…
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Jesus knew this prophecy, He knew it was about Him, and John tells us that He knowingly and willfully rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill it. Jesus is King and He is triumphant. We cannot read vs.14-15 as John and Jesus intended and miss the fact that our passage is a description of Jesus finally presenting Himself to the world as King. This second triumphal entry is exactly what the angels promised in the first.
The second way we see that the triumphal entry described in this passage was planned by Jesus is found in v.16. There, John records the Disciples’ future response. They remembered later “that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” In other words, in the moment, as we’ll see in a bit, the disciples were confused. Later, however, they came to see that this triumphal entry was long-promised and planned by God.
As I mentioned, the rest of the Bible helps us see even more clearly that Jesus’ second triumphal entry was planned by Jesus. For instance, what John remains silent about, Matthew states explicitly. Prior to arriving in Jerusalem, “Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me” (Matthew 21:1-2). Jesus didn’t merely decide at the last minute to ride in on the donkey. He arranged for it in advance as the proper vehicle for His presentation and coronation.
The main point for us to see is that Jesus was finally revealing Himself as King. Embedded in this passage is a statement about the nature of Jesus’ kingship—namely that He was there as a king of peace rather than the military conqueror so many expected (see Zacheriah 9:10)—but the simple fact is that Jesus’ time had come and it was Him, not the crowd who determined to make that known.
The Crowd Was Enthralled (13, 17-18)
That leads us neatly, then, to the response of the crowd. Look with me at the beginning of v.13.
13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him…
At that time in Israel, “[Palm branches were] used as symbols of victory and kingship. By meeting Jesus with palm branches the crowd showed they were welcoming him as king” (Kruse, TNTC, 261). Jesus was presenting Himself as king and the crowds believed Him. They were, as we’ll see as we continue in John’s Gospel, mistaken about Jesus’ kingship and triumph, but there was no doubt that they were beginning to see Jesus more clearly.
Consequently, they cried “out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…”
“Hosanna” was simply an exclamation of praise. They were amazed by Jesus, excited at the prospect of what His triumphal entry might mean for them, and they cried out because of it. The rest is a quote from Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.”
Interestingly, this was a Psalm sung by Jews to Jews. As Jews would come to Jerusalem and approach the Temple, their fellow Jews would greet them with these words, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We would do well to greet one another that way at church each week. It is good to acknowledge the blessedness, the happiness, the joy, of those who come here in God’s name.
In this context, the crowds shouted this in unison as a way of welcoming Jesus and declaring that He was indeed coming in the name of the Lord, that we was truly from the Father.
More than that, though they added one more clause to make it clear that they understood Jesus to be more than just another faithful man of God, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” They said with their mouths what they’d already communicated with their palms. They were declaring and celebrating the fact that Jesus is the King of Israel!
They were starting to put the pieces together. His unparalleled insight, power, and presence all pointed to the fact that He really was the Messiah promised by God; and the crowds saw that more clearly than ever.
What changed? Why were they starting to see this now? John tells us that the key that unlocked this for most was (understandably!) Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Look at 17.
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.
Vs. 17-18 actually describe two crowds combined into one. The first, described in v.17, was the group who had been present when Jesus raised Lazarus. The second, described in v.18 (and v.12), was a group in and around Jerusalem, who were there for the Passover, and who had heard about Jesus raising Lazarus and were amazed.
Again, they didn’t know it yet, but as much as the crowd got right, they also had a ways to go before they’d truly understand who Jesus was, what He meant in presenting Himself as king, and what He was about to accomplish. Nevertheless, what they did understand, they celebrated; and none more than the first group who “continued to bear witness.”
May that be a lesson for us, Grace Church; actually, may it be three powerful lessons. First, let us see how natural and normal it ought to be to experience Jesus’ glory and turning it straight into praising God and telling others that they too might experience it. Oh that’s we’d learn to turn our quite times and evidences of grace and experiencing of God’s blessing into immediate, joyful, bold worship and witness-bearing!
Second, may we learn from the first crowd that we don’t need to know everything about everything to “bear witness” to the glory of the birth and triumph of Jesus. There will always be more to learn and greater depths of God’s nature and salvation to plumb, but we can always share whatever we have. Kids, most of you know plenty to tell your neighbors and grandparents about the God who was born as a man to save the world from our sins by dying in our place.
And third, we might not understand everything about Jesus’ kingship, but we certainly know enough to give ourselves to obeying whatever commands we have. We know enough not to pit our own wishes, desires, sense of things, morality, wisdom, and authority against Jesus’. He is King. We are not. We ought to honor Him and follow Him in every way, in every moment, in every aspect of life, in every part of the world, no matter the earthly cost. We ought to join the crowds in repenting, bearing witness, and declaring, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of [the universe]!”
The Disciples Were Confused (16)
Next, we see something that is certainly familiar.
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first…”
How many times has this been the case? How many times had the disciples misunderstood Jesus or failed to fully understand the significance of the things they did understand?
One of the clearest parallels in John is found in chapter 2. Jesus promised, “19 Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” But no one, not even the Disciples understood Him at the time. Therefore, in v.22 we read, “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”
Although they’d lived and traveled with Jesus for more than three years by the time of the events of John 12, they were still missing large chunks of understanding. And that continued on even through Jesus’ death and resurrection, “but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”
And that was the fulfillment of a promise Jesus would make in John 16:7-14, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes… 13 he will guide you into all the truth…
Grace, as you know, we are a lot like the Disciples, so let us go slow and be humble. Let us be careful and eager for correction. Let us be childlike in our faith and willingness to be instructed. At the same time, however, we do have the Spirit, so let us praise God and be encouraged. Let us read His Word with expectation and confidence. Let us give ourselves to seeking wisdom and understanding and believing that He will give it generously to all.
The Pharisees Were Resigned (19)
That brings us to the final response recorded by John to Jesus’ second triumphal entry; that of the Pharisees. They’d worked hard to silence Jesus. They’d rebuked, threatened imprisonment and death, and sought to intimidate Jesus, His followers, and the crowds, and all to no avail.
As they watched the procession unfold, therefore, it’s not hard to imagine their response.
19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
Nothing we’ve tried has worked. He’s turned every attempt we’ve made back on our heads. He’s evaded our every attempt to silence, capture, arrest, and kill Him, and He’s made us look like fools at every turn.
But rather than recognize the reason for their impotent plans (they were going against God), rather than recognize the folly of their actions, and rather than repent and believe, the Pharisees and Jewish leaders would soon redouble their efforts. For now, however, they had to simply throw up their hands, sit back, and watch as Jesus was adored by the great and growing crowds (possibly close to 3 million).
All of this brings us to the point of needing to consider our own response. Grace, what is your response to the triumphal entries of Jesus? What is your response to God being born and revealing Himself as king? What do you make of Jesus’ coming and coronation?
Are you like the crowd (partially and unknowingly misguided, but full of zeal and joy), the disciples (faithful, but knowingly confused), or the Pharisees (resigned to the fact that people are going to chase after Jesus even though He’s a liar)? Or is your response something different still?
The simple fact of the matter is that having heard this story, having heard of Jesus’ triumphal entries, we must all respond. What’s more, the Bible is repeatedly explicit that there really are only two possible responses we can make. Either you will experience the holy glory of God, desperately acknowledge your sin against Him, and surrender your life entirely to Him as your Savior and Lord OR you will do anything else. The first, John wrote, leads to eternal, fullness of life and joy and peace in the loving presence of God and all His people. The second, to eternal destruction as the just punishment for treasonous sin.
THE THIRD TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
Before you finally decide how to respond to Jesus’ triumphal entries, and in conclusion, consider with me the remarkable fact that there’s one more triumphal entry to come!
Revelation 19:9-16 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” …
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Grace, Jesus made a triumphal entry at His birth. He made another at His coronation. And He’ll make one more still at His return. In His first two, He came on a donkey as a king of peace to rescue us from our sin. In His third, however, He’ll come on a white horse, as a warrior King to defeat all of His enemies once and for all, as the crowds in our passage expected then (they were right in their expectation, but way off on their timing). It will be terrible to His enemies and glorious to all who had received Him as King.
Again, then, on this Christmas Eve morning, how do you respond to Jesus, the triumphant One? For now, let us pray and then sing with all we have, rejoicing and crying out, “Hosanna,” for truly, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.