I imagine that most of us are familiar with the song, “The King Is Coming”. We know that the king spoken about in that song is Jesus Christ. When you think of Christ as King, what image or picture do you see in you mind? Do you see Christ seated on a great throne ruling the universe? Do you see Him on a white horse as He is described in the book of Revelation, leading the armies of heaven? Those are probably the most common mental images. In this passage of Scripture, John 12:9-19, we find a different description of Christ as King; one that is equally true and especially important for us today.
I. THE BACKGROUND AND SETTING (verses 9-12)
Lazarus was now a walking miracle ever since Jesus raised him from the dead, and this put Lazarus in a place of danger. Now the Jewish leaders wanted to kill both him and Jesus. They wanted to put Lazarus back into the tomb because he was leading people to faith in Christ. Since they weren’t willing to accept the evidence, the were going to try to get rid of the evidence.
The next day was Sunday, the Feast of Tabernacles, remembering the period of time when the people of Israel lived in tents as they travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land, and God dwelt with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. The time was ripe for Jesus to make a public appearance.
Picture this, if you will. The word is getting around that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and a large crowd of people is following Jesus and wanting to see Lazarus. Meanwhile, over two million Jews are arriving in Jerusalem to make preparations for celebrating the Passover.
II. THEIR RESPONSE (verse 13)
The response of the people was a greeting fit a king. It says that they “took palm branches” and went out to meet Jesus. Palm branches had nothing to do with the feast of Passover. It was on the feast of Tabernacles that the people were commanded to rejoice before the Lord for seven days with “branches of palm trees.” This command is found in Leviticus 23:40. However, history shows that over 150 years before the birth of Christ, palm trees and palm branches became the symbol of the Jewish nation. So the use of palm branches during Christ’s entry into Jerusalem symbolized the people’s hope that their nation would soon be set free by Jesus, and this is supported by the words which they used to greet Jesus. In verse 13 the people cry out: “Hozanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. They were quoting from Psalm 118:25-26. The crowd was expecting Jesus to lead them in triumph over the Romans. The word “hozanna” literally means “save us, we pray thee”.
III. JESUS’ RESPONSE (verses 14-15)
In the midst of all this celebration, Jesus finds a young donkey, sits on it, and has His disciples lead Him in a procession. A donkey is a symbol of humility and peace, and the kings and judges of Israel rode on donkeys when they were on a mission of peace. Jesus was a King on a mission of peace: peace with God through His shed blood on the cross just a few days later.
Jesus was also obeying God’s Word and fulfilling the prophesy written about Him in Zechariah 9:9, which says, “Fear not, Daughter of Zion: behold your King is coming seated on a donkey’s colt.” Jesus knew that prophesy and knew that it would need to be fulfilled. I think Jesus made arrangements for that colt to be ready for Him when He came into the city. He knew exactly what day this would be, for the book of Daniel gives us that information. Almost five humdred years earlier an angel had appeared to the prophet Daniel and told him that a certain amount of time has been marked out by God for the fulfillment of certain climactic events which concerned the people of Israel. And the time this was to begin was clearly given. It would be when the Persian king, Artaxerxes, issued an edict for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. You will find that edict recorded in chapter 2 of the book of Nehemiah. And when this heathen king issued the edict, he unknowingly set in motion God’s clock for the Jewish nation. Daniel was told that 490 years must pass before all of God’s events would be fulfilled, and the passage of 483 of those years would be marked off by the arrival in Jerusalem of Messiah the Prince.
Many years ago there was a brilliant lawyer who served for a long time as the director of England’s famed Scotland Yard. His name as Sir Robert Anderson. He was also an avid and devout Bible student. Sir Robert Anderson, with his precise mind and his training in logic, analyzed the book of Daniel and determined the exact date when that decree of Artaxerxes was issued: March 28, 445 B.C. Counting from that date and making the necessary corrections for calendar errors, he determined that on April 6, 32 A.D. Jesus rode into Jerusalem – exactly 483 years later.
Now, if a man in the 19th century could take these Scriptures and figure out the very date on which this event took place, surely the Son of God also knew it very well, and He made arrangements to enter the city, and come riding down the slopes of the Mount of Olives on a donkey, on a colt on which no one had ever sat, in the fultilllment of the predictions of Zechariah and Daniel. And it was as they were about to enter the city of Jerusalem and the people were cheering, that Luke 19:41-44 says that Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because of what was going to happen to it because the rejected their Messiah.
IV. THE RESULT (verses 15-19)
After the procession there was a lack of understanding of what Jesus came into this world to do. His disciples were confused. The Jewish leaders were angry and said, “look, the world has gone after Him.” The crowds had a wrong understanding about Jesus. They didn’t realize that before Jesus Christ could enter into His power and glory, He had to suffer and die for the sins of the world. It may well have been that many of those who were shouting “Hozanna to the Son of David”, later changed their cry to “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
Let’s ask ourselves this question: “Why do you and I follow Jesus? Do we have expectations we want Him to meet? Do we think He’ll deliver us from life’s hardships? Are we just following the crowd? Or have we accepted Jesus Christ as King and Lord of our lives and serve Him out of gratitude and worship? As we think about this day in Jesus’ life, and His death and resurrection that will happen just a few days later, let’s remind ourselves of these words of the apostle Paul in II Corinthians 5:15 and put them into practice in our lives: “And He (Jesus) died for all that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”