Come Together Right Now Over Him
The 1969 Beetle song "Come Together" is, to me, one of their most distinctive tunes. Songfacts.com can tell you that the title comes from Lennon being asked to write a song with that theme for LSD-famous Timothy Leary's gubernatorial campaign, that the song has one of the most misheard lyrics in rock and roll, and the distinctive sound that begins each verse is made by a rotary phone. Finally, it will tell you that both Paul and John admitted the lyrics are total nonsense. And that's how it should be if we're talking about coming together over me or you. But coming together over Jesus, as all things do in Holy Week, that's another matter.
Jerusalem came together over Him as her king. John's account makes that plain. The crowd cries out, "Blessed is the King of Israel." And the way their welcoming Him suits a conquering hero. Not just their words tell you this but Jesus getting a donkey and riding in on it and the crowd getting palms. The other accounts are clear that Jesus commissioned 2 disciples to get Him a young donkey to ride into Jerusalem. Jesus is purposely claiming the kingship of David. When David wants to make clear that Solomon is his choice to be king and not another son, Adonijah, who had claimed the throne, listen to what he says, "'Call in Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.' When they came before the king, he said to them: set Solomon my son on my own mule and take him down to Gihon'" (1 Kn. 1:32-33). And when the priest on Adonijah's side wants to prove to him that his bid for the throne has failed says, "'Our lord King David has made Solomon king. they have put him on the king's mule'. At this, all Adonijah's guests rose in alarm and dispersed" (Ibid. 1:43-44,49).
The mule part all the Evangelists tell you about, but only John mentions the palms. That's right. Matthew mentions they spread cut branches (21:8). Mark mentions they spread leafy branches (11:8). Luke doesn't mention branches at all. John alone says, "They took palm branches and went out to meet Him." John will mention palms again. In Revelation he says, "I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count , standing before the throne... They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands" (Rev. 7:9). The custom of using palms today, which dates to the 4th century, comes as much from the palm carrying people in heaven as it does from the palm strewing Jerusalemites (Kemper, Variety for Worship, 39). But don't think the crowd, or even the disciples, are heavenly or spiritually minded. They are politically minded. 2 Macc. 10:7 notes palm branches were used in rededication of the temple in 164 BC. In 141 BC Simon Maccabeus made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem with palms being used as a nation symbol of victory (1 Mac. 13:51). Our text is 30 A.D.. In 66-70 and again 132-35 AD palms were used as a national symbol on Jewish coins during revolts against Rome (Kiehl, Passion, 28-29).
Jerusalem comes together over Jesus in a way neither church or state had seen before, and both are afraid. The crowd in waving palms isn't thinking of martyrs in heaven but are the equivalent of crowds waving the American flag today. And they are doing so with all the zeal of fans at an NCAA basketball tournament. You know fans is short for fanatics, and that's what this crowd is full of. And Jesus accepts it. Last week I told you that both crowds, those streaming forth from Bethany with Him and those coming out of Jerusalem to Him, were spurred on by Jesus' resurrection of the 4-day dead Lazarus. That this was the main event is shown in the verses right before our text. "A large crowd came, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised... So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus" (Jn. 12:9-11).
Jesus comes to Jerusalem as the Defeater of Death and that means Daughters of Zion don't need to be afraid. He comes bringing salvation. He comes bringing a new you, a different you. But He comes to put to death the old you. Now you know why the Jerusalem that hails Him as their King on Sunday can call for His crucifixion on Friday. Daughters of Zion aren't afraid, but sons of Adam are nothing but fear. Our Old Adam says Paul is dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Our Old Adam is the walking dead, a Zombie, relentlessly opposed to God in Christ, believing nothing, hoping nothing, only knowing the pleasures of the flesh. Dying is it for the old Adam, so it fights, it rages, ceaselessly like a Zombie, against the One who comes to put to death the only reality it believes exists.
All Christians have this dual reality going on, Saint and Sinner, Old and New Adam, dead in the flesh and alive in Christ. Enemies of Christ, those who don't fear, love, or trust in Him, have only the Sinner, the Old Adam, and Death going on. However, our text shows us that both disciples and enemies come together over Jesus with wrong conclusions.
One of the proofs for the authenticity of Scripture is that it shows the apostles, the ones upon whom the Church of Christ is built, in such poor light. "At first His disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about Him and that they had done these things to Him." How many times had Jesus revealed to them that He was God in Flesh, ruler of wind and waves, Lord of Death and devils too? How many times did He speak to them of spiritual things and they misunderstood Him as speaking about physical things? You know how you can get fed up with telling the same thing to a kid multiple times? You ask, "How many times have I told you?" knowing it's way too many. With a boy or girl who isn't paying attention you might take their face in hand and say, "Look at me; see what I'm talking about."
The Apostles have been misunderstanding Jesus from His Baptism on throughout His whole ministry. They're going to fail big time this coming week. Go to dark Gethsemane, follow to the judgment hall and you'll see it all. Go to Good Friday and see how smoldering misunderstanding breaks into a full blown blaze of unbelief. Even on Easter Sunday evening after reports and actual sightings of Jesus, where are the apostles? Behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Not one of them, though commanded by Jesus before His death and reminded of that command by angels in an empty tomb, none of them follows His command and goes to Galilee to meet Him. Can you believe that? How many times do they have to be told something? Don't you want to shout at them sometimes? "How can you be so blind, so slow, so unbelieving?" Yes, how can they be so much like me?
Then we have Jesus' enemies. Those in the flesh only, those with only an Old Adam and only dead in their trespasses and sins. His enemies conclude on Palm Sunday what the Roman governor Pilate will on Good Friday. They throw up their hands in despair; I translate literally: "Take a real good look. This is getting us nowhere. Pick up your ears and listen: the cosmos has gone after Him!" Jesus' enemies throw up their hands in exasperation; Pilate is going to wash his hands in a futile attempt to rid them of the blood of Jesus, and Jesus is going to extend His hands for nailing on the cross. Remember two things: He has said that no one takes His life from Him, but He gives it freely, and when offered the anesthesia of the myrrh before the nailing begins, Jesus refuses it. So, these 2 things mean there was no Roman soldiers struggling to hold Him down; there was no drugged Jesus stretching out His hands mindlessly to have 9-inch nails pounded through them for us and our salvation. In the old puff-test for glaucoma, I sometimes had to physically hold my eyelids open. I can't imagine Jesus' willing giving up His hands, His life, His all for all sinners of all times and all places.
Remember last week Jesus promised: "But when I am lifted up from the earth, I will drag all people to Myself." This includes: butcher, baker, candlestick maker; rich man, poor man, beggar man, and thief, two of them. One will in the end come in faith; the other will remain in unbelief. One's Old Adam will be joined by a New for a ticket to Paradise that very day. The other's Old Adam will remain alone and so head for hell faster than the proverbial snowball rolling downhill. All are going to come into the light, to come together over Jesus who declared Himself the Light of the World. Not just of believers, not just of the New Man, not just of churchgoers, but the Light of the world. Actually, Jesus uses the same word His enemies in our text do: He's the light of the cosmos.
It started when I was a teen. Time and again since "Earthrise" was photographed from Apollo 8 in 1968 I was told how small earth was in the vastness of space. Then in 1990 a picture of earth, known as Pale Blue Dot, was taken from Voyager 1 some 3.7 billion miles away. That sealed the deal. Kansas was right. We are just dust blowing in the wind. And the Pillars of Creation taken by the Hubble telescope in 1995 and the Hand of God taken by a NASA telescope array in 2014 made it irrefutable. What's going on out there, in a galaxy far, far away is more significant than what's going on here.
Nope, Jesus, the God-Man, redeemed the cosmos from right here; from this Pale Blue Dot. By taking on flesh and blood from a Virgin named Mary, by bearing the sins and sinfulness of all mankind on His back, He took to the cross the suffering and sighing of us all till damned on the cross and buried in death. And when the heavy stone sealed His tomb the sound echoed throughout the cosmos. All the cosmos is dragged to Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection. Now all are dragged to the Light of God's grace in the Face of Christ. And as the same sunlight softens wax but hardens clay, so it is with the Light of the cosmos. It is never the purpose of God that His Light harden anyone: not His misunderstanding apostles not His unbelieving enemies. His purpose is that one and all, the whole cosmos, come together over Him in faith for life. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (20210328); John 12:12-19