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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Jesus Enters Jerusalem   audio

Mark 11:1-25

I wonder how many of you were around for the opening of Parliament house in Canberra in 1988. We were living in Canberra at the time so it was a big event for us. The weekend before we took part in a prayer walk around the Parliament House hill with thousands of other Christians, but the big event was the arrival of the Queen for the opening ceremony. People flocked to Parliament house to get a look at her. Schools took their students along – in fact our daughter Katherine was in the front of the crowd and was able to give her a rose as she went by. That really impressed her grandparents!

Well that’s a bit like what it must have been like when Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. The city was buzzing. The word had got around. Jesus, the great teacher and healer was coming to Jerusalem, despite the danger from the Jewish leaders. Word was that he'd even been talking about death, predicting that he was going to be crucified, and saying that people had to be willing to take up their cross if they wanted to follow him. But that hadn’t stopped him from teaching and healing people and he was still arguing with the Pharisees.

So when Jesus came to the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, the crowds were ready. When he appeared at the gates of Jerusalem riding a donkey they got really excited. They took off their cloaks and threw them on the ground in front of him. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. They started crying out "Hosanna". That is "God save you". Just like her loyal subjects saying "God save the Queen" at Parliament house that day. And then they added "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" They clearly recognised that here was an important figure, someone to be revered.

There may have been other thoughts in their minds as well. They may well have been hoping for a showdown with the Romans, because they also cried out "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" Jesus’ arrival on a donkey would have reminded them of the arrival of Solomon, as he rode into Jerusalem on David’s own mule, to claim the crown. Perhaps they thought that here at last was someone who’d oppose the Roman occupation. So they were very excited.

But notice how quickly their excitement fades. No sooner has Jesus entered Jerusalem, than we find him alone again with the twelve and returning to Bethany to spend the night. Their enthusiasm has died down and he's left on his own.

Why do you think he suddenly went so public? Up until now his ministry had always been hidden. Just two chapters before, we read that they'd moved around Galilee in secret because Jesus didn't want anyone to know where they were.

So what was Jesus' doing? Well, think about the fact that he chooses to ride a donkey. As I just said, when Solomon needed to establish his claim to the throne at the time of David’s death, he climbed on David’s own mule and rode into Jerusalem to the shouts of the people, “Long live King Solomon.” (1 Kings 1:32-35). But there’s more to it than just that. In Zechariah 9 we have a prophecy of the king arriving on a donkey:  "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation,  gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'" It seems that Jesus is making a public claim to be that Messianic figure promised by Zechariah. It's as if he's saying, "Here’s the King that God promised all those years before."

Now as I said a few minutes ago, there would have been some in the crowd who would have recognised this symbolic act for what it was. But what they thought it symbolised wasn't what Jesus had in mind. They were looking for a King who’d come and liberate them from the Romans. But that's not what Jesus had in mind at all. That passage from Zechariah 9 is very significant. It continues: “10I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” You see, the King that Zechariah talks about is gentle and humble. He doesn't enter Jerusalem on a war horse or riding a chariot. He enters on a humble donkey, a beast of burden whose role is to serve, not to conquer. He carries with him his own authority, given to him by God, not by those he's defeated. And perhaps the key phrase here is that he comes to them righteous and having salvation. The salvation that Jesus the King will bring will be a salvation based on his righteousness, which he'll impart to those who have faith in him. And it’s a salvation that'll come from his submission to death; from his being not a conquering King, but a Servant King.

The sad thing about this symbolic act of Jesus is that rather than sparking the faith of the people, it actually highlights their lack of faith. Despite the great opportunities they'd had in the past, as God's special people, to hear God's word and to understand the nature of the salvation he was offering, they'd failed to grasp it. As the next incident in the passage indicates, they'd failed to bear fruit that belongs to the Kingdom of God.

The next day as he's going towards the Temple, Jesus sees a fig tree in leaf but when he goes to see if there's any fruit on it, he finds nothing but leaves. So he says "may no-one ever eat fruit from you again." Now this isn't just a fit of pique. He isn't throwing a tantrum because he really felt like a fig and was disappointed. No, Jesus is making a statement, not about the fig tree, but about the nation of Israel. They've had their chance. They've got all the outward signs of belonging to God's kingdom, but the fruit isn't there, and so their opportunity is about to be removed.

Remember, Jesus has made a visit to the temple the night before, and from what he does in the next passage, we can tell he wasn’t impressed! Again, he isn’t just throwing a tantrum because the Temple a bit messy. No his anger is at their attitude to worship. Despite everything the nation had been through their attitude to worship was as flawed as it had ever been. The Temple was to have been a house of prayer for people of all nations, but they’d made it a den of thieves, designed to rip those people off. So the nations would no longer come to them to be fed. And again, at the end of the day, Jesus goes outside the city, perhaps as a sign that the city has been rejected by him.

Notice how he responds to Peter when Peter notices the dead fig tree the next day. He says “Have faith in God.” Jesus wants his disciples to have faith in him but it must be faith in the real Jesus. This was part of the failing of the crowds who welcomed him so excitedly then disappeared just as quickly. They failed to understand the nature of Jesus’ Kingship, the significance of his humble entry to Jerusalem. Jesus came as the Christ but he was the Christ, the Messiah, who's the suffering servant.
The same goes for his instruction about forgiveness. He’s saying that the attitude of his disciples should be that of his Father in heaven who forgives us whenever we ask; with of course the warning that if we won’t imitate his father we can’t really expect him to forgive us.

The difficulty we have with all this, of course, is that we’re happy for God to forgive us but we find it hard to forgive when we’re the ones who’ve been wronged. Similarly, a suffering Messiah is much harder to have faith in than a conquering Messiah. I’m sure you've heard of preachers in the past (or even recently) who’ve offered a gospel of health and prosperity; and people flocked to them. That message is much more popular than one that speaks of suffering and death. Teachers who see life in black and white terms will be far more popular than those who are working through the ambiguities and struggles of life. I say that because these words of Jesus here are the very thing they'll quote (v24): "Have faith in God.... I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours." But they forget how, just three days later, Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering might pass from him, but then added, "but nevertheless your will not mine be done." Even as he encouraged his disciples to have complete faith in God when they pray, Jesus knew that not every prayer we pray will be answered in the way we want. You see the essence of faith is belief in the true and living God; that is, the true and living God, and his son Jesus Christ. If our faith is in a God who suffers because of the nature of this fallen world, then there are going to be times when we too will suffer. If our faith is in a Messiah who conquers through weakness, then there are going to be times when we too will be called to persevere in weakness. And there are going to be times when we'll have to wait patiently, like the first disciples, to see how God will bring about the salvation that we're longing for, even when on the surface it looks like nothing's happening, or worse still, like God's cause is failing.

But having said that, we're in a much better position than the first disciples, because we can look back and see how God's salvation has worked out, so far at least. We can have confidence in this servant King. We can have confidence in the gospel we proclaim: not because the logic of it is so compelling, though I think it is, but because we see that this servant King comes bearing righteousness and salvation for all who accept him as their King; because we know that this suffering servant who died has also been raised to eternal life, and now offers life to all people; because we know that although at times God seems to work in strange ways, and at times seems to be slow in doing what we hope he'll do, in the end he does carry his plans to completion.

One final thing: despite what some preachers would encourage us to hope for, no matter how much faith we have, we won't all be healthy and prosperous in this life. But what we can be sure of is that if we have faith in the true and living God, we will have riches in heaven, we will be given a new and imperishable body in the world to come, one that will never wear out. That’s the only place that health and prosperity are guaranteed!

There's a certain weakness in the gospel that doesn't fit with modern expectations of success and power. Jesus isn't the sort of figure that Nike or Solo or Coca-Cola would sign up for an advertising campaign. I mean, who rides a donkey!? It looks ridiculous. You wouldn't find the TV channels fighting over the television rights for his entry into the city. But let's remember that it's his very weakness that's his power. It's his submission even to death that leads to life for us and for any who'll come to him in faith. So let’s be encouraged to have confidence in this King who rides a donkey, to pray to God in the midst of our struggles, knowing that he understands, and that despite his appearance of weakness, he in fact has great power to save those who believe in him. And let’s continue to worship the God who emptied himself and took on human form, until he returns, when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess him to be Jesus Christ, the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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