Wake Up and See the Glory
For several years I commuted from Lighthouse Point to south Broward County, just north of the Hard Rock Stadium. Because my mom taught me to express dislike by saying “I don’t care for it,” instead of, “I hate it,” I will say that learned not to care for I-95. 45 minutes each way of stopping suddenly and dodging unevenly paved lanes due to construction wears on a person. That said, as a bright spot of those travels, I could listen to hours and hours of audiobooks. I would listen to novels, stories, and biographies. In one season, I listened to at five biographies of Teddy Roosevelt. Every biographer stories the character slightly differently, so multiple biographies of the same person can paint a more accurate portrait.
This shows up clearly in the Bible, which narrates the life of Jesus Christ four different times, from four slightly different perspectives. The life of Christ is good news, so these biographies are called “gospels,” or the Greek word for “good news.” Three of those gospel biographies, written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, tell the story in a relatively similar way. Because they “see” the story from a similar angle, scholars have called them the “synoptic” gospels, from the Greek words for “see” (optic) and “with” or “together” (syn). John, though, tells the story of Jesus from an adjacent angle. He tells us clearly what the other gospels tell more subtly, pulling back the curtain on the eternal triune life of God and God the Son, incarnate, Jesus Christ. He tells stories the other gospels don’t tell us, like the story of Lazarus. He also tells the same stories as the other gospels, yet in his unique way. This shouldn’t worry us, because John also tells us at the very end of the gospel: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written” (21:25).
The four biographies of Jesus give us a full picture of who Jesus actually was and is, and what he came to do. The four storytellers complement each other. For example, John narrates the donkey-ride of King Jesus into Jerusalem in less than half the space of the other three gospels. He also gives us details about the story the others don’t, and he emphasizes certain things because of the audience of his gospel.
He tells us here the story of the the counter-intuitive glory of the King of the cosmos, the entire universe, Jesus Christ, God the Son, incarnate. Jesus enters Jerusalem as the King and Savior God had promised centuries before, but, despite its appearance, his seemingly royal entry into the city did not ultimately exalt him as King. His royal arrival foreshadowed his true glory, which God would reveal on the cross and vindicate in the resurrection.
At this point in the gospel, John has slowed the storyline to the pace of a snail, transitioning in chapter 12 from the “book of signs” in chapters 1-11 (a narrative of multiple years) to the “book of glory” in chapters 13-21 (a narrative of merely days). Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the donkey to signal the start of his glorious, royal mission—the royal mission of crucifixion and resurrection. In this story, John invites us in two movements to wake up and see the glory, to realize or remember the glory of Christ the King.
1. Crown the Long-Promised King (12:12-15)
The next day, when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him. They kept shouting:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,—the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written:
"Do not be afraid,
Daughter Zion. Look, your King is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt.
The crowds had gathered for the Passover festival, which celebrated the salvation of the Lord. There could have been literally millions of people there (Carson, John, 431). The Lord had delivered his people from Egypt, and the people rejoiced and remembered. As he approaches the festival, Jesus’s fame has once again preceded him. The crowds who had heard about his wonder-working power, already prepared to praise, celebrate him with palm branches. Palm branches would have been easy to find and signaled the worship and celebration of God and his work at the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:40). Only John notes that the branches were palm branches (Keener, John, 2.868), an interesting point because John also wrote Revelation, which says in Revelation 7:9-10:
After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!
“From about two centuries earlier, palm branches had already become a national (not to say nationalist) symbol. When Simon the Maccabee drove the Syrian forces out of the Jerusalem citadel he was feted with music and the waving of palm branches (cf. 1 Macc. 13:51, 141BC), which had also been prominent in at the rededication of the temple (2 Macc. 10:7, 164BC)” (Carson, 432). The palm was also used on Judean coins (Carson, 432).
We see the crowds hymning praise from Psalm 118:25-26: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Psalm 118 is the final Psalm of Hallel, here framing the praise of the Lord, Yahweh, the God of creation and covenant with thanks for his goodness demonstrated in covenantal love (118:1-4, 29). The good Lord loves his people and his unfailing convent love delivers them from death (118:5-7), is better than human deliverers (118:8-9), triumphs over enemies (118:10-18), opens wide the gates of righteousness (118:19-24), placing the rejected stone as the corner of his dwelling (118:22). The Psalmist sets his celebration in the context of the “day of the Lord,” the day of judgment on God’s enemies and salvation for God’s people. In this Psalm, we find the promise of the blessed one who comes in Yahweh’s name. Jesus comes in the name of Yahweh, not merely as a delegate, but as Yahweh himself, the Word who was with Yahweh and was Yahweh (John 1:1).
The crowds add the phrase “the king of Israel,” confirming what John has already made clear in the narrative on the lips of an early follower of Christ: "'Rabbi,' Nathanael replied, 'You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!'” (1:49).
John notes that Jesus finds a donkey and thus fulfills another messianic prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. This verse follows the word of Yahweh against the enemies of his people (Zech. 9:1-8). In contrast to Yahweh’s judgment of the wicked nations, Israel should not be afraid because as the beloved daughter of the Lord, the King will arrive on the colt of a donkey. Some interpret this to mean Jesus entered in humiliation, but the donkey was a sign of royalty in the ancient world. One writer called the donkey “the ‘Mercedes-Benz’ of the biblical world’” (Kenneth Way, Donkeys in the Biblical World, 87 in Klink, John, 538). He is the king who brings peace, as the next verse in Zechariah says, but peace purchased through triumphant judgment (Klink, John, 538):
“I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the horse from Jerusalem.
The bow of war will be removed,
and he will proclaim peace to the nations.
His dominion will extend from sea to sea,
from the Euphrates River
to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:10)
Like we said, John tells this story in less half the space of the other gospels, revealing the triumphant entry of the long-promised King. But John contributes uniquely the second half of this section, which calls us to wake up and see the glory.
2. Wake Up and See the Glory (12:16-19)
His disciples did not understand these things at first. However, when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him. Meanwhile, the crowd, which had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify. This is also why the crowd met him, because they heard he had done this sign. Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”
Maybe it was the busyness, or the general celebratory air of the festival. Maybe they had seen crowds celebrate Jesus before. But the disciples didn’t understand the significance of the moment in the moment. The failed again “to comprehend the nature of Jesus’ kingship” (Carson, John, 434)—a crucified kingship. They witnessed here the emerging glory of the conquering King. They saw God fulfilled his prophetic testimony in real time. But only afterward, “when Jesus was glorified.” In John’s story, the moment of the glory of Christ arrived at the moment of the crucifixion of Christ. “Jesus replied to them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’” (12:23). The purposes of God often work this way: inside-out, upside-down, backward-forward. Christ radiates his eternal glory in his excruciating pain. The cross revealed his glory, and the resurrection vindicated that glory.
John also explains, unique among the gospel biographers, that the crowd fanning the palms of praise had gathered because of the resurrection of Lazarus. The sixth sign signals the start of the seventh sign, the completion of the signs, the prime miracle of the wonder-working power of God, when Christ would cry, “It is finished” (19:30). John the storyteller reflected on this story for decades (remember, he wrote this gospel biography 50 or 60 years after he had walked with Jesus on those dusty roads). He had read the other three gospels, probably many times. He saw the story in the light of the glory of the crucifixion and resurrection. When the crowds chanted their praise to the one coming in Yahweh’s name as “the king of Israel,’ John knew that Jesus was revealed as King on the cross (19:19). The King trundled into town on the donkey under the shadow of the cross and toward the light of the emptied tomb.
The Pharisees fret, for their plot, they think, has been foiled. They don’t realize, yet, how fickle the crowds will be. For now, all they can see is the momentum of the Jesus movement. “The world has gone after him!” Like Caiaphas, they spoke more truly than they knew, foretelling the unlikely but inevitable every-nation-tribe-and-tongue church Christ will gather throughout time and at the end of time.
• • •
Eppie Lederer wrote newspaper columns for nearly 50 years. In outlets across the nation under the pen name Ann Landers she offered advice to people on a range of issues. One of her favored expressions was, “Wake up and smell the coffee.” This charge evokes shuffling to the kitchen on a dark, early morning, hair matted up to one side, eyes squinting partially closed. You set the brewer and hear the comforting sound of the churl of heating and dripping water. You pour your cup and hold it up to your nose, ready for that magical energizing brew to charge your depleted reserves and alert you to the day ahead. “Wake up and smell the coffee” means “Pay attention to what’s right in front of you. Get real. Look around. Return to reality.”
The crowds and disciples didn’t know just how glorious Christ was and is. His glorious kingdom was not a small strip of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. His glorious kingdom wasn’t the sprawl of the empire centered on the Italian peninsula in Rome. His kingdom is a cosmic Kingdom, which he left in heaven to bring to earth.
Augustine said, “The Son of God is equal to the Father, he is the Word through whom all things were made; the fact that he wanted to be king of Israel is a condescension, not an advancement. It is an indication of pity, not an increase in power. For he who was called king of the Jews on earth is the Lord of angels in heaven”
Do you see his glory?
When I was in college, a Christian song came out by Steven Curtis Chapman called, “See the Glory.” That song resonates with me to this day:
When it comes to the grace of God
Sometimes its like
I'm playing Gameboy standing in
the middle of the Grand Canyon
I'm eating candy sittin at a gourmet feast
I'm wading in a puddle when I
could be swimming in the ocean
Tell me whats the deal with me
Wake up and see the glory
Here Chapman draws from the essay by C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Maybe we could say it this way: it’s like hanging out at Disney Springs (which is basically a glorified mall), when you have an all access pass to every park at Walt Disney World.
Wake up and see the glory!