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“Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke of Him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:41-43).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The news spread quickly that Jesus was in Bethany, and large numbers of people headed there to see Him. With the influx of pilgrims in Jerusalem getting ready for the Passover, it wasn’t long before a great crowd had gathered. No doubt, their curiosity was doubly piqued, since they would also be able to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead. Realizing they were losing the battle for public opinion, the chief priests decided to kill Jesus. They would do whatever was necessary to end Jesus’ popularity. They added Lazarus to their hit list, for many Jews believed in Jesus because He had raised Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus had arrived in Bethany on Friday. The dinner at Mary and Martha’s, the anointing by Mary, and the gathering of the crowd took place after His arrival, with the Sabbath intervening. On the next day—Palm Sunday—the ever-growing crowd learned that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. They cut palm branches and went out to the road to meet Him, receiving Him with all the pomp and circumstance of a king as the Jewish leaders feared they might.
The people hailed Jesus with words from Psalm 118:25-26: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” This was from the Hallel, sung as part of the Passover feast. For centuries, Jews had sung it in anticipation of the Lamb of God on His way to be their sacrifice. But they weren’t thinking of sacrifice that day; they received Jesus as Israel’s King.
It happened spontaneously, but it was foretold years earlier. Jesus rode a young donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. The messianic King from David’s line entered Jerusalem amid the praise and glory of the crowd.
The Pharisees cursed their bad fortune. Every threat they had made, every trap they had set, every accusation they had leveled, hadn’t accomplished a thing. Jesus was, on that day, more popular than ever. The Jewish leaders reacted as we often do when we realize we are no longer in control—frustrated and fearful. “Look, the world has gone after Him,” they exclaimed in classic hyperbole.
To the Pharisees, “the world” meant primarily the Jewish people. But Christ came for the whole world. Even then and there some Greeks were among the crowd. They singled out Philip from Jesus’ disciples and made their intentions known: “We wish to see Jesus.” Philip told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Up to this time, Jesus had insisted repeatedly that His hour had not yet come. But now, He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
What Jesus came to do He likened to a seed of grain. That seed remains nothing but a lonely seed unless it is planted. But when it is buried in the ground and dies there, a plant grows from it and bears fruit. Similarly, Jesus would not bear the fruit of His mission until He first died. All His miraculous signs had no eternal benefit without the miracle of the cross and the empty tomb. The Son of Man had to die for the spiritual harvest to come, the harvest of souls for eternity.
When Jesus warns against loving our lives, He means putting this earthly life first. When we believe in Jesus and have eternal life in Him, worldly living loses its attraction. Everything worldly carries sin’s taint. Only in Jesus does the good life, eternal life, become ours. It would be better to lose this earthly life than to lose Jesus. Our faith in Jesus, however, carries a price. We must follow where He leads. We face sacrifices. We risk the scorn of others. But we do so with the promise of the heavenly Father’s honor and with praise and thanksgiving for His Son.
Jesus had come to Jerusalem to die. As true man, He was troubled by what He faced. The triumphant procession did not change the reality He knew was coming. He already felt the burden we associate with Gethsemane. He opened His soul for us to look in. Jesus was not a robot, heading for the scrap heap without feeling. As true God, He did not simply switch off all sorrow and suffering. His sufferings would be intense beyond measure because of our sin. Still the God-man never wavered from His assigned path. He had come from heaven for this very purpose, prepared for this time. He was there to bring glory to God.
Jesus turned attention from Himself to His Father, praying, “Father, glorify Your name.” The Father answered Jesus’ prayer aloud from heaven. His name had been glorified and would continue to be glorified. By sending His Son in the flesh and through His Son’s miraculous signs, the Father received glory (John 1:14). In the events to come, Christ’s work of salvation—His death, resurrection, and ascension—would most assuredly glorify God’s name further.
The crowd needed to hear the voice as a sign that a truly cosmic event was being set in motion—the confrontation God had predicted in Eden (Genesis 3:15). The judgment of this world would be based on the outcome. The judgment is an ongoing process, as people either in faith accept, or in unbelief, reject Jesus as their Savior. The ruler of this world, Satan, would be driven out as the Seed of the woman emerged as the risen victor. Jesus would break the devil’s power over us.
For all this to happen, Jesus was headed for death by crucifixion. He told the people as much, using an image most of them would have understood, at least in principle. He would be lifted up from the earth on a cross. That lifting up would affect all human beings. Through it and His subsequent exaltation, Jesus would draw all people to Himself. At the cross, all people must invariably accept or reject Jesus as Savior. There are no other paths.
This crowd had just hailed Jesus as the Christ in the line of King David, and now they heard Him talk about Himself as the Son of Man, saying that He must be crucified. They searched for understanding. They believed from Scripture that the Christ would be eternal but assumed that meant He would set up an eternal kingdom on earth. It didn’t make sense to them that the Christ would die. Rather than try to explain away their doubts; He called for them to trust in Him. They didn’t need all their questions answered just then. They needed only to believe.
Still, not all who were gathered that Palm Sunday believed in Jesus even though He had done so many signs in their presence, including the raising of Lazarus. This too, fulfilled messianic prophecy. Isaiah had prophesied this unbelief, and Jesus had quoted him elsewhere to show why many Jews didn’t recognize His messianic claims. They were locked away in their own unbelief.
Isaiah prophesied these things because He had seen the glory that comes from God. In his vision, Isaiah saw the Messiah’s great suffering to achieve our salvation and the Messiah’s glory, restored in the resurrection and ascension.
Many rejected Jesus, but some, even some of the leaders, believed in Jesus. Sad to say, the Pharisees succeeded in intimidating them, so they hid their real views for fear of being put out of the synagogue. They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God in Christ.
We should not be surprised at this faintheartedness. Our own lives display it today. How often do we Christians fail to confess our faith because we fear the reaction of those around us? How often do you and I love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God?
The fact is, we really have a hard time understanding glory as God defines it. We’re used to glory in human terms. A person finds glory when he is surrounded by power, strength, and prestige. When someone is glorious, he seems invincible. That’s hardly the appearance of the beaten, bloody Man hanging on the cross.
But God measures glory in a different way. In God’s terms, glory is achieved by doing His will. Something none of us is capable of doing ourselves. Not perfectly. Not all the time. But Jesus does, and He does it in our place.
Against all appearances, God is glorifying His name at the cross because Jesus is fulfilling His Father’s plan of salvation, dying the death of sinners so that sinners can be raised to eternal life. That hill outside Jerusalem is a more glorious mountain than Sinai; on Mt. Calvary, Christ defeats sin, death, and the devil.
When the Greeks wished to see Jesus, Jesus pointed them to the cross. That is where the Son of Man is glorified. As a pastor, it is given me (and all pastors) to point you to the cross, time and time again. We do so with reason, because there is your salvation. There you will see the glory that comes from God.
In Christ, you have much more than what the world appears to offer. The world’s glory consists in displays of power, popularity, wealth. All of them are so fleeting. Look how long it takes for the cheering crowds of Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to turn to chants of “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday. How quickly a celebrity can go to persona non grata with one rumor of scandal. How quickly wealth can disappear with a bad investment or shaky economy.
Jesus’ glory is to do His Father’s will. His death is glorious, because by His death He saves you from the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature. Furthermore, He continues to accomplish His Father’s will, visiting you by His Word and Sacraments, working in you forgiveness, life, and salvation.
This is a world of trouble and anxiety because this is a world of sin. You’ll be tempted to love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. In the midst of trouble, trial, and temptation, Jesus visits you with that glorious forgiveness. Where you might be frustrated at your station in life, He calls you His child and an heir of the kingdom of heaven. He reassures you that this time of tribulation will pass and that He will use it for your good and for His glory.
Remember that glory in times of grief. There is little in life that is more heart-breaking than the death of a loved one. Like all people, Christians must also endure grief. But with the grief, they also have the hope of the grain. In the midst of mourning, you know that Christ was put to death and buried in a tomb. You also know that He rose from the dead three days later. You also have the confidence that He is the firstfruits of those fallen asleep, and He will raise His people to everlasting life. Those who have died in the Lord are delivered from suffering; and because they have died in the Lord, they will be raised up to eternal glory on the Last Day.
Remember that glory when troubled by guilt. The devil still accuses; but since he has no access to the throne of God anymore, he whispers the accusations into your ear instead. He would abuse your conscience and try to convince you that, despite Jesus’ death, you still stand guilty before God. He seeks to make your guilt appear far more real than the cross. But the devil has been lying since he first slithered into Eden, and his accusations are falsehood at the foundation. Have you sinned? Yes, that much is true. Do you still stand guilty before God? No, because Christ has died to take away your sins. The true blood of Christ has covered and removed evidence of your sin before God. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
The glory that comes from God is found in the cross, because that is where the Savior saves you. By gloriously fulfilling His Father’s plan for your salvation, Jesus takes your sins away and give you eternal life. He rescues you from tribulation, from guilt, and from death. He declares you His holy, innocent child, and makes you an heir of eternal life. Because of His death, the risen Lord now utters these glorious words to you: You are forgiven for all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.