Celebrating Too Soon?
Gospel: Mark 11:1-11 (KJV)
11 And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,
2 And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him.
3 And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.
4 And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.
5 And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt?
6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.
7 And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.
8 And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.
9 And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
10 Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.
11 And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.
Notre Dame and Southern Cal played one of the most legendary football games in history on November 30, 1974. Notre Dame jumped out to a big 24-0 lead. The halftime score was 24-6. The game was all but over. Southern Cal fans were depressed while Notre Dame fans were rejoicing at halftime. However, Southern Cal ran back the second half kickoff for a touchdown, scored 35 points in the third quarter, and won 55-24.
The Notre Dame fans who were celebrating at halftime were celebrating too soon.
The first Palm Sunday was a celebration. But we know how that week turned out for Jesus - betrayed, forsaken, rejected, condemned, crucified.
Was this a case of celebrating too soon? Let’s answer that question by thinking about 3 things: What Jesus provoked, What the crowd proclaimed, and What events proved.
1. What Jesus provoked.
The turning point in Mark’s Gospel occurs in chapter 8 when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” and Peter replied, “You are the Christ.” Jesus warned his disciples to tell no one this insight. For now it must be kept secret.
But in Mark 11 Jesus makes a 180 degree turn. On a Sunday morning he and his disciples left Jericho, more than 850 feet below sea level, and climbed to the top of the Mount of Olives which is more than 2700 feet above sea level and overlooks Jerusalem. On the road they met up with many other pilgrims who were also on their way to Jerusalem for Passover week.
Jesus sent two disciples to a nearby village where, he told them, they would find a colt that had never been ridden. They were to untie the colt and bring it back to Jesus. If anyone asked what they were doing, they were to say, “The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.” They went, found the colt, untied it, and, when questioned, said, “The Lord has need of it.”
They brought the colt to Jesus, and because there was no saddle, some of them threw their cloaks on the donkey. Jesus got on and began to ride toward Jerusalem. Then the multitude got involved. Some of them threw their cloaks on the road while others went into the fields, cut branches, and threw them on the road. So Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey colt on a carpet of clothes and branches surrounded by an excited and festive crowd. It was a welcome fit for a King.
What is Jesus doing?
He is deliberately provoking a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah.
Zechariah spoke to the people in Judah after their exile to Babylon. They were a weak and insignificant people who had no army and no king. But Zechariah promised that a time was coming when God would give them a King who would be unlike the wicked kings of the nations and unlike their own failed kings of the past. Their King would be righteous and humble, and would bring the salvation for which they longed. Zechariah wrote:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Jesus knows this prophecy, and he knows it is about him, and he orchestrates the fulfillment of the prophecy. He is saying, “I am the King - the Messiah and Savior Zechariah prophesied would come.”
As Jesus fulfills Zechariah’s prophecy, he is deliberately provoking the crowd to see him as King. Look at some of the kingly things he did:
He commandeers the colt for his use. Whether or not Jesus drew on his supernatural knowledge about the colt, and whether or not Jesus had made arrangements with the owner, there is no missing the kingly explanation he tells the disciples to give for what they are doing. “The Lord has need of it...” Kings had the right to requisition the property of others for royal purposes. Jesus acts like a king exercising his authority, taking the colt because he, as Lord, has a need for it.
The colt Jesus chooses has never been ridden. In the Old Testament unbroken animals were used for sacred purposes. Jesus chose this colt as the kind of animal suitable to carry the Messiah-King-Deliverer into his capital city.
Jesus rode into the city. This was not ordinary. The usual way for pilgrims to enter Jerusalem was on foot, even if they had made most of the journey on the back of an animal. But it was appropriate that the King should come into the city riding on an animal’s back.
Jesus means to provoke this whole scene to say, “I am your King - the true King that Zechariah prophesied. I have come as your King at Passover, the great festival that celebrates your deliverance from slavery in Egypt, to accomplish a greater salvation than the Exodus!”
2. What the crowd proclaimed.
The crowd proclaimed was: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
To understand what they shouted it helps to know the Old Testament background which is Psalm 118. This Psalm was probably written for a worship service when a king came back to Jerusalem after winning a victory - snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Psalm 118 was included in a group of six Psalms called the Hallel Psalms which were often sung by pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate a festival. In the Psalm the people say:
Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We surely hear echoes of the Psalm in the proclamation of the crowd on the first Palm Sunday.
By the time of Jesus this word taken from Psalm 118 was an exclamation used as a greeting that meant “Hail!” (I’m not saying that word with a Southern accent.) But its original and full meaning was, “O Lord, save now!” It was a call for God to intervene in history on behalf of his people to accomplish their salvation and deliverance from their enemies.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
In Psalm 118 the people shouted this to the victorious king as he entered the city. However, as the Psalm was sung in connection with the festivals, this became a greeting and welcome to the pilgrims as they arrived at Jerusalem. They were coming on a holy mission to celebrate Passover so they were coming in the name of the Lord so they blessed one another. Now, however, the crowds direct this to Jesus himself as he enters the capital city. He comes on a mission given to him by God, and he will not fail. He is blessed for he comes in God’s name to do God’s work.
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!
The crowd now goes beyond the Psalm and focuses on the coming kingdom of David. David was the ideal and greatest king in the minds of the Jews. He was the man after God’s own heart. God had promised him an everlasting kingdom. Israel looked back 1000 years with longing to David and the days of his rule. The Lord had also promised that in future he would raise up a king like David who like David would have a shepherd’s heart for God’s people. As Jesus enters Jerusalem in a royal procession the people grasped that something of great significance must be happening. This must be the time when God would fulfill his promises, give them a king, deliver them from their oppressors, reinstate David’s kingdom, and restore Israel’s fortunes. If, however unexpected, Jesus is that King for whom they longed, then blessed be his kingdom!
Hosanna in the highest!
Now they lift up their shouts to heaven itself. They call on the angels to join in the celebration of the salvation that God is accomplishing. Hosannas for something this big cannot be confined to earth. Earth and heaven, men and angels, must join together to acclaim the saving work of God.
Did the crowd get caught up in the excitement and enthusiasm so that in their celebration they had little idea what they were doing? Most did. Did any fully understand what was happening? No, not even the 12 disciples. The people proclaimed more than they knew, but every word they said was true.
Jesus is the King God has sent to fulfill the words of Zechariah 9 and Psalm 118, to accomplish the deliverance and salvation of his people, to establish David’s everlasting kingdom. The time has come. That’s why Jesus, after hiding his true identity, provoked and welcomed this celebration of himself as King.
3. What events proved.
We look at the events of the first Palm Sunday, and we ask, “Was this all celebrating too soon?” We know that Palm Sunday inevitably leads to Good Friday, and the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem leads to Golgotha outside Jerusalem. Did Jesus prematurely provoke recognition of himself as Messiah? Were the crowds wrong when they proclaimed him King? If Good Friday were the end of the story, then Palm Sunday would have been a big mistake on the parts of both Jesus and the crowd.
But events would prove that the Palm Sunday declaration of his Kingship was entirely justified.
Jesus knew what he was doing. His plan was to accomplish something much bigger than what the crowd, or even his disciples, could imagine. They thought of him as a King who would sit on a throne in Jerusalem, overthrow the Romans, expand Israel’s borders, restore her military power, and return her national glory.
But Jesus was going to accomplish a much bigger victory than that. He was going to take on those things Satan, sin, death, and hell and defeat them completely and forever. All other human bondages and problems are secondary to those. The crowd cried, “Lord, save now!” and Jesus meant to do it. Jesus knew that the way to our salvation was by his going to the cross. It was by enduring the fury of Satan he gained our peace, by enduring judgment of God he gained our reconciliation. He emerged from the cross having defeated the devil, atoned for our sins, and removed the sting of death.
From death he rose to immortal life. From the grave he ascended to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Out of defeat he won eternal victory and gained an everlasting kingdom.
Palm Sunday was not a celebration too soon, for Palm Sunday revealed who Jesus really is - the King who comes not on a charger on a mission of judgment but on a donkey on a mission of peace. He comes to us still today, a righteous King of peace, and offers us salvation from sin, Satan, and judgment. He promises to take us under the protection of his Kingship. He offers us participation in his victory and a place in his glorious Kingdom.
Today we rejoice because we know that Palm Sunday tells us the truth. Jesus is our Savior and King.
Ride on! ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die:
O Christ, thy triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquer’d sin.
Ride on! ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
Bow thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, thy power, and reign.
This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it!