Following Christ / John 12 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday April 5th 2020 / Palm Sunday Holy Week / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday April 5th 2020: Holy Week Palm Sunday / John 12:12–19 "Following Christ"
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey's colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him. The crowd that had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. They had been following Him for three year wherever He went: into boats out of boats, into towns out of towns, into the homes of strangers out into the wilderness, into and out of none Jewish gentile areas, to this side of the river Jordan to that side of the river Jordan, to this side of the sea of Galilee to that side of the sea of Galilee, wherever He went they went. They had witnessed miraculous things; they had heard Him preach and teach with authority, they ate with Him and spent their days around Him. Yes sometimes He went off by Himself to pray alone but He always came back and He had taught them how to pray when they asked Him. Then in the Gospel last week from John we heard how this Jesus was urgently called to heal Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus who was ill in the town of Bethany near Jerusalem. Their last time to Jerusalem had turned out to be dangerous for Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was in the Temple and the Jews were pressing Him, they wanted to know if He was the Christ the promised Messiah. Jesus had said to them “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not among My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.” The crowd that day didn’t find this to be a satisfactory answer, they accused Him of blasphemy and they “picked up stones again to stone Him.” After some more words back and forth, “they sought to arrest [Jesus], but He escaped from their hands.”
All of this was on the minds of the disciples when Jesus was urgently called to heal Mary and Martha’s dying brother Lazarus so near to Jerusalem. That’s why His disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” The way ahead certainly looked dark. Death was there or at least the threat of death, the danger of death. Would those men who had picked up those stones so quickly have forgotten their feelings towards Jesus? It looked like the disciples were about to follow their Good Shepherd Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death.
This is when one of them preached a short yet powerful sermon of encouragement. We often think of this disciple as doubting Thomas but here he is anything but doubting, here Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” grim - maybe, resolute - certainly, courageous - absolutely. This moment reminds me of the hymn “Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus” and the 3rd stanza where we sing, “Let us ever die with Jesus. Since by death He conquered death, He will free us from destruction, give to us immortal breath. Let us mortify all passion that would lead us into sin; and the grave that shuts us in shall but prove the gate to heaven. Jesus here with You I die, there to live with You on high.”
Jesus had taught His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” When Thomas said “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” did he know that the Good Friday cross was coming? No. But even still Thomas was prepared to continue to follow Jesus wherever the road led, even if it led toward danger or death. We have a prayer that we pray in the church for times when we are venturing out into the unknown, you have likely prayed this prayer before in church or even on your own, it goes like this, “Lord God, you have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
When we celebrate Palm Sunday we often forget this part of the short journey from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. We focus more on how “the large crowd that had come to the feast [of Passover] heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” We think on how this crowd “took branches of palm trees and went out to meet [Jesus as He rode into the city on the donkey], crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” We think on these things, but when we think on the whole account found it in the Gospels it’s good to remember that the crowed came with palms in their hands not the stones that the disciples might have feared; they came with praise on their lips not accusations of blasphemy as before. What was expected by the disciples, danger and death did not come that day, by the end of the following week that would change but the thing they most worried about for that day didn’t happen.
Perhaps you have picked up where I’m going with this. Much of what we expected to be doing right now even a month ago has been upset and turned on its head and we don’t know what thing in our life will be like a month from now, two months from now, six months from now. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic we are all venturing out into the unknown, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils largely unknown to us, yes there is the virus but then there is the economy and there is potential social unrest and there is certainly a lot more isolation than many of us are comfortable with. There is sadness and grief and loss and exasperation and then there is death. Many people in our North American part of the world have not sufficiently or seriously contemplated the danger of death. Many people have never had to actually face the cold and heartless face of death. If you have, then you will be a benefit to your friends and family and neighbours. If on the other hand you have not remember Christ Jesus, He was the one who road on ahead of Thomas and the rest of the disciples, He is their Good Shepherd and He is your Good Shepherd even when the road leads though the valley of the shadow of death. It is He who calls you to follow Him, Jesus is the one who says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” Trust in Him.
St. John records the reason why the crowd went to meet Jesus the way that they did that day with their Palm branches waving and their shouts of joy, it was because they heard the testimony of the people that had been with Jesus when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised Lazarus from the dead. St. Matthew and St. Mark records how the crowd was calling out “Hosanna!” which means ‘save us, rescue us, Saviour,’ ‘help us’ they cry,’ echoing words sung in Psalm 118:25, “Save us, we pray, O LORD!”
Dear ones as Jesus enters into Jerusalem we have three groups. First we have Thomas and the disciples who follow Christ even if it meant following Him into danger because they trust Him and hear His voice. We have also the crowd who has heard what Jesus has done by raising Lazarus from the dead and they turn to Him for rescue and help calling out “Hosanna!” and then St. John tells us there are the Pharisees those who look at the faithful and the ones turning to Christ and say, “Look, the world has gone after Him.” St. Luke tells us how “some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’ [Jesus] answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’” There will be those who will attempt to discourage you in your faith towards Jesus in these days, do not listen to them. Remain faithful, follow where Jesus is leading you. Kindly tell of His victory over death and the grave, not just Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead but His own Easter morning triumph over the grave, the true victory over death that spells out eternal life for you and as people turn to Jesus be kind to them, they need your loving kindness, support and encouragement in Christ.
We Christians, however, are not free from the call to turn to Jesus and follow Him. Take Thomas as your example, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” Like the hymn says, “Let us mortify all passion that would lead us into sin,” Remember likewise what Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Mortify all passion, deny yourself, die with Him: These are all words of repentance, calls to repentance, calls to turn from your sin – the sin you have grown so comfortable with – to turn from them to Jesus. Give your sin to Jesus and as St. Paul tells us Jesus takes them upon Himself and in His Good Friday death Jesus then cancels them, sets aside the record of debt that stood against you with its legal demands “nailing it to the cross” and at the cross they died with Him. He then gives you in return Forgiveness, Life and Salvation from sin, death, the devil and the world, even from yourself; He gives you His perfect righteousness in place of your failures, your sins and the evils you commit against the ones you love and everyone else in this life. Those sins do not rise from the tomb with Jesus on Easter morning they are dead and gone. The Christian life following Jesus is one where each day we’re called to “consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This daily repentance takes courage, takes honesty, takes commitment, and takes faith.
St. John tells us that on the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week “His disciples did not understand [what was happening] at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered [what] had been written about Him and had been done to Him.” It was all clearer after the fact. The crowd who called out “Hosanna!” wanted to be saved but didn’t know how God was going to accomplish it. Even the Pharisees with their disdain and contempt didn’t know what would transpire over the next seven days, all their plotting only played into God’s Hands. The one who knew what was coming was Jesus. This is not different for you. Jesus knows what is coming next.
Beloved in the Lord, hear His voice. Follow Him. Today and in these days He leads you into His Holy Word. Read your Bible. Hear His Word preached. He leads you in prayer to your heavenly Father. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. He leads you in service to your neighbour. Care for them by your thoughts, words and deeds. He leads you away from your sin. Turn to Jesus for forgiveness. He leads you to a more blessed Triumphal Entry, not into the Jerusalem of this World but into the New Jerusalem. Contemplate the ending of Psalm 23, where we hear these words, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Jesus your Good Shepherd leads you to heaven. Joy will follow all our sadness. Today, tomorrow, in these days of pandemic and all through the days of your earthly life He will lead you. Follow Him. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 John 10:25–30
 John 10:31
 John 10:39
 John 11:16
 Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, #685
 Matthew 16:24
 Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, Page 311.
 Matthew 21:1–11
 Luke 19:39–40
 2 Corinthians 5:21
 Colossians 2:14
 Romans 6:11
 Psalm 23:6