Follow the Leader
How many of you ever been to the Lilac Festival Parade? It’s a big deal—this year’s parade is May 15, and the organizers anticipate as many as 160,000 spectators! Besides the thousands of spectators, there are thousands of people in the parade; there are dozens of floats and marching bands and antique cars and riders on horses and military units and of course, the dignitaries, especially the royalty, the Lilac queen and her court. It’s huge! And what’s really amazing is that every year, this thing just happens! No, you all know that a parade like that requires 12 months of planning—I checked the website and there are 9 committees that work year round to pull off the parade!
Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. It’s called Palm Sunday because on this Sunday, Jesus staged a parade. He rode into Jerusalem with crowds of people cheering and shouting, waving palm branches and laying their coats in the road—a way of “rolling out the red carpet”. Here’s the thing: the parade was planned. Who planned it? Jesus. After months of avoiding publicity, Jesus staged a parade. What was He up to? We’ll see today.
Offering and announcements:
Conspiracy of Hope.
We’re going to mix things up today: I’m going to give the talk first, and then we’ll worship. I think it will be obvious why at the end!
We’re walking through the gospel of Mark, but I’m jumping way ahead today, skipping from chapter 4 all the way up to chapter 11. It’s Palm Sunday, and I thought it would be good to read the story of the first Palm Sunday, of Jesus’ triumphant entrance to Jerusalem that marked the start of the Passion Week that ended with His death on Friday, and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
As I’ve already said, it was a planned event, orchestrated by Jesus to make a point. What’s the point? Let’s read the story and talk about it.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, 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. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
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.
Let’s walk through the story and join the parade, and then throw one of our own.
1. The preparation: Jesus has a plan. 1-7
It’s Passover time, and thousands of pilgrims are flocking to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Jesus and His disciples are among the pilgrims arriving from the east, via Jericho, where Jesus has recently healed blind Bartimaeus. They are staying in Bethany, most likely with Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus has recently raised from the dead. It is possible that both Bartimaeus and Lazarus were with Jesus on their way into Jerusalem—just that would cause quite a stir! If it were the Lilac Parade, Lazarus and Bartimaeus would have their own floats…or at least really cool convertibles!
As they approached Jerusalem, Jesus stops and sends two of the disciples into a nearby village to fetch a colt, a young donkey which no one had ever ridden. They were to bring it to Jesus. And if anyone questioned them, they were simply to say, “The Lord needs it and will return it soon.”
Meanwhile, Jesus and the others waited. What do you think they did while they waited? They wondered! “What’s going on? What’s with the donkey? We’ve walked everywhere for three years?” Obviously, Jesus was up to something, and had been for awhile.
The two disciples got to the village and found the donkey just as Jesus said, and when the owners asked why they were taking it, they answered exactly as Jesus said: “The Lord needs it and will return it soon.”
This was either an example of Jesus knowing everything—divine foreknowledge—or Jesus had planned this out ahead of time. I think this whole event was carefully planned by Jesus to make a statement. Everything about it—every detail—was designed to announce that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the savior sent by God. But, as we’ll see, it was also carefully orchestrated to show that He is not what they were expecting the Messiah to be.
So as we walk through the story, I want to pay attention to the meaning of the details. The first one is what He told the disciples to say to the donkey’s owner.
- “The Lord needs it.”
Two guys show up and take your donkey. “What are you doing?” you ask. “The Lord needs it,” they say. Ok.
ILL: A few years ago, Jim Caviezel was in town visiting his friend (and mine) Brad Damon. Jim, as most of you know, played Jesus in the movie, The Passion of the Christ. Jim and Brad wanted to go on a motorcycle ride, but of course, Jim didn’t have a bike here. So Brad called me; I was out of town. “Hey Joe, Jim Caviezel is here with me and we were wondering if he could borrow your bike so the two of us can go on a ride?” What am I going to say—Jesus wants to ride my bike!
The Lord needs it!
The word “Lord” can be used of God, but it could also be used like we use the word “sir”, as a title of respect. Here, Jesus uses it of Himself; and in the context, He seems to use it with divine authority. “The Lord needs it.” He exercises divine authority to commandeer someone’s property. “God needs this; He’ll return it soon.” Ok. He could have said, “Jesus needs it,” or “the rabbi needs it;” but He said, “The Lord needs it.” This is significant.
The earliest and simplest confession of the first Christians was “Jesus is Lord.” Those simple words acknowledge Jesus’ deity—Jesus is God—and His authority over our lives. Jesus is my Lord, my Leader, my God. I not only worship Him, I follow Him, I serve Him, and I do His will. If Jesus says, “The Lord needs that,” I say, “Ok.” To call Him Lord means we are ready to do what He says.
Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
If you’re going to call Him Lord, then you must be ready to do what He wants. And if there is ever anything He wants, the answer is, “Yes Lord, to anything, anytime, anywhere.” This is what it means to say “Jesus is Lord”. This is what it means to be a Christian. “Yes Lord to anything, anytime, anywhere.”
The Lord needs it. Jesus is Lord; He can commandeer us or our stuff whenever He needs it.
ILL: Last week, I received a mailer from World Vision asking for money for Haiti. I took one look at it and was about to toss it unopened when I felt this little nudge in my conscience. “Lord,” I explained, “I’ve already donated to Haiti…and to five kids I sponsor…and to hunger in northern Africa last month. But if You want, I’ll look at it.”
I sat it unopened on my desk with the bills, and a couple days later, when I paid the bills, I opened it, read it and was about to toss it again when I felt this little nudge in my conscience. “Lord, I’ve already given to help out in Haiti…” but the nudge didn’t go away, so I sat it to one side while I finished the bills.
Finally, I picked it up again and thought, “What do you want me to do, Lord?” I knew instantly and with real peace and joy, I wrote a check.
The Lord needs it. I don’t want you to think too highly of me; I don’t that every time. But I want to; I wish I did. This is what Christians do—they say, “Yes Lord to anything, anytime, anywhere.”
“The Lord needs it.” Jesus is Lord.
There’s another clue…it’s the donkey.
- The meaning of the donkey.
There are three things about this donkey you should know.
First, the donkey was unbroken; it had never been ridden by anyone before. In the Old Testament, when something was to be used for God’s purposes, it was always to be something new, something that had not been used for ordinary purposes. This is true in several places of animals—for example, they used cows that had never been yoked to pull a new unused cart to carry the ark. By using an unbroken colt, Jesus was indicating that animal was being used for God’s purposes. Something sacred was about to happen.
Second, and most important, Jesus uses the donkey to intentionally fulfill Zechariah’s ancient prophecy.
Zechariah 9:9 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.
This was a prophetic act. In the tradition of the great prophets before Him, Jesus acted out His meaning.
- Jeremiah wore a linen belt, buried it and dug it up—it was ruined, useless. He did this to show that God had bound Israel to Himself like a belt, but they had ruined themselves and become useless.
- Isaiah walked around naked for three years to show that the Egyptians and Cushites would be taken naked into captivity. That’s a serious prophecy!
This was that kind of prophetic act. Jesus was very intentional about picking this animal and fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy. While many Jews would have missed the significance of this, many others knew this verse and would have understood clearly that Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy about the Messiah, and was claiming to be King. But notice what kind of King He is: righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.
Third, when a king came in war, he rode a horse; when he came in peace, he rode a donkey. The Israelites were familiar with the Roman legions led by commanders mounted on war horses. They had heard of the victory parades of the Caesars in Rome—Caesar mounted on a war horse leading a vast army followed by his vanquished foes in chains. But King Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, not on a war horse. He came on a mission of peace, to make peace with God for us, and to help us make peace with each other. He is the Prince of Peace, not the Lord of War.
This would have been a disappointment to many who expected the Messiah to be a military and political savior who would drive out the Roman oppressors. They wanted a Messiah who would make war, not peace. But Jesus came to rule by love, not force; to conquer our hearts by His sacrificial death. I wonder sometimes if we are guilty of squeezing Jesus into our preconceived ideas of what God should be and do. We need to take Jesus as He is, not as we want Him to be.
The donkey meant a lot—Jesus was making a statement: the Messiah has come. One more thought about the donkey…
ILL: Joseph Bayly wrote this delightful poem in Psalms of My Life.
King Jesus, why did you choose a lowly ass to carry you to ride in your parade?
Had you no friend who owned a horse–a royal mount with spirit for a king to ride?
Why choose an ass, small, unassuming beast of burden trained to plow not carry kings?
King Jesus, why did you choose me, a lowly unimportant person to bear you in my world today?
I’m poor and unimportant, trained to work not carry kings–let alone the King of kings, and yet you’ve chosen me to carry you in triumph in this world’s parade.
King Jesus, keep me small so all may see how great you are; keep me humble, so all may say,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” not what a great ass he rides.
Jesus plans this parade and then makes His entrance.
2. The entrance: Jesus receives their praises. 8-10
The atmosphere in Jerusalem would have been charged with anticipation and excitement. Thousands of people crowded into Jerusalem each year for the Passover, and this year the crowds would have been buzzing with talk about Jesus.
“Have you seen Lazarus, the guy He raised from dead?”
“No, but I’ve seen that blind guy from Jericho that He healed!”
“I heard it was two blind guys.”
“Do you think he’s the one? Do you think he’s the Messiah?”
For three years, Jesus has been teaching that God’s Kingdom has arrived, healing the sick, freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry, and even raising the dead. Huge crowds gather when he makes a public appearance, and many have started to think he might be the messiah. Of course, others think that he’s crazy or evil, and the establishment thinks he’s just plain dangerous. Jerusalem was buzzing; everyone was talking about Jesus.
In that atmosphere, Jesus comes riding in on this donkey; it was a deliberate fulfillment of prophecy, a calculated statement that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. And the people respond accordingly, giving Him a royal welcome, fit for a king, with cloaks and palm branches spread on the ground, and praises being shouted. Jesus rides in to town to hosannas and shouts of praise that He deserved, even if the people giving them didn’t know it.
- The meaning of hosanna: “Lord, save us!”
We sing some songs that use the word “hosanna”. Do you know what it means? Because I love it when I sing songs I don’t understand! Hosanna is the Greek form of a Hebrew word that means “save us!” It was originally a prayer: “Lord, save us.” Some Bible scholars retain that as the primary meaning here—the people were shouting, “Lord, save us!” Others say that “hosanna” became a word of praise, perhaps meaning, “You save us!”
Either way, this word shows that the crowd believed Jesus was the long-awaited savior, their messiah. They were expecting political salvation; they expected Jesus to drive out the Roman invaders and become their king and make Israel a great nation again. The messiah was the son of David, descended from David and Solomon, Israel’s greatest kings, the leaders of the Golden Age of Israel. The messiah would restore that greatness, and make them a free and prosperous nation again.
ILL: You can understand their longing and anticipation. Imagine the citizens of occupied Europe as the Nazis retreated and the Allies advanced, liberating their cities and nations. When the Allies rolled into town, they were often greeted like Jesus was here, with shouts of joy; but instead of waving palm branches, people waved American and British flags. Picture.
The Jews of Jesus’ day felt like the people of occupied Europe, and they saw Jesus as their liberator.
And they were right…sort of. Jesus is the savior! He did come to save them—not from the Romans, but from themselves, from their sin. Jesus is the King, but a much bigger King than they imagined. He is not just the king of the state of Israel, but the King in the Kingdom of God. He came to bring God’s rule to a broken world, so that God’s will would be done on earth just as it is in heaven. Jesus came to save us from ourselves and bring us back to God. This was not what they bargained for.
ILL: I’ve had something similar happen when someone comes for advice about their marriage. They tell me how terrible their spouse is and hope that I’ll agree that their spouse is the problem. Then I start asking questions about their behavior. “Wait a minute,” they say, “that’s not why I’m here. I’m not the problem. You need to fix him/her.” They were disappointed.
This is precisely what Jesus did. They expected Him to “fix” the Romans, but He wanted to fix them! Jesus is your savior—but He’s not come to save you from your problems, your enemies, your spouse, your kids, your job, your boss or me. He’s come to save you from yourself, from your sin—He’s come to change you. The revolution starts with you!
They expected Him to “fix” the Romans, but He wanted to fix them! Which is why…
- Jesus goes straight to the temple. 11
Where would you expect the new King to go? To the palace. To the seat of political power. But Jesus goes to the temple, to the center of spiritual life. Mark tells us that Jesus went straight to temple, looked around and went home for the night. And there is no mention of a crowd. I think it may have happened like this:
The crowd is charged and at a fever pitch. “Hosanna! The king is here to save us.” As Jesus enters the city, the crowd falls in behind Him, expecting him to go to the palace and start the revolution. Maybe they’re chanting “down with Rome” or “Jesus rocks!” Then Jesus stops at the temple. What’s going on? The crowd mills around restlessly. They wonder: maybe he is paying his respects to God before he beats the crap out of the Romans. But he stops there—he stops—end of journey—it’s obvious he’s not going on. What’s he saying? “The revolution starts here—in your heart—with God.” The crowd begins to grumble, and starts to melt away, disappointed and angry. This is not what they expected. And by the end of the week, this crowd who had cheered his arrival would be replaced by another who cried, “Crucify Him!”
It was a short-lived welcome.
We can learn something from this.
“Lord, save us.” It’s a good prayer. They meant, Lord save us from the Romans. Jesus had something else in mind. I have learned that I can do the same thing—I can have a different plan than Jesus.
- “Lord, save me. Fix my wife!” And Jesus wants to fix me.
- “Lord, save me. Change my kids!” Or my boss. Or my friend. And Jesus wants to change me.
- “Lord save me. Save me from trouble, make me happy, and healthy, and rich!” And Jesus wants to save me from me.
“Lord, save us!” Hosanna! It’s a prayer that we need to pray all the time, because we’re constantly in need of Jesus’ saving work. Salvation isn’t just an event, but a process that happens to us over our lifetime. You don’t accept Jesus and arrive suddenly at perfection. I am continually being converted, changed, and made more like Jesus. I am a work in progress, so I still pray, “Hosanna! Lord, save me.” This is a great prayer—Lord, save me—I hope you’ll pray it often!
One last thing:
- Don’t let the rocks cry out! Luke 19:39-40
I said that Jesus receives their praises, and when He does, the Jewish religious leaders object. Luke tells us:
Luke 19:39-40 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
They obviously thought that these praises and prayers being given to Jesus were inappropriate. “Rebuke your disciples. Stop them!” Instead, Jesus said, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Jesus was so deserving of praise that if those who should give it didn’t, inanimate creation would begin to cry out His praise! The Creator was among them; if animate and intelligent creation refused to praise Him, the inanimate would cry out.
ILL: Have you ever been so excited about something that you just couldn’t keep it in? You had to let it out?
Today, our new grandsons, Stejer and Zealand, get home. We’re meeting them at the airport later this afternoon. Zac and Amy had their embassy appointment in Ethiopia on Thursday, but found out that they were missing one piece of paperwork that was sent from Washington D.C. but never arrived in Ethiopia. They made some frantic last minute calls, and on Friday morning the paperwork arrived, they were passed, and all four of them are in the air on their way home. Woohoo! I can hardly wait to meet my boys!
Thursday night, Laina had trouble sleeping; she woke up every hour and prayed the paperwork would come through. At 6:30 Friday morning, we checked our email, and there was the news from Amy that they had passed. Laina immediately started calling people—at 6:30 in the morning! She couldn’t wait! She couldn’t hold it in! She was bouncing off the walls.
Sometimes, you just have to let it out!
The Creator of the Universe rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and people rolled out the red carpet and shouted His praise—as they should have! And if they hadn’t, the rocks would have cried out. “He’s here! He’s here!”
He’s here today. Don’t let the rocks cry out! Let’s give Jesus the praise He deserves. Let’s throw Jesus a parade and give Him praise that He deserves—praise that comes from hearts that love Him as He really is, not just as we want Him to be.
Here’s a thought to take with you.
ILL: Ann Weems, in her book, Kneeling in Jerusalem, captures the spirit of this monumental entry into Jerusalem in a poem entitled “Between Parades”:
“We’re good at planning! Give us a task force and a project and we’re off and running! No trouble at all! Going to the village and finding the colt, even negotiating with the owners is right down our alley. And how we love a parade! In a frenzy of celebration we gladly focus on Jesus and generously throw down our coats and palms in his path. And we can shout praise loudly enough to make a Pharisee complain. It’s all so good, the parade! It’s between parades that we don’t do so well. We don’t do so well from Sunday to Sunday. For we forget our hosannas between parades. The stones will have to shout because we won’t.”
Don’t forget your hosannas between parades! Have a great week and we’ll see you to celebrate the resurrection!