From the Pastor's Desk 

How do You Respond to the Messiah?


            Let's pray.


            Through the years and over the centuries, there have been many false messiahs who have risen and claimed to be the true one sent from God.  These men had various backgrounds and various motives for doing what they did.  Some were self-deceived; others were selectively exploitive.  Some sought personal prestige; others simply wanted to rescue their people from oppression.  Some professed to be political deliverers; others said they were religious reformers.  But they all had one thing in common:  they were all satanic counterfeits of the true Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. 

            In AD 44, a man named Theudas promised his followers he would part the Jordan River.  However, Roman troops stopped him before he could even try.  Another pretender boasted that he could command the walls of Jerusalem to fall down.  His plans were also foiled by Roman soldiers.  In the second century, a man named Simon Bar Cochba, led a major uprising that actually succeeded in occupying Jerusalem for three years.  During that time, he was called king and messiah.  Rome eventually re-took the city and killed Simon and some followers.

            During the fifth century, a false messiah on the Island of Crete promised to part the Mediterranean Sea so his followers could walk to Palestine on dry land.  Needless to say, the sea refused to part and some of his followers actually drowned.  In the seventh century, Sabbethai Zebi proclaimed himself king of the kings of the earth.  He later converted to Islam and was eventually executed.  That's not to mention men like Hitler and Stalin and Jim Jones and Charles Manson.  All false messiahs will fail.


            But Jesus never fails because He is the true Messiah.  This morning as we continue looking at the gospel of John, we're going to see where the people respond to Jesus by worshiping Him with a parade of palm branches and shouts of hosanna!  The people were responding to Jesus in a way that was appropriate for who He was and what He came to do.  The question we're going to ask ourselves today is:  how do you respond to the Messiah?

            Last week, we looked at the extravagant expression of worship that Mary performed for Jesus.  He was at the house of His close friends in Bethany, and during a dinner given in His honor, she poured a large amount of very expensive perfume on His feet and then wiped His feet with her hair.

            Judas objected to the display, arguing that the money would have been better spent on the poor.  But he didn't really think that.  He was actually a thief and would steal from the disciples and Jesus for his own personal gain.  Because of what had been happening, the Jews had decided not only to kill Jesus, but to kill Lazarus as well.

            Mary's extravagant measure of worship for Jesus provides for us a good example of how we should be relating to our Lord and Savior.  We also need to be extravagant in our relationship with God.  We need to be extravagant in our witness for the Lord; we need to be extravagant in our work for the Lord; we need to be extravagant in our worship of Almighty God.  Are you extravagant in your relationship with Jesus?


            We're going to continue on now by reading John 12:12-19.  This so-called triumphal entry into Jerusalem is one of the few events in Jesus' ministry that is recorded in all four gospels.  It was a crucial event in which Jesus, by a dramatic act, presented Himself to Jerusalem as her king, in accordance with prophecy.

            Verse 12 begins with the phrase "the next day."  This all took place on the day after the anointing at Bethany.  During the night before this, Judas had met with the chief priests and agreed to betray Jesus to them.  We're just days before His arrest and crucifixion.

            When the Lord left Bethany, He was accompanied by part of the large crowd of the Jews who had come there to see Him and Lazarus.  As they approached the city, they were joined by others from Jerusalem who came pouring out of the city to meet Him.  At least part of this crowd is described as those "who came to the festival."  This would indicate that they might have been country people who came from remote parts to worship at the feast.

            If that is the case, it's quite probable that this group had also had some contact with Jesus.  Maybe they had heard Him speak; maybe they had seen a miracle or had been there when He multiplied the fish and bread or when Lazarus was raised.  It could be that they were more devout Jews who had come earlier to purify themselves for the Passover.

            Whoever exactly made up this group, it could have been a pretty large following.  The population of Jerusalem swelled every year when the Passover Feast rolled around.  The Jewish historian Josephus reports that one year it was estimated that 2.7 million people were in the city at that time.  More often than not, the number of people there could have easily reached the one million mark.  They wouldn't have all been welcoming Jesus into the city at this time, but that does provide for a potentially large number of people in this contingent.

            One thing that we can be sure of:  these were not the rulers or the so-called great men who went out to meet Christ.  They were commoners.  Some might even go so far as to refer to them as a mob, or rabble.  But Christ has chosen the weak and foolish things.  He is honored by the humble who worship Him in spirit and truth.  He values men by their souls, not their name or titles of honor.

            Back at the end of chapter 11, it is reported by John that the people were wondering and asking if Jesus was coming to the feast.  (v. 56).  So we see that there were some folks who were actually looking for Him, so they go out to greet Him.  Their motives probably weren't right, at least for many of them.  No doubt they were looking for another miracle, maybe another resurrection from the dead.  For whatever the reason, a crowd of folks gathered around the Lord.


            This group of people who had all come together to welcome Jesus with this impromptu parade, didn't have much.  There was no key to the city to present to Him; no parade with marching bands to herald His arrival; no grandstand with public officials giving speeches to officially welcome Him to the capital.  But they took what they could find and they welcomed Him and praised Him with it.

            What they had were palm branches.  The palm has long been an "emblem of victory and triumph."  In addition, carrying palms was part of the ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication as part of the worship associated with those festivals.  By using these branches, the people made a path for Jesus to enter the city as royalty.  By greeting Him this way, the people were acknowledging Him as king.

            In addition to waving palm branches, the people were also shouting hosanna.  What they were saying was actually a quote from Ps. 118:25-26.  Hosanna either means "help us," or "save us."  By NT times, it had lost its literal meaning and was used more as a liturgical expression of praise.  This was another expression by which the people acknowledged Jesus to be the king of Israel.  This is the first and only recorded instance in the Bible where Jesus actually accepted praise and acclamation as king.


            To make His final approach, Jesus rode on a donkey.  He did not need to ride the last couple of miles.  He was used to walking long distances and He would have been physically fit.  Also, pilgrims usually approached the holy city on foot.

            Jesus made a statement by riding on a donkey.  He is presenting Himself as a king of peace.  A young donkey was understood as a sign of peace.  He did not ride a war horse or carry a sword or wear a crown.  He didn't ride in a wheeled vehicle like many kings did back then.  Jesus was presenting Himself as a king of peace sitting on a donkey. 

            Even though the people were proclaiming Jesus to be their king, they probably didn't truly understand who He was.  There was a belief among Jews of that time that the Messiah would be a military hero who would overthrow Roman oppression and free them as a nation.  That is not who Jesus was, and that is not what He came to do.  Riding on a donkey demonstrated that He was the king of the Jews, not the militaristic Messiah that the people were looking for at that time.  Instead, He is the universal prince of peace.


            By waving palm branches and singing His praises with the term hosanna, the people affirmed their hope that Jesus was the Messiah they were expecting.  Many of them had seen Him raise Lazarus; many others had seen Him do many of the other miracles that He performed.  Those miracles fueled their hope of what Jesus could and would do.  Sadly, that was the extent of their so-called faith.  It was shallow and superficial and they would soon turn on Him. 

            John also records for us here the fact that the disciples didn't quite yet understand all that was going on either.  In fact, it wasn't until after the Holy Spirit had been sent that any of Christ's followers really began to see the extent and the nature of who He was and of what He came to do.

            The escalating popularity of Jesus was causing a lot of concern for His opponents.  When the Pharisees said they had accomplished nothing, they may have been referring to the order they gave that anyone who knew Jesus' whereabouts should make it known to them so they might arrest Him.  Now, they knew exactly where He was and He was surrounded by an adoring crowd.

            Events were moving quickly now.  Jesus was now appearing openly and in public places.  Even though the Pharisees knew where He was, they couldn't arrest Him because He was held in such high esteem by the people.  The religious leaders even went so far as to exclaim that the world has gone after Him.  That's not quite true.  Not even everyone in the crowd that day was a true follower, let alone the whole world.


            There were a number of different people and groups involved in this part of the story.  The first of course is Jesus.  How did Jesus respond to what is going on at this time?  As He always did, Jesus responded with obedience.  The triumphal entry into Jerusalem was perfect obedience on His part in doing the Father's will.  It was prophesied and He completely fulfilled it.  That prophecy is found for us in Zech. 9:9. 

            Jesus was also able to openly announce to the people of Jerusalem and Israel, described here as the Daughter of Zion, that He indeed was the King of Israel.  He entered the city; they proclaimed Him as king; He accepted their praise because that is who He is.


            Another group involved here were the Romans.  How did they respond?  They really didn't respond at all.  Nothing is recorded for us in Scripture as to how they may have reacted to this spur-of-the-moment parade for Jesus.  However, there is little doubt that they kept close tabs on everything going on in Jerusalem.  They were looking for potential trouble and would have had an eye on Jesus and His group of supporters.  They may have even chuckled to themselves at this triumphal entry, since it was nothing like what they experienced back in Rome.


            We also see here of course that the people of Israel were involved in this.  How did the people respond?  We've already looked in depth at how they reacted to Jesus coming into the capital city for the Passover celebration.  They welcomed Him; they spread their garments and palm branches on the road; they welcomed Him as their king and sang His praises loud and clear.


            Then there are the Jewish religious leaders.  How did the Jewish rulers respond?  They responded with growing hatred and fear of Jesus and what He was doing.  As they watched the crowds grow, no doubt the Pharisees felt that Jesus had won the day. 

            Along with the Romans, they were also expecting some sort of general revolt.  Maybe Jesus was the one who was going to lead that event, now that He had been ushered into the city amidst a throng of well-wishers.  They also kept close tabs on Jesus and what was going on.  Would He perform some miracle and further capture the minds and hearts of the restless people?  They were worried that He would; they also had plans in place to make sure it didn't happen.


            There is one last group that we need to examine.  Us.  How are you responding to the Messiah?  What is your reaction to Jesus, and to what He has done and to who He claims to be?  Fear.  Lack of faith.  Skepticism.  Doubt.  Rejection.  Those are all potential ways that we can respond and react to Jesus of Nazareth.

            But let's take just a few moments now and look at how we should respond to Jesus.  First of all, we should be strong and courageousJohn 16:33..  As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have absolutely nothing to fear.  Because He is victorious, we are victorious.  Because He is a conqueror, we are more than conquerors.  We can be strong and we can be courageous because Jesus has conquered the world and anyone and anything that could possibly harm us.  Don't fear; instead be courageous.

            Second, have faithMatt. 17:20.  We don't need little faith, we need mustard size faith.  This kind of great faith is the kind of faith that trusts God when there is nothing in the cupboard to eat and no money to buy food.  Great faith trusts in God when health is gone, work is gone reputation is gone or family is gone.  Great faith trusts God while the windstorm is still howling and persecution continues. 

            This kind of faith is persistent faith.  It continues to grow and become productive because it never gives up.  By the way, Jesus never meant to say that they could move an actual mountain.  He was talking figuratively about mountain-size difficulties.  It's only true that nothing shall be impossible for us within the framework of God's will.  Mountain-moving faith is not faith in oneself, much less faith in faith; it is faith in God.  That kind of faith is a good response to Jesus.

            Next, accept Jesus.  Salvation is not as simple as us just inviting Jesus into our hearts.  We only respond in faith to the work of justification that God has already done in our lives.  But we do need to accept in the sense of accepting the truth about who Christ is.  He is the Son of God; came to the earth as a man; lived a sinless life; died on a cross; rose the third day; and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.  We need to accept the Bible as God's inerrant, infallible word.  We need to accept the truth about us and our sinfulness.  Don't reject what God has to say about all of that.  Instead accept His Word and His truth.  That is a good response to Jesus.  Accepting these things will help us have faith and be strong and courageous. 


            What are you waiting for?  What's holding you back?  Sin.  Discouragement.  Disappointment?  Busyness?  Don't let those things keep you from being the man or woman that God has created you to be.  Don't hold back.  Don't give up.  Don't quit.  Instead, respond positively to God and to His work in your life.  Read the Word; pray; worship; witness; work for the Lord.  Today is the day to begin; now is the time to start living your life sold out to Jesus.

            As our singers and musicians come now, we invite you to respond positively to Jesus and to the work He is doing in your life.  If there is any public professions that anyone needs to make in regards to anything God is doing or has done in your life, we invite you to come up here now and talk to me about that as we stand and as we sing.