Mark 11:1-11 “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?” tell them “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 told them, 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!’ Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
What a scene! Vast crowds of people rejoicing in the presence of Jesus. Isn’t this true religion? Isn’t this what it’s about? When we see or hear about such scenes of religious enthusiasm on a grand scale don’t we feel embarrassed by our own simple small gatherings? This is what the church must have, isn’t it? Is it? Is this scene as given to us in all four gospels a description of the blessing of God, or not?
The last six chapters of Mark’s gospel describe the final week in the life of our Lord. In other words, these seven days are so important for mankind – and so for you – that a third of this gospel is devoted to them. Why? We are starting out on our voyage of discovery today. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem actually began nine months earlier, and the Lord and the Twelve have passed through 35 locations on the road to the city of the great King. They have zigzagged through Galilee, Samaria, Perea and Judea, stopping, preaching, healing keeping the Sabbath in each place, and then moving on. Soon they will be at the gates of Jerusalem. Now a new attitude has entered the Lord, and that is what we must examine first of all, how Messianic secrecy is replaced by massive Messianic self-disclosure. From this time on the Lord Christ makes his identity as God’s anointed King spectacularly clear.
1. OUR LORD ORCHESTRATED HIS PUBLIC ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM.
On this occasion Jesus did not slip into Jerusalem unnoticed as he had over the years. We could say that this was a splashy entrance! For much of his ministry hitherto the Lord Jesus has been telling his disciples not to disclose to the world that he is the Son of God. Even demons are silenced who cry out, “We know who you are!” If a leper is healed Christ says, “See that you don’t tell this to anyone” (Mk. 1:44). If a little girl is raised from the dead we are told, “He gave them strict orders not to let anyone know about this” (Mk. 5:43). When Peter on behalf of the apostles says, “You are the Christ,” then we read that “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him” (Mk. 8:30). The reasons for this were that there was considerable misunderstanding as to the nature of the Messiah; the crowds thought of that figure as a political revolutionary. Jesus needed to maintain a more low-key presence for the first year or two of his ministry as a rabbi and as a physician while steadily pastoring and training the Twelve. He couldn’t have done that if he were constantly having to hide from the multitudes. If Rome suspected that he was a revolutionary who claimed to be the Messiah they’d have taken and arrested him. If Jesus had immediately thrown down the gauntlet to the chief priests by teaching that he was the promised Messiah then he wouldn’t have survived the two or three years of ministry he had to have. So our Lord taught the crowds in the form of parables which stuck in their minds, but whose meaning was not clear until after Pentecost.
All that secrecy now ends. It would have been impossible for Jesus to remain an illusive ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ of a figure to emerge from his self-imposed obscurity to the curious gaze of men at his trial, or as he carried his cross the day he was killed. He must now manifest himself as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. He has nothing to lose by keeping that reality hidden any longer, and everything to gain. We now are told of the steps which Jesus took in order to tear away the veil with which he had clothed himself. Now he ‘comes out’ as the Messianic King, in fact the Lord goes to quite extraordinary lengths to proclaim his own person and work. Of the thousand days of the public ministry of our Lord there are 900 of which we know nothing at all. What happened in them was not important enough for the church to know. He once said, “I would have told you,” but of those many days he has chosen to tell us nothing. They might have been a dreary weight for us to bear in the daily monotony of sheer existence and the repetitive teaching of the disciples. But during the remaining 100 days the events were of enormous significance for the church’s salvation, and then our Lord did all that was necessary for his glory to be grasped by his people.
For example, Jesus has just healed Bartimaeus in Jericho with crowds of people looking on, and then he permits Bartimaeus to join them as they walk to Jerusalem. How different from his response to Legion during the early weeks of his ministry when he cast many demons out of him. Legion, the transformed man, begged to go with Jesus but the Saviour refused his request. “Go home to your family,” he tells him (Mk. 5:19). But here the sighted Bartimaeus “followed Jesus along the road;” that is how chapter ten ends. Here is a personality who is a walking miracle, the centre of attention, walking with the others behind Jesus, dogging the footsteps of the man who did this miracle to him. What a buzz of conversation surrounds him, and whenever they come into a village his miraculous healing is the theme of the excited talk, and Jesus does nothing to prevent it.
Then Jesus has made it plain his destination is Jerusalem, to the city at its most crowded at the annual celebration of the Passover feast, and no knowledge of the sufferings before him is going to keep him away; “We are going up to Jerusalem” (Mk. 10:33) he says, and so he has been on the road that leads to Jerusalem for days, slowly drawing nearer the city. There was normally a feeling of excitement at this time of the year, when crowds from the villages and farms of the nation walked to the city for the festival. Thousands of people, Jews and Gentiles, attended – they were under divine obligation to attend. They were coming to the place where the living God had chosen to put his name and manifest his presence; the place where, through the prescribed daily sacrifices, Jehovah assured his people of their forgiveness, of fellowship with himself, of hope for their future. They were coming there to celebrate one of the great events of the past, their forefathers’ deliverance from bondage; redemption by the bloodshed of a substitute; the gift of freedom to live in their own land. All this was accompanied by the eating of the Passover meal, the lamb and the bitter herbs. They longed that there would be special blessing that year in Jerusalem, that God’s sovereign and saving presence would be revealed in quite a new way. So as they journeyed up the hills there would be anticipation, celebration, prayer and psalm singing ascending through the Judean wilderness as they came nearer and nearer to Jerusalem. The Lord Christ very publicly identifies himself with them by his own journey to the city to worship. This heightened the atmosphere. Friction between himself and the priests and Pharisees were well known. Rumours spread; they always do. Would Jesus dare to appear at the feast? Would he be intimidated?
But consider something else in this way our Lord makes public his person and work, see the route our Lord takes to Jerusalem. It is by a detour via Bethphage and Bethany (v.1) where he spends the Sabbath. Consider what happened last week, how the aged Pope visited the shrine to the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. What could be more eloquent of the Pope’s own convictions about the central place of Mary in Roman theology than his decision to go to that grotto and hold a mass there? It drew hundreds of thousands of people, and the cost was colossal. The Pope was making a statement about the importance of Mary to him by travelling to a small town.
So it was with our Lord; he goes to the little town of Bethany, usually so quiet and peaceful, but with his presence there it became a tumult. What was significant about this village? It was in Bethany that the Lord had raised Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead, going to the graveyard where Lazarus had been entombed for three days after he’d breathed his last. There, in a quite spectacular way, Jesus raised him from death. That resurrection was not at all like the raising of Jairus’ daughter, where all the bystanders were ushered out of the room, refused a sight of what our Lord did. In Bethany the resurrection was done before a crowd of people, and the result was his; “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him” (Jn. 11:45). Our Lord returns to Bethany. He could have stayed in a cottage in the country on the edges of the wilderness, or a lonely village such as one called Ephraim where he had gone on an earlier occasion to be apart from the crowd (Jn. 11:54). Christ rather goes to the place where one of his mightiest miracles was wrought to underline its massive significance for the world, and there he spends the Sabbath.
John tells us of the rumours filling the land, “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, ‘What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the Feast at all?'” (Jn. 11:55&56). Can you see the buzz of curiosity as to where Christ was and whether he would be joining them at the Feast in Jerusalem? Christ made no attempt to keep his whereabouts secret; he wanted people to know that he was in Bethany where he had shown his power over death itself. When that piece of news spread it created a furor. “Jesus is coming to Jerusalem from Bethany!”
Then, consider the next unusual step; once again Jesus deliberately arouses people’s curiosity and draws their attention to his actions, but in what a strange way. We are told, “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?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'” (vv.2&3). There was a small settlement not far from Bethany. As two chosen disciples entered they would see a colt of a donkey tethered outside a home. They must bring that colt back to Bethany to Jesus. So old Jacob’s prophecy about Judah was fulfilled: “The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. 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” (Gen. 49:10&11). It had all been prophesied. Everything is ordered and purposed by Christ alone. There is countdown perfection about all that happened. The timing of everything is planned so that he will enter the city on the first day of the week and be crucified on the Friday when the Passover lambs were being slain.
Isn’t the sending of the men to get a colt in a nearby village puzzling? There would have been hundreds of donkeys in Bethany; virtually every home would have had one. Lazarus could obtain one of a dozen from his friends, all of whom would consider it an honour to give Jesus the loan of their animals. No. It cannot be a Bethany donkey. We don’t know why. Again, the Saviour himself was quite capable of going to that community and asking the owners for the use of this animal. No. His disciples must fetch it. They are asked to do something which is bound to arouse curiosity. It is almost daylight robbery to take the colt from its owner, not asking permission first; “If anyone asks you . . .” (v.3). If? Otherwise, it was to be taken without explanation. Well, their activities are spotted; members of the neighbourhood watch notice what the two men are up to and go across to them, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” (v.5). There was some excitement on the street; people came out of their houses to see what was going on. There was some discussion and fascination with all this. They answered the neighbours as Jesus had told them, and the people seemed totally satisfied with the reply. Did some follow the men back to Bethany to Jesus? Why all this beating around the bush?
Of course what is described in that incident is a miracle; nothing short of it. Here is knowledge of the future in the most detailed way, where the colt is tied, and what the owner or his friends will say, donkeys, conversations and responses are all drawn into the providence of God. The Holy Spirit is at work here. This is not coincidence, nor is it accidental. God himself is active in this event. He is disposing everything according to “his holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all his creatures and all their actions” (Westminster Shorter Catechism’s answer to, “What are God’s works of providence?”). God directs everything so that the colt is in the specified place, the predicted discussion actually takes place, in short, everything occurs as Jesus has announced beforehand. The events deal with a mere donkey, an upset owner, and two men nervously being sent on a perplexing mission, but what happened was a miracle. The animals being drawn to Noah’s ark was a miracle; crossing the Red Sea with the wall of waters each side was a miracle; fire falling from heaven on Mount Carmel and licking up the water in the trench around Elijah’s sacrifice was a miracle; three men unburned in a fiery furnace in Babylon was a miracle, and the discovery of the colt and bringing it to Bethany is also up there alongside them with any of the other miracles of the incarnate Son of God. If the mere taking of a donkey is a miracle what greater miracles by far lie before Jesus when he gets to Jerusalem – like a resurrection from the dead?
There were good reasons why Jesus acted as he did in obtaining this mount for his entry into Jerusalem as he did. The Saviour explains that this animal is special in that no one had ever sat on it before that day (v.2). An unbroken beast of burden was regarded as sacred, and so that made it appropriate for a king; no one else should ride the steed of the king. Here, again, our Lord’s power over an untamed animal, to sit on its back and ride the few miles to Jerusalem, showed his kingly authority over everything in creation. Again, the commandeering of a beast of burden was the prerogative of the nation’s king. The Lord Christ showed that he had the right of confiscation. The prophet Samuel once made the declaration that the newly anointed King Saul had such authority in Israel; to raise an army to defend the land; to receive taxes in money and in kind to provide for him; kings should not beg or moonlight in order to survive. Now that the greatest of all kings has come to the land, the Lord Jesus himself, the last and eternal King, he immediately makes use of this prerogative and takes a steed – before the people attempt to dethrone him. Later he will commandeer a room to hold the Passover with his disciples. So in this incident there was a manifestation of Jesus’ kingly power, but there was more.
Come back with me to the beginning of the Lord’s earthly ministry. Jesus returns from his baptism to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. He goes to Nazareth where he has lived for thirty years and on the Sabbath day he goes to the synagogue and he reads Isaiah 61 to them – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . .” Then he tells them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears.” “But this is Joseph’s son,” some of them murmur, and he tells them, “no prophet is accepted in his home town,” but the problem of his rejection is far more profound. The men of Nazareth are part of a nation which itself disdains its Lord. He has come unto his own and his own have received him not. It had often been thus: and so in his sermon in the synagogue Jesus tells the people of Nazareth that Elijah was not sent to any widows of rebellious Israel in that time of famine but to help a Gentile widow from Sidon. There were many lepers in the land at the time of Elisha, but the only leper cleansed was a Syrian, the Gentile Naaman.
The people of Nazareth heard from the local boy’s lips of the sovereignty of God; his readiness to pass by a nation which rejected him, but his willingness to turn in his mercy to believing Gentile dogs. There was nothing automatically saving in being a Jew. They needed to cry mightily to the Lord for salvation and not to think that they were safe pleading, “We have Abraham as our father.” Jesus’ preaching was a message of love, and mercy to the repentant and to those whose hopes lay in Jehovah’s grace. He knew these people intimately and desired their salvation, but Jesus’ congregation was outraged at his preaching. They gathered around him and drove him out of the synagogue and onwards in front of them, pushing, prodding, like a herded cow, right out of the village. Up a hill they drove him, on and on, until they came to a cliff top. They intended to throw Jesus off the top and dash his body on the rocks beneath, but in the twinkling of an eye he walked right through the crowd and was on his way. He disappeared from their midst and left them baffled and frustrated.
My question is this; why did Jesus permit them to go to such lengths before he made his escape? Why didn’t he slip out of the synagogue before they got out of their seats? If he had the power to escape from the brutality and bloodlust of the mob at the edge of the precipice why didn’t he exercise that power immediately? Why did he first permit every man, woman and child in Nazareth to lose their cool and be overwhelmed with fury, almost murdering him, and only then disappearing from among them? Why did he keep the miracle back all that time? The answer to that question will also answer the question about Christ stirring up people’s curiosity about his entering Jerusalem. Here, in our text, Jesus is doing the same thing again! He is purposely and deliberately stirring up the masses. A few years earlier he had lured the people from their homes in Nazareth to hear him preach to them in the synagogue. It had been his inauguration as he began his public ministry in the land. On that occasion he had indelibly engraved his word on their minds and consciences. The power of the Spirit was there in that gathering and he convicted them of sin and righteousness and judgment. They could not but remember his words ever after, so that they would tell it soberly to their children and their children’s children – the day Jesus preached to them in their synagogue and what he’d said. He’d told them nothing but the truth. One Gentile widow helped, and one Gentile leper helped by Jehovah’s prophets while the chosen people were all passed by. How significant that would be in the year 70 A.D. and the years that would follow the destruction of Jerusalem. As Jesus preached to them in Nazareth synagogue their human natures had rebelled against his arrogant words so much so that the effect of his sermon was to stir up a lust for his blood; they’d wanted to kill the Preacher. Everything that happened that day in Nazareth was designed to exalt the truth of God and make these people feel its power. Our Lord planned every detail to make it stick in people’s memories
Two or three years later in Bethany we are not presented with the Christ in his office as God’s anointed prophet, but the Christ who is also God’s anointed King. This day he is going to enter Jerusalem, his own city. He wants as many people as possible to gather there. There are no billboards, and no town criers. In Nazareth he went where all the town gathered on the Sabbath to hear him and he officially began his ministry encountering Israel in its unbelief. Now again he assembles the multitudes, announcing for days in advance that he was going to Jerusalem, that he would be keeping the feast of the Passover there, that he would be riding into the city on a colt on which no man had sat, which animal was not his, nor even belonging to one of his apostles, but which he had commandeered for the occasion. He would be coming from Bethany there, from the place where he had raised Lazarus from the dead. The King is coming to his own city. He excites the masses through all these things and it made the populace buzz; “Have you heard? Have you been told about his latest miracle in Jericho? Do you know what Jesus has done now?” Christ did all this that the world might never forget these last seven days, his claim to be the Lord of the universe and to be your King, and the climax of his work as our great High Priest.
In Nazareth he had lived a blameless life for thirty years; he had grown in favour with his neighbours; they spoke well of him. But when he preached the whole counsel of God publicly to them for the first time all their sweet words of praise turned to wrath; they wanted to murder him. Here again, almost three years later, Jesus invites the masses to crowd around and choke the narrow roads to Jerusalem. They initially respond with Hosannas to the one who raised the dead and gave sight to the blind. That’s easy! Crowds chanting with excitement? Mob enthusiasm and shouts? It is the stuff of dictators everywhere. Now let Jerusalem sinners bow down and acknowledge him as their own King Jesus; let them cry to God for a birth from above which will bring them into his kingdom. No, within a few days, when he refuses to become what their flesh wanted him to be, they will shout, “Away with him! Crucify him! We have no king by Caesar!”
2. THE ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM IS PART OF HIS PASSION.
Our Lord mounts the animal in Bethany and rides the miles to Jerusalem. He is followed by the men who have been with him for the last nine months. This group is augmented by the people who have gone there to look for him, and the crowds who leave their homes at the roadside and walk behind him on the way. Christ wears no special regal clothes; no crown on his head, and as he enters Jerusalem there is no official delegation of priests and Pharisees and Romans to welcome him. The city made no effort to receive him, in fact the rulers held their breath as they watch his approach.
For the last stretch of the journey, as the road sweeps down to the valley of the Kidron, the crowds were vast. The whole city rang with the shouts announcing that Jesus of Nazareth had arrived there. There was probably not a house in Jerusalem in which his entry was not known and talked of that evening. “The Lord Jesus had come to Jerusalem to die, and he desired that all Jerusalem should know it . . . he made a public entry into Jerusalem. He drew the attention of the rulers, and priests, and elders, and Scribes, and Greeks, and Romans to himself. He knew that the most awesome event that would ever happen in this world was about to take place. The eternal Son of God was about to suffer in the stead of sinful men; the great sacrifice for sin was about to be offered up; the great Passover Lamb about to be slain; the great atonement for a world’s sin about to be made. He therefore ordered it so that his death was eminently a public death. He overruled things in such a way that the eyes of all Jerusalem were fixed on him, and when he died, he died before many witnesses” (J.C.Ryle, “Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Mark,” p. 227). These things weren’t done in a corner, said the apostles.
How it all began we can’t tell, but for the final mile Jesus was overwhelmed by the surge of his enthusiastic followers. As the procession grew it took on a real festival character. The excited people, especially the thousands from Galilee present, tore branches off the trees and the long grass from the fields. They waved them in the air and they threw them on the road in front of his donkey. Then they even took their cloaks off and threw them down carpeting the road ahead with them – just as when Jesus started the journey in Bethany the disciples had thrown their coats on the back of the beast as a makeshift saddle for Jesus. The whole road was a magnificent noisy display of boisterous excitement. In New York they’d call it a ticker tape parade. You could measure the crowd’s enthusiasm by the depth of debris on the road afterwards. Jesus did nothing to silence the crowds. He who had spoken and the storm and sea had obeyed him, uttered n ot a word to tone down these cheers. In fact he said, “If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” It was a stirring sight. The mighty deeds of the Lord Jesus which had brought health and happiness to so many homes were being publicly praised. Yet this account is not in the Bible in order to make you feel glad that Jesus, just before he was crucified, did at least receive a little honour. This is not an interesting story that has been recorded for our entertainment. We are not supposed to look back and say, “Well, even though they finally killed him, they did make him King for a day. That must have been some consolation for him.”
This was the beginning of a week which would end in terrible torment and death, and the entry into Jerusalem makes its own contribution to Jesus’ suffering. Where do we see this? In two places in particular
i] It must have pained the Lord to see how fast and loose this people played with the Scriptures.
The crowds knew that one day someone great would enter Jerusalem, but they had little understanding of who and why. So they quoted the Scriptures; they took psalm and prophet and shouted it out as Jesus passed by, but only in so far as the words were compatible with their own notions. They cried three phrases; the first was “Hosanna” and “Hosanna in the highest” – the word means “Save, I pray . . . from the highest heaven,” but the Lord Jesus is the only man who because of his perfection needed no salvation. They were certainly not crying for their own salvation. This was religion used to express corporate excitement. We find it on great state occasions when at all other times Almighty God and his law and grace are ignored. The second phrase they shouted was, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” That is a quotation from Psalm 118, verses 25&26. Those words do not refer to the Messiah but to the pilgrim who has journeyed up to Jerusalem and has entered the temple. “May he be blessed in God’s name,” is the meaning, but Jesus is not a pilgrim; he is the one who guides us pilgrims through this barren land to our home. The third phrase they shouted out was, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” and that is no part of Psalm 118 or of any psalm. The reference to ‘our father David’ isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. What the Lord Jesus preached about was the kingdom of God, not about the “coming kingdom of our father David.” The mob was longing for deliverance from Roman oppression; it was muddled in its understanding of Jesus and his mission. The general impression the crowd gave was this; they saw Jesus joining them in coming to a feast in their wonderful temple and city Jerusalem. He was with them on pilgrimage. They didn’t see his entry as that of the Messianic king.
These crowds took from the Bible what pleased them and ignored the rest, and you can’t do that because the Scriptures are one woven whole. They are one piece and seamless. If you dismember them then Jesus’ own soul suffers. It is the same as tearing him apart. “A rent in the body of the Bible, which is God’s Word made Scripture, is equivalent to a dismemberment of Christ’s body, which is the Word of God made flesh” (Klaas Schilder). Yet religion in our land, in days when a hundred times more people attended church than they do today, has been characterised by this heresy.
A hundred years ago an evangelical student went to university in Cardiff to read Biblical Studies. There he was confronted with the all pervasive Higher Critical theories which made the Scripture a man-made book full of error and human prejudice. Do you understand the disaster that what was taking place? The churches were sending their theological students to the secular universities for Caesar to train them for the Christian ministry. It still happens in Scotland, much to the detriment of the Church of Scotland. In Wales it did much to destroy evangelical Christianity in the pulpit in the first fifty years of the last century. So this young Bible-believing student went in distress to one of the lecturers, Tyssil Evans, who recounted what happened thus: “Some years ago a young man came to me in a state of great anxiety. He had been brought up in a home among the hills of Wales. The Bible was honoured in the family. Portions of it were read at the family altar morning and evening. The father and mother often read it and taught it to the children. When the son – the young man to whom I have referred – left for the distant town, the last charge which he received from his mother was that he should read a portion of the Bible daily.
“He obeyed her exhortation; but he was not long ere he came in contact with young men who denied the truth of the Bible, wholly or in part. His faith was unhinged, and he came to me and said ‘Oh, Mr. Evans, can you help me? Can you recommend me some books to read on these Old Testament difficulties? If these are not removed, the old Bible will lose its hold on me!’ It was a trying position for me, but I had been in a similar condition once myself, and I asked him, ‘Will you take my advice?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied.
“‘Well, then,’ said I, ‘read the gospels through carefully by this day next week. If you cannot read them all, read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and the gospels of Luke and John, and above all read John from the fourteenth chapter to the end.’ I pointed out some of the Psalms and sections of the Prophets which he might also read. ‘And do not,’ I added, ‘trouble yourself at all about those difficulties.’ He obeyed, he came to give me the result; and we talked over what he had read. He acknowledged the beauty and mystery of the character of Christ; he owned the sublimity of the teachings of Isaiah, and the tenderness and impressiveness of the Psalms. Week by week, as he came to me, we talked over the grand moral and spiritual truths of the Bible; and after a time I told him, ‘Next week we will discuss the difficulties if you like, but,’ – I added – ‘are you going to throw away the grand Old Book which has been a strength and comfort to countless saints, which you acknowledge to contain lofty and enobling and inspiring truths, because here and there you may seem to find discrepancies, and errors, and imperfect views of truth? That would be utter folly.’ He looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Evans; you have saved my faith in the Bible. I look at in a new light. I see that it is touched by human imperfections; but I see, more clearly than ever, its divinity and inspiration, and I adore with new rapture the Christ who is its centre and crown.'” (Elvet Lewis, “The Life of the Rev. D. Tyssil Evans, M.A., B.Sc.,” William Lewis, Printers, Cardiff, 1921, p.73).
Here is a lecturer who encourages his students to take a pick’n’mix approach to the Word of God. You choose the bits in the Bible that fit into your own criteria of what God and truth must be like. Everyone who does this will differ in his choice from his neighbour, so you have no canon, no authority for saying, “These words are the infallible Word of God.” Tyssil Evans thought you could make the Bible a “grand Old Book” riddled with mistaken views and that still families in the “hills of Wales” would honour and read it twice a day. No way. In the name of Christ they taught a totally different view of Scripture than the Son of God himself. Jesus spoke of jot and tittle inspiration. He said that the Scripture cannot be broken. He triumphed in temptation by saying of passages of the book of Deuteronomy, “It is written.” That was enough. He said, “Your word is truth.” He corrected religious fallacies of his day but never the pervasive view that the Scriptures were God-breathed, not that they contained the words of God but that they were the Word of God. Forgotten men like that Cardiff lecturer did not save this student’s faith in the Bible, he demolished it. It was not that the student met “young men who denied the truth of the Bible”. There have been such young people since our first parents succumbed to temptation in defying the word of God, but this student met university lecturers who to a man rejected the authority of Scripture. That was his dilemma.
The mob in Jerusalem as every other mob would have bouts of excitement and enthusiasm about religion. This was one such occasion, but they didn’t know what the Scripture taught, and they didn’t know why Jesus had come into Jerusalem, and their shouts of Scriptures in this demonstration of carnal zeal grieved the Saviour.
ii] It must have pained the Lord to see the cause for their praise.
Luke tells us, that “the whole crowd of disciples began to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (Lk. 19:37). Their admiration was based on the miracles. They accepted them for their face value and not for their real meaning. They enjoyed the benefits they brought but not the implications of the deity of the one who brought them. Of course Christ had shown great power in healing the sick and raising the dead but that power was not basic neither was it primary. The miracles were not the all important thing; they were signs that confirmed who Jesus was and that his claims were true. They weren’t ends in themselves; they were prophecies pointing away from the visible sign to the living Word. “This is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. Bow to him. Trust in him. Love and serve him. Live for him.” That is what these signs are saying. They were intended to lead people’s thoughts from the primitive sign to the vision of faith. Remember Doubting Thomas? When he finally saw the miracle of the resurrected Lord he wasn’t interested in touching the nail marks in the hands of Jesus. Thomas fell before him and cried, “My Lord and my God!”
Whoever glories in the wonder of the sign without relating it to its internal meaning is like someone gazing at a signpost and refusing to go where it’s pointing. A miracle can become like Sodom. It is attractive, and entrancing, and exciting but alas for the person who looks back at it. A friend was knocking on doors talking to people. At one house he met an old lady who was keen to tell him of her experience in a healing crusade many years ago when she had been delivered from some sickness. She was full of praise for the faith-healer who’d done that for her. How she admired him, and how grateful she was but she hadn’t gone to church for years. Deliverances are designed to beckon us to look ahead, not look back. But this is not what the multitude in Jerusalem were doing. They stopped at the wonders themselves, and they did this in the presence of the Son of God himself.
The mob thought that Jesus’ humility and silence was a temporary phase. It was just a transition. He would be poor for the poor today, but tomorrow, they hoped, he would be rich. He would turn against Rome and strip the coffers of Pilate and use it for Israel’s glory. He would drive the Romans into the Med.! Jesus on a donkey, empty-handed, was but a stage on his progress to riches. Today a donkey, tomorrow a war-stallion. “How mighty is Jesus,” the people from Galilee especially were crying. Yes, Christ is mighty but he didn’t come into the world to flex his muscles as Mr. Universe. He came to serve and to lay down his life as a ransom for many. He came to be the lamb of God. He came to satisfy the law of God and lay a perfect foundation of righteousness on which all his elect could stand blameless in the great day. Only when he has redeemed us by his death can our praise be accepted in heaven. But the crowds in Jerusalem didn’t see it. They read the Scriptures and all they saw was a Messiah who did miracles, not one who obtained salvation from sin, who reconciled a holy God to ourselves by the cross. So they exalted the might of Jesus, but they did not magnify the rights of God. So we are not surprised that within a week ‘Hosanna’ had been replaced by ‘Crucify him.’ Because they misappropriated the praises of Scripture, and because they were thrilled by the miracles and did not bow before the one who performed the miracles, ‘Crucify him!’ had to replace ‘Hosanna!’ That is the logic of sin.
What crowds are here cheering for Jesus. Look at the countless numbers! But their faith does not keep pace with their fervour. Their godliness falls short of their enthusiasm. They are a confident group aren’t they? All cheering crowds believe they’re smart to be following the greatest. He is great . . . and so are they to know it! They were not singing, “my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.” Power and numbers were their delight. The dynamic, not the duties of service, was their delight. While the Lord was raising Lazarus, feeding 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes, calming the storms, then this people honoured him, but a few days later when he is as dumb as a lamb before its shearer, bowing his head to the death of the cross then it will be ashamed of its meek and lowly King. Its Hosannas came from its admiration of the miraculous not from saving faith in Christ. The mob with their enthusiasm were really the allies of the chief priests and Sanhedrin. All of them rejected Jesus’ calling to make atonement for sinners by laying down his life. The priests looked different from the mob as they paid Judas and the lying witnesses and schemed on Jesus’ arrest. The mob were throwing their garments in the dust, but essentially the plotting priests and the cheering mob were both united in their unbelief. Sin is sin and unbelief is always unbelief. Mark is telling us that popularity is not discipleship. Enthusiasm is not faith. Numbers are no safe guide to truth. Jesus is confessed by our taking up our crosses and following him, not by pomp and circumstance
So what an anticlimax when Jesus enters Jerusalem. No great speech from the temple steps. Not a miracle is performed. Yes, he does go to the temple; “He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve” (v.11). He retraced the entire route of that morning, over the debris, the little group of twelve disciples walking back to their house in Bethany with him, wondering, “What was that all about?” There is no report of any conversations, but they would have found it difficult to speak to him because of two things, the first being the fact that Jesus had been crying a lot (Lk. 19:41). They were not tears of joy for the welcome he was getting, and they were not tears of self-pity. They were tears of grief for the shouting crowds and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Then there was something he’d said to the city; “If you, even you, had only known what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you” (Lk. 19:42-44).
Rejection of God the Son coming to them brings judgment. Jesus saw this. He knew that the day would soon come when the armies of Rome would sweep into the city of Jerusalem and turn it into a desolation. That did happen, not long afterwards. Jerusalem was touched with a little bit of hell. The cries of its writhing people rent the night air. The smouldering coals of its ruins lit up the darkness with a grim glow. That’s the way it always is when men reject this Jesus. For after all, not only Jerusalem was guilty of rejecting Jesus Christ. Down through the centuries there’ve been hoards of men who have turned their backs on Jesus Christ and who have perished in their unbelief. It was the awful reality of unbelief and the terrible horror of the judgment that follows it that brought the tears to Jesus’ eyes and made him shudder with sobs.
Jesus wept because he saw that the very people who were cheering were precisely the same people who’d have nothing to do with him the moment they discovered the kind of person he really was. They wanted Christ to be their King, but they also wanted Jesus to shape up to what they thought a king should be and do. They were in no mood whatever to believe that his kingship would become a reality only along the road of suffering. They weren’t willing to admit that they could receive the benefits of his kingship only if they’d bow before him in confession of sin.
Jesus in tears – while the adoring crowd continues to shout “Hosanna” – doesn’t this make it imperative that every one of you examine your claims to adore the Saviour? You join in bringing praise to Jesus Christ, but what does the Son of God see when he looks at you ? It’s not enough to sing and shout with the crowd marching to the holy city. Are we willing to accept Jesus as the kind of King he really is, the one who humbled himself to the death of the cross, that precise horrible death, without which we cannot get to heaven? To bring sinners to glory the crucified King, as the Son of God and as the Son of Man, must give himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all those who believe in him. We don’t honour him by singing songs about him for an hour, or two hours, and feeling good, or feeling religious, and expressing nice sentiments about him in our choruses. We honour Christ only when we plead his cross as the grounds of our hope, and seek his power to live meekly like him in the midst of an uncomprehending world.
If you don’t really believe what the Bible says about this Jesus, and his cross as the only way of salvation, then you may be sure that as he hears you praising him there are tears in his eyes, for he sees through the sham of your false faith and he knows that some day you will receive the fruits of your rejection. Examine yourself very carefully right now, repent of hollow religion, and carnal enthusiasm, and believe upon him. Receive that glorious salvation Jesus has earned for all those whose trust is in him alone.
22nd August 2004 GEOFF THOMAS