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Sunday, April 13, 2014

On a Donkey's Colt (John 12.12-16)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - April 13, 2014
Text: John 12:12-16; Psalm 118; Zechariah 13:1,6-7,9

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee? (Manz)
Processional Hymn: "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" (ST. THEODULPH)
Song of Praise: "Jesus, All for Jesus" (Robin Mark)
Offering of Music: "His Eye is on the Sparrow" (Charles Gabriel)
Offering of Music: "Holy" (Craig Courtney)
Our Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "Ride On, Ride On in Majesty" (TRURO)
Postlude: "Fanfare in D" (Lemmens)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
12 On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel. (Ps. 118:26)” 14 Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (Zech 9:9) 16 These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him. (John 12:12-16)
For many weeks, stretching back to January, we have been looking at the many places where Jesus quoted scripture – his scripture, Hebrew scripture, our Old Testament. Early in his ministry he declared that he did not come to do away with that scripture – the Law, the Prophets – but to fulfill or complete it. And so he dug into it in his teaching, pressing God’s Word deep into human life and the human heart. We were not just to keep God’s Word externally, but internally. That Word is living and convicting and life-shaping!

As Jesus’ ministry progressed and as we’ve moved closer to Easter week, we’ve seen the truth of our Call to Worship, that Jesus didn’t come just to teach the scripture in a new way, but to fulfill or complete it through his own life and actions… in himself. More and more we see him fulfilling prophecies about the Messiah, particularly the description of the “suffering servant” in Isaiah 53. And particularly as he moves closer and closer to the cross, we see the meaning of “the things which are written… [being] accomplished.” (Luke 18:31)

For the past several weeks we have been looking at events that happened during Jesus final week – the week we are about to live through, which we call “Holy Week.” So, chronologically, we are backing up a little bit today to look at Palm Sunday, the events on that day five days before the crucifixion. All that we looked in our previous weeks is about to happen: the clearing of the Temple, teaching in the Temple courts, the religious leaders trying again and again to trap Jesus into saying something to justify them arresting him. The events of that Maundy Thursday night are yet to happen: the Last Supper, the betrayals, the denials, the prayer, and the arrest. We will move slowly and intentionally through those events this Thursday night at our Maundy Thursday evening service. And the events of Friday – the crucifixion – are still coming, yet all that will be past by the time we gather here again next Sunday morning for Easter.

Well all of that is in view in the text this morning. All of that is hinted at in the events and in the references to the old scriptures. And we, of course, know what all is about to happen. Let’s look at it together.

A Psalm and a Prophet – the Hero

Interestingly enough, Jesus didn’t speak either of the two quotations of scripture in today’s text. The first was shouted by the crowd and comes from Psalm 118:26 – “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The second is provided by the narrator, John, who is reflecting on Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey. John notes that it is written (in Zechariah 9:9), “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

In both cases, Jesus is no longer quoting and teaching scripture; he is living it, and both the crowd and John-as-narrator make that connection. The events they are witnessing are the completion of scripture written long ago!

And in both cases, the connection the people make is that Jesus is being shown to be King… a hero in the mold of King David himself, the very Messiah promised by God. The people shout it out in the same breath as the Psalm 118 quote: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, EVEN THE KING OF ISRAEL.” That part isn’t in Psalm 118; it is who they believe Jesus to be! And when John makes a connection with the words of Zechariah, they include the promise that “your King is coming.”

Makes sense so far, right? Jesus is not explicitly embodying and fulfilling the scriptures; that’s the point of this extended series we’ve been in. So what happened between this triumphant Palm Sunday hero-welcome, several popular days of teaching in the Temple, and the betrayal and arrest of Thursday evening?

One significant part of that turnaround is that the people – and even the disciples – did not read their scriptures closely enough. Jesus didn’t just come to fulfil an exciting verse here or there, but as the living embodiment of ALL of God’s Word. Let’s look further…

A Psalm and a Prophet – a Suffering Savior

We’ve looked at Psalm 118 before, even a few weeks ago. It does have that memorable verse that the crowd quoted. I’ve noted more than once that “Hosanna” doesn’t mean what we often think it means, a kind of Hallelujah or praise to God. It literally means “Please save us!” or “Save us now!” It is a cry for help. But it also charts a course for the work the Messiah will do, particularly in vv. 22-29. The Messiah will indeed come as saving King, chosen by God; but the Messiah will first be rejected (v. 22) and a great sacrifice will be made (v. 27). The Messiah doesn’t come to save through earthly battle, but through spiritual sacrifice.

And the context in Zechariah is similar. The quote about a king riding on a donkey comes in the middle of a chapter on earthly victory of God’s people. But just a few chapters later, we read this powerful text in Zechariah 12:10:
“10 “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.
John the disciple wrote in v. 16, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.” And John also notes the great attention generated by raising Lazarus from the dead (v. 17) and other miracles. It is no wonder that the crowd didn’t stop to do careful scriptural study. We certainly have the advantage of hind-sight, and further explanation of the New Testament.

Yet it is interesting that the events of Palm Sunday called these scriptures to mind, but not the full context of those scriptures. Even if we can overlook remembering these things in the moment, even scholars of that day had focused on the triumphant Kingly themes of Messiah and de-emphasized the suffering servant kinds of themes as found in Isaiah 53. Yet we have seen in recent weeks and today that Jesus was not only King and Messiah, he was suffering servant, as described in Isaiah 53; he was rejected and sacrificed, as described in Psalm 118; and he was betrayed, pierced, and mourned, as described in Zechariah 12.

While it is not the main point of this sermon, this should give us pause to consider where we might have overlooked the actual Jesus presented in scripture and instead constructed a savior or God of our own desire and design. One good guard against that mistake (and related disappointment down the line) is to keep going back to scripture and digging deeper and deeper to discover who God is, particularly as revealed through Jesus. That task is never done, particularly because scripture reveals Jesus to be invitational, and along with knowing him more and more deeply, we are called ever more deeply to release the things we cling to and follow after him.

It is Finished

The main point I want to leave you with is something we will actually pass over because we don’t have a Good Friday service. We will have an opportunity to gather and contemplate the events of Thursday night this Thursday at 7pm. We will have a guided and interactive experience on Friday called “Journey to the Cross.” It is open between noon and 5pm. But when we gather next for morning worship, it will be Easter morning. We’ll be on to the Resurrection, and rightly so.

What I want to highlight is something we’ve been building to for weeks and even months. And in recent weeks, as I noted, we have followed Jesus teaching, life, and ministry all the way up to Thursday night. This morning we have actually wound the clock back a bit to look at the Palm Sunday events. But even there, as in so much of Jesus teaching, life, and ministry, it all points to what God was doing in Christ. In today’s text it is found most clearly in Psalm 118, which is in view with the shouts of “Please save us, you who come in the name of the Lord!” That Psalm describes the Messiah ascending the hill to make the sacrifice and that’s exactly what Jesus will do in the course of this week we call Holy Week.

Months ago, we heard him teaching scripture in the Sermon on the Mount, digging far deeper than the people or even the teachers of the Law were used to digging. He said then that he came not to abolish the Law and Prophets, but to complete them. And for weeks now, we have been reading stories and hearing the truth of what Jesus declared in our call to worship: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him…” (Luke 18:31-33).

By Friday, all that will have been accomplished. Jesus didn’t come to do away with God’s Word, but to open it up to us. And he didn’t just come to teach it to us, but to live it among us. On that terrible Friday, which we call Good Friday, John records these last words: “It is finished!” (John 19:30) The once and for all sacrifice was made to rescue us back from death’s grip. God, who promised His people that He would never leave and never forsake them, kept that promise and came among us.

As you move through this week, spring break and all, I hope you will be reminded in fresh ways of the lengths to which God went to come after you. As you read scripture or think about Jesus, I hope you will see the long thread of redemptive history – God at work to pursue and rescue and welcome you home. And where you and I may have constructed God or Jesus a little bit into the God we want rather than the God who IS, I hope scripture will shake you and redirect you and lead you ever closer to God in Christ.

And if I don’t see you between now and Easter, or if you are somewhere else next Sunday, let me remind you of the full text of what Jesus said was being accomplished, powered by a God who always does what He says He will do.
31 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, 33 and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.”
…and on the third day He will rise again. Halleluia!

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