October 2, 2011
As He approached Jerusalem, Jesus asserted that He was the messianic King predicted by the Old Testament Scriptures. While many people were passionate about Christ’s triumphal entry into the city, their passion was fueled by a wrong view of Jesus. Alistair Begg warns us that we cannot worship a Jesus of our own making. Instead, we must allow the Gospel to shape our understanding of His mission.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Mark, and to chapter 11. And this reading you’ll find on page 717, and there are Bibles around you there for your use. You may, if you’re sitting on the front row, find them underneath you; you should. And I encourage you to take one so that you can follow along as I read. Mark chapter 11, and reading from verse 1 to verse 11.
Every so often as you travel the country, you come on one of these stores that has Christmas all year around. I always think it’s quite humorous to be dealing with Christmas in July. I think it has something to do with money—which is not illegitimate; I mean, you gotta make a profit. But this morning you may have a sort of feeling of that, because this is Palm Sunday in October. And if that catches you a little off guard, then that’s understandable. And we are dealing here with this approach of Jesus into Jerusalem.
“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 him, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”’” Or, “the Lord needs [it], and he will send [it directly].” I say that because, if you cross-reference this with the other Gospel records, you will find that this a variable in the text.
“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 had told them to, 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,
‘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.”
Father, we pray for your help as we study this passage together. We pray that you will save us from error, lead us into the truth, and then help us to live in the light of that which you call for us to trust and obey. And we ask this in your Son’s name. Amen.
Well, as I say, this is a very familiar passage, and the familiar ones are often the hard ones. I say that both as the teacher and also as the learner. Many of us are so familiar with what we know about the story of the triumphal entry that the only way we’re really going to learn anything at all this morning is by trying to unlearn what it is we think we already know.
It’s also true for me, having preached now over a period of many years, since 1975, and not a few of those occasions on this particular passage, either here or in one of the other Gospels. The easy thing for me to do, of course, is just to take one of the old sermons that you have long since forgotten, give myself a week off, and see if I can’t just trust your ability to forget. Actually, I’m very aware of your ability to forget. I think that I could preach the same sermon two Sunday mornings running, and you wouldn’t even know it then. But maybe I do you a disservice; I don’t know. But I couldn’t do that—mainly because I looked at the material, and it wasn’t very good, and you would remember that, and so I decided I’ll have to have another go at it.
So it is particularly taxing. Some of us need to be saved from—rescued from—the sentimentalism that has been our response—a sort of “Oh, it’s a nice time for the children” kind of passage. Others of us have to be saved from moralism: “Look what these people did, and they were nice and excited. Why can’t you be nice and excited?” And that’s the kind of message that we’ve heard, we go away feeling guilty. And then others of us have to be rescued from just an incipient skepticism, where we’ve said, “I’m not sure this is really a valid and historical incident at all,” and we’ve gone away somewhat bemused by the way in which people seem to be preoccupied by it.
The more I read it this week, the more I find myself imagining a situation where a couple of us went into Chagrin Falls, in the Main Street there, just by the popcorn shop, and we decided to commandeer a bicycle. And as we were trying to unhook it from the pole, we were challenged by some passersby. And when they asked us what we were doing removing the bicycle, we just told them that God needed it. And I was trying to imagine how far we would get down the road with the bicycle on the strength of that kind of response.
Well, in light of that, what are we to make of this incident that also takes place in a village, and it doesn’t involve a bicycle, but it involves a donkey—a donkey that is being pressed into divine service? Because that’s exactly what they say: “God needs this donkey; that’s why we’re taking it.”
Let’s try and think our way through the passage, considering it from three perspectives: First of all, from the perspective of the actions of Jesus, and then the reaction of the crowd, and then, finally, just by way of reflection and application for ourselves.
First of all, then, the action of Jesus. I want you to notice three things under that heading. First of all, that the action of Jesus here is a deliberate action. The way in which this colt is acquired has all of the marks of premeditation, of careful planning, and certainly not of a kind of spur-of-the-moment idea. I think if you just look at the way Jesus identifies the location—very specifically, he tells them, “If you go into the village, just as you enter it, you will find a colt.” Some people ascribe this to the omniscience of Jesus, which, of course, is entirely feasible. I’m not so sure that it isn’t simply that Jesus has already made plans for this to take place. Neither one way or the other makes it more divine or more true, and you’re sensible people, and you can come to your own conclusion regarding it.
But he’s able to identify the location: “You’ll find it just as you enter.” Also, he is able to let the people know that the colt that they’re going to sequester for him is one that has been unridden—an unridden colt. And that may seem a small thing to us, until we begin to read our Bibles and discover that in the Old Testament, when a donkey, when a beast of burden, was pressed into royal or kingly service, they did not routinely go to the pool of local donkeys who were involved in moving things around in secular business pursuits, but rather they went expressly to the fields where there had been unbroken beasts, where they were unridden creatures. And Jesus here is very clear in pointing out that when they take hold of this donkey, it will be just that. Incidentally, if you’re making notes and you wonder where I find this material, then you will find that in Numbers chapter 19, you’ll find it in Deuteronomy chapter 21, you’ll find it in 1 Samuel chapter 6. I’m going to leave you to look it up for yourselves.
The deliberate action of Jesus, then, is seen both in the location, both in the nature of the donkey, and also in what I’m referring to as the password. The password. Now, again, this is just my view on this—you don’t need to embrace it—but I think “the Lord needs it,” in verse 3, is where the little commas should end. In other words, “‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it,’ and it will get to you directly.”
Now, you can cross-reference this in the other Synoptics. You can cross-reference it with John. You can think it out for yourself. It’s not a huge issue. But when you look at verse 6, and when the drama unfolds as anticipated, and the people standing there asked, “What it is you’re doing untying that colt?” they answered as Jesus had told them to, and they let the colt go. In other words, he said, “When you’re challenged, use the password. It’s not ‘fish and chips’; it is ‘the Lord needs it.’ And when you say, ‘The Lord needs it,’ they already know that that is the key that you are the people that are coming for the donkey, and they’ll let you have it.” Otherwise, it would be not dissimilar to the bicycle incident in Chagrin Falls.
“Why’re you taking the bicycle?”
“God needs it.”
“Yeah, sure he does. Leave the donkey there. It’s not your bicycle, and it’s not your donkey.”
“No? God needs it!”
“Okay. We understand. Off you go with the donkey.”
First of all, then, the action of Jesus is a deliberate action. Secondly, it is a dramatic action. It is a dramatic action. There is drama in Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, as we will see later on in his clearing of the temple, but also in the procession that leads to his arrival. When we read the Gospels, we discover that there are times when Jesus and the disciples go away from the crowd, they get off on their own, they try and do things as quietly and as secretively as possible. In fact, I think we would probably conclude that that tends to be the routine of Jesus and the disciples. It would have been possible for Jesus, then, to enter Jerusalem, giving the crowd the slip—to arrive inconspicuously. But here it is clear that he has chosen to arrive in Jerusalem in a way that is noticed. In other words, there is, if you like, a prophetic symbolism to the way in which he arrives. He has actually purposefully determined that he will approach Jerusalem in this way, that he will enter Jerusalem in a fashion that will declare him to be the Messiah, that he will begin to let people know that he is arriving in Jerusalem in order that Jerusalem might be the place that God intends for it to be.
And again, you will notice that his sitting on the donkey, which is no surprise given that he asked for it, but his being seated on the donkey at the end of verse 7—those four simple words in English, “he sat on it”—is dramatic. Why is it dramatic? Because there’s nowhere else in the Gospel that he is ever described riding on a donkey. Everywhere else in the Gospel, he’s walking, but here he’s riding. Why? Because not only is his action deliberate, but his action is dramatic.
Thirdly, it is dangerous. It is dangerous. What Jesus does here is actually dangerous, in this respect: that for him to admit, for him to declare, by this drama, by this deliberation, that he is none other than the Messiah-King, that he is none other than the King of the Jews, the Son of David—that involved a certain danger. And the danger, as we will go on to see, was the danger that lay in being misunderstood—that when the people embraced the notion of messiahship, although they used the right Scriptures, their concept of what was involved was so skewed that it represented a danger to Christ’s arrival.
Now, if you’re tempted to doubt that, you will have to face up to the fact that John tells us that at first his disciples didn’t understand this. His disciples didn’t understand this. It was only afterwards that the disciples came to grasp it. It is John who also tells us that this took place to fulfill what the prophets had said about this King coming, gentle and lowly.
So, the deliberate, dramatic, dangerous action of Jesus is set against the reaction of the crowd. A reaction that is defined—let me suggest to you again—by three things. First of all, by passion—by passion. It was one thing for the disciples to create a saddle for Jesus. As you can see, we’re told they did in verse 7: “When they brought the colt to Jesus [they] threw their cloaks over it.” The unridden colt came unprepared; it didn’t come ready to be ridden. And so the disciples do the necessary: they create an opportunity for Jesus not to have to sit on the back of this beast directly, but rather they take off their cloaks and they make a saddle of some kind for him there.
If that was, if you like, necessary, it stands in contrast to the unnecessary and the extravagant response of the crowd. Verse 8: “Many people spread their cloaks on the road,” while others ran into the vegetation and cut down branches, and they began to lay them on the ground.
Now, those of you who remember Sir Walter Raleigh will remember how he took off his coat and laid it down so that the lady did not have to stand in the puddle. And that’s the way he’s gone into history. He made this extravagant gesture, in order that the lady might walk in safety. Here we have this extravagant gesture on the part of these individuals.
Now, it may seem like very little to us, but it wouldn’t have been to them—certainly not those who knew their Bibles. Because, for example, if they had nothing else in their mind, they would have been able to recall when Jehu was anointed the king of Israel. And this is recorded in 2 Kings chapter 9. And when Jehu announces to his fellow officers that this is the case, that “the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel,” immediately their reaction is as follows: “They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. [And] then they blew the trumpet and [they] shouted, ‘Jehu is king!’” So there was precedent for their actions. There was precedent for the extravagant response that they made. And it was marked by passion—creating, if you like, a red carpet for he who comes as the messianic King.
Secondly, it was marked by expectation—by expectation. It seems pretty clear that they understood that Jesus arriving in this way, on a donkey as his chosen means of transportation, was nothing other than a clear assertion of his messiahship.
Now, Mark, who is routinely regarded as the first of the Gospel writers, does not give us any of the parenthetical details that we get, for example, from John or from the other Synoptics. So he doesn’t actually say, parenthetically, “This took place to fulfill what the prophet had said.” He simply reports it as is. Mark knows that what he is describing here is the entry of the Messiah into Jerusalem. Because he is writing sixty years after these events. But he chooses simply to report it as is. Therefore, when the people express their expectations, we have them just as recorded: “Those who went ahead,” verse 9, “and those who followed[, they] shouted.”
And what did they shout? Well, they shouted the chants of the pilgrims. They shouted from Psalm 118. They shouted in response, it would seem, to the drama of Bartimaeus, who had so recently been cured of his blindness and who was the one who had begun the shouting about Jesus, the “Son of David.” And now, you will notice, they’re crying out, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and then “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
Now, when you combine that with Zechariah 9:9, you realize the things that are in the minds of these individuals. And this, incidentally, is why we need a whole Bible to become a whole Christian. This is why you need to read all of your Bible if you’re going to understand the Bible. Because the Bible is essentially a two-act drama, as we’ve said before, and in act 1, all of this is anticipated, and in act 2, that which is anticipated, or expected, is then fulfilled. That’s why Jesus, when he begins in Mark 1:15, that’s his phraseology: “The time [is fulfilled] …. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
In act 1, in the Old Testament, the anticipation is of a kingdom that will finally unfold. So, for example, Zechariah says,
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. …
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.
Now, just imagine that you are a parent, and you’re reading the Bible with your children before they go to bed. And you’re reading the prophecy of Zechariah. And you read Zechariah chapter 9. And you read it as carefully as you can, and your children are paying attention to what you’re saying. And so they immediately confront you with the question: “Of whom does the prophet speak? Who is this person, and when will this person come?”
Well, that would be legitimate, wouldn’t it? In fact, that ought to be in the mind of the parent as he reads the passage. Who is this, and when will they come? This kind of question is actually present from the very beginning of the Bible. And it may well be that some of these folks who were full of expectations were also thinking of the words from Genesis chapter 49, which in verse 10, reads—and this is Jacob, in the blessing of his sons, speaking prophetically: “The scepter”—or the rule of authority, the rod of authority—“will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until…” Until! Until what?
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.
“He will become a haven, and his borders will be to the ends of the earth.” And once again, any self-respecting student of the Bible is going to read Genesis 49 and say, “Who is this? Who is this person, and when is this person coming?”
That’s why, you see, if you think of your Bible as a two-act drama, if you go to a play, and you’re only there for the first act, and you leave, you haven’t a clue how it ends. If you attend a play by arriving in the second act, you annoy everybody around you by nudging them all the time, going, “Who is she? Why’s she saying that?” And the inevitable answer is, if you showed up at the beginning, you would know. And so in the same way, we have to read our Bibles, so that when we come, for example, to this, and we find these passages in quotations, we’re able to say, “Now, let’s look back here and see what this says and how it says it. And let’s see why it is that we have these people making reference to these things.” And the answer is that their passion is fueled by their expectation.
But thirdly, their reaction is marked not only by passion and by expectation but by confusion—by confusion. They knew that the prophet Isaiah had written, “In that day the deaf will hear … and out of [the] gloom and [the] darkness the eyes of the blind will see.” There was going to come a day when out of the gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind would see.
Well, you don’t have to be a genius to say, “Isn’t that what we just had? Isn’t that what was just going on here not so long ago, when that fellow was shouting out—when we all told him, ‘We don’t have time for this kind of nonsense right now’? When ‘he shouted all the more, “[Jesus,] Son of David, have mercy on me!”’ Wasn’t that blind Bartimaeus? And in that day, out of the gloom and the darkness, the blind will see. Okay, hold that thought for a moment. Now, wait a minute. This is Jesus of Nazareth, and he’s riding on a donkey. ‘In that day, the blind will see.’ Didn’t the blind just see? Won’t this king come riding on a donkey? Oh, here we go. Here we go! It’s all coming together!”
So their passion fuels their expectation, and their expectation is marred by their confusion. Not the standard confusion of this passage being taught, which usually goes along the lines of, “The crowd was very fickle.” You know, “One morning they were shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ and the next morning they were shouting, ‘Crucify!’” I’m not so sure that that is the case. You’re sensible, you can figure it out—but I think there you got two groups. You’ve got the group that is described here that are going before and after Jesus—the pilgrims, who are making their chants. Jesus doesn’t actually enter Jerusalem until verse 11. So although the heading in your Bible says, “The Triumphal Entry,” it’s really not the triumphal entry as much as it is the triumphal procession. And in that procession, all the chants are filled with passion and with expectation, and—as I’m going to show you—confusion. When Jesus then confronts the Jerusalem crowd—the Jerusalem crowd—they’re not shouting, “Hosanna!” They’re shouting, “Crucify!” And interestingly, when Jesus makes his entry into Jerusalem, there’s no indication that this crowd is even with him anymore. He is there on his own.
Well, I hope you’re tracking with me on this, because it is very important. And it’s hard for us as gentiles, largely, living in the twenty-first century, to read this and get the flavor of what would have been going on in the mind of a nationalistic Jew. Because once these things begin to come together in the minds of the Jew, they’re thinking—when they shout, “Hosanna,” which is, “Save us, help us”—they’re not thinking personal salvation. They’re thinking national restoration. They’re thinking political revolution. They’re thinking, “This is fabulous. Now we’re gonna get ours. Now we will have the Roman authorities overturned. Now we will have the temple put in position. Now we will have an earthly kingdom, just the way we’ve always wanted.” So for Jesus, if he had linked his message to that hope, then he would have got far more followers than he finally did. Wouldn’t he? They wouldn’t have gone immediately to “Crucify!” Why would they want to crucify him? He’s their biggest hope! He’s their best hope. They hate the Romans. They don’t want to live in subjugation. They need a political champion.
So if Jesus had said, “Yeah, that’s right; that’s what I’ve come to do,” then the groundswell represented in the approaching pilgrims would combine with the response of the people in Jerusalem to say, “Here we go!” That’s what I’m pointing out to you. They are confused. They are hoping that Jesus will deliver them that which he never came to deliver.
And we don’t have time to tease it all out, but you will remember from your own reading of the Bible that there was at least one occasion when they came and tried to make Jesus a king by force—after the feeding of the five thousand. They said, “Look at this. If you can feed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish, you must be our Messiah. Therefore, why don’t we make you the king right now?” Why did Jesus, then, slip out and get away from them? Because he knew that what they thought a king was going to do was not what he had come to do. Their heads were in the wrong place.
The same thing was true when people tried to press upon him the idea that he was involved in some kind of political agency. You remember, it’s recorded in John 18: he says, “My kingdom isn’t of this world. If my kingdom was of this world, then my disciples would fight. We could handle that, if that’s what we were trying to do. That’s not what we’re trying to do.”
And classically, even his own disciples don’t get it after the resurrection. Hence the significance of the interaction that’s recorded in the beginning of Acts, after Jesus had told them to wait and he has revealed himself over a period of forty days: “So when they met together, they asked him”—here you go—“‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’”
That’s why I say that the crowd’s reaction was passionate, it was expectant, and it was confused. And the reason it was confused is because the way they were reading their Bibles was selective.
Let me show this to you, and we’ll stop. Let’s go, then, finally to a moment of reflection and application. By the time you get to verse 11, you notice “Jesus entered Jerusalem.” We tend to think that verse 1 is, he’s entered Jerusalem; no, in verse 1 he’s only approached Jerusalem. Verse 11: he “entered Jerusalem … [he] went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” He said, “It’s too late for me to start this now. I’m going to go home for a sleep. I’ll come back and deal with this in the morning.”
What do you think went on in his mind as he stood there in the temple precincts? Well, it’s all conjecture on my part, but perhaps there’s validity to it. Don’t you think he stood and looked at that temple scene, and he could hear his own twelve-year-old voice in his ears? You remember how he’s separated from Mary and Joseph? They’re on their way back, they suddenly realize that he’s not part of the crowd, they make their way all the way back to Jerusalem, they finally track him down to the temple precincts. They go into the temple precincts, and he’s sitting there as a twelve-year-old boy, and he’s holding court with the religious authorities. And they’re engaged in dialogue with one another, and his parents, Mary and Joseph, come to him and say, “Jesus, we’ve been looking everywhere for you. What are you doing here?” And he said, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
What a strange thing for a twelve-year-old boy to say! You might have expected him to say, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.” No. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” And it says then in the Gospels, doesn’t it, that here’s another one of those situations where Mary went away and said, “I don’t know what he’s on about,” but she treasured all that up in her heart.
Now he’s in his Father’s house. Now he looks around at his Father’s house, and his Father’s house has now become a materialistic disaster zone. His Father’s house has now become a market. His Father’s house is now prostituted. That which is there for the sacrifice and the engagement of God has become an occasion for people to make money. And he must have said to himself, “I’ve got to go home and sleep. I’ll deal with this later.”
And I wonder, did he find in his mind the echo of words that would come from his lips on another occasion: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” And the religious authorities said, “See, that’s why we’ve gotta get rid of him. It took ages for this temple to be built, and he’s going around saying that he can destroy it and then build it again in three days?” But, of course, we know that Jesus was referring not to the physical temple in which he stood but to the physical temple of his body in which he dwelled. I don’t know if we’ll get the chance one day to get up close to Jesus, but I’m certainly making a note in the back of my mind to ask him about Mark 11:11.
Here are my final points that I noted for myself. I share them with you; perhaps you’ll find them worthy of your consideration.
First of all, I made a note to myself to beware of the naivety that says of people who are passionate and quote the Bible, “Well, they must be okay, because they’re passionate and quote the Bible.” There are a lot of passionate, Bible-quoting people who are flat-out wrong. Because it’s possible to twist the Bible in a number of ways and make it say what you want it to say. The real question is, When you lay the Bible out and you let it speak for itself, what does it say? What does it say? Your concern, when you listen to me and to my colleagues, ought not to be, “What does Begg have to say about this?” But to say, “I wonder if the way in which we’ve approached this passage helps us to understand what the Bible says.” Not just a perspective on the Bible. But what does the Bible have to say here? And America is full of people quoting the Bible, with passionate notions, but that doesn’t mean they’re right.
Secondly, I noted the fact that the reason that these individuals were actually confused and wrong is because they did not understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. The reason that they were confused is because they didn’t understand the nature of messiahship. In short order, they didn’t understand the gospel. You see, they were reading their Bibles selectively. They didn’t like the parts where he said, “The Son of Man has to go up to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of cruel men and die.” They said, “We can’t have a Messiah that dies.” For a nationalistic Jew, the idea of a Messiah-King who died on a cross was ridiculous. In fact, when they looked at him on the cross, they didn’t say, “Oh, that must be the Messiah.” They said, “This can’t be the Messiah.” Because their confusion ran deep. And that is why, misunderstanding the nature of the Suffering Servant and focusing entirely on a triumphant king, they got it wrong.
That then led me to make another note to myself: unless I—we—keep the gospel at the very center of our thinking, praying, and living, we might also very readily fall foul of passionate, expectant confusion. It is the gospel which lies at the very heart of the entire Bible. The story of the Bible is the story of man’s placing himself where God deserves to be, in rebellion and sin, and of God now coming and placing himself where man deserves to be—in the place of punishment for sin. So that from the very beginning of the Bible all the way to the end, the focus is on the way in which God will bring sinners into the perfection of his heaven.
How can he bring sinners into heaven? How can bad people go to heaven? The answer is that this Messiah dies in the place of sinners. But the nationalistic Jew said, “No. Cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree.” Yes! Yes. Because on that tree he bears the curse of God upon sin, so that all who trust in him may enjoy the righteous standing imputed to them, which is entirely undeserved.
So do you see what I’m saying? Unless we keep the gospel at the center of our thinking, our learning, and our living, we may inadvertently, unwittingly, seek to create a Jesus of our own making. A Jesus of our own political expectations. A Jesus of our own political stripe. Would it be really wrong for me to say—I’m going to say it anyway—that there is abroad a spirit in evangelical America, which ebbs and flows but flows more than it ebbs, and the question of Acts 1:6 is asked again and again by the American Christian? Not about the nation of Israel. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to America? Are you finally gonna make this place the way we want it, the way it was designed to be? Surely that’s why you’ve come!” No. No. No.
And the only safe antidote to that preoccupation is an understanding of, a living of, and a proclaiming of the gospel. Because it is the gospel that may be proclaimed to every political, economic notion in society. But as soon as our understanding of the messiahship of Jesus is allied to a political expectation or a political persuasion, we have now left the gospel behind, and we have now squeezed a new kingdom out, and we have not advanced any further than the passionate, expectant, confused pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem.
It’s hard for us to face up to this, loved ones. And maybe I’m misunderstanding it, but I don’t think so. The kingdom of God comes first in the person of Christ, in his words and in his works; the kingdom of God then progresses in the preaching of the gospel; and then the kingdom of God will come openly and universally. But Christ’s kingship is not a warlike office. He rides a donkey, “gentle and lowly in heart.” He does not enter Jerusalem as a conquering nationalist, but he enters Jerusalem as a peaceful internationalist, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9: “He will proclaim peace to the nations. [And] his rule will extend from sea to sea and … the ends of the earth.” That’s the message of the gospel. That’s why it is good for everyone, everywhere, always. But as soon as it is diverted to another agenda, we lose what is so clearly ours to proclaim, and to do so with passionate, unrivaled conviction.
Jesus’ action: deliberate, dramatic, dangerous. The crowd’s reaction: passionate, expectant, confused. Our personal application: to learn, to love, to live the gospel, and to realize that God has no special nation status for us or for any other nation. Why? Because he is putting together a kingdom that is made up of folks from every tribe, nation, people, and language. So don’t let’s fall foul of asking the wrong question and going down the same dead-end street. Please, don’t let’s do it again in 2012, as we did in ’08, as in ’04, as in ’00, as in ’96, as in ’92, as in ’88, as in ’84.
Loved ones, we’ve a story to tell to the nations. Be about the business of the gospel. Be about the business of the gospel. It’s good news. It’s good news.
Father, thank you for the Bible. Thank you that it challenges us, it shapes us, it stirs us, it moves us, it causes us to think. Forgive us when we want to have a Plasticine Jesus that we squeeze into our own agenda, that makes us feel comfortable because we all get together and say the same things. Forgive us for the naivety that says, “Well, these people, they mention the Bible, and they’re very keen,” as if somehow or another everybody that bumped up against the Bible and had an idea was somehow or another engaged with the gospel. We think about the tragedy of Christian Science reading rooms. What a falsity, what a mess, what a lie—and many more besides. Lord, help us not to be naive, but help us to be gracious, to be kind, to be forceful, to be true, so that we might reach people with this wonderful news.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, the fellowship of God the Holy Spirit, help us in this endeavor. For Christ’s sake we ask it. Amen. Amen.
 Matthew 21:3 (NIV 1984).
 See Numbers 19:2.
 See Deuteronomy 21:3–4.
 See 1 Samuel 6:7.
 See John 12:16.
 2 Kings 9:12 (NIV 1984).
 2 Kings 9:13 (NIV 1984).
 See Mark 10:47–48.
 Zechariah 9:9–10 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 49:10–11 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 49:13 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 29:18 (NIV 1984).
 See John 6:14–15.
 John 18:36 (paraphrased).
 Acts 1:6 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 2:49 (NIV 1984).
 See Luke 2:50–51.
 John 2:19 (NIV 1984).
 See John 2:20–21.
 See, for instance, Matthew 16:21; Luke 24:7.
 Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 11:29 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.