Presidential inauguration parades have happened many different ways throughout the history of our nation. Some rode in carriages or cars while some walked. All were filled with great hopes for things that they felt they needed to do. Likely every leader thought about the possibility of dying during their term. In fact, William Henry Harrison died from pneumonia just 31 days after beings sworn in. Yet no leader entered their term thinking that they were going to die within days. They entered with the hope that they would live and do great things.
From this point on, all the events occur in or around Jerusalem. In the coming verses, Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for their future ministry. He instructs them on what believing prayer is. He also teaches them to be watchful in their mission and suffering. This teaching intensifies as the time of his death draws closer perhaps as teacher intensifies her teaching as the end of a semester approaches and it’s exam time. And now the conflict over the authority of the Jewish leaders also ramps up.
The Triumphal Entry itself is rich with Old Testament prophecy references but that wouldn’t be evident to the people who were actually there at the time. As the readers of Mark’s Gospel read this account, it must have been clear that all of these things were deep in Messianic significance. Zechariah 9 is particularly important in showing that Jesus is the Messiah. It was not at all customary for pilgrims to enter Jerusalem riding a donkey and the last stage of the pilgrimage was usually on foot. The prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 contains the three main elements of the account. The king will come, and come on a donkey amid the people’s rejoicing. Jesus’ riding on a donkey fulfills the Old Testament prophecy explicitly. But only later as we see in John 12:16 did the disciples recognize that the Scriptures had been fulfilled and that Jesus had entered Jerusalem as the Messiah.
On that day Jesus came from Jericho to the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem. The pilgrimage road led through Bethphage and Bethany on the eastern slopes of the mountain, across from the Kidron Valley to the northern gate of the city. Bethphage was a village close to Jerusalem and is described as belonging within the precincts of Jerusalem, which is important for what happens next. Bethany again was where Jesus was spending his nights.
Jesus took the initiative in sending two of his disciples into the nearby village to untie a young untrained donkey and to bring it to him. His precise knowledge concerning the donkey and its availability suggests a prearrangement with the owner, who may have been a disciple of Jesus at the time. Notice that the instruction about what to say if anyone questions them is not directed to the owner but to anyone else who might question the disciples’ action.
The description of the colt donkey as one that had never been ridden is important. An animal used for God must be one that has not been put to ordinary use. Again this detail points to Jesus fulfilling the prophecies of the Messiah. The disciples obey and things unfold exactly as Jesus had said it would.
Now why is there such a detailed description of this action with the donkey? It may well be that Mark includes all these details as an allusion to Genesis 49:11. When Jacob blessed Judah in Genesis 49:8-12 he mentions a donkey being tied to a vine. Jacob’s words speak of one who is coming who will bring abundant life to Israel and connects his coming with a donkey tied to a vine. Jesus as Messiah has come, not just as the fulfillment of David’s kingdom but as fulfillment of all that God has been planning from the very beginning in Genesis. God’s plans are for all of human history and not just our own lives. Let’s not ever lose the grand scope of what God is doing in the world and history. God has been and will continue to work in this world throughout all time to bring about his purposes through Jesus!
II. Verses 7-10 then describe Jesus as he enters Jerusalem.
The disciples placed their outer garments on the donkey in place of a saddle, and Jesus began his ride to the gates of Jerusalem. Verse 8 describes an apparent spontaneous expression of praise to Jesus. The pilgrims may have believed that he had come to Jerusalem in fulfillment of some sort of prophetic mission. There is great jubilation but it was not done to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. It was a brief moment of enthusiasm outside the city walls which would have been appropriate to a king arriving. Yet it was similar to the exaltation which characterized the other groups of pilgrims when the City of David, with its magnificent Temple, came into view.
The people with Jesus began chanting of one of the great psalms of ascent to Jerusalem. Psalms 113-118 were used liturgically in connection with the Passover and Tabernacles, serving as a focus for prayer, praise and thanksgiving for every pious Jew. “Hosanna” is a prayer asking for God’s saving action and means “save us!” Over time it came to be used as a shout of acclamation like “Hallelujah!” It also was used as a greeting in addressing a group of pilgrims or a famous rabbi.
In Psalm118:26 a blessing is given to the pilgrims who have come up to the festival. “Blessed in the name of the Lord be he who comes” formed part of a customary form of religious greeting. Yet Mark intended his readers to detect a deeper, messianic significance in the phrase “he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The rabbis interpreted Psalm 118:25f with reference to David or the final redemption. It expresses a type of messianic hope without identifying Jesus as the Messiah. Despite the enthusiasm of their homage, there is no awareness on the part of the people that the kingdom has actually drawn near in the person of Jesus himself.
All the things the crowd does would have happened even if Jesus were not entering. The crowds, the palm branches, the chanting of the praise Psalms, the feeling of exaltation when the city comes into view would all mark the end of the pilgrimage. Evidently the actions on that day were apparently not so significant as to attract the attention of the Roman authorities. When Jesus entered the city the group of pilgrims who had accompanied him quickly dispersed and he goes to the Temple accompanied only by the disciples.
III. This section concludes with a rather odd postscript in verse 11.
Once within the city, the crowd of pilgrims seems to have quickly dispersed. It was late in the day since they had come from Jericho, nearly 18 miles away. Jesus seems to have gone to the Temple accompanied by the disciples. In recording this visit to the Temple Mark is not saying that as a new pilgrim, Jesus is eager to see the great temple like a tourist might want to see the great sites of Jerusalem. Rather Mark has in mind Malachi 3:1 – “‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty. Jesus, as the Lord of the Temple, must inspect its premises to determine whether the purpose intended by God is being fulfilled.
Jesus’ actions set the stage and anticipate what is coming on the following day. Jesus must have taken note of all the merchants doing their selling. And he would be back the next day to challenge and correct the misuse he witnessed in that initial visit. It is a quiet ending to the day, but it is indeed the calm before the storm!
So what do we do with this? Do we appreciate the breadth and scope of what Jesus did? It’s not just that God saves us and our souls, although that in itself is huge. No, what Jesus is about to do will change everything in the world! In Stephen Ambrose’ book Nothing Like It in the World, he tells the story of building the transcontinental railroad which was completed in 1869. But it wasn’t just that they built a railroad. The railroad changed everything in the developing country. Now you could reach the west coast and everything between the coasts in a matter of 4 days instead of 4 months or more. You could send goods and people quickly great distances and as a result the country was changed completely.
That is a just a small example of the kind of changes that Jesus is about to bring. Jesus is about to do something that will change our relationship with the God of heaven who made all things and rules over all things. This is the beginning of a whole new way of living with God! We need not cower in fear in God’s presence for Jesus has removed our guilt. We all do things that hurt others and we are all disobedient to our God. Jesus’ coming means that our sins are forgiven and our relationship with God is restored.
But there is one other lesson I believe from this event that we should not lose sight of. It is so easy to do what the crowd did during this entry into Jerusalem: praise God with great joy – and then go on doing their thing without thinking much again about Jesus. We gather on Sundays to praise God and to have his Word shape our lives. By Monday we are back at it again, going through our lives having forgotten about the significance of what Jesus has done in establishing his kingdom.
So let’s joyfully praise him today with our Hosannas and then tomorrow we go back into the world with the reality of the radical new kingdom echoing in our minds. God has established his kingdom and it’s growing and changing everything! It makes a difference in how we live our lives at work and at home. It makes a difference in the way we relax and how we spend our time. It makes a difference in the way we spend our money and use our resources. The kingdom of God should change us and change everything in the way we live our lives.
God has come! The Kingdom is here! Let’s not take it for granted. Let’s embrace the reality of the kingdom and seek to live it out in every part of our lives.