In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: one God.[Amen.]
Blessed Feast of the Palms, brothers and sisters. Shaa’nini mbaraki. Today, Jerusalem is rejoicing; yesterday, Bethany was rejoicing. Our Savior came to Bethany, and he wiped the tears from the faces of Mary and Martha. And it was only right, because they had been wounded by the death of Lazarus. Our Savior, who is life, came to give life to his friend. He raised up Lazarus from the dead, they sat together and supped, and then Jesus comes today to take his place. It is he who has come to die for us and to make sure that his friends aren’t eaten by Hades.
All of Bethany is dancing. Even the skeptics are amazed. It wasn’t as though Lazarus was dead for five minutes, or they didn’t know him. Four days he was dead. Our text yesterday said he had decomposed already. It wasn’t just a feminine concern that he would stink if the tomb was opened; it was reality. And now our Savior brought him back and was sitting with him. The streams of visitors coming to his house [were] unstoppable, one person after another. Many of those persons had been there at his funeral. They had put him in the grave. They had given him the last kiss. Now they walk into his house, and he’s having lunch!
The word spread very quickly. All the countrysides emptied. They all came for Bethany. Those hard-hearted Jewish leaders, however, were enraged. They were enraged. Can you imagine? It says in the text that they were enraged and they went to plot to kill Lazarus. Huh? Does that sound to you like a very good idea? He was already dead! What exactly are you going to do to him? They left to plot to kill Lazarus, and what they would end up doing, of course, was killing themselves. They would end up murdering their own souls, because they would not accept the beautiful truth about who Jesus is.
Today we’re standing now in the midst of Jerusalem, and we’re surrounded by our leaders, the children, and they’ve all gathered in the streets, and the news has passed from Bethany now to fill the holy city. Our Savior is coming, and he makes the choice to come in fulfillment of the prophecies. He mounts on a colt that’s never been ridden, and he comes into Jerusalem to the praises of the children, people hiding, climbing in the trees, taking their clothes off, laying them in the street, singing his honor, acknowledging that the Messiah is here, God’s own Son. What a day! Our King in his way on his terms comes to Jerusalem to be acknowledged for who he is and then to do what he had come to do, and that is to die.
All of this was recorded in the 12th chapter of John’s gospel, which is what you just heard. The irony is that half a gospel earlier, six chapters earlier, in chapter six, something similar, but not on Jesus’ terms, happened. In John 6, Jesus was healing at such a pace, at such speed, that thousands and thousands of people—it’s estimated about 25,000 people—were following him wherever he went, because they were witnessing miraculous healing after miraculous healing. They were watching the Physician of souls and bodies eradicate disease from the Holy Land. The only parallel I can think in our own history is the movements of people with religious fervor in the 18th century and then again in the 19th century in what is called the First Great and Second Great Awakenings, times of tremendous religious fervor in our land, when preachers would be preaching in the open air, and literally 10-, 15,000 Americans would go from town to town to town, walking often, to hear the preaching. This is what was happening at the time that our Savior was effecting these miracles.
John 6 records that after working a number of miracles, he saw that the crowd, which had followed him into a deserted place, was starving. So he was moved with the bowels of his compassion to help them, and he told his disciples, “Give them something to eat.” Can you imagine? You’re looking on a field of people innumerable. You have five little fishies and two loaves of bread. And he tells you, “Can you please feed them?” You’re in the Coliseum, and he gives you a few things, and says, “Can you feed the visitors, please?” And he worked another miracle, the miracle of provision, and he fed them all. And after that, it says in the 15th verse of John 6 that Jesus, perceiving that they were approaching him to make him king by force, withdrew from them to a mountain to pray. The people were about to insist that he be acknowledged and promoted to be their king, and he would have nothing to do with it.
What’s the difference, brothers and sisters? John 6 versus John 12. John 6, he says, “No, I won’t be king. I won’t be king on your terms. I’m not here to do what you think I am here to do, that is, cure all your diseases so you’re never sick and feed you so you never have to work. That’s not why I’ve come.” He also wanted them to know: “No one makes me king.” [Laughter] “I am King, co-eternal with the Father, King from all ages.” In fact, when he’s described as King by his apostles in the New Testament, he’s called “the King of kings, the Lord of lords.” He’s not just another potentate that people demand rule over them like some Roman emperor.
No, Jesus put them off; he put them off. They wanted a form of rule which he hadn’t come to give. They had their mind on one thing: deliverance from their earthly suffering and especially from those dreaded oppressing Romans. They wanted to have political freedom. Nothing wrong with wanting to have political freedom—absolutely glorious, and often it’s the fruit of Jesus’ rule in this life, but often it is not. Often his rule manifests itself primarily in the embrace of voluntary weakness and suffering. He rules from the inside. He wants to cure man from the root, to get into his heart and to establish his kingdom there, and it will lead to a kingdom that knows no conflict, that knows no war, that knows no hunger, where we don’t have to sweat to exist. We’ll live a new life with him if his kingdom occupies this.
So this is completely different. Six chapters later, he himself, at his time, when the hour is right, according to the time-table of his Father, his hour has come, the words of the prophets are to be fulfilled and it’s time for him to die. He comes to the praises of the children and acknowledges to all who he is. To those who are frustrated and jealous, he says, “If these children were quiet, the stones themselves would erupt in praise.” He accepts divine honors, and everyone knows who he is.
The Gospel presents to us how to receive him and how not to receive him. We see two beautiful models. The positive model is Mary. Mary takes her most valuable possession—a jar, an alabaster jar of myrrh, worth thousands and thousands of dollars. Had it been passed down to her from her parents? We don’t know. All we know is that it was her most precious possession. She broke it, and she anointed Jesus for burial from head to toe, so much so that it says the entire house was filled with perfume. It was an extravagant act of love, and extravagant acts of love are the norm for us. That’s how we live. That’s what it means to serve the Lord. He is the first and supreme love for us, and she sets a tremendous model for us.
It’s amazing to me that sometimes our people are amazed that we would have extravagant acts of love for Jesus when we’re not amazed about extravagant acts of devotion in other realms. We endow hospitals. Wealthy Orthodox build beautiful monuments. But giving millions and millions of dollars for missions? Building churches like this? Starting universities and colleges that honor and hold up Jesus and holy Orthodoxy? Why should those be any surprise at all? Those are absolutely natural acts that flow from the kind of devotion that Mary demonstrates on this day. When you have a king like we have a King, those things are absolutely natural. What we’ve done here, what we hope to continue to do, it’s going to happen—it happened by extravagant love—it’s only going to continue to happen by extravagant love.
We have to make sure, brothers and sisters, that we’re living in Mary’s example. Today, be extravagant. Be extravagant with your smiles. Be extravagant with your rejoicing, with your praise of the Lord. He is worth it. He is our greatest possession. [Amen!] Amen.
There’s a second example. There’s a second example, and the one we should avoid. That’s Judas. Can you imagine? On this happy day, when Judas should have been taking some of that myrrh and rubbing it on his own head, he should have come up to her and said, “Mary, can I wash his feet with you? Can I help? Please!” What he said instead was judgment, judgment on her love, which was really a judgment about what he thought about Jesus. Can you imagine? The Lord knows this. The Lord knew what Judas was thinking. He knew how corrupt Judas was. He loved him so much, he even let him—even though he knew he was the thief—he let him hold the money bags hoping he might be able to slake a little bit of his lust for money and at least not leave him completely.
Jesus endured him, and yet Judas looked at her extravagant act of devotion, and he said, “Shouldn’t this have been sold and given to the poor?” And John notes in the gospel text, he said this because he was not a person concerned for the poor; he was a person who loved to steal a little bit for himself from the money bag. What a sad man. He was using Jesus for himself. This is exactly the example, brothers and sisters, we can’t have in our life and we can’t have in this church. We don’t go to Jesus, we aren’t serving him and accepting him as King just so that, on our terms, he can do the things we want. Forget about that!
No, today, on this day, let’s receive the King on his terms. Let’s honor him, because he says that the greatest glory, the greatest power of a king is weakness, voluntary weakness. He raised up Lazarus, he received the love-offering of Mary, and he endured Judas—all because he himself is the Lord of love, and he came not to be served, like the kings of the earth; he came to serve. He raised up Lazarus in order to take Lazarus’ place and our place in death so that he could transform it and let us taste of everlasting life. This is why the children today scream, and this is why I scream: Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.