By Jon Hembree
The triumphal entry on Palm Sunday is one of just a handful of accounts included in all four Gospels. It’s a story from Scripture that I’ve been taught, I’ve read, and I’ve studied countless times. Chances are, if you grew up in the church like I did, you probably remember being handed a palm branch, excitedly waving it with all the might your 6-year-old arms could muster, while shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” with your Sunday school classmates. This is a Bible story I’ve been familiar with for as long as I can remember.
But have you ever gone to a passage in Scripture, even one you’re very familiar with, and found something you’d never noticed before? That happened to me a few years ago, while I was studying the triumphal entry from John 12. As the crowds were welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem, shouting his praises, hailing him as one sent by the Lord, John gives us a quick look at the Pharisees in verse 19. As the Pharisees surveyed the scene, they were not thrilled with the crowd’s response. They said to one another in exasperation, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19).
For a story I’ve known since I was very young, I didn’t remember ever hearing or reading those words before. How did I miss this? I was more than a little intrigued. I studied and studied this passage. I consulted just about every commentary I could get my hands on. I did Greek word studies. What confused me wasn’t so much why the Pharisees said it. I got that. I understood that as Jesus rode in on a donkey’s colt, they saw it as losing their people. Their followers were singing Jesus’ praises, not the Pharisees’ praises. It was a jealous statement of desperation. That much was pretty clear.
But more than why they said it, why was it recorded? See, I know how the story continues. This was essentially the same crowd that, in a few days, would be shouting again in Jesus’ presence. But instead of singing his praises, they’d be screaming for his death. Instead of, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” they would soon be yelling, “Crucify! Crucify!” So knowing that, why did John include this in the story?
A Strange Prophecy
I think John recorded the Pharisees’ statement, not to leave us scratching our heads but because those words, uttered in desperation, form an unwitting prophecy of sorts: it speaks to Jesus’ mission—for the whole world to go after him. A few chapters earlier, John’s best-known verse tells us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God sent his Son for the whole world. Not just the nation of Israel, not just a select few—Jesus came for all. Whether all accept him or not is another story, but the fact of the matter is this: he came for the whole world.
John 3:17 isn’t as well-known as the verse before, but it’s just as impactful: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” He came for all, for the whole world. And that day as he rode into Jerusalem, he was headed closer and closer to the reason he came to the world to begin with. He would become the sacrifice humanity needed to come back to the Father. He would come back to life to give life to all. It’s because of all this that the whole world goes after him.
In Acts 1, before ascending into Heaven, Jesus gave the apostles some final instructions and concluded with: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As we work our way through the New Testament, we see that being played out. As the message of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, spreads throughout the world, the world goes after him.
Just as Jesus said, it started in Jerusalem. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came on Christ’s followers. When the crowds that were gathered in Jerusalem saw what all the commotion was about, Peter preached Christ to them, and we’re told that 3,000 were baptized and added to the number of disciples that very day
An Unstoppable Force
As the apostles, empowered by the Holy Spirit, became bolder and bolder in proclaiming Christ, the Jewish authorities tried to shut them down. Apostles were arrested and pressured into shutting up about Jesus. But they didn’t fold. They knew the gospel was for the whole world, and they kept speaking in Jesus’ name.
Along the way another prophecy was unwittingly spoken by the Jewish leadership. After the apostles were arrested in Acts 5, an angel freed them from prison and told them they needed to go preach at the temple. When the apostles were rearrested and brought before the Jewish ruling council, the council became so infuriated with them that they were ready to kill them then and there. But one of the more influential rabbis, Gamaliel, spoke up as they had a sidebar conversation. His idea? If this is something from man, it’ll fizzle out and die. “But,” he warned, “if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:39, English Standard Version). The council wisely took his advice.
The early church was preaching and living out the gospel, and their mission was snowballing. What could stop it? The whole world was going after them.
Soon we see the gospel being preached to Gentiles, not just those from a Jewish background. Paul was handpicked by Jesus to be his “chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). In his missionary ventures around Asia and Europe, Paul reached somewhere around 50 different locations! He faithfully preached Christ wherever he went. He survived a laundry list of hardships along the way (check out 2 Corinthians 11), but as he took the message of Christ to the world, the whole world came running after Christ.
The World Today
The snowball hasn’t stopped. After nearly 2,000 years, the church is still going strong. Even as Western culture seems to leave Christianity behind, the church is booming in the rest of the world. The world’s 15 largest churches aren’t in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. They’re located in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Chinese Christians are raising and training up missionaries in their efforts to bring the gospel to unreached people on their way “back to Jerusalem” where it all started. The world is indeed going after Jesus.
What may come across as an angry, jealous statement made by exasperated Pharisees, I see as something deeper. When I read those words, “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19), I can’t help but see the spread of the gospel across the globe. I know that doesn’t mean that every person who has heard of Jesus has accepted him; but Jesus is what the world truly needs, and throughout history when people have encountered those carrying his name, the church has continued to grow. He came for the whole world, and the whole world is going after him.
Where will you take Jesus?
Jon Hembree is a husband, dad to four boys, preacher, and Diet Dr. Pepper addict living in the middle of Kansas.