The Gospel reading for Palm Sunday is most of John chapter 12. This text recounts the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem for the final week leading up to his crucifixion. There’s a lot that can be said about this chapter, but one thing I want to key in on is John’s quotations from Isaiah later in the chapter. John notes that many people did not believe in Jesus as the Christ, even though he had done many signs. John notes that this was “so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he hear from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'” (John 12:38).
This quote from Isaiah that John uses here is from Isaiah 53. At the end of Isaiah 52 through to the end of Isaiah 53, the prophet speaks of the suffering servant who was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for us. This servant bore our iniquities and makes intercession for us. He died and yet sees his offspring and his days are prolonged. Thus, this servant dies for our sins and yet lives.
John then quotes from another chapter of Isaiah. John says, “Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He had blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them'” (John 12:39-40).
This quote is from Isaiah 6. In Isaiah 6, the prophet sees the throne of the Lord. Around the throne are flying seraphim (angels) singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). The title “LORD of hosts” is a translation of Yahweh Sabaoth, and gets across the point that the Lord is all powerful, holy, and glorious, as is seen in this short song. The angels call the Lord “holy, holy, holy.” They are singing praises to the Triune God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
John concludes these two quotations from Isaiah by noting, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41). John means that Isaiah saw Jesus Christ and his glory; the point is that Isaiah himself, in the Old Testament, saw Christ. Isaiah saw him in Isaiah 6 as the Second Person of the Trinity, enthroned, with the angels singing his praises. Isaiah also saw him in Isaiah 53, bloody and suffering and dying for our sins.
Thus, there is a contrast between these two chapters of Isaiah from which John quotes. Isaiah 6 presents Jesus Christ as a person of the Trinity. He is holy and glorious and in the presence of creatures which continually sing his praises. In fact, even for Isaiah to abide in the Lord’s presence, his sins must be atoned for (which one of the angels does through a coal from the sacrificial altar). Then, however, Isaiah 53 presents Jesus Christ as a suffering servant who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men…” (Isaiah 53:2-3). This suffering servant came to bear our sins upon himself and to make an offering of himself for sin.
The point is that the same Lord who Isaiah saw on the throne left all the glorious adoration of the angels to come in the flesh to die for our sins. As sinful people, we tend to strive to gain glory for ourselves. We like nice houses, clean cars, pressed suits, lots of money. We tend to shun things that are dirty, or messy, or appear cheap. We would never leave the company of people who sing our praises.
Yet, our Lord is not like us. He is the one who is truly holy and glorious, but he left all this glory behind to come to die on the cross for us. St. Paul writes in Philippians: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-7).
Jesus Christ came to die for us, leaving behind the glory of the throne room to take our sins upon himself. He came in the flesh to be dirty, tired, sweaty, and bloody. He came to accomplish our salvation for us. John notes in his Gospel that some people who believed in Jesus as the Christ failed to confess him, because they were afraid of being ostracized by other people, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43).
The glory that comes from man takes a lot of work and striving, and it is transient. Yet, the glory that comes from God is free to us and lasts for eternity. This is the glory of eternal life that we have as the children of God through Christ. Christ purchased this for you, and it cost him much suffering and blood; he gave up his body and poured out his blood for you to reconcile you to God and each other.
So, this glory that we have as the Lord’s people is much more valuable than the glory that comes from man. For God’s glory is eternal and it is given to us freely due to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The same Lord who created all things and to whom Isaiah saw angels sing their praises came in the flesh to restore all things. He came to take your sins upon himself and give you his righteousness instead so that you may come before the holy Lord God and live forever.
(Image of Isaiah Scroll by photography by Ardon Bar Hama, Website of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGreat_Isaiah_Scroll_Ch53.jpg”)