April 9, 2017
Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week for Christians around the world. Reenactments of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem take place in many countries, including Israel. People wave palm branches and then use those palm fronds to make palm crosses. Some of the palms are burned to provide ashes for Ash Wednesday of the next year.
But what is Palm Sunday all about? Why the parade, the donkey and the palms? I imagine that for the people who experienced that first Palm Sunday, everything seemed normal. It wasn’t as if people were saying, “What is going on here?” It all just seemed to happen spontaneously. Of course there is more to Palm Sunday than meets the eye, and it has to do with Jesus as King. And so today I want to ask, Is Jesus your King?
I. WE SEE THE PRESENTATION OF THE KING. Mk11:1-6
In Mk.10:46-52 we saw how Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus in Jericho in front of a large crowd. There was a crowd because by this time Jesus had become well-known for his miracles and teachings. But there was also a crowd because every year at this time many Jewish people were making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to observe the Feast of Passover. You remember that Passover commemorated the time when God brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt.
Jesus’ disciples had recently come to understand Jesus to be the long awaited Messiah. Some of the people in the crowd also had that same belief. But most of the people didn’t know exactly what to think of Jesus.
If you have read through Mark’s gospel you know that often when Jesus healed someone he told that person to keep it quiet. When he cast demons out of people and those demons would cry out that Jesus is the Holy One of God, Jesus silenced the demons. Jesus tried to keep his identity secret. Why would he do that? One reason is that the Romans would have been very concerned if they thought that Jesus was planning some kind of political coup. In fact, in Jn.19:12, the Jewish religious leaders said to Pilate, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar." It is thought that Jesus did not want to stir up any unnecessary trouble in order to not jeopardize the work of God. It’s not that Jesus didn’t want people to know who he is. There were times when he privately affirmed the truth of his identity to others. But in public he kept a low profile.
However, in v.1-6 we find a number of indications that Jesus was making a careful statement about himself for those with eyes to see. For example, in v.1 Mark tells us that Jesus is on the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives is on the east side of Jerusalem, running north to south and it has religious significance for the Jews. In 2Sam.15:32 we learn that before the time of King David, the Mount of Olives was already a place where God was worshiped. In 586 B.C. when Babylon conquered Jerusalem, Ezekiel tells us in Ez.11:22 that the glory of the God of Israel went up from Jerusalem and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.” God’s presence was departing from the temple. Zech.14:4 speaks of a day to come when the Lord will stand on the Mount of Olives in Judgment. This mountain was associated with the coming of the Messiah. And now Jesus the Messiah is standing on the Mount of Olives, preparing to enter Jerusalem.
And then there is the business of getting the colt. Jesus tells two of his disciples to go into the next village and they would find a colt tied up. They were to bring it to Jesus. But this wasn’t just any colt. This was a colt upon which no one had ever sat. Jesus gave instructions about what to say if anyone questioned them about taking the colt. “All you have to say is, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.” When the disciples went to get the colt it happened as Jesus said it would, showing Jesus’ divine knowledge and authority. But there is more.
In Zech.9:9 we read a prophecy about the Messiah. It says, “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.” Matthew and John quote this verse in their gospels. Mark does not. Mark is more understated. I have read that it was a king’s prerogative to conscript an animal to ride upon. James Edwards also points out that according to the Mishnah, no other person was to ride a king’s horse.
My sense is that as Jesus was preparing to enter into Jerusalem he was taking steps to make a statement about the nature of his kingship and kingdom. Jesus, the king, was coming in humility, not in pomp and circumstance. He was coming in gentleness, not in a grand display of power. Jesus had no interest in setting up a political kingdom in this world. He wasn’t playing by the rules of this world. Jesus came to serve and to give his life as a ransom. And those of us who are followers of Jesus must understand this. We follow our humble King. We do not live by the ways of the world. We live by the way of Jesus. We take our cue from Jesus.
II. WE SEE THE RECEPTION OF THE KING. Mk.11:7-10
On the surface it would appear that Jesus received a very spontaneous and warm reception from the people. But what did their cheering mean? I have read that in the time of Jesus there was a heightened expectation that the Messiah would come to bring deliverance and reestablish the throne of David. People were hopeful that God was going to soon intervene in their situation.
In v.7-8 we see that they threw their cloaks on the colt and Jesus sat on the colt. Some spread their cloaks on the road while others spread leafy branches on the road. This was like a ceremonial welcome of a king. In 2Kgs.9:13 we see that when Jehu was anointed king of Israel it says, “Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, ‘Jehu is king.’” This is what they were doing for Jesus.
The people were shouting, “Hosanna!,” which means, “Save I pray.” In fact they were quoting from Ps.118:25-26, which says, “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.” In Mark’s gospel it is not as clear that the people are proclaiming that Jesus is the anointed king, but it does have that ring to it. They also shout, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” Now Jesus didn’t teach about the coming kingdom of David. Jesus preached about the kingdom of God. This just goes to show that people were confused about Jesus. They were excited and it seems that some were clearly expecting that Jesus was the one who would reestablish David’s throne in Jerusalem.
Now it is important to understand that one can receive Jesus in a very positive way and yet miss the person of Jesus. There was a great deal of enthusiasm in this crowd regarding Jesus. You would think all these people were joyful followers of Jesus. But we will see that like the seed that was sown on the rocky soil, most of these people had received the word with joy, but the gospel had not taken root in their hearts. These people misunderstood what Jesus was about. They were not thinking about a messiah who would give his life as a ransom. They were thinking about a messiah who would drive Rome out and set up the throne of David once again.
Over the years Jesus has often received a warm welcome. But many who think highly of Jesus do so because they have shaped Jesus into someone who meets their expectations. For example, many commend Jesus for his sermon on the mount, and his message of love. People like it that Jesus said, "Judge not, that you be not judged,” and they quote that verse. If Jesus were to pay a visit, I have no doubt that many would welcome him. But a joyful welcome does not necessarily demonstrate heartfelt faith in Jesus. If we pick and choose what we like about Jesus we will do so to our own demise. If we don’t receive Jesus in the totality of who he is (God in the flesh), we don’t receive Jesus at all.
Please ask yourself about what you think of Jesus. Do you know what you think about Jesus? Who is Jesus to you? What role does Jesus have in your life? Is he someone you grew up hearing about in Sunday School and church? Or is he your Lord and King? Having warm feelings about Jesus does not mean he is your Lord and King.
III. WE SEE THE INTENTION OF THE KING. Mk.11:11
This verse is interesting because Mark is the only one who has it. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus enters the temple and immediately begins to drive out the money changers and merchants. The temple had its own currency and if you were going to make a contribution you needed to exchange your currency for the temple currency. The merchants sold preapproved animals for those who needed a sacrifice. It was convenient to be able to purchase a sacrifice right there at the temple. And John tells us that the merchants sold oxen, sheep, and pigeons. This selling took place in the court of the Gentiles.
But what about v.11. Why does Mark have Jesus coming to the temple late in the day, having a look around and then leaving? What’s the point? Well, first observe that Jesus does not go to the center of government. He goes to the center of worship. And notice that the crowd has disappeared. I don’t want to read more into this than is warranted, but the thought comes to me that Jesus’ interest was not the crowds’ interest. Jesus had a different intention. They wanted a change in government. Jesus had another more significant change in mind and the crowds began to lose interest.
The phrase, “looked around,” is interesting. This word is found six times in Mark and once in Luke. Five of the six occurrences in Mark have to do with Jesus. All five occurrences convey a very intense looking on the part of Jesus.
For example, in Mk.3:5, Jesus was going to heal a man with a withered hand in a synagogue on the Sabbath. He asked the Pharisees whether it was lawful to do good or harm on the Sabbath and they refused to answer. It says, “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” Then in Mk.5:32-33, after the woman touched Jesus’ cloak to be healed of her bleeding, we read, “And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” The other occurrences are Mk.3:34 & 10:23.
What was Jesus intensely looking at? Well, we get a clue from v.12-25. In v.12-14 we learn that on the next day Jesus curses a barren fig tree and then look at v.15-19 (read). My sense is that on what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus came to the temple to see what was going on at his Father’s house, and what he saw disturbed him. Because of the lucrative and perhaps dishonest business that was going on, Gentiles who might want to worship God, were hindered and distracted.
But there is another thought. What is greater, the temple or Jesus? If you answered, “Jesus,” you are right. In Mt.12:6 Jesus claims that he is greater than the temple. In fact Jesus is the new temple. It is in and through Jesus that the presence of God is with us. Jesus did away with the temple. In the next chapters of Mark, Jesus shows that the temple is no longer the focus of reconciliation with God and worship. In fact, when Jesus dies on the cross, the curtain baring entrance into the Holy of Holies in the temple is ripped in two. Jesus is the new and living way to God.
Jesus is the new temple. We come to Jesus in order to be reconciled with God through the forgiveness of our sins. Some people have the idea that going to church gives them a little extra credit when it comes to God. “If you want to be blessed get yourself in church.” But, no. If you want God, you need to come to Jesus. Every chapter of Mark’s gospel draws our attention to Jesus. He alone is the Savior, Lord and King.
After President Trump was elected, we heard many protesters shouting out, “Not my president.” We understand what they are saying, but it doesn’t change anything and their lives are probably not going to change in any significant way. Life goes on.
It is different in the case of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not king for four years. He is King forever. He alone can give a person eternal living in the good, eternal kingdom of God. Those who turn to Jesus and embrace him as Savior, Lord and king receive the same kind of life he himself has. Now of course, you can say, “Not my King.” It’s your choice. However the implications are staggering. To reject Jesus is to turn one’s back on God and eternal life. It is to reject the love of God that is offered through his Son, Jesus Christ. Is Jesus your King today?