Sermon, Sunday Next Before Easter (Palm Sunday), on John 12.12–36.
Peace be to you, brethren. Today, David and the pastor are in the Holy Land, so I am preaching instead. But let our hearts follow them and other pilgrims to the Holy Land, back to the events of Palm Sunday 2000 years ago, things that by the Holy Spirit are alive to those who believe and bring them peace.
Today, the King of Israel rides to Jerusalem. Today, the prophecy of Zechariah is fulfilled. Today, the disciples do not understand, but they will. The King of Israel has come to claim his own, and his own is all the nations of the earth, and all the nations of the earth will be taught by his disciples, that they may look upon the one lifted up on the Cross, and in his blood be saved.
As the pilgrims are gathered for the feast of the Passover, to remember how God led all Israel out of Ægypt, Jesus comes into Jerusalem seated on a young ass. O daughter of Zion, fear not! he says silently. Why does the daughter of Jerusalem fear? Because of Israel’s enemies, oppressing the people of God. But God has said through his prophet, ‘I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes.’ The Lord has promised, and he delivers: fear not, he says to his people, because thy King cometh unto thee, just, and having salvation. Israel is freed from fear, because the one who is just, the one who saves, is here. This is what Jesus shouts without a word, because he rides in on an ass’s colt.
But anyone can claim to be the Lord’s Anointed King by doing what the people suppose that the Christ will do; not everyone can make good on this claim. Many kings have inscribed their names and been erased by history; many kings have set themselves up and crumbled into the dust. I can proclaim myself king, and no one will believe it. Or many false messiahs have called themselves kings, whom God has destroyed. But Jesus, without speaking, has the testimony of others, bearing witness that he called Lazarus out of his grave and raised him from the dead; and by this the people have reason to hope that he is the promised King to deliver Israel.
Do you even dare to hope for a king who can raise the dead? This Jesus has done what the people have barely dared to hope. The people feel the longing of their hearts. They come to meet Jesus. By the testimony of the Pharisees who hate Jesus, the whole world has gone after him. The people see Jesus, joy of man’s desiring, because he has exceeded what man by his own imagination is able to hope. Perhaps they do not know by what nature can tell them, but by the revelation of the prophets they dare to hope.
And there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast and said, Sir, we would see Jesus. Do you see what kind of king Jesus is? Here he is, the King of Israel, here to free his people Israel from the oppression of the heathen, of the Phœnicians in Tyre and Sidon, of the Philistines in Ashkelon and Gaza and Ekron; and yet here come the Greeks, conquerors of the nations, desiring to see this King of Israel. If a foreign king is come to his own people, what is that to you? You may like the spectacle of a king’s procession, you may be glad for the people of another country that their king will deliver them from their enemies, but do you ask to see this king yourself? There are kings, and then there are kings like this. Let the prophet Zechariah declare to you what kind of king Jesus is: ‘And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.’ He makes wars to cease for his people, and to the nations he speaks peace. Once all authority in heaven and on earth is given to him, his dominion stretches from sea to sea. Is this the desire of nations, the king you have waited for, and the king who satisfies the longings of the hearts of your friends? Was your heart made for him?
Jesus came to make the whole earth his kingdom, the kingdom of reconciliation between enemies, of peace and justice. If Jesus is the king of your heart, think of your parents, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your friends. These are made by God, and sinners before him; remembered with God, and sinners before him; beloved of God, and sinners before him. Think of their hopes and dreams, and their need to be just and to have justice done for them, an extraordinary justice that can raise the dead from hell. For Israel needs no ordinary saviour, and the earth needs no ordinary lord. We have ourselves anointed a thousand false messiahs; the world has seen various ordinary messiahs, such as Cyrus the Great; but the universe can be put together again by only one extraordinary messiah, begotten of the Father before all worlds. We need, and our loved ones need, a king of miracles. Do they know – do you know – the peace that comes from the justice of Jesus the anointed King of Israel?
And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. How fitting it is that such a man should be glorified! Not the son of Joseph, or even the Son of David, but the Son of Man, who was the root and the flower of the kingly line to inherit the earth, in whom the meek are to inherit the earth. For this he was sent from heaven, for this born of the Virgin Mary, for this now arrived in the holy city: that he should be glorified. This was the hour that he arrived, because it was the hour when he would lay down everything to receive glory from the Father. And this he did for you, that you might partake of his glory and by the Holy Spirit give glory to God. It was time. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. Do you hear what he says? This was the way of glory when the hour had arrived. There was but one way for the Son of Man to be glorified. The corn of wheat, who contains the entire life of the wheat, and without whom there is no wheat to speak of, and through whom the life of all worlds was made and sustained, that same seed must first fall into the ground and die. The Son of Man, who is come to bring life and peace to all nations by his reign, must first die. Yes, Jesus must die. We must look for his glory in his death; we must find our glory in the Cross. The Cross is how Jesus was to be glorified, and the Cross is how he is glorified. Even now, do not men die wondrous deaths in the sign of the Cross? For the sake of him who first died on it, do they not forsake all things and glory in the sign of the Cross? Is the Cross not now the sign dæmons fear, because of the one who has used it to break their power? Yes, in the Cross all nations are being reconciled today, and men that hated God and each other come to peace. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
If any man serve Jesus, let him follow Jesus; and where Jesus is, there shall also his servant be: if any man serve Jesus, him will the Father honour. If Jesus came to save his people Israel and extend God’s kingdom from Israel all the way to the ends of the earth, this is where his Church is too, bringing the nations to peace. To be sure, there are Christians – or men who bear that name – who in the name of freedom bring men to bondage, who in the name of life bring men to death. If the Church is what Scripture says it is, then those who are washed by baptism are called to condemn such blasphemies and call men to account by the word of God. Because God is love, he is willing to kill every last bit of sin in us, just as Jesus was destroyed on the Cross. The Pharisees of our time will complain that the world has gone to meet Jesus, because of the power he shows in the lives of those he has baptized. This power is available and promised to you if you are willing. Walk while you have light to see. Have you decided to enter Jesus’s service by submitting to baptism? Then follow him, and you will be where he is, and the Father will honour you just as he has glorified Jesus.
Jesus himself said, at the hour of his glorification, ‘Now is my soul troubled’; but he refused to say, ‘Father, save me from this hour,’ because for this cause he was come to this hour. To accept glory is to accept the Cross; to embrace the glory of the kingdom is to embrace the blessed Cross in which that kingdom is found. Do you wish to see glory? Think what you will say to your friends when everything that the faith demands is something society calls hateful, when the obedience to God is called hatred of the human race, when love is hate speech. Will you dare to speak, just as Israel dared to hope that her divine king was come at last? Think what you will say when you get expelled from a school, fired from a job, divorced by a spouse, because you stood up for what God taught and did not deny that he had forbidden the one juicy fruit in the garden. Your soul may be troubled, and it may be hard to believe God’s peace is still with you to defend you from your enemies. Do you say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? When we ask for the Lord’s kingdom to come, when we ask for his kingdom to overcome our oppressors, we ask for his will to be done, not ours. Not ‘Father, save me from this hour,’ but ‘Father, glorify thy name.’ Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.
When God promises glory, and when glory is hidden, you may miss it. Think what God’s voice will elicit. The Lord speaks out of the clouds, and you may think it was thunder. Thunder it is, but not only thunder. For those who have no ears to hear, the voice of God himself may be just a rumbling, a rumour of a rolling, random and roiling; but for those who are listening, God speaks. This voice is not for Jesus, who already knows, but for you. God promises to honour you if you trust him with your life. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.
Think how God has already honoured you by sending down his only-begotten Son to die in your place. You may have missed this neon sign as you drove by, but let us come back to it and see what it says. Already, before you ever trusted him, before you were even born, Jesus went to Jerusalem to die for your sins and defeat all the enemies that threatened to drag your life down to the pit of hell. He went trusting in God, and God so honoured him that by his resurrection even his death on a cross of shame became a death on a cross of glory. Before you were ever conceived by your mother, the Father in heaven had conceived of a way to become your Father, and the Son had fulfilled the plan. All your troubles, and all the troubles of your people, you can send to the Cross of Christ. Jesus has come to be the deliverer of all, of every nation on earth. Every nation will be saved, and indeed has been saved, by the shame that Jesus the king of Israel took upon himself to win the Father’s glory. This is the miraculous king, who turns lead into gold, wounds into gems. Your shame, if you entrust it to him, will become your glory, just as his shame became his glory, so that his riding toward his death was his entrance into his hour of glory. This is what he promised, that you would share in his glory if you joined him and stayed with him. We see that the Father fulfilled his promise to Jesus, to glorify his Name in him. Not only do we see that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but much more do we see that God raised Jesus from the dead with a body imperishable. The question, then, is not whether you should dare to trust him with your life: the question to ask is whether you should dare not to trust him with your life. If the Son of God has already died for you, do you think he will fail to honour his promise to you?
All men are being drawn to Jesus by the Cross on which he was lifted up, and through this Cross has come the destruction of Israel’s enemies, and deliverance from the hands of all that hate us. You have heard about the Son of Man, and all the world must hear from your mouth. He is the saviour of Israel; he is the desire of nations; he saves by the Cross, to the glory of his Father. The world is being judged, and the world is being saved. Choose to walk in Jesus while you can still see, that by the Holy Spirit you may share in the glory of his kingdom, which is an everlasting kingdom that holds all the world in it. Go to the king, go to the king of miracles, go to the king who is God. Amen.
Let us pray.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility; Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.