Summary: To learn the lesson that the crowd had failed to learn on Palm Sunday
Change of Direction for Jesus
So far in the gospel of Mark Jesus has been secretive about his mission, warning his disciples not to tell the crowd what they know. The disciples for the most part have been portrayed as lacking understanding and generally unable to do the things that Jesus asks of them.
All that is about to change. Jesus is about to make a very clear statement that anyone – and most importantly the Pharisees – can’t miss, even if they have only the most basic understanding of their faith.
Disciples knew Jesus had changed
The disciples have known that Jesus’ attitude has changed since He declared that they must go to Judea. In John 11 the disciples reminded Jesus that last time He was there they tried to stone Him. Jesus is going to raise Lazarus (one of the people he loves the most) from the dead. At the end of that conversation in John 11:16, it is Thomas who says “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” The disciples are dreading the journey back to Judea – but they can’t yet know the full horror that they will go through.
Lazarus lived at Bethany, which is less than two miles from Jerusalem. It’s at Bethany that we pick up the story this morning. Bethany today is known as el `Azareyeh which the place of Lazarus.
Mark doesn’t mention Lazarus, but has the disciples in the village anyway. Here they are told to go and get a colt – a young donkey that had never been ridden.
The instructions are very simple and very clear. They are told exactly what to say if they are challenged. They are not given any other information, so probably don’t know why they are doing what they are doing – perhaps that is the best way sometimes. They do exactly as they are told, and respond correctly to the challenge - “The Lord needs it and will send back shortly”. As a result they are allowed to take the donkey to Jesus.
Miracle or plan?
Was this a miracle or a careful plan that Jesus had made. There are a number of possibilities, if we are going to claim it as a miracle we need to be sure it wasn’t a plan. The main objection to the plan theory is that Jesus hadn’t been here for a while – so how could he have arranged with someone to borrow their donkey. It’s possible though that the donkey’s owner is in fact one of Jesus’ followers, and so had been with Him at various times and had made the arrangement.
Miracle or not (and some commentators say ‘take your choice’) Jesus had chosen a donkey that had not been ridden. Animals that have not been under human control are specially valued for certain tasks. Just as in 1 Samuel 6:7 when the Israelites were being given instructions about transporting the Ark of the Lord “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.”
This way it seems that it is clearer that God is in control, and that humans can have had no influence on the outcome.
The fact that Jesus was riding on an unbroken colt is a miracle.
Riding into Jerusalem on a donkey sends a very particular message. The prophecy is in Zechariah 9:9 and says “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus is making a claim to be the king of the Jews. The crowd see it, the Pharisees see it and their reactions and responses will lead ultimately to the crucifixion. That is Jesus’ plan, that’s why he is heading to Jerusalem in this way.
The crowds response
The Pharisees response can wait until Good Friday, what’s of interest today is the crowd’s response. Remember its coming up to passover. Jerusalem is filling up with pilgrims from all over Israel and further afield. The city will be heaving with people going in all directions – but here outside the city the crowds will mostly be headed towards the city.
There will be lots of foreigners who won’t know who Jesus is, but there will also be many people who have seen Him and even more who have heard what He has done.
At the sight of Him riding a donkey, they begin singing his praises ‘Hosanna in the Highest’ and ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.
They spread their cloaks on the road in front of him. That must have confused the donkey! You don’t do that for just anyone, I’ve never even heard of a celebrity receiving such treatment. This response is reserved for Kings and Queens. When Jehu was anointed king in 2 Kings 9:13 they immediately took off their cloaks and put them on the bare steps for him to walk on, the trumpets sounded and the crowd began shouting ‘Jehu is king’.