Missing the Significance: John 12:12-19

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At the beginning of the week where Jesus is crucified, the idea of Jesus’ death approaching seemed ridiculous. Even Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would ultimately betray Jesus, didn’t think at the beginning of the week that Jesus would be dead in a tomb the following Sabbath.

All the disciples could tell that Jesus’ ministry was pointing towards a specific moment, and how crucifixion week began gives just one more piece of confirming evidence in the disciples’ minds that Jesus was the promised Messiah – even if they believed the Messiah’s role to be different.

The gospel of John describes Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem at the beginning of the week of His death. Let’s read how John describes it from the gospel of John, chapter 12, using the New International Version of the Bible. Beginning in verse 12, John tells us that:

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;

    see, your king is coming,

    seated on a donkey’s colt.”

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

Let’s pause and look at what John has just told us. In his description of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, John states that the disciples did not catch the significance of this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize more fully all the subtle prophetic words that pointed towards Jesus as God’s Messiah.

But while this symbolism was lost on the disciples until later, another group of people could see the symbolism, and they did not like it. John describes the crowd of people who joined Jesus on His journey into Jerusalem. Picking back up in verse 17, John transitions back into the events of Jesus’ entrance by saying:

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

While the Pharisees had openly rejected Jesus as being anyone but a sinner who happened to perform some coincidental miracles, the symbolism of Jesus riding a donkey was not lost on them. These religious leaders knew the scriptures better than anyone else alive at that point (excluding Jesus), and they easily saw what He was trying to do. However, they could not rationalize away Jesus’ latest miracle: raising Lazarus from the dead. The crowd that had been present to mourn Lazarus’ death had become a very powerful witness to Jesus’ cause.

Word of Lazarus’ resurrection prompted many people to rethink their position and which side of the Jesus-debate they were on. While the Pharisees had the temple and the status quo, Jesus had the ability to bring life, and that was a bigger draw. Verse 19 describes the Pharisees response when they hear that Jesus is approaching Jerusalem on a donkey. John tells us that they said to one another, “This is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!

The Pharisees recognized at this point that arguments, logic, and rhetoric were no match for a clearly witnessed resurrection miracle. While they had been able to push many of Jesus’ other miracles aside and rationalize the significance out of them, they could not brush Lazarus’ resurrection away so easily. Jesus’ journey to and entrance into Jerusalem was just confirmation that they were losing the status quo that they had tried to delicately achieve as spiritual leaders who wanted to remain peaceful with the Romans publicly, but who hated the idea of their presence in their country privately.

Had Jesus shown signs of rallying people together against Rome, these leaders might have lessened their opposition of Him, even if they politically could not side with Him. The leaders subtly supported those who wanted to rid their country of the Romans, and if a military leader was successful at this, they would have been the first to proclaim that individual as the Messiah.

The leaders missed out on the Messiah because they only looked at that role through the tiny filter of a leader who would liberate them from Rome. They could see Jesus claiming kingship, but they reserved their support for someone who was willing and able to conquer Rome.

Looking at the Pharisees in this passage tell me that it is way too easy for us to miss seeing Jesus in our own lives when we choose to use a filter for identifying the places He is working. If we only look for clearly spiritual blessings, or financial blessings, or extraordinary events in our lives, using that filter, we are guaranteed to miss how Jesus has lead us through other points, like through a tragedy, challenge, or series of disconnected events that we ultimately learned something from.

Sometimes it is impossible to see God in the moment, but we make seeing Him even less likely when we choose to filter our eyes and only look for Him in certain places and circumstances.

John told us that the disciples also missed out on seeing symbolism in this portion of Jesus’ ministry. While they do remember it later and then assemble the pieces of prophecy together, while they were in the moment and in the celebration, they were oblivious to what this celebration meant, and to the death that was about to happen just a few short days later.

The disciples in this passage prompt me to be okay if I don’t see God in everything that is happening in my life. While I should be looking and keeping my eyes open, and while I shouldn’t put a filter onto what I am looking for, it is okay if I don’t see the evidence in the moment for God being present in my circumstances. If we are focused on looking for God, and we are continually drawing close to Him, then the Holy Spirit will help remind us of those times in our past where we may have missed seeing God working, and He will help us reframe the pain from our past into purpose, and the trials we faced into triumphs for God.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Continue seeking God first in your life and keep your eyes open for evidence of His leading you. When looking for God, don’t put a filter over your eyes in an attempt to force God to fit into your small picture of Him. Instead, look for ways He has lead, taught, guided, and protected you through both the high points of life as well as through the low. While God doesn’t like it when we face horrible circumstances, He sometimes allows Satan to bring evil into our life to remind us of our need of Him.

Also, continue to regularly study the Bible for yourself, and focus on growing that personal relationship with God. Through prayer and personal Bible study, you are able to grow closer to God, and the closer you are to God, the more clearly you will be able to see evidence of His leading in your life and its collection of various circumstances.

And as I always end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short, back away from, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Season 3 – Episode 36: Cam discusses Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and some things we can learn from those who missed seeing the significance in this event.

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