a sermon on John 12:12-19
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord...
How Quickly we Go From Crying God Save Us To Shouting Crucify Him.
Today is Palm Sunday. It is the first day of Holy Week. Together with the church universal, we begin our journey towards the cross of Good Friday and into the Easter celebration.
In John’s gospel this morning, we ride into Jerusalem with Jesus as people shout out “Hosanna,” or God help us. It is a triumphant parade. A spectacular spectacle that has often been described as a mockery to the reign of King Herod and Caesar himself.
There’s a lot written into this story, but suffice it to say the people want to believe Jesus is the one to save Israel from the Roman Empire. But as the week unfolds, what they expect, and what they want is not exactly what they get. A king on a donkey. A savior on a cross. It’s no Game of Thrones.
Our Reading today comes from the gospel of John 12:12-19.
And there were plenty of eyes looking at Jesus, as he rode towards the Temple – not on a warhorse, but a young colt just as the prophet Isaiah had said. Neither the disciples or even the most devout religious figures fully grasped this procession.
They won’t understand until after his resurrection that Jesus came not to kill for their freedom but to die for it.
As the week progressed without so much as a riot, the number of these hope-filled people dwindled. And by Friday, there was only a handful of his most faithful followers left at the foot of the cross watching their beloved king take his final breath. We know how this day plays out. We know the joy that Easter will bring. But they don’t. They only know what they feel. Sad. Scared. And maybe a little bit betrayed. It’s hard to accept the death of a loved one and not think that God has let you down somehow.
But Easter is proof that God doesn’t betray us or let us down. Like Jesus on the cross, God lifts us up to places that can be difficult to understand; especially when your world is falling apart.
I’ll admit there’s been times I felt like God betrayed my faith. The job I didn’t get. The child we couldn’t have. The relationship that didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. My list is huge. I suspect I’m not alone. Have you ever felt angry and hurt by God, or doubted God’s love or felt disappointed because your hopes, desires, and expectations that you faithfully prayed for never manifested?
Sometimes it feels like God lets us down - leaving us to hold only a broken heart and shattered faith. For many people, this is what makes them walk away from God altogether. Let’s not forget God knows a thing or two about being heartbroken and let down. God watched his beloved son die at the hands of those he was sent to save.
But on that dark day, as blood and tears pooled at the foot of the cross, God did not blame us or abandon us. Instead, God stayed ever the more faithful, pouring out nothing but steadfast love upon the whole of creation. But again, this can be hard to see when your world is falling apart.
I know there have been days when I’ve wanted to leave my faith on my pile of hurt. And just walk away. But I’ve also had those days where the only thing more painful than believing God has let me down, is the emptiness of not having God in my life. When I take the time to honestly look at my disappointment, it often has something to do with me taking my eye off what I am called to do. And that is to watch what Jesus does, and follow his example.
More often than not, I’m like the people who waved palm branches that day. They cheered and cried out – faithfully believing God is hearing their prayers and is coming to set them free. They were blindsided, because their hearts were focused on their needs. And rightfully so, because they were living under the rule of a foreign power. Jesus was supposed to ride in on a white horse and save the day. But when they saw their king on a colt, and heard his message of peace and love instead of violence and war, they were quickly disillusioned. Why would God betray them like that?
They were so focused on the pain in their hearts that they couldn’t see God’s heart cracked open for them. And quickly their faith shifted from cries of “God save us” to angry shouts of “Crucify him!” We still make this same mistake. Our eyes are not focused on Jesus. So when life gives us heartache, it’s hard to see what he does, much less do what he commands of us. We are blinded by our own desires and will that we forget that it’s in God’s will where our hearts ought to be.
Jesus taught us that the key to avoiding disappointment with God ... is to align our will with God’s will…even in the most difficult of circumstances. In doing this we too are able face our own cross and say boldly, with Jesus, “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Living out the will of God does not mean you always get what you want, or that bad things won’t happen. They will because heaven and earth are not yet fully aligned. The human heart is not completely united with God’s. This is why it’s imperative we keep our eye on Jesus, who shows us the way back to God’s heart. And to live our life according to God’s will. For as the psalmist wrote, “those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10).
The cross is the perfect example that God can make good things happen out of even the worst case scenarios. From one of the most hideous instruments of death comes the greatest gift of life. An eternal life of unwavering love. No matter what you’re facing today, or what has happened in the past, just remember what God did for you on the cross.
God sent Jesus to the world, not to condemn us but to redeem us, return us back to God’s heart. He was chosen, blessed, and broken on the cross, so that our sin could be exchanged for his righteousness. When all eyes are on him, then heaven and earth become aligned.
A few verses after Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, he tells his disciples, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). If we take these words as truth, then we can see that the cross is the bridge between God’s heart and our own. And Jesus is the one who pays our toll.
By putting God’s will above his own, Jesus was raised up; both on a cross and in great glory. As a result, those who follow Jesus, in life and through death, will not be let down by God, but lifted up to be united in God’s glory.
Jesus is the king on a donkey. He is the savior on a cross. Today he reigns from his heavenly throne. And sets you free from the slavery of sin. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End – cursed by the world but blessed by God. By his death and Easter resurrection the door to true life is open to all who choose to cross that bridge and enter into God’s glory.
It is my hope that you will never take your eyes off Jesus, because in his crucified and glorified heart you will see yourself.
When you feel like you just want to run away from God or abandon your faith completely – just remember those who first looked upon the cross. Put yourself in their shoes, feel their pain and disappointment, and then look up. Put your eyes on Christ and see what they saw – our beloved king with outstretched arms.
There you will find the heart of God waiting to receive you with open arms and steadfast love. God who is always with you, always ready to lift you up with an eternal embrace where nothing in the world can ever knock you down.
Fuller, Steve. God’s Promise for the Disappointed. wwwdesiringgod.org, Dec.12, 2012. (April 10, 2019)
Nouwen, Henri. Bread For The Journey: a Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. (HarperCollin: 1997).