Two weeks ago I shared that I had done a little boxing in my life. Well one of my favorite boxing movies is Rocky IV. The opening fight with Apollo Creed and then Rocky’s climatic win over the Russian was fantastic storytelling. But really, every Rocky movie is good in it’s own right. Well, at least the first four. I’m the type of person who loves a good story that drives the characters. Give me a good story in a movie and I can overlook a lot of stuff.
To me, the Rocky series is a great story driven series set of movies, that build upon each other. Take Rocky, the original movie. Here Apollo Creed is the number one boxer, and he gives some no name a chance based solely on his nickname, the Italian Stallion. Apollo takes the bout as a publicity stunt, but Rocky takes it as his chance to prove himself. Really, his last chance. His boxing carrier is going nowhere, and he’s constantly told, he’s a bum. The whole movie is character driven and has a story that easily captures a person.
Then we get to the match. For just over eight intense minutes Rocky gives everything. Apollo is taken back at the shear ferocity of his opponent. And what should have been an easy win, ends with Rocky coming within inches of beating the champ. The great line at the end is Apollo saying, “Ain’t going to be no rematch.” To which Rocky replies, “Don’t want one.”
It was never about beating Apollo for Rocky, but proving he was no bum. That he could go the distance with the greats. As the audience, we want Rocky to win. We walk with him through this whole movie, with all the baggage that surrounds him. And when he gets into the ring, we’re ready for the hero to win. And in that last round, as Rocky is laying those last hits, we’re on the edge ready to cheer his victory. Then the decision comes down and Rocky looses. Yeah it stinks, but it’s satisfying at the same time.
What we thought was going to happen didn’t, but it ended great all the same. This is what brings us to today, a moment in time, that the people thought was going to go one way, but instead when another.
Let’s open up to the Gospel of John, chapter 12, dropping down to verse 12. And as we open up to John 12:12, let’s look at where we find ourselves up to this point in John’s account of Jesus’ life.
The Gospel of John is unique in telling the story of Jesus’ life. The other Gospel writers, spend a lot of time walking us through the entire life of Jesus, but John, spends most of his time on the last week of Jesus’ life. Where the other Gospel writers walk us through how Jesus connects with different aspects of the Old Testament, or help us answer the question of who Jesus is, or give us one of the best historically accurate ancient accounts of anyones life, John brings our focus on who Jesus is and what it was like to walk with him that last week.
Chapter 12 is the start of that last week. It begins on Saturday with Mary pouring perfume and anointing Jesus’ feet. Jesus recognized this as his preparation for burial in less than a week. It’s after all this, that we come to John chapter 12, starting in verse 12, let’s read together.
“12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’
“14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
“15 ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’
“16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
“17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’”
This is what I love of about the Scriptures, their honest. Here Jesus is making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and, from the perspective of most of the disciples, he’s going to conquer it. The disciples believe that Jesus is about to overthrow the Roman Empire and usher in a new Israelite kingdom that will last forever.
Yet, as all of this is happening, Jesus continues to do things, that his disciples had no idea of why he was doing them. Jesus rides in on a donkey and the disciples are just going with the flow. They don’t know why Jesus would ride a donkey, because all they cared about is that Jesus was coming to conquer.
The disciples didn’t know or didn’t realize that Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem on that donkey, was another prophecy that he was fulfilling. They didn’t realize that the prophet Zechariah had written, “Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Instead, the disciples were swept up in the moment of triumph, but not for the triumph they were expecting. They might have found it strange that Jesus was coming in on a donkey, I mean in Jeremiah 17:25 it talks about rulers coming into Jerusalem with chariots and on horses.
In fact, the Romans had a tradition where the triumphal general would ride into the city and up to the temple of Jupiter leading a procession on a white horse. So the sight of Jesus on a colt of a donkey might have been strange, but they didn’t know and they didn’t care. In their mind Jesus was coming in as a king, and he had all the power to back it up.
But not just the disciples, there were people there that had seen Lazarus raised from the dead. I’m sure in their minds, if this guy Jesus could do that, then he could do whatever he wanted. He could ride in on a centipede and it would work.
And as the joy of the people elevated, the fear of the Pharisees grew. If this Jesus really was the coming Messiah, the one who would overthrow the Roman government, then a lot would change. And in their minds, not for their good. They had already seen how Jesus didn’t conform to their man-made religious rules. They had already seen that Jesus would stand against them, even if they were doctrinally in line with a lot of what Jesus said, they still couldn’t control him.
But everyone one of those people missed what was really going on. Everyone thought Jesus was coming into to set up a Messianic kingdom and overthrow the Romans. Some were elated that it was going to happen, and some were terrified, but they were all wrong. Jesus rode, not on the white horse to come conquer, but on the donkey as servant to die.
Right now in our country we want to see the Savior riding in on the white horse. Overthrowing the corruption and injustice we see. And someday it will happen. Jesus assures us that there will be a day when a trumpet will sound and all knees will bow at the coming of Jesus. But until then, our Savior rides a donkey. He comes in humbleness. He comes to bring people out of the kingdom of darkness, and into the kingdom of light. He comes to bring hope where there is none, to bring dead things to life.
We might think that we need Jesus to come in and overthrow the powers of this world, and we do, but do we realize what that means? For us believers, that’s a comforting thought. Our Savior, the One who died for us, the One who brought us into his family, into his eternal life, he has returned! We get to live in the place where every tear will cease. Where there will be no pain or suffering. Where every virus, cancer, mental illness, and disease will be gone. Where there will be no abuse, no victims, no murder, no hatred. All of that will cease on that glorious day that Christ returns.
Yet it won’t be a glorious day for some. In the book of Amos, God speaks these words, “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. 19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. 20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness (Amos 5:18-20)?”
In his first letter, John writes this in verses 5-7, “5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
For those that walk in the light of Christ, his coming will be the coming of a new day. A day in the perfection of God. But for those that have not turned to God, that day will be a day of darkness. It will be a day where there is no turning from the evil of this world. Where all the pain and suffering that has occurred in this world, would seem like heaven for those who do not turn to Christ.
We as believers, long for the day when we can shout hosannas at the triumphal return of Christ, just as the people shouted hosannas at the triumphal entry of Jesus. Yet in Luke’s account, of this moment, as Jesus peaked the hill that overlooked Jerusalem we read this, “41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
This is the heart of God, “9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”
We wonder why Jesus hasn’t returned. Why has he waited so long? The answer is, because on that day, when Christ returns, we will rejoice, but many will not. And God desires that none would perish.
As we celebrate Palm Sunday and we go into this holy week of remembrance, we must be exuberant in our worship of God, and impassioned in sharing the Gospel with the people around us who do not know Jesus as their Savior. Every time we think about how great, glad, and happy it will be when Christ’s return, let us also seek God to use us to bring others to himself.
Christ is coming, let us not just be looking forward to that day, but working diligently as the Lord leads, to be about Gospel business. So that on that day we will stand fully ready for his return, with clear understanding of what that day means for the world around us. That only through the cross of Christ can anyone be saved. Not of their own works, but by only what Jesus has done on their behalf. And when Christ returns, there will be many who will see it as the darkness day in the history of mankind, because they will be lost to the presence of God.
My challenge this week is a two fold prayer. First praise God for the return of Christ. That we who have placed our trust into him have found hope and peace in the presence of God. And then ask him to use you until that day arrives. That as far as you’re able, sharing the hope that is in Christ. A simple prayer, for unsimple times.
Let us be about our Father’s business, so that at the coming of the King back to this world, we will be able to stand confident that we have done all that we have been called to do. And that we may truly be able to shout, “‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’” Amen.