Role Reversal

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Our humility is misunderstood by the world.

John(85) (Part of the Believe(74) series)
by Stuart Johns(233) on March 22, 2020 (Sunday Morning(341))

Humility(7), Witnessing(11), Worship(25)


Role Reversal

(John 12:12-19)



“In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, characters interpret ancient lore and rhymes in order to discern events in the present in much the same way that Christians interpret Old Testament prophecies to predict the coming of Christ.


In the third book of the trilogy, The Return of the King, the hero, Aragorn, who is the rightful claimant to the throne of Gondor, returns to the city Minas Tirith. He is victorious in the battle against the dark lord Sauron, but he's not yet able to claim the throne.


He enters the city in disguise in order to go to the Houses of Healing. There he seeks to heal his friends who were struck in battle. As he performs this healing, one of the attendants repeats an ancient verse: ‘The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.’”


J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings; submitted by F. Bradford Townley, Dover, Massachusetts.




Jesus has the hands of a healer and He was entering the city of Jerusalem in a humble way.



  • ME

    • Asked to serve on a board

        • Within the past year I was asked to consider serving on a local board in the community

        • It’s always an honor to be asked to serve

        • Sometimes I’m tempted to agree immediately without taking time to think and pray about it

        • I didn’t agree immediately, but asked for time to pray and seek Judy’s counsel

        • It was during this time that I heard the Lord tell me, through studying John 3, that, like John the Baptist, I needed to make sure that Jesus becomes greater and that I must become less

        • The decision was simple at point – I had to decline the offer to serve on the local board

    • Humility

        • It wasn’t easy to humble myself and decline the offer

        • I want to serve our community, but I also want to do it with humility and not pride


  • WE

    • Humility has changed in our culture as Carina Chocano points out:

“An article in the 
New York Times observes how ‘humility is not what it used to be.’ As a matter of fact, it may be the exact opposite of what it used to mean:

Lately it's pro forma—possibly even mandatory—for politicians, athletes, celebrities, and other public figures to be vocally and vigorously humbled by every honor awarded, prize won, job offered, record broken, pound lost, shout-out received, ‘like’ copped and thumb upped.

Diving at random into the internet and social media finds this new humility everywhere. A soap-opera actress on tour is humbled by the outpouring of love from fans. Comedians are humbled by big laughs, yoga practitioners are humbled by achieving difficult poses, athletes are humbled by good days on the field, Christmas volunteers are humbled by their own generosity and holiday spirit.


And yet none of these people sound very ‘humbled’ at all. On the contrary: They all seem exceedingly proud of themselves, hashtagging their humility to advertise their own status, success, sprightliness, generosity, moral superiority, and luck. When did humility get so cocky and vainglorious?”


Carina Chocano, "Calling Yourself 'Humbled' Doesn't Sound as Humble as It Used To," The New York Times (1-24-17)



    • Perhaps all of us would agree that having true humility can be difficult, especially when our culture is modeling anything but humility


As John continues to outline Jesus’ movements throughout Judea and Galilee, he shares about Jesus entering Jerusalem during His final week on earth. ​​ It wasn’t how the Jews expected Him to arrive. ​​ In fact, they misinterpreted His entrance into Jerusalem. ​​ His own disciples misunderstood His mission and the Pharisees would prove, once again, to be misguided in their intentions. ​​ Jesus was entering Jerusalem in a humble way, which was a role reversal in the minds of the crowd. ​​ As followers of Jesus Christ we are to live our lives in humility, just as Jesus did. ​​ John wants us to understand that . . .


BIG IDEA – ​​ Our humility is misunderstood by the world.


We are in good company, because the world misunderstood Jesus’ humility too.


Let’s pray


NOTE: This scene is recorded in all four Gospels, which speaks of its importance (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44).


  • GOD (John 12:12-19)

    • Misinterpreted (vv. 12-15)

        • If the anointing of Jesus by Mary took place on Saturday evening, then the next day would be Sunday

        • The great crowd

          • Who was this crowd?

            • John tells us that it was a great crowd that had come for the Feast

            • It’s understood that the crowd would have been those who had already made their way to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast

            • They would have only been about 1.7 miles from Bethany, but perhaps it was even closer than that

              • Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that Jesus had left Bethany and was headed to Bethphage, which was nearly half way between Bethany and Jerusalem

              • So now Jesus is only about one mile from Jerusalem

              • Jerusalem proper would not have been able to accommodate the population increase, so people would have set up temporary housing in the Kidron Valley [Burge, The NIV Application Commentary, John, 340]

              • So, they would have been closer still to Jesus and the crowd following Him from Bethany through Bethphage

            • It would have been easy for them to see this smaller crowd cresting the hill of the Mount of Olives and hearing their voices rejoicing

          • What were they doing?

            • Took palm branches and went out to meet Jesus

              • It wouldn’t have been difficult for them to find palm branches, because date palms were plentiful there

              • They especially grew around Jericho which had the name “City of Palms” (Deut. 34:3; 2 Chron. 28:15) [Köstenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, John, 369]

              • John doesn’t tell us what the crowd does with the palm branches

                • Throughout church history to our modern day, we see people waving palm branches in remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem

                • Luke doesn’t even mention the palm branches at all

                • Matthew and Mark tell us that the crowd cut branches and laid them on the road with their cloaks (in our modern time this would be considered “rolling out the red carpet”)

                • It’s certainly acceptable to think that some of the crowd were waving the palm branches, perhaps before they laid them down on the road

              • As they are coming from the Kidron Valley and from Bethphage, the crowd is shouting something

            • Shouting/Acclaiming

              • Hosanna!

                • It’s an Aramaic term that literally means, “save us now!” or “give salvation now!” or “save/salvation now!”

                • The Jews would have been familiar with this term from Psalm 118

                • Psalm 118:25, O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success.

                • The crowd probably misinterpreted their cry for salvation

                • They were looking for political salvation from Roman rule

                • Little did they know that their cry for salvation was so much deeper (not political, but spiritual)

                • They didn’t stop with crying out for salvation, but continued with a blessing

              • Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

                • This had traditionally been a blessing on the pilgrims who made their way to Jerusalem for the Feasts

                • It is a direct quote from Psalm 118:26a, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

                • It is likely that the blessing is not for the pilgrims at this point, because they are saying this in response to Jesus riding in to Jerusalem on a donkey

                • It has a messianic meaning

                • “So here; the crowds do not simply pronounce a blessing in the name of the Lord on the one who comes, but pronounce a blessing on the one who comes in the name of the Lord. ​​ The next line shows that this is the way the crowd understands their own words: ​​ Blessed is the King of Israel is not a quotation from Psalm 118, but messianic identification of ‘he who comes in the name of the Lord’.” ​​ [Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to John, 432]

              • Blessed is the King of Israel!

                • This is not the first time in John’s Gospel that someone has referred to Jesus as the King of Israel

                • John 1:49, Then Nathaniel declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

                • Certainly Jesus is the King of Israel, but not just Israel – He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

                • While a previous crowd tried to force Him into this title and role, it was not yet time for Him to claim that role

              • It’s an exciting time in Jerusalem as Jesus begins the process of truly revealing Himself to the crowds

              • Yet their acclamation of Him misses the mark, because they are misinterpreting His role and purpose

            • Application

              • There is a positive principle for us even though the crowd misinterpreted it here

              • “What ‘the Jews’ could not accept, this crowd, five days before Passover, does accept, albeit on its own terms and in the traditional vocabulary of its own liturgy.” ​​ [Michaels, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of John, 676-77]

              • PRINCIPLE #1 – God is pleased when His people worship Jesus.

                • As followers of Jesus Christ, on the other side of His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, we can and should worship Him

                  • We can cry out to Him to “save us now!”, because He has already done the work of redemption

                  • We can bless Him with our worship, because He came in the name of the Lord

                  • We can bless Him, because He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

                • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Take time, each day this week, to worship Jesus because He has saved me and is my King!

          • The crowd consisted of those, coming out from around Jerusalem, and those who have been with Jesus in Bethany

          • They are rejoicing in the fact that Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, but He isn’t doing it in the way they probably thought

        • Jesus fulfills prophecy

          • Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey

            • “Here he accepts kingship, but on his own terms, ‘sitting on a donkey’s colt.’” ​​ [Michaels, 678]

            • Jesus was showing the crowd that His kingship didn’t have anything to do with the political difficulties of the day

              • He was reversing the role of “king,” in the minds of the crowd, by not riding in on a war horse

              • He wasn’t coming to conquer the Romans

              • He was coming to bring peace between God and humanity

              • That was the significance of riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey

            • PRINCIPLE #2 – Jesus models humility in leadership.

              • He was not going around beating His own drum, like Carina Chocano mentioned about our modern politicians, athletes, celebrities, and other public figures

              • He very quietly climbed on the back of this young donkey and rode into Jerusalem

              • We can learn a lot from how Jesus handled His “popularity”

              • Some of the greatest managers I’ve ever worked under are those who are willing to step up and help with any task at work, no matter how menial

              • That shows humble leadership – leading by example

              • For those of us who are in positions of leadership, we should take our cues from Jesus

              • Our humility is misunderstood by the world.

          • Where did the donkey come from?

            • John just tells us that Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it

            • Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that Jesus gave instructions to a couple of His disciples, about where to get the donkey colt in Bethphage

          • Jesus was simply fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy

            • John doesn’t quote Zechariah word-for-word, but the same meaning is clear

            • Zechariah 9:9, Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! ​​ Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! ​​ See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

            • The phrase, “Daughter of Zion,” was another way of referring to the people of Jerusalem

        • Jesus is embracing His kingship, but not in the way that the crowd was probably thinking, as they were rejoicing and welcoming Him

        • They simply misinterpreted His role and purpose, but His own disciples were struggling to understand everything that was happening

    • Misunderstood (vv. 16-18)

        • John explains that Jesus’ disciples did not understand all this, at first

          • This wasn’t the first time that the disciples misunderstood Jesus

            • Read Matthew 15:10-20

            • Read Luke 24:19-27 (two disciples on the road to Emmaus)

          • Their misunderstanding was only temporary as John points out

            • John points out that at first his disciples did not understand all this

            • It wasn’t until Jesus had risen from the dead that the disciples truly understood how He had fulfilled Old Testament scriptures

            • Luke 24:44-49, He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: ​​ Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” ​​ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. ​​ He told them, “This is what is written: ​​ The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. ​​ You are witnesses of these things. ​​ I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

              • This all happened after Jesus came alive again and right before He ascended into heaven

              • The disciples were to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit was poured out on them

          • PRINCIPLE #3 – God provides understanding of His Word through His Holy Spirit.

            • The same Holy Spirit that was given to the disciples is given to every follower of Jesus Christ

            • The Holy Spirit gives us power to witness for Jesus Christ with our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers – it is the power from on high

            • The Holy Spirit, as part of the Godhead, also helps us to understand Scripture

              • 2 Timothy 2:7, Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

              • Read Ephesians 3:14-19

              • Psalm 119:17-18, Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word. ​​ Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

            • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Ask the Lord to help me understand His Word as I read and study it this week.

          • While the disciples misunderstood Jesus role at this point, they were not alone

        • The crowd also misunderstood

          • Two crowds

            • The crowd that was with Jesus at the raising of Lazarus

              • This crowd had witnessed the incredible miracle of a dead man being brought back to life

              • It transformed them and they couldn’t remain silent

              • PRINCIPLE #4 – God is pleased when His people share with others about Jesus.

                • Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

                • Matthew 28:18-20, Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. ​​ Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. ​​ And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

                • This is the mission of the church – Pursue, Grow, and Multiply disciples

                • We accomplish that mission by sharing with others about Jesus and what He has done in our lives

                • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Share about Jesus with at least one person this week.

              • The crowd who was witnessing had been with Jesus in Bethany, but the second crowd was coming out of Jerusalem

            • The crowd that was coming out from Jerusalem

              • They had heard about the miraculous sign and went out to meet Jesus

              • John doesn’t say that they believe in Jesus

              • In fact, in John 12:37, we read these words, Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.

              • “But when they realized Jesus had a different agenda than a political one, a different agenda than a national one, a different agenda than a material one – their cry changed from ‘Hosanna’ to ‘Crucify him.’” ​​ [Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary, New Testament, 540]

              • “The same is still true. ​​ Christians individually and churches corporately mobilize politically for this cause or for that personality; to change our government or to change our economy. ​​ But very few are interested in a Cross that speaks of dying to self. ​​ An arresting picture of Calvary depicts three empty crosses on Golgotha, with a donkey in the background, chewing on a palm frond. ​​ You see, it’s one thing to shout at a parade, and something else altogether to stand at the foot of the Cross.” ​​ [Courson, 540]

              • That’s a powerful challenge for us – are we willing to die to self or are we content to just shout at a parade

          • While the one crowd was witnessing about Jesus, we realize the second crowd probably misunderstood what was happening as Jesus was coming into Jerusalem

        • The crowd and the disciples misunderstood Jesus’ role, but the Pharisees were misguided

    • Misguided (v. 19)

        • If you recall from chapter 11, Caiaphas, the chief priests, and the Pharisees had determined that Jesus must die

        • They had instructed the swelling crowds in Jerusalem to let them know when and where they saw Jesus, so they could arrest Him

          • Their plans were getting them nowhere

          • They thought that with the help of the crowds they would finally be able to arrest Jesus, but the crowds were going to see Jesus

          • They were excited about His arrival and were rejoicing as they ushered Him into Jerusalem

          • The Pharisees were misguided in thinking that the crowd was going to help them

          • God’s timing is perfect

          • As we’ll see, the crowd will eventually help the Pharisees bring about Jesus’ death


  • YOU

    • How will you set aside time every day this week to worship Jesus because He has saved you and is your King?

    • Will you ask the Lord to help you understand His Word as you read and study it this week?

    • Who will you share Jesus with this week?


  • WE




“King Jesus, why did you choose a lowly donkey to carry you to ride in your parade?


Had you no friend who owned a horse--a royal mount with spirit for a king to ride?


Why choose a donkey, small, unassuming beast of burden trained to plow not carry kings?


King Jesus, why did you choose me, a lowly unimportant person to bear you in my world today?


I'm poor and unimportant, trained to work not carry kings--let alone the King of kings, and yet you've chosen me to carry you in triumph in this world's parade.


King Jesus, keep me small so all may see how great you are; keep me humble, so all may say,


‘Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord,’ not what a great [donkey] ass he rides.”


Joseph Bayly in Psalms of My Life. Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 5.