This week we're looking at John 12:12-16. The gospel writer presents various groups taking part in the last Passover celebration Jesus would participate in before His crucifixion. There was a crowd of people who had come to Jerusalem for the feast who took palm branches and went out to meet Jesus (12:12-13). But when the locals saw this procession coming down the Mount of Olives, instead of joining them and shouting, "Hosanna," they asked, "Who is this?" The crowd informed them, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth." No one truly understood the nature of this event.
The laying down of palm branches became a symbol of Jewish nationalism and victory over their enemies. So, when the crowd lay down these palm branches, they were hopeful that Jesus was the liberator from heaven who would defeat Rome. The crowd thought Jesus was going to usher in an age of peace and prosperity.
This hope was fueled by those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. The crowd was anxious to see this wonder-worker do amazing things for them. Even the disciples didn't understand what was going on. Earlier, they'd seen Jesus refuse to be crowned king—but now, suddenly, He was embracing it? In fact, they didn't put the puzzle pieces together until after Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. The disciples, too, thought Jesus would become an earthly king.
Jesus did enter Jerusalem as a king, but He rode on a donkey, a symbol of peace. His only scepter was a broken reed. His only crown was a crown of thorns. His only throne was a bloody cross. This whole scene of the people gathered to greet Jesus tells us that an outward appearance of devotion and righteousness means nothing to God when the heart is defiled and unyielding to Him.
What happened to the crowd of people who welcomed Jesus? When they realized Jesus wasn't who they thought He should be, they shouted, "Crucify Him!" What happened to the disciples after their Master was crucified and laid in a tomb? Their faith was shaken. They were disheartened. And they were scared for their lives. Why did all this happen?
I believe what John wants us to see is that our faith will be shaken—and possibly, destroyed—if we follow Jesus for the wrong reasons. Let me ask you, "Why do you follow Jesus?" Because it's the right thing to do? Because it's the practical things to do? Because it will make your life better? Those are the wrong reasons.
If you believe it's all about health, wealth, and prosperity, what happens if you or someone you love gets terminally ill? What happens if you lose your job, you can't pay the mortgage, you lose your house? What happens if your marriage doesn't turn out like a fairytale? What happens if your kids reject you and turn against you? Or worse, what if they turn their back on the Lord you raised them to believe in?
In Hebrews 11 we see God can and does give His people victory in hard times. But what we also see is that God's people are also mocked, scourged, imprisoned, and martyred (vv. 25-38). Our reward for following Jesus is not in this life, but in the life to come.
This is one of many reasons I hate what's known as the prosperity gospel. What happens when you've given every last penny and the wealth doesn't come? The health doesn't come. The prosperity doesn't come. Your children go hungry. Your family is broken. Your sickness gets worse. What happens when you realize all the promises from the false teachers are empty? Instead of experiencing health, wealth, and prosperity, you experience disappointment and the destruction of your faith.
We shouldn't follow Jesus because we think He'll give us our best life now. We should follow Jesus because He's Messiah and King and we love Him. If your faith, hope, and trust in Christ rest on how He's revealed in Scripture, then you will not be shaken when the storms of life rain down on you.
Jesus fulfilled many scriptural prophesies and promises. In John 12:14, it says, "And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 'Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!'"
Jesus came humbly, willingly offering Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. Jesus says in John 10:18, "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again."
Throughout John's gospel, we see how Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecies and catch a glimpse of the miracles He performed. Both His power over creation and His power over circumstances provide evidence that Jesus is God's Messiah and King.
In John 12 we see an example of His power over circumstances. He entered the lions' den and would offer Himself as the Lamb of God—willingly, of His own accord (John 12:23). He openly presented Himself as the Jewish Messiah, even though the crowds misunderstood who He was. He forced the Jewish leaders to go against their plan to avoid killing Him during the feast. But Jesus showed Himself to be our true Passover Lamb.
We must be absolutely sure we're not like the people in the crowd. Let's ask ourselves a couple of important questions. Why do I follow Jesus? Do I follow Him because it provides some benefit to me? That was why the crowd followed Him. They had a superficial, unsustainable faith, and the moment their expectations were not met, they walked away. In order for us to follow Jesus biblically, we must have a correct understanding of who He is—by looking to the cross.