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We Need a Hero*

Sermon passage: (John 12:12-19) Spoken on: April 13, 2014
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Keng Wan Ling
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: John

Tags: John, 约翰福音

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About Keng Wan Ling: Deacon Keng was theologically trained in TTC, and currently serves as the worship ministry chairperson.

John 12:12-19

Every year at this time we celebrate Palm Sunday. In doing so, we take our place in history with the many believers who have done exactly the same thing. Think of it- from the 4th Century in Jerusalem, believers were carrying palm branches in processions, to represent the Jews who celebrated Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. In the early centuries, the procession began on the Mount of the Ascension and proceeded to the Church of the Holy Cross.

Lest you associate palm branches with Club Med and sandy beaches, let me tell you that the palm branch was a symbol of:
- triumph (e.g. it was awarded to winning athletes in Greece),
- peace and eternal life (e.g. Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt)
- victory, or, since victory means the end of war, it could also mean peace (ancient Rome)
- Victory over the flesh/ the victory of martyrs (in some Christian traditions)

Hosanna- Save us!
Most of us know that “Hosanna” as a cry of worship and praise; we often sing “Hosanna, glory to God in the Highest”. However, there’s another meaning of Hosanna, and that is “save us”; that will be the theme of today’s message- being saved, by a hero.

Jesus for the Crowd: A Champion
Have you been to any opposition rallies in the past elections? If you have, you’ll know that the atmosphere is electric. The air is filled with expectations and the charged-up emotions of people. That thing in the air is HOPE. The people hope for change, hope for something better.

Make no mistake that the passage of Jesus down the Mount of Olives on a donkey and into the city was no “walk in the park” or “walk down the mountain”. It was a highly contentious and very political statement. It was like having his own political rally without ever saying a word- that’s quite a feat.

There were a few reasons why things had built up to this state:

(a) Jesus had been building up his ministry. His miracles, his brushes with the Pharisees and the Saducees, his declarations of being the Son of God- they have placed him squarely in the public eye, and the Jewish authorities and the general public all have taken notice.

(b) the tension was heightened because the Roman authorities had also taken notice. They were willing to let the Jewish authorities “ handle their own” but if the Jews didn’t look like they could cope, if it looked like Jesus was “getting out of control”, then Rome would be forced to step in to make an example of Jesus.

For this reason, the Jewish authorities feared Jesus even more. It wasn’t only for His own sake (Jesus being a threat to their rule), but also for potentially jeopardizing the fragile understanding they had with Rome. They also knew once Rome stepped in, the measures would be harsh. It would not be a pretty sight, Rome would probably want to make an example of Jesus.

(c) the Jewish people were ripe for a change, for a revolution. They knew the words of God, and knew that it was written “ Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion, see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (Zech 9:9)

Although today’s passage doesn’t expressly mention it, the general belief is that Jesus entered the city through the Eastern gate into Jerusalem. This is also called the Golden Gate, and is the oldest one. Jewish tradition says that the divine presence (Shekinah) (שכינה) used to appear at this gate, and will do so again when the Messiah appears, and a new gate replaces the present one.

The passage is Ezekiel 44:1–3 (The Message translation):
Then the man brought me back to the outside gate complex of the Sanctuary that faces east. But it was shut. God spoke to me: “This gate is shut and it’s to stay shut. No one is to go through it because God, the God of Israel, has gone through it. It stays shut. Only the prince, because he’s the prince, may sit there to eat in the presence of God. He is to enter the gate complex through the porch and leave by the same way.”

There are other hints of this: for example, in the Second Coming passage in Isaiah 63:1-6, the Messiah is portrayed as coming to Jerusalem from the direction of Edom and Bozrah — areas to the east.

So Jesus coming in through this gate says very clearly: I AM The Messiah.

His entry into Jerusalem is very dramatic. By openly entering the city where he is a marked man he takes the first step toward the final confrontation.

Today, the gate is sealed, bricked up, as you can see from the photos. It was done a long time ago (1541) by the Muslims (Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent), likely for defensive reasons, and there is also a graveyard in front of it.

Even in modern(ish), Jews still hold to these prophecies. There was account set in 1967, where the Israelites were battling for control of Jerusalem about. One of the Jewish commando groups that had been involved in the assault on the city had suggested catching the Jordanian defenders of the city off guard by blowing open the sealed Eastern Gate. But the leader of the group, an Orthodox Jew, had vehemently protested the idea, stating that "the Eastern Gate can be opened only when the Messiah comes."
Psalm 24:7-10 (New King James Version (NKJV)
7 Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
The LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory. Selah

You should also know, by the way, that the Temple was a hotspot then, and still is today. In Jesus’ time, Roman troops were stationed nearby, and I’m told there are secret tunnels that linked the Temple to their stations. If you’ve visited Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, you’d have been subjected to very tight security screening. My guide (who is also a bible school teacher) tells me it’s the prime place for a bombing, if ever there was one.

So these were the factors that led up to the kind of reception Jesus faced. I would like to ask you to locate yourself in the scene, to feel the context, before we go on to talk about what or who Jesus was to different people who were at that scene.

Let's watch a short video re-enactment of today's passage.
[ Play video clip from 2:10- 3:45mins]

Jesus for those at the scene
(a) For the People
We should note that this all takes place during Passover season, where the numbers in the City had swelled greatly, so there were A LOT of people.

The people wanted a messiah, a Saviour, a champion. They wanted a hero to swoop in and save them from the enemy- and Rome was this enemy. They wanted to be liberated, wanted the fulfilment the prophecies. They were shouting in nationalistic zeal.

We know how the story turned out, don't we? 🙁

The people didn’t get the champion they wanted in Jesus. The salvation He offered, and the feat he wrought, was not what they had in mind, and it upset them.

(b) For the disciples
How did the disciples feel during Passion week, when things looked like they were going terribly wrong, and their Master ended up being crucified?

For today’s passage, how did they feel when they saw Jesus sitting on that colt, silent yet making such a huge statement. Did they feel proud? Did they think “At long last, it’s going to begin!”

John says the disciples did not make the connection with the passage from Zechariah at the time: 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 they had done these things to him (v. 16).

The word translated realize is emnesthesan, "remember," the same word used to describe their recollection and insight into the cleansing of the temple (2:22). At the time they were caught up in the swirl of events and did not really understand what was going on. From what we know of them elsewhere, they probably shared the nationalistic hopes of the crowd (for example, Acts 1:6).

(c) From Jesus’ own perspective:
The hero for the season: a lamb to the slaughter
Actually Jesus WAS/IS a saviour, WAS/IS their Master, but not in the way they expected. Jesus himself knew this, and kept saying so, but no one understood Him (then).

Jesus, the Lamb of God, that took away the sins of the world, came to Jerusalem to die during the Passover.

Jesus’ actions were all quite deliberate. It actually had not been the Jewish leaders’ intent to kill him during this time; in fact, they knew it was be inflammatory to the crowds, the “uneducated commoners” . “The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people’” (Mark 14:1-2).

Jesus for us today: Saviour and Friend
The title of today's sermon is "we need a hero". [1]

What’s a hero? Someone admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities?

What does a hero DO? In movies, entire universes, franchises, are built around the idea of heroes- someone, or something has extraordinary powers and will save humankind from destruction. For me, a hero is one that SAVES.

Using the analogy of Jesus as a hero, one who saves us, on this Palm Sunday, I want to paint 3 possibilities for the real- life situation. I’m not sure which perspective applies to you.

(a) Do we need a hero?
Many people think that we’re the captain of our fates, the masters of our destinies. Man thinks he can control the environment, can build machines, can develop clones, conquer diseases. BUT- man can’t offer what Jesus and God can- eternal life, salvation.

This mindset could apply to Christians and non-believers equally. I think that even as Christians it’s still an ongoing battle to cede all parts of our lifes, to surrender them to God.
(b) We’re still looking for a hero
Perhaps we feel our own needs and inadequacy, but we’re not sure who can meet those needs. Maybe an atheist can be still search. Certainly the Jews are still looking, still waiting for their Messiah, after * all these years*. It’s heart- breaking.

As a Christian, there might be seasons, your “dark night of the soul”, where you wonder if Jesus is really your saviour, your messiah.

(c) We already have our hero
We have our saviour, our Messiah.

We've spent months looking at the book of John, and some of the many themes are seeing and eternal life. Jesus is the light, he is the vine, the living water, whoever is part of Him will live and not die, whoever drinks from Him will never thirst again.

Jesus saves us. He saved us. He saved us from being separated from God, saved us from sin, from darkness, and showed us the way to eternal life instead. We all want heroes; we have one in Jesus.

However, this doesn't mean we can adopt the mindset of a helpless damsel on distress. We can't just sit here, like the princess in fairy tales, and expect to do nothing.

Chern Han referred last week to the idea of “learned helplessness”. Sometimes Singaporeans are criticised for expecting the government to do everything for us. Do we sometimes expect God or Christ to do everything for us, and we can just sit there? After all, isn’t that what saviours are meant to do? Haven’t they read the job specs?!
Maybe it’s US who need to read the specs; as Rev Tiong Ann always say, we need to understand (know) God and Christ as they reveal themselves to us. They have asked for discipleship and obedience.
In this season of Lent, as we look at Jesus, the Passover Lamb, we remember, and we affirm our relationship with Him.

[1] Taken from the Bonnie Tyler song “ Holding Out for a Here”, song lyrics at