In the Christian church today, I think we are sometimes guilty of saying things, repeating phrases, or even going through certain ceremonies, which are part of our tradition, but which we don’t really understand. For instance, we often hear the word “hallelujah” in church. We may sing or say this word in various liturgies or songs. Yet a lot of us may not know what it really means. It’s a Hebrew word which means “praise the Lord” by the way. “Amen” is another one we hear often. Amen is another Hebrew word, which means “let it be.” Today in the passage we are looking at, there is the transliteration of another Hebrew word, which we hear oftentimes at Christmas or on Palm Sunday. The word in our text is “hosanna.” It means “O save us,” or “save, I pray.”
But I would suggest that at the time in which this word was shouted in celebration of Jesus’s triumphant arrival into Jerusalem, the vast majority of those present did not really know the true meaning of that word. I’m sure that it was used much like the way we use such words a hallelujah or amen, it was merely a word they had associated with Messianic themes found in the scripture. And in this case, it finds it’s reference in Psalm 18, which was read or recited as part of the Hallel, which was recited at the Feast of Tabernacles and the Passover Feast. And as the text reminds us, the Passover Feast was at hand. So this word was already on the lips of those coming to celebrate the Passover.
Now I make that point because I want to emphasize that the things that the Jews were saying about Jesus came not as a result of spiritual insight, but out of a nationalistic fervor. In other words, they really didn’t understand the nature of Jesus’s ministry, or the nature of the Kingdom of God. Matthew 4:17 tells us that when Jesus had begun His ministry 3 years earlier, He did so by preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.
But in spite of all that Jesus taught concerning the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, the vast majority of the Jews heard what they wanted to hear, and as a result they misunderstood the true nature of Jesus’s ministry. The Jews were looking for a Messiah on the order of a revolutionary political figure such as Judas Macabbeus, who had lived 150 years before and brought about a great military victory for Israel; and who restored the temple for service. And their incomplete understanding of scripture was such that at the time of Jesus they were looking for the Messiah who would be first and foremost a king, a Son of David, who would restore the throne of David to Israel, and would overthrow the Roman oppression. So they were not looking for a savior, but for a deliverer from their political problems.
So because of that expectation, there had already been a couple of times that the Jews had wanted to make Jesus a king, particularly after feeding the 5000, and yet Jesus slipped away. He went away from the crowds in order to avoid them taking Him and making Him King by force. And He avoided that because the scripture says, His time was not yet come. It wasn’t the right time in God’s schedule. But now at the Passover, it is the right time. It is the week before Christ’s death on the cross. And contrary to many theologian’s views, God’s plan was that Jesus would suffer before He would be glorified. God’s plan was for the redemption of man by offering Jesus on the cross as the Passover lamb, slain for the sins of the world, and then afterwards, Jesus would be exalted and glorified. Jesus made that priority clear later on when He was with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, as recorded in Luke 24:26 He said, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” It’s the sufferings first and then the glory. That order is very important.
But now it seems that Jesus is willing to let the crowd coronate Him as King. This was to fulfill prophecy, to coronate Jesus as King, but not King of the nation of Israel, but of the spiritual Kingdom of God. And it says that even the disciples were confused by that. Because up to this point, Jesus had done everything possible to avoid this from happening. But now, we see the disciples wondering what is going on. In vs. 16 we read, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.”
But now it was the appointed hour. Jesus said in vs.23, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” However, He is not talking about receiving the adulation of the Jews. He is talking about the hour of His death. This is the reason that He came to earth. To offer Himself as the sacrificial Passover Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. And so He says in vs. 27 “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”
So Christ came into Jerusalem riding upon a donkey, the colt of a donkey. He did not choose to enter mounted upon a white stallion, with sword flashing, dressed in royal raiment. But He chose a donkey. So John quotes from a prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 which emphasizes in this triumphal entry the humility of Christ, and that He came to bring salvation. ”Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
This was the concept that escaped the Jews. That the Messiah, the Christ, who was the King of the Kingdom of God, would come first and foremost as the author of salvation from their sins. He would be the Lamb slain for the sins of the world. He would humble Himself and take upon Himself the form of a servant, so that He might bear the sins of the world. Thus He entered upon a donkey, a beast of burden.
It is ironic that the Jews, even His disciples, could have been so close to the truth, and yet so far away. They wanted a King who would deliver them from their enemies. But the only enemy that they could see was the Romans. Jesus came to deliver them from the greater enemy which was Satan, who held the world in his power and control, who kept men in bondage to sin, through the fear of death. Jesus came to deliver men from that fear. Thus vs. 15, quoting Zechariah says, “Fear not, daughter of Jerusalem, Behold your King comes sitting on a donkey’s colt.” He came according to the purpose stated in Hebrews 2:14-15 which says, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
Here is the thing, He had to be the Sovereign King of Creation, if He were to be able to free mankind from the bondage of sin and death. No one less than than the person of God Himself could possibly do that. A mere king of the type of David could have possibly freed the Jews from Rome, but only the King of Glory could free men from the dominion of Satan.
But the vast majority of the Jews could not see that. They could not see past their immediate longing for a better political and social situation. They were primarily interested in a better quality of life. And so Luke tells us that even though they were shouting “Hosanna,” O save us! even though they were laying their coats and palm branches on the road in front of them, Jesus wasn’t impressed by their nationalistic fervor. In fact, the effect was just the opposite. Luke says in Luke 19:41-42 that “When the procession approached Jerusalem, Jesus saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” I want to mention something that maybe you have never thought of before. The Bible never tells us that Jesus ever laughed. In fact, it says in Isaiah 53 that He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. We have no record of Jesus ever laughing. But we have a number of accounts of Jesus weeping, of His soul being troubled. And I say that not to paint Jesus as some sort of sad sack. But I would say that to refute a lot of the demonic activity that is going on in the church today in the name of the Holy Spirit, things like the so called holy laughter, or being drunk in the spirit, etc. Jesus never did anything that even slightly resembled such things. And I would suggest to you that neither does the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus said that the Holy Spirit does nothing from His own initiative. John 16:13-14 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”
The point being that Jesus said again and again that He did nothing of His own initiative, but He did what the Father was doing, He did the deeds of His Father and He spoke the words of the Father. And that is how He said you could know that He was of God, because He did what the Father did. And in chapter 16 which we just read, Jesus says the same thing about the Spirit. He does nothing of His initiative, but He only does what Jesus did, He glorifies Jesus. That is the doctrine of the unity of the trinity. So if you see something going on which is supposed to be a work of the Spirit, but it’s not something that Jesus did, then you need to be skeptical of it. Test the spirits, Paul said, for there are many spirits sent into the world, but not all of them are from God.
And let me expand that out to another level. What Christ was doing, we are supposed to be doing. That is the purpose of Christianity. We are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, that means we do what He did, and we do that through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us. I’m not talking about having the ability to walk on water or heal people, I’m talking about walking in a fallen, corrupt world even as He walked, righteously, holy, spotless. We are to be holy even as He is holy. And we will expand further upon this in a moment.
But I think the example of the Jews response to Christ that we have before us today is very pertinent to the church in modern times. Because as the church, we have to be careful that we worship God as He is, and not as we want Him to be. The sin of the Jews was that they proclaimed worship of Christ with their lips, but their hearts were far from God. They wanted a Messiah King to save them, but they had the wrong view of a savior. It’s interesting that Caesar was called the savior of the Roman Empire. That title was stamped on Roman coins. A savior according to the popular idea was someone who delivered one from their enemies. He was a military conqueror. But the idea of Jesus as the Savior from their sinfulness was abhorrent to the Jews. Because they were self righteous and self satisfied with their spiritual status just as they were. They didn’t feel any need to be forgiven or be changed spiritually. They had no need of repentance. And so they rejected Jesus as their Savior. That is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Because though they wanted a king, they rejected the Prince of Peace.
This is the sin of modern Christianity, if I might generalize it for a moment. There is no sense of the need for repentance today in the church. Sin is not preached against. People’s hearts are hardened to their sin. Church members today live in immorality and think nothing of it. Divorce is rampant in the church and no one thinks anything of it. Worldiness and fleshly lusts are exhibited as evidence of a sort of divine blessing. The church looks like the world in all it’s excesses, in all it’s pride and no one thinks anything of it. We just praise the Lord once a week or so. Hosanna! we sing. Glory to God! Praise the Lord! But in reality, we just want God to bless our mess. We want a better political situation. We want a better social situation, and we would like God to take care of that for us. But we don’t need a Savior. We don’t feel the need for forgiveness. And consequently there is no repentance.
Well, what is the proper response to Jesus supposed to be? Well, I think John gives it to us in the text. After Jesus has entered into Jerusalem amid all this fanfare, some Greeks who are probably proselytes, ask the disciples if they can see Jesus. And this prompts a curious response from Jesus. It seems curious at first glance, but actually John uses this event to show the real purpose of Christ’s coming into Jerusalem. Vs. 23 “And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
What does he mean by that? He is talking about himself. Jesus speaks of Himself as the grain of wheat. Unless He is willing to die, unless He goes to the cross, His whole purpose in coming to earth will have been wasted, and the Kingdom of God will not be established on earth. “But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus sees these Greeks as emblematic of the great harvest of souls in the world for which He came. The world would not see the full outcome of his work and his life until he went to the cross and He was eager to accomplish HIs sacrifice so that all the world might know the good news of the gospel.
Because of the cross Jesus was able to break the power of sin. Because of the cross He was able to draw all men to Himself. Because of the cross men might have peace with God. Because of the cross He was able to proclaim victory over death. Because of the cross He would be resurrected victorious over the grave and ascend to the right hand of the Father, above all rule and authority, after everything and all power had been subjected to Him. Because of the cross He would be able to reign over His spiritual kingdom in the hearts of His people. Because of the cross He would send us the Comforter who would indwell and empower the church to be able to take the gospel to the whole world. The cross had to come first, and then His glory would be made known throughout the world.
So the grain must die and be buried, and when it did, it sprouted and brought forth life again, life multiplied by the thousands upon thousands, then millions upon millions. But first He had to die.
But as I said earlier, as He was in the world, so are we to be. And so as Christ died, so also must we die. That is our response of worship. As Paul said in Romans 12:1 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” We too must come to the cross, and offer up ourselves as our spiritual service of worship to God. So Jesus said to us in vs. 25 “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”
Here is the great Christian paradox, the unmistakable mark of the authentic gospel: It begins with dying, with a cross. If the gospel that you hear proclaimed in church, or on television, or wherever, does not begin with a cross, does not begin by telling you that something in you has to die, it is not the true gospel. The cross is the identifying mark of the gospel. No matter how appealing the message of self actualization, or the message of self improvement that you may hear presented as Christianity may sound, the truth of the gospel is that you must lay down your life if you want to really live.
AW Tozer said, “That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the gospel.”
Much of the message of the church today is simply a Christianization of the world’s philosophy, which is “Be happy! Do whatever makes you happy.” That’s the mantra of the worldly church. “God loves you and just wants you to be happy. So do whatever it you want that makes you happy.” But as Tozer says, that is a cruel lie.
Jesus declared that if you follow that philosophy you will lose everything. Life will slip through your fingers no matter what you do to embellish it by the world’s standards. You can gain all the material abundance you could ever wish for, the acclaim of the crowd, recognition by the whole world, but if you live that way you will end up losing the most important thing. Jesus said in Mark 8:36 “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”
The answer, Jesus said in Matt.16:24, is to follow His example. Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
In terms of practical experience, what does Jesus mean, “He who comes after me must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”? What does it mean to bear your cross daily? It means two things: First, to take up your cross is to surrender of the rule of your life to Jesus. It is a recognition that your life is not your own. I Cor. 16:20 says, ”You are not your own, you are bought with a price.” The illusion from the world is that we are the captains of our soul, that we have a right to do whatever we want. But that’s a lie. The Bible says “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” We are His creation. And He is the Sovereign King over all. And we must bow to Him.
So this is the beginning of true life: To recognize HIs sovereignty, to surrender your claim to yourself, to give up your right to run your own affairs, and to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, to do what he says, and to stop what he says to stop. That isn’t always appealing. It means submitting my plans to the Lord’s master plan. But that’s what it means to die to yourself. To take up your cross.
And it also means to daily follow up on that decision.Paul said I die daily. Keep doing what is right. Stop doing what is wrong, and do it all in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Die to the flesh so the you might live by the Spirit. That is how you will truly begin to live. And as a result of dying to your will, the power of new life will come, the power to do what is right. That’s the way to joy and the inner peace that Jesus spoke of earlier, true peace from knowing you are right with God, and a child of God.
And that is the source of fruit in your life. You won’t have spiritual fruit until you die to yourself. I’ve been praying for a revival in this community, and even for a revival in this country. I would love to see this country experience something like the Great Awakening of the 18th century when preachers like George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards and the Wesley brothers fanned the flames of a revival that set this nation on fire for God. But if we are ever going to see another revival like that again, then we need to learn the truth of what it means to die to ourselves. To die to the world’s agenda, to the social agenda, to the self actualization agenda of the world. When Christians learn to take up their cross and follow Jesus, then we will start seeing the fruit multiply and a harvest of souls for the kingdom of God.
We’re going to celebrate with a young man right after our closing song who is going to be baptized in the ocean. He has decided to follow the Lord with all His heart and soul and serve the Lord for the rest of his life. And baptism symbolizes that beautifully. In baptism, our old way of life is buried with Christ in the likeness of His death, and raised with Him in the likeness of His resurrection to a new life, a fruitful life in Christ. I hope you will consider joining us immediately following this song to celebrate his decision. And I invite anyone here who has not yet made that commitment themselves to consider being baptized today. This is God’s way of making a public confession of your faith and commitment to die to the world and live for Christ. Today is your opportunity, this is your invitation. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus said in vs.26 of our text; “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” You can ensure that honor from God today by coming to be baptized as a token of your faith and repentance in Christ. Jesus said in Matt. 10:32 “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” Today is your opportunity. Let us pray.