Sermon on John 12:12-19 – “Fear Not”

 

Mailed out for: Sunday, April 5th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Where a church calendar is followed, this Sunday is Palm Sunday. On this day the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is remembered. Incidentally, it is that very passage we now reach in our series on John’s Gospel. To provide more context for understanding our passage, both an Old Testament and New Testament reading have been chosen:

Old Testament Reading: Zechariah 9:9-17

[Zechariah 9:9-17 ESV] 9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. 12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. 13 For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword. 14 Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. 15 The LORD of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones, and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar. 16 On that day the LORD their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. 17 For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.

New Testament Reading: Matthew 21:1-11

[Mat 21:1-11 ESV] 1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Sermon Text:

[John 12:12-19 ESV] 12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 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. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

INTRODUCTION

Beginning our passage we find a time reference to “the next day.” For context we might quickly ask “what happened on the previous day?” Well, that was the day that Mary poured oil upon Jesus’ feet, Judas complained about, and Jesus rebuked him. That is found in John 12:1-11 and was the text of my sermon last week.

In our current text we are on “the next day.” And a large crowd has gathered at the feast of passover in Jerusalem. A smaller group is coming from Bethany and converging into the mass. The word is spreading of Jesus having raised Lazarus from the dead. And certainly they knew also of many of his other miracles.

This Triumphal Entry, in some way, perhaps “humanly speaking” is the high point of Jesus’ life and of this Gospel itself. He is acknowledge as king! Never before and never again would there appear to be such support for Jesus. This is quite the cause for alarm for the Jewish leaders.

But we know that this isn’t the ultimate high point for Jesus. The Triumphal Entry is a fulfillment of prophecy—of Zechariah’s prophecy of a humble king mounted on a donkey. In the grander scheme of things the true high point for world history and for the people of God is yet to come—Jesus’s death and resurrection.

And this Triumphal Entry connects up with those most important events. It is now the week in which Christ would be crucified before his 3-days later resurrection. And coming into Jerusalem, we see that Jesus comes willingly. He comes willingly to lay down his life for His people.

I’m going to focus today on two words in particular in this passage. “Fear not.” This is part of the prophecy that is fulfilled in the Triumphal Entry. “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”

And this makes for a well-timed passage for us in this time of fears about the coronavirus spreading through the world.

So we’ll look at three points in particular about the passage:

I. The History.

II. The Prophecy.

III. The Fearful

and then conclude on the theme “Fear not.”

I. The History

First, we want to explain the passage; to explain the history behind it and in it.

Jesus enter Jerusalem on a young donkey and with palm branches scattered before him. There is much in the Hebrew world that is entirely foreign to us. For example, why is a donkey in this story? And why are there palm branches?

These are not incidental to the story. They have symbolic significance.

For one, Christ riding on a donkey is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah found in our Old Testament reading. But what does a donkey symbolize? While a horse is used in warfare, a donkey is used in peace time. Thus Jesus enters the city not as a conqueror but as the Prince of Peace. You can imagine the terror struck in the minds of people when a horse-mounted soldier comes riding at them. In contrast, consider the slow-moving donkey. And not even a fully-grown fairly strong donkey, but a colt, a young donkey. In this we see also the humility of Jesus. What leader would submit to showing himself in such weakness? In the ancient world a show of weakness would encourage others to rise up against your claim to kingship. But the kingdom of God is not to be associated with the “pomp. Splendor, wealth, and power” of the world. It is a spiritual kingdom. And Jesus is its only king.

And then, what about the palm branches? First, we see in Psalm 92:12 (“The righteous flourish like the palm tree”) that the Bible uses the palm tree as a symbol of righteousness for the people of God. Thus this symbol of righteousness may have been implied in the act of putting down palm branches before Jesus. But it is also thought that the palm branches are used to welcome a new king. Extra-biblical histories show that such a thing was done in centuries before Jesus. Calvin says “The palm was the emblem of victory and peace among the ancients” and a “Token of gladness and rejoicing at receiving a new king.”

Indeed the new king and his kingdom has arrived. Many would have certainly believed this to be an earthly kingdom and were looking to establish Jesus as a political leader of Israel. They did not know that they were welcoming a much greater king; the King of Kings and His spiritual kingdom.

II. The Prophecy

John tells us outright that a prophecy is being fulfilled. He says “as it is written” referring to something in the Old Testament. That “something” is the passage from the prophet Zechariah.

“Fear Not, Daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”

So we know now from the symbolic meaning of a donkey that the people are not to be afraid, because the king coming on a donkey is a peaceful one, not a conquering horse-mounted warrior.

The full Zechariah prophecy has something more than what John quotes. It reads:

“Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

That “something more” is the note that this king has salvation. He is bringing salvation! That is another reason not to fear, but rather to rejoice. Whereas Old Testament judges/saviors saved the people from foreign oppressors, Jesus is bringing salvation from sin. It is not at this time that God will bring down the Roman Empire. They will last for centuries still. But our enemies — sin, death, and the devil — will be defeated by Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.

Thus we are not to fear these enemies no longer. Jesus brings the “double cure” cleansing us now only from the power of sin, but from the guilt associated with it. The fear associated with punishment for our sins is that guilt we have in them. But all our sins, even our guilt, is conquered by Christ, our spiritual King.

Fear not then, for your sins have been washed away and your guilt need not follow them day after day and year after year. We might even say “Guilt not.” Guilt not in your sins, for they are forgiven.

III. The Fearful

Who then in our passage is truly afraid? It is not the people of God, and it is definitely not Jesus himself. Those who are afraid are the Jewish leaders.

They are afraid because they don’t want to lose their power. The text tells us that the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look the world has gone after him.”

This seems to mean that a more radical party of Pharisees is saying to a moderate party “you are gaining nothing by your delay from killing him.” “Something must be quickly.”

So we see the contrast between the fear of the Jews and the prophecy of Zechariah that the people should “fear not.”

Conclusion: Fear Not

“Fear not” is a message not only for that time, but for our own time. And “Fear not” is a message that applies at all moments of our lives. But in few times does it apply better than in our present ordeal with the international Coronavirus pandemic.

So we consider the Coronavirus pandemic. There have been deaths, there will certainly be more deaths. There has been economic repercussions, and there will certainly be more. But won’t the Lord use this for His purposes in great ways? Do we not already look more to the Lord in these times? Might not He also be bringing in other sheep of His as they realize their need for a savior? Every time in the cycle of the Judges and indeed the cycles in Biblical history, every time that the people went away from the Lord, catastrophe struck. And in the cycle of the Judges what then did the Lord bring of this? The people then “cried out to the Lord.” They cried out for a savior, as we should also do. Come Lord Jesus.

All we have is given to us from God. If the market’s rise or the markets fall, praise be to God. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. He has ultimate right to do with all things as He sees fit.

Man seeks for greater and greater control, and indeed in some respects that is part of the dominion mandate in Genesis for man to subdue the earth. But we go too far if we take dominion over other people rather than over the earth. And we go too far when we ignore the Lord in the process. Have we truly been thanking the Lord in the good times? We just rode a wave of economic prosperity rarely matched in world history. Yes, some of it certainly was a facade. But nevertheless, the world’s wealth has grown to unmatched heights as extreme worldwide poverty has drastically declined in recent decades. And has the world come to the table of the Lord with thanks for His gifts to mankind? Largely no. The world has fallen away from God. The rise of the “nones” — those who say they have no religion — has been the mark of the age. These persons believe they do not need a God. They have fallen for the same lie that has been around since the Garden of Eden. “Did God really say?”

When Jesus enter’s Jerusalem with the fulfillment of the prophecy of “fear not” he does so knowing that his end is indeed approaching. And yet he has prophesied of the coming destruction of the nation and the temple. That which is temporary, that which is fleeting, will go away. Nations, powers will come and god. But the Lord reigns forever. And so while so much turmoil is to occur in Israel, we have the message “Fear not.” For the Lord is with you. Fear not, for the greater kingdom is coming and is already here. Fear not, for you have an advocate with God in Jesus Christ. Fear not, daughter of Zion, your king is coming, sitting on a young donkey, fulfilling the prophecies, and coming in great humility.

And if there is an application to emphasize here, other than “fearing not” we should focus on humility at this time. You may have noticed that people have opinions about the virus. And these opinions are often tied up with their other political opinions. But in this time of turmoil, how sure can we be of our opinions. And why argue over them, debating endlessly, needlessly. Let us have humility at this time. The Lord has brought upon the world a pandemic not so that we might argue with each other more, or polarize politics even further, but so that we might come closer to him.

There is fear in most news stories today. Fear is what sells newspapers, or in these days fear is what sells internet advertisements. But Fear not, is the call of the Lord.

Consider the fear of the unbeliever. Not only do they believe that the world is chaos; no God is in control, but for them “this is all that there is.” It is sad indeed. This is all that there is, and when it is over, all is over. But the end is inevitable, and in the unbelieving worldview nothing therefore has any meaning. Atheism and agnosticism, which is practical atheism for agnostics do not fear God, atheism and agnosticism inevitably result in nihilism, the despair that arises from the conclusion that there is no ultimate meaning.

Praise the Lord that we do not have that despair. We have Jesus Christ, and in Him we do not fear.

Fear not, for I am with you. In Christ, fear is replaced with rejoicing.

The New Testament portrays the strength of God in the humility of Jesus. When things look most dire, we still know that the Lord is in control. The death of Jesus itself was planned by God. This was the single worst thing that ever happened in world history. Yet, in another way, it was the single best and greatest thing that ever happened. And in such an event as Christ’s death we surely know that God’s ways are higher than our ways.

I found that there occurs in the Bible 33 times the phrase “Fear not.”

These can be summed up in a four categories. (1) Fear not, because of the covenant promises of God. (2) Fear not, because salvation is of the Lord. (3) Fear not, for the Lord is in control. (4) Fear not, for the Lord will give you strength.

1. The covenant promises of the Lord.:

Genesis 15:1 – “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Genesis 26:24 – “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”

2. Fear not, because salvation is of the Lord

Exodus 14:14 – And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.”

Isa 35:4 – Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

Isa 35:4 – Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

3. Fear not, for the Lord is in control.

Rev. 1:17 – “Fear not, I am the first and the last.”

4. Fear not, for the Lord will give you strength.

Isa 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.

Which of these categories do we have in our passage? All of them could in some way be related, but the emphasize is Christ arriving as the savior who is in control. He is in control because he is coming to Jerusalem on his own timing to fulfill all prophecy that the messiah would die at Passover. And he’s arriving as savior—that is the very meaning of “hosanna.” Hosanna is related to the Aramaic word “savior.” Thus Jesus is being acknowledged as savior with the shout of Hosanna.

Let us then look to our Savior Jesus Christ, not fearing for the future but rejoicing in His promises and His accomplished work for us on the Cross. This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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