We are going back to Mark’s Gospel and chapter 11 verses 1-11. This is the famous ride of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Usually, you would hear this sort of passage on Palm Sunday but we are going back to Mark every now and again and walking away through the whole book, and this is where we have come to today. And there are two things I want to say as we think about the passage.
One is that I have given the talk the title of “A Lonely Ride” because I want to show you that despite the fact that Jesus had such a big crowd around him, nobody was really with him – he was really on his own. And I wonder if you know this?
Sometimes when I’m talking to people who are going through very difficult circumstances, and I know that I cannot identify with what is being said, I find myself thinking and saying to them “there is nobody who will understand this except Jesus Christ. Not only will he understanding but he will be able to help you”.
The second thing as I read these verses about this walk into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday – is that everything is upside down. All the things that you think are impressive are not impressive, and all the things you think are unimpressive are very impressive as we will see.
I was reading this week that two students in Aberdeen UK went to a modern art show and took with them a £1 pineapple which they left on an empty stand at the modern art show and were delighted to get back a few days later to see that the pineapple had been given its own glass case and had been made part of the Art Show! Well that’s the world we live in, isn’t it? Suddenly things that are completely stupid become serious, and things that are serious become stupid.
I want to look with you at it under two headings;
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- The Lonely Ride
- A Loving Word
The Lonely Ride
Please give your attention to this because it will anchor you-you won’t be such a cork in the ocean if you understand what is going on here. Even blind Bartimaeus who we saw in the last bit of Mark worked out who Jesus was. He had no eyes until Jesus heals him, but he had heard, he has listened and he had worked out who Jesus was, and he began to follow him on the road and now we are on the road (chapter 11 verse 1) and the road goes to Jerusalem and Jerusalem is the point of Jesus’ mission. He wants to get to the city because that’s where he is going to be crucified.
We read back in chapter 10 verse 33 “we are going to Jerusalem where I will be handed over to die”. And even though the way that Jesus rides into Jerusalem is the way to his death and it should have registered with the disciples – they don’t register at all. They might have said ‘he is about to ride in on a donkey and it says in the first book of the Old Testament that somebody from the Tribe of Judah (and Jesus is from the Tribe of Judah) will eventually link donkey and death together’, but they don’t get it.
They might have said ‘almost the last book of the Old Testament, Zechariah says this;
“Rejoice, your king comes to you humble riding on a donkey.”
But they have obviously not been reading their Old Testament, and they don’t remember, they don’t register, and they don’t get what Jesus is doing. And even though we need the Word of God to understand the events which take place, nobody obviously remembers the Word of God in this context.
But blind Bartimaeus, he put one and one together, somebody is coming, call the King, call Son of David, Jesus is acting like this Son of David, he is the Son of David. He puts one and one together, but nobody here puts one and one together.
As we think about this Palm Sunday event, I know many of you if you went to church as a child and you ever went to a Palm Sunday service, you will associate it with certain hymns about coming into the Kingdom and Palm branches and waving palm branches. I remember it as a boy; nothing much else went into my head at all. There might have been palm branches – I might have been given little bits of palm leaves at the end of the service – I don’t remember, but I do remember thinking it must have been a day when everybody got very excited about Jesus, and there was lots of faith in Jesus and then strangely they all turned against him and started to call for his crucifixion. That’s the way I remember it.
I want to suggest to you that what is happening here is no faith at all. Everything is completely superficial. And I think I can prove it to you because all four Gospels record the coming of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all record it so it is a big event.
And this is what Matthew says in Matthew 21 – he finishes with this verdict from the crowd “Jesus is a Prophet”. And I am entirely sure that they have entirely missed the point. They don’t say ‘he is the King’ – they don’t say ‘he is the Messiah’ – he is just a Prophet.
Luke in his Gospel chapter 19 records the event and finishes with this verdict “Jesus wept and said to the people – ‘if only you had known what makes for peace, you did not recognise God’s coming to you’.
And John tells us in his Gospel chapter 12, and this is the final sentence “the disciples did not understand what Jesus was doing”.
And in Mark’s Gospel, you may have noticed that he records some things that they said but none of the things that they said connect to Jesus.
So I want to ask you to look with me at why this is such a lonely ride for Jesus, and it’s an important thing that it is a lonely ride because Jesus is doing a mission on his own which nobody else can do and as we look at these verses 9 & 10, some of you will say afterwards ‘gee it was so clever of our Minister to show us these things that we have never seen and where would we be with our great guide and guru Master? But I want you to know (perhaps none of you will say that), but there is always hope – what I want you to know is that I am saying anything that you couldn’t find yourself if you read the text and checked the references to what is being said. It’s all just there in the text.
First of all, notice if you look with me at chapter 11 verse 9, the people call out
“Hosanna!” and that word means “save.”
And it’s the sort of thing they often called out when they gathered or marched into Jerusalem. And it was a very general word calling out to God to save us, and it doesn’t say ‘from our sins’. It could be just save us from our Roman oppressors – it’s a general ‘O God, save us from our problems’ – there is nothing specific being said about Jesus.
Then in verse 9 “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Now you think that this is talking about Jesus, but if you go to the Psalm, it’s not talking about Jesus, it’s talking about the pilgrim who goes to Jerusalem. Blessed is the person who goes to Jerusalem, blessed is the person who goes to Jerusalem and ends up in the temple. It’s not about Jesus at all.
And then look at verse 10, “Blessed is the coming kingdom.” Well, that’s standard language for we look forward to things becoming better. There is no direct link to Jesus at all.
And the final sentence in verse 10, “Hosanna in the highest!”, Save us – save us
It’s vague, it’s general, it’s not explicitly related to Jesus, and it’s kinda empty. And so you see each of the Gospels in their own way is telling us Jesus was on a very lonely ride at Palm Sunday. The crowd didn’t understand it, not even the disciples understood him. They were just having standard Passover celebrations, no grasp that Jesus is the King at all.
Do you think it possible that people could be so in the dark?
Do you think it would be possible for people to be in a crowd saying things and singing things that are so orthodox but missing completely the person of Jesus Christ?
Do you think that would be possible?
Sadly it is.
Think about the funerals that take place in this building. There is a funeral (it could be a very sad funeral) everybody in the building is faced with this terrible departure, this great sadness and suddenly a hymn is sung, and they sing as well which explains that Jesus lived, died and rose. Somebody then reads part of the Bible, explaining that Jesus lived, died and rose and eventually somebody explains that Jesus lived, died and rose.
Then you go to the “Wake” afterwards or the morning or afternoon tea and then you discover that everybody standing around and is basically saying ‘It’s all in the past, there is no future or we hope there is something or we have no idea what it is”. Even though they have been singing and saying and listening, nothing has gone in.
We did have a nurse come to a funeral here once – sitting in one of the seats, and she had come because a lady had died at the age of 103 and the nurse sat there, and she listened to John 14 being read “In my Father’s house are many rooms” and she said ‘it’s Jesus’ and she put her faith in Jesus in the funeral service, and she has brought her daughter to faith in Jesus as well. But that’s so rare – so unusual.
Think about Christmas, people pile into Christmas Services, and the Carols are sung, things are said about Jesus – He is the King of Kings, He is the Saviour of the World, He is the Messiah, He gives second birth. We discover who he is and what he has come to do – sung, said, listened – nothing – nothing goes in.
Or think about a normal Church Service where people can sing the hymns, hear the reading, say the Creed – nothing goes in. It is possible (like the crowds on Palm Sunday) to be listening and saying but not getting it.
And if we look very carefully at Palm Sunday, I think we are meant to see that Jesus is alone and we are not meant to spare at that point as somebody said after the early service – “he is the key to our problem – because he is alone and the only answer to our problem, he is the answer to unbelief, and he is the answer to sin and he is the answer to our lostness – by the time he gets to Jerusalem and gets to the cross and does his work, the curtain of the Temple opens and people start to pour in.
One more little clue in Mark 11, I think that this crowd is not appreciating Jesus is in verse 11 where he actually gets to the Temple – that’s the meeting place where people meet God.
And Mark doesn’t tell us anything.
There is no red carpet laid out for him.
There are no people looking for him.
Nobody is talking to him.
He walks in and looks around
(In Mark’s Gospel that little phrase ‘looks around’ is always ominous)
When the Spirit says ‘he looks around’ he is looking for life, he is looking for faith and then (how many does he have with him when he leaves?) – 12, no big crowds.
Here perhaps is the loneliest ride in the universe and I want to say this to you especially because loneliness is such a big issue today. And I don’t mean ‘being alone’ – I love sometimes “to be alone” but to be lonely is a very different thing. It’s where you feel that nobody is really connecting or caring – that there is no guarantee if things get worse there will be somebody there for you. That’s a terrible feeling especially if you have lost a loved one and you just have a slight panic that you may be alone adrift.
Loneliness is a very big thing and as I have been travelling around the outback of Armidale and Tamworth and some of the country towns, you realise that people live hundreds of kilometres away from one another, and the churches are tiny little groups where the Pastors have long distances to meet with groups of 5, 6, 10, and there is a lot of loneliness out there.
But God has two great answers to loneliness.
- One is his Son who is able to bring you immediately to a heavenly Father so that you return to him and he runs down the road and embraces you.
- And the other partial answer to loneliness is God’s family
And although God’s family is made up of sinful people and imperfect people, it’s one of the ways God builds the bridges of relationships in this world, and we begin to show some care and kindness towards one another – never perfectly but in some way profitably.
A Loving Word
A Loving Word and it’s the first few verses of Mark chapter 11 which I found myself scratching my head again and saying – “what is this there for, why are we being told all this stuff about a donkey and it’s tied up and you are going to untie it? And somebody is going to say ‘why are you untying it?’ and you are going to say ‘well I am untying it because of this’ – what is this all about? Don’t you sometimes feel like calling out every now and again “I don’t get it?”
I was at a Conference in Melbourne, and the preacher was preaching to 2000/3000 people, and it was the subject “Love, Marriage and Sex”. And he was berating the slogan “Love, Sex and Marriage” because he said love, sex and marriage is so unhelpful because it implies that if you love someone you have sex, and you think about getting married.
And he said it ought to be “love, marriage and sex”. You love the person, you then think about marriage and then comes the sex – he said it’s so obvious – this is God’s sequence – love, marriage, sex – which part don’t you understand?
And a little 5-year-old who was sitting quite near to us just called out in a loud voice “the sex part!” And this poor guy who was hijacked completely as to whether to go down this track and explain the sex part to the five year old in the Conference. There is this little kid calling “I don’t get it”, and I just found myself looking at these verses of untying a donkey and thinking ‘what’s this all about?’
And here is the answer, my friend – Jesus is giving his disciples a reminder that he can be trusted and that his words can be trusted. And the reason I say this is because if you look at what he says – just look at chapter 11 verse 2 – he says to two disciples and remember they had forgotten the Old Testament, they don’t know what’s happening, they are not thinking, but he wants to help them, he says in verse 2 “go to the village ahead and you will see a donkey tied to a post”.
Implication – Jesus knows what’s in front, round the corner and in the future. This is a prediction about the future which is going to prove to be true in a matter of minutes – most of the promises in the Bible you have to wait a long time for the fulfilment. But this promise is going to be fulfilled in minutes, and therefore the disciples might have said to themselves – ‘he is amazing’.
Look at verse 2 again – he says ‘the donkey has never been ridden’ so my reaction would well don’t attempt to ride it! This is going to be a disaster! But Jesus is Lord of all, and so this is no problem.
Or look at verse 3 – “When somebody questions you and says why are you untying the donkey?” Jesus says “I want you to say this and everything will be fine.
And so they turn up, and they start untying the donkey, and the people say “Why are you untying the donkey?” and they say “………” and the owners of the donkey say “it’s all yours”.
In other words, nobody may be listening to the Word of God, but the donkey owners are listening to the Word of God. When they hear Jesus needs it – they say “it’s all yours” – they co-operate.
The fourth thing is that Jesus (verse 3) gives them the key to who he is. He says “The Lord needs it – The Lord needs it” I want you to know that Jesus hardly every threw the word “Lord” around as most of the time he called himself “The Son of Man”. Son of Man is one of those phrases like “Clarke Kent” which sort of means a lot if you are in the know, but it doesn’t mean anything if you are not. And Son of Man was a veiled way of saying “I am significant, but I am not making it too obvious”.
And here he says “The Lord needs it”. The word “Lord” is the word that was used to describe God. So finally as Jesus is entering Jerusalem, he says to two disciples “Go and speak to these people and tell them that God needs the donkey – Jesus needs the donkey”.
So these owners of the donkey get the point, but I wonder whether the disciples got the point – probably not. John tells us they didn’t get it even as he marched in on the donkey, they hadn’t listened to the Old Testament, and they were not listening to Jesus, and they didn’t get it, Jesus was on a lonely ride even though he had given them a loving word.
Now, this instruction is to cause the disciples and you and me to day to say something like this –
“Jesus Christ knows what is in front of us.
He is in charge of the future.
He controls the uncontrollable.
His words are to be listened to.
His words are to be trusted.
His words are to be obeyed.
He describes himself as “The Lord”.
We need to make a decision. What will our family do about Jesus Christ? This is the big question. Will we just say – he is a prophet? In which case we have missed the point.
Will we say – he is a good man and a religious leader? In which case we have missed the point. Or will we say – He is the Lord – and our family is going to be safe and sound and wise and well underneath the Lordship of Christ – that’s the decision, isn’t it?
I have been reading a book recently called “The Strange Death of Europe” by a man called Douglas Murray. He is not a Christian, and he says that Europe is dying because of two processes. One is that the whole world is moving around and moving in everywhere – so all the views are everywhere, and at the same time he says – Europe has thrown away its beliefs and its values and he specifically mentions the Christian Heritage.
He is not a Christian, and this is not a particularly revolutionary view of what’s happening in Europe but a lot of ideas have moved in all over the place, and the foundational ideas have been removed.
And then he says ‘this is why Europe is in no position to charter the course for anything. If it moves to make a contribution to Iraq or to Libya, it has no concept of the right way and therefore how can it charter the course for a country it is trying to influence – let alone itself?’
We see this in Mark chapter 11 so clearly – the words of men are empty – they are empty. Even the slogans – all these pious slogans are empty if you don’t see that Jesus Christ and his words are crucial. And not only are the words of men so empty but the words of Jesus are so powerful, so true, so safe and so foundational. Is it not true my friends that you and I are listening to thousands of words every day, most of which are completely useless in a week’s time? Just think of all the things that are being said today that will be a complete waste of space in a week. And the words of Jesus are utterly, utterly necessary – next week and the next week and the week after.
The deeds of men are so empty. All the religious actions, waving of branches and throwing of cloaks but there is no clue as to who Jesus is. But when you are lit up by the person of Jesus, suddenly everything begins to make sense.
The sun rises on your life.
You understand your future is under control.
You have got promises to stand on.
His deeds make your deeds worthwhile.
So Jesus is on a very lonely road, but he is on a lonely road for a reason – he’s the only one who understands his mission. He’s the only one who can do his mission, and within a week he is going to be completely alone – he will not even have the fellowship of the Father anymore. He will be on the cross – no fellowship with the Father……why? Because he is going to experience the darkness that our sins deserve in order to give us freely the salvation that he deserves.
And I want to ask you whether you are like the crowds? – A bit of a song, a bit of a listen but no change. Or whether you are hearing the words of God that Jesus is King and the Saviour and the key to the future and the Lord of your life and you need to surrender to him and trust him.
Let me tell you what Jesus Christ is like;
- He goes on a lonely road right to the end to make sure you have a certain future
- He gives a loving word to you – his promises to make sure you have a certain present right now.
Let’s thank him, let’s bow our heads. We thank you our gracious God for sending your Son into the world to make possible a certain future and to give to us a certain present.
We ask that you would give ears to hear to each one present, to each one listening that we might not be like those who are saying empty things but hearing deep and wonderful things, believing, living, rejoicing and serving. We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.