The Arrival of the King (12:12-22)
The next day, after Mary anoints the body of Jesus, Jesus makes his entrance into the city of Jerusalem. So many of our Bibles describe this as Jesus’ triumphal entry. But we have noticed throughout this gospel that this is not a triumphal entry at all. This is a death march. Coming to the city of Jerusalem was the sealing of his death. But these things are not understood at this moment. This looks like a victorious entrance for the King of Israel. The large crowd that had followed Jesus has gathered palm branches. The palm branches were a symbol of victory and of a messianic liberator. The palm branch was the emblem used on the coins from the Maccabean revolt when a successful revolt was led against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The crowd is crying out that the King of Israel has come. “Hosanna” means “Save us!” or “Save, we pray!” Here is Jesus, the one who comes by the authority and power of the Lord. He is the prophesied king. Jesus rides into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, just as Zechariah prophesied. But the author’s quotation includes part of the prophecy that is not quoted by the other gospel writers. The part that John quotes that the others do not is: “Fear not, daughter of Zion.” There is no need to fear any longer. Your king has come. Your king has come to save and save the people is exactly what he will do. Your fears about your sinful condition for the Almighty God is about to be relieved.
This scene only intensifies the truth that this is a death march. The crowd that saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead are crying out as a witness to these things in Jerusalem (12:17). It is their testimony that is causing the crowds to come out into the streets to see who this Jesus is. This causes the Pharisees all the more to recognize that they must kill Jesus. They observe “The world has gone after him.” This is another prophetic statement by these leaders, not knowing how the world would truly follow Jesus.
Notice that the world is already following after Jesus. In verse 20 we observe that even the Greeks were some of the people in the crowd. They come up to Philip with a beautiful request. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” There is no greater desire a human can have but to desire to see Jesus. Jesus has not come only for Israel, but for the whole world. Who will desire to see Jesus? Who wants to approach him? Who wants to get to know the King and the Savior?
The Declaration of the King (12:23-26)
The King and Savior has arrived. But what does this mean for the world? What does it mean for people like you and me? Jesus is going to make his declaration as the king to the world.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This is a turning point in the Gospel of John. We observed in John 2:4, 7:6-8, 7:30, and 8:20 that it was not Jesus’ hour yet. No longer is Jesus’ hour in the future. The time is now. The Son of Man is to be glorified. This is the Jesus you need to see. You do not need to see the Jesus that is in the mind of the crowd, a messianic liberator and earthly king. The Greeks desire to see Jesus. Jesus’ response to this request is that it is now the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus is not going to be glorified in spite of his death. Jesus is going to be glorified through his death on the cross. The death march of Jesus is the triumphal entry of the king. The victory is that Jesus is voluntarily walking to his death. This is the Jesus we must come to see. If you want to see Jesus, you must look to the cross.
Verse 24 expresses the necessity of his death. There can be no fruit unless the seed is planted in the ground and dies. The glory of the seed is its dying in the ground so that it bears fruit. Jesus’ death is needed so that people will not have to fear from their sins. Jesus’ death must happen for fruit to be born. Jesus is aware of what he is doing. Jesus understands the impact of his self-sacrifice. The giving of his life is for the good of the world. Jesus’ glorification would come through his death which would lead to life for others. Jesus’ obedience to the point of death, even death on the cross (Philippians 2:8) was the ultimate revealing of submission to the Father’s will. His glory is his sacrifice. His glory is his giving of himself.
But the spectacular glory of self-sacrifice does not stop with Jesus. Notice what Jesus continues to declare in verse 25. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The principle is taught to those who desire to be saved by the Savior. To love our life now and to do all that we can to live for ourselves now is to only lose our lives for eternity. But to those who will give their lives away to the will of the Father will keep it for eternal life. Dying to self is how we bear much fruit for the Father. This is what Jesus is doing. Jesus did not come to preserve his own life. He certainly could have done so. No one could take his life from him. But Jesus willingly volunteers his life to the obedience of the Father. If we will die to our lives, we will also bear much fruit, ending with the greatest fruit of all, eternal life with the Father.
Do we love this life? Do we care about this world above all else? We can look at our lives and see if we hate our lives in this world. We will not pander to our own personal interests. We will decline to make ourselves the focus of our interests. We cannot be the focus. Our priorities are based on that which is outside of ourselves. Christ is the master of our lives just as Jesus showed the Father to the master of his life. Otherwise we are showing that we love this life. The goal is not this world and my life in this world. The goal is the world to come and giving my life to that world, to that citizenship.
Verse 26 takes us even further in following the example of Jesus. “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Where is Jesus going? Jesus is on his death march to the cross. The hour has come for his glorification in the giving of his life at the cross to the obedience of the Father. Now listen to those words again. Where Jesus is, there the servant of Jesus will be also. To serve Jesus means to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus is to go where he goes and be where he is. Jesus is walking to his death which will lead to his glorification. We must go to our death in terms of doing our will and desires and it will result in glorification. “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” The Father honors those who follow in the steps of Jesus. The apostle Paul summarized this concept beautifully.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 ESV)
My life is not about me any more. It is Christ that is living in me. Paul says, “I’m crucified.” I have followed him to the cross. I have followed him to his death. The only thing alive in me is Christ. I live by faith in Jesus because he loved me and give his life for me. This is a joyous sacrifice. This is a joyous giving of our lives. Paul said it this way later in his letter to the Galatians.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 ESV)
It is a weighty picture that Paul expressed so many times in his various letters. Listen to how he speaks of it in his letter to the Colossians.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:2–4 ESV)
1. Your best life is not now. Your best life is later. Do not strive to have all that the world has to offer because if you do, you will lose your life. This is a guarantee from the King of glory. If you seek your life now, you are losing everything! Life is not about right now.
2. Only when we say no to ourselves now do we become capable of saying yes to God. We cannot say yes to ourselves and yes to God. It is simply impossible. Only when we say no to our desires and wants can we find the path to saying yes to the desires of our Lord. Jesus said no to his desires over and over again. At the temptations in the wilderness Jesus said no to himself. Leaving eternal glory and taking on the form of a human was Jesus saying no to himself. Going to Jerusalem was saying no to himself. Going to the cross was saying no to himself. The words of Jesus must become our words. “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
3. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” To see Jesus is to go where he went: to the cross. If we desire to be a follower of Jesus, we must follow him to the cross. If we desire to be his servant, we must follow him to the cross. If we desire to be fruitful to the Lord, we must go to the cross. Being a disciple of Jesus is hard. These are not easy decisions. This is not an easy journey. Every day we must put our desires to death. Every day we must wake up and put our wants to death. Every day we must put our will to death. It is not longer I who live but Christ. But this is what we need to see: the giving of ourselves fully to the will of the Father is glorious!
4. We are not getting a raw deal in this pursuit. By making these decisions every day to die to yourself will be the saving of your life for eternity. Forgiveness of sins, the salvation of your soul from wrath, and eternal life are being given to us for this pursuit. And, if these things were not enough, Jesus said that the Father will honor us. We give our lives to the honor of the Father and the Father says he will honor us. This is not a raw deal. This is the best deal. This is for our good. We are doomed to eternal hell for our sins. This is what we deserve. God offers a glorious deal. Honor him and he will honor you. The sacrificing of yourself to the Lord is spectacularly glorious! Submit yourself to the Lord.