Lent is meant to prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Easter, as we trace the steps our Savior took to the cross. The Bible, and these passages especially, gives and shows us Jesus. As we read these passages, the circumstances and scenes may seem very foreign to us, with all the mentions of cloaks, colts, etc. Yet our 2016 world bears some similarities to the New Testament world of the Bible. We live in a world of refugee crisis due to oppressive regimes and crimes abound in our society. We are not that far off from the life of the NT Jews in Mark. They too, live under the oppressive Roman rule, and are distressed and insecure. This is the world that Jesus entered.
(A) A king with power (v.1-3)
In this passage, Jesus stops just short of entering Jerusalem (v.1) , and sends out 2 of his disciples. But why? Jesus is actually staging the next scene. He is one who is fully in control and knows the itinerary! Notice also how they are sent in pairs. In Deut 19:15, the Levitical law has established that two or three people are needed for legal testimony, to ensure that a witness is present.
What did Jesus command the two to do in verses 3 to 4? Sometimes we can get so used to the Bible that we miss out on the ‘strangeness’ of the text. There is something odd about His instruction. In essence, Jesus tells them to steal and remove the colt that they find. He doesn't tell them to inquire of the master and request permission for the colt. His instruction is highly specific - they are told that they will find a donkey at the first house they encounter. Here, Jesus is being presented as one of 2 things. If he is just a human, he has some strange prophetic power and actually tells his followers to steal. If not, he is actually laying claim to something that is actually His. In verse 3, he actually tells them how to deal with it if someone asks them.
We learn something about the power of Jesus here. Jesus could predict the future with incredible foreknowledge. He seems to know where this donkey would lie, and even knows the donkey and its history! He is the Lord (Adonai), who has authority over a realm. Don't forget who He is in the society. This is the son of a carpenter, who was offered at 8 days with 2 pigeons because His family was too poor. He was not born of noble heritage, and certainly had no earthly riches or status or lands. Mark has been repeatedly trying to show us how Jesus has power over this world, one thing after another. He is helping us to think about what He actually Lord over when we call Him Lord. Jesus has power over:
- unclean spirits (Mk 1:27-28)
- forgiving sins Mk 2:10-12
- religious ritual (Sabbath) Mk 2:27
- nature Mk 4:39-41
- legions of demons Mk 5:9-13
- death Mk 5:35-42
- spirits (through disciples) Mk 6:7
- physical limits (food for 5000) Mk 6:39-44
- the storm and fear Mk 6:48-51
- mute and deaf spirits Mk 9:25-29
- blindness Mk 10:48-52
When we say that Jesus has power over this and that, He has real power. Mark is just showing that there is nothing more powerful than Jesus Christ. Do you struggle with fear? We all do. But the way to deal with fear is not just to numb ourselves to it. Our bodies are wired to react to threats, and fear is part of our self-preservation mechanism. Hence, the way we feel is an emotional response to an ontological reality. The way to deal with fear is to remind ourselves of the larger spiritual reality. Who is really in charge? Mark is telling us to deal with fears by looking at who Jesus is, then looking back at our fears. When we've experienced the reality of Jesus through the Spirit, our fears shrink and fade away.
(B) A king with humility (v.5-7)
The disciples obeyed Jesus and found the colt as Jesus told them (v.4). Imagine what it feels like, to hear Jesus tell you what's going to happen, and have that confirmed. This, too, is how Jesus built and grew their faith. In the same way, our faith can't grow unless we obey and act on His word. We need to hear His words and act based on what He says, to take Him at His Word. We cannot just sit there passively. This is also why there were 2 of them, so they could confirm and encourage each other even.
The disciples were to bring the colt so that Jesus could sit on it. Jesus is doing so much more than just showing off. He is showing that when He comes, He is not just any king. There were other people who tried to prove that they were the Messiah, but none of them came riding on a donkey. This was one who was humble and lowly. Aren't we used to thinking of Jesus our Rescuer as one who comes riding on a horse, rushing to us in power? Instead, Mark shows us a Savior that is different from what we imagine. His power is also coupled with His great humility, and a colt is not too lowly for Him. This donkey is a symbol of the cross for us. We want our King to show us power on a throne, but He comes on a confusing donkey. He shows His character and who He is in unexpected ways. He calls and associates the foolish and humble things of the world. He chooses the foolish and the weak to shame the wise. He chooses the donkey instead of a chariot, death instead of life. He wants us to be humble like Him.
(C) A king divine (v.8-11)
On one hand, we say that Jesus is incredibly humble. On the other hand He is also being praised and ok with it. In fact, we could even say that He was staging His own entry. What does this contradiction mean? There is an inherent authority and dignity of the office. Yes, Jesus is humble, but He is also not like us.
The crowds responded in a great show of worship and erupted in a spontaneous coronation. This picked up on OT images in 2 Kings 9:12-13, and Jer 23:5-6, and they conveyed the joy and worship in Ps 118:19-27 on the day that the Lord is doing something special! He is saving them and this is the king with a sacrifice. He is the sacrifice.
The whole point of Jesus' triumphal entry is to fulfill prophecy. Jesus tried to enter as David's greater Son. He did not merely stop at the gate, but also entered the temple (v.11). So often we stop at verse 10, at the account of the people welcoming Him in, and we forget to read verse 11, where we are told that He spent so much time walking through the temple, it was late. What do you think He thought about as He entered the temple and saw the courts for the Gentiles who could not enter, and saw the Jews with their sacrifices? Perhaps he felt the sin of the world. He entered Jerusalem knowing the burden and sins of the world. He knew what lay ahead of Him, and how there comes a day on the cross when He needs to stand between God and Man.
Mark 11 presents to us our Divine King who came not in pomp and circumstance, but came as our festal sacrifice. As we begin this series in Lent, consider, who is this King? Do you feel far off, and not part of the crowd that worshipped Him? Lent is a good time to come and confess that He is not just a distant King but your King and your personal sacrifice. May the words of this prayer of confession by John Baillie be yours too, as you meditate on the text and who this King is to you:
“O merciful Father, who look down on the weaknesses of your children more in pity than in anger, and in more love than in pity, let me now in your holy presence look into the secrets of my heart.
Have I today worked to fulfil the purpose for which You allowed me to be born?
Have I accepted the opportunities of service as You have in wisdom, have set before my feet?
Have I performed without omission the plain duties of the day?
Give me grace to answer honestly, O God.
Have I today done anything to tarnish my Christian ideal of manhood?
Have I been lazy in body of languid in spirit?
Have I wrongfully indulged my bodily appetites?
Have I kept my imagination pure and healthy?
Have I been scrupulously honourable in all my business dealings?
Have I been transparently sincere in all I have professed to be, to feel, or to do?
Give me grace to answer honestly, O God.
Have I tried today to see myself as others see me?
Have I made more excuses for myself than I have been willing to make for others?
Have I in my own home, been a peacemaker or have I stirred up strife?
Have I, while professing noble sentiments for great causes and distant objects, failed even in common charity and courtesy towards those nearest to me?
Give me grace to answer honestly, O God.
O God whose infinite love, made manifest in Jesus Christ, you alone have power to destroy the empire of evil in my soul, grant that with each day that passes I may more and more be delivered from my besetting sins.