John 12:12-19                  “Small Triumphs”


            It was the time of the Passover in Jerusalem. The entire Jewish world, it would seem, does try to make it up to Jerusalem for the festival. The population of the city would increase at least three-fold. All those people now are hearing about Jesus, specifically the raising of Lazarus. In fact, the Bible is clear on this point that they wanted to see, meet, touch the risen Lazarus.

            To be sure, when Lazarus was brought back to life, this was not just a near death experience. He had been dead for four days. He was really stinky dead. His body was made new again. This is an incredible miracle!

            Back then in Jesus’ time, you could imagine what people were saying after Lazarus was raised from the dead.  I can almost hear the men and women back then asking themselves, “If Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead, just think can he do for me?” Certainly he could fix that broken toe and excise a bunion! Maybe he could bring uncle Joe back from the dead so he can tell us where he hid the gold coins!

            Yes, in that day, everyone was going after Jesus! Well, what happened? Why did not the world continue to go after Jesus? Just for a moment, a very brief historical moment, it looked as if the world was really just about to change for the better. Then, everything fizzled out.

            I will be honest with you. The reason it fizzled is that it turned into something political. This is one huge reason why I try to avoid being political in my sermons. Do you hear in our texts what the people are shouting?  Are they shouting “Hail Jesus, the anointed messiah?” No. Are they shouting “Hosanna, Son of God!”?  No. These people, the whole world as the Pharisees are saying, are shouting out “Jesus, King of Israel.” This is a political position, not a holy designation at all.

            In fact, the position of King of Israel was already filled by a person back then. Anybody recall his name? Yes, his name was Herod. He was appointed by the Romans and was despised by the Jewish nation. He was harsh with the people. He was paranoid. His brutality we still remember vividly today. Just mentioning him in a sermon seems to taint this very church!  Equating Jesus in any way with Herod is a sad subject to be sure.

            To be sure, and I hate to mention this really, but today we equate the idea of one “King” over the world with the exact opposite of Christ. We recall all of the world’s tyrants and dictators who wanted to take over the world. And, that is what these people in Jerusalem are screaming for from Jesus. They wanted an earthly tyrant. They wanted the anti-Christ, not Jesus the Son of God.


            What if? What if the entire world actually did follow Jesus the Son of God? That would mean that everyone on the planet would live by the Golden Rule of Christ. They would follow his exact commandments. All would have to do unto others as they would like themselves to be treated. All would have to love God and one another. All would be willing to lay down their lives for Jesus and for one another. Could we even begin to imagine that world?

One decade ago at this time, the “little green men” started taking over Crimea. A few years after the fact the President of Russia, Putin, proudly proclaimed that they were Russian special agents. Well, we all knew that of course. When the little green men brought their Russian military equipment to the front gates of a Ukrainian army post, and it looked like there would be bloodshed for sure, a Christian priest stood in front of the gate and told the green men to not shoot at their brothers. It was that priest that then allowed for the Ukrainian military personnel to depart without anyone being killed.  I do not know what happened to that priest. I hope he is still okay.

Meanwhile in Russia itself more and more priests of the Orthodox Church there are being threatened and detained for trying to talk young men out of going to war. It is the custom to seek the blessing of a priest before joining the military. When the young man presents himself for the blessing, he gets a lecture on the peace of Christ instead. When the priest is asked to pray for victory, instead he prays for peace. There are some very brave religious leaders trying to save men from participating in a great evil.

            As some of you may already know, during the Hitler years, all the pastors were sent a letter by the Nazi Regime that they had to sign saying that they were first and foremost loyal to the Third Reich. Most of the pastors signed the letter, really believing that they had no choice. Dietrich Bonhoeffer decided not to sign the letter. In fact, he spoke out against the letter and against Hitler himself. He landed himself in jail and was then executed by hanging in 1945—just two weeks before the American Army liberated the concentration camp. 

            Yet, thinking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and so many lone voices throughout history who have stood for Christ in this world, one has to wonder why it is that it is all too often the lone voice for Jesus. It is almost like at the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem that only has one guy holding a palm branch and shouting as the Lord goes by!

            So, let us imagine for one moment what would have happened in Hitler’s Germany if every pastor who was sent that loyalty letter refused to sign. What if every pastor proclaimed “Jesus is my Lord and Master—not Adolf Hitler!” What if sermons were preached that proclaimed Jesus over the Third Reich and the people in the churches refused to follow the dictator—refused to build the concentration camps, the V-2 rockets, and all the rest of the horrors of that criminal regime? What if, as the Pharisees are so afraid of, the WHOLE WORLD really went after Jesus rather than just the lone prophetic pastor sitting in a jail cell waiting to be hanged?


            Shouting for the “King of Israel” rather than the “Son of God” will get you a Herod rather than a Jesus. We know from the gospels that the people of Jerusalem did not get what they were expecting.  Jesus rides the donkey up to the Temple. Everyone is screaming out. This is exactly as it was foretold in Zechariah 9:9 . . . .”Your king comes to you triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey. . . .” As we continue to read, we hear, “He shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (verse 10) And verse 16, “On that day the Lord God will save them.”

            The prophecy of old was not about just another king coming to sit on the throne in Israel. The prophecy is about the coming of the Lord God to God’s people. I do not get the sense that the people at that time while they were waving their palm branches understood that this was God coming before them to establish a new heavenly kingdom. No really! Let me ask you personally, if you saw God right in front of your eyes, would you go rip off the branch of some tree and start waving it around while screaming out?  No! Of course not! You would get down on your hands and knees and beg for forgiveness of your sins. You would start praying hard prayers of repentance.

            Actually, the Bible even tells us what this would look like: Check out Revelation 7:9-12 (and yes there are palm branches here too): “. . . there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, ‘Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!’”

            Jesus does not take the throne in heaven at the time of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In fact, he goes up to the doors of the temple, they are closed, so he turns around and heads back to Bethany to be with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus once more. The people are not bowing down to worship God. They are not even singing hymns of praise. The people are just a rabble. They are a mob. They are only expecting a “King of Israel” rather than the one true God that is prophesied.

             In the Gospel of Luke, 19:41-44, we can read that Jesus actually has a lament for Jerusalem, and the world that did not see him for who he truly was: “If you even had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround up. . . because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”


            This morning we are faced with that great question of “What if?” What if the people back then had seen God coming before them? What if all had bowed down? The temple would not have been destroyed—as it was. What if we could do that right now? Just see God in the person of Jesus Christ coming before us now! He comes in peace.