Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Thirty Four
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
January 6, 2019
Please stand with me as we come before God’s word. And as we read together Mark 11:1-11 which is our passage for this morning.
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’”
And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go.
And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
And He entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple. And when He had looked around at everything, as it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.
2018 for many of us was not an easy year. As if there are any easy years. But some years - some seasons of life - seem harder than others. We had stuff going on that was not easy to move through. And we’re still moving through it. Many of you - probably anyone who’s breathing - can easily relate to that.
Expanding outward - looking at the community and the country and the world we live in - we know that things have never been 100% wonderful. But we live in a world broken by sin and sometimes it just seems easier to see that brokenness.
Sometimes - even as Christians - sometimes we look at all of what we’re going through and what’s around us - and we have trouble seeing where God is in any of that. Do ever wonder - Where is God in this?
We know the answer. He is. But - honestly - there are times when we’d like a little more visibility in that answer. Are we tracking?
That’s the introduction to where we’re going this morning. The big picture to hang on to - for the passage we just read. Question: Where is God in all this? Answer: He is.
Between now and Resurrection Sunday - coming up in April - we’re going to be looking at Mark’s record of Jesus’ last week of ministry heading to the cross and the resurrection.
All of Jesus’ ministry needs to be viewed from the perspective of this one week of ministry. From this one week everything else Jesus did and said gets put into perspective. This one week of ministry is core - essential - to understanding what it means that God is – all in with what we’re into and going through.
Mark’s account of Jesus entering Jerusalem - Day One of the week - what we call Palm Sunday - Mark’s account has three significant parts that we want to explore as we’re looking to what God may desire to reveal to us this morning.
The first significant part of Mark’s account focuses on The Colt.
Mark begins in verse 1 - Mark begins by telling us that Jesus and the disciples drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany.
When we last looked at Mark - Jesus and the disciples were where? Just outside Jericho.
Jesus purposefully moving from Galilee to Jerusalem and to the cross. Jericho was a stopping point on the journey to Jerusalem that Jesus and His disciples have been on.
And also at Jericho there were hundreds - if not thousands - of others who are also traveling to Jerusalem because it is almost the high holy feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits - and 50 days after Passover the end of harvest festival Shavuot - or what we know as... Pentecost.
Jericho was the last stop on that Pilgrimage. The place where people stopped and prepared for the final 20 mile ascent up to Jerusalem. What would normally take someone 1 day to walk - walking up hill.
Here in chapter 11 Mark picks up that journey and tells us that Jesus and the disciples have now ascended those 20 miles to the outskirts of Jerusalem. Probably on Friday or Saturday they’ve arrived at the town of Bethany. And now on Sunday morning they’re moving through Bethphage to Jerusalem.
Looking at our next map. Bethany is about 2 miles east of Jerusalem. Between Bethany and Jerusalem - on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives is the little village of Bethphage. Into which Jesus sends the disciples - with some very specific instructions - to get the colt that Jesus is going to ride on into Jerusalem.
Which they do. And - just as Jesus suggested would happen - as they’re untying the colt they get asked “What are you doing?” Which seems like a logical question. “What are you doing with our colt?” Most of us would ask.
The disciples respond with Jesus’ explanation. Which - reading what Mark records here - Jesus’ explanation seems pretty thin. But, surprisingly the people standing there buy the explanation and let the disciples take the colt.
All of which prompts the question - hopefully - What’s up with the colt? What is so significant about this colt? That Jesus most probably had arranged for in advance. Maybe when He first got to Bethany. That Jesus sends the disciples into Bethphage to get along with these cryptic instructions.
What’s up with this colt? Good question. Glad you asked.
To answer that question we need to zoom out and get a larger perspective of what’s happening here and where God is in all this.
Which means we need look at the prophecy that God gave through Zechariah - which links to the big picture of what God is doing here.
Zechariah chapter 9. Would you read with me verse 9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Some backfill. Where this verse fits into Zechariah, Mark and Jesus and Jerusalem.
In the beginning of the 6th century BC - Nebuchadnezzar - remember him? Book of Daniel. Same king.
Nebuchadnezzar had sacked the smaller towns of Judah. Finally Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem - destroyed the city - burned the temple that Solomon had built - left it a burned out shell of its former glory - hauled God’s people off into exile - mostly to Babylon.
Fast forward 50 years to 536 BC - and Cyrus who’d conquered Babylon - Cyrus issued a decree that allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Which happened exactly when and how God had used the prophet Jeremiah to tell God’s people that God would send them back to Jerusalem to restore the Temple and to go back to worshipping Him.
Point being that in the midst of really bad stuff happening God proves once again to His people that in midst of our stuff God is.
Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua - different Joshua than THE conquered the Promised Land Joshua - Zerubbabel and different Joshua - a small group of die hard Jews goes back to Jerusalem and starts working on rebuilding the Temple.
As they’re building the cost in materials keeps going higher - the resources dwindled - the opposition from the people around them grew stronger - the reality of the task began to weigh them down.
Meaning that economically - politically - spiritually - as things started to get more difficult - their initial enthusiasm begins do die off. They’re getting discouraged and thinking where is God in all this?
And as time goes by God’s people shift their focus from building the Temple to upgrading their homes - filling their lives with stuff and doing what floats their boat. So now they’re in stall mode - discouraged and distracted and thinking where is God in all this?
Coming to Zechariah. God’s message through Zechariah is to these discouraged people. God’s message through Zechariah is to get back to work. Why? Because God has a glorious future ahead for His people. Don’t be discouraged. Keep trusting God. Keep focused on God and what God is about to do. Where is God in all this? He is.
Which brings us back to the big picture of what the colt symbolizes and what God’s people on that Palm Sunday - what that huge and growing crowd of pilgrims moving with Jesus into Jerusalem - what they all would have understood about the colt.
Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
“Shout aloud” translates a Hebrew word that means “sound an alarm.” “Make some noise.” “Shout for joy!” “Shout in triumph.” Not discouragement. Why?
“Behold” - the word in Hebrew that has the idea of “Wake up and smell the coffee! Don’t be distracted. Pay attention! Something really really significant is happening here.”
Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Jesus makes the choice to ride a colt into Jerusalem. He isn’t walking into Jerusalem. That’s what a pilgrim does. Jesus isn’t a pilgrim. He’s the potentate - the King. From the moment of His arrival in Jerusalem Jesus is declaring His majesty and authority.
The Old Testament - in various ways and through various prophets - the Old Testament talks about the coming Kingdom of God - Jesus’ Kingdom. In the New Testament there are parts of Jesus’ Kingdom that the New Testament speaks of that we haven’t seen yet.
But here in First Century Palestine what we’re seeing here is the incarnate Lord of creation using this colt to symbolize that He is the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. Jesus using the colt to assert His messianic claims - to take His rightful place on the throne of Israel. To take control of the Temple as high priest. Jesus is there to reestablish Israel as a theocracy under God’s rule.
Maybe the masses didn’t understand all of that. But to some degree they got enough of it. The big picture of what was going on. God is in this. Prophecy is being fulfilled. Do not be discouraged or distracted. God is all in and God is doing what God said He would do.
Verses 7 to 10 focus us on The Crowd.
As Jesus is riding into Jerusalem the crowd is spreading their cloaks and leafy branches on the road. It was common practice back then to welcome home a king or war hero by laying out a path of branches for him to walk or ride on. Like giving him the red carpet treatment.
John’s Gospel tells us that they were waving palm branches. Palm branches were a sign of prosperity and victory. The Romans honored their victorious commanders with lavish parades which included waving palm branches.
For their entire history God’s people have been on this little teeny tiny piece of land that everybody else wants to control. It’s like Palestine has this sign on the gate that says, “Conquer here.”
After God spoke through Zechariah the Greeks marched through conquering - with their years of subjugation - hard years of oppression.
Then the Romans came through - more subjugation - more oppression. God’s people being beaten down and beaten up. Where is God in this?
To God’s people under the yoke of Rome - this is more than just a religious celebration. This is a celebration of nationalism - stirring up the people’s passions - their desires for national - political - and social deliverance.
On Palm Sunday - with the people’s passion revved to the max - as Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a colt it just revs the crowd up to a fever pitch.
God’s bringing prosperity to the righteous - God’s people - not the despised - dreaded - we don’t touch those Gentile - Romans. And victory - the victory of God’s people - over their oppressors - the dreaded - we don’t touch those Gentile - Romans.
The people are shouting: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Hosanna means… “save” - as in “Save us from the Romans!”
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” is a quote from Psalm 118:26.
Psalm 118 was used during the Passover. It was sung during times of great national celebration. Psalm 118 is full of thanksgiving to God Who comes to the aid of His people. Who provides for them in difficulty and brings relief in their distress and comforts them in suffering.
“Blessed is He who comes bringing God’s relief - God’s help - into these wearying circumstances of our lives.”
The crowd adds to Psalm 118: Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!
The other Gospel writers record other exclamations added to Psalm 118:
Matthew: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 19:9)
Luke: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 19:38)
John: “Even the King of Israel.” (John 12:13)
And we know - because this is a really really familiar account - and because we’ve read Mark and the other Gospel accounts - we know that this crowd - which may have been getting that God is in this and Jesus is bringing it - the Messiah bringing God’s deliverance - while they may have been getting all that - somehow they weren’t getting the “how” of what it was that God is doing about their circumstances.
Somehow, as they were shouting the words of Psalm 118:26 they’d missed the earlier verse of Psalm 118 - verse 22: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.”
“The stone” - Jesus - is rejected - crucified in our place - offering us salvation from our sins. Jesus becomes “the chief corner stone” - the beginning of the church - the beginning of what God desires to do in our lives. As Jesus enters Jerusalem God is moving in history - but His movement is not focused just on the declaration of who Jesus is.
Jesus is riding a colt not a white charger - some kind of war horse and entering as a conquering hero. He’s riding a colt - fulfilling prophecy - and symbolizing humility. Which is a very different perspective of how God is all in in this.
We need to be very clear about this because it is so familiar. Often we hear this Palm Sunday message - the Jews welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday and they crucified Him on Good Friday. So don’t reject Him like they did. Have you heard that before?
That’s true. But, we need to go farther - to get beyond Palm Sunday into the life that Jesus offers us. The crowd completely missed the point of what was being offered to them - the personal implications for their own lives.
Question: Where is God in all this? Answer: He is. But God is, in His way, not ours.
Which brings us to the third significant part of what Mark records for us - verse 11: The Temple.
And He entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple. And when He had looked around at everything, as it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Breaking down verse 11.
After the victory parade - with all the crowds and the shouting and celebration - what is a de facto coronation - after all the hoopla Jesus went into the Temple.
Mark tells us that it was late. Meaning it was in the evening - after hours. Not that the Temple was closed. But something like that.
Mark is drawing us into the absence of activity and the emptiness of the vast Temple complex. Within those grand and spacious courts - except perhaps for the sound of distant shuffling feet and some distant conversations - Jesus and the disciples are alone.
There is no conversation recorded. No questions. No teaching. No debriefing on the parade. Even Peter - who’s usually not at loss for words - even Peter is silent.
And in the stillness of that late hour - Mark tells us that Jesus looked around at everything… everything.
The Greek verb “to look around” means more than just glancing around at things. Kind of a cursory seeing of what’s around. “To look around” has the idea of observation and contemplation.
What Jesus was observing and contemplating we don’t know. We can only speculate. What was the “everything” that Jesus is looking at. What’s going through His mind as He was taking all that in.
Maybe He was remembering the first time - as a child - that He’d seen that Temple. Maybe He was remember the numerous visits since then. Maybe He was thinking about Joseph - or others that He’d shared time with in those courts.
Perhaps Jesus is thinking about the people that had passed through those courts for all of the different reasons they had passed through there. The Psalms that had been sung. The prayers that had been offered. The sacrifices and the offerings. So much of the history of God’s people that had been lived out in that place - that was tied to that Temple.
Perhaps Jesus was thinking about how God had made Himself known there. How different it could have been for God’s people if they’d remained faithful. The Temple which could have had such a testimony of their relationship with God. Which would have testified so wondrously of God’s glory.
It could have been that Jesus was thinking forward to Titus the Roman commander and future emperor. Titus who in 70 AD - conquered Jerusalem - desecrating and destroying that Temple. Titus who left not one stone standing on another stone.
The Temple had been destroyed before. But in a few days Jesus would tell His disciples that it would be destroyed again.
Or maybe Jesus was thinking about what lies ahead for Him. His passion - the ministry of the coming week. The will and plan of the Father. God Who - in the midst of all of that - is, and is working His will in His way and timing.
We don’t know what was going through Jesus’ mind as He was contemplating everything. Maybe some of that. Maybe none of that. Maybe a whole lot more than we could ever speculate about. But in the stillness of that late hour Jesus looked around - took in and contemplated - everything.
Mark alone - of all the Gospel writers - Mark alone records the dramatic contrast between the triumphant entry and Jesus’ contemplation in the Temple. The emptiness of the location. The silence. The lateness of the hour with its growing darkness.
Mark is intentional. Drawing us into the suspense. The sense of foreboding. The hour is late for God’s people. The darkness is growing. It’s the calm before the storm. Whatever is coming is probably not good.
Ever felt that way? I don’t know what’s coming but it ain’t gonna be good.
Jesus alone contemplates all that. Jesus alone sees what’s really going on with God’s people. Behind parade and politics - He sees the heart of the people - the emptiness and longing. Jesus alone is aware of what God is doing - what God will do - and why. Where God is in the midst of all that. And the tremendous cost of all that.
And then Jesus chooses - rather remaining in Jerusalem - Jesus leaves the Temple - leaves Jerusalem - and with His disciples returns the 2 miles back to Bethany. Probably to stay at the home of Mary, Martha, and their recently returned from the dead brother, Lazarus.
Jesus removes Himself to what was His base of operations outside the chaos and conflict of the capitol to prepare Himself and His followers for the ordeal to come.
Processing all that…
Take away number one: Jesus is riding on a colt not a charger.
Before the horse was used, kings rode on donkeys. Saul rode on a donkey because they didn’t have any horses in Israel. Absalom - David’s son - Absalom rode on a donkey because even in David’s day they didn’t have horses.
But Solomon imported horses from Egypt. So Solomon rode on a horse - an upgrade - a mode of transportation more befitting a king.
Grab that: Real kings - important kings - ride on horses. Not donkeys. Especially little donkeys - colts. Which is what the word here in Greek means: A young donkey. A colt.
Can you imagine Jesus - the King of kings and Lord of lords - riding into Jerusalem on a donkey - with His feet dragging on the ground - riding this somber faced little colt - with its big floppy ears.
How does Jesus come to us? He is righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
This is Dr. Samuel Weinstein (photo) - who is the chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery for Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. A number of years ago Dr. Weinstein traveled to El Salvador with Heart Care International in order to provide life-saving operations for needy children.
One surgery stands out among many. Dr. Weinstein and his team began operating on eight year old Francisco Calderon Anthony Fernandez's heart shortly before noon. Twelve hours later the procedure took a deadly turn.
Dr. Weinstein said this: “The surgery had been going well, everything was working great, but he was bleeding a lot and they didn’t have a lot of the medicines we would use to stop the bleeding. After a while, they said they couldn’t give him blood because they were running out and he had a rare type.”
In fact, Francisco’s blood type was B-negative, which I understand only about 2% of people have.
As it was, the only other person in the room with B-negative blood was Dr. Weinstein. Knowing what he had to do, he stepped down from the operating table. As his colleagues continue their precision work, Dr. Weinstein set aside his scalpel, took off his gloves, and began washing his hands and forearm. Then, in the corner of the unfamiliar operating room, this prestigious doctor from one of the most advanced hospitals in the world sat down to give away his own blood.
When he had given a pint, Dr. Weinstein drank some bottled water - ate a Pop-Tart - then - 20 minutes after stepping away from the table - he rejoined his colleagues. After watching his own blood begin circulating into the boy’s small veins, Dr. Weinstein completed the operation that saved Francisco’s heart - and his life. (1)
Back in ancient times - when a king wanted to approach a city in peace he’d ride up to the gates in humility - riding on a donkey instead of a war horse. The donkey is symbolic of Davidic royalty. Symbolic of humility. Symbolic of the peace Jesus brings.
That’s the reality of the incarnation that we just celebrated. Jesus taking on the flesh and blood of our humanity. Jesus coming not as a king or ruler or some rich guy - someone insulated from the worst parts of our human condition. The ongoing hard stuff of our lives.
Jesus became the son of a common family - in a Rome conquered nation. In humility He came and embraced us as brothers and sisters - without any advantage over us - facing life as we face life.
If all that is a little hard for us to get our minds around we’re in good company. How does the eternal Creator God take on His creation’s humanity? Only God knows. But grab the bottom line: He did. Praise God. Your King has come to you.
Where is God in the midst of the stuff or our lives? He is. He’s all in. Even if we don’t understand how or why. He is.
Our second take away is that Silence is Golden.
Jesus in the Temple - ground zero for God and His relationship with His people. Jesus in the foreboding silence of that place contemplating God and God’s people. What God has done. What God is doing. What God will do.
We need to do that. To intentionally choose to walk away from what can easily distract us and get us wrapped up in our own issues and perspectives and to get silent and focus on God. To contemplate God. How He’s worked in our lives. To ponder where He is working in our lives. To praise Him for how He will work in our lives.
Because He has and He is and He will.
1. LiveScience.com (5.26.06)
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.