Teaching series from John

Disappointing Expectations

John 12:12-26

Teaching t05631


The setting is Palm Sunday. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead, and news of it has spread like wild-fire. Hundreds of thousands of Jews are in Jerusalem for Passover (vs 1).

The people and his disciples have clear expectations about what Jesus should be like, do, give his followers, etc. But he disappoints their expectations at virtually every turn. As we study this passage, we may find him disappointing some of our expectations as well . . . 

The Kind of Messiah He Is

Read vs 9-19. This is commonly called Jesus' "triumphal entry." This term refers to what the Roman world called a parousia. When a ruler visited a city, the people would come out to greet him in a grand spectacle (TICKER-TAPE PARADE), and then return with him into the city where he would be enthroned or honored in some lavish way.

The crowds had probably just seen the entries of Herod and Pilate. They rode in on magnificent war horses, dressed in shining apparel. "A Roman procession is dramatic and splendid; the great golden Roman eagle leads the way, followed by the pennants of Rome, the Roman soldiers and the chariots. The time of feasts are occasions for such drama and for the show of omnipotent Roman presence." [1]

So this is Jesus' parousia--he is the Messiah King and the Jewish people are welcoming him. But as we study this parousia more closely, we see a clash between what kind of Messiah the people want Jesus to be and what kind of Messiah he insists on being.

By their actions, the people communicate that they want a certain kind of Messiah: a ruling, glorified King. They signal this desire in two ways:

They spread out palm branches before him. They had done the same thing for Simon Maccabees when he entered Jerusalem triumphant over the Greeks (1 Macc. 13:51). By greeting Jesus in this way, they are probably signaling their desire for him to deliver them from the hated Romans.

They cry out "Hosanna!" and quote Psalm 118:26. "Hosanna" means "Save us!" and Psalm 118 is a messianic psalm. They are imploring Jesus as the Messiah-King to deliver inaugurate God's kingdom on earth by delivering them from Rome's power.

But Jesus (who is the rightful King of God's Kingdom) purposefully chooses to enter in a very different way. He comes in peasant's clothes, accompanied by common people, and riding a donkey colt. What a disappointing contrast this must have been for the people! Why did he do this?

He did it to affirm that he is their promised Messiah. Zechariah 9:9 predicted that Israel's King would come to them in this way.

But he also did it to communicate a different purpose for this coming. If anyone had the right to demand praise and glory, he did. And indeed, one day he will come as a conquering King and every knee shall bow. But first he comes as a humble, self-effacing servant. This is in keeping with Jesus' entire life and ministry: "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve." He didn't ride in on a war stallion because he wasn't headed for a coronation. He rode in on a donkey colt because he was headed for a crucifixion.

So they expect him to be a certain kind of Messiah, but he disappoints this expectation. And when they realized he had no intention of playing this role, they dropped him like a hot rock. How ironic it is that the very psalm they sang hailing him as Messiah predicted their own rejection (Psalm 118:22,23)!!

So he disappointed their expectation about what kind of Messiah be should be. But he also disappointed their expectations about who he should come to help . . . 

Who He Came To Help

Even though the mobs of Jews were singing him praises and hailing him as Messiah, Jesus isn't smiling and pleased. He knows their "faith" is based on erroneous expectations and superficial. In fact, Lk. 19:41 says he wept because of this. But someone else's response does get his attention. Read vs 20-23. When he hears that Gentiles (Greeks) are seeking him, he sees this request as the signal beginning his "glorification."

In other words, Jesus' concern went way beyond his own ethnic group. They expected the Messiah to share their hatred of the goyim and care only about "our people," but he had come to save the whole world. They wanted him to shatter the Gentiles so they could rule over them--but he had come to save them! Throughout his public ministry, he had expressed his concern for the non-Jewish people of the world. He had constantly tried to break through his disciples' bigotry about this issue. Shortly before this time, he had reiterated this concern (John 10:16). Now some of those "sheep" were hearing his voice, and he was delighted and determined to lay down his life so they could become part of his flock. Ultimately, the ones who insisted that he help only their own people were not even in his flock at all.

The church is not immune from this erroneous expectation. Through most of church history, Christians have consistently tended to see themselves as enemies of the people outside their group or culture. They have had a strong tendency to remake Jesus as one who cares about them more than others who do not yet know him. But this "fortress" mentality is directly antithetical to Jesus' purpose. He loves the church, but he also loves the world and he expects us to do the same. He says God throws a party when one sinner repents, and he expects us to be involved in that party.

The Way He Helps Us

Read vs 24. Why the sudden switch from theology to botany and agronomy? Obviously, Jesus is still talking about the salvation he brings and the way he will be glorified. He enunciates the key principle of his first coming: life-out-of-death.

GRAIN OF WHEAT: The wheat seed contains physical life, but this life cannot reproduce unless the seed "dies." Only when it goes into the earth and the outer husk decays does the kernel germinate and produce wheat stalks with dozens of other seeds.

What does this have to do with Christianity? Everything!

Jesus is the grain of wheat. He alone possesses the zoe-life of God. We are alienated from God because of our sins. This is why Jesus didn't come the first time to change our external circumstances. If he had set up God's kingdom like they wanted, they would have all been excluded!

As God-incarnate, he came to give us God's life by dying for our sins so we can share his life. Only when he dies as the sacrifice for our sins can the life of God be given to others. Only when Jesus as the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies can he become the Bread of life who feeds others (Jn. 6:51).

This is what Jesus meant in vs 32,33 (read). It was through his crucifixion that God's life would become available to the whole world. The Jews were only familiar with the Messianic predictions that fit their expectations (vs 34), but the Old Testament prophets included predictions that God's Servant would make forgiveness available to the whole world through his sacrificial death (Isa. 52:13-15).

The Way We Appropriate His Life

But there is more to this life-out-of-death principle. It not only describes the way in which Jesus makes God's life available to us. It also describes the way we appropriate his life for ourselves.

Read vs 25. It is only as we "die" by "hating" our lives that we gain this zoe-life for ourselves. What does this mean?

It does not mean that we must literally hate ourselves as persons, or physically abuse ourselves ascetically, or kill ourselves in a fit of self-disgust. The Bible emphatically rejects this false form of spirituality.

Rather, it means turning away from false sources of life and humbly receiving his forgiveness.

If you spend your life trying to find fulfillment, meaning, etc. in the ways that come naturally (MATERIALISM; ROMANTIC LOVE; POWER & FAME), you will lose everything. Your life will be a complete failure! You will never experience the fulfillment you seek in this life, and you will be eternally alienated from God in the next life.

But if you are willing to reject all this and come to Christ with faith and humility, God will give you eternal life >> GOSPEL.

But there is yet another application of this principle to those of us who have already received Christ (read vs 26). This principle is taught over and over again throughout the epistles. For the clearest example, look at 2 Cor. 4:7-12 (OH).

Note the same idea of the life trapped inside the husk (vs 7). Christians possess the very life of God!

Note the principle that for that life to be manifested to and multiplied in others, we must undergo a divinely-orchestrated process of death (vs 10-12).

This death process is described in vs 8,9 as voluntarily suffering so that others may receive his life. Most of you know that Christ has come to give you abundant life. But how many of you realize that the purpose of the Christian life is to give this life away to others--and that this will mean an ongoing process of death? Consider Paul's description of this "death" process:

"Afflicted" - The nagging negative circumstances you will need to put up with in order to minister. You will probably make less money, have fewer creature comforts, deal with dangerous people (JESUS & PAUL).

"Perplexed" - The confusion and bewilderment you sometimes experience when you follow God--what he's trying to do through trials, dry times, no BLUEPRINT for the future, etc.

"Persecuted" - The rejection you will inevitably face because of your stand for Christ (FAMILY; FRIENDS; OTHER CHRISTIANS).

"Struck down" - The apparent failures you will experience in ministry and sanctification in spite of your prayer and effort (JESUS).

Is it worth it? You bet it is! To experience the sustaining power of God ("but not"s and vs 16) and to see Christ work through us to impact others (vs 12) is the greatest joy of human existence. Having this is worth more than all the suffering we experience along the way.


[1] Earl F. Palmer, The Intimate Gospel (Waco: Word Books, 1978), p. 110.