After the whole Lazarus event in the Gospel of John, we see Jesus back in Bethany ready to go face those who wanted to arrest him. He knew he was going to die. His friends now knew he would die too. So, he sets out from Bethany to Jerusalem. John writes, “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.”
They start peeling the branches off the palm trees, and they go out to him while he descends the Mt of Olives, which is on the east side of the city. They’re also singing their traditional Passover songs, Psalms 113–118, which were always sung during the Passover celebration. As they go out to him to welcome him into town, they’re singing the section toward the end of Psalm 118: “Save us now we pray”—hoshia na in Hebrew. Though here it’s transliterated into Greek as hosanna. They’re singing, “Save us now we pray!” OR “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” And they add to their song that he’s the King of Israel!
Jesus seeks out a young donkey. He sits on it to ride it into the city, which only reinforces the crowd’s celebration of him as he shows them that he’s the coming king prophesied in Zechariah 9. Riding in on the colt as the true King of Zion, he’s playing into what they’re already saying about him. Of course, this is all lost on Jesus’ disciples, who wouldn’t see the meaning behind all of it until Jesus was glorified.
John writes that “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.” Even though his closest disciples didn’t entirely understand it, those strangers who were with Martha and Mary in Bethany as Jesus returned to call Lazarus out of the grave knew that Jesus was not only beyond anything they’d ever seen, but, he was the one they had been waiting for. That’s why they’re all out there in the first place. The Lazarus event happened months ago. People have been talking about it for months—waiting in anticipation to see if Jesus would show his face again even though there’s a warrant out for his arrest. There’s just so much drama here—months of asking: will he show his face? What else is he capable of doing? And now he’s here!
So, the Pharisees—who want to arrest him in the first place—they’re telling each-other that they’ve lost. Just look at everyone’s reaction when Jesus comes into town. They all know that Jesus has raised back to life Lazarus—a local. Remember that Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem. So, they say to each-other, “Look, the world has gone after him.” That’s their takeaway here—the world has gone after Jesus. To them, of course, this is a negative thing. But what an amazingly comforting thought.
There weren’t only people from Jerusalem there for the feast. They weren’t only from Judea either. Remember that there are Greek colonies all throughout the area, as well as Roman colonies—along the coastline as well as up north by the Sea of Galilee. John writes that there were God-fearing Greeks there in Jerusalem too. And they approach one of Jesus’ close disciples, Philip.
Jesus had called Philip to follow him very early on in John 1. He called him while he was in Bethsaida, which was the same town that Peter and Andrew were from. Then Philip is the one who brings Nathanael to Jesus. So, Philipp being from the Galilee region has an accent that might have been recognizable to these Greeks as it would have made him stand out from the people who were from Jerusalem. This happens to Peter in the Gospel of Matthew as he waits in the court of the high priest. They knew he was with Jesus because his accent betrayed him as a Galilean.
So these Greeks come to Philipp as all of this is going on and they say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” What the Pharisees had said was coming true—the world was going after him. The world was looking to Jesus. This wasn’t just a Bethany thing or a Jerusalem thing anymore. Word of what happened with Lazarus had reached far and wide. The people have spoken: we want to see Jesus. So, Philipp takes this request to Andrew. They’re from the same town after all—they’ve got a special connection—and both of them together take the request to Jesus.
Now it’s time for Jesus to speak in the midst of all of this. He’s played into all of the hype. He acknowledges that what people are saying about him is right—even if they underestimate him. And he tells Philipp and Andrew that the time has finally come. He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He compares himself to a grain of wheat. It has to fall into the earth, and it has to die. And if it dies, then it will bear produce. It will bring about something new.
He says that this goes for everyone else as well. If you love your life now, then you’re going to lose it. If you give it up now, you will have life eternally. Then Jesus says that those who serve him don’t really have a choice in the matter. You have to follow him in this. You have to go with him.
Just think of all the people in the crowds, all of those who went out to Bethany, everyone from all around Judea, even from beyond, even the Greeks—some of them knew that there was a warrant out for Jesus’ arrest at the time—the locals certainly did. But this massive crowd—made up of people from all over—singing his praises as he comes into Jerusalem as the new King of Zion—if they had heard what he said, that they would have to give up their lives to follow him, would they still be asking to see Jesus? Would they still hail him as their savior, as their King?
When we follow Jesus, we give something up. When we follow Jesus, we don’t get to put ourselves first anymore. Our pride takes a back seat. Our selfishness and egotism take a back seat. Sometimes that means giving up things that are near and dear to us. Sometimes it even means giving up our hopes and our dreams in life. It certainly means that we give up rejecting God. Giving up our sin and our rebellion against him we come to ask for his mercy. Giving up authority over our own lives we trust in him. We die with him. Because, in love he laid his own life down for us.
When Jesus invites us to join him, it’s with the promise that he will see us through it. The crowds proclaimed Hosanna, save us now we pray. Well, that’s how he saves us. And even to this day, we pray the same thing. Jesus, save me from my sin. Save me from myself. Save me from all evil. Save me from the darkness of this world. And he does.
Is Jesus the rightful King of Zion? Absolutely. Just not in the way that they thought. It’s way beyond anything that they ever could have imagined. Jesus goes on to give up his life, and if they thought that raising Lazarus back to life was something, then they were in for an even more unbelievable surprise. Jesus takes his own life up again. Jesus’ own return from the dead was nothing like Lazarus’. Lazarus was raised with a finite, mortal body. Jesus raised himself back to immortality.
Jesus tells Philipp and Andrew, “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” When we trust in Jesus, we too will be raised back to life again. One day we will see Jesus, our Lord, our Savior, our King.