Catching the Christmas Spirit

A Study of John 12:12-26

Introduction: I’m having a hard time finding that illusive Christmas spirit this year; but when it comes to the biblical truths represented by Christmas and the Christian attitudes that make up the true Christmas spirit, I’ve never gotten tired of those. There is a passage in John 12 that gives us several different attitudes that make up the true spirit of the Lord Jesus. The actual story has to do with Palm Sunday, but God’s holidays are all holy days and contain transferable lessons.

1. Anticipation: We’re Living Between the Donkey and the Horse – John 12:12-15

John 12: 12 says: The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 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!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

In biblical times a returning hero (such as a victorious military general) would return to Rome or some other city, getting the equivalent of a ticker tape parade. He would ride in a golden chariot or perhaps atop a warhorse. In some Persian capitals, he might enter on a camel. But no conquering hero would parade through the streets riding on a donkey. Yet this is exactly what Zechariah 9:9 predicted about the Messiah: “Rejoice, greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Zechariah predicted the Messiah would enter the city. He would be righteous. He would be victorious. Yet He would be humble and lowly, riding on a young donkey. The donkey is a lower brand or model than a horse or a chariot. It’s like comparing a Ferrari with a Ford. It marked the fact that Jesus Christ came in humility to suffer and die for His people. He was coming not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. You’ve heard about first class travel, and business class, and tourist class. When Jesus came the first time, he came donkey class.

John recorded all this for us here in his Gospel. But later he wrote another book—the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. In Revelation 19, he described the Lord’s return at the moment of the second coming of Christ. Look at Revelation 19:11:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

This is the true Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ. This is the representation of His Second Coming. In the unfolding of the book of Revelation, this is what will happen at the end of the Great Tribulation when the antichrist will be on the verge of total worldwide victory. But at that moment, Jesus will return, riding on a white horse, as it were, and followed by the armies of heaven. He came the first time to die for us, to serve us, in humility, riding on a donkey as a token of his lowliness. But when he comes again, it will be in power and glory and triumph and victory.

Right now in this period of history we’re living between the donkey and the horse. This should give us a tremendous sense of anticipation. Christmas to me would be virtuously meaningless without the promise of our Lord’s return. The reality of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is the ultimate solution to our two greatest problems–public headlines and personal heartaches.

2. Fascination: We’re Living Between Observation and Realization – John 12:16

The second attitude is a sense of fascination. Look at the next verse—John 12:16: 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 thing had been done to him.

On the actual day of the Palm Sunday as these events were unfolding, the disciples didn’t realize Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. They were overwhelmed by the chaos and confusion of the moment, and could hardly make sense of it. But later, after his crucifixion and resurrection, they understood more clearly.

Some people don’t study their Bibles because they feel overwhelmed by the immensity of this book. They say, “I can never understand the Bible. It’s too big. It’s too deep.” But I would tell you—read it anyway. Read the Gospel of John. Read the book of Acts. Read the letters of Paul. Read the epistles of Peter. Read the book of Revelation. You may not understand it all now; but if you read and study it, you’ll understand it better as time goes by.

The passing of time also helps us better understand the events of life. When all this confusion and commotion was occurring, the disciples couldn’t put it together in their own minds. They couldn’t make sense of it. Only later did they understand. That was true, not only of the events of the Triumphal Entry, but of everything that happened that week. “What is happening you do not understand now, but you will understand it later” (See John 13:7).

3. Evangelization: We’re Living Between Jesus and the Crowds – John 12:17-26

That leads to the third attitude of a healthy Christmas spirit—an attitude of evangelization, for we are living between Jesus and the crowds. We are those in the middle, the ambassadors, the heralds, the communicators, the conveyers of Good News of Christ’s coming. As we anticipate the return of Christ and study His Word, we increasingly know our great task on this planet is to share the Good News of Christ with the world. Look at verse 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. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him.”

The Lord has a plan for each of us. People can see Jesus in the look we have in our eyes, the expression we carry on our face, the invitations we extend with outstretched hands, and the words we speak as we take every opportunity of sharing a world for Christ. During this Christmas season, we’re surrounded by a culture that knows something about nativity sets, hears a bit of the Gospel in Christmas carols. But they don’t know Jesus. Our job is to seek to persuade the whole world to follow him.

Conclusion: The real Christmas Spirit is the Holy Spirit who makes Christ real in our hearts and minds and lives and homes. And they will see Christ in our attitude of anticipation as we live between the donkey and the horse; in our sense of fascination as we live between observation and realization; in our spirit of evangelism, as we live between Jesus and the crowds. That’s the best way I know to catch the Christmas spirit this season and keep it all year long.