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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Blessed

Mark 11:1-1

            There is so much drama and detail in this passage, so many things that grab our attention, it’s easy to be swept up in the moment, just as the Passover pilgrims were swept up in the excitement of Jesus’ arrival.  One detail that has escaped my notice all these years is the gate Jesus used to enter Jerusalem.  In Jesus’ time, the city was surrounded by a wall.  Access to the city was regulated by portals or gates through the wall.

            Given the lay of the land, the gate Jesus almost certainly used was one on the east wall of city, near the temple courts.  It was called the “Golden Gate” in early Christian literature, the “Gate of Mercy” by the Jews.  As it has the most direct access to the temple mount and is directly facing the Mount of Olives, it is likely that Jesus used this same gate to make His Triumphal Entry and days later, to go to Gethsemane to pray with His disciples.

            The actual gate that existed at Jesus’ time is long gone, destroyed with the city by the Romans in 72 AD.  The present gate was built upon the ruins of the first century gate in the sixth or seventh centuries.  It has double arches and a castle-like appearance.  Both arches are filled in with bricks because  the Church Fathers expressed a belief that when Jesus comes again, He will enter Jerusalem through the Golden Gate.  To prevent the fulfillment of these prophecies, the Muslim ruler Suleiman the Magnificent sealed the Golden Gate in 1541.

            The Jews believed the Messiah would enter the city by that gate, and on the Day of Atonement the scape goat was taken into the desert through the Gate of Mercy.  Some Muslims believe the Golden Gate will be the site of Allah’s final judgment, the place where the final resurrection will take place.

            The physical description of the Golden Gate is lost to history.  The name makes me wonder if this entrance was ornamented with gold to make it especially impressive.  The Golden Gate has importance to all three Abrahamic religions.  Today we observe and celebrate it’s importance to us: as the Bible affirms, it was the place where the multitudes at last recognized Jesus as King.

The Triumphal Entry is the first time since He was a baby that Jesus was honored in a way He deserved.

1. “So you want us to borrow a burro.” (1-8)

            Jesus and His disciples approached Jerusalem going near the place where, days later, He would be arrested. (1)  They were coming from Jericho, where Jesus had given sight to blind Bartimaeus (10:46-52) and called Zacchaeus down from the sycamore-fig tree (Luke 19:1-10).

            Bethphage and Bethany were two towns located on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Bethany was 2 miles from the city, Bethphage a half-mile away.  The peak of the Mount of Olives is 2,600 feet and located east of Jerusalem.  The Garden of Gethsemane was located at the foot of the mountain.

            Jesus’ instructions to His disciples imply prior providential or personal preparations. (1-6) Jesus gave two of the disciples very specific instructions.  They were to go ahead to the group and make preparations so the donkey colt would be ready when they arrived.  There are at least four explanations for the way this happened.

            First, it may have been that God the Father acted to make prior arrangements for the donkey colt and communicated them to Jesus, who then repeated them to His disciples.  In this case, the lesson is about God’s providential activity in the world and His close relationship with Jesus.

            Second, it is possible that Jesus made these preparations Himself at a previous time He was in Jerusalem.  His instructions to the disciples are a kind of code phrase, alerting the donkey colt owner that the two men were Jesus’ disciples.  In this case, the lesson is about Jesus’ control over events in the last week of His life.  (This seems the most likely explanation to me.)

            Third, Jesus knew His instructions to the disciples would somehow alert the BYSTANDERS to the fact that Jesus is the one who wanted the donkey colt and in a spontaneous act of generosity or gratitude, they let Jesus’ disciples take it.  This possibility doesn’t require that the owners knew Jesus personally.  In this case, the lesson is about the spontaneous, joyful, and worshipful response of the people to the news of Jesus’ coming.

            Fourth, the phrase THE LORD NEEDS IT relates to a custom known as angaria, where a person of significance (usually a Roman government official) could take possession of private property or require someone to do something (Jesus referred to this custom in Matthew 5:41).  The owner of the donkey may’ve released the animal on this basis, as the text indicates no mention of Jesus’ name to the owner.  There is also the added reassurance that He would return it soon.  Given the fact that Jesus only visited the temple briefly, it’s possible He returned the donkey personally and relatively soon.  In this case, the lesson is about Jesus employing, for the first and only time, a customary form of respect that He certainly deserved and had earned.

            Everything Jesus did on that day was fraught with symbolism and significance. (7-8)  The Jews, who were well-versed in Scripture, understood these signs.  To their credit, they responded appropriately.

            The way Jesus entered the city fulfilled prophecy.  There are other passages we might examine, but Zechariah 9:9 fits His actions best; “Rejoice, O people of Zion!  Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!  Look, your king is coming to you, He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey, on a donkey’s colt.”

            The way Jesus entered the city fulfilled local customs.  Only a king was fit to ride a king’s mount; that’s why the donkey colt had to have never been ridden.  This also fits with the sacred use of animals in the Bible (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7).

            Riding into the city was contrary to the way pilgrims were supposed to enter; it was customary to dismount and walk in.  Jesus deliberately presented Himself as a king by remaining mounted as He went through the gate: that rule didn’t apply to Him.

            The fact that THEY THREW THEIR GARMENTS OVER the donkey recalls the procession that took place at King Solomon’s coronation (1 Kings 1:38-40) and King Jehu’s (2 Kings 9:13).  While this may sound to our ears like an improvised replacement for a saddle, that is not the case.

            The CROWD SPREAD THEIR GARMENTS AND LEAFY BRANCHES ON THE ROAD AHEAD OF HIM was their way of “rolling out the red carpet,” as the people had done at King Jehu’s coronation (2 Kings 9:13).  The Greeks also followed this custom in greeting dignitaries.

2. Jesus received the praise of His people. (9-11)

            The people praise God for Him.  PRAISE GOD is translated from Hosanna which means “save now.”  This word is used in the Psalms as both an expression of praise and a prayer for God to come to the rescue.

            The people blessed Him as the Messiah.  In verse nine, they said, BLESSINGS ON THE ONE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD.  This blessing alludes to Psalm 118:26, which welcomes a leader who visits the temple. In verse ten they added, BLESSINGS ON THE COMING KINGDOM OF OUR ANCESTOR DAVID.  This blessing alludes to God’s promise to David that one of his descendants would always sit on his throne (2 Samuel 7:6-16).  These praises and blessings prove that the people in the crowd expected Jesus to be the promised Messiah.

            Verse eleven brings the passage to an oddly anticlimactic ending.  Jesus came into the city riding a donkey and a wave of love, excitement, support, and anticipation.  As He intended it would, the way He entered the city got everyone’s attention.

            His followers likely thought that at last Jesus got the attention He deserved.  All His predictions about His death and resurrection were banished from their thoughts.

            The pilgrims coming into the city were all keyed up by the excitement and the hope that this would be the moment Jesus took the throne of David, throwing off the rule of the oppressive Romans.

            The Jewish clergy and residents of the city were undoubtedly anxious about this big demonstration leading to a riot which would be ruthlessly put down by violence from the Roman soldiers.  Jesus rode this tsunami of excitement into the city and went into the temple.  Every eye on Him, every ear attuned to Him, Jesus looked around... and left.

            IT WAS LATE IN THE AFTERNOON is the only reason Mark gave for His action.  Was it too late to address a group this size?  Was He concerned about trouble after dark?  Most importantly, Jesus knew this was not the time or place for His arrest, so He didn’t want to give the authorities reason or opportunity to arrest Him then.

            I wonder if this anticlimactic ending to the parade disappointed His followers.  Many of them may’ve assumed this was the beginning of the revolution, so when Jesus just looked around and left, they may’ve been a little deflated.

            In John 6:15, after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus withdrew from the crowds; here’s why: “When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.”  Jesus may’ve withdrawn from the city for this same reason.

            Whatever reasons He had for doing it, we can assume this was Jesus’ intention.  He purposely arrived at that time, then simply turned around and went back the way He came.  He returned to Bethany, to stay at the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.

The Triumphal Entry is the first time since He was a baby that Jesus was honored in a way He deserved.

            Jesus presented Himself to the Passover crowds as the King of the Jews.  They enthusiastically accepted Him as such, but as the week wore on, Jesus took a path to the throne they did not anticipate.  That path began when Jesus accepted their praise but went no further with it.  Contrary to their expectations, He honored the temple by visiting it, then disappeared from public view.

            The other function of Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem was to put the city on notice: they would have to decide who He really was, the Son of God or something else.  John 1:10-12 puts the consequences of that choice in perspective: “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.  He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.  But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”  We are confronted with that same choice.  Each one of us must decide whether to accept Jesus and be born again or reject Him and suffer eternal death.  All who accept Him must receive Him as their King.  Life in Jesus’ kingdom is marked by a death to self and all other worldly idols.  It is life marked in joyous obedience to Him.

RESOURCES:

            Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 11, The Gospel of Mark, 2005, pp. 496-498.

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