>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, April 5, 2009.  The text for this week’s message is Mark 11:1-11.

It is time.  Today begins the biggest and most important week in the Christian year.  Today is the day that we look at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, which is the first of a series of events ultimately culminating in his death by the end of the week.  We begin the week with what the headings in your Bible most likely call the Triumphal Entry.  Jesus enters into Jerusalem riding a donkey with all sorts of fanfare, and people throwing palm branches and their very cloaks on the ground before him.  But by the end of the week, he walks out of Jerusalem carrying a cross. 
It’s very easy for us to forget about the events of Holy Week.  We have a big celebration on Palm Sunday, and we have an even bigger one on Easter.  And we may miss out on the rest of the week.  I don’t want to guilt anybody into coming to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services, but I also don’t want anybody to forget about them either.  If we lose sight of the events that occur during this week of the Christian year, we risk watering down the story, and it’s our story.  It’s the story that keeps us coming back week after week, and we need to know it – even the parts that don’t seem to be very celebratory.
Mark begins this section of his gospel by telling us that Jesus and his disciples draw near to Jerusalem by way of Bethpage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives.  Bethpage was a small village just east of Jerusalem, about a mile or so across the Kidron Valley and on the southern slope of the Mount of Olives.  In fact, from the Mount of Olives, one could see the Temple area.  It is thought that this is where Jesus and his disciples stayed during the Passover week with their friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. 
During the time of the Passover, Jerusalem would have been a very busy place.  Some have estimated Jerusalem’s population at around 80,000 during the majority of the year, but during Passover and a couple other festivals, the pilgrims could have brought the number of people in Jerusalem to between 100,000 and 250,000, depending on what source you look at.  Obviously there would have been some serious overflow, and several thousands would have stayed in the villages that surrounded Jerusalem.  It’s not surprising, therefore, that Jesus and his disciples are actually staying outside the city in one of these small villages.
Jesus tells two of the disciples to go into the village ahead of them where they will find a colt that has never been ridden.  According to some of my research this week, a colt is the male offspring of a donkey that is less than a year old.  So, this is a young animal that had never been ridden, which symbolizes a sense of purity or innocence in the animal.  There are a couple places in the Old Testament laws that refer to using an animal that had never been yoked as part of an atonement ritual.  I seriously doubt that this is a coincidence: Jesus, who will be an atonement for all, rides into town on an animal that symbolizes purity and innocence.  But that is not the only layer of meaning here.
In riding the young donkey, Jesus is also consciously fulfilling another prophecy of the Old Testament.  In Zechariah 9:9, the prophets writes, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Over time, this prophecy was understood to have Messianic implications.  The Messiah would come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  In ancient times, a king riding into a city on a donkey was a sign of peace.  In this simple act of riding a donkey, Jesus is bringing attention to his purity, innocence, peace and role as the Messiah.  And the people didn’t fail to recognize it either.
Verse 8 says that they laid their cloaks down on the road and others had cut leafy branches from the fields and laid them on the road as well.  I have a very strong feeling that it wasn’t because it was muddy and they were looking out for the colt.  This is a good place in Scripture to be famililar with the Old Testament, or at least have a good study Bible and some time on your hands.
2 Kings 9 tells the story of the anointing of Jehu.  Elisha the prophet sends a messenger to Jehu in order to anoint him as the new king of Israel.  The messenger anoints Jehu and hightails it out of there, at which point, the servants of Israels king want to know what is going on.  Jehu tells them that the messenger just anointed him king over Israel, and immediately, they throw their garments on the ground before him.  They, very eagerly, recognize his kingship.  Jehu goes on to wipe out the household of Ahab and his wife Jezebel, who were among the worst rulers in the history of Israel.
The palm branches would be reminiscent of a story from the intertestamental period, which is the time between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.  This particular story has to do with the Maccabeans.  By the second century B.C., Judea was ruled by the Greeks, known as the Seleucid Empire.  Antiochus, the Greek ruler, issued decrees that outlawed Jewish religious practices.  The Jewish priest Mattathias began the uprising by killing someone who had come to the Temple to offer sacrifices to a pagan god.  
Mattathias’ son Judah Maccabee led an army of Jews against the Seleucids, and eventually they won their freedom.  Simon, the youngest Maccabee, was granted peace throughout the land and he then proceeded to clear out the temple from all idolatry that had been set up in it.  Upon hearing the news that there was now peace, Simon returned to Jerusalem, with his soldiers waving palm branches, which was a symbol of military victory.  The palm branch later became a national symbol of Israel.  In laying out their garments and spreading the palm branches on the road, the Jewish people were recognizing Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah-king.
There’s one last part of the Triumphal Entry that I want to look at here.  Mark writes that there were people going before Jesus shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9b-10).  Look at what they are saying here.  “Hosanna” in Hebrew means, “save” or “please save.”  Where it says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” it is referring to Psalm 118, which was a psalm that looked to the coming messianic kingdom.  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.”  Basically what they are saying is, “This is the guy!  It’s our time!  Jesus is going to reinstate the Davidic kingdom!  Bye bye, Rome!”  
They aren’t looking for a new spiritual life.  They have no idea what is going to happen.  They think Jesus has come to reinstate the golden age of the nation of Israel.  They have no clue why he is there.  They think they do, but they’re wrong.  Jesus didn’t come to reestablish Jewish political dominance in Judea.  I honestly think that Jesus didn’t care in the least bit about the Jewish desire to rule what once belonged to David and the Israelite people.  That wasn’t his purpose.  
Jesus came to declare a victory, but it wasn’t the type of victory that would pass over time.  It is the type of victory that is not short-lived and is never taken away.  It’s an eternal victory – victory over sin and death.  Jesus came to defeat an enemy, but it wasn’t the Romans; it was Satan.  Jesus came to show that it was the Lord who had the final word and ultimate authority on all things in this life.  In the events that occurred during this Passover week in Jerusalem, some 2000 years ago, the barriers that existed between God and humanity were removed.  Jesus took on himself all the sins of the world so that the world can be forgiven.  That is victory.  No longer living in fear of messing up, but living in daily relationship with God.  That is victory.
The expectations and agendas of the Jewish people in this part of Mark’s gospel fall far short of the reality of what is truly going on during this week.  Do you remember what Jesus said to Peter when Peter pulled him aside?  It’s in Mark 8.  Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Jesus could have just as easily said that to the crowd at this point as well.  The people in the crowd were selling themselves short, and they didn’t even know it.  They were more concerned with the “here and now” than the things of God.  And this is where it starts to hit home for us as well.
We all have expectations and agendas.  There nothing particularly wrong with them, but the question we have to be honest with ourselves and ask the questions.  Where are we setting our minds?  Where are our hearts in all of this?  Are we a part of the crowd; shouting out the praises of Jesus, but not really knowing what’s going on all around us?  I think, in all fairness, there are times that we are.  We don’t need to beat ourselves up about it, but we do need recognize when we are doing it.  It doesn’t mean we are horrible sinners, it just means that we still have a lot of room for growth.  It means that there are still places in our lives that we haven’t given over full control to Jesus.  It means that we are still trying to figure out what it means to live in this world, while our citizenship is in God’s kingdom.
Dream with me for a minute here.  What if everything that we did as a congregation was geared towards making disciples?  And I mean everything, not just the business of the church.  What would it look like for us to live our lives every single day reaching out to others, sharing the gospel, and growing in our faith?  What would that take?  It’s definitely going to take commitment.  It’s going to mean that things may get messy.
Do you know what Jesus did during the first few days of this Passover week?  He was teaching in the Temple.  And some of the things that he was teaching was starting to rub people the wrong way.  Marks tells us that after he entered Jerusalem, he looked around and headed back to Bethany to stay the night.  The next day, the first thing Jesus does once he gets into Jerusalem is clear the Temple.  He walks in and sees all these moneychangers and people selling things for the sacrfices, and he can’t take it any more.  He knocks over the tables and drives out some of the animals.  Then he lets the people have it.  The Temple wasn’t there for their personal benefit.  The Temple was there so that all people could come and worship God.  It was messy.  Clearly, Jesus was not happy about what was going on, and he let them know about it.  We need to allow Jesus to do this in our lives.  We need to honestly evaluate what needs to be disrupted, and we need to listen to Jesus.  We need to learn from him.
The people gathered around at the Triumphal Entry thinking that they were on the ground level of the reestablishment of the Davidic kingdom.  They were all kinds of excited about the possibilities that awaited them.  And then they started listening to Jesus, and they weren’t as excited.  In fact, after Jesus clears the Temple, its says that the chief priests and scribes heard what he had to say and began to look for a way to destroy him.  Where did all the fanfare go?  The day before, the people were shouting, “Hosanna!”  And now, they were looking for a way to get him out of the picture.  Jesus disrupted their way of life.  And that is what happens when we begin to listen to his teaching.
Now some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute!  Wasn’t it the Pharisees and scribes who went after Jesus?”  Yes, but it was the crowds at the end of the week who were shouting, “Crucify him!”  Probably some of the very same people that were cheering for him at the beginning of the week.  Jesus’ teaching has a way of causing us to look at things that we would much rather ignore.
So, while we celebrate his coming today, the question that we really have to ask ourselves is, “What will we be saying at the end of the week?”  When we start to listen to what Jesus has to say to us.  When we start looking into those parts of our lives that we don’t want Jesus to touch, what will our response be?  Will we still be crying out, “Hosanna!” because that will take on a whole different meaning by the time Friday rolls around.  Or are we going to be among the people that shout, “Crucify him!”?
None of us actually want to admit that we would be calling for his crucifixion because that would just be horrible.  But the truth is, we do it every day when we fail to listen to what he has to say to us.  When we make the decision to put our agendas first, we are shouting out, “Crucify him!”
So, take some time out of the week over the next few days.  Read the stories about Jesus’ last week.  Look at his teachings starting in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19 and John 12.  That’s where you’ll find the stories of the Triumphal Entry in each gospel.  The teachings that follow are what Jesus taught in the Temple that week.  But don’t stop there.  Read the chapters before them as well.  Maybe it’s best to just read through one of the gospels this week – whatever works best for you.  You might be surprised about what Jesus has to say to you this week.  You may find an area in your life where you’ll have to make the decision to shout, “Hosanna!” or “Crucify him!”