The Road to the Cross

The Road to the Cross

Text:  John 12:9-19

Introduction: Each February, hundreds of Hollywood “stars” gather together for the Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater in Las Angeles. Very few, if any, “slip in the back door:” Instead, they make a grand entrance. They step out of their limos, walk down the long red carpet, smiling at the cameras and waving to their fans, each of whom had to go through a lengthy application process and background check to see their favorite movie stars.  Meanwhile, the actors and actresses show off their designer clothing, chat with the reporters and go to great lengths for the sole purpose of being noticed and adored. Contrast that with the three-year ministry of Jesus. For the most part, He consistently sought anonymity rather than acclaim. That’s why He said to to the man He healed of leprosy in Matthew 8, “See that you don’t tell anyone.” And to the two blind men He healed in Matthew 9, the Bible says, Jesus “warned them sternly, ‘See that no one knows about this.’” And once more in Mark 1, a demon possessed man in Capernaum yelled out “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” to which Jesus replied, “Be quiet!” Unlike Hollywood personalities of today, our Lord often chose not to be the focus of public attention. In fact, most of His ministry deliberately took place outside the capital city of Jerusalem, away from the big pomp and ceremony of the Temple.

Today is the day we commemorate our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It’s really the first time that He permitted Himself to be brought into the limelight. When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem during the last few days of His life, the people took notice and began to proclaim Him as the Messiah and King. In Luke 19:39-40, we’re told that Jesus not only permitted them to say what they did, but refused to quiet the crowds when asked by the Pharisees to do so. Of course, this was all part of God’s divine plan as the road to the cross led the Lord to Jerusalem and ultimately to Golgotha!

During our time together today, I want to make a few observations regarding Christ’s triumphal entry into the Holy City that will hopefully shed some light on all that was taking place.

Jesus’ road to the cross from His own perspective (John 12:9-11 — When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So, the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus). There was never any doubt about where Jesus was headed when He entered Jerusalem that day and what lay before Him. He knew full well that His destiny was the cross. That’s why, after Mary anointed Him with an expensive ointment and Judas objected, He said to Judas, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial; and later in John 12:27-28 — Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose, I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.  Throughout His life the Lord’s desire was to glorify His Heavenly Father, and He knew the best way to accomplish this was through the cross.

Notice that as the end of His life approached, Jesus was at the peak of His popularity. Given the obvious sign of the resurrection of Lazarus, it makes sense that many were beginning to believe in Him. In fact, the chief priests were very concerned that the people might anoint Jesus as their king right then and there. This caused them to join with the ranks of the Sanhedrin in planning both men’s deaths, obviously a plot that had been emptied of its threat since Jesus had already demonstrated power over the grave. Oh, and why did they want to get rid of Lazarus? He was living proof of the power of God found in Christ.

Yet it was not the crowds or the opposition that would determine the Lord’s fate. He was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (See Revelation 13:8). Everything that happened to Him was according to the divine plan of God. Nothing that was about to happen to Jesus would catch Him off guard. He knew exactly where everything was going to lead!

Jesus’ road to the cross from the people’s perspective (John 12:12-13 — The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”). The next day Jewish pilgrims, who were making their way to Jerusalem in preparation of the Passover, heard that Jesus was on His way from Bethany where He had raised Lazarus. This stirred no small amount of excitement. Jesus’ reputation had preceded Him. Jewish historians tells us that the city’s population could swell nearly 2 1/2 times during the Passover celebration. Many of those who were making the pilgrimage lined the way waving Palm Branches as Christ came down the Mount of Olives and entered the city. Two hundred years earlier, palm branches had become a national symbol when Simon the Macabee routed the Syrian forces that occupied Jerusalem. He was celebrated with music and the waving of palms. For those of Jesus’ day this signified the Jewish hope that a Messianic liberator was arriving on the scene. “Hosanna,” they cried out.  The word means “Save us now!” It occurs in Psalm 118:25ff and pronounces a blessing on the pilgrim arriving in Jerusalem. The people quote the verse and apply the blessing to He who comes in the name of the Lord…the long-awaited King of Israel. The scene is saturated in national and political fervor. It was a crazy and exciting time for everyone who had made the journey to the Holy City. The Messiah had finally arrived! Illustration: This reminds me of the little boy who had to stay home with his mother from church on Palm Sunday, because of strep throat. When the rest of the family arrived home later carrying palm branches, the little boy asked what they were for. His father explained, “People held them over Christ’s head as he walked by.” “Are you kidding me?,” the boy fumed. “The one Sunday I don’t go, and Jesus shows up.” Did the masses see the cross in front of Jesus? No, they saw a crown. Had they only known the Scriptures and significance of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, they might have seen things differently. This is what it says in John 12:14-15, — 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 acquired the use of a donkey for His triumphal entry in fulfillment of prophecy and also to calm the zeal of the crowd. The truth is that it must have sent them into a little bit of confusion. They looked for their king to enter as the victorious kings of old had done riding a war horse. But He chose to present Himself as a king who came in peace, “gentle and riding on a donkey”. Here’s what the prophets had to say about the “coming of the gentle king.”
·      This event would bring the end of war (Micah 4:3 – (When the Messiah comes…) they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore).
·      This event would bring the proclamation of peace to the nations (Zechariah 9:9-10 — See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations).
·      This event would bring release for prisoners (Isaiah 61:1 — He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners).
Jesus would not be the King the Jews expected, but in humbly presenting Himself as a sacrifice for our sin, He would bring hope to a world that desperately needed it.

Jesus’ road to the cross from the disciples’ perspective (John 12:16 — His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him). Here we see that the disciples were equally confused. Later, when they had the luxury of hindsight, after Christ was raised from the dead and glorified, they were able to understand the significance of the event. Why couldn’t they grasp the significance of the triumphal entry when it happened?” They didn’t have the Holy Spirit. He is the One about whom Christ said, “He will lead you into all truth” (John 16:13). Without His guidance and direction, they were as bewildered as everyone else. The cross was certainly not what they expected either. Illustration: The story is told of a minister who was full of energy and enthusiasm for the Lord. One day he went to the hospital to visit one of his parishioners who was critically ill. The minister entered the room and saw the man lying in bed with a whole host of tubes and wires attached to his body. Without any delay the minister strode to his bedside and began to exhort him to be of good cheer. Soon the man started to wave his arms. This encouraged the minister, and so he exhorted him more and more enthusiastically. Finally, the minister ended with a rather lengthy prayer. At the final “Amen” the minister opened his eyes just in time to see the man reach for a pad of paper and a pencil. Quickly he wrote something and handed it to the minister. Then the man turned his head and died. The minister was deeply moved to think that his visit to this man had occurred in the nick of time. Then he looked at the pad and read these words: “You are standing on my oxygen tube.” Sometimes it is easy to mistake a sign. Evidently, Christ’s disciples reacted no differently than the crowds that whipped themselves into an emotional frenzy when Christ showed up. Both failed to understand that He was traveling the road to the cross.

The road to the cross from the ruler’s perspectives (John 12:17-19 — The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him”). The Sanhedrin made its decision to kill Jesus, yet it had to be carried out with discretion because of the crowds. The Pharisees saw that Jesus was gaining in popularity and voiced their frustration. “Look, the whole world has gone after Him,” By “the world” the Pharisees meant the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem. But the term commonly refers in the Gospel of John to people all over the world, without regard to their ethnic backgrounds (See John 3:16-18).  Just as the Pharisees and the other rulers were ineffective in reducing Christ’s popularity, so later attempts to stem the increasing influence of Christianity were also fruitless as people began following Christ by the thousands and today by the billions (See Acts 2:41,47; 6:7). They did everything in their power to stop Jesus, but were no more capable of doing so than anyone else.

Application: Human beings are very fickle. We change our minds all the time. One moment we like the president, the next we don’t. We’re all about our favorite football team until they lose more games than they win. We binge watch a new series on tv until we’ve had our fill, and then we avoid it like the plague. The people there on the day of Jesus’ triumphal were also very fickle. On the first day of the week (Sunday), they cheered Him as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and five days later they cried out for His crucifixion. Before we judge them too harshly, we have a question to ask ourselves: Are we fair weather fans of Jesus? Do we like Him as long as He does what we want when we want, but reject Him when His plan departs from our own? If we really love Jesus then we stand with and for Him no matter where He takes us, no matter how things work out in our lives because we know that God’s plan is also the best.

Conclusion: It was said that Napoleon, as he was traveling through Switzerland with his army, was greeted with thunderous applause and enthusiasm. One of his supporters commented, “It must be delightful to be greeted with such demonstrations of enthusiastic admiration.” “Bah,” said Napoleon, “this same unthinking crowd under a slight change of circumstances would follow me just as eagerly to the scaffold!” The Jews adored Jesus on the first Palm Sunday and shouted, “Crucify Him” just five days later. What kind of commitment do you have when it comes to following Jesus?