The Gospel of Jesus Christ acknowledges both the validity of our felt needs and the supremacy of God’s purposes. Because the Gospel is predicated on the trustworthiness of God to accomplish His ultimate good in and through us, there are times where our needs will appear to be subordinated to God’s plan. In these instances, we can be assured that God is always working for our truest good in Christ.
Series: Redefining Greatness Passage: John 12:1-11
Avoid being paralyzed by spiritual pragmatism and personal preferences (vv. 12-13).
a. We want a strategy: a proven way of meeting our needs and achieving our goals.
b. We want a solution: a plan for peace and prosperity in our lives.
God’s supremacy is always working for our greatest good in Christ (vv. 14-16).
a. God has a greater strategy: He keeps His promises through Christ and works His plan in us.
Our felt need is not our greatest reality (vv. 17-19).
b. God has a greater solution: His supreme plan impacts our temporary and eternal goals, bringing about a better end.
Remembering that God has been faithful to you, prayerfully respond by putting some of all of the following into practicing in a tangible way this week:
- Give Thanks: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
- Pray for the Holy Spirit: Luke 11:5-13
- Intercede for the Saints: Ephesians 6:18-20
- Give Generously: 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
- Forgive: Ephesians 4:32
- Put Away Bitterness and Malice: 1 Peter 2:1
- Seek Justice: James 1:26-28
- Flee Sexual Temptation: 1 Corinthians 6:17-20
So often we take matters into our own hands because we assume no one else, even God, will help us out of the bind we’ve found ourselves in. And of course, I don’t just mean practically, but spiritually as well. In fact, I could contend that most of the belief systems we hold to are based on the assumption that God is not able or willing to step in and help us when we need it the most.
- Atheistic non-Christians see no reason to ask God for help, and assume that there can’t be a God, because if there was, we wouldn’t have the chaos, pain and tragedy we currently do.
- Secular non-Christians believe there is a God but resolve He doesn’t step in but leaves the outcome up to our own spiritual energy or humanistic optimism, assuming we will make good ourselves. This is the same with most eastern religions—“Help” is all about finding harmony on our own.
- Legalistic religions, like Islam or Judaism, and dare I even say legalistic Christians, believe that we are the ones that determine how God feels about us and if He’ll step in. Ironically, God’s faithfulness is dependent upon our faithfulness, which make us in “control” of God’s actions.
The reason these formal belief systems — or our own informal thinking — causes us to take matters into our own hands is (1) because we are a fearful people. We get scared, and when we get scared, we try to step in as if we know better than God. We do this in little ways, or in big religions, all created out of fear, assuming God’s plan isn’t adequate.
We take matters into our own hands also (2) because we are insecure people. We get nervous when God tells us to have faith in something we cannot see. This goes back to Adam and Eve, when sin entered the world and they realized they were bare. What did they do in their insecurity? Try to cover up, trusting in frail leaves to protect them from the eye of God.
We also take matters into our own hands, spiritually speaking, (3) because we are skeptical people. We don’t understand how God has a plan for everyone’s life and how He could possibly have the bandwidth to work that out in every life, all at the same time. We live with a natural skepticism toward the heart of God, which fuels our propensity to take matters into our own hands — because we can’t see His hand, so we fail to trust His heart.
We take matters into our own hands, ultimately, because life is hard.
We know the promises of God and trust what the Bible says about God being all-powerful, but just because we know them doesn’t mean we live like we trust them. Sadly, we see God’s promises as no better than the guy’s next to us. We live in a “culture of lies,”— a society in which words are increasingly malleable and slippery. As a result, we are trained to distrust promises, especially those made by people in authority over us. We must treat the promises of God like campaign slogans or mistake God Himself for a politician. Unlike many of our human authorities, God keeps His Word.
But when life gets hard and we’ve suddenly found the end our rope, it is then that fear, insecurity and skepticism creep in. We are faced with a choice—trust God’s promises and plan or try taking control on our own.
As many of you know, Bill Graham had a deep impact on my life. In fact, I was sure that I would be a traveling evangelist, even more than I thought I would be a pastor. I had the privilege of meeting him and preaching at several of his crusades. But even Billy Graham, who had an unbelievable ministry said, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.’” I know personally that there were seasons where Mr. Graham did not always perceive or understand the promise or plan of God in His life, but he never stopped seeking God. Even when God’s promises seemed to have little bearing on Graham’s present struggle, He chose to trust that God was working out His good purposes.
It is all for God’s Glory in His Greater Plan
Many things in our lives carry an aura of glory for us, but they may not serve God’s purpose for HIS glory and the greater good in our lives. Today we are going to join Jesus on what is called “The Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. But I don’t want you to miss that God is working his promises and plan through every detail in this story. This is a vivid picture of the crowds thinking they knew a better plan than God, yet in all of it God’s keep on course by requiring Christ to be humiliated and put to death for even greater results.
I believe God is always trying to take us somewhere we’ve never been before. That is because He is formative, not just helpful. I’ve entitled the message today, “More than a Useful God.”This passage will make clear that just when they thought they knew what was best, God had a better plan. The same is true for us. Please PRAY with me.
Open your Bible with me to John 12:12-19 on page 899. You can also follow along in the Grace Chapel app and take notes on the back of the bulletin. If you don’t own a Bible or you know someone who needs one, you are welcome to use and take the one in front of you. You can also text in any questions during the message and I do my best to address those in the series or on social media throughout the week. Join me as we encounter God through His Word.
Let’s read verse 12-13:  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!”
Before I unpack this text, let me give you a warning statement: We must avoid being paralyzed by spiritual pragmatism and personal preferences. Pragmatism is clinging to something true because it has been proven in the past. It avoids risks and stays in the safe zone. The Jewish crowd that was now surrounding Jesus was confused at best and schizophrenic at worst. While there was an increasing number of people believing, there was still many ambivalent and some opposed. Yet they cheered him into Jerusalem.
They were spiritually pragmatic: They wanted someone to fulfill the Jewish Scriptures, saving them politically and freeing them out from under the Roman rule. Though not all of them had faith that Jesus would bring them spiritual salvation, the started to believe His signs were enough to bring them social and governmental salvation. Their focus was temporary, not eternal. They hailed Jesus as King, and the only other time they did that was in Chapter 6 when he fed them all for no cost. They wanted Him to meet their needs and saw His signs as proof that He could be their benevolent ruler.
We can be the same way with Jesus—reducing His work to nothing more than being useful for us. Think about it—how do you usually pray? With a lot of requests, demands and declarative statements? Are you telling God what you want Him to be rather than trusting Him to be who He promised He would be? Do you view Him only through the lens of what you know He has done in the past, so you demand He do it again? This is spiritual pragmatism.
They were also biased to their own preferences: They wanted Jesus to save them on their terms. Their own comfort, freedom and prosperity was more important than God’s desire for them. And so, it is with us: We know what we want and when we want it and we do whatever WE think we have to do to get it or keep it. We are always bent toward our own preferences.
It is ironic, isn’t it? [a little Sarah McLaughlin needed here] They had God right before them, yet they wanted to tell God how to be, what to do and when to act. There is incredible irony here — Look at the irony between what they wanted and what they got:
They wanted a mighty leader who would ride in on a horse, yet they got a Savior riding in on a donkey. He rode not on a showy steed with a conspicuous entourage but instead on a borrowed colt, not even a full-grown donkey! This would be like the president-elect showing up to his inauguration in his neighbor’s minivan. Yet, a donkey was a symbol of peace. Jesus came in peace and to make peace, not for war or to make war. The King of Kings came also as the prince of peace, for us.
It is also ironic that they waved palm branches. John is the only gospel writer that tells us about these branches being waved. Yet, they were a symbol for the Jews for hope that dated all the way back to the Maccabean times of captivity and even became a national symbol on their coins. The waved these branches declaring their national hope, yet Jesus was giving them spiritual hope for all time, not just one political time.
But perhaps the greatest irony is found in what they said and what God actually meant. Their words, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel” was a phrase from Psalm 118—well, at least mostly. Look at it for yourself — Psalm 118, page 512.
“Hosanna” means “Save us now.” Psalm 118:25 starts by saying, “Save us, we pray.” Anytime this word is used, which is only 6 times in the whole New Testament, it is associated with intense emotion. How ironic that the crowd was saying “Save us” yet 6 days later would be crying, “Crucify Him!”
This was a common greeting for those entering Jerusalem, but unusual to be shouted at a man riding on a donkey — “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” It was as if they were blessing Him and acknowledging that He came from God—to “come in the name of the Lord” means to come in God’s character with God’s purpose. Yet, ironically, they didn’t believe He was God.
Do you see the irony here? They were saying the right words but meaning something different than what God meant by them. They fail to grasp the full weight of their words. In the context of Psalm 118, the blessed One who comes in the name of the Lord is also “the stone that the builders rejected” (v. 22). What’s more, the psalmist teaches that this experience of the blessed one’s rejection is “the Lord’s doing,” and yet somehow it is still something that “is marvelous in our eyes” (v. 23). Yet, they didn’t see Jesus as the great Messiah and added their own words, “King of Israel.” They wanted a king more than a Savior.
We often change the promises of God to say what we want them to say. They wanted a physical deliverer over a spiritual Savior. We want a strategy: a proven way of meeting our needs and achieving our goals, more than we want God’s plan for us. God is more concerned with His work than what “Worked” in the past (speaking to the pragmatist). He had a plan for their preference of peace, but it was going to come through death first. Sometimes life comes through death first. Sure, we want a solution: a plan for peace and prosperity in our lives. But God is more concerned about our closeness to Him than our comfort in this life. We must trust that…
God’s supremacy is always working for our greatest good in Christ.
In context, of John 12, God’s greater good was being carried out perfectly in Christ. A donkey wasn’t all Jesus could find to ride on, it fulfilled a promise God previously made. John 12:14-16 say, “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 he been done to him.”
You know there was a moment when the disciples figured this out and just cracked up. Imagine, Peter is doing his quite time in Zechariah and he comes across 9:9 and is like, “Whhhhaaaaaat?! ‘Riding on a donkey’s colt.’ I remember that day. I just thought we couldn’t find anything better than a mini-van for him at the time!” Moral of the story: God keeps his promises and he does so whether we know them and trust them or not.
Think of all the things you do to facilitate life for your kids: choose a neighborhood, find a job, pay the bills, and pray like crazy, young children are usually only aware of their own sensations of safety and satisfaction. And yet, they are beloved and an integral part of the family. Just as your commitment to care for your children is not contingent upon their ability to understand all you do and why, so neither are God’s love for us or His willingness to use us contingent upon our understanding His plans perfectly. In fact, most often He just asks us to follow one step at a time and trust His ability to guide us where we need to go.
God has a greater strategy: He keeps His promises through Christ and works His plan in us. The people with Jesus in the first century wanted temporary help but they missed the eternal significance. Yet, God kept right on plan, fulfilling His promise to the smallest stroke.
The fact that God keeps His promises merits our trust. In Psalm 37:5 David instructs us to “commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” Likewise, the famous words of Proverbs 3:5-6 encourage us to “lean not on our own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” I can trust Him and I don’t have to take it back.
The fact that God keeps His promises means I can let go of my fear. John actually added “Fear not” to Zachariah’s passage (perhaps he was thinking of Isaiah 40:9). Nonetheless, the supremacy of God eradicates our fears. He keeps His promise and works His plan; the outcome is all His.
Trusting God’s Promises in our daily life feels a bit like earning to swim
When I was teaching my daughter to swim, I put these massive floating water wings on her. She was totally safe, yet she would not let go of me. Sometimes trusting God is like Carolina in the pool with her floaties: We have all we need to be secure in trusting God’s promises, but that doesn’t make it easy. Like a small child wearing water wings and bracing herself to jump into daddy’s arms at the edge of a pool, we can still find it hard to make the leap. We can see why she is afraid, but we also know she has no reason to be. In the same way, the promises of God are proof we can trust Him; we are perfectly secure—He just asks for us to trust Him with wild abandonment.
But the main reason our faith falters is because we perceive that our need is too great for God to handle. Let me be clear: Our felt need is NOT our greatest reality. The crowd present with Jesus thought their greatest need was someone to do miracles for them. They missed their eternal need to be saved.  “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raise 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.”
They wanted a useful god, not salvation from God. The crowd came to Jesus because His signs. The Pharisees wrote Him off for his signs, seeing them as adding nothing to life. They also saw his popularity as a reason to reject Him — The world —Jew and Gentile alike, were going after Him. This made them fearful, insecure and most of all skeptical. All the while God kept working. Why? Because God has a greater solution: His supreme plan impacts our temporary and eternal goals, bringing about a better end.
Their greatest reality was the need for a Savior not a King. Our greatest reality is that we need a Savior. The gospel acknowledges both the validity of the individual’s felt needs and the supremacy of God’s purposes. Because the gospel is established on the trustworthiness of God to accomplish His ultimate good in and through His world, there will be times where our individual needs appear to be subordinated to God’s plan. In these instances, we can be assured that God is always working for our truest good in Christ.