The One Who Comes
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 29, 2015
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson scripture: Mark 11:1-11
The story of Jesus’ triumphal entry is a joyous one in all four Gospels. But in Mark’s Gospel, what seems like a story of triumph is going to look more and more like a tragedy. From beginning with 8:31, Jesus has been attempting to prepare the disciples for what is coming in Jerusalem. Repeating himself in chapters 9 and 10, Jesus tells the disciples that when they get to Jerusalem he will be arrested, abused, and killed and then he will rise. However, according to Mark, the disciples just do not comprehend Jesus’ message. As late as 10:33-34, they simply cannot grasp the idea that Jesus will suffer humiliation at the hands of the Romans. The disciples’ thinking is that if Jesus is from God, he will confront the Romans and perhaps defeat them at the outset.
But as scholars remind us, this is not the mission of Jesus. He will not do anything as small as defeating the Roman Empire; his mission has cosmic goals. So, after all this misunderstanding about what Jesus will do and what will happen to him in Jerusalem, the disciples participate in a kind of victory parade. Beyond their grasp, however, Jesus is about to win a greater victory than they can possibly imagine.
Mark’s story of Jesus’ triumphant entry (Palm Sunday) falls into four parts: setting (v.1) obtainment of the colt (vv.2-6), acclamation approaching Jerusalem (vv.7-10), and conclusion (v.11).
As this narrative begins, Jesus is nearing Jerusalem where the narrative has been moving since the first passion prediction at Caesarea Phillipi (8:27-9:1). In Mark’s story, this is the one and only time Jesus goes to Jerusalem in his ministry. The villages of Bethphage (pronounced beth’ fuh gee) and Bethany are very near Jerusalem, and one can see from the Temple from the Mount of Olives. The setting on the Mount of Olives is important, because according to Zechariah 14:4, the Lord would appear on the Mount of Olives “on that day.” So, it was there that contemporary Messianic hopes were focused.
The Colt (11:2-6)
Jesus directs his disciples to fetch a colt and shows his supernatural foreknowledge by predicting precisely what they will find. They will find an unridden male colt, tied up, and not far from where they enter the village. Jesus also warns the disciples that they will be challenged when they try to take the colt. At this point, Jesus even gives these disciples the answer they are to give. “Its Master needs it, and he will send it back right away” (Mark 11:3). The disciples obey at once, and everything takes place as Jesus said it would.
Scholars remind us that when Jesus sends the disciples to get the donkey, he intends to set up the scene that follows. The scheme is reminiscent of Zechariah 9:9 in which the triumphant warrior of the Lord has defeated Israel’s enemies. His riding into town on a donkey, rather than a warhorse, symbolizes his peaceful intentions. The scene intentionally enables readers to understand that Jesus is the one who defeats the enemies of God’s people and brings them peace.
Backing up for a moment, what Jesus tells the disciples to say about the donkey in also important. According to scholars, the CEB correctly translates the instruction of Jesus here. He says to tell the bystanders that “its master” (or even better, “owner”) needs it. This is a noteworthy claim that Jesus makes. The word “master” is the same word as “Lord.” The NRSV has “Lord,” but omits the pronoun “its.” However, we interpret the word “Lord,” Jesus is claiming to be the true owner of the donkey.
But since Jesus has not been to this area during his ministry, he clearly does not hold the title to this animal. Yet he is its master. As we are told, this simple statement implies that Christ is the Lord of all things. As the One who comes in the name of the Lord, Christ is the Lord not just of this donkey, but also of every person and the whole world. Thus, the praises to Jesus that we hear on the road to Jerusalem are justified.
The Acclamation (11:7-10)
We have now arrived at the heart of our scripture lesson. The spreading of garments on the colt and on the road may refer to a coronation custom. Second Kings 9:13 says, “Then each man quickly took his cloak and put it beneath Jehu on the paved steps. They blew a trumpet and said, “Jehu has become king.”
So Mark reports that the disciples saddle the colt with their own garments, and the crowd paves the way with their garments (as a crowd did when Jehu was anointed king). Caught up in the excitement of the moment, Jesus’ followers and those in the crowd with their leaves and branches fill the air with a chorus of “Hosannas” (meaning “Save us”).
But the crowd going to Jerusalem for Passover underestimates who Jesus is and misunderstands what he will accomplish. When Mark notes these acclamations from the crowd, he expects the church to see different meanings than the crowd originally meant. When the crowd looks for the “coming kingdom” they want an earthly kingdom that would free them from the domination of Rome and all other foreign powers. With their Nationalist slogans, the crowd is thinking about the restoration of the power and glory of the Davidic Kingdom. “Blessing on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” they shouted.
The crowd is right that Jesus came as a king, but they expect a typical Monarch who will establish a temporal empire. And their mistaken presumption that Jesus is entering Jerusalem to purge the nation of foreign domination and to resuscitate the ancient glories of Israel leads to the premature festivity of the occasion. However, their false hopes are decimated as Jesus surrenders to those who come to arrest him (Luke 24:21).
As I suggested, the salvation those in the original setting had in mind was rescue from domination by the Romans and others. Simply stated, the crowd did not understand fully what it means to ask for salvation. Mark wants his readers to see a deeper understanding of the person and mission of Jesus. Jesus is, indeed, the One who will bring the salvation from God, but that salvation is much farther reaching than the crowd imagines. The salvation Mark envisions goes way beyond who is in political control. This salvation reaches into all aspects of life.
As we hear the crowd’s plea for salvation, we know that the need for salvation goes much further beyond political struggles. It is not that salvation has nothing to do with the struggles of government and politics, it is just that there is so much more involved. The salvation we need has to do with the brokenness that is so evident in the world, the church and in ourselves. Consequently, our need is for a salvation that brings healing and forgiveness within us, among us, and restores us to a right relationship with God.
Thus, we are reminded that when Mark’s church reads about the “coming kingdom” they know that it has already begun to be present in the church and they look forward to a cosmic coming that will change all reality. They look for the kingdom that will establish God’s reign everywhere. So, Christ comes as the One who brings that will of God into reality. Now, this reading before us provides us with a unique opportunity to think carefully about what the “coming of the kingdom” really means in terms of how we live our lives today.
On entering Jerusalem, Jesus goes straight to the Temple. But at this point, he only looks around and then proceeds to Bethany with his disciples for the night. This brief notation underscores the centrality of the Temple for the entire section that is to follow. One of the important functions of this following section is to prepare the readers of Mark for the destruction of the Temple that occurs in A.D. 70. In chapter 13, the end of this section, we are informed that Jesus predicts that fall so that it is not as devastating to the later church.
Scholars suggest that human nature and aspirations change very little over the years, and this incident reveals that we still need saving from at least three things:
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.