On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him. And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: the same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.
There are really two distinct incidents recorded in these verses, either of which might serve as the theme for a complete address, but I want to try to combine the two incidents. First, we have the Lord riding into Jerusalem and hailed as the Son of David, and then we have the Greeks coming with their quest, “We would see Jesus” (John 12:21).
Our Savior’s mission is rapidly drawing to a close. For three-and-one-half wonderful years He had been moving about through the land of Palestine doing mighty works of power, bearing witness to the testimony that He came to give. Now He had come to Jerusalem in order that He might die, that He might give Himself a ransom for our sins there. At the first it looked as though the people were ready to receive Him as King and that He would not be rejected as He Himself had predicted. But this proved to be just an ephemeral movement, largely participated in by children and those who had been especially benefited by His ministry, who loved Him because of what He was and what He did. On the next day, the day following the visit in the house of Simon the leper, many people had come for the feast of the Passover, which was soon to be celebrated. When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem they went out to meet Him and took branches of palm trees, the palm being the well-known symbol of victory, crying “Hosanna!” or, “Save now.” That is quoted from Psalm 118, which is a Messianic Psalm, setting forth the Lord Jesus as the blessed Son of David. “Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13).
One might say, “Well, at last the Savior is being recognized for what He is, and will be able to take the throne and reign in righteousness, overthrowing all iniquity.” It was just a little remnant of people who really acknowledged Him. The majority of the religious leaders had combined to refuse His claims, and it was not very long after the cries of “Hosanna” before these same leaders stirred up the people in Pilate’s judgment hall to cry, “We have no king but Caesar” (19:15). And so He was definitely rejected when He came as king.
He entered as predicted in the prophetic Word. We are told, “Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon, as it is written” (12:14). Step by step, from His birth right to the very last, the Lord has moved on in exact accord with prophecy. This very last week there were scores of prophecies fulfilled, made many hundreds of years before. In Zechariah’s prophecy we have Him depicted riding into Jerusalem upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass. It is from this book that the Spirit of God now quotes: “As it is written, Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt” (vv. 14-15). There was something striking even in that. Why? We are told in another gospel that the Lord was seated on a colt on which man had never ridden, an unbroken colt. It is not the easiest thing ordinarily to ride an unbroken colt, but this colt seemed instinctively to recognize its Master. Jesus was the Creator of all things, who had stooped in grace to become Man. So He took control of the colt and rode triumphantly into the city as the people spread their garments before Him and shouted their welcome.
Neither were these things understood by His disciples at first. But when Jesus had been glorified, when He had come through the agony of the cross, when He had been raised from the dead and ascended to God’s right hand in heaven, and the Holy Spirit had come, as He did at Pentecost, and opened their eyes to an understanding of the truth they never had before, then remembered they that these things were written of Him and that they had done these things unto Him. It is the work of the Holy Spirit of God to bring to mind the things that God has written in His Word for our instruction, for He wrote the words: “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). And so it is a very simple thing for the Holy Spirit to take these things and open them up to the people of God, calling to mind prophecies and promises that have been long since forgotten until He brings them back to the sphere of consciousness.
“The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle” (John 12:17-18). The raising of Lazarus seemed to have a greater effect on the people than any of His other miracles. We need not wonder at that, for it certainly was His greatest physical miracle, as that of stilling the tempest was the greatest in connection with inanimate nature. By calling forth that man from the grave, who had been four days dead, Jesus demonstrated Himself to be the Resurrection and the Life. The people who had never considered His claims before began to wonder if He were the promised Messiah who was to come when He rode into Jerusalem on this occasion. But there were those who dissented and who eventually succeeded in alienating many of these people from Him. “The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him” (v. 19). And so Isaiah’s words, spoken seven hundred years before as he contemplated the coming of the Messiah, were now being fulfilled: “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (53:1). Those who should have believed, who should have been the first to receive Him, were actually the first to reject Him.
We pass on to the next incident. When the Pharisees were thus deliberately and willfully rejecting the claims of Christ, it must have been a great joy to His heart to meet this first token of interest of the Gentile world in Him and the message He came to bring. We read in verse 20: “And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast.” Now, sometimes when in our English Version we read of Greeks the word is one that means not people who were actually Greeks by nature, but Jews who were born out among the Greeks in the Gentile world. But here it is really Greeks that are mentioned. These Gentiles had come up to the Jews’ feast, the Passover. They were perhaps proselytes. They may have recognized in Judaism a much purer, holier, and better religious system than that to which they had been accustomed among the pagan peoples of whom they formed a part.
There were a great many at that time who were dissatisfied and who were turning away from the gods their fathers had worshipped. Their hearts were yearning for something better, nobler, purer, and truer. And so as the Jews were scattered over all the world, where they had their synagogues and places of prayer, many of these inquiring Gentiles visited the Jewish meeting places and learned something of the one true and living God, and the promise that He had made to Abraham that a Seed was coming through whom the world should be blessed.
These Greeks may have been among them. They had come up to the Passover. They came to worship, we are told, and when in Jerusalem they heard about Jesus. They heard of this marvelous One who had lived among the people three-and-one-half years, who had gone about doing good, healing the sick, and opening the eyes of the blind. Doubtless they put many questions to those who had heard Him, and they would be asking themselves, “Could He be the promised One?” As they listened to the stories about Jesus, one can imagine them comparing notes and saying, “Could this be the Logos for whom Plato longed? Could this be the One that the Jewish Scriptures, which we have been reading, promised, testifying of the coming into the world of the Messiah?”
And so, learning that Jesus was already in the city, they sought out the company of the disciples. They came to Philip, who was of Bethsaida. Why to Philip? Well, his very name would appeal to them. Philip was a Greek name meaning “a lover of horses.” A great Greek king, Philip of Macedon, had made a wonderful name for himself, and this Philip, they may have thought, would have some link of understanding with them. They did not go to Peter, John, James, or to the other disciples. They went to Philip, who bore a Greek name, and they said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” The thing they desired must have delighted Philip’s heart, for these Greeks were strangers. Gentiles from the outside who longed to see and know Jesus. Philip must have felt, “Oh, the day of our Lord’s triumph must be near. The Gentiles are already coming, just as the Old Testament said, to recognize His claims.”
Philip called Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to the Lord Jesus. I fancy they were most eager as they said, “Master, will you come and meet some Gentiles who are here, who want to see and to know You, and who are interested in the message You give?” I have no doubt Jesus revealed Himself to these Greeks, but we are not told that He did. We are told that He answered saying, “The hour is come, that the Son of Man should be glorified” (John 12:23). He recognized in this request of these Gentiles a kind of first-fruits of the great harvest from among the nations. He was about to be rejected by His own people, but the Scripture had said that if Israel rejected Him, He should become a light to lighten the Gentiles. So here is the first evidence of it in these Greeks with their request, “We would see Jesus.”
He saw in their request an evidence of what will take place in the whole Gentile world in the years to follow. He then told the disciples very seriously and very solemnly that He could not fully reveal Himself either to Jew or Gentile until He had passed through death and resurrection. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (v. 24). What does He really mean? Well, He was the corn of wheat, and if He did not die there would be no salvation for any poor sinner. Jesus did not come to save men by His instruction. He did not come to save men by His example. He is not saying to men: “If you will try to live in the way that I live, and follow My steps, you will be saved.” Let me say again—as I have said many a time before, and that at the risk of being misunderstood—no one was ever saved by following Jesus. It is after we are saved that we begin to follow Him. He left us an example that we should follow, but we need to know Him as Redeemer. We need to receive divine life from Him before we can follow Him.
Jesus is not simply the great Teacher or Example. Jesus must suffer and die in order that men and women might be saved. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Apart from His death, the beautiful life of Jesus could not have saved one poor sinner. Instead of that, it would only condemn men. If there is anything that would show men how sinful they are, it would be to line up alongside the Lord Jesus. If you are pretty well satisfied with yourself, and want to see how wicked and corrupt and sinful you are in the sight of God, read these four Gospels, consider the life that Jesus lived, and you will soon see how far short you come. “He abideth alone.” He was the sinless One, the spotless One, the only begotten Son of the Father, and the One who could say, “I do always those things that please him” (8:29). He was the only Man who could turn to His worst enemies and say, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” (v. 46). His humanity was absolutely holy, and so He abode alone in His life here on earth.
He added, “But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” He went to the cross, and upon that cross He gave Himself a ransom for our sins. He died that He might redeem us. He poured forth His most precious blood that we might be cleansed from all our iniquities. And now think of the millions down through the so-called Christian centuries who have found life and peace and salvation through His atoning death. The corn of wheat has indeed fallen into the ground in death, and there has been a great harvest. “If it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
Notice the challenge to those who trust Him in the verses that follow. If we profess to receive Him and take Him as our Savior, naturally we follow Him, and we become His disciples. And so He tells us, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; but he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (12:25).
To the worldling it always looks as though a Christian is throwing away his life when he gives up worldly follies and pleasures and devotes himself to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. But he who does throw away his life in this respect actually finds it. The worldling thinks he knows life at its best, but it is only the Christian who really enters into and enjoys the more blessed, deeper life. He enters into life at its highest, its richest, and its best.
Jesus said, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be” (v. 26). There is a promise for every believer. You and I are given the privilege of not only believing in His name, but suffering for His sake, following in His steps, bearing shame and ignominy for Jesus’ sake, and some day God the Father is going to honor all of those who have borne shame for the name of His blessed Son.
Now, having spoken of the work of the cross, it would seem as though the soul of Jesus already began to enter into the dark shadow that was involved in His being made sin, for He said, “Now is my soul troubled” (v. 27a). What troubled Him? The fact that there on the cross He was to endure the pent-up wrath of God, that He was to be dealt with in judgment in order that we might be dealt with in grace. And all that disturbed His soul. He could not have been man in perfection and holiness if He did not shrink from being made sin for us. “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I [into the world. I came into the world to die, to give myself a ransom for all]” (v. 27). And so instead of asking to be saved from that hour He prays that the Father’s name might be glorified. Then, we are told, there came a voice from heaven, and this is the third time in the experience of our Lord Jesus that there came such a voice from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (v. 28).
When Jesus passed through the cross, God glorified His name by raising Him from the dead. He has glorified His name by setting His own Son at His right hand in highest heaven. He will yet glorify His name when He sends Jesus back into this scene to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.