Summary: This is a Palm Sunday message.
What do we think of when we think about conquering heroes? We think of General MacArthur saying, “I shall return!” We think of John Paul Jones telling the British, “I have not yet begun to fight.” We think of Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill. We think of the allied tanks rolling into Berlin during the final days of World War II and blowing the swastika off the top of a building.
Whatever we think of, it often has the feeling of strength. It seems that there is always some show of force accompanying a conquering hero. They come riding in a tank. In days gone by they rode a mighty horse.
Often there is a sense of relief, if the conqueror is a liberator. If freedom from oppression is the goal there is a sense of jubilation. It was interesting this week as the Iraqi people celebrated in the streets. For nearly thirty years, they had been under the oppression of a ruthless leader. That is my entire lifetime. There is joy in Iraq, because the oppression has ended. One thing that is interesting about the United States’ allies is that many of them are eastern European countries. They have not forgotten the oppression that they were under during the forty years of the Cold War. They understand oppression, and they are seeking to stamp it out.
I say all this not for a history lesson, but rather as a means of understanding the beginning of a strange week almost 2000 years ago. That week was the most important week in human history. So much attention is given to Christmas in the church world. Look at the New Testament. The Christmas story covers a couple chapters, but the last week of Jesus’ life covers some 28 chapters in the gospels. The whole story of the gospels is building up to this all-important week.
Our job is to let the world know, not about Christmas, but about Easter. If it weren’t for Easter, and the events leading up to that point, there would mean nothing. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “But we preach Christ crucified,” not “We preach Christ born in a barn.” The next seven days are the most important days to the Christian. It all started as Jesus was headed to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. This is where our passage picks up today.
Turn with me to Mark 11.
Read Mark 11:1-11.
The first question that comes to mind is “What is all the hullabaloo about?”
This occurs as thousands of people are coming to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. People are, in a sense, going home for the holidays. I remember that old Christmas song, “From Atlantic to Pacific, oh the traffic is terrific.” Traffic was the name of the game on the roads leading into Jerusalem.
When we went to Florida for Christmas, the traffic was terrific. All through South Carolina and into Georgia, it was nearly bumper-to-bumper. People were scrambling to get to family or friends for the holidays. Traffic did lighten up some when we passed the exit that took travelers to Disney World. It was almost impossible to find a parking space at gas stations and rest areas. It’s against that sort of backdrop that this happens.
Jesus tells his disciples to go into a town and get him a colt, which was a young donkey. I have always been told that this was evidence of Jesus’ supernatural understanding and foresight. It is possible that he had made arrangements beforehand, on a previous trip to the area. Jesus knew, throughout his earthly ministry, what he was going to do. Either way, Jesus knew what he was doing, and what was going to happen in the week ahead. The disciples obediently went into the town and retrieved the animal.
To this mass of people walking to Jerusalem, the sight of someone riding, would stick out. It’s kind of like when we see a limo cruising down the street. It’s an instant attention grabber. It says, “Hey, there is something unusual about this person.” Everyone is walking, and all of sudden there is a head bobbing up and down above the rest of the crowd. Attention is immediately focused on Jesus.
Jesus had developed a reputation as a great prophet and miracle worker. There was also a high level of expectancy about a conquering hero who would come and remove the Roman government from the land of Israel. People put 2 and 2 together, and they decided that Jesus was this conqueror.
They gave him a royal welcome. It was customary that when a king would arrive in a town for the people to spread their outer garments on the road as a sign of respect for the great hero. They would also lay leafy branches on the road. They knew that Jesus was their conquering hero.