Text: John 12:12-19
In Psalm 46 it says, “I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation…Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord.” (Ps. 46:2, 3-5, ESV) These words come from a time after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, after the Lord’s people had been returned from their exile. They had been carried off into Babylon some seventy years earlier because of their evil deeds, but were now forgiven by the Lord and returned to their home. However, not long after returning home from Babylon, Israel’s leadership again fell into idolatry and other sorts of unbelief. This left the faithful among God’s people filled with some measure of worry. The psalmist here reminded the people not to trust in worldly leaders, but in God.
The people of Jerusalem who sang out to Jesus at the Triumphal Entry knew this. They cried out to Him not as to any earthly leader, but to their heavenly king. The words they spoke show this. “Hosanna” means, “save us now.” “Son of David,” as St. Matthew records them saying, shows that they believed Jesus to be the promised offspring of David who would sit on the throne forever and rule in equity, justice, and love. Therefore, St. John encourages us his hearers to not be afraid, for Jesus our heavenly king comes.
We heard St. Matthew’s account of the Triumphal Entry back on the First Sunday in Advent. There, we focused on the humility of our Lord’s coming: how He was born of the Virgin Mary to be like us in every respect, how He rode into Jerusalem not on a warhorse but on a donkey, and to die, even; we talked about how He comes to us today in humble Word and Sacrament. Today, I’d like for us to mediate a moment on what the Holy Spirit teaches us through St. John in verse 16. He says, about the Triumphal Entry, “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.” (Jn. 12:16) St. John wrote this earlier, too, when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (Jn. 2:19) The disciples didn’t understand until after the Resurrection that Jesus was talking about the temple of His body – which He did raise after three days.
The Disciples remembered after the Resurrection that all the things written in the Old Testament about the Messiah were about Jesus. What sort of things might those be? Let’s start with the passage St. John cites from the prophet Zechariah. It says, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (Jn. 12:15) That passage speaks of the Lord’s judgement against the enemies of His people and the eternal salvation He will grant to His children through a king yet to come. This king would be righteous and humble, mounted on a donkey. Sounds like our Lord. He rode into Jerusalem to bring His people salvation by His death on the cross. This is what the prophet Isaiah said, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…He was pierced for our transgressions…and with His wounds we are healed.” (Is. 53:4-5) Last Sunday we heard about the sacrifice of Isaac. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to be the true lamb of God, provided as the sacrifice for sin in our place.
Just as Jesus rode into Jerusalem to do and suffer what was written of Him in the Old Testament, the people cried out after Him using Old Testament words. They cried out to Jesus, “Hosanna,” which means “save us,” and comes from our Psalm today. But, from what did the people need saving? Well, a lot, probably. Their land was occupied by a foreign and Godless nation. Their leaders, including in the church, were often corrupt. Then, there were the daily hardships of life common to all. But, I think there is a particular reason they cried out to Jesus. St. John wrote in verse 18, “The reason why the crowd went out to meet [Jesus] was that they heard He had done this sign” – that He had raised Lazarus from the dead. The people were crying out to Jesus to save them from death, from sin.
That’s something we need, too; and we feel it. This Lent we’ve gone through the Ten Commandments. The Commandments are God’s holy and righteous will. They are the supreme measure of what’s right and wrong when it comes to our thoughts and actions. And, if we rightly consider them in our lives, then we realize how greatly we have transgressed them. The Scriptures clearly teach what the penalty for breaking a Commandment is: death. Now, multiply that by however many times we have sinned and we’ll realize what sort of a position we are in. Not a good one. And, it’s not one that any earthly ruler or power will ever get us out of. Because we are sinners we will all eventually die, and if our sins are left unforgiven, after death we enter eternal condemnation in hell. Therefore, we have good reason to cry out the same word as the people at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, “Hosanna.”
The Holy Spirit does a masterful job in this text by having St. John cite from Zechariah. Take a second and look at the first line of verse 15. “Fear not, daughter of Zion.” “Fear not.” These words were addressed to God’s people of old just as they are to us today. There’s not one of us that isn’t concerned about the way the world is going, or to some extent about our health, our work, or our children’s future. Beyond these things, what should really give us pause is our sinfulness and the need for salvation. But, do you know what the Holy Spirit says about that today? “Fear not.” Why? “Behold, your king is coming.”
These words were written about Jesus. They were written about His humble entrance into Jerusalem, where He would humbly submit Himself unto death for you. Jesus died, as we heard in Hebrews last week, to be the one eternal sacrifice for all our sins, so that we might be redeemed and set free from our sin and fears. This is our confidence, our hope, and our faith as we enter now our Lord’s Holy Week. This is the week that He submitted Himself to the wrath of God against sin so that, in Him, we might have no fear.
This was the encouragement of the Psalmist we heard before: that we not put our trust in earthly princes who cannot truly save us. Instead, let our hosannas be sung to Christ, who comes as our humble heavenly king to save. He is the one the prophets sang and spoke of, who saves us from all our sins and from eternal death. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.