Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.
The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:
"Hosanna!Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it, as it is written:
'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'
The King of Israel!"
"Fear not, daughter of Zion;His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.
Behold, your King is coming,
Sitting on a donkey's colt."
Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!"
- John 12:9-19
On Saturday, we read the conclusion of the raising of Lazarus (see the first part here). Martha went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, "The Teacher has come and is calling for you." As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, "She is going to the tomb to weep there." Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!" And some of them said, "Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?" Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me." Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go."
Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus. We should understand that the lectionary has skipped over some passages (see 11:45-56), in which we are told that after the raising of Lazarus, many from Jerusalem went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus did. Then the chief priests and Pharisees met in a Council, and decided that Jesus should die. Jesus was aware of their plotting and stayed away from Judea until the time of the Passover. He then again visited Bethany, at which time many came to see Him because of the raising of Lazarus, and Mary anointed Him with oil (John 12:1-9). At this time there are open orders from the Pharisees and chief priests that if anyone knew where Jesus was, it should be reported so that they could seize Him. Here the text tells us about the effectiveness of this final sign in John's Gospel of the raising of Lazarus. Many from Judea believe in Jesus as a result, including those from the ruling classes and parties of the Council. Lazarus therefore is also targeted for death. It is now just a few days before Passover, and the beginning of what we know as Holy Week.
The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: "Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' The King of Israel!" Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it, as it is written: "Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt." His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. This is Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the day that we celebrate as Palm Sunday. The people hail Him as a king and Messiah. At that time in Israel's history, Jewish nationalism had led to the expectation of a political Messiah to deliver them from Roman control and reestablish the kingdom of David. In humility, Christ shows His mission is not for an earthly kingdom. He doesn't have military power accompanying Him like chariots and horses and weapons, but rides on a young donkey. This is a sign, says my study bible, of humility and peace (see Zechariah 9:9). Rather than a worldly kind of kingdom, the entrance into the Holy City declares the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It's also a promise of Christ's final entrance, says my study bible, into the heavenly Jerusalem with all believers and of His accepting the New Jerusalem as His pure Bride (Revelation 21:2). The people meet Him with words from Psalm 118:25-26, associated with Messianic expectation. It was recited daily for six days during the Feast of Tabernacles, and seven times on the seventh day as branches were waived. It's a cry to a deliverer: Hosanna means "Save, we pray!"
Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!" John's Gospel gives us more affirmation of the envy of the leadership, who now actively plot to put Jesus to death. The people go out to greet Christ as if to greet the hope of a Deliverer, a king, a Messiah. Many were witnesses to the raising of Lazarus and had been with Martha and Mary to mourn their brother. Still others come because they have heard about this sign from the witnesses. This is all in Judea, home territory to those who control the affairs of the Temple. The Pharisees show their exasperation with the following Christ now has, and His popularity with the people.
As the events of Holy Week begin to unfold, we see the seeming contradiction in the swirl of all the forces moving around Christ. The people come to see Him, and they greet Him as Messiah and king. But the leadership have only cemented and hardened their resolve to do away with Him. Not only do they plot to put Jesus to death, but also Lazarus as well. The many witnesses from Jerusalem at the raising of Lazarus have spread the word, and the very home base of the authority of these religious leaders has now seemingly gone after Him, in the words of the Pharisees to one another. So many forces have been unleashed, and everything will happen in just a few days. This is the time of Jesus' glorification, but it will be a holy act with a holy power that those who believe will come to know and understand -- but a stumbling block to those who do not. There are so many conflicts and contradictions. Jesus will be put to death, and the plot of the Pharisees and chief priests seemingly therefore "successful." And yet, of course, it's not successful at all in terms of stopping the movement of the followers and believers in Jesus. It isn't successful at all in terms of the holy power of God at work both in the victory of the Cross and the Resurrection to come. His followers will be scattered, martyred, and in exile. They will go on to vicious persecution by both religious and state authorities. And yet, they will spread this faith through the known world in a relatively short period of time. Where is victory, and where is defeat? Perhaps most importantly, as we contemplate this beginning of Holy Week, we should just consider that amidst these most extraordinarily contradictory understandings of the story of Jesus Christ, these great tensions and conflicts and opposing ideas, it is God's power that is at work. When we are fooled or betrayed, when secret plots seem to win out over truth and justice, we should just take note that God's work happens through all things. There is nothing that stops the reality of this Kingdom. Indeed, everything is used in order to fulfill what is promised, to bring us Resurrection in the midst of sorrow. The victory of the Cross is the victory of faith, the overcoming of the world. Let us understand and see how Christ Himself works through all things, embraces the reality of His mission and God's work in the world, and invite this perspective into our own lives. He told Peter, after Peter's confession of faith, "on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). The rock Jesus speaks about isn't just Peter. It is the confession, and not only Peter's confession, but one made on behalf of all the apostles and all of us who follow. It is our bond of faith with Christ. It is this bond against which the gates of Hades shall not prevail. Our story teaches us that Hades did not prevail and does not prevail. It is our faith we cling to, and that is the victory of the Cross.