1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'” 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “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!” 11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
One of my favorite writers is the late Flannery O’Connor, the great Southern short-story writer from of Milledgeville, Georgia. She was a fascinating, odd, and insightful writer whose stories were often shocking in making their points. She was once asked why it was that she wrote such unsettling things. She responded that when one lives in a world of deaf and blind people, one has to shout loudly and draw startling pictures.
There’s a lot of truth in that: in a deaf and blind world, one has to shout loudly and draw startling pictures.
The prophets of Israel understood this well. They knew that merely saying something to people seldom was enough. So, under the inspiration of God, they moved to act out the truths of God in shocking ways. For instance, the prophet Ezekiel laid on his left side for 390 days and then on his right side for 40 days to highlight the sins of God’s people (Ezekiel 4).
To illustrate the coming exile into foreign lands that would befall the people of God, Ezekiel dug through the wall of his house with his bare hands, crawled out with a bag of belongings, and walked out (Ezekiel 12:1-7). He also baked cakes over a flame fueled by cow dung (originally it was supposed to be human waste) in front of God’s people as a symbol of Israel and Judah’s sins against God (Ezekiel 4:12-13).
Isaiah walked around barefoot and naked for three years “as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush” (Isaiah 20:3)! Can you imagine what his deacons thought?! “Is that…oh no…!”
I would like to propose this morning that Jesus, when he decided to enter Jerusalem to initiate the events of the week of His passion, was standing firmly within the prophetic tradition. In other words, he decided to enter in such a way that the manner of His entering said as much as the fact of His entering. For the way He entered was shocking indeed.
Jesus’ triumphal entry, in other words, was Him shouting loudly and drawing a startling picture without even saying a word. His entry into Jerusalem said something about His kingship, and what it said was startling indeed.
I. Jesus’ Kingship Was Marked by Divine Commission (vv.1-3)
To begin, Jesus’ kingship was marked by divine commission. There was, in other words, a purpose behind it. This week will culminate in Jesus laying down His life, but even this was part of a meticulous divine plan. There was nothing happenstance or haphazard about Jesus’ kingship. It was kingship of divine intent and commission.
Notice the details of the passage:
1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples
No detail of the events of this amazing, miraculous week was by chance. Jesus’ kingship was marked by divine commission. He came to do the will of His Father, and it was the will of the Father that the Son go up to Jerusalem. In Matthew 16, Jesus explains this to the disciples:
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
The disciples struggled to understand the divine commission that lay on Jesus’ life. As if Jesus were merely making this up as He went, Peter scolded Jesus for the very thought of going to Jerusalem:
22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Many of you will recall Jesus’ amazing and painful response to Peter at Peter’s rejection of Jesus’ plan to go to Jerusalem:
23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
It is a crucial point: Jesus is not following man’s plan, but God’s plan, and the devil always opposes the plan of God. So, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. Let us get back to Mark 11:
2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it.
Jesus’ plan rested on divine commission, on the perfect will of God Father, even down to the detail of how Jesus entered Jerusalem. He knows what village the disciples are to enter and He knows precisely where the colt (“the foal of a donkey,” as Matthew tells us in Matthew 21:5) is tethered.
Some commentators struggle with this amazing display of knowledge. How could Jesus have known where this young donkey would be? But, come now! Jesus repeatedly reveals His own divine knowledge. He knows what is in the hearts of those He meets before they even say it. He knows details before people reveal them. It is not surprising that Jesus would know exactly where this donkey is. Once again, we see that Jesus’ is operating in the midst of a divine plan.
And we see the divine commission also in the detailed instructions that Jesus gives His disciples:
3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'”
Indeed! “The Lord has need of it!” It’s as if He is instructing them to say, “Even this detail, the use of this donkey, is necessary. Even this is part of the divine plan, part of God’s salvific blueprint to offer salvation to the nations. The Lord has need of it! Do not mind us taking the donkey for a moment. This, too, is part of the plan.”
Jesus’ plan was intentional, deliberate, and meticulous. He never had to guess what was going to happen. Jesus was not Napoleon. Do you know what Napoleon’s approach to war was? Napoleon said, “Engage, then see what happens.” In other words, make a move, watch the result, then improvise and formulate your next move. Jesus never said, “Engage, then see what happens.” Jesus knew precisely what was going to happen. His plan was known from the beginning.
I once took a college class on Napoleonic warfare. The professor had written a book entitled, Blundering to Glory. His thesis was that Napoleon’s genius rested in his ability to engage, observe, then act. He suggested that Napoleon was less a great strategist than improviser. But Jesus was not an improviser. Jesus did not react. Jesus acted. He walked resolutely in the center of the Father’s will. Napoleon blundered to glory, but Jesus did not!
Jesus was not Indiana Jones. Do you remember in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when Indy and the group are trying to escape the Nazi archaeological dig site? Indy is asked what he’s going to do next and he responds, “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go along.” Jesus never said that. He never made it up as He went along. He knew what needed to happen, and He knew how it would play out.
Jesus was not Forrest Gump. One of the truly funny things about the movie “Forrest Gump” was how Forrest just happened to stumble on and off the major cultural and political stages in modern history. He just happens to run across a football field when Bear Bryant is in the bleachers. He just happens to be in Washington, D.C., and is pushed onto a stage where Abbie Hoffman is leading a huge anti-war rally. Lt. Dan just happens to invest his money in Apple stock. He just happens to give John Lennon some of the lyrics to “Imagine” on the Dick Cavett show. He just happens to be thrust onto the stage of ping pong diplomacy with Communist China in the early seventies. On and on it goes. Forrest happens to stumble onto pretty much every significant cultural and political stage during his lifetime.
But hear me: Jesus never stumbled onto the stage. Jesus built the stage. Jesus wrote the script. Jesus’ kingship was marked by divine commission. It was a known, embraced, sure plan. He knew what He had to do, and he did it. Life, for Jesus, was never like a box of chocolates: He knew exactly what He was going to get!
Dear church, I think we can take great comfort in the meticulous nature of God’s plan and the Lord Jesus’ fulfillment of it. Your existence and your salvation, if you have trusted Christ, are part of a divine plan. Your presence here this morning is part of a divine plan. Some of you this morning are hearing the gospel for maybe the first time. I believe that the Lord God knew before He created the heavens and the earth that you – you! – would be right here right now in this sanctuary. He has you right where He wants you. This, too, is part of His plan.
I believe the Lord is calling out to you this morning. I believe He is calling you to Himself. You are no accident. The events of this week are no accident. This service is no accident.
I believe the Lord know that some of you, this very morning, are being drawn into Christ and will take His hand.
II. Jesus’ Kingship Was Marked by Shocking Humility (vv.4-7)
Jesus’ kingship was marked by divine commission. But there’s more: it was also marked by shocking humility! Note the manner of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem:
4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it.
By “colt,” the Bible means here “young donkey.”
5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it.
To be sure, donkeys were not viewed with the derision with which many people view them today. They were not the punch line of jokes in the ancient world. But neither were they the expected mode of travel for kings.
I recall being in high school and seeing Elizabeth Taylor’s movie, “Cleopatra.” Many of you have seen this movie as well. Do you remember the amazing scene where Cleopatra enters Rome? The Roman royalty are seated on a dais awaiting her arrival. The great gates open and an entire pageant of sights and sounds come through: marching soldiers, exotic animals, trumpeters, dancers, smoke of differing colors, etc. Finally, seated atop a huge black Sphinx being pulled by a large number of rhythmically marching slaves is Cleopatra and her son, regal and majestic, towering above everybody in the watching audience. Even royal Rome seems awed by the display.
I recall watching this for the first time and think, “Now that’s how royalty should enter a city!”
Compared to the pomp and circumstance of such an entrance, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem seems almost comical. Again, I believe Jesus is standing in the great, odd, and venerable prophetic tradition in which the prophets act out the truths of God.
Jesus came lowly, seated on a donkey. The very manner of His entry seemed to say: “The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of the world. The kingdoms of the world vie for power and prestige. In the Kingdom of God, however, the King comes lowly and humbly. The kings of the earth come to remind you that you are lowly. The King of Kings comes lowly to lift you who are low up and out of your sins.”
There is something wonderfully subversive about the way that Jesus enters Jerusalem! In coming in this manner, He is exalting humility as a cardinal virtue. He is saying: “This is what God treasures! This is how the world will be won! God works through the meek, the humble, and the lowly! The world will be won not by powerful armies, but by a Suffering Servant.”
In speaking of the triumphal entry of Jesus, St. Augustine called Jesus, “the master of humility.”[i] I think that is very well said, indeed. His people are to be masters of humility as well.
I remember reading an account by Muhammad Ali about a meeting he had with Billy Graham some years back. Muhammad Ali flew into an airport where he expected to be picked up by one of the great evangelist’s assistants. Nobody came. He was looking for somebody with a sign. Nobody was there. Finally, he went to the curb and there sat Billy Graham himself. Muhammad Ali expressed his amazement that Graham came to pick him up himself…in a station wagon!
There’s something very Christian about that. Humility is in the DNA of God’s people because Christ Himself was the very definition of humility. He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, and He enters human hearts today only through the door of humility.
Humility marked the life of Christ, and His kingship. It marked His birth in Bethlehem, His life, and, especially, His death on the cross. On the cross, Christ glorified humility as the true birthright of the people of God.
D.A. Carson once asked the great Baptist theologian Carl F.H. Henry how he managed to remain so humble in the face of all of his monumental accomplishments. Do you want to know what Dr. Henry said? He answered: “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?”[ii]
Christ is King, and He defined His kingship in terms of humility.
III. Jesus’ Kingship Was Marked by Misunderstanding Followers (vv.8-11)
His kingship was also marked by misunderstanding followers:
8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “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!” 11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
The word “Hosanna!” does not mean, “Praise to God!” What it really means is, “Save us now!” We must understand this in order to understand how even the shouts of joy from the crowd reveal that those calling the name of Jesus misunderstood His person and His mission.
“Save us now!” They cry. This is an explicitly political statement, and we must understand this to get what is happening here. They are crying, “Save us, Jesus! Save us now! The Roman foreigners have oppressed us too long! The armies of Caesar have walked out streets unchallenged for too long! Hosanna! Save us now, Jesus! Drive the filthy Romans out of God’s holy land! Raise up an army! Muster the troops! Start the revolution! Save us, Jesus!”
It is often asked how it can be that so many in this crowd who shouted, “Hosanna!” would cry, “Crucify Him!” just a few days afterward. In a sense, it is an easy question to answer: simply put, Jesus failed to deliver what the crowd thought He was going to deliver. “Hosanna!” morphs tragically into “Crucify!” because in the “Hosanna!” of the crowd was a deep and profound misunderstanding.
Jesus did come to topple kingdoms. He did come to start a revolution. He did come to cast down the mighty and the proud. But He did not come to do so through armed rebellion. He came to do so through a much more subversive and profound strategy. He came to turn the world upside down by drawing simple men and women into a kingdom that operated on God’s agenda and on divine mores, instead of on the agenda and mores of the world. He came to start a rebellion by turning men and women’s hearts back to God. In doing so, He came to begin the outworking of the Kingdom of God in the kingdoms of the world through the radically transformed hearts and minds of His disciples. He came, in other words, to strike at the very core of what the world called “power” by subverting it through the lives of His followers.
Jesus did come to save and to “save now,” but not in the way the people expected. He came to win the world one heart at a time.
The church father, the Venerable Bede, commented on this passage and said that “it was not God’s pleasure to give an earthly kingdom to the powerful, but a heavenly kingdom to the gentle.”[iii]
This is not what the crowd expected. It is not even what they wanted. And when Jesus failed to deliver, the crowd did what crowds always seem to do when Jesus doesn’t perform according to our plans: they turned on Him. They turned on Him and clamored for Him to be murdered. Why? Because He failed them so far as their expectations were concerned. He did not come to be the political, military leader they expected.
In all honesty, some of you are struggling with this dynamic this very morning. You feel frustrated with Jesus. He has not done for you what you think He should do. He has not been quick enough to give you what you want. He has not healed the sickness, given the promotion, fixed the relationship, straightened out the child, or given you the financial blessing you think you are entitled to.
Some of us are coming to church and crying, “Hosanna! Make it happen, Jesus! Make it happen now!”
When it doesn’t happen, we grow frustrated and disillusioned. Like the mob in our text we are too proud to realize that the Kingdom of God does not operate along the lines on which we think it should operated. We are too stubborn to realize that when the King seems not to answer our requests it’s because He knows that we do not know our own requests as well as He does.
The King of glory comes to save and transform our lives, but not always as we wish. But we may be sure of this: His Kingdom is so much better than our own!
Let us misunderstand our King no more. He comes lowly, humbly, and with the power of Almighty God. He comes to turn everything upside down. He comes to revolutionize all of life, one heart at a time, on His timetable, and as part of His divine plan.
It is not for us to hate the plan, to chafe under the plan. It is for us to fall on our knees before the King of kings and Lord of lords and say, “I trust. I believe. I will follow.”
Have you embraced the King? Have you bowed heart and mind and knee to His majesty?
I do pray that you will today.
[i] Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, eds., Mark. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol. II, gen. ed., Thomas C.Oden (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p.155.
[ii] C.J. Mahaney. Humility: True Greatness. (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2005 )p.67-68.
[iii] Ibid., p.154.