Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Celebrate

How do you feel when something you know to be true turns out not to be as you thought it was? In December we might consider this question in light of a fat man in a red suit or flying four-legged animals (intentionally veiled for the young). But what about as it relates to the birth of Christ?

Much of our birth theology stems from the songs.
  • How many wise men? We Three Kings” provides an apparent answer.
  • Did Jesus cry as a baby? Not according to “Away in a Manger.”
  • Music in the manger? Sure, and Jesus smiled when He heard “The Little Drummer Boy” playing.
“Mary nodded.” Can you imagine a mother nodding at the request of someone to play drums before a newborn baby?

Anyway, you get the point. I have mentioned before that while it may be possible that Jesus was born in what we call December (though not likely), the date of the 25th was chosen due to a celebration of a pagan God in the 4th Century. The fact is that we are not given the date, and thus it (the date) must not have been important to God. In fact, it could not have been important to the early church or it certainly would have been recorded somewhere. What is important is that God came to earth – Immanuel.

And what should be important is for us to seek the truth even if it refuted everything we have been taught. That happened to me this week. Not about the birth, but about Jesus entry into Jerusalem. I have read the Bible multiple times. I have read these passages countless times, and yet I missed something – and because of that means I have taught one particular part in error for many years. Before I correct that, let us look at Mark 11.1-11. Then we will expand our viewpoint by reviewing the parallel passages in Matthew 21 and Luke 19.

A Quick Overview:
If you remember, last week Jesus was in Jericho where he healed the blind man named Bartimaeus. From there Jesus set out on his final journey to Jerusalem. Mark 11.1 provides the names of four places. Some will wonder why all four would be mentioned, until you realize the proximity. We are not talking much more than two-mile radius.

Jesus tells a couple of his disciples to go to a village and get a donkey on which He will ride into Jerusalem. I believe that this event shows that Jesus made plans on a previous visit to Jerusalem. It is quite possible that God provided the necessary insight on that day for all people involved, but I lean towards the idea that Jesus made the arrangements earlier.

The disciples did what they were asked, and were questioned about removing the donkey. Upon hearing the response however, the disciples were able to take the donkey back to Jesus. They threw their cloaks on it, while others threw their cloaks on the road as Jesus road this donkey.

As we have heard before, people waved tree branches and shouted Hosanna. Mark indicates that the shouts contained two Blessings. The first – to the one who comes in the name of the Lord. The second involved the coming kingdom of David.

Let me pause here and talk about these praises for a moment and then bring the accounts of Matthew and Luke into the message as well.

All who come in the Name of the Lord are blessed

This statement is true even when we do not understand fully, or are even completely confused.

Psalms 113-118 are called the Hallel songs. These psalms are one unit that are read as a part of certain Jewish festivals, including Passover. Hallel is the first part of the word Hallelujah, so hallel-(u)-jah is basically, Praise Yahweh or Praise God, not as a command, but as an expression.

We read of the people praising God and shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We attribute the statement to be made toward Jesus, but that isn’t entirely necessary. Psalm 118 is called the Egyptian Hallel because of the deliverance from Egypt and Jesus was certainly about to deliver God’s people. But in a very real sense, anyone who came to Jerusalem for these celebrations was to be considered blessed. But like many aspects of the Bible, what is true in small part is ultimately found true in its entirety through Jesus. Incidentally, Luke’s passage does translate as King who comes, which given the objection of the Pharisees may be the actual wording. Nonetheless, the original intent of Psalm 118, meant any and all who come in the Lord’s name.

The second part proclaims the coming kingdom of our father David. This is not the message of Jesus. His message was about the Father’s Kingdom, but the Father He spoke of was God, not David. This crowd thought Jesus was the promised Son of David who would conquer Jerusalem and re-establish David’s throne. And He will, but the time had (has) not yet come.

What is interesting is that even as the people hailed David, they shouted Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna is a compound of two words (Hoshiya Na) which means “Salvation now” or “Save us now.” The people wanted a salvation from the Roman oppression, but the salvation Jesus offered could only come from the One who is in the highest which must then refer to God, not David.

I think this confusion is similar to what our Christmas celebration has become. Last week, I tried to help a young mother consider possible answers to her question of how do to celebrate Christmas with a young child when all the child sees and hears is Santa Claus. And as I mentioned above, the Church sings songs about the birth which may or may not be true, but do not have a biblical basis to them. This is a challenge for us all, but we must let the Bible be our guide. As we do, we will find that we, too, are blessed when we come in the name of our Lord.

Jesus Came as King in the Name of the Lord
Again, the praise toward Jesus was justified, but it was not necessarily given with a proper understanding. And to the people in, and around, Jerusalem it was, likely, not understood at all. Let me explain.

First, Jesus riding on a donkey was a part of prophecy. Zechariah 9.9 states, “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.”

If the people would have realized Jesus was fulfilling this prophecy on that day, the celebration would have been far more intense. It was customary for kings to parade into town after a victory. The fact that the donkey had never been ridden is important because a king should not share a horse according to Jewish tradition. (An unbroken beast of burden was regarded as sacred (see Num 19:2; Deut 21:3), which made it appropriate for a king, since according to the Mishnah (m. Sanh. 2:5) no one else may ride a king’s horse.(1)

Furthermore, the fact that garments were thrown on the road is a reminder of King Jehu (2 Kings 9.13). The people threw their garments on the steps so Jehu would not have to walk on the steps themselves. So, we do have an indication that this moment was special and the crowd with Jesus thought of Him as the future King, but that thought likely ended with them – that is, the crowd with Jesus.

Why do I say that the thought ended with the crowd with Jesus? Well, the first answer comes from the Bible while the other is a logical assumption. This idea is where my correction is in order, and where we must bring in the writings of Matthew and Luke.

The Triumphal Entry?
First, the biblical progression:

  • They begin at the Mount of Olives. (Matt. 21.1; Mark 11.1; Luke 19.28)
  • The disciples bring the donkey to Jesus. (Matthew 21.7, Mark 11.7; Luke 19.35)
  • The disciples (same two) put their cloaks on donkey. (Matthew 21.7; Mark 11.7, Luke 19.35)
  • The others put their cloaks on the road. (Matthew 21.8 – crowd; Mark 11.8 – many; Luke 19.36 – they)
  • Blessed chants are said/sung. (Matthew 21.9 – he; Mark 11.9 – he; Luke 19.38 – King)

Now, look at this picture. This picture resembles what most of us have always been taught about Jesus entering Jerusalem. Certainly, His own followers were there, but others lines the road and celebrated His arrival – according to the picture. But is that what truly happened? Look what the Bible says happened next:

  • Jesus entered the city, “Who is this?” – Matthew 21.10
  • Jesus entered Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple – Mark 11.11 (no mention of the crowd)
  • And when he drew near and saw the city – Luke 19.41

Each of these gospels mention everything happening before Jesus reached the city. Luke doesn’t even have Jesus reaching the city until another event happens first (and Luke’s account is almost certainly the most chronologically correct). In Matthew, the people don’t know what all of the fuss is about. In Mark, it appears that the entry is anything but triumphal. Jesus goes to the temple, looks around, and leaves (more on this next week).

This understanding be a new understanding to you – I know if was for me. But it is the words of the Bible with no alteration. Again, I do not know how I have missed this, but I did. And that is part of the problem. The other part of the problem is that because of my misunderstanding this, I have said, including in this pulpit, that the very crowd who cried Hosanna on Sunday was the same crowd that shouted, “Crucify Him!” later in the week. That may not be true at all.

That’s the biblical account. Let me briefly turn to the logical account. I also had not considered this aspect before reading it within a couple of commentaries this week. I mentioned earlier that while some may have considered Jesus the king who would conquer, it was not a widespread belief as He entered Jerusalem. Why can we infer this? If the Romans knew of someone who was coming to Jerusalem to challenge their authority, that person would have been arrested as soon as they arrived in Jerusalem, if not earlier.

Looking towards Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Just above the wall, notice the speck in the middle and two to the right - those are
humans. A Roman soldier may not have been able to see much looking back the other
direction, but would have been able to see a group of people coming, and soon
enough would have heard the chants and/or singing.

And the Roman guards could have seen and heard the crowd coming on that day. If they had cared, that is, if the crowd were really stirred up about a King coming, the Romans would have taken action earlier.

The Eastern (Golden) Gate where Jesus entered. And where He will enter again.

The Eastern Gate as looking from Gethsamane.

Jesus did come as King. He came as the Prince. And He entered this gate – the Eastern Gate. The Golden Gate. And Ezekiel 44, says that the gate is shut, and will be until the Prince is ready to enter it again!

We should have no doubts that Jesus entered Jerusalem. But as we have seen today, some of our prior understanding may have been a bit skewed. Jesus is Messiah, but to the people of that day, that meant something different than what Jesus intended – at that time. Some may have recognized the significance of Him riding a donkey as the humble King he was, but it is likely that Matthew, for instance, understood that fact afterwards and included the quote from Zechariah 9 to help his audience make the connection too. Mark doesn’t mention Zechariah 9 because his audience would not have cared.

But one consideration is important as we move forward with this study – Jesus has now entered Jerusalem. Jesus and His disciple are now in tight quarters. That is, everything we see from here on happens within a couple of miles, and most of it happens within a few thousand feet, if not less. Tight quarters and big crowds bring hostile actions. And so it will be.

The JOURNEY letter for today is: JOURNEY.

I decided on the whole word this week because Jesus journey “on the way” to Jerusalem is over. But for us, we have a long way to go. I am reminded of how well I think I know parts of the Bible, and yet I constantly get new insights and understandings as I continue my journey through life. This week was one such moment for me, and I am certain some of you may see this passage differently than you have in the past as well. By the way, this is why I often say, don’t just listen to, or read, what I say. Read God’s Word and hear from Him!

OPPORTUNITY:  As we prepare to celebrate the Christmas holiday, we have an opportunity to celebrate in truth. That doesn’t mean that we cannot enjoy some of the antics and characters that the world views as traditional at Christmas. But it must mean that we do not forget to put Jesus in the proper place as we celebrate the coming of God as man on whatever day He might have been born. As we do, we can let His light shine for all to see.


Learn to discern the truth of Christmas by distinguishing between the Bible and the songs we sing.
Live in celebration of the full truth of God coming as man to offer true Hosanna (salvation now).
Love others by helping them to see the need for Jesus to come as the greatest of all gifts.
Lead others to understand that Jesus may have come as a baby, but we truly celebrate because of the cross, not the cradle.

(1) Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 332). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

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