Summary: Good worship springs from the heart and is guided by the Word.
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
We begin this morning the final section of Mark’s gospel. Chapter 1- 8:26 is the first section, in which Mark presents story after story raising the question of who Jesus is. 8:27-10:52 form the second section, which reveals Jesus as the Messiah and teaches what being the Messiah and his followers entail: sacrificial service. Now we come to the time of Jesus’ great sacrificial work of redemption, i.e. of procuring our salvation.
The drama began the moment Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ (the Greek term for Messiah). Jesus then speaks of his suffering and death to come. After his glorious transfiguration on a mountain on the way down, he speaks again of his suffering and rejection. Yet again, after driving a demon out of a boy, he tells the disciples that he will be betrayed and killed. Finally, while heading to Jerusalem, he makes clear that his suffering and death will take place there.
You probably have noticed before the large amount of attention given to what is basically a week of Jesus’ life. Matthew, Mark and Luke devote from a quarter to a third of their gospels to this period. John reserves half of his gospel to that time. Clearly, what takes place at the end of Jesus’ life and ministry is considered the crucial events of his presence on earth.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives…We find Jesus and his disciples a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem. They have traveled sixteen miles or so from Jericho. That trip by the way is not an easy one. They would have continually been ascending from 825’ below sea level to 2500’ above. The country is literally desert, what the Bible refers to as wilderness. Israel’s idea of wilderness is far different from ours. We think of untamed forests; Israel thinks of bare, rocky hills.
They would have arrived first at Bethany, which by the way is the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Bethany is where Jesus will spend at least one night, perhaps more while he is in Jerusalem. Bethpage is on the outskirts of Jerusalem and probably is the village where the donkey colt is found.
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?’ tell him, ‘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.
If you know me by now, you know that I try to pick up on what seems unique or odd about a passage. What seems odd here is the amount of time and detail Mark spends on the story of getting a colt for Jesus to ride. How big of a deal can that be? To us Gentiles, it means little; but to a discerning Jew of Mark’s day, it was quite significant.
There are three notable elements about this animal chosen by Jesus to ride. We will take them in reverse order given to us. It is an animal, which no one has ever ridden. According to Old Testament precedence, an animal used for a sacred purpose must not have been used previously for common labor. For example, the oxen chosen to carry the Ark of the Covenant out of Philistia and back to Israel had never before been yoked (1 Samuel 6:7). Jesus clearly regarded the work that the colt would do for him was similar.
Second, Jesus makes a point of saying that the colt will be tied. Mark records Jesus’ remark and then repeats specifically that, yes, the colt was tied. What is unusual about the colt being tied? Nothing, which again makes us wonder why Mark would belabor the point. Let me read a passage from the first book of the Bible and see if you catch a connection. It is Genesis 49:8-12. The context is that the last of the three great patriarch’s of Israel, Jacob, has gathered his twelve sons together to impart his blessing. On the firstborn son, Reuben, he ought to have given the blessing of being the pre-imminent over all the other sons. But it is not until he comes to the fourth son, Judah, that he gives such a blessing. Listen to it: