The disciple whom Jesus loved in the book of John is none other than the writer himself. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus and the apostle John close by one another. They are relatives and John is one of Jesus’ first disciples who left his father’s very successful fishing business to follow the Lord. John was one of only two other disciples to accompany Jesus at the transfiguration event and he was there to see Jesus resurrect Jarius’ daughter. John was always near Jesus, even at the end when he bravely followed Peter into the court of the high priest during Jesus’ trial (John 18:15).
All four New Testament gospels include the story of Jesus and His disciples on the road to Jerusalem, for what will be Jesus’ final Passover visit. As crowds followed close by, there was talk of all that Jesus had done throughout the area. Many discussed the stories of Jesus raising the dead back to life. Someone else brought up the many demons that Jesus had cast out. Some thought that He might have been a prophet sent from God, or greater, the Messiah. There was even discussion that He could be Elijah or John the Baptist resurrected. His disciples knew exactly who He was; He told them on multiple occasions (ex. Matt. 16:16-17). Still, their struggle to comprehend His ultimate purpose was obvious and Jesus recognized that. Gathering them together alone, He tried once more to help them grasp the ultimate purpose of His final journey:
Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again. -Mark 10:33-34
The disciples were perplexed, “This is the messiah who will save Israel… and He will die trying?” They didn’t understand. It all proved too much for them. John wondered to himself quietly, the other disciples did too. “What is He talking about?” John was unable to separate the words of Jesus and the reality of the events surrounding them, so he moved on to another more pressing topic in his mind…
“Teacher, we want you to do for [me and my brother] whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to Him, “We are able…” -Mark 10:35-39
Imagine how this request intensified Jesus’ painful emotions. He knew His destination and He had just told His disciples their purpose, but they were too preoccupied to comprehend and comfort their suffering friend. The crowds continued to cry out to Jesus and the disciples. They were well known, and their fame was spreading still. Jesus confided in them as the whole world wanted to get closer to Jesus. They were on spiritual highs; after all, they had been chosen by God. This was literally the greatest moment of their life…
Only a few days later, John was there to accompany Jesus during His grand and final entrance into Jerusalem. The church celebrates this event each year on Palm Sunday. We often call it Jesus’ triumphal entry. It is the fulfillment of Old Testament scripture. Specifically, that the messiah would enter Jerusalem, not riding a war horse or a chariot, but on the back of a young donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10). He sent two of his disciples ahead of him to take the donkey for his entrance. We don’t know if they were baffled by the request of the Messiah or if the prophet Zechariah’s words echoed in their minds, but we know they agreed dutifully. Those two disciples were Peter and of course, Jesus’ beloved disciple, John.
They were on the final road to Jerusalem. Jesus was fully committed to go – nothing would stand in His way. He was lonely but surrounded by large crowds. He was anxious yet He was stable. While His companions soaked up their new fame, Jesus spoke of His desire to serve others (Mark 10:45). Over and over the disciples missed the point but in a short time, they would grasp it well. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a beautiful picture of honor and worship to the greatest servant of humanity. John was there physically, but he had not comprehended that Jesus would be dead in six days. John would remember these events for 60 more years.
When Jesus arrived, there were shouts of joy for Him and many sang Psalms of David to Him. They called Him blessed and recognized that He came from God. As many waved palm branches and cried out for His attention, the disciples beamed with pride. The long-awaited King and Savior had arrived for the greatest Passover in history. He carried no lamb to Passover, foreshadowing his ultimate purpose as the True Lamb of God; the One that takes away the sins of the world, once and for all.
Palm Sunday reminds me that our walk with the Lord is not based on what we do for Him, it is based on what He does for us. Jesus’ most loved disciple was oblivious when Jesus was at His loneliest (ex. Luke 9:54-56). On the road to Jerusalem, John felt spiritually emboldened, but he was misguided. Jesus knew John’s heart then and He still loved John deeply. He never lost his patience with John or any of the disciples while they traveled to Jerusalem. He carried on with the mission that He came to fulfill. He was so committed to His mission that He walked ahead of His disciples on the road to the cross where He would suffer greatly (Mark 10:32).
At the cross John courageously stood with Mary, Jesus’ mother (John 19:26), but after Jesus was buried, John quickly returned to his old career: his fishing business. The crowds returned to their life too. As Jesus’ body laid in a borrowed tomb, it seemed as if no one remembered that He promised His greatest miracle was still to come…
How often are we like the crowd at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem? How often are we like the apostle John? When we are at our spiritual best, we feel righteous. We feel close to the Lord when we worship Him like the crowds waving palm branches. Yet, only a few days after Jesus’ humble entrance on a donkey, John was fearful for his life and many of the people who had honored Jesus now cursed at him and called for his death. How often are we like them?
If we base our salvation on our performance and our ability to please our Lord, we will quickly see that we are no different than John and the crowd. We may have great moments that feel powerful, but those moments won’t sustain us through the low moments of life. There is always one constant in scripture: God. That is why the picture of the gospel is that God came to earth so that we would become righteous through Him (2 Cor. 5:21) – not through ourselves. Our inconsistencies never overshadow His consistency. When we are weak, He is strong. When we wave our spiritual palm branches it blesses Him, but when we fail to live up to His expectations, He continues to love us still, and all because of the cross of Christ.
We owe every ounce of our salvation to Jesus. Humanity is, by nature, high one moment, low the next. Strong at times, weak soon after. Jesus was constantly aware of humanity’s need for His sacrifice – there was no alternative. Humanity’s need for His sacrifice 2000 years ago, is the same need that we have today.
We tend to burden ourselves with what we can never accomplish. There is no doubt in my mind that John longed for a re-do after Jesus had died. He must have felt the weight of failing his master. He could have tried 1000 times and never gotten it right – his best could never be good enough. Today on Palm Sunday, worship Him with thanksgiving for His willingness to go to Jerusalem and die for His beloved. But remember that His love for you is not based on your performance. God loves us when we are at our best and when we are at our lowest; and salvation is a gift of God given to us because of what Jesus did for us (Eph. 2:8-9). There is no other explanation.
John finished well
After the cross, John became a mighty and emboldened minister of the gospel who wrote five books included in the New Testament. He was jailed for preaching the resurrection of Jesus early in the book of Acts (4:1-3). Later John became a pastor in Ephesus and was called a “pillar of the church” by Paul (Gal. 2:9). Though not recorded in scripture, well documented history tells us that John was sentenced to die as a martyr by being boiled alive in oil. The order was carried out but halted when John’s suffering became too great for his executioners to stomach. He was tortured, but ultimately survived and was exiled to the Island of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation as late as AD 96.
John finished strong because he recognized the awesome purpose of Jesus’ final road to Jerusalem. At the end of that road was a cross with John’s name on it… with my name on it… with your name on it. But the man fastened to that cross was Jesus, the Lamb of God. He proved once and for all that our salvation was a work that only He could do. I pray that we will never stop marveling at the wonderful cross but that we will cast our life’s vision to that broken and holy place, for it is there that we are made alive with Him forever.
Thank You Lord for the road to Jerusalem, thank You for bearing the cross for us, and thank You for teaching us to look to You for all that we need on Palm Sunday.