FACES IN THE CROWD

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TEXT: John 12:12-18

INTRODUCTION:

Imagine yourself in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. There was a great crowd there that day that had come to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. I can imagine it was something like what we see in PICC or Roxas Blvd., and the Fort every New Year’s Eve.

Josephus, the notable Jewish historian, estimated that over two million people were involved in the great Passover Feast.  It is known that 256,500 lambs were slain at one Passover and that each lamb represented at least ten worshippers. Teeming thousands from all over the world were flooding into the city to observe the Passover. The mass of people and the necessary housing and food arrangements to handle such a mass of people can hardly be imagined.

An excitable carnival-like atmosphere was bound to prevail over such a mob of people. Lots of people jamming the streets of the city, getting ready to celebrate. But as they prepared to observe one of the most important feasts that the Jewish people celebrated all year, word came that Jesus was on his way into the city.

It is a rare thing that all four gospels record the same event in Jesus’ life. Sometimes one or two gospels record an event; some events in Jesus’ life are recorded in three gospel accounts. But what happens on this day in Jerusalem is recorded by all four of the gospel writers. For that reason alone, we should consider what happened here to be important.

The crowd gathers as Jesus rides into the city on the colt of a donkey and they begin to wave palm branches and shout their welcome to Jesus. But who were the faces in that crowd that day? If you were there, who would you see? And what were they thinking?

I believe that as we examine the crowd that was present that particular day, we may find ourselves and some of those around us.

1. THE ROMAN SOLDIERS.

As the crowd begins to honor Jesus, I’m sure it gets the attention of the Roman soldiers. There were probably a large number of soldiers who gathered to see what was going on, for they were charged with keeping the Jewish people under control. After all, the Romans were the ones in control of this country.

What did this demonstration mean to the Romans? Nothing is recorded about the Roman viewpoint, but it is certain that they kept a close watch that day. During the annual Passover feast, it was not uncommon for some of the Jewish zealots to try to arouse the people to fight back against the Roman occupation of their city and their country. Maybe they thought this parade was that kind of an event. Maybe they were expecting to have to quell a riot.

But then here comes Jesus, riding on a donkey’s colt. I imagine that some of the Roman soldiers must have smiled at the “Triumphal Entry,” because it was nothing like their own triumphal celebrations back in Rome. I’m sure the Roman soldiers who were there were smiling and laughing a little. They’d probably seen this type of tribute before.

Whenever a Roman general was victorious on foreign soil, killing at least 5,000 of the enemy, and gaining new territory, he was given a “Roman triumph” celebration when he returned to the city. It was the Roman equivalent of the Philippines’ parade, only with much more splendor.

The general would ride into the city in a gold-covered chariot with white stallions pulling it, a symbol of a warrior. The general would display the trophies he had won. The enemy leaders he had captured would be paraded in chains down the street behind the general. The parade ended at the arena where some of the captives entertained the people by fighting wild beasts.

Yes, I think some of these soldiers probably laughed at the antics of the Jerusalem crowd that day, and at the sight of this so-called King. What real king would ride on a dumb donkey? What powerful leader would stoop so low? They probably found it amusing. Compared to a “Roman triumph,” our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem was nothing.

Isn’t that how some people treat Jesus today? They are amused by the stories about Him. They laugh at Him and at people who worship Him. How could sophisticated people be so ignorant they say? After all, what educated person would believe some of the things that people say He did? Make the blind to see. The lame to walk. The deaf to hear. Walk on water. Calm storms with a word. Feed 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two fish! Who in their right mind would believe such things? So they just laugh at Christians who have faith in this Jesus of Nazareth.

2. THE CROWD.

And then there was probably another group of people there that day. If we go back to some earlier verses in John 12, we see those people.

John 12:9 (NIV) 9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

Before Jesus had come to Jerusalem, he spent some time with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. And we see another large crowd there. But John says they were there, not just to see Jesus, but to see this man Lazarus who, as the story goes, had been raised from the dead.

In the Holy City was swelling as thousands of pilgrims flooded the city of David to participate in the Passover feast — the numbers often reached as high nearly 2 to 3 million.

But this year as the faithful pilgrims arrived, they had more than the Passover on their minds… Jesus was on the lips and in the thoughts and minds of nearly everyone in Jerusalem. Word of his miracles had spread like a brush fire: the feeding of the 5,000, the healing of leprosy, the restoring of sight — the lame made to walk, the forgiving of sins and the raising from the dead of Lazarus and others…. The multitudes in Jerusalem were with great intensity looking for Jesus… they went to the market place and they looked in the temple and they asked one another,

“WHAT TO YOU THINK? IS HE COMING? IS JESUS COMING TO THE FEAST?  DO YOU THINK HE WILL COME? O I HOPE HE DOES, YOU NOW WE COULD BE WITNESSING SOMETHING GREAT THIS PASSOVER — MAYBE THE MESSIAH’S KINGDOM WILL COME NOW…

This crowd wanted to see what was going on there. These people were there to see the show, not to see the Master. They wanted to know what was going on, they weren’t really interested in why Jesus was there. These are people who were half-sincere seekers. They see the crowd gathering at the dinner Jesus was attending, and they wanted to be a part of the party.

The crowd came to see the spectacular, that is, to see Lazarus, the man rumored to have been raised from the dead. They were anxious to see one who had experienced such a phenomenal event and to see if a resurrected man was any different. They heard the noise and wanted to find out what it was all about.  They probably got caught up in the excitement and began to sing and shout and wave palm branches but they still weren’t a hundred percent convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. Perhaps they hadn’t heard him speak, or maybe they didn’t know anyone whose life had been changed or who had been healed. So they were there for themselves to find out.

And the crowd came to a social occasion, a festive atmosphere. They came to the banquet. Wherever Jesus was there was action and things were happening. It was where everyone was gathering…They wanted to join the party…

Isn’t that why some people come to church today, to see the show and join the party? They don’t come to worship the King, but they come to see who’s singing. They come because their friends are there. They come to socialize. They come, maybe, to see if they, like Lazarus, can get in on the good stuff. And look out if there’s food. Don’t get in the way or you might get knocked down if there’s a meal. They’re there to get what they can, not to worship the King. They’re there to see the miracles, not to see the King.

John 12:18 (NIV) 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.

You know, I think, sadly, that’s why some churches are becoming megachurches. There drawing the crowds, yes. Lot’s of people are attending. But people are coming because of the great concerts that are available. They’re there because of the orchestra. They come for the sing-along. They come for the show. They come so they can say they go to that big church that always has its name in the paper because of some event that’s taking place. They come because they are easily influenced. They come for the events and the exciting atmosphere. And if that’s missing, or if there’s something they don’t like, they don’t show up.

How many sitting in the presence of the Lord and His church today are only half-sincere? How many come to church just because it is the thing to do, the place to be, the place where everyone else is? How many seek the spectacular signs only?

John 6:30 (NIV) 30 So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?

That’s the attitude of some. What will you do for me Jesus? What will you give me?  Mark 7:6 (NIV)  6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

Matthew 23:28 (NIV) 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

How many want the miracles, but miss the Master. There were probably some of those in the crowd

3. THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS

John 12:19 (NIV) 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

The Pharisees Were There. They weren’t shouting, they weren’t singing or waving palm branches or laying their coats down. They weren’t in the least bit interested in being identified with Christ, I mean you have to give them credit, at least they were honest about it, they weren’t pretending. They had their minds made up; they weren’t going to believe in him, no matter what. It didn’t matter how many miracles they witnessed, how many times they saw lives changed, they had already made a decision to not follow Christ, and we’ll never know what it was that kept them away, pride, sin or the fear of losing control but it was something.

Not all of the religious leaders where like that, in the Gospels we read about men like Nicodemus the Pharisee and Jairus the ruler of the Synagogue. But the majority of them, if they had a favourite hymn it would be “I will not be moved.”

And today we have people who tell us that Jesus was a great religious teacher or a good man or a prophet, but they draw the line at saying he is God. They resist any effort that people might make to introduce them to Christ, and they’ve hardened their heart to the spirit.

There are people like that in every church, they are there because they have to be. Their parents have drug them out, or it’s their spouse or a friend. And they may have to be there but they’ll be darned if they are going to enjoy it. They sit and stand with their arms folded (and if their arms aren’t actually crossed they are crossed on the inside) and never sing a word, their minds are made up and the preacher certainly won’t be the one to change it.

King David made a statement in Psalm 14:1 it was there he wrote Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”

A few years back I saw a picture, it looked something like this. Someone had written the words “God is Dead” on a wall and then signed Frederick Nietzsche’s name to it. Under it someone had added these words “Nietzsche is dead” and signed God, hah, hah.

Listen up, just because you’ve made up your mind that there is no God or that Jesus Christ isn’t God doesn’t make it less so. Or maybe you are kind of like the person that George Orwell described in Animal Farm…These were the people in the crowd that day. When he wrote He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him).

It really doesn’t matter because the Bible says in Philippians 2:10-11 that there will come a time that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

  • The ones who were amused and laughed at Jesus.
  • The ones who wanted to join the party and get what was in it for themselves.
  • And there were the ones who wanted the power and the prestige.

Oh yes. I almost forgot one. You see, there was one more group there that day.

4. THE GREEKS

John 12:20-21 (NIV) 20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”

The original text indicates that these Greeks “were accustomed to come and worship at the feast.”  They were not curious visitors or one-time investigators.  No doubt they were “God-fearers,” Gentiles who attended the Jewish synagogue and sought the truth…Gentiles came to see Jesus when He was a young child, and now Gentiles came to see Him just before His death.

These men “kept asking” Philip for a privilege of an interview with Jesus. We can commend these Greeks for wanting to see Jesus…the Jews would say, “We would see a sign!”  but these men said, “We would like to see Jesus!”

There is no record that Jesus did talk with these men, but the message that He gave in response contains truth that all of us need.

“We would like to see Jesus.” Oh that we would all say that. Oh that we would all come into His presence to glorify and honor Him. Oh what a difference it would make in our lives if we would say, “We would like to see Jesus.”

For when we see Jesus and worship His Holy Name, God is glorified. When we recognize that this Jesus represents the love that God has for us, a love that would send Him to the cross to die for us, we can be changed. When we come to the realization that God gave His only Son to die for you and for me that we might not perish but have everlasting life, it changes our perspective. When we see and believe this glorious truth; then we really begin to worship Him. We begin to bow down and surrender our whole beings to God. We begin to follow and obey His will, to honor and praise Him for all He has done and is doing for us. Yes, when we really seek Jesus, that’s when the name of God is glorified. That’s when real worship occurs.

I’d be far off in saying that most of you folks fall into that last category; Jesus is a real part of your lives. Through his power and his grace your sins have been forgiven. And when you come on Sunday mornings your praise is genuine, and to you I leave the words of the book of Hebrews 13:15 With Jesus’ help, let us continually offer our sacrifice of praise to God by proclaiming the glory of his name.

Those people in the crowd that day were shouting something that was far more significant than they realized.   Hosanna, they shouted. Hosanna.

This Hebrew word means “he who saves.” They were welcoming their King. But this was not a king that would reign over Israel. No, this King was far more important, far more powerful than any king on earth.

For although they didn’t realize it, they were honoring the King of heaven. They were honoring the King of kings and Lord of lords. They were honoring the King that would triumph over death. They were singing praises to the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.

Shouldn’t we be doing the same thing today?

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