THAT FATEFUL DAY
Mark 11: 1-10
Around this time of the year, some networks show the great films of the faith like the epic, “Jesus of Nazareth,” “The Robe,” or even perhaps the gut-wrenching “Passion of the Christ” which shows up on premium channels Some channels, like Discovery and the History Channel show documentaries about the life of Christ and in particular about his final week: his entry into Jerusalem, the cleansing of the temple, his teachings, his time in the Garden, his capture, his questioning before Pilate, and finally his crucifixion. That is the week we are facing. It does the salvation story of the Bible a complete disservice to jump over the gore to the glory of Easter. Few take lightly the price Christ paid for us once they encounter those passages.
For almost all of 2012 I have dealt with Mark’s gospel; Mark is generally considered to be the oldest gospel and to be extremely reliable historically; Mark never seems to add unnecessary information. If you have come to our Maundy Thursday service you’ve seen that I always choose Mark to read for that fateful night. Today for a few minutes I hope to help bridge the knowledge gap about Palm Sunday and to fill in some details. What is my source? Of course, it is the Bible itself; we will not trust another commentator when we can glean information for ourselves.
This fateful day—Palm Sunday—did not start with Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. So many people assume that Jesus got up one day, made the preparations, and entered Jerusalem one fateful morning. Let’s see if that’s the case. According to Mark 10:1 Jesus and his disciples left their adopted hometown of Capernaum in Galilee and headed toward Judea and beyond the Jordan. That means he would have encountered many Jews also going to Jerusalem for the Passover, and that there may have also been Gentile travelers as well. As they journeyed, Jesus was already known by some of them and crowd members constantly questioned him. He knew he was going to Jerusalem to die, but he still had to face Pharisees asking him questions about divorce in verses 2-12! What a topic as he faces his own death! Feeling for our Savior’s reserve of strength, we still see that people are relentless about approaching him. Some want him to hold or touch their children in verses 13-16 while the disciples fruitlessly tried to act as Jesus’ bodyguards. Jesus overruled them and said what we know so well: “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.” He then has a man ask him what he needs to do to inherit eternal life, in verses 17-22. Even when the man heard Jesus’ answer, he went away because he could not part with his possessions as Jesus told him to do. Jesus’ then uses the examples of the conversations of the day to teach his disciples in verses 23-31. This man Jesus, already peppered with questions, must have gotten his second wind around Mark 10:32, for Mark says: “They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them, and they were amazed.” He then tells them again what he himself already knew: this trip has a purpose; he himself will be killed. There was more that he said, but surely his disciples were most troubled by that part. James and John noted his impending death and then did what some children have rudely done to their parents: they start to maneuver for positions of favoritism, asking about inheritance, and wondering if they are the favorite in the sight of the dying one. It is not pretty when I’ve seen it in families. And here, not just two people but two disciples ask Jesus to grant them a special status before he is thrown to his death: they ask that one be on his right hand in glory and one on his left. According to verse 41, the other 10 disciples were indignant that those two asked such an insensitive question of their “Teacher.” From verses 42-45 Jesus says they don’t know what they are asking. As I read it, this is all one day.
Before they arrive in Jerusalem they would naturally, on the path they were taking, go through Jericho, the oldest city on the planet, and a most resort-like city. But instead of finding respite there, Jesus encounters a blind man in verse 46—a blind man mind you, who is able to see in Jesus what sighted persons cannot. Somehow he not only knows who Jesus is and what he is reported to be able to do, he also senses when Jesus gets in close proximity- it’s astounding. Jesus might have been tempted to keep going- what time is it by now? Two O’clock? Three o’clock? Later? Instead he says “Call him.” After finding out that the blind man, named Bartimaeus, wanted to see, Jesus granted his request. Then Bartimaeus also left Jericho and followed Jesus. The newly sighted man was likely in the Palm Sunday crowd! On the outskirts of Jerusalem there are two small villages where the Bible records that Jesus stopped at differenc times, but today was not going to be one of those times. Our Lord presses on. This time Jesus has a purpose to be carried out, lateness of the day or not. So the assumption that I raised a few minutes
ago—that Jesus entered the city one bright morning, gets tested now. Read your Bible and you may conclude, as I have, that Jesus entered Jerusalem late in the day. Likely prior arrangements allowed Jesus’ request for a colt on which to ride to be accomplished with some haste. It was not a fine white horse, a steed. Instead it was a small one, a colt; some other gospels say donkey. Nevertheless it was a small animal. The disciples and other travelers put some garments on it for his comfort and Jesus began riding into town on it. Certainly down from the Mount of Olives through the Golden Gate of the city there was an air of festivity! Passover already had made the city streets and inns jammed with people, with a celebration in one corner and an argument in another. As Jesus made us way, they strew branches along the road Mark’s gospel says in chapter 11, verse 8. John’s gospel says they are palm branches, and there is good reason to believe that. The palm was the national symbol of a free Judea, and the Jews hoped to be out from under the thumb of the powerful Romans. They were reading a human agenda of revolt into Jesus’ heavenly agenda of intended peace and salvation. They even quoted the prophet Zechariah and the Psalmist David who said when the Messiah comes it will be to the cry: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Into the city Jesus came among happy children, cautious disciples, and suspicious security officials. The security officials perhaps had Jesus entrance pegged: no sooner did he get inside the city wall through the entrance called the Golden Gate that Mark’s gospel says he went straight to the Temple, according to verse 11. He went to look everything over and perhaps offer a brief prayer. It is likely Jesus saw much that he did not like, but, the Bible says:
“And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went back to Bethany with the Twelve.” As far as I can tell, that is the end of the very long day that Jesus had; his entry into the city was they culmination of his day, not the beginning. We know from verse 15 that it was the next day when he returned and overturned the tables of the moneychangers at the Temple. Before that day he had traveled many miles, been asked many questions, had healed and blessed several people, and arrived at the place that would be his death city. What an exhausting, dreadful day, he had had, and now he starts a new day with the confrontation at the Temple. Jesus of Nazareth was not only filling his role as Rabbi, now he would claim the crown of the King, albeit a painful crown. He was not only a shepherd of people, he was the Lamb of God, and lamb selection day was facing him. The Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world, would be crucified on the day the Jews called “Lamb selection day. How perfectly terrible; and God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.
As we face this week, we will be sharing one Holy Communion today; but Thursday, if you are here, you will have a reminder of the Last Supper. May your soul be girded for this week with your Lord, and may it not waver with denial, doubt, or betrayal.
Let us pray: O God: prepare us now to realize the magnitude of our participation in this sacrament. Our choice shows Jesus whether or not we choose to be his disciples, even with the costs. Amen.
Jeffrey A. SumnerApril 1, 2012