This year we are going to be using Mark’s gospel over the Easter period as we walk our way through Christ’s passion and resurrection. AS you read Mark’s account of Jesus entry to Jerusalem, there are all the parts that we are used to and associate with Palm Sunday. The donkey, the palm branches, the cries of hosanna, blessed is the one who come in the name of the Lord’ which make it such a dramatic event. That point us to Jesus kingship. However, the thing that struck me as I read it is that the day finishes in an anti-climatic way. Jesus arrives at the temple, he looks around, but as it is getting late he and the twelve go out of the city to Bethany for the night.
Maybe our imaginations were formed by faded water colour of Jesus surrounded by the crowd on Sunday school class room walls. With memories of the drama and pageantry that Palm Sunday lends itself to in terms of Christian worship. We know the reality behind the day… But the way Mark ends his account makes us stop and think beyond the Hosanna’s, the crowd and the words what does it mean to welcome Jesus as king.
Make no mistake, the gospel telling of Jesus entry into Jerusalem is to show us that Jesus is the long awaited messianic king.
It starts with Jesus seeming to have prophetic foresight sending his disciples into the village to get a colt for him to ride on. There is a sense that this is a divine appointment. Some have tried to suggest that as it is Bethany where he is staying that Jesus had prearranged this with people. A bit like today you’d order a taxi or maybe even a type of Uber donkey or uburrow… or Uberass if I may. But that does not explain Jesus telling the disciples exactly what others would say and how they would react to the answer he gives them.
In fact when you look at it, a lot of what goes on is pointing us to Jesus kingship. It was a colt that had not previously been ridden, which makes me wonder how it will react to being ridden for the first time, however it made it fit for a king. In the Mishnah, which is a writing down of the Jewish oral traditions around the law, no one else was aloud to ride the kings horse or steed. Likewise according to the Mishnah the King could ask for the use of something and would expect it to be given. So when the disciples say The master or the Lord needs it, they are willing to accept that. Jesus also fulfills the Mishnah’s expectation for the use of borrowed animals by taking responsibility for returning it after it has been used.
Then Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem is an image of Jesus claiming authority. Jesus walked everywhere else, the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem would have walked this last way up to the city as a sign of humility. But Jesus chooses to ride a donkey. It was an appropriate steed for a Davidic king, a king would only ride a horse into the city in a time of war, coming as a conquering hero.
While Mark does not mention it the passage we had read out from Zechariah 9 gives us the background to this event, as the Lord promises to send Jerusalem a just ruler who will bring peace. We have tended to view humble with riding on a donkey, as opposed to a horse, but it refers more to the nature of the coming king… than his mode of transport. Jesus fulfills that picture as the one who came not to be served but to serve and who gave his life to bring us peace with God and free us from the being prisoners to sin and death. Bu there is also the echoes of Daniel 9 where Gabriel responds to Daniels prayer by telling his that the Lord’s anointed one, and ruler will come to Jerusalem, and then continues in verse 26 that the anointed one will die. Thee is a real sense of Jesus fulfilling these prophecies in his entrance.
As Jesus comes into Jerusalem, the disciples and then the crowd put palms prongs and clothes in front of him. They rejoice which is biblical and appropriate. The words they use are from psalm 118 that we used in our call to worship this morning and again they are words for the Jews had taken on messianic expectation. Blessed is the one that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna means “save us now’ but by Jesus time it had also become a cry of jubilation and praise… perhaps an acknowledgement both of God’s saving activity and hope that God would do it again. Jesus coming to Jerusalem is indeed an answer to the cry save us, hosanna, not from foreign oppression but from sin and death, to usher in God’s Kingdom for all people, not an independent Israel.
In Matthews Gospel Jesus also quotes Psalm 118 when his teaching is challenged in the temple when he says
The stone the builders rejected
Has become the corner stone
The Lord has done this
And it is marvellous in our eyes.
Jesus kingship is linked to his sacrifice and death on the cross. We cannot separate those events.
As I said before Mark’s account of Jesus entry finishes with an anti-climax. There isn’t the clash between Jesus and the Pharisees, for mark that will come later as Jesus who has come as king begins to assert that kingship by clearing the temple and challenging the Pharisees about their understanding of God. As the kingdom of God clashes with the religiosity of man. Just before the triumphant entry Mark tells of the healing of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is blind and Jesus gives him sight and it say Bartimaeus followed Jesus down the road. Here people see but they are blind to the reality of who Jesus is.
But what does this passage tell us about welcome Jesus as king in our lives and in our day.
The things is its easy to get caught up in the crowd and the hosanna and think that that is what its all about. We can simply want the festival experience, the spiritual experiences and after that we find ourselves looking about and heading back home and there is no change in our lives. We can line up and go to the big event or experience and forget it.
In the Old Testament the prophet Amos goes to Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Remember after the reign of Solomon Israel is divided between the Northern kingdom and Judea, based on the tribes ofJudah and Benjamin. I love Amos because he could be a new Zealander, we are told that he is a shepherd and orchardist from Te Koa who comes to town to do business. Amos sees the elaborate and exuberant religious festivals in Samaria and God speaks to him, people had thought that their prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing but, Amos says otherwise. There religious life does not add up to God’s kingdom. There prosperity s built on the exploitation of the poor. So Amos says, God hates your festivals, worship and sacrifice what God desires rather let justice flow like a river and righteousness like a never ending stream. Words of course that are indelibly mark in our minds as it has been associated with Martin Luther King Jr and the civil rights movement. There is a sense that beyond the hosannas to acknowledge Jesus as king is to be about the kingdom of God in our lives.
In the passage itself we have an example of what it means to acknowledge Jesus as king in the disciples that Jesus sent to get the donkey. They heard what Jesus said and then they went and did what they were told. In doing that found themselves more aware of who Jesus was, more in awe of Jesus. In second half of the book of Exodus and the whole of Leviticus and the beginning of Numbers there is a repeating pattern. The Lord says to Moses, and Moses is given the design for the tabernacle, for the priestly garments for Aaron, the sacrificial system, the ordination of the priests and the order of the way the Israelite camp was to set up and move, and then we get the story of what people do and it finishes by saying and the Israelites did all that the Lord has commanded Moses. The covenant relationship between YHWH God and the people of Israel, is based on the idea of God as their sovereign.
In the New testament in Matthew’s gospel Jesus gives what is called the sermon on the mount, which is basically the manifesto for the Kingdom of God. What it means to live in the kingdom of God, to be a follower of Jesus. He finishes it with a well known parable of the two builders, one who builds his house on a foundation of sand, remember this is before concrete, there is no cement added, the other builds his house on a foundation of rock. Both suffer storm and flood, but the one who builds his house on the rock his house stands. That solid foundation is to listen to Jesus teaching and to put it into practise in our lives.
Eugene Petersen ties the spiritual journey of the Christian life with the journey to the Jerusalem for a festival, by using the psalms of ascent, The fourteen Psalms starting with Psalm 120 that pilgrims recited as they can to Jerusalem for one of the three big festivals, as a template for spiritual formation the book is called The long obedience in the same direction. Which is a quote from Fredrick Neichieze, ‘that the things in life worth doing are not easy but rather the result of long obedience in the same direction. Peterson maintains that in the psalms we see that journey start in psalm 120 with repentance, no longer willing to live amongst the tent of those who are not for peace. Then the other psalms talk of that repentance process, the turning to God. Peterson says the journey finishes in worship, acknowledging what God has done and coming from a life that has been attuned and resonates with the Kingdom of God. The hosannas come out of God’s abiding presence with us that journey. They come from gratitude that God has saved us.
I believe that religious experiences and great times of worship and praise and the times you see Jesus do amazing things are great and wonderful, they inspire us. Worship is joy based and they are times which encourage us and the hosannas are heartfelt and true, but they are like palm lined oasis on that long obedience in the same direction. After the crowd left and it was getting late, Jesus and the twelve went home. That is not the end of the story is, to acknowledge Jesus as our king and saviour is to be willing to follow him through the rest of the story, being prepared as it happens in Marks gospel to allow our being of the kingdom of God clash with the realms of this world, to show God’s love and justice. To be willing to follow Jesus on the costly road of sacrificial love, to the cross, and in that dying to self to experience the wonder of new life and resurrection.