Before we jump into the Scripture and the story of the Sunday before Jesus death on the cross, better known as Palm Sunday, I thought I would share a little bit on Lent for those who didn’t grow up in the church or are unaware of what Lent is. Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, repentance, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. It's the forty days before Easter. Lent excludes Sundays because every Sunday is like a little Easter. Basically, it's about one-tenth of a year (like a tithe of time). Lent runs from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday.
Over the next 6 weeks we will look at the Last week of Jesus life. We will walk through Palm Sunday, Holy Monday and Tuesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We will also spend 1 Sunday (March 22) in service to our world. And we’ll spend one Sunday gathering around the Table for a time of reflection, a simple meal, feet washing, and communion. And all throughout these next 6 weeks we’ll be looking through the lens of the gospel of Mark as he tells the story of Jesus last week on this earth.
So today we’ll be looking at the story that occurs on the beginning of Holy Week, sometimes called Palm Sunday but also called the Triumphal Entry. This story happens in all 4 of the Gospels but we’ll be looking at this story, as I mentioned before, through the lens of Mark. So turn to Mark 11:1-11 as we begin to talk about and explore what kind of King is Jesus.
Mark 11:1-11 tells the story this way, “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “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 heaven!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”
So today we are going to look at this familiar text but through a new lens, the lens of Kingship and royalty. We are going to talk about what kind of King is Jesus and we’ll see that this story begins to show us what kind of King Jesus actually is. We’ll also see the connections between this story, and the story of Moses and the Exodus. And we’ll also unpack the political and religious understandings that are happening within this story.
Now the first thing that you need to know about is when this story took place. It happened during Passover, which commemorates God delivering the Israelites out of the hand of the world’s first superpower/empire Egypt. Being that this took place during Passover Jerusalem would have swelled to twice the size that it normally was. Travelers and Pilgrims would be there as would the powers that be. You see Passover again was all about freedom time and kingdom time. The time when all the hopes and dreams of freedom, of God’s sovereign hand, and God’s deliverance would again happen. The Jewish public were looking for a second Moses, one to deliver them out of the hands of Rome, the current Empire under whose thumb they currently resided. They were looking for a King in the line of David who would ride into Jerusalem, kick out the Romans and set up a new Empire/Kingdom. And their eyes turned to Jesus. Their messianic hopes rested on Jesus.
So Jesus made the trip from Jericho up to Bethpage, and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. The trip from Jericho to Jerusalem is only 17 miles but goes from 825 feet below sea level to 2500 hundred feet above sea level, rising more than 3000 feet in such a short distance. When travelers would crest the hill at Bethpage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem would come into view. Jerusalem, the home to their hopes, dreams, and their faith. It reminds me in some small way of the first time that I saw the Tetons rising from the earth. Kim and I were driving in Wyoming and we crested a hill and off in the distance we got our first view of the Tetons and it took our breath away.
Once Jesus and his disciples climbed that hill, their destination came into view, the city in which the son of man would be crucified as a common criminal. When their arrived Jesus sent two disciples into the village of Bethany (where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived) to get a colt that no one had ever ridden. This is the second and third pieces of evidence in connecting this story to Jesus being King and finding out what kind of King he is. You see in the Mishnah (Mishnah is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic literature) there is an instruction that says "no one may use an animal on which a king rides" So Jesus got two of his disciples to get a colt that no one had ever ridden knowing that this was going to set off flags in his disciple’s minds that this move was a royal move, a coronation if you will. That was the second piece of evidence in seeing Jesus as King.
The third piece was his choice in choosing not to walk but to ride into Jerusalem. His choice, gives us a clue into what type of King Jesus is. You see a warrior King (like King David) would have gotten a war horse or something very majestic. But Jesus got a colt and was seeking to show his disciples and others that he was a King of peace. Colts were ridden by men of peace not by men of war. Also Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy about the coming peaceful King and his Kingdom from Zechariah 9:9 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a war horse to establish his Kingdom. No, he rode on a peace animal into the heart of the empire to have the empire eventually kill him and shed his blood in order for his Kingdom to be established. Instead of a King who shed others blood, he had the empire shed his blood. All of the while being a King, a King of peace, again symbolized by his choice of animals.
We also see the royal connection related to an earlier coronation found in 1 Kings 1:38-40 with the coronation of Solomon, “So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David's mule and brought him to Gihon. There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.” This doesn’t sound too different than what we read in Mark 11.
So once they had gotten the colt, they spread cloaks on it as a saddle, and then Jesus got on it and off they went. Now here is where we see another royal or kingly understanding and expectation that the people had for Jesus. They began to spread their cloaks and branches on the ground in front of Jesus. And they began to shout “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 heaven!” There are a few things that we can see from this part of the text that shows us that the people believed him to be King, but not the kind of King he actually was. No, they pictured him like all the other kings. Jesus however was not the sort of royalty that either Israel or the rest of the world were used to.
There is an Old Testament tradition that when one of Israel’s Kings of old was proclaimed King in defiance of an existing one, his followers would spread their cloaks under his feet as a sign of loyalty (see 2 Kings 9:13). They were determined to make a statement about what they thought was going on. They would also wave branches that they had cut from the trees to make a celebratory procession for this King. This too carried “royal implications”. So the people laid down their cloaks and waved palm branches, no doubt knowing what they were doing. They were seeking to proclaim Jesus king in defiance of the current rulers, not only the Jewish ones but even more importantly that rulers of the Roman Empire. They believed that now was the time, and Jesus was the man. Jesus was going to deliver them from the hands of their oppressors.
You see their hopes were not in a King of Peace, but in a King of war when they shouted, “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our father David”. They were hoping that Jesus would initiate again a Davidic Kingdom. A Kingdom where the Messiah would rule and reign over Israel and not some foreign empire. Where a Jewish person would establish Jewish rule and reign and lead his people to freedom, deliverance, and prosperity not seen since David was King. All their hope and dreams from all those years under the thumb of Rome come exploding to the surface and they proclaim Jesus King. But as we see less than a week later Jesus, the King not spilling the blood of his enemies and establishing his Kingdom, but allowing his enemies to spill his blood and establishing his Kingdom of peace, salvation, redemption, and reconciliation.
We have definitely seen in this account of the triumphal entry that Mark is definitely emphasizing the idea of Jesus as King. I believe that this coronation if you will, this triumphal entry was one of the many reasons that came together that week in order to get Jesus killed. Royalty and others in power want to stay in power, and when they see a challenge to their power and throne, they fight it with all their power and strength.
No doubt, as we have seen in this story, that Jesus is indeed the King, but not in the way that many expected him to be. He is indeed the King of Kings. His rule and reign will move on from this time forward or as Handel’s Messiah says, “The kingdom of this world Is become the kingdom of our Lord, And of His Christ, and of His Christ;And He shall reign for ever and ever, For ever and ever, forever and ever,” But what does this mean for us today? What does it mean that Jesus is in fact King, but not in the way that we expect or even hope? How does this affect the way we live? How does this affect the way we read the rest of Scripture? And what are you seeking to lay down into front of King Jesus showing him your loyalty to his rule and reign? These are some of the questions that we’ll unpack together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What does it mean that Jesus is in fact King (though not in the way we expect or hope)? How does this affect the way we live? How does this affect the way we read Scripture?
3. What are you seeking to lay down in front of King Jesus and therefore showing him your loyalty to his rule and reign?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?