Reading Time: 3 mins

Gospel: John 12:12-19 (Palm Sunday: Series B)

Reading Time: 3 mins

Their interest in the one who had been raised turned to the One who did the raising. And meeting Jesus did not leave them unaffected.

“The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign” (John 12:18). None of the other three evangelists say anything about this. They all include details about the colt and the crowd and the cries of hosanna. But they do not say anything about why the crowd gathered in the first place. Only John records these details, both in the verses appointed for today and in those leading up to this text (see 12:9-11), and it was all because of Lazarus. That is why they had gathered and who they were hoping to see.

Their interest was understandable. They wanted to witness if it was true, if the man who had been dead four days really was walking around alive and well. But once they verified the rumors, their attention quickly shifted. Their interest in the one who had been raised turned to the One who did the raising. And meeting Jesus did not leave them unaffected. John tells us how many people were going away with faith in Jesus (12:11).

Not everyone believed, of course. The chief priests were trying to put Lazarus back in the tomb (12:10) and the Pharisees were wringing their hands at their inability to contain the Jesus problem (12:19). In the last verse in this text, they lament to one another: “You see that you are gaining nothing.” It is almost like they realized they were fighting against God. “Look,” they said, “the [whole] world has gone after Him” (some variants insert the ολος; whole).

The Pharisee’s lament captures my attention. The mission of the Church, after all, is to proclaim Christ to all people. We dedicate our lives, our prayers, and our offerings to helping the whole world believe in Jesus and find life in His name. I read verse 19 and it sounds like I am reading a congregational (or synodical) mission statement (“That the whole world would go after Jesus and believe in Him”). Oh, that it actually did!

In fact, this statement of the Pharisees has me wondering. What would it take for the whole world to go after Jesus today? A redux of the Lazarus miracle? Imagine how it would be if someone were to rise from the dead today. Some would dismiss it as fake news. But what if it happened in your town? Imagine the local news coverage, interviews with funeral directors, eyewitness reports from neighbors, local reporters camping outside the house, hoping to capture footage of the raised man taking out the trash or walking his dog. If this happened, the attention would inevitably shift from the one raised to the one who raised him, and that would lead people to Jesus.

The mission of the Church, after all, is to proclaim Christ to all people.

Unfortunately, God does not seem inclined to repeat what He did with Lazarus. He no longer appears to be in the business of raising people from the dead.

Except, He is!

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried, therefore, with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4; see also Colossians 3:1).

He continues to raise you and me and all believers through His living and active Word of life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

After today’s text, we do not see or hear anything from this man who experienced resurrection before the resurrection. We do not know if he joined the crowd which welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And we do not know what he did as Holy Week unfolded. All we know is, having heard the call of Jesus, he went from death to life.

So have your hearers.

They have gathered to worship on Palm Sunday. Hopefully, they will be coming back throughout the week. I suggest you set the tone for Holy Week in this sermon by inviting them to celebrate the passion and resurrection of Jesus with Lazarus in mind. Invite them to imagine what Lazarus may have been doing on Palm Sunday. Invite them to wonder what it would have been like for him to watch the attention shift from himself to his Lord. Encourage them to consider what it may have been like for him to hear of Jesus’ suffering and death. Then, invite them to marvel at the power and the love of Him who has the authority to call people out of the grave. In other words, invite them to imagine themselves as Lazarus, as dead friends of Jesus who have been raised from the dead.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on John 12:12-19.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 12:12-19.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 12:12-19.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Detlev Schulz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 12:12-19.