Palm Sunday Perspective — Part One
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Palm Sunday Perspective — Part One

Mark 11:1–11  (ID: 2323)

The Gospel of Mark provides a familiar account of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. But sometimes familiarity results in either glossing over or embellishing the details. Alistair Begg carefully presents this portion of Scripture within a contextual and historical perspective so that we can see Jesus as the Bible clearly presents Him. As we look into the passage, we can, with the wondering crowd, praise God for what He has done and is about to do.

Series Containing This Sermon

Some Strange Ideas

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25801

Sermon Transcript: Print

Our God and our Father, we thank you for turning our gaze towards your Son as we sing these songs and as we pray together and read your Word. And now we come to ask that you will speak to us as we study the Bible together. We’re not interested in a monologue. We are deeply concerned that this would be a dialogue—your living Word dialoguing with our hearts and minds, showing us its truth and turning us afresh to Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Please be seated. And I invite you to turn to the portion of Scripture that was read earlier from Mark’s Gospel and the eleventh chapter.

What we have here in Mark chapter 11 is Mark’s contribution to the story of the day in the church calendar that we refer to as Palm Sunday, which is, of course, today, in the minds of all who are following that pattern. You also have the record provided in Matthew 21, in Luke 19, and in John chapter 12. And to the extent that you’re interested and concerned to get a picture of all that is conveyed, then if you read these accounts with one another, you will have a comprehensive idea of all that was taking place as provided for us by the Gospel writers.

Although we’re presently in a series of expositions in the Gospel of Luke and dealt with the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem in our studies in Luke chapter 19, I determined that I would step aside from Luke for today and turn to Mark’s contribution to the story, simply because so many people will come to worship today with Palm Sunday in their minds, on their minds, bringing to our gathering all kinds of hopes and questions and expectations. It really is very familiar material, at least at a superficial level. And consequently, it presents us, in studying it, with peculiar difficulties.

Difficulty number one is the difficulty, really, of familiarity. Because we feel that we know what this is about, we may come to the study of the Bible with an absence of investigation, or without really seeking any kind of explanation, and certainly with no anticipation of transformation—a kind of transformation that would begin first of all in our minds and then would follow in the details of our lives. So we need to guard against that this morning—the notion that in the back of our minds, we’d say, “Well, I know all this stuff anyway. There’s really nothing for me to know.”

The other side of the coin is the equal danger—it is a danger that presents itself particularly, then, to the one who has the privilege of teaching the Bible—and that is the danger of creativity: that the preacher, sensing very much that his listeners are familiar with this material, that they have in many cases grown up with it, they have been to many, many services like this, then, in the absence of investigation and so on, the preacher inserts into the process imagination, a kind of creative flare that is usually if not always dangerous; along with that, exaggeration, often for effect; which in turn leads to exasperation on the part of all who are listening. The kind of thing I’m referring to is the minister who stands up and says, “We’re going to deal with the Palm Sunday record this morning from the perspective of the donkey,” and he then proceeds to try and get inside the mind of the donkey—which, of course, is not too difficult in certain cases but nevertheless leaves everybody absolutely high and dry. It’s a very foolish idea, and yet it is not an unfamiliar approach.

No, we need constantly to come particularly to portions of the Bible with which we’re familiar with a genuine spirit of agnosticism, not in terms of wholehearted unbelief in the knowability of God beyond the realm of the natural world—I’m not using it in that primary sense of agnosticism—but rather in the sense of investigation; in the spirit of not unbelief but the spirit of “I’m not sure that I have ever fully grasped this story. I’m not sure I understand entirely what it is about.” And to the extent that one is prepared to do that, it will yield benefits.

For example, this week, in endeavoring to do so, I determined that I wouldn’t read stuff that I’d done previously on Palm Sunday. And I’m sure I’ve got quite a bit of it over twenty-seven years. I certainly didn’t go back to the study in Luke chapter 19—not because I thought it would be so terrific I’d want to preach it again but because I thought I’d be so depressed when I realized what I did that it would make it difficult for me to preach on the passage again this morning. But in going to the subject with an open mind and with an investigative mind, I made two immediate observations. They’re not brilliant, but it’s just the kind of thing I want to point out to you.

First of all, I realized how much I was influenced by the headings in the Bible—particularly in the NIV. And I think in every one of the Gospel writers, the material that is before us this morning comes under the heading “The Triumphal Entry.” And I thought about it: Is this really a triumphal entry? And I determined that it isn’t a triumphal entry at all. It is the story of a dramatic approach: that the process of going up to Jerusalem these few miles from Bethany and on is dramatic in every respect, but in actual fact, in the Marcan account of events, the final entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, as you will see in verse 11 and to which we will come, it’s really a very quiet ending to the story, isn’t it? “And he went to the temple, and he looked around at everything, and he said to his friends, ‘It’s really quite late. I think we should go home now.’” Now, admittedly, that’s a personal perspective. There was a public arena in which things were taking place. But nevertheless, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

And also, along with that, I realized how influenced one was by the familiar preacher’s point on Palm Sunday—namely, the fickleness of the crowd. And there’s hardly a Palm Sunday sermon that you don’t hear where the person says, “And the crowd was going down the road, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!’ and then they turned around, they did a 180 on it, and then they started shouting, ‘Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!’” And the point is made, “The crowd was fickle then, and you’re a fickle crowd today, and I don’t even know why you’re here,” and so on, and everybody goes away feeling rather disgusted with the preacher.

But the more I studied this week, I said, “You know, I’m not sure that that point is well made. I’m not sure that it can be substantiated to the extent that we find it.” I don’t want to… This is not the point of my study this morning, but just an observation in passing: I think what you discover is that there are essentially two crowds being mentioned. One is the crowd that is described here, in these events, that comes out from Bethany and from the surrounding areas and journeys with Jesus up to Jerusalem. And upon arrival in Jerusalem, you meet with a very different crowd. You meet with a crowd that are totally opposed to Christ, that are, many of them, influenced directly by Pharisaical Judaism. And those, then, become the proponents of the “Crucify!” story, thus drowning out the cries that we find here in Mark chapter 11.

So, it is important for us to take a fresh look at the subject, and that’s what I want to encourage you to do today.

More Than a Peaceful Jesus

If in real estate there are three things that are important—namely, location, location, location—then we know that in the study of the Bible, there are also three things that are important: context, context, and context. So turn for a moment to 10:32.

The great danger in studying the Bible topically, especially when you follow the church calendar, is that you just simply drop down on a scene, and you’re able to do with it all kinds of things—especially if you’re not held in check by the controls of the surrounding passages. And what is the context in which this takes place? Well, 10:32: “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.” Now, those are two important verbs, aren’t they? Because they’re telling us not only that there was a crowd that was heading to Jerusalem—that Jesus was leading the charge, if you like—but when we went in and thought about what was happening in the minds of the disciples, we discover that “the disciples were astonished,” or they were bewildered, by what was happening. And if you had taken a testing amongst the larger company, then you would’ve found that the overwhelming element that was present in their minds was that of fear.

And so, in light of that, Jesus, we’re told, takes his disciples aside again, and he makes a clear prediction about what is going to happen in Jerusalem. He says in verse 33, “We[’re] going up to Jerusalem … and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and [the] teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. [And] three days later he will rise.” So the disciples, in their astonishment and in their bewilderment, are given by the Lord Jesus himself another clear prediction as to what is going to take place when they go up to Jerusalem.

Now, you need to keep that in mind because of the scenes that then ensue: how James and John mustered up the courage to then ask the questions that they did (which you can read for your own homework in verse 35 and following), requesting a position of prominence and a position of significance when finally Jesus establishes his kingdom. And Jesus points out to them this is really a very bad idea on their part, and they need to understand that they should be unlike the gentiles and the “rulers of the Gentiles,” who like to “exercise authority,” who like to “lord it over” people.[1] And then, in verse 43, he provides this vital instruction: “I don’t want you to be like that.”[2] He says: “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be [the] slave of all.” Now, here, again, this important instruction: “For even the Son of Man”—he’s referring to himself—“even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And then into Jericho, and the dramatic events in Jericho involving Bartimaeus, shouting from his position as a beggar at the side of the road, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy [up]on me!”[3]

The only Jesus we have any validity in believing is the Jesus as he is presented to us in the Bible.

And so you have this clear prediction of what’s going to happen, you have this vital instruction as to how they’re supposed to live, you have this story of a total transformation in the life of Bartimaeus, and then jump forward to verse 12. And skipping the portion which is ours for a moment and setting the context on the back end, when he reached Jerusalem—go to verse 15—when he reached Jerusalem the following day to the events we’re about to describe, or have described for us,

Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he [says], “[Isn’t it] written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all [the] nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Now, you see, this is so vitally important. Because today, in pulpits all across America, there will be these wonderful little sermonettes from the verses that are before us now in Mark 11 about how Jesus is a very cozy and a peaceful and a very lovely Jesus—which, of course, he is. I’m not sure cozy’s good, but he certainly is a peace-loving and lovely Christ. But he is also the Christ who, within twenty-four hours of his arrival in Jerusalem, as we’re about to see, enters the temple and clears the place out. We cannot have a Christ of our own concoction. We cannot have a Christ of our own selective discovery. It is the same Jesus who rides into Jerusalem, as we’re about to see, who, having dismounted, the following day goes into the temple and says, “You guys are out of here. Hey, where do you think you’re going with that stuff? Don’t even walk through here. Get out!”

And of course, the people would be saying, “Who does he think he is? Oh, we liked him better on the donkey. We don’t like him now with this.” And people say that all the time: “Well, I like to think of Jesus in this way,” or “The kind of Jesus that I believe in is this kind of Jesus.” My friends, the only Jesus we have any validity in believing is the Jesus as he is presented to us in the Bible. And we must always allow the Bible to interpret the Bible, so preventing us from creating notions which are absolutely invalid. So context is vitally important.

An Ignominious Mount

Well then, let’s come to the verses that are before us: “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany”—and Bethany better known than Bethphage. Bethphage: a tiny little hamlet, as it were, somewhere just on the outskirts of Bethany, on the way, certainly, to Jerusalem. But when they reach this area, Jesus then lets his disciples know that it’s going to be a different kind of journey to Jerusalem. And he tells the disciples that he is going to ride into Jerusalem.

Now, if he had simply said, “I want you to know that we’re going to ride into Jerusalem,” it’s perfectly possible that the disciples would have looked at one another with a twinkle in their eyes and said, “This is terrific! This is the kind of thing we’ve been hoping for, Jesus. There you go, Jesus, riding into Jerusalem. That is a picture of triumph. That is a picture of authority and of power.” And they would’ve looked at one another and said, “We’re now finally going to let these people know exactly who this Jesus is and what it is he’s come to do.”

“No,” says Jesus. “Don’t let your minds run away with you. Let me tell you: we will be riding in. I will be riding in. And I want you to go now and get the beast that I’ll be riding on. You’ll find a colt tied there. No one has ever ridden on this particular little donkey. And I want you to go and get the donkey and bring it back.” Well, the air is immediately out of the balloon, is it not? All of a sudden, they’re inflated with the prospect of a great entry into Jerusalem, only to discover that in point of fact, he’s going to ride a donkey. A donkey.

You can see the two of them heading off. Two of them were dispatched, one saying to the other, “You know, when he said that he was going to ride into Jerusalem, I said to myself, ‘This is going to be fantastic.’ But I wasn’t thinking that he would ride a donkey.” His friend said, “Well, you know, at least it isn’t a used donkey. It’s a… No one’s been on the donkey. I suppose there’s some encouragement in that. It’s not an old flea-bitten donkey or a well-ridden donkey with a bowed back. At least it’s a new donkey.” This is the kind of conversation that these fellows would’ve been having. Don’t think of them walking down the road, you know, going towards Jerusalem—the way that religion presents itself. No, these are ordinary men trying to figure it out, and they can’t figure it out. In fact, John tells us in John chapter 12, in his record, that “at first [the] disciples did not understand all this.”[4] They could not put the pieces together—this story of death and spitting and creative animosity on the part of his opponents. And now he’s going to be riding on a donkey.

Now, there are six verses given here to the retrieval of this donkey, and it would be possible for us to give a fair length of time to it. But frankly, I find it wearisome—all of the things about how they went for the donkey and whether it was this or whether it was that or whether it was the next thing, you know. How did Jesus know the donkey was there? Was it supernatural knowledge? Well, it may have been. Doesn’t have to be. There’s nothing to say that it has to be. Was it a carefully prepared plan on the part of Jesus? It may have been. It doesn’t have to be. There’s nothing to prevent it so being.

Indeed, when we come back to Luke’s account, we’re going to discover that in relationship to the Passover meal, in relationship to the Last Supper, you remember that Jesus gives very similar instructions to this. He says to a couple of the guys, “If you go down into the street, you will find a man there who’s holding a water jar. You will see him outside such and such a house. And when you go up and ask him, he’ll show you the room that has been prepared for our celebration of the Passover.”[5] How did Jesus know? Was it supernatural knowledge? Well, of course, it could’ve been. But does it need to be? Absolutely not. It could simply have been planning. Takes nothing away from the story, does it? Adds nothing to it. We know that Jesus is capable of all these things. We don’t need to be inserting things when they’re not clearly there.

And indeed, it would be an understandable reaction on the part of the people who were the owners of this donkey if, as a result of the word coming down the street and spilling into the community that this prophet from Nazareth was on his way—it would be an understandable reaction if somebody said, “And by the way, he wants a loan of your donkey, and he’ll bring it back when he’s finished.” And the people said, “The prophet of Nazareth is riding my donkey? This is a wonderful thing! Take my donkey!” And then going out in the street: “You know, it was my donkey that he rode. Yes, he just said—he sent a couple of boys down. They said, ‘Can I have the donkey? I’ll bring it back.’ Oh, you can see, I was glad to let him ride my donkey.”

In verse 7, the colt arrives—colt, donkey, whatever you like. Actually, if you go to the text, donkey’s a pretty good translation: “When they brought the [donkey] to Jesus…” It didn’t have a saddle. They threw their cloaks over it, you will notice, and he sat on it.

Now, I don’t want to become guilty of what I’ve just demeaned—namely, a fertile imagination on the part of the preacher. But is there something here, I wonder? Those of you who are good with creatures will be able to give me the material that I should have before I start to speak now. It will come too late, but thank you for it in anticipation.

I don’t know a great deal about horses or donkeys. In fact, the limit of my interest in them and my involvement with them really goes to the beach at Weston-super-Mare in the South of England, where the sea goes so far out when the tide goes out that, frankly, it’s more than a Sabbath day’s journey ever to get your feet wet. And so they have to do all kinds of things to make the tourists not feel as bad about how far away the sea is, having come to spend the summer by the sea—a sea that they need find by binoculars. But anyway, they have donkeys on the beach at Weston-super-Mare, and down there I, along with my children, making a fool of myself, have sat on the back of the donkey as its bells jangled around its neck. And I went down to whatever pole they had in the ground, and we went around it and came back. Fortunately, none of that is on video, but the memory is locked in mind. I don’t remember much about it, except feeling totally foolish.

But I was encouraged to realize that these donkeys did their business in terms of the journey without any involvement on my part at all. They just went. Apparently, even the owners of the donkeys didn’t have to do anything. The donkeys were preprogrammed simply to go down to the stick and then come around the stick and then come back to the original stick. That’s what they did. Now, I don’t know what they do when they break in new donkeys, but I can guarantee you that I was not going on a new donkey. New donkeys would scare me—unridden donkeys. Again, I don’t know a great deal about donkeys and their modus operandi, but I do seem to think that donkeys are capable of two things if they’re unridden: one, trying to get you off their back immediately, and two, so jolly obstinate that they refuse to move at all. And so you see these people prodding and poking them: “Come along, donkey. Let’s go.”

And when Jesus had the donkey brought to him, they threw their cloaks over it, and he just sat on it, with all the potential risk, presumably, that it would buck and jump or kick—with the thought that twenty minutes later, he could still be sitting on the donkey, and he hadn’t gone anywhere towards Jerusalem, right? Apparently not. He sat on it. It seemed perfectly natural.

Fairest Lord Jesus,
Ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son.[6]

Christ, the creator of the universe, the Lord of creation, subdues creation. After all, the winds and the waves obeyed him.[7] No difficulty to slip onto the back of the unridden donkey and proceed towards his destiny.

Is there not something here that is pointing forward to this kingdom that is going to come, when the lion will lie down with the lamb?[8] When Christ, in all of his magnificent and transcendent power, creates a new heaven and a new earth in which we will enjoy all of the beauties and wonders of that which he has created for our enjoyment? Well, you need to go home and think about these things. It may be. It may not be.

A Clueless Crowd

But verse 8 tells us that as a result of his having ascended to this position of pomp, albeit lowly pomp, they began to spread their cloaks on the road. This wasn’t unfamiliar. Some went and cut branches in the fields, and they spread branches, creating a kind of festival, a great, festive pilgrimage, for Jesus and the others who are making their way towards Jerusalem. And so the cloaks and the branches flood the road, and the cries of the crowd fill the air. And these cries of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” were familiar cries to many of those people.

Turn for a moment to Psalm 118, and let me just set this in context for you. After all, what is it that they’re shouting? Well, this was the last of the Hallel psalms—psalms that were recited at all the major festivals in Jerusalem. The presenter would shout one part, and then the crowd would respond in an antiphonal fashion. And you’ll notice how much of this Psalm you actually know without realizing that you knew it. Verse 22:

The stone the builders rejected
 has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this,
 and it is marvelous in our eyes.

You remember, Peter picks that up, and he uses it in his first letter to the scattered Christians, and he says, “Jesus is the capstone. He’s the cornerstone. And you also are living stones built into a spiritual temple, a house that is not made with hands. You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light so that you may declare his praises.”[9] That’s from Psalm 118. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” True of every day. True of particular days. And then, “O Lord, save us,” hosanna. “O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and “from the house of the Lord we bless you.”[10] And so it would go on.

Now, it is this that these people choose to chant. And when you look at verse 10, you find a piece that’s not in Psalm 118: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” Now, that in itself is interesting. And again, you need to try and think of how these events happen. How does it go with crowds? How is it that these people all of a sudden have begun to do these things and say these things? Where does this come from?

Well, it actually comes from a whole jumble of influences. The fact of the celebrations that they have gathered for in Jerusalem. Everybody’s there. They’re there to rejoice in the past of what God has done and to anticipate what God may yet do. They are there in order to call upon the Lord from his temple. They are there to hear God speak. And, as we might imagine, they were there with the hope of liberation—a national, political liberation in many cases that totally misunderstood the possibilities of spiritual redemption. And so, when they put together all these bits and pieces, it’s no surprise that in verse 10, they have determined that “perhaps this kingdom of our father David will come, and we can be done with the kingdoms of this world.”

Now, the conversation in the crowd would just have tended in that direction. Somebody may have said, “You know, Jesus, who is on that donkey, from the very beginning he’s been talking about a kingdom.” Mark 1:15, Jesus said, “The time has come …. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” That was right from the very beginning. In 9:1, he’d come back to this issue of the kingdom: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” And so the people are putting these snippets of information together, combined with their own hopes and dreams and their expectations. Some who had been present for this dramatic transformation in the life of Bartimaeus will have remembered that he was crying out, “Jesus, you’re the Son of David. Have mercy on me!”[11] And so they mingled a notion of the Davidic kingdom, the establishing of God’s rule, with their own earthly expectations and with everything that’s going on in the crowd.

What you essentially have in this crowd is what you have in any crowd. You’ve got a whole mixture of notions, ideas, emotions, expectations, longings, and desires. In recent days, there have been all kinds of crowd scenes on television. One gets the impression that sometimes they’ve actually been mustered up—that the people have been planted in some of the situations in the crowd so that they may be able to give the correct kind of sound bites in answer to the questions asked by journalists. One has the distinct impression that if you were to move beyond the immediate people who are the representatives of the of the professed statements, you may find all kinds of ideas and notions and confusions.

And, of course, that’s exactly what we would expect. People are coming down the road, they’re going for their shopping, and all of a sudden they see a fire engine. And the fire engine has created a semicircular gathering, and the crowd is gathering, and so they go onto the fringe of the crowd. And they’re not on the fringe of the crowd for a minute before the word has started to come back—little snippets of information: “You know, there were three people in the building, and one of them fell out the kitchen window.” “Oh!” Then now you’re on the outer rim of the crowd: “Yes, I believe one jumped out of the kitchen window.” It wasn’t “jumped”; it was “fell.” And actually, it wasn’t “fell.” It had nothing to do with the kitchen window. But it’s like the party game, and so the word is going all around. And the great difficulty for the journalist is to get to the heart of the matter and find out exactly what’s going on here, because there’s nobody that he asks in the crowd that seems to have the foggiest notion as to what is really transpiring.

That’s how you ought to view this event here on the dramatic journey to Jerusalem. People are saying: “Well, I’m actually not sure. I was going to the market, and I saw Levi, and Levi said, ‘This has been fantastic. We’ve been here for a couple of hours. There’s branches. There’s singing. It’s a going deal.’” “What is it?” “I don’t know, but I’m enjoying it. After all, what are you going to do? You can get your shopping anytime. Let’s go. We’re going up to Jerusalem.”

And what about the disciples? Did they know what was going on? No, they didn’t know what was going on. Clearly they didn’t know what was going on! They’re just like a group of men caught up in a dream. This unfolding drama is surprising to them. That’s why Mark says they “were astonished.” They “were astonished”! ’Cause they’re trying to put the material together.

Jesus says, “We’re going up to Jerusalem, and I will be taken at the hands of wicked men, and I will be crucified. They will spit on me, and they will do all these things to me. By the way, could you just go down there and get that donkey for me?”

“What are you doing now, Jesus?”

“Well, I’m going to ride up in Jerusalem.”

“I see. Not on a horse, Jesus?”

“No, not a horse. We’re going up on a donkey.”

“All right. Well then, let’s go.”

And all of a sudden, all this hullabaloo—the disciples looking quizzically at one another, saying, “Do you understand what’s going on here?” “No,” says Peter frankly. “I haven’t a clue. I’ve told him more than once, ‘If you don’t get a hold of this thing, there is no saying what’s going to happen to you.’”

The crowd—which had previously, Mark told us in chapter 10, had been marked by fear—the fear has now been replaced with a kind of agitated excitement. But I think we read far too much into the story. It has far more to do with the way we’ve been taught it in the past to see this group of individuals as a convinced group. How convinced would this group be if they could be so quickly unconvinced? I mean, how convinced is that? I don’t think they’re convinced at all. I think they’re confused. Oh, doubtless there are some there that have got ahold of it. There always will be some within the crowd. But the general gathering? Uh-uh.

Two or three years ago now, Sue and I were in Oxford on this particular day—Oxford, England, that is. And we went to a small Anglican church in the company of friends. And not long after the vicar had begun his sermon, he all of a sudden concluded it, saying that he was taking the rest of it outside. And so we said, “Fine.” Wasn’t that good in any case. And so we were now mobilized. And apparently what was happening is that as we went out through the narthex, they were giving to us palm branches—sort of representative palm branches, about twelve inches in height with a little circle around the cross. I hadn’t a clue what was going on, but I figured, “We’re leaving,” so we took the material and went outdoors following the vicar. The vicar then proceeded to make a right-hand turn out of the gate and go up a small avenue where there were homes with a lot of people who, frankly, on an early Sunday morning were still in their beds. As we went up, following along, the children in front and then the rest of us behind, if anyone had come and said, “And exactly what is happening now?” we’d have to say, “Sorry. Haven’t got a clue. Ask the guy at the front.” Eventually, we got to the end of the avenue—it was a cul-de-sac—and he shouted out, “Hosanna!” And we had been pre-prompted, at least on the previous Sunday, which I’d missed. And the rest of the crowd—and we joined in—shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And then, after we stood for about a minute or so in silence, then he proceeded to lead us down to a cul-de-sac on the other side of the small area, and we did the same thing.

Now, I looked at the children. They’re having a lovely time. Any chance you get to get outdoors, especially when the vicar’s preaching, is a great idea. The parents were all kind of googly-eyed, like, “Oh, isn’t that lovely? Look at Penelope with the palm. Isn’t this nice? Isn’t this the kind of thing that we love, you know?” Some of the teenagers were thoroughly embarrassed. They’ve already got the cross. Some were—the palm—trying to lose it anywhere they can. And the visitors, we’re just caught up in a celebration. And the people are opening their windows, their curtains, and looking out. “Hey, what’s going on down there?” “Hey, well, it’s… Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Well, could you just move down the street and bless somebody else? We’re trying to sleep here. It’s Sunday morning. Don’t you understand?”

Let me tell you something: this congregation this morning is no different from the crowd in Mark chapter 11. If I were to go from pew to pew and work my way right across here, it’s no surprise to discover that we’re full of all kinds of notions, emotions, expectations, longings, concerns, and confusions.

Some of us, frankly, are just caught up in the parade: “It’s Palm Sunday. We go.” You said, “Well, okay. We go.” If we came to interview you, say, “Why are you here?” you say, “My wife told me we go. And it’s more than my life’s worth. I only do it twice a year, and frankly, I’m not about to make a fuss. So I’m here.”

“Well, what do you think about Jesus of Nazareth and riding on a donkey?”

“I haven’t got a clue. I was hoping you would hurry up and tell me what this was about, but apparently, your time is running out, and you’ve failed to do so. I’m thoroughly disgusted with the whole affair.”

When they ask the people upon their arrival in Jerusalem, “Who is this?” pointing to the individual on the donkey, they do not say, “This is the Messiah of God, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.” They say, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth.”[12] Well, what insight was there in that? Everybody understood he was Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth. He was notorious! Sure, his name recognition had built over time. It was at its zenith right now. But there was no great insight to say, “This is Jesus, the prophet, the carpenter from Nazareth.”

A Survey of the Battle Scene

And verse 11 concludes the scene for us with Mark: “Jesus entered Jerusalem,” and he “went to the temple,” and “he looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” It’s really triumphant, isn’t it? It’s got a real ring to it, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t at all! It almost seems flat. It almost seems anticlimactic.

Now, if I had the opportunity to make a movie of this, which I don’t—and if my wife was listening, she’d say, “Judging by your home movies, you shouldn’t even talk about making movies.” But anyway, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I’ve got this illusion about how I would know how to do these things. There’s no reason; it’s just presumption on my part. But this scene here—this verse 11 scene—is a fantastic scene. There’s no dialogue in this. This is a long shot to begin with. This is a long lens. The music goes to a minor key. The cellos come to the fore. There’s a great, sweeping, panoramic shot that goes through the temple precincts and sees Jesus standing there, and it begins to move forward and picks up at least the fringes of the Mount of Olives.

And in my scene now, as I direct it, I don’t have Jesus on camera saying anything, but we have the voice of Jesus speaking as the camera angle just continues to pan this rather forlorn and interesting scene, with the evening shadows falling. And we hear the voice of Jesus saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who stone the prophets, how often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not come to me.”[13] And then the words of Jesus: “Destroy this temple, and I[’ll] raise it again in three days.”[14] And again the words of Jesus: “This is a wonderful place, but there will not be one stone left upon another.”[15] And then, finally, the camera moves in, and you have Jesus speaking directly to the group that have gathered with him. And he says, “It’s too late for anything this evening. Let’s just go back to Bethany.”

Now, what is here in verse 11? What is Jesus now doing in verse 11? He is surveying the battle scene. He is surveying the battle scene on which he is to suffer and die. He is looking now into the face of the future. And you must, loved ones, understand this: our picture of Christ towards atonement is such a manufactured picture. It’s such a mechanistic picture. It’s such a theologically systematized picture that I think that many of us miss the pathos that is in this. When Jesus awakened on this morning, and his eyes looked up at the ceiling, and in those early moments of consciousness he said to himself, “Now, what does this day hold?” he realized that he was another twenty-four hours closer to all of the agony and the pain and the vilification which was to be his as the very Suffering Servant of God. And when he sits on that donkey in a position of ignominy, in the paradoxical pomp of the King of the universe who made the donkey and created the heavens and fashioned the very DNA of everyone who looked at him—as he makes his way up there and dismounts and stands and views the scene, he is looking across the battle of all time. He is looking across the battle of the ages. He is about to wage war for men and women in this congregation this morning, for your souls, for your eternal destiny, so that you may understand what is being cried out of Psalm 118: “O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success.”[16]

Have you ever cried to God to save you? To grant you the kind of success that has nothing to do with your job, and nothing to do with how bright your family are, and nothing to do with your bank balance, but the kind of success that answers the deepest longings and cries of the human heart: for meaning and for forgiveness and for freedom from guilt? And he surveyed the scene. That’s what this day is about. That’s what it’s about.

Now, that’s all of the description. There are two questions that are begged in the description. And one is: What does all this mean? And the other is: Why should any of this matter? And if you’re a thinking person, you’re here this morning—especially if you’re dragged along—that’s what you’re thinking right now: “What does it all mean, and why should it even matter? I mean, this is 2003. I thought there’d be some palm branches. I thought maybe we’d go out and up the street, up Pettibone Road, and you, vicar, you would lead us, and we could just shout for a little, and we’d get out of this dreadfully long sermon, which we’re hoping now is about to stop. You mean to tell me you say this matters?”

My dear friends, it matters. It matters so much. It matters so much, I hate to think of you walking out not knowing how much it matters. But our time is gone. And so this evening, we’ll answer those two questions: What does all this stuff mean? Why does all this stuff matter? We certainly need to find out if we’re going to tell others what it means and why it matters.

Father, thank you for the Bible. Thank you for the portion before us this morning. Banish from our recollection everything that is unclear or untrue or unhelpful, and do not let us squirm our way out of your insistent gaze upon our lives. Bring clarity into our confused thinking. Bring reality into our forlorn religious chanting. Some of us have determined that if we just somehow or another get in the crowd and chant whatever it is they’re chanting, that somehow or another, when they finally sweep the group into eternity, we’ll be caught up with them on the way. Nothing could be further from the truth. So then, Lord, hear our prayers, and let our cry come unto you. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] Mark 10:42 (NIV 1984).

[2] Mark 10:43 (paraphrased).

[3] Mark 10:47 (NIV 1984).

[4] John 12:16 (NIV 1984).

[5] Luke 22:10–12 (paraphrased).

[6] “Fairest Lord Jesus” (1677; trans. 1850).

[7] See Matthew 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25.

[8] See Isaiah 11:6.

[9] 1 Peter 2:4–6, 9 (paraphrased).

[10] Psalm 118:24–26 (NIV 1984).

[11] Mark 10:47 (paraphrased).

[12] Matthew 21:11 (NIV 1984).

[13] Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34 (paraphrased).

[14] John 2:19 (NIV 1984).

[15] Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2; Luke 21:6 (paraphrased).

[16] Psalm 118:25 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2024, 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.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.