The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 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!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!” 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. 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. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” Jn 12:12-19
“You see that you are gaining nothing, Look the world has gone after him.” Gone after him. The Pharisees mean that they have a lost cause, and everyone is following Jesus. That no one will listen to them now. They all believe Jesus is the Messiah. This is why they lay palm branches before him. The Palm branches were symbols of Jewish independence and revolt since the days of the Maccabees they were national symbols printed on Jewish coins. The people believed he was the messiah that would free them from Roman rule, because he had raised Lazarus from the dead. They were right in that he was the Messiah. The Pharisees were right in that the world had now gone after him.
“The world has gone after him.” It makes for a nice play on words in the English language. When we go after someone it isn’t that we are following him. We use the term to go after someone, meaning to pursue them, to attack them. The Pharisees use it to mean follow. In this they are correct, the whole world is going after Jesus. One way or another. But this is only because Jesus is coming after you. “Behold, your king is coming. Sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
Your king, he is your king. And he is coming. He comes to you, and he comes on a colt. This is great, he comes pursuing you on a colt. It isn’t threatening. Watching a man ride a donkey is almost a funny thing. It always seems awkward to me to watch a man on a donkey. It doesn’t give you much in the way of height advantage. No one is ever told to get off their high donkey. It doesn’t even give you much in the way of speed or agility it seems. Perhaps it is more restful on your feet. But they idea of Mary journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey while pregnant invokes feelings of sympathy within me. Crowds cheering a revolutionary with symbols of national independence as he rides into battle on a donkey, well that is just funny on a few levels. But this is the way Jesus comes for us.
He comes for us as one of us, with forgiveness. He rides into his battle on a donkey, on a colt, because he means to die, to offer himself up peaceably as the sacrifice for our sins. He does not come to condemn but to save. He does not come to whip us into shape, but to be whipped for our sake. By his stripes we are healed. He comes on a donkey. But he comes, and he comes relentlessly.
Jesus doesn’t stop pursuing you, he doesn’t stop coming after you. He comes. Your king comes, he comes in peace, relentless peace. He is your king and he would have you be reconciled to him. So he comes constantly to you who sin and rebel against him, offering you if not a palm branch, an olive branch of peace. He comes to you in baptism, he comes to you in the word, he comes to you with his body and blood in bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. He comes for you, that you would be forgiven and reconciled to your king. So he comes on a donkey that you would not feel threatened.
And the world goes after him. The world goes after him, like the Pharisees, plotting, conniving, rebelling and refusing to believe, refusing to be reconciled to their king. Yes he is their king, he is your king whether you want him to be or not. This is who he is. He comes now on a donkey, unthreatening, and it seems an easy enough thing to go after him. Though rather silly. They go after him to take him down. And he lets them. They make ready for battle and he keeps pursuing them on his donkey. They kill him and he rises from the dead. He comes after them on a donkey and they continue to go after him. The world goes after him.
One way or another the world has to go after him. They can’t ignore him any longer. There is no middle ground, no neutral ground, either you go after him or you go after him. You go after him to attack him, or you go after him to follow him into battle with sin death and the devil. But one way or another you go after him as he relentlessly pursues you. And this is true of the world, because ever since Christ has risen from the dead the world has been concerned with him and him alone. He is the question the world must grapple with, this man on the colt of a donkey offering himself for your salvation, a king who comes to serve with his body, but a king nonetheless, a king who rules with forgiveness, grace and mercy, your king. After whom you shall go with the world, after whom you shall go through death to life everlasting.