A TALE OF TWO TOMBS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 8, 2020
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
— John 12:12-19, ESV
All four Gospels record Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem for the holiest week in human history. John’s account stands out by letting the resurrection of Lazarus linger over the proceedings. This is because this Gospel is essentially a tale of two tombs.
The first half of John’s Gospel ends at an empty tomb. So will the second. But to get from one empty tomb to the other, Jesus had to enter a certain place, as a certain person, for a certain purpose. Such certainties will become crystal clear in this triumphal text.
The Place: Jerusalem
Jerusalem is the most significant city in all of human history. The name is derived from Yeru or Jeru, which is best translated as foundation or place. Salem, or Shalom, definitively means peace. Jeru-Shalom, then, is the foundation or place of peace. And it is there where Jesus Christ paid the price for our peace with God.
Jerusalem is the most significant city in biblical history, too. It is the capitol city of Israel, the Old Testament people of God; and, it is the birthplace of the Church, the New Testament people of God, born out of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Passover and the ascension of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. These things happened in that certain place, the city of Jerusalem, to consummate the Old Covenant and inaugurate the New Covenant.
The event described in the text took place at Passover, the setting for Christ’s most important work in this most important place. The historian Josephus wrote that over two million people packed into Jerusalem during Passover week, though most of his critics say he exaggerates two fold. Still, a million people is a lot of people.
Most of the citizens piling into the city on the Sunday before Passover Friday were pilgrims from Galilee. They were much more familiar with Jesus than the Judeans, since most of Jesus’ words and works were offered in Galilee (as covered by the synoptic Gospels, while John’s focus is Jesus in Jerusalem). I doubt the Judeans would have welcomed Jesus with such a “triumphal entry,” but the mostly Galilean crowd was glad to do it.
Their messianic expectations were very high. They shouted “Hosanna,” which means “save us.” They looked to Jesus as Savior. They quoted the messianic 118th Psalm, and they knew the difference between blessing someone in the name of the Lord and blessing the One who comes in the name of the Lord. They looked to Jesus as Lord. They waved palm branches, which were plentiful in and around Jerusalem, as symbols of praise and peace. It is if they were saying, praise the Lord for peace with God through the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
This was a God moment. This was a gospel moment. But what the people could not fathom at the time was the price God would pay for the gospel. They did not expect on this first day of the week that by the last day of the week Jesus would be buried in a tomb, just like Lazarus, and that He would rise again, just like Lazarus. So begins the tale of two tombs.
Of course, Jesus knew what He was doing, which is why He rode in to the exact place where He needed to be, Jerusalem, the city of prophets, priests, and kings.
The Person: Jesus
Jesus came to Jerusalem to present Himself as three persons in one: Prophet, Priest, and King.
Jesus was a proven prophet, and He would prove to be the prophet, the messianic fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18. Prophets speak truth to power. Prophets often rub people the wrong way. Prophets are seldom popular. And, prophets tend to get themselves killed, especially in Jerusalem.
Jesus knew this exactly and had said earlier, “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” So in this certain place, Jerusalem, Jesus came as a certain person, the Messiah the Prophet, the Prophet who would fulfill prophecies, like Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 53.
Jesus came to Jerusalem as a priest, too, the most high priest. Unlike prophets, priests were particularly popular in Israel, for they offered sacrifices according to the word of God that symbolized the forgiveness of sins. Who does not want their sins forgiven? Priests were valuable people.
Jesus is unique, however, insomuch that He came to the city on that fateful Passover to be both the high priest to offer the sacrifice; and, the sacrifice offered by the high priest. The Lord and the lamb are the same, hearkening back to the words of Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (ref. John 1:29).
Jesus came to Jerusalem as prophet, priest, and king. The crowd acknowledged it, calling Him “the King of Israel.” They just did not understand, at the time, what kind of king He was when He came the first time to earth.
Jesus was a servant king, riding a donkey instead of a white horse. Just wait until He comes again, however. In the first advent He was a suffering servant king, lifted up before the people on that Palm Sunday, lifted up on the cross on Good Friday.
Know with certainty that this is the person of Christ. He is the Prophet, He is our High Priest, and He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He came to a certain city, Jerusalem, as this certain person, for this certain purpose: to save God’s people.
The Purpose: Salvation
The people cried, “Hosanna,” save us, we pray. The Pharisees seethed, and repeated their jealous mantra that Jesus needed to be killed. It is a great gospel irony that one could only be accomplished by the other.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die, as He prophetically preached throughout His ministry, especially in the final year. Prophets preach about the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation through atoning sacrifice. Prophecy preaches salvation.
Sacrifice accomplishes salvation. Those of the Old Covenant were symbolic and ritualistic. Holy Communion in the New Covenant is symbolic and ritualistic. The tragedy and beauty of bread and blood is about salvation, accomplished by the sacrifice of our High Priest, Jesus Christ, on the cross in Jerusalem.
Death, however, as Jesus foreshadowed at the death of Lazarus, is not final for Christ and Christ’s followers. For Christ is risen today, and He is King and Lord over all. You just cannot see it, yet, except with eyes of faith.
The salvation celebrated on the original Palm Sunday led to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. There is salvation in no other prophecies or prophetic texts, other than Jesus Christ and the word of God. There is salvation in no other priests or religions, other than Jesus Christ and Christianity. There is no other king and kingdom above the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.
So walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, from Lazarus’ tomb to His own. Believe in the miracle, believe in the Messiah. Lay down your life for what happened in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and rose again, and enjoy the salvation of the Lord forever.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org