"Jesus' Thoughts on the Way to the Cross"
(Delivered Palm Sunday, April 1, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
I ask you to turn with me this morning to the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John. In this chapter, John tells us about the event that we celebrate on Palm Sunday; that is, what we traditionally call His "Triumphal Entry"—His entry into Jerusalem to die on the cross for us.
His entry into the city was an event that was celebrated by the multitudes of people—all gathered to greet Him on that day as He rode into the city 'lowly, and sitting on a donkey" (Matthew 21:5). They took palm branches in hand, and met Him with cries of "Hosanna! Blessed is He come comes in the name of the LORD! The King of Israel" (John 12:14).
The crowds, of course, didn't understand what they were celebrating. They thought that they were greeting the long-expected Messiah as a mighty conquerer; who would then deliver the Jewish people from political bondage, and immediately begin His glorious kingdom reign. They were right to celebrate; but they didn't understand that victory was going to be established by Jesus' death on the cross. They didn't understand that Jesus came as a Suffering Savior. They didn't grasp the truth that Jesus expressed when, after He rode into the city, He said,
We today, however, have an advantage over the crowds in Jerusalem. We today know that He came into the city in order to die the cross for sinners like us. And as those who have placed our trust in His sacrifice for us, we today have even greater cause than they did to celebrate on Palm Sunday.
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The story of Jesus' entry in to Jerusalem is one of the rare stories that is described by all four of the Gospel writers. But today, I ask that we focus our attention particularly on something that is told to us only by the apostle John. In this particular passage, John takes us beyond a mere reporting of the events themselves, and actually takes us into the very heart of our Savior as those events took place.
One of John's favorite names for himself was "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He makes a point of describing himself as the disciple "who also had leaned on His breast at the supper" (John 21:20). During the last supper Jesus had with His disciples, just before He went to the cross for us, it was John who sat at the supper right next to Jesus—reclined in such a way as to lean upon the Savior's breast (John 13:25).
I often think of how John had the rarest of privileges on that all-important night—the privilege of hearing, with his own ear, the heart-beat of our Savior. And if I may say so, that seems wonderfully symbolic to me. It underscores the fact that John—more than any of the other Gospel writers—had a greater grasp of what was truly in our Savior's heart at some of the most crucial moments of His earthly ministry. And in this morning's passage, John tells us more about what our Savior had in the depths of His heart on that first Palm Sunday.
John writes that, with all the crowds celebrating around Him—and even with some of the Gentiles seeking Him—Jesus said,
And John adds, "This He said, signifying by what death He would die" (v. 33); letting us know that the central thing in the mind of our Savior at this important time—even as all the people around Him were celebrating and waving palm branches—was the cross.
As we commemorate Palm Sunday together, I suggest that we look closer at this passage, and consider what was in the heart of our Savior as He made His way toward the cross. As we do so, I pray that the Holy Spirit will transform our hearts with the love that Jesus demonstrated toward us on that day; and will move us to gladly lay down our lives in service to Him in appreciation of the sacrifice He made for us.
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The first glimpse we are given of the heart of our Savior from this passage is . . .
1. HIS TROUBLE BEFORE THE CROSS (v. 27a).
Jesus says these remarkable words—words that, frankly, seem out of place given all the celebration and cheers that were going on around Him: "Now My soul is troubled . . ." (v. 27).
When Jesus speaks of His "soul", He speaks of His inner-self—the deep, inward seat of His feelings that were an aspect of His full humanity. And in these words, Jesus lets it be known that—at this important moment, as He entered into Jerusalem—His soul was not at peace. He was inwardly "agitated", and "disturbed", and even captured by a sense of horror over what was ahead. He was "troubled" inside.
Now, I don't know about you; but the idea of Jesus being 'troubled of soul' doesn't fit well with my usual conception of Him. I'm more accustomed to thinking of Him in the way that we sing about Him in the old hymn;
And as we read about Him in the Gospels, that's exactly how we almost always find Him. He was bold, and courageous, and fearless. Yet, when it comes to the events that surrounded the cross, we find something different in Him.
We're told by John, for example, that during His last dinner with the disciples, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me'" (John 13:21). And after supper, as He waited in Gethsemane with His disciples for Judas the Betrayer to come, Mark tells us that "He took Peter, James and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch'" (Mark 14:33-34).
If we're going to have an accurate picture of Jesus, then—in addition to the great boldness and courage He displayed on almost every other occasion—we must also include the trouble He felt in His soul before He went to the cross.
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Why was He troubled of soul? I believe that one very obvious reason would be the natural, human aversion He felt toward the prospect of the cross. The cross was an unspeakably cruel and humiliating thing. The Bible tells us, "Cursed is everyone who hands on a tree" (Galatians 3:13; see also Deuteronomy 21:23). Jesus would not have been human if He didn't recoil at the thought of hanging on a cross.
But I believe there were some things more dreadful than the physical agony and humiliation of a death on the cross that was in His mind. Jesus is the eternal Son of God—the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8)—in human flesh. And yet, the Bible tells us that God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). When He hung on the cross, "Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1) bore upon Himself the sins of all humanity and experienced the full outpouring of His Father's wrath on our behalf; because, as the Bible tells us, "the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). Who could possibly imagine the agony this must have meant to Him?—to be the holy and righteous Son of God, and yet to bear the sins of all humanity?—to bear the crushing guilt of every act of wickedness and sin that has ever been an offense to God's holy nature in all of humanity, and to personally, fully pay the price for it?
I once heard an unbelieving friend ridicule the cross. She said that she didn't think that Jesus' death was significant in any way. "Don't tell me," she said, "that Jesus died a more painful death any other human being ever suffered. Lots of people suffered far worse deaths than He did." And you know; she may be right. Some may have suffered greater physical pains in their death that were suffered by Jesus on the cross. I'm afraid I don't know enough to argue otherwise. But I do know that to say just that much alone is not to tell the full story.
The thing that makes Jesus' death so significant is not the pain He felt, but who He was—and the sins that He bore. And if we don't see Him on the cross as the sinless Son of God, suffering the outpouring of God's just wrath for sins that we ourselves have committed, then we are simply not seeing the cross for what it is. Unless you and I have come to the place in our lives in which we have looked upon the cross of Jesus and said, "What He suffered is what I deserved! It was my sins that put Him on that cross!"; then we have not seen the cross truthfully.
What makes the cross so significant is that it was there that the pure, spotless Lamb of God paid the death-penalty for my sins in my place. And it was the prospect of bearing that awful weight of sin that caused Jesus to say, "Now My soul is troubled . . ."
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What's more, I believe that Jesus also experienced anxiety in His heart because, as He bore our sins, He would experience something that had never occurred in all of eternity before that time, or that would ever occur in all of eternity again afterwards. For the first and only time in all of eternity, the Son of God would experience separation from His Father.
As Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out the most mournful, dreadful cry ever cried on earth—"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34). Jesus was quoting the words of Psalm 22—a psalm that speaks prophetically of His crucifixion. And in doing so, He expressed the fact that, for that brief time, the holy and righteous Father—who cannot look upon sin—had to turn away from His beloved Son; because He bore the guilt of your sins and mine. I don't think that there is any way possible for us to even imagine the agony that such an experience must have meant to our blessed Savior.
And before we depart from that, let me add one more thing. Do you realize that Jesus underwent that horrible experience for a brief time, so that you and I would not have to experience it throughout eternity? You and I are designed for an eternal relationship with the One who made us for Himself. And yet, because He cannot tolerate sin in His presence—apart from the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf—that cry that Jesus made on the cross for a brief time would be our agonizing cry throughout eternity! "God! Where are You? You have made me for Yourself; but now, I will never experience the relationship for which I was made! I will never be with You! I will never know true satisfaction in my being! My God, My God; why have You forsaken me?"
When Jesus reveals to us that He was 'troubled' in His soul, let's appreciate the things that He suffered on our behalf on the cross; and let's express our deepest gratitude to Him for bearing our punishment on the cross in our place.
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Now; not only does this passage reveal the trouble that Jesus felt in His soul, but it also reveals . . .
2. HIS RESOLVE REGARDING THE CROSS (v. 27b).
He said, "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'?"
There was a sense in which Jesus prayed something like this in the garden. Perhaps you remember. He prayed, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me . . ." (Matthew 26:39). I believe that those words underscored the sense of trouble He felt in His own soul as He faced the terrible prospect of the cross—and of bearing our sins and suffering His Father's wrath on our behalf. Those words helps us to appreciate the high price He paid for us. In His humanness, He longed for another way—if such a way could be found. But we need to remember that He also immediately afterwards prayed, ". . . [N]evertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39). Similarly, He later prayed, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done" (Matthew 26:42).
In spite of the anguish that He was about to experience, He was resolved to obey the will of the Father. And so, when He asks in our passage, "[A]nd what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'?", He's describing a rhetorical prayer that expressed an understandable desire. He had a natural, normal, very human desire to avoid the agonies of the cross. And no doubt, part of the agony of the garden involved the terrible temptation from the devil to flee from the cross if He could. But Jesus expresses His overcoming resolve when He says, "But for this purpose I came to this hour" (John 12:27).
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And please consider a couple of things that we discover from these words. First, notice that our Lord expresses His sense of purpose in the cross. Literally, He says, "But because of this I came . . ." Among the many things the Son of God had in view when He left His throne of glory, took human nature unto Himself, become born into the human family, and lived and walked among men; chief among those objectives was the cross. He was born into this world in order to die for the sins of the world. Christmas happened so that Good Friday could happen.
If we don't understand this about Jesus, then we don't understand Him rightly. He didn't come to this earth to simply be a great 'teacher' of religious truth; although He certainly was that. Nor did He come to this earth to provide us with a great example of sacrificial love to God; although He is the supreme example of that. Above all else, He came to this world to demonstrate His love to us by dying on the cross on our behalf, and saving us from the just wrath of God for our sins. It was for this reason that He came "to this hour"—that is, this all-important point in His earthly ministry. That is the great, central message of the Gospel—"Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).
And second, notice from the context that it was all done in obedience to His Father. Before these words, He asks (rhetorically) if He should ask the Father to save Him from this hour. And after these very words, He instead asks that the Father glorify His own name through this hour. In other words, Jesus attributes the the authority for what He is about to do to the heavenly Father.
The cross of Jesus was not an event that resulted from Jesus' own initiative. Rather, our salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the initiative of the Father; whose will Jesus was obeying. Jesus is letting us know in these words that though our sins are an offense to His holy Father, and though His wrath for our sins is just and righteous, it was nevertheless the love of the Father for us that moved Him to send His Son.
The Father is not the enemy of fallen and needy sinners. The Father is not against us. Rather, as Paul writes in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." As John writes in 1 John 4:10; “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20;
As we consider the heart-beat of our Savior as He made His way to the cross, let's be sure that we remember the sense of resolve He felt before the Father. Even though His spirit was troubled at the prospect, He nevertheless went. It was for the cross that He came into this world; and it was done in obedience to the will of the Father, who loved us and has provide the means for us poor, needy sinners to be reconciled to Himself.
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So, Jesus felt troubled in spirit as He made His way toward the cross. But He also felt a resolve of purpose in faithfully obeying the Father by suffering the cross for our sins. And this leads us to note . . .
3. HIS CONFIDENCE THROUGH THE CROSS (vv. 28-30).
Jesus was confident that, in going to the cross, His Father would receive glory. He prayed, "Father, glorify Your name." And it's very interesting to see what happened afterwards. John tells us that God the Father spoke in response to Jesus' prayer. "Then a voice came from heaven, saying, 'I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.'"
Some didn't understand the sound. They thought that it was simply thunder—but thunder that rumbled in response to Jesus' prayer. Others thought that it was an angel—but didn't understand the voice or the message. John himself must have understood something of the message, because He recorded it for us.
But it was Jesus who explained that it was for the benefit of all who were standing by—whether they understood or not—that the voice was heard. In God speaking His response from heaven, He affirmed that He indeed did intend to be glorified by the cross.
Do you realize that this is the third time in the Gospels that the Father spoke audibly concerning His Son? The first time was at Jesus' baptism; when He declared, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). The second time was on the mount of transfiguration; when the Father told the disciples, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" (Matthew 17:5). And now, for a third time, the Father speaks with respect to Jesus' prayer that He glorify His name through the cross; and He says, "'I have both glorified it and will glorify it again."
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How has the Father glorified His name in the past? It was through Jesus' obedience; because, in His great priestly prayer in John 17—just before going to the cross for us—Jesus prayed, "I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4). And now, the Father is further glorified in a future sense by the salvation He has accomplished for us through Jesus' cross. Jesus also prayed in His great priestly prayer, "And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5). In offering this prayer, Jesus made a new and glorious affirmation; "And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them" (John 17:10).
Have you ever considered the ways that the "name"—that is, the full sense of who the Father is and what He does—is glorified in the cross? For one thing, the cross demonstrates the Father's holiness; because it shows that sin is contrary to His holy character. It also demonstrates the Father's justice; because it shows that the Father's just character demands that sin be paid for. And it further demonstrates His wrath—something we don't like to think about—because it was on the cross that "it pleased the LORD to bruise Him" (Isaiah 53:10). So much of what is true of the Father is revealed—and glorified—by the harsh reality of the cross.
But the cross also brings glory to the Father in other ways. It demonstrates the Father's love; because it was He who willingly gave His Son to die on our behalf. It also demonstrates His mercy; because it was on the cross that His Son "has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4); so that "whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). And it also demonstrates His amazing grace; because "as many as receive Him [that is, Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12).
And most of all, the cross glorifies the Father because it will rebound to the His eternal praise. By the work that Jesus accomplished at the cross, the Father makes you and me into joint-heirs with Jesus, and full sharers with Him in His eternal glory—so that we will enjoy eternal fellowship with Him in His Father's presence! Jesus Himself prayed, "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfection one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me" (John 17:22-23).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; it is through the cross that the Father has made us "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people", that we "may proclaim the praises of Him" who called us "out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). No wonder, then, that the Father affirms that He has both glorified His name—and will glorify it again—through the cross!
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Finally, I ask you to notice one more thing that was in the heart of our Savior as He made His way toward the cross on that day . . .
4. HIS EXPECTATION AFTER THE CROSS (vv. 31-32).
When He says, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out . . ." He speaks of the accomplishment of these things with great certainty. He says, "Now"—as if they were things that were being accomplished even then—because He was about to go to the cross and do that which will surely bring them to pass.
First, He fully expected that, as a result of the cross, this world system—literally, this cosmos—will be brought to the time of "judgment". From that point on, there will be only two kinds of people in the world: those who will place their trust in Him and in His sacrifice on the cross, and those who will not; those who know Him by faith, and those who don't. The cross makes a distinction in humanity. As it says in John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him". As it says in 1 John 5:11-12, "And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life."
If Jesus had not gone to the cross, those words would not be true. But because He did, they are. Now, there is a judgment that has been passed on all the people of this world. Now, there is a dividing line in eternity with respect to every member of humanity. Now, every man and every woman must one day stand before Jesus Christ—the Judge of all the earth—and give an account for what they have done with Him and His sacrifice on the cross.
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Second, He fully expected that, as a result of the cross, the ruler of this world system—the devil—will be "cast out" and brought to utter defeat. The devil was not yet "cast out"; because it would only be a short while from this point that the devil would put it in the heart of Judas to betray the Savior (John 13:27). Soon, Jesus would tell His disciples, "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me" (John 14:30). And even today, as believers, we are warned, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
But though the devil was not yet cast out at the time that Jesus went to the cross, it was still the cross that completely defeated him. He roams about on this earth as our adversary; but he roams about as a defeated adversary. The devil's defeat was absolutely secured for us when Jesus died in our place. Every accusation he can bring against us was utterly removed by the fact that Jesus took our punishment for us on the cross, paid the full debt of our sin on our behalf, and completely removed all cause for accusation against us before God (Romans 8:33-34). And so, as a result, we read what it says in Revelation 12:10 of the saints; that "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame Him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death."
Even to this day, the devil rages against the saints, and resists the kingdom of Jesus Christ. He will do so until the day he is, as the Bible promises, cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). But when Jesus set Himself to go to the cross, He was able to say that "now the ruler of this world will be cast out." The Bible speaks to the man or woman in Christ, and says that "the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20).
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There is a final expectation Jesus affirms concerning the cross. He said, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself" (v. 32.) And we know that He is speaking of the cross; because John then tells us, "This He said, signifying by what death He would die" (v. 33).
There is a double meaning in those words. The Greek word that is translated "lifted up" means to physically raise something aloft; and it describes for us the fact that He was about to be raised aloft on a cross and displayed before all the world as He died. And surely, in doing so, He has drawn all peoples to Himself. He has become the central figure of humanity. All who long for salvation and for the forgiveness of their sins are drawn to Him. Elsewhere, Jesus says,
But I can't help noticing that the same Greek word can also be used to describe the act of exalting someone and magnifying them in the view of others. In a sense, this single verse—verse 32—is the theology of missions in short summation. The church rests upon—and is spread by—the testimony of the cross. It rests upon the whole story of the historic fact of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection on behalf of sinners. And so, when we who have trusted Him as our Savior "lift Him up" as we are doing this morning, I believe God uses our faithfulness to do so, and works to draw others to Him for salvation.
Because Jesus willingly went to Jerusalem to be "lifted up" on the cross—and when we likewise continue to "lift Him up" by declaring the testimony of His cross to the world—He is faithful to draw others to Himself.
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Dear brothers and sisters; these are the things that were on the heart of our Lord as He went to the cross on that first Palm Sunday. May the revelation of His own heart cause us to love Him more for having died for us.
1Howard B. Grose and Charlotte A. Barnard, "Give of Your Best to the Master"; public domain
1Howard B. Grose and Charlotte A. Barnard, "Give of Your Best to the Master"; public domain.
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