1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
One of my friends, who shall remain nameless, has had a few cars in his time. For a while, he had a rather nice Mini – one of the new, BMW-built ones that is not really that mini at all. I thought it was a great car, but I’ll admit to being a little scared when, on numerous occasions, he attempted to demonstrate how it “clung to the road,” even when he threw it round tight bends at high-speed. Okay, so he was right, it did stick firmly to the road, but that didn’t stop me getting a little nervous! One day, though, my friend got a promotion to quite a senior role at work. He now found himself with not one, but two offices, a PA, and over two hundred staff. He decided that his Mini didn’t quite set the right tone for someone who was now so important, so he sold it and bought an Audi A3. When my friend took me for a drive in it, I had to concede that it was indeed a very nice car. Despite that, I was a little disappointed because it just seems a little, well, grown-up I suppose!
In our current passage we see Jesus entering Jerusalem to face, in a few days time, what was for him the inevitability of his death. He was not concerned about picking a mode of transport that reflected his identity, however. He entered Jerusalem as the messiah, the Son of God, and the King of the Jews. As a king, we might expect him to select something slightly more grand to carry him into the city, but no. He could have used a magnificent stallion, but instead he selected a colt. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was not a display of power and prestige, but the arrival of a humble man keen to avoid the misconceptions about his role that were commonplace. He was not a powerful military figure who had come to liberate his people from the yoke of Roman rule, but a peaceful man whose plans extended far beyond that particular short-term goal. Jesus had come not to defeat the ruling authority, but Satan and death. His arrival on the colt was also the fulfilment of a prophecy in the Old Testament book of Zechariah. Here, the prophet tells of a great day when the promised king will arrive, saying, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9). Here he was, then, the king and messiah that Israel have been waiting for! He’s finally here!
The people of Jerusalem certainly welcomed Jesus by rejoicing and shouting, just as the prophecy said that they would. Mark tells us how people threw their cloaks in the road ahead of Jesus, and held branches overhead. They greeted him by shouting, “hosanna!”, meaning “please save!” The people of Jerusalem had clearly understood who Jesus was, and were really excited about greeting their messiah. Suddenly, everything seemed better. Things were going to improve. They would be freed and liberated from their overlords. Here was the man who was going to bring about the change that they had dreamt of. It didn’t stop there, though. The people shouted, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our Father David!” I don’t know about you, but I can feel the passion and excitement, the expectation that surrounded Jesus’ triumphal entry jumping off the page of Mark’s gospel, straight at me. The people are expressing real hope of a better, brighter future, a future where, once again they have a great and mighty king like David to watch over them.
As I read and reflect on this passage, though, it doesn’t take long for that excitement to develop into a rather unpleasant feeling in my stomach. Looking back at the welcome that Jesus was given from the perspective of calvary leaves me feeling cold. Just a few days after the triumphant entry, the crowds who were welcoming Jesus were baying for his death. When Pontius Pilate asked whether the people wanted him to free Jesus, or a murderer by the name of Barabbas, the crowd called for the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s a sobering thought that such emotive and enthusiastic faith can dissipate in just a few days. It’s easy to look back and deride the fickleness of this particular crowd, but can any of us say with any certainty that it we were there, we would not have done exactly the same? This was brought home to me recently when we sang, “How deep the Father’s love for me” in church. This is a song that I’ve sung countless times before, but on this particular occasion, the line, “ashamed, I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers” really hit home. It begs the question of just how firmly rooted is our faith? Is it secure? Does is have secure foundations? Is it rooted firmly in good soil? Or is it lacking stability, build on sandy ground, with no solid roots to speak of? I think that’s worth reflecting in.
After the passion of the entry into Jerusalem, the quietness of verse 11 strikes me as quite surprising. Jesus visits the temple courts, but late in the day after most of the activity had died down. In some ways it seems that Jesus is investigating the scene of a drama that he knows is coming. I’m sure we’ve all done that; I know that I certainly have. Sometimes, before a job interview, I have done a “dry run,” to make sure that I know where I am going and how long it will take be to get there. It also puts my mind at ease when it comes to the interview, having seen the location before. I did something similar recently when I was invited to lead a service at a church I hadn’t been to before. I drove up to the town, located the church, and established what the building looked like, where the lectern was, and other seemingly trivial things like that. Again, it put my mind at ease on the Sunday. I wonder if there was an element of that with Jesus? Perhaps he knew that to take decisive action in the temple so soon after his triumphal arrival would have led to his ministry being cut short prematurely, since he would inevitably aroused the suspicions of the religious leaders. Or perhaps he had expected to take action, but realised that he would be better off waiting until there were more people around to observe him. Ultimately, though, this is pure speculation. What is clear, though, is the total contrast between the loud and energetic arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem and the quiet and pensive Jesus we see in the temple courts.
I don’t know about you, but I find this passage deeply moving. I feel myself getting swept up with the crowd when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, excited as we witness the fulfilment of that ancient prophecy about the arrival of the messiah. Then I find myself questioning whether, like many in that city, it is possible that I could suddenly find myself rejecting exactly what I have been looking for, drawn in by the wisdom of the crowd. There’s also that poignant moment of quiet as we see Jesus in the temple courts, a brief pause before we witness the world-changing events of the coming days.