In John 12, the people of Jerusalem are excited that Jesus is coming to meet them. They are excited that their liberator is coming to save them from oppression. And they really think the Kingdom that he is bringing, as they term him the king of Israel, is going to conquer the Roman Empire that oppresses them. They are in occupied territory, and Jesus is going to oust the occupiers.
They are looking for a political revolution and as far as they think this is it. In fact, for generations, they’ve been looking for another Exodus. And that story is what’s given them and their children the pulse to survive even the darkest periods of occupation.
What they don’t realize is two things. Jesus is coming to save them—but he’s coming to save the whole world. And the way that he is going to do that is the most backward way they could imagine. Surely, they don’t think that their King is going to save them by dying. I’m not sure anyone would believe that.
The way Jesus saves us is often different than the way we were expecting. It’s so easy to try and go the easy way. And I’m not saying that overthrowing the Roman Empire is easy, but the cycle of violence and counter-violence that Palestine and Israel are currently gridlocked in is still an easier choice than finding a third way.
Jesus is doing that very thing here. He knows he’s walking into a deathtrap, but his disciples and the people that are praising his name don’t realize it. If you read the entire book of John, you’ll know that Jesus is working toward death the whole time. He is slowly revealing who He really is, and the Roman officials and Jewish leaders around him are becoming for cognizant of who He is. In just the previous chapter when he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus knows the nail is in the coffin, so to speak. He’s done the impossible: raise a man from the dead and it is at that moment that the plot to kill Him begins.
His disciples might be aware of what’s happening theoretically, but they aren’t really grasping it yet. Truly, how often do we grasp the call that Jesus has for us before we just start inventing it on our own? Americans have specialized in this, I think. So often being a Christian is such a minor life change—we can basically do everything we did before, except now we have the hope and encouragement of Jesus and the fun of a new social circle.
Our thinking doesn’t venture far off from thinking of the oppressed people here. We actually think that the result of following Jesus is a government that makes sense and a world without oppression. I’m ready to work toward that with you, but for many of us, we won’t see an end to evil by the end of our life—but life in Christ offered us the hope, the perseverance, and the energy to live through our oppression.
Jesus’ revolution is so significant, it’s unrecognizable. He’s doing exactly what was predicted and the people around Him, who are actually hoping he might fulfill a prophecy and his disciples whom he warns about this very moment, still don’t get it. Instead of a grand military entrance, Jesus rides in on a colt. His disciples don’t get it. But his reputation precedes him to such a large degree that a large crowd gathers around him.
The people that are plotting to kill him are dumbfounded of course because his entrance was more climactic than they thought—the signs he’s been showing in Gospel of John so far are so compelling and so outstanding, that the movement is already beginning.
Jesus isn’t just trying to build a movement, mainly because he knows another political organization, however “spiritual” and noble it is, isn’t going to be the answer. He’s doing much more than that. Jesus unpacks his actions a little more and leads us to our own lives as we continue to change the world.
Jesus calls his death glorification. He is inverting the meaning. He’s changing how royalty is seen and with that statement he changes the whole world. It’s not necessarily a novel idea in literature and otherwise, to die for a cause, but Jesus signs his own death sentence. He’s dying so that kernel of wheat that he is can multiply and a real revolution can start. Jesus’ death are the reason we are doing this today.
All of his lessons about self-sacrifice and no longer serving ourselves come to fruit in this moment. Jesus is telling his disciples not to hold on to their lives, their possessions, they hopes and dreams too tightly. We might need to change in a more radical way then we expect to when we follow Jesus. If you love your life, you’ll lose it. But if you hate how the world lives and you don’t want to live like it, well then, your place is secure forever.
Jesus is paving the path for Christians everywhere. And he’s not saying it’ll be easy. In this account, he says his soul is troubled—but he is doing it for His father’s glory. He and the Father are one.
Jesus is dying to show us to die to all of things that we treasure in this world, and begin a new way of understanding. It puts our suffering all in a new context, of course. We’re suffering with Jesus. We’re suffering with the ultimate Sufferer, whose suffering saved the whole world.
The way Jesus is going to save the world through death is resurrection. He’s going to do battle with the prince of death and through his resurrection, he’s going to defeat death once and for all.
It’s easy to respond to this action by living free and living excessively. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant. The question that needs to be answered is why didn’t he just have a regular political revolution if he was just looking to make us all prosper? Because that isn’t true freedom, of course.
An addiction to material possessions, to earthly love and companionship, to all of these things that will invariably disappoint us not only leads to a life that isn’t very well differentiated, but a life that will eventually torment us. Paul channels this as he is learning how close he came to Jesus when he spent time in prison. He says,
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
When we die to ourselves and to all of the things we’ve been talking about this Lenten season. When we die to death, we don’t live forever. On the contrary, we simply are free to die without fear, without remorse, without worry. The path before us has been set. It isn’t about living forever that’s the appeal of our faith, it’s about being free from death. Like Paul tells the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Live for Jesus, die with Him.
So as we venture on this Holy Week, let’s dare to feel the pain that Jesus is feeling here as he walks toward his death. The death that frees us all.
Walk with us this week. Be a part of our Holy Week as you are able. It’s a serious time and it’s worth prioritizing. There are many things that make it inconvenient and many ways that it’ll be easy to overlook. But don’t just go about your routine. Let Jesus disrupt you, as he was disrupted on your behalf.
Let go of your pride. Let go of your legalism. But also let go of all the ways that you feel entitled to feel earthly completeness as if that’s going to happen. Embrace the suffering that Jesus has around you. Don’t just cope with it, actually feel it and know it—remember you are a human being, just like Jesus, and you’ll feel some pain along the way. But don’t be afraid to attach. Don’t be afraid to connect. Make a relationship. Make a commitment. It won’t work out. That’s OK. Be real. Be vulnerable. Be open. Be honest.
Following Jesus is almost assuredly going to get you to experience the difficulty of being human. Let Jesus do the unexpected in your life. Let Him move. Don’t write out the story for Him. Let Him write your story.