A Different King Of King

Bible Book: John  12 : 12-33
Subject: Discipleship; Christian Living; Jesus, King
Series: That You May Believe

Not too long ago Henk Otte was just a middle-aged unemployed man from the Netherlands. He was married to a woman from Ghana and they lived on welfare with their two children in a humble Amsterdam housing project. If you met him you would judge him to be an absolutely ordinary kind of guy. And that’s what he was—until 1995. You see, that year, while visiting his wife’s home town in West Africa, his life changed radically. During that visit—the first he’d ever made to the region—local leaders of the Ewe tribe, told Henk that they believed he was the reincarnation of their deceased tribal chief, his wife’s grandfather.

Now—the Ewe tribe is made up of more than 100,000 people and they had been leaderless since the chief’s death seventeen years earlier. Well, as I said these people believed that Otte should be their king—and now he is. Here’s a picture of him in his royal garments. In Holland he is Henk Otte—but in Africa, he is “Togbe,” or “king.” His arrival is always greeted with celebration. Throne-bearers carry him through masses of excited subjects. Drums play, dancers spin, and the focus of all their adoration is their king, who wears a crown and lives in a specially-built home.

Several television documentaries have told the Cinderella-like story of this improbable ruler, and the fascination with all this is the fact that—well, it’s hard to imagine a story of a less-likely king.


But, of course, in a very real sense you and I DO know just such a story. We’ve been studying this story—John’s account of the life of Someone most people in the world of His day judged to be a very unlikely King. We’ve been studying His life for several months now. Let’s review why it is indeed the story of a very different kind of king. First, He grew up—not in a palace but rather in a small town in the middle of nowhere. He had no servants. In fact He worked for years at a regular job, just like everyone else. Then one day, about the time He was thirty, He gave up his old job and started preaching. He wandered all over the place drawing huge crowds of people with his messages, even though he had no real theological training. But...He was more than a speaker—He was a miracle worker. He calmed storms, healed the sick, and even raised the dead—which greatly increased His popularity. Then He ran into some trouble with the authorities for claiming that He was not A king but rather THE King—the Son of God—the long-awaited Messiah. With this claim, He managed to offend some of His own people as well as the local religious authorities. But there was a day, three years into His ministry, when this unlikely Ruler was finally acclaimed as King by millions and this morning we come to John’s account of that incredible day. Take your Bibles and turn to John 12. Follow along as I read verses 12-33.

12 - The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem.

13 - They took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!”

14 - Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written:

15 - “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

16 - At first His disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about Him and that these things had been done to Him.

17 - Now the crowd that was with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.

18 - Many people, because they had heard that He had performed this sign, went out to meet Him.

19 - So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after Him!”

20 - Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.

21 - They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”

22 - Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 - Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

24 - Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

25 - Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

26 - Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.

27 - “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.

28 - Father, glorify Your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

29 - The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him.

30 - Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not Mine.

31 - Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.

32 - And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”

33 - He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.

If you were here last week then you know that prior to this text John tells us of a special meal given in Jesus’ honor at the home of Simon the Leper. I called it “the next-to-the-last supper.” Well, in this morning’s text John shifts the scene from that dinner in Bethany to a noisy public parade in Jerusalem. All four Gospels record this event—no doubt because it was the only “public demonstration” like this that our Lord allowed while He was ministering on earth.

In fact, the Gospel accounts tells us another unique fact about all this. They tell us that Jesus was AT THE FRONT of this pre-Easter parade. Nowhere else do we find Him at the HEAD of the multitude: not when He descended the mountain after the Sermon on the Mount...not after He left Capernaum...and not as He entered the village of Nain. Before this Jesus chose to be SURROUNDED by the people rather than OUT FRONT...but not today. Today, He LED—like a King! And—a HUGE throng of people would have been there to watch Him do so. You see, it was Passover and that meant Jerusalem would have been absolutely packed with Jews. Every male Jew living within 20 miles of Jerusalem was required to attend. And since it was the principal Jewish feast, multitudes of people came from all over the world as well. In fact, no matter how far away a Jew lived...he hoped to be able to attend at least one Passover feast in Jerusalem during his lifetime.

To give you a better idea as to just how many people would have been in Jerusalem for that feast—30 years later a Roman governor took a census of the number of lambs slain at a Passover.

His count numbered 250,000. Now—since one lamb was required for ten people, this meant that 2.5 million Jews were present. I think far more were there the year Jesus came to town.

And—to give you an idea of what the ATMOSPHERE would have been like at that particular Passover we need to remember WHY it was such a popular feast in the first place. Remember? The Passover commemorated Israel’s deliverance from EGYPTIAN bondage. With this historical event in mind the Jews of that day hoped that at some Passover, God would AGAIN deliver His people—this time from their ROMAN oppressors. In fact, many believed that it would be at a Passover that the MESSIAH Himself would show up. He would be a military—political Messiah and would lead the people in a victorious revolt.

Well, when this particular Passover rolled around in 30AD it was widely reported that Jesus WAS the Christ....the long-awaited Messiah. And—many of the people who believed this hoped that at this religious feast Jesus would openly, publically declared Himself to be the Christ. As the Messiah they expected Jesus to then storm the gates of the Antonio Fortress and drive the Romans out like David did the Philistines. In short, they thought the best way to fix their world’s problems would be to fix the government. And let me just pause to say—we must be careful not to make their mistake. This world of ours is a fallen world so it’s problems are not going to be solved by government no matter which political party is in power. The only way to change this world is to change the hearts of people and only Jesus can do that. That’s why He didn’t run the Romans out at that Passover. Jesus didn’t come to save government. No—He came to save souls. He was indeed...IS indeed...a different kind of King. But the people didn’t understand that—and their RESPONSE to Jesus’ arrival that day tells us as much.

First, we see it in what they DID. Remember, they waved PALM BRANCHES. And to them this was a sign—a symbol—of MILITARY victory. This symbol originated back in the 2nd century B.C. when the Seleucid Empire ruled Israel. You may remember this from our study of the book of Daniel last year. Well, in those difficult days there was a sort of guerrilla group that fought against the Seleucids. The leader of this group was a man named Judas Maccabaeus. He was much like a “Robin Hood” for the Jews and because of his determined efforts, in 164B.C. the Seleucids gave up...and let the Jews practice their religion in the temple once again. Later, Judas’ brother, Simon Maccabaeus drove the Seleucids out all together and when that happened he was acclaimed a national hero...and his victory was celebrated with something like a ticker tape parade in New York—but instead of ticker tape, that day the Jew rejoiced in his victory with music and with the waving of PALM BRANCHES. From then on the PALM BRANCH became significant for them as a symbol of military victory. In fact, that symbolism became so deeply rooted in the Jewish consciousness...that when the Jews revolted against the Romans in the decade of the 60's AD they dared to mint their own coins with the image of a palm branch because it was their national symbol of victory.

But we also see their attitude in what they SAID as Jesus entered the city. Remember? They cried out “Hosanna!” Now we think of that word as a word of praise but it literally means “Save us now!” It was their way of saying that they wanted the Romans gone—NOW! And that other thing they cried out as Jesus rode in—the phrase, “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord”it’s from Psalm 118, a psalm that they considered the conqueror’s psalm. Listen to the entire verse, “Save NOW, I pray O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send NOW prosperity. Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:24-5) So, it’s obvious from what the people said and did that they saw Jesus as a military leader...a King who would deliver them from Rome.

That’s what was on the minds of these millions of Jews on that day as Jesus entered the city. It is now wonder that the religious leaders said, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how THE WHOLE WORLD has gone after Him!”

Well, John tells us that sometime that week...a group of Greeks sought Him out. They came to Philip—possibly because his is a Greek name. And—who knows—maybe they knew him because his home town, Bethsaida, had a large Greek population. In any case, I believe these Greeks were proselytes to the Jewish faith. John says they came up to Jerusalem to worship...and I think they sought Jesus out because they had either been present—or heard that He cleansed the temple. Remember—after His triumphal entry, for the second time in His ministry, our Lord chased the money-changers and the sellers of sacrificial animals out of the COURT OF THE GENTILES...the only place that Gentiles like these GREEKS could go to worship. Perhaps these guys had been in the temple at the time and had seen Jesus do this and had wanted to know more about a Man Who could and would do things like this. They wanted to meet this Man Who made it possible for them to worship again.

Okay—enough background. Let me take you to what I consider the FOCUS of this text—because, as I have already alluded...what Jesus did that day reminds us that He was—IS—a different kind of King—both in what HE came to do and in what He asks HIS SUBJECTS to do. Let’s hang our study on those two facts.

(1) First, Jesus is different in that He is the King Who was born to DIE for His subjects.

You don’t see presidents or governmental leaders announcing that this is the goal of their administration do you? But that’s why Jesus came. And—this shouldn’t have been news to His “cabinet” because Jesus had told the twelve disciples this for some time. In fact, as I reminded you last Sunday, He had plainly told them JUST A FEW HOURS EARLIER as they approached Jerusalem, “We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the Law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)

He also tried to explain this to the throngs that witnessed His entry into Jerusalem that day—but with MILLIONS of Jews crowded around and no P.A. system available—well, it was obviously impossible for Jesus to do this by SPEAKING. His voice could not have reached that vast assembly of people...so this DIFFERING KIND OF KING made this point in A DIFFERENT KIND OF WAY. He borrowed a teaching tool from the Old Testament prophets. Remember? They often had a very distinctive method of getting their message across. When words failed to move people, instead of TALKING they DID something dramatic as if to say, “If you will not hear, you must be force to see.” For example, in 1st Kings 11:29-39, the prophet Ahijah conveyed a message to King Jeroboam by ripping his robe into twelve pieces. The message: God was splitting up Israel and giving Jeroboam a piece. And...in Isaiah 20 God told the prophet Isaiah to take off his clothes and shoes and walk around naked. He had to do this for three years. The message: God would punish Egypt and take her people away as naked prisoners.

These dramatic actions were what we might call “acted parables” or “dramatic sermons.” So that first Palm Sunday when Jesus could not get the people’s attention by speaking, He did the next best thing: He used this particular prophetic method...and we see this in His choice of TRANSPORTATION....because He came riding in, not on a stallion but rather on a donkey’s colt. This signified two things. First it was a deliberate claim to be the Messiah. By riding this colt Jesus was enacting the words of Zechariah 9. John quotes this prophecy in verse 15: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King is coming to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and seated on a donkey’s colt.” With this “object lesson” Jesus brought the prophecy to life saying, “Let there be no doubt—I AM the long-awaited Messiah of God.” But He was also claiming to be a certain KIND of Messiah. You see, the donkey was not normally used by a warlike person. No—it was the animal of a man of peace, a priest, or a merchant. PLUS—the donkeys people ride in the Holy Land are not like the donkeys we breed in the U. S. They’re much smaller so that grown men have to bend their knees as they ride to keep their feet from hitting the ground. The donkey Jesus rode was of this small type and it was young too. A conqueror would ride into the city on a horse or perhaps march in on foot at the head of his troops. A donkey wouldn’t suit this kind of King because the donkey speaks of peace and humility. So Jesus was saying that He was not the warrior figure men dreamed of but rather the Prince of Peace. He was telling them He came to be the PEACE OFFERING between sinful man and their Holy God.

Well, they didn’t get the message—nor did the disciples until after Jesus’ resurrection. That day they didn’t realize that Jesus is a different kind of King—a King Who came to die for His subjects. Perhaps if they hadn’t been so focused on getting rid of the Romans, they would have understood that this unlikely Kingly act was what Jesus was getting at when He said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” (Verse 32) I mean, if they hadn’t been so intent on political freedom they would have known that Jesus was saying, “The wages of sin is death so I will be the sin bearer. I will be lifted up on a cross to pay the cost for your sins. I will die in your place.” And—of course, this was God’s plan all along. Jesus was—IS—the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world. It was always understood that He would come to earth, live a sinless life, and then pay the price of our disobedience in order to make the way for us to come home to Him. Jesus was indeed a different kind of King. I mean, what ruler would do that?! But of course, that’s the kind of King we needed. We needed a Ruler to come and pay the price to bring us back to God.

One of my favorite illustrations of this fact is a story written in 1945—the story of the little boy who loved sailboats and who was also very good with his hands. Several years ago someone actually gave me a copy of this very old book. The illustrations are dated but I think they are still powerful so I scanned them in for you to see. This little boy decided to build his own little model sailboat to sail on a nearby lake. He worked for many months until it was perfect...and then he spent many happy days sailing it along the shore. But one day the wind came up and before the boy could grab his boat, it was pushed farther and farther out into the lake....until he could no longer see it. For hours he looked along the shore all around the lake for his precious sailboat but to no avail. A few weeks later he was walking down the main street of his town and he saw a familiar looking sailboat in the window of a pawn shop. He looked closely and sure enough...it was his. It must have been found by the shopkeeper. Well he ran inside excitedly and explained what had happened but the shopkeeper would not give him the boat. He insisted on full price....which was a great deal of money. So, the little boy went home and he worked and saved for weeks until he had enough money and then he hurried into the shop and bought back his little sailboat. As he was leaving the shop he held it up and said, “You’re mine twice. You’re mine once because I made you. You’re mine twice because when you were lost I bought you back.”

That is what God has done for you and me. He created us in His image but we yielded to the tug of the winds of sin and were lost. As Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep—like that boat—have gone astray” from the God Who made us. But God loved us too much to let us go—loves us so much that He sent His only Son to pay the enormous price of His own blood on Calvary’s Cross to buy us back. So now, when we respond to His gracious—unkingly act—we are indeed TWICE His: first because He made us and second because He redeemed us—or bought us back. I don’t know about you—but I thank God that I serve THIS kind of King. I praise Him that His love for me was that great—that GRACIOUS. In fact, understanding His grace—well, it drives me—it compels me to want to follow Jesus more closely—and that leads to a second thing I want us to note in this text.

(2) Jesus is a different kind of King in that He tells His subjects—His followers—that to LIVE—really live—they must DIE as well.

This is what our Lord is saying to those Greeks in verses 24 and 25, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Jesus was saying that to experience true JOY in life...to be useful...fruitful in God’s kingdom, we must be willing to surrender our desires, our possessions, and if necessary even our lives to Him. Now—all this stuff about DYING is not a popular message. Calling for self-sacrifice—well, it’s not a way for a king to gain popularity with his subjects. I’m reminded of a cartoon that appeared in LEADERSHIP JOURNAL a while back that showed an advertisement for a seeker-sensitive funeral service. It reads: “Seeker-sensitive funeral: No body, no casket, no mention of the ‘D’ word.” Well, Jesus specializes in the “D” word. He says that to LIVE we must follow His example and be willing to DIE. He says that ironically the way to experience abundant life is to die to our desires—and put His will first—no matter where that will may lead us.

We see the validity of this “die to live” principle in many areas. For example, the renowned violinist, Paderewski, was once told by an admiring woman, “Sir, you are a genius,” to which he responded, “Madam, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.” In other words, Paderewski had learned that musical brilliance came through death. Skill in playing the violin was the result of hard work and self-denial. The famous runner, Jim Ryun, who set a record for the mile when he was eighteen years old, said this about his training, “I would run until I felt I couldn’t take another step, then I would run until I felt my lungs were going to burst. When I came to that state, then I would run until I thought I was going to pass out. When I did this, I was making progress.” Jim Ryun learned that the key to victory on the track is dying.The same principle is true in marriage as well. Marital bliss is all about self-denial. In our Men’s Fraternity 2 group Robert Lewis told us in the first session that the basis for any happy marriage is found in embracing this paradox, “die a little...live a lot.”

Well, the spiritual life is governed by a similar paradox. We LIVE by dying. We experience an abundant quality of life by saying NO to our will and YES to God’s. We live by dying. So—if your spiritual growth is stagnant, if your potential as a Christ-follower is going unrealized it may well be that you need to die in some way.

And, we can see this principle more clearly in this verse if we look closely at the Greek. You see that first word for life in verse 25: “The man who loves LIFE...” that first word is “Psuche” and refers to the life of the MIND...the EGO...our personal desires and will. The other word at the end “will keep it for eternal LIFE...” is “ZOE” and means “abundant.” So...Jesus is saying that every Christian has this eternal or divine life — ZOE LIFE—now, but he has it in its fullness only when his entire ego or personality—his PSUCHE—is surrendered to Christ. Until we follow Jesus’ example and die to self, we don’t really live.

George Mueller exercised a wide influence for God. In the 19th century this evangelist established 117 schools in which he provided a Christian education for 120,000 children—most of them orphans. He had an amazingly abundant, miracle-filled exciting, joyful life. When someone asked him, “What has been the secret of your amazing life?” Mueller hung his head and said, “There was a day when I died.” Then he bent lower and said, “I died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of brethren or friend.” George Mueller is someone who found his LIFE by losing it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only Him Who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. All that self-denial can say is: ‘He leads the way, keep close to Him.’” With that in mind let me ask—how close are you keeping to Jesus? How authentically are you following His example? How much are you dying to self?

Chuck Colson tells the true story of Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish monk who was imprisoned in Auschwitz by the Nazi's in WWII. Father Kolbe was subjected to years of tortuous manual labor yet he was a constant source of Godly love and encouragement to his fellow prisoners. He was a truly CHRISTLIKE person. One July night a couple years after his imprisonment, the camp air was suddenly filled with the baying of dogs, the curses of soldiers, and the roar of motorcycles. A man had escaped from Barracks 14 — Father Kolbe’s barracks.

The next morning there was a peculiar tension as the ranks of phantom-thin prisoners lined up for morning roll call in the central square. You see, the escapee had not been caught and that meant death for some of those who remained. All prisoners in the camp, except for those in Barracks 14, were dismissed. These poor men were ordered to wait, standing at attention as the summer sun beat down upon them. Some fainted and were dragged away. Some swayed in place but held on only to be beaten by the butts of the SS officers’ guns. Father Kolbe, by some miracle stayed on his feet, his posture as straight as his resolve. He and his fellow inmates were forced to stand without rest or food all day. By evening roll call the commandant was ready to levy sentence. He screamed, “The prisoner has not been found. Ten of you will die for him in the starvation bunker. The next time this happens 20 will die.” Now, the starvation bunker was a horrible way to die! The gallows-even the gas chambers-were better than this slow agonizing death. After a day or two in this bunker the condemned didn’t even look like human beings. Their appearance and behavior even scared the guards. The heat and absence of food and water caused their throats to turn to paper, their brains to turn to fire, their intestines to dry up and shrivel like desiccated worms. Well, the commandant walked along the rows of prisoners demanding each man to open his mouth so he could see his teeth....choosing victims like horses. Soon there were ten men. The last man chosen, a Polish Jew named Frandishek Gasovnacheck, groaned aloud, “My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?”Suddenly there was a commotion in the ranks. A prisoner had broken out of line, calling for the commandant. It was unheard of to leave the ranks, let alone address a Nazi officer. To do so was cause for execution on the spot so the commandant grabbed his revolver and, pointing at the prisoner, yelled, “What does this Polish pig want of me?” The prisoners looked and gasped. It was their beloved Father Kolbe, the priest who shared his last crust of bread, who comforted the dying, who heard their confessions and nourished their souls. The frail priest spoke softly, even calmly, to the Nazi butcher. “I would like to take the place of one of the men you condemned.” “Why?” snapped the commandant. Kolbe calmly replied, “I am an old man sir, and good for nothing. My life will serve no purpose.”The commandant asked, “In whose place do you want to die?” “I want to die for that one,” Kolbe responded, and he pointed to the weeping prisoner who had bemoaned the fate of his wife and children. The commandant agreed and as Kolbe passed this other prisoner, the man’s face was an expression so astonished that it had not yet become gratitude. But Kolbe wasn’t looking for gratitude. If he was to lay down his life for another, in obedience to the King of his life. This Christ-follower had learned long ago that joy is found in dying—submitting his small will to the will of God. As the hours and days passed, the camp became aware of something extraordinary happening in the death cell. Past prisoners of this starvation bunker had spent their dying days howling, attacking one another, clawing the walls in a frenzy of despair. But now, those outside heard the faint sounds of singing coming from the bunker. For....this time the prisoners had a shepherd to gently lead them through the shadows of the valley of death, pointing them to the Great Shepherd. And perhaps for this reason, Father Kolbe was the last to die—on August 14.

Now, if you were to go to Auschwitz today you would find a perpetual flame burning. It is a flame of remembrance so that we will never forget what happened there...in the hopes that Nazi atrocities will never be repeated. But Colson points out that it is more than that. This flame celebrates the fact that men and women who are enduring even the greatest of horrors can demonstrate the greatest of loves. It is not a monument to Father Maximilian Kolbe alone....hero though he was. It points ultimately to the God/Man, Who laid down His life for us all on the cross....the Master Who came not to be served but to serve....the only King in history Who died on behalf of His subjects.

Here is a picture of Maximillion Kolbe and Franciszek Gajowniczek, the prisoner whose life was spared, survived Auschwitz. After the war he spent much of his life bearing witness to the sacrifice made for him by Father Kolbe. He traveled across Europe and the United States, giving talks about the priest and helping dedicate new churches in his name. Until his death at age 95—he joyously told everyone about the man who had died in his place.


Now—I know what you are thinking. It is unlikely that following Jesus here in the U.S. will require any of us to give our lives as Father Kolbe did. But I would also say it is highly LIKELY that most of us aren’t experiencing truly ABUNDANT life. And—if that describes you—if your Christian life is not what it should be, then let me ask you—how do you need to die? In what way does your will need to be replaced by Jesus’ will? Or to put it another way, what part of your life would come alive if you died—if you let Jesus make the decisions? Would your marriage come alive if you died a little? Would your relationship with your children deepen if you died some?

Would your work—your career—be resurrected if you died every day and let Jesus take over? In what way is your refusal to die—getting in the way of your beginning to live?