In the Presence of a future King
A few years ago, I was walking about Portadown main street. It was a wonderful sunny day. People were out and about moving through the shops. It was a typical summer day in a busy town centre. Something was different; I looked up ahead and noticed a crowd gathering at the top of one side street. The road had been blocked off by the police, and people were lining either side of it. I managed to get talking to someone there, and I asked what all the fuss was about: “The future King is in town.” A few seconds later, Prince Charles steps out from one of the towns coffee shops and begin to work his way up the street, saying hello, shaking hands (pre-covid) and moving towards his next stop. The longer he was out on the street, the more buzz there seemed to be about the place as people tried to get a selfie with him, shake his hand, or get him to notice them. There was a buzz about the town and crowd that day because they were in the presence of a future King, and they knew it!
In our passage today, as we read from Mark 11, we find ourselves on the way into Jerusalem. Jesus and the disciples are just outside of the town of Bethpage. Jesus has been teaching about the Kingdom of God, performing miracles to validate his authority and changing the lives of all who would come into contact with him and now he begins his final entry into the city. He has come to Jerusalem to claim his crown and throne, and his arrival causes quite a stir as the crowd react to him with praise and adulation. Why? Because they know they are in the presence of royalty and the presence of a future King.
They had recognised Jesus as King, yet what we see are reminded of in our passage today is that while they saw him rightly (as King), they misunderstood it. They had misunderstood just what Christ’s crown and thrown would be and over what a Kingdom he would rule. Thus, even as he entered Jerusalem in such a way that pointed to a different sort of King and a different sort of Kingdom, they still missed the mark. The challenge for us to consider is how do we see him?
The Passage (Mark 11:1-11 NIV)
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ”
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.
7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! ” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 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.
A Humble Stead (1-6)
We join Jesus and the disciples as they approach from the mount of Olives. It is a moment that marks a significant shift in Jesus journey as presented in Marks Gospel. Until now, he has tried his best to avoid the crowds of people who might come after him. He has ministered and moved publicly but has always maintained a vale of secrecy about his plans. He has avoided the capital city. Yet, this first day of his passion, weeks see Jesus begin to openly confront those who have opposed him and his Kingdom as he moved to take up his crown and throne, yet, not as they would have seen it.
Jesus entering Jerusalem from the east of the city, as he directs the disciples to go and fetch a colt/donkey. A command that gives us a glimpse of the authority of which this King would have, he was no earthly King – he was the King of Kings. All things were under Him, and he knew all things – even the simple location of a donkey for this moment. Now, let us be clear this is not a difficult journey to make. It is not that Jesus was getting tired after a long stretch of road and just wanted to rest for the final stretch. It was a walk they could make in no time! Hence, there was a point to entering on the donkey. Jesus wanted to make a statement about who he is and what he is about to do. Jesus tells the disciples that if anyone asks them what they are doing, they are to say: “The Lord needs it, and will send it back shortly.” This was true; Jesus needed to arrive in Jerusalem on this animal to say something about his arrival. The King had come. Jesus claims the animal to meet his need, as is the right of any King, yet unlike earthly leaders, he does not seize things for his own good, for once he is done with the colt, he will send it back.
All throughout Marks Gospel, bar when he was on a boat, Jesus walked with the disciples. Now, he sets up a grand entrance into the city that marks a significant departure from the norm. This is an entry that presents a claim of authority – The king had arrived, hence the people’s excitement. However, what they had not grasped was that the arrival of his Kingdom would look nothing like they would want it to. The crown he would wear would be one the world would despise, and then thrown on which he would be coronated would be the shame of the world.
Some of the other details that Mark includes help us to grasp the fullness of the point that Jesus is making. That the animal has never been ridden before makes it suitable for a King’s sacred purpose and worth. Furthermore, the mention that the colt was bound and needed to be untied seems to allude to Genesis 49:10-11 and Zechariah 9:9:
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
11 He will tether his donkey to a vine,
his colt to the choicest branch;
he will wash his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.
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 9:9 NIV
Both passages are interpreted messianically. Thus, Jesus point was not just that he was entering Jerusalem as a local King; no, he was entering as Israels’ (and the world)’s Messiah. He was here as the saviour of the world. The colt’s humility points to the otherness of Christ’s Kingship, rule, and reign; he did not come on a Royal stead; he came on a humble Donkey because his Kingship and Kingdom would look nothing like the world.
The Arrival of A King (7-10)
I am not sure how many of us have ever had to plan something significant, the stress and worry that might go into every detail the first time we do something, especially if we are not sure what we want! Throughout all of the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus has no desire for the limelight. He has no desire to be at the centre of the stage, play to the crowd’s whims, or seek their approval. He has only one motive; to bring Glory to God and obedience to the call of God on his life. His avoidance of the crowds was not some fear of people, but a fear of the Lord – he knew the hearts of those who seemed to be responding to him: He knew that that wanted to make him into their Saviour and not the saviour he came to be. Every action of Jesus was predicated with a disposition to the Glory and Purpose of God. So why change his approach now? The time had come, Jesus was on the last furlough of this mission towards the cross, and this stage would bring him to the point of confrontation with the established powers and authorities before he would confront sin in the cross because it was such actions at this moment would bring God Glory and lead to his ultimate Glorification.
Mark seems to suggest that the disciples would saddle the animal they brought to Jesus with their own garments, then as they walked that the crowds seem to cover the road before Jesus with garments. Scenes that reflect the anointing of Jehu as King from 1 Kings 9:13:
”They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”
Thus, the crown seemed to get the point that Jesus wanted to make from his arrival. This was to be his anointing as King! Hence their cries of thankfulness (Hosanna) and the announcing of the coming Saviour, the son of David. Jerusalem was always at a fever pitch around the time of the Passover, as the old stories of the Lord’s rescue from oppression were told the people would long for a new redemption. Hence, the people’s reaction to Jesus: they had rightly identified him as King and Saviour. Yet, as the week to the cross unfolded and the cries of the crowd were replaced by the tears of Christ in Gethsemane, we would learn that while they had the right words, they had the wrong understanding. While they were there for his entry, there would be silence come to his coronation because it looked nothing like the world.
The danger is to read the Triumphant entry without reference to the cross. To create in our head some image of Jesus as mighty and strong riding into the nation’s capital to enact the beginning of his Kingdom without reference to what actually being Christ’s reign and how he would reign. The triumphant entry marks the irony of the Gods Kingdom and its way of working, that it might lead to King Jesus most glorious moment, which would seemingly be his defeat. Jesus entry into Jerusalem reminds us here of the danger of misunderstanding who he was, what he came to do and how he would do it. That his thrown would be a rugged cross and his crown one of thorns, that His ultimate display of power would in the eyes of the world look like a shameful defeat, and it would be the Cross that might bear the scorn of the world but would be the ultimate display of the Glory of God. So this Palm Sunday, as we celebrate Jesus, let us remember the cross.
Is it To Late? (11)
The sudden shift of the narrative in verse 11 is fascinating as no sooner are we presented with the vision of a large rapturous crowd greeting Jesus entering the city than has it disappeared. We are meeting only with the image of Jesus Christ entering into the temple courts, looking around and then departing with the disciples due to the late hour of the day. It almost feels like a different scene, yet it is this scene that makes sense not just of the journey that Jesus has just made but of all that is ahead and all that he is about to do. Jesus does not enter the temple like some sort of Spiritual Pilgrim. No, he enters the temple as he entered Jerusalem as King and one who has authority over everything. Verse 11 makes sense as the rest of chapter 11 unfolds as we see him both curse the fig tree (as representative of the temple) because of its lack of fruit and then clear out the temple courts because of what is going on. Thus, here late in the evening, Jesus enters the temple to assess it, but it was too late in the day to do anything about it, so he returns to Bethany with the twelve. Yet, there is hope because, at his coronation, he would take that Judgement on himself for those who might believe in him: Even if the crowd was not there to cheer it. Thus, this entry into Jerusalem is only triumphant if we look forward to the Cross.
Conclusion: Looking forward to the Cross
I often find how we present and celebrate Palm Sunday in Churches as somewhat of an oxymoron; the irony is there was nothing triumphant about it. Jesus did not enter Jerusalem as a Military Messiah, with an army trailing behind him on the finest horse. No, he entered it on a donkey surrounded by twelve lowly men and the cries of an excited crowd who would soon disappear as he left the city by the same roads in chains carrying a cross. The disciples and the crowd had their fantasies of what Jesus might do for them, but they were wrong. Jesus comes to Jerusalem – as he had told them three times – to suffer and die at the hands of Cesar, not to rival him. His Crown would be one of thorns and his throne one of shame, the cross. Yet, this would be heavens victory that even though the watching world failed to notice, it would shake the world as we knew it. On Palm Sunday, we must look forward to the cross to fully understand the triumphant of this Messiah and how far-reaching his work, rule and Kingdom would be. The disciples had not grasped it, but soon they would, and we must join them in understanding all the things of Christ not through our own desires but through the lens of the Cross. Are we looking forward to the Cross?
This Palm Sunday, let us make sure our celebrations of Jesus do not erase the reality of the cross on Good Friday. Mark’s Gospel, more than any other, brings out Jesus’ enormous suffering. If we hail Jesus, we must hail him as the one who comes to die for our sins, not as the one who comes to bring us glory. We must hail him as one who gives his life for the kingdom of God, not as the one who sets up the kingdom of David. So this Easter, let us make sure we celebrate the right thing and place our hope on a good Friday. Today let us see Jesus as he presents himself, Saviour and King, but let us make sure we understand those things as he meant them to be.
Let us avoid the dangers of warping Jesus into our own version of Messiah, one that fits our theology or worldview and one that might lose sight of the cross. The crowds shouted: “Hosanna! Save us!” What they meant was for Jesus to save them from Rome, overthrow Caesar, and reestablish David’s throne. Now, we often sit here and read of such things and think we are okay because we see the cross and believe, but how often do we see the message of Jesus distorted on the news or internet by people who turn him into a Messiah? He never came to be. Whether it through warped nationalism or dangerous twisting of our understanding of what he came to save us. Today let us mark sure we understand Christ saving work through the Cross’s lens, and let us be a people who share this Good news and nothing else. Let us be formed in His image rather than trying to form him in our Image.
It is amazing to think how quickly the crowd seems to abandon Jesus, from the cries of Hosanna to the silence of Calvary. As we reflect on them, let us reflect on our own following of Jesus, especially these days. No one said the call of Christ would be easy: Calvary is the lens through which we understand, and it is also the road on which we are called to walk. To be his disciple is to accept that as we live for him, we will experience the same things he did: there will be difficult moments for the Kingdom of God, yet, if we like him by the power of the Holy Spirit can endure in those moments then God will be glorified all the more as people see something work living for. So today, let us renew our commitment to follow him, and let us not be Sunday Disciples but those who everyday life for him endure with him and seek to make Him known no matter how the world around us might react.
How do you see the cross of Christ? A piece of ornate Jewellery or a representation of how God will always work in the world. The Cross has the final word, and the cross is the greatest victory of God, and the Cross is the lens through which we consider all the works of God in the world. Today let us remove from our mind any earthly notions of power and authority and renew ourselves to understand the way by which God will work in the world and advance his Kingdom – The Cross of Christ. Then let us join in the work of making the good news of Jesus known, pointing to the one who would make available life for all by his death by modelling the call of the cross: dying to ourselves, serving others and living lives or worship so that God is brought the Glory and never us. Let our lives display the greatest triumph of all, Christ victory over death and then let our living call people follow him as we rejoice in our privilege of being in the presence of King Jesus and serving him.