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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The Messianic King arrives at the royal city
Text:Mark 11:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Kingship

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 123
Psalm 51:1-4 (after the law)
Psalm 118:1,6,7
Hymn 29
Psalm 67

Readings:  Zechariah 9, Revelation 19
Text:  Mark 11:1-11
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

In article 6 of the Belgic Confession we confess that the church may read and take instruction from the apocryphal books.  We can benefit from them insofar as they agree with what we find in the canonical books.  Now before I go further, what do we mean by the apocryphal and canonical books?  Well, the canonical books are the 66 books of the Bible as we know them.  However, there are other Jewish writings that are called the apocryphal books.  They are books like Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Bel and the Dragon.  These are accepted by the Roman Catholic Church and others as being part of the Bible.  However, for various reasons Protestants do not accept them as being the Word of God.  Nevertheless, Reformed churches have always seen some value in these books.  We can learn from them. 

One of the valuable things about the apocrypha is the way in which they describe the history of the intertestamental period.  This is especially true of 1 and 2 Maccabees.  These books describe what happened to the Jews between the return from the Babylonian exile and the coming of Christ.  It’s a lengthy and complicated history.  To describe it briefly, the Greeks invaded the Promised Land.  After some time under Hellenistic rule and oppression, the Jews revolted.  This is called the Maccabean revolt.  The Maccabees were the family who provided the leadership. 

In 1 Maccabees 13, we read about Simon Maccabeus.  Greek forces were occupying Jerusalem.  Simon and his followers besieged the city until people were dying from starvation.  The Greek forces gave up and then in verse 51 we read, “On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews entered it [Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.”  Sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it? 

This story would have been well-known by the Jews of Jesus’ day.  The Maccabean era was a sort of golden age for the Jews.  They had fought for and received their independence.  But it wasn’t long-lasting.  In time the Romans came along and the Jews were again under foreign control.  But the Maccabean golden age was not forgotten.  Some day, they hoped, another deliverer would arise and the Jews would again be free and independent. 

That sets the stage for what happens in our text.  As we’ll see, there is more in the background, prophecies from the Old Testament.  These prophecies spoke of the Messianic King.  As we look at this passage this morning, there’s also more laying ahead in the future.  That’s why we read from Revelation 19 and I’ll explain that as well.  So here in Mark 11, we see the Messianic King arriving at the royal city of Jerusalem.  We’ll look at the:

1.      Preparations

2.      Praise

3.      Post-script

Since chapter 8, our Lord Jesus has been travelling towards Jerusalem and his date with suffering and death.  The city is now in sight.  They’re just outside the city on the slopes of the Mount of Olives.  From there, Jesus sends out two of his disciples to make preparations for his entry into the city.  He sends them into the nearby village, either Bethany or Bethphage.

Then he gives them detailed instructions about what will happen next.  He tells them that they’re going to find a colt tied there on which no has ever sat.  The colt here is a young donkey.  There are a couple of places in the Old Testament where we find a connection between the coming Messiah and a donkey. 

In Genesis 49, Jacob was blessing his sons.  He blessed Judah and said those well-known words, “The scepter will not depart from Judah...until he comes to whom it belongs.”  But then right after that, Jacob speaks about this person tying up his donkey and the colt of the donkey.  From this passage, the Jews had come to understand there was some kind of connection between the Messiah and a donkey.  There was also a perceived connection to the city.  You see the Hebrew word for city has the same consonants as the Hebrew word for donkey.  Jewish rabbis saw this as a wordplay and then understood Genesis 49:11 to say that God was binding himself to Jerusalem.    

The other crucial passage is from Zechariah 9.  The parallel passage from Matthew quotes from Zechariah 9:9, “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”  Matthew says that what happens here is to fulfill those words.  Again, if the Jews knew their Old Testament, they knew that what is happening here is related to what the Bible said about the Messiah.

This colt, this young donkey, was to be one that no one had ever sat on before.  In the Old Testament, such an animal had special value.  An animal that had never been used was reserved for special purposes.  So, for instance, in Deuteronomy 21:3, an unused heifer was commanded to be used for the atonement of an unsolved murder. 

You see, everything is being carefully prepared.  Our Lord Jesus orchestrates everything precisely for his arrival into the royal city.  For the Jewish people schooled in the Scriptures, there would be no mistake about what was happening and who Jesus was claiming to be. 

Related to that, think with me for a moment about how Jesus knew the colt would be there.  How could he know that ahead of time?  We don’t read of him having been there previously to arrange it.  No, what we see here is the fact that our Lord Jesus was both man and God.  As God he knew and knows everything.  As God he knew that the colt would be there waiting for him.  As God he had ordained it.    

The two disciples were to untie that colt and bring it to Jesus.  It could be that someone might ask about what they’re doing and why.  Jesus told the disciples to tell whomever it might concern that the Lord needed it.  The average Jew would hear “the Lord” and think of God, so this was another subtle way of making a claim about who he was.  The concerned party, Jesus says, will send it with no problems.  Literally the last part of verse 2 says, “and he will send it here.”  Given the parallel in Matthew 21:3, it is best to understand these words as referring not to Jesus (as the NIV has it) but to the concerned party, likely the owner of the donkey.

The disciples obey Jesus and go into the village and find the donkey, just like he said.  They were untying it and some people did start asking questions.  The disciples simply answered the way Jesus had commanded them to and there were no problems.

The next step in the preparations was to make a saddle for Jesus.  They did that with their cloaks.  He climbed up and took his position, ready for the last stage of the journey.  Again, there’s something out of the ordinary in all this.  Remember Jesus and this whole crowd of people were travelling to Jerusalem for the Passover feast.  There was a cultural expectation that pilgrims would walk into the city.  This was not a biblical requirement.  It was something cultural.  If you were a Jewish pilgrim travelling to Jerusalem and you were riding a horse or whatever other animal, you had to get off for the last bit as you came into the city.  Jesus was doing something unusual, something that would get attention, something you might expect from a king.  So much of his ministry was carried out in secret, so many times he didn’t want the word spread, but here at this point there is no secrecy.  This is the time for King Jesus to get in the face of the Jewish religious leadership.  This is the time where he draws near to his death.

Okay, fine, you say, but what does that have to do with us today?  We have to understand that not every text directly applies to our lives.  You can’t read this and reach some kind of conclusion about what you need to do tomorrow.  I can’t say, “Well, tomorrow, when you get ready to go into the city, make sure you make a public scene of it just like Jesus did.”  What is happening here is something entirely unique, something that only Jesus could do, something that only Jesus has done.  Yes, there is an application to us.  But it’s not the kind of application where I can tell you to go out and do x or y because of this text, at least not x or y the way we often understand it.  We see our Lord Jesus here and he knows that the time is near.  But he doesn’t flinch or back down.  He goes as it has been ordained for him.  He goes willingly.  He goes for you.  What this text calls us to do is to see Jesus our Saviour.  To see that he did all of this for us, so as to make us sons of God.  All these preparations were made not half-heartedly, but whole-heartedly and with ample motivation.  Out of love.  What you need to do with this is trust him.  And be assured of his love, and rejoice in it every day.  Every single day be thankful that you can be God’s child because your Saviour travelled this road with a steadfast heart. 

We’re at verse 8 and this is where our Lord Jesus gets the red carpet treatment.  The crowd of pilgrims throws their cloaks on the road.  Others go out and cut down leafy branches.  It’s John’s gospel that tells us that these were palm branches.  The branches were spread out on the road according to Mark.  All of this communicated a non-verbal message from the crowd to the city:  the Messianic king is coming.

Their words of praise in verses 9 and 10 sent the same message with words.  Verse 9 is a quotation from Psalm 118:25-26.  ‘Hosanna’ is a Hebrew word that literally means, “Please save us,” but it came to also be a general exclamation of praise.  Psalm 118 was one of several special Psalms for the Passover feast.  Psalms 113-118 are known as the Hallel Psalms – ‘Hallel’ is the Hebrew word for praise, as in ‘Hallelujah.’  This quote from Psalm 118 was regularly used as a greeting or blessing for pilgrims who were arriving in Jerusalem for the Passover feast.  In themselves these words are not unusual.  It’s all the other factors which work together to make it clear that this is no ordinary pilgrim arriving at this moment.  It’s the donkey, the branches, the cloaks spread on the road, the fact that it is Jesus of Nazareth. 

Jesus is the one who truly comes in the name of the Lord.  He represents the coming kingdom of David which also comes in the name of the Lord.  Jesus is the fulfillment of everything from the Old Testament.  And therefore he is blessed, he is to be praised and adored by all.  Now it’s true that the crowd didn’t see Jesus as the Messiah who would conquer sin.  Their view of him is something like another Simon Maccabeus.  He will get into the royal city and then do something about the Romans.  Yet, the words are still spoken, and though the people didn’t have the right understanding, we can still see that they were speaking and acting prophetically in spite of themselves.  Sort of like John 11:50 where Caiaphas says, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” 

So these are words of praise and exaltation for Christ.  Now maybe you have heard preachers go on from here to comment on how these same crowds would just a few days later be shouting something different.  One day they’re shouting “Hosanna,” a few days later it’s “Crucify him, crucify him!”  The crowd is fickle, the preacher will say.  Isn’t that just like us?  Well, it is like us.  We are fickle and our hearts are often divided more than they should be.  But a close reading of what happens here in Mark 11 should lead us to be more careful and nuanced. 

Who are these crowds shouting “Hosanna” in Mark 11?  They’re the same people who have been travelling with Jesus from Galilee.  They are the pilgrims.  Some of them are his disciples, the twelve, but there’s also a broader group of followers, including Bartimaeus from the end of chapter 10. 

Who are the crowds shouting “Crucify him!” in Mark 15?  For the most part, those are people who live in Jerusalem.  That group might have included some of the pilgrims from before.  But it seems from Scripture that they are by and large a different crowd.  These are people who go with him to the cross, but only to hurl insults at him and to mock him. 

However, we can say this about the Hosanna-shouting crowd in Mark 11:  by the time Jesus reaches Golgotha, they are gone.  They haven’t actively turned on Jesus.  But they have abandoned him.  They’ve moved on.  It was a moment’s excitement and obviously it was premature.  So there is still fickleness to be witnessed here in the big picture.  That fickleness is more about indifference than it is about outright hostility.  There we can see something of our own fallen condition as well.  There are times in all our lives where we can become indifferent about our Lord Jesus.  Our love waxes and wanes.  Sometimes it grows cold.  No one is at the right temperature for their love for our Saviour all the time.  There are two things to say in connection with that.

First, the strength of his love for you does not depend on the strength of your love for him.  Through all the ups and downs, he will hold on to you with a firm hold even when your grip on him is weak.  This is true.  The gospel promises it.    

Second, don’t be satisfied to be in a place where your love for the Lord Jesus is waning.  Don’t be content to have a love that is growing cold.  Don’t be resigned to it.  This is not a place to be.  It’s not a place of joy and contentment in the gospel.  This is not where God wants you to be and this is not where you should want to be.  So, how to fan the flames of love for our Saviour?  There is no technique that I can prescribe apart from the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit will use the Word to help you to grow in love.  As you read and study the Word, and as you hear it read and proclaimed each Sunday, the Holy Spirit will make you less and less fickle. 

We’re at the last verse of our passage and here there’s a sort of post-script.  Jesus has arrived at Jerusalem and where does he go first?  His first stop is at his Father’s house, to the temple.  He has been there before, many times.  He has not come as a tourist.  Rather, he is an inspector.  He comes for a look like God did with Babel in Genesis 11.  He comes to see what has happened to his Father’s house, just like God came to inspect Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18.  This kind of inspection is often a precursor to divine judgment. 

Later in the New Testament, we find our Lord Jesus again inspecting the house of God.  He inspects the house of God at Ephesus, at Smyrna, at Pergamum, at Thyatira, at Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.  In most instances, these churches needed a wake-up call.  They got that wake-up call in those letters from Jesus in Revelation 2-3.  If they didn’t heed the warning, they too would face judgment.  As part of the judgment on Israel for their unbelief, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D.  All of that warns us against ever thinking that we have arrived.  Certainly we should never think that we have arrived as a church just because we have a building, or because we have a pastor, or because we have this or that.  We are always works in progress, both as individuals and as a community.  What happens when we become unteachable?  We are on the road to chastisement (the Lord’s discipline) and possibly to judgment.  We have to remain open to God’s teaching us through his Word and leading us and shaping us. 

At the end of this passage, the Lord Jesus retreats back out to Bethany for the night.  He had friends there (Martha, Mary, Lazarus) and perhaps he stayed with them.  But now he is in the metro Jerusalem area, where the final acts of this drama are going to play out.  Soon we’ll see him at the temple again – indicting the Jews in God’s final court case against them.

As we conclude, think about this:  the Messianic King, our Saviour, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Revelation 19 portrays him at the last day as riding a white horse.  He judges and makes war.  He has a crowd with him there too, but these are the armies of heaven, prepared for battle against all his enemies.  The next time he rides on an animal, there will be a battle cry and all who are not on the side of our Lord Jesus will be afraid.  Those who have not trusted him alone will be in for a world of hurt and eternal death.  His second coming will be for the redemption of believers, but for the condemnation of others.  Brothers and sisters, you know who to trust.  Keep on trusting him and you can anticipate that day, not with fear, but with joy.  AMEN. 


O God our Father,

We want our Lord Jesus to come back.  We want to see him riding on the white horse.  We are eager for his great day.  And we know that day is a time that only you know.  We pray that it would come quickly.  We pray that you would help all of us with your Word and Spirit to be prepared for that, to be anticipating it with joy.  

Father, we thank you for your Word to us again.  Thank you for reassuring us of your love through Jesus our Saviour.  We praise you for his willingness to enter the city where he would suffer and die for our sins.  We pray that you would work us in a deeper love for you and for our Saviour.  With your Word, please shape us and lead us to be less fickle.  To be more consistent in our affections.  Father, we pray these things for your glory.  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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