Sunday’s sermon: Testimony is Sincere

Before the Scripture reading:

  • Before we read this morning’s Scripture reading, tell me what we’re going to hear in the Palm Sunday story. Think about it in terms of a play being staged. What are the essential elements of the Palm Sunday narrative? (And no peaking at your Scripture reading this morning.)
    • Who are the characters?
      • Jesus
      • Crowd
      • Disciples
      • Donkey
    • What’s the setting?
      • Jerusalem
      • Road
    • What are the props that we need for this scene?
      • Palm branches
      • Cloaks
    • Okay … keep those elements in mind as we read John’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem this morning.

Text used – John 12:12-27

  • So of all those things we talked about before we read our passage for this morning, what elements were a part of John’s narrative? [pause for answers] What elements weren’t there?
    • Let me help jog your memory a little bit. – read Mk’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry: When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task, saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’” They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.[1] → Other than a few central elements, that’s significantly different from what we read this morning, isn’t it?
      • Similarities
        • Crowds shouting “Hosanna!”
        • Jesus riding a donkey’s colt
        • Palm branches (Though did you notice that Mark didn’t actually call them palms?)
        • Quoting one of the First Testament prophets, Zechariah: Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you. He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.[2]
        • But that’s basically where the similarities end, right? Mark gives us a lot more detail about the actual entry itself – about the act of Jesus riding into the city. But John gives us a lot more detail about the acts surrounding that central event.
          • More detail/background about the crowd
          • More detail about what was happening with the Pharisees (sort of a behind-the-scenes look)
          • More detail about what transpired btwn Jesus and the disciples directly following their entry into the Holy City
          • Mark – as well as the other synoptic gospels, Luke and Matthew – give us fanfare. John’s gospel, on the other hand, gives us … you might be able to guess this by now … testimony.
            • Scholar: John focuses squarely on the entry into Jerusalem and includes details that serve only to affirm the event as a momentous occasion, a sign of Jesus’ lordship, and a foreshadowing of his final victory. … As with so many passages in John, the would-be mysterious sayings and doings of Jesus [touched on by the other three gospels] are revealed from the outset as portents of good news.[3]
  • One huge clue that points toward this good news – giant Biblical neon arrow – that’s only present in Jn’s account = reference to Jesus’s recent miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead – text: The crowd who had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead were testifying about him. That’s why the crowd came to meet him, because they had heard about this miraculous sign that he had done.[4]
    • Significance of “testifying” in this passage = emphasized by the Gr. → So here’s the thing about ancient Greek. Sentences aren’t structured the way we structure them in English. The myriad of different endings on the words tells you what the subject and object are and which verbs go with which parts of the sentence. But sentences are rarely laid out the way we lay them out in English.
      • English = subject + verb + object → e.g.: He reads books.
        • Subject: He
        • Verb: reads
        • Object: books
      • Instead, in ancient Greek, the sentences are structured by importance – the most crucial thoughts or words or phrases are placed at the beginning of the sentence. And that verse about the way the crowd that had been present at Lazarus’ resurrection was testifying about Jesus … I bet you can guess what the first word of that Greek sentence is. Testifying.
    • And the testimony of that crowd – that crowd that watched Jesus weep and then call a dead man out of his tomb – brought this crowd that greeted Jesus with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!”
      • Chain of testimony was sincere enough – candid and genuine and wholehearted enough – to bring more and more and more people to Jesus’ presence
      • Chain of testimony = so obvious it even has the Pharisees grumbling – text: Therefore, the Pharisees said to each other, “See! You’ve accomplished nothing! Look! The whole world is following him!”[5]
  • And just in case that foreshadowing about raising Lazarus from the dead wasn’t pointed enough (which is clearly wasn’t because our Scripture this morning said: His disciples didn’t understand these things at first. After he was glorified, they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.[6]) … just in case call that foreshadowing wasn’t enough, Jesus gets even more pointed with his words toward the end of today’s passage. – text: Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.[7]
    • As the daughter of a farmer and the granddaughter of not one but two prolific gardeners, this is probably my favorite of Jesus’ sayings.so much testimony in just a few words
      • Speaks truth about the effort that will be required → Anyone that has done any planting – whether it’s a single houseplant, a backyard garden, or hundred of acres of farm fields – knows that planting takes work. Your hands have to get dirty. Your brow might get sweaty.
      • Work has to be intentional → Especially when you’re talking about something larger like a garden or a farm field, you can’t just plant willy nilly, scattering seeds wherever you feel like it. You have to make the space in the ground. You have to put in the seed. You have to cover it up. You have to pay attention to where and how your seed is planted. How deep should it be? Is there an “up” side and a “down” side? (I know I can’t be the only one who’s planted bulbs upside down before!) Does it need shade or full sun or something in between?
      • Work has to be ongoing → You have to water it. You have to water it again. You have to weed around it. Maybe it needs some sort of fertilizer or it needs to be sprayed for bugs. Maybe you need to build a fence to keep out critters that want to try to eat what you’re trying to grow. You have to water it again. You have to prune it. Planting seeds is never a one-and-done endeavor.
    • And all of that comes into play in Jesus’ words here.
      • Speaks truth about the effort that will be required of Jesus
        • Work that is intentional → Nothing reveals just how intentional – just how purposeful and willing and deliberate – Jesus’ actions are than the last verse of our Scripture reading this morning (again, Jesus’ own words): Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time.[8]
          • Sheds a stark but sincere light on Jesus’ testimony → Even Jesus himself had reservations about what was to come, but he knew that this was part of his story – part of the testimony that his very life was meant to be – and so he kept on telling it. “This is the reason I have come to this time.”
        • Work that is ongoing → Jesus story … became the apostles’ story … became the story told by the Church throughout the millennia … has become our story.
          • Story of love
          • Story of grace
          • Story of service
          • Story of gathering in
          • Story of making space
          • Story of hope
      • Jesus also speaks truth about the effort that will be asked of any who follow after him – Jesus’ own words: Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.[9]
        • Scholar: After all, taking on a new identity means saying good-bye to another. When we welcome strangers, we invite what is strange about them to come along too. When outsiders are allowed in, what was familiar no longer is. … Yet unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. Being a servant of Christ, being a part of the church, is to be in an honored position, but being one of his life-giving grains means inevitably to fall to the earth. … This passage reminds us that at the heart of Christianity is a bunch of unsettling truths: some things we are familiar with need to die, in order for new life to arise; the work of the Spirit will not be contained in set patterns; and anyone and everyone who wants to get involved should do so. In the end, the blessing and honor of God come not to those who follow guidelines, but to those who give up their lives in service.[10] → It’s a story that’s true. It’s a story that’s powerful. It’s a story that’s worth telling. Again. Amen.

[1] Mk 11:1-11.

[2] Zech 9:9.

[3] Alexander Wimberly. “John 12:12-19 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 82.

[4] Jn 12:17-18.

[5] Jn 12:19.

[6] Jn 12:16.

[7] Jn 12:23-24.

[8] Jn 12:27.

[9] Jn 12:25-26.

[10] Alexander Wimberly. “John 12:20-26 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 88, 90.

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