The Ironic Entry
Text: Mark 11: 1-26
Proposition: When Jesus publicly presents Himself He provokes people to an action that reveals their heart relationship to God.
Introduction: What is it that makes worship genuine, what detracts from it, is there some universal measure when it comes to worship that holds true if you are 22 or 52 or 82? One thing we can know is that Scripture directs us to the truth that God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth. William Temple, the renowned archbishop of Canterbury defined worship as the quickening the conscience by the holiness of God, feeding the mind with the truth of God, purging the imagination by the beauty of God, opening the heart to the love of God, and devoting the will to the purpose of God. Did you get that, worship revolves around the holiness of God, the truth of God, the beauty of God, the love of God and the purpose of God. It involves conscience, the mind, imagination, your heart and your will. All of these are directed at the person and work of Jesus Christ who through His atoning death became our way to know God. It only stands to reason that when man squanders his conscience, intellect, imagination, heart and will that God is grieved. All that is of God is lost to man, he misses the understanding of holiness, truth and beauty are distorted, the love of God does not enter our hearts and His purpose is ignored. What if that was the very scenario on the day which we call Palm Sunday, on the day of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem? What if Palm Sunday is really all about the way that God calls for an end to empty hearted worship? When Jesus publicly presents Himself He provokes action, an action that reveals the heart relationship of the people to God. Have a look at Mark 11:1-26.
I. The Triumphal Entry Was a Controversial Spotlight On Jesus.
As the Passover week begins and people from all over the Mediterranean region have poured into Jerusalem, Jesus does several high profile things. Just a week or two before Passover Jesus had come to Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead. In Jericho He had healed blind Bartimaeus and both of these men were in the procession that made its way to Jerusalem. The crowds in the city of Jerusalem hear that Jesus is approaching and they pour out of the city, go up the Mount of Olives and then down it’s eastern side to Bethany to where Jesus is. They arrive about the same time that the disciples bring the colt to Jesus. As the disciples put their outer coats on the animal the people around pick up on the gesture and lay their coats on the ground. The attention around Jesus builds as the people spontaneously begin to pull palm branches from the trees and lay them down as a pavement for the procession. The crowds cry out loud Hosannas, they announce Jesus as the coming king of David’s throne. The spot light on Jesus gets brighter and brighter. The fact that Jesus was now entering Jerusalem was unmistakable. It was a controversial entrance that was divinely designed to capture the attention of the city and of the religious leaders. Before, Jesus had warned people not to make His works known, now He accepts the public adoration and the excitement of the people becomes a provocation to the spiritual leaders.
II. The Donkey’s Colt Was Fulfilled Prophecy and Present Condemnation.
Jesus has a specific intention in riding on the colt. It serves to identify Him according to the words of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion! Shout O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold your King is coming to you. He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Certainly the colt is a sign of the humility of Christ, a humility that would bring salvation in His death. The paradox of a King riding in such a way was meant to be unmistakable, it was completely contrary to the way any other king had ever entered Jerusalem. It was the prophetic word of God and Jesus knew it to be the Fathers will and was obedient to it. But there also remains the possibility that the colt signifies something else. It was an animal on which no one had ever sat before. This can speak to the pre-eminence of Christ having first place in all things and it can also speak to the present condition of the nation of Israel. Was an un-ridden colt a symbol of unruly Israel, an animal known for its stubbornness, a colt that would balk at any who would subdue it? The Triumphant entry of Christ was on the outside a joyous occasion, but the inside was a different picture. These people did not know this was the Messiah who would die for their sin and grant eternal life. They considered Him the Messiah that would make their lives better, they did not see the barrier of sin as needing anything more than occasional sacrifice. The people of Israel were resistant to worship that demanded all your life, that had the purpose and love, beauty, truth and holiness of God as its first passion. As we consider what happens next it becomes clear that Israel is like an un-ridden colt that is going to be subdued.
III. The Praise of the Crowd and the Fig Tree, Two Halves of Empty Worship.
The crowd shouts out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” This too is prophesied in Zechariah 9:9, but the words of praise are double edged. Their praise looked to the re-establishment of David’s throne, yet it was Christ’s throne that would succeed David’s. Their hosanna in the highest was short sighted. Hosanna means ‘save now’ and the ‘highest Hosanna’ was everlasting saving. This was not what they meant by Hosanna in the highest. So the praise looked good on the outside, but on the inside something was missing. The cursing of the fig tree speaks about what was missing. It’s like a living parable, Jesus looks to the tree for fruit that would be a pleasure to Him. Instead He finds nothing but leaves. The fig tree bears two crops of figs, the early ones that come with the leaves and the later ones that are the full figs. When there are leaves there should be fruit of some kind even though the real fig season isn’t till later. Jesus finds no early figs and curses the tree. It is a real and yet symbolic act. The tree actually withers but it is also a condemnation upon the heart of Israel. They had much promise in their praises, lots of leaf, but no fruit. Look what happens immediately after this. Jesus enters the Temple and drives out the corruption that is in it. So you might be asking yourself, how can we be sure that this is the connection between the fig tree and the heart of Israel in their worship of God? Look at the events that happen the following morning in verse 20. Peter sees the same fig tree, except now it is completely withered, even to the roots. How could something so evidently alive now be barren and dead so quickly? Look at how Jesus responds, “Have faith in God…”. He goes on to talk about faith and what it can accomplish. He describes the way to pray and the importance of forgiveness. It is not a description of how to curse fig trees, it is a description of how to live without being cursed. (quote from Ray Steadman) Israel had fallen under the curse of God for her unbelief and her flourishing branches that promised to be fruitful and yet were barren would soon be withered and dead. Israel had faced many mountains or barriers to their faith, slavery, captivity, occupation yet Jesus says, “Have faith in God…”. They had sought to protect the Word of God by putting extra barriers around it called rabbinical laws and yet in their zeal they had lost their way to righteousness. What Jesus does in verses 23 to 26 is to describe the actions of faith that were supposed to be taking place in the Temple. The sin that was being atoned for by the sacrifices was that great mountain. Faith, even then, is what justified a man, faith in the forgiveness of God that was extended to them through God’s prescribed methods of sacrifice. It was a faith that called them to pray but look at what happened in the Temple… “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of thieves.” They had missed the significance of prayer, they had missed the intention of God for all nations to be reached, they had missed the essential nature of forgiveness. If it is withheld it hinders relationship with man and with God. There were trespasses taking place in the Temple and in the hearts of the people in their daily worship of God. And there was a terrible price that would be required. Palm Sunday, the Triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was an Ironic entry. It was the King of kings coming to call an end to empty hearted worship, it was the Lord of lords coming to fulfill prophesy and to be prophetic as he pictured the soon to be judged nation. When Jesus presents Himself publicly He will provoke people to action and that action will reveal their hearts worship of the Lord God Almighty. May our conscience be sharpened by the holiness of God, may our minds feed on the truth of God, may our imaginations be purged the by the beauty of God, may our heart be opened to the love of God, and our will devoted to the purpose of God.