Mar 29, 2021
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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
Palm Sunday has slipped behind us. Passion week stands before us. As we look at the events that will happen to Jesus over the next few days, I think it will help us to understand why both the religious and political leaders want so desperately to do away with him. Everything culminated with the actions he took on the first day of the week, Palm Sunday. But without fully understanding the historical background behind the events that took place that day, we cannot understand why the chief priest and representatives of Rome were so anxious to be rid of Jesus. We fail to miss why the radical shift from crown him to crucify him.
We see Palm Sunday as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and picture people waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” In our western thought, we have turned the actions into not much more than a nice children’s activity for them to make construction paper palm leaves and wave them in the air as they walk down the aisles of the church. We smile and comment on how cute they look as one of the boys chosen to play Jesus comes riding through the middle of the group on a stick horse.
The events of Jesus’ triumphal entry have significantly more to say to us than just a nice parade on a sunny Sunday morning, though. The depth of the covenant promises between God and Abraham, David, and the Israelites made the events that happened that day extraordinary. Until we put some of the background of Jewish thought and hope into Jesus’ actions, we miss the significance of Palm Sunday. Let’s start with Mark’s rapid-fire description of the entry from his gospel in chapter 11.
Now, as they were approaching Jerusalem, they arrived at the place of the stables near Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of his disciples ahead and said to them, “As soon as you enter the village ahead, you will find a donkey’s colt tied there that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it to me. And if anyone asks, ‘Why are you taking it?’ tell them, ‘The master needs it and will send it back to you soon.’ ”
So they went and found the colt outside in the street, tied to a gate. When they started to untie it, some people standing there said to them, “Why are you untying that colt?”
They answered just as Jesus had told them: “The master needs it, and he will send it back to you soon.” So the bystanders let them go.
The disciples brought the colt to Jesus and piled their cloaks and prayer shawls on the young donkey, and Jesus rode upon it. Many people carpeted the road in front of him with their cloaks and prayer shawls, while others gathered palm branches and spread them before him. Jesus rode in the center of the procession, with crowds going before him and behind him. They all shouted in celebration, “Bring the victory! We welcome the one coming with blessings sent from the Lord Yahweh! Blessings rest on this kingdom he ushers in—the kingdom of our father David! Bring us the victory in the highest realms of heaven!”
Jesus rode through the gates of Jerusalem and up to the temple. After looking around at everything, he left for Bethany with the Twelve to spend the night, for it was already late in the day. (Mark 11:1-11 TPT)
Let’s start with the geography, and the place Mark records the beginning of Jesus’ triumphant ride. He and his disciples have come to the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in Bethphage near Bethany, Bethphage means the house of stables in Aramaic. These two small villages are nestled on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Jesus came here often, it seems. Whether to visit his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, to deliver the sermon we call the Olivet Discourse Matthew records in chapters 24 and 25 of his gospel, or in his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane after his last Passover meal with his disciples this place is familiar. Jesus will ascend from the Mount of Olives forty days after his resurrection.
A most fascinating aspect of the geography, however, comes from Ezekiel’s prophecy. In chapter eleven, God gives the prophet a vision in which he sees the shekinah, the visible glory of God, depart the city of Jerusalem, and stop above the mountain east of it. The mountain east of Jerusalem is the Mount of Olives. Jesus, the embodiment of God, returns to the Mount of Olives to begin his triumphant return into the city of Jerusalem on the first day of the week that will mark the beginning of his reign over the new Kingdom of God.
We next see Jesus’ foreknowledge of certain events as he tells two of his disciples to go ahead of him and get a colt they will find in the village tied to a house. Perhaps we can assume Jesus planned with the owner earlier for the colt to be available at a certain time and place, but would Jesus know about the bystanders who would question his disciples, and the answer that would placate their curiosity if they thought any thievery were in progress? It makes one wonder.
Then we see Jesus’ act of riding an unridden donkey at all. First, donkeys are well known for their stubborn streak, their unwillingness to obey their owners, much less strangers who want to put them to work. Second, this was an animal not yet tamed. Ask those who tame horses, mules, and donkeys how quickly they would hop on an unridden colt and take it into a crowd. Not one in a thousand would think you were sane to attempt such actions. But Jesus did without a second thought. He knew the animal would obey his every command. If the wind and waves obey him, so would an untamed donkey.
Riding a donkey into Jerusalem meant something special to the Jews, though. It looked unlike the victory procession of most kings. They would enter gates on stallions with their conquered kings and slaves behind them. Jesus rode a lowly donkey, and the colt of a donkey at that. But those who looked for their Messiah King saw Jesus as their rescuer from Roman oppression. Zechariah had written:
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. (Zech 9:9 NIV)
Jesus, this miracle worker who dared challenge the authority of the Pharisees, and gave new interpretations to the law that spoke of love, peace, and God’s kingdom near at hand road through the gates of God’s city just as Zechariah described the Messiah. Their victor had arrived. Israel’s King came through the gates that day. Herod met his match. Caesar and his government would no longer bully God’s people. God had sent his Messiah to rescue them and bring justice back to Israel. The people on that first day of the week saw victory in its many forms – return from exile; freedom from Roman oppression; true justice reigning; God’s new kingdom beginning; the Age to Come had arrived; the Messiah, King of all nations would reign.
What they didn’t see was how that victory would take place. They didn’t understand the Messiah was a suffering servant. They didn’t think the Messiah could die on a cross, the most shameful means of execution. And they didn’t see the connection in the geography. Jesus, the embodiment of God, began his triumphal entry on the Mount of Olives, where Ezekiel last saw God’s glory revealed. Jesus rode the foal of a donkey through the narrow road to Jerusalem to the Hosannas of the crowd, and through streets of the city to the Temple. Jesus, the embodiment of God, went into the Temple, and no one recognized him for who he was. He looked around, and just as in Ezekiel’s vision, Jesus departed and rested at the Mount of Olives in the home of Lazarus.
The rest of the week will unfold with the religious leaders understanding the revolt that simmers because of Jesus’ actions on that first day of the week. The crowd sees a potential revolutionary hero rising. This Jesus came through gate of the city using prophecy to declare himself King, Messiah. Barabbas already awaited execution for inciting a revolt. Crosses lined the countryside filled with those who dared challenge Roman rule. Now Jesus rides in as if he were King of the Jews. Herod is not a friend, but at least he is not a foe of the Temple. He’s better than Caesar and has served as a buffer for Israel. Now, the authority Herod gives the priests in governing, the nation itself stands in jeopardy because Jesus’ followers declared him Messiah, King of kings. If Jesus is Messiah, Herod is not king, Caesar is not lord. The country, the Jewish faith is in trouble. Something must be done.
If the religious political leaders knew what they were about to do, they would never have killed Jesus! By their actions, they are about to usher in the Age to Come, the new creation, heaven joining earth in a way they could not imagine. A revolution is about to begin that will encompass the world - revolution of love.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017, 2018, 2020 by Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scriptures marked NIV are taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV): Scriptures are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™. Used by permission of Zondervan