The Love of God (John 12:20-43)
Rev. David French

When you read the different Palm Sunday accounts in the four gospels, you see that there were a lot of people who had different responses to this man riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Some were friends. Some were enemies. Some were people who were just curious what all the fuss was about. There were people who expected big things from Jesus having heard about or seen some of His miracles. The big one, if you will, was the miracle Jesus performed in Bethany. Bethany was just on the other side of the Mount of Olives and was the starting point for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that day. Bethany was also the home of Lazarus, who Jesus called back from death, and his two sisters Mary and Martha. There were people in the crowd who had witnessed this resurrection and were telling everyone they met what Jesus had done. 

Jesus had performed all the signs spoken of about the Messiah. The blind received their sight, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, hearing restored to the deaf, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news preached to them. So, in fairness, it’s really not too surprising that people were looking for more of the same. 

Then there were the enemies. These were men from the full spectrum of the political world in that day. There were Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, chief priests, Herodians, and others. During normal times these groups would have been fighting with each other, and yet, they were able to overlook their intense differences in order to plot against Jesus. And it’s really not surprising that they wanted Jesus dead, considering His success would be the end of the comfortable lifestyles these leaders of God’s children had created for themselves. And so, they refused to believe that Jesus was even from God, let alone God Himself. 

Then there were those who were just there because it was Passover. The Law of Moses instructed the men of Israel to spend the days of the Passover in the temple areas in Jerusalem. Some were, no doubt, thieves and other criminals who looked to take advantage of the large crowds as they fulfilled that Law of Moses. And certainly, there were the extra Roman soldiers who were out in force keeping the peace during this great Jewish festival.

From an outsider’s perspective, Jesus’ entry really wasn’t all that unique. Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, gives examples of other popular leaders in a speech before the Sanhedrin saying, “Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.” It almost sounds like he’s saying, “Here we go again, another deceiver of naïve people.” 

Few, if any, who witnessed the palm procession understood that this man riding into Jerusalem on a donkey actually was the Messiah … God’s anointed warrior prince … on His way to battle Satan for the souls of mankind. None understood that eternity hung in the balance as this humble man rode into Jerusalem and up to the temple. None understood the battle that waited for Jesus was just outside the city walls. 

In today’s reading, Jesus teaches about that battle. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” This is Jesus teaching us that He must die to be the victor; that He, like a seed, must lie in the ground in order to bear the fruit of salvation. 

The Passover Pilgrims think Jesus’ glory would be ushering in a new age of prosperity for Israel. His enemies think that they can destroy His glory by killing Him. Jesus says it is His death that will glorify Him and it is His death that will bear much fruit. His enemies see Jesus’ death as a way to put an end to this troublemaker. Jesus teaches that His death will bring victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. 

Jesus knew that everything was in place for the offering of God’s sacrifice. Before He rode that donkey into Jerusalem, He had always said, “My hour has not yet come,” but now He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” He also said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” It is just five days before He will offer His blood for the salvation of mankind. 

One last time, Jesus tells them how He will accomplish His work as the Promised One of God. “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” At this point John adds an editorial remark to be sure we can understand Jesus the same way the people in the temple understood Him, that is, “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die,” a sacrificial death that will draw all people to follow Him. And make no mistake, God’s grace in Christ does draw all people. And yet, sadly, there will always be those who resist.

But honestly, from a human perspective, it’s not hard to resist. I mean, the idea of salvation coming through suffering and death doesn’t make sense. That’s why the Jesus who dies for sin is an uncomfortable Jesus. We don’t like to admit that we have sin that someone had to die for. And we certainly don’t want to think about the reality of the cross, knowing that it should be us suffering God’s wrath. We would just as soon get past the Jesus who tells us that we are born spiritually dead in sin and that His forgiveness is the one thing we need for eternal life. 

And still, the love of God sent His Son to ride a donkey into Jerusalem where His Son would freely and willingly offer Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. That is, the Jesus who entered Jerusalem in majesty on Sunday would carry a cross out of Jerusalem for you and me on Friday. And the Scriptures are clear that as surely as He carried that cross, so also He carried the sin of the world. And it is His death on that cross that has earned forgiveness, life, and salvation for all who are born of flesh. And finally the life He earned on the cross is offered to all through the Means of Grace that is God’s Word and sacraments and received by the faith the those Holy means create and nurture so that His death is life for all who believe. 

From a worldly perspective, Christ’s procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday looked a lot more victorious than His procession out of Jerusalem on Good Friday. And yet, it was on Friday that our victory was secured. There on the cross of Calvary, the King who rode on in majesty battled sin and death for our very souls, and with the shedding of His blood that battle was over. 

And now, by grace through faith in Christ, there is a new procession; a procession that began three days after His death and will continue until the end of time. This is a procession from the grave to our heavenly home. A glorious stream of saints entering into eternal life … one day, we who are God’s forgiven children will also be among those who are going to Him, who came for us all. 

In His name, Amen.