John Episode 2: Perceptions

All four gospels recount Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for Passover. That day is recognized annually as “Palm Sunday” and begins the week leading up to Good Friday and Easter. John records it this way. “The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said: “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem. Look, your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.” His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him. Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”” (John 12:12–19, NLT)

The event is a familiar one with waving palm branches and the crowd shouting hosanna. But just below the surface, John touches on the various perceptions and reactions of those present on that day.

In a sense, the perceptions of the crowd were intoxicating. They fed on the stories of Jesus’ signs and wonders – the greatest and most recent being the raising of Lazarus from nearby Bethany. But mixed in is a bit of celebrity worship and a kind of Beatlemania. Some perhaps truly did perceive Jesus as the king. Others perhaps joined for the excitement and novelty of the moment. The crowd is often fueled by superficial perceptions and shallow convictions – as we’ll see when the Passover week draws to its conclusion.

Jesus’ perceptions at this moment are deep. His perception is tempered by an ancient prophecy and His divine understanding of what comes next. He understood the shallowness of the crowd’s lofty exclamations. Those perceptions color and inform the event and all the teaching moments that followed.

Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, didn’t get it until later. John says as much, “But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.” That is often the way of faith; we often only understand later how God was moving in a particular moment.

Lastly is the perception of the Pharisees. They didn’t see some grand fulfillment of prophecy or the entry of a king. They instead saw their slipping influence over the people. That perception is expressed by observing that “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

We have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story. We can recognize that Jesus is King of kings. We can see His entry into Jerusalem as a grand proclamation and also as the Passover lamb destined to die for the sins of us all.

While we may chide and wonder at the Disciple’s lack of understanding, we are more like them than not. They lived, walked, talked, and ministered with Jesus on a daily basis. They saw Him in action and heard Him speak. And yet they didn’t really understand Jesus’ mission. Yes, we may ridicule them a bit, but we aren’t really much different. God is moving all around us, and the Holy Spirit is actively drawing folks in, but we have a hard time seeing it. Our perceptions are affected by our expectations, our doubts, our desires so much so that we can’t clearly see God’s hand in that moment. I don’t think that is a lack of faith, teaching, or vision – our perceptions are limited by our humanity. It all comes down to faith and trust – trusting God for this moment even though we don’t clearly see or understand how, where, and why God is moving.

Dale Heinold
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