Holy Week | Entering Jerusalem
As hard as it may be to believe, Easter Sunday is only six weeks away. And, if you’ve ever been to church on an Easter Sunday before, you have a pretty good idea what that means. On Easter Sunday the parking lot is supposed to be a little fuller, and it’s supposed to take you a little longer to find a seat in the sanctuary. On Easter Sunday everyone is supposed to be decked out in their Sunday best, and they’re supposed to be wearing their best smile, too. On Easter Sunday the church you’re in is supposed to pull out all the stops to put together a worship service that’ll you’ll remember, and the preacher is supposed to preach a sermon you won’t soon forget.
But that’s just what Easter is supposed to be like. Last year was a stark reminder that everything isn’t all rainbows and sunshine just because it’s Easter. Last year, instead of seeing our parking lot filled with cars...it was completely empty because of a pandemic. Instead of struggling to find a seat in a crowded sanctuary, we were struggling to figure out how to do church online. Instead of being decked out in our Sunday best, a lot of us were sitting on our couches in our pj’s. And although we did everything we could to try to celebrate the good news of Easter last year, it just wasn’t the same celebration we’re used to.
And it’s all because Easter Sunday doesn’t exist inside of a vacuum. And that means that Easter doesn’t take place in a perfect world. Easter happens in the real world.
Easter happens in the real world.
And, in the real world, pandemics don’t go away just because Easter is coming. In the real world, viruses aren’t miraculously cured just because Easter is coming. In the real world, problems don’t get solved just because Easter is coming. In the real world, struggles don’t disappear just because Easter is coming. And, in the real world, hard times don’t get easier just because Easter is coming.
And, even though last year drove this reality home for every one of us, this is actually the case every single Easter. Every single Easter there are people in our church that are facing problems. Every single Easter there are people in our church dealing with struggles. Every single Easter there are people in our church going through hard times.
There are people worshiping with us online right now that have had their world’s turned upside down by the coronavirus. But there are also people worshiping with us online right now that are on the verge of filing bankruptcy. There are people worshiping with us online right now who are going through a rough spot in their marriage. There are people worshiping with us online right now that aren’t sure if they’ll still have a job this time next week. There are people worshiping with us online right now that are wondering if they’ll ever pay off their student loans. There are people worshiping with us online right now that haven’t talked to their parents or their children in years. There are people worshiping with us online right now that are mourning the loss of a spouse, or a sibling, or a child.
But most years, we don’t talk about this kind of stuff in the weeks leading up to Easter. Most years, we spend the weeks leading up to Easter talking about how we can reconnect with God, or how we can grow closer to God, or how we can take our faith to the next level.
But this year, it’s harder for us to ignore the problems and the struggles happening around us. And that’s because, for perhaps the first time in the entire history of our church, we know that everyone in our entire congregation is going through a difficult time in the weeks leading up to Easter. I mean, it has been over eleven months since the last time we met together to worship in-person. So even though we’re doing the best that we can to connect with you online each week, we’re all feeling at least a little isolated. On top of that, we haven’t really been able to leave our houses to enjoy even the small things in life--like dinner at a nice restaurant or a trip to the movies--so we all have at least a little bit of cabin fever. And that doesn’t even mention the anxiety that we’re all still feeling because we’re living through a pandemic that has contributed to the deaths of millions of people across the globe.
So this year, in the weeks leading up to Easter, I want to do something we don’t usually do at Easter. Instead of trying to get you hyped up about celebrating Jesus’ resurrection or talking with you about how you can take your faith to the next level, I want to spend our time together over the next six weeks talking about things we need to know that will help us follow God even in difficult times. And we’re going to do that by exploring some of the events that take place during one of the most difficult times in the history of our faith. Over the next six weeks, we’re going to be working our way through some of the events that happened in the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and his resurrection--a week that we, in the church, refer to as Holy Week.
And, since we’re exploring the events of Holy Week, there’s no better place to start than at the beginning of Holy Week. And the first big event that takes place during Holy Week happens on the first day of the week...it happens on Sunday when Jesus enters Jerusalem. But before we can talk about what happened when Jesus entered Jerusalem, we need to spend a couple of minutes talking about what’s been happening in Israel in the years leading up to Holy Week.
And about three years before Holy Week, Jesus began his ministry on this earth. Now we don’t have enough time this morning to dig too deep into all of the ministry that Jesus did over these three years. So I’m going to just cover it with some pretty broad brushstrokes for you, but we need to know the basics to really appreciate what happens as Holy Week begins.
So during his three years of ministry, Jesus primarily travels around the northern part of Israel, in an area we call Galilee. And everywhere Jesus goes, a crowd seems to follow. And there are at least two reasons why these crowds always seem to show up no matter where Jesus goes.
The first reason why these crowds always seem to show up no matter where Jesus goes is because of Jesus’ message. To put it pretty simply, Jesus’ message is just different. The Gospel of Matthew--or Matthew’s biography of Jesus--flat out tells us that Jesus teaches like someone with authority and not like the legal experts of his time (Matthew 7:9). And Jesus does this by reframing a lot of things the people of Israel have been told for years. Like Jesus will say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). And his message of God’s radical love draws people in.
But that’s not all. The other reason why people flock to Jesus wherever he goes is because of the miracles that Jesus performs. Throughout his ministry, Jesus feeds the multitudes, he heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, causes the lame to walk and the mute to talk. Jesus even brings the dead back to life. So people follow Jesus wherever he goes because they hope that they can experience one of these miracles for themselves.
And I’m telling you all of this because I want you to realize that, as Holy Week begins, Jesus isn’t some new kid on the block. For three years Jesus has been doing ministry. For three years Jesus has been drawing a crowd. And for three years word about who Jesus is and what Jesus has been doing has been spreading throughout Israel.
But knowing what Jesus has been doing in the years leading up to Holy Week is only part of what we need to know to understand what happens during Holy Week. The other thing that we need to know happened about seventy years earlier.
And about seventy years earlier, in 63BC, the Roman general Pompey led an army into Israel and he conquered Jerusalem. And after Rome conquered Jerusalem, Israel became an official client-state of Rome. So the people of Israel are no longer an independent nation. So the people of Israel no longer have any say in who their political or religious leaders will be. They are officially under Roman rule and Roman occupation.
So, as the events of Holy Week begin, the people of Israel have been living under Roman rule for decades. And it’s safe to say that after all those years of Roman rule, the people of Israel are ready for a change. The people of Israel are ready to be free.
So this is what’s been happening prior to the events of Holy Week. The people of Israel have been living under Roman rule for decades and they’re ready to be free. And now Jesus--someone who has been building a following for years, someone who has a reputation as a miracle worker--is on his way to Jerusalem. And Jerusalem just so happens to be the political and religious capital of Israel.
So, with all of that in mind, let’s see what happens next. And to see what happens next, we’re going to take a look at Mark 11 together. Now, just as a reminder for you, the book of Mark is essentially Mark’s biography of Jesus. And in Mark 11, we’ll read about what happens on the Sunday of Holy Week. And this is what Mark tells us happens when Jesus comes to Jerusalem. Mark 11 and we’ll start reading in verse 1. It says:
11:1 When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’”
4 They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. 5 Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. 7 They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. 9 Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 11:1-11 (Common English Bible)
Now, even if this is the first time you’ve ever heard this story, it’s easy to see that Jesus receives a pretty warm welcome when he enters Jerusalem. But for a lot of us worshiping together online right now, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this story. Many of us have heard this story around this time of year just about every year for as long as we can remember.
So we know this story. We know about Jesus sending his disciples off to find a donkey that he can ride into Jerusalem. We know that as Jesus enters the city that the crowds have gathered. We know that these crowds are singing and shouting. We know that they’re waving leaves from palm trees in celebration. And we know that they’re laying their coats across the ground for the donkey to walk on. We know this story.
And because we know this story, we don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about what actually happens in this story. But almost every detail in this story is meant to tell us something about who Jesus is. And that’s because almost every detail in this story relates directly to something we find in the Old Testament about Israel’s kings.
Just take the donkey that’s mentioned in this passage as an example. Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on this colt--which is the term used to describe a male donkey that’s less than 4-years-old. And according to the prophet Zechariah, the king of Israel will come riding triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a colt (Zechariah 9:9). And it’s something that one of Israel’s greatest kings--Solomon himself--actually does in the book of 1 Kings (1 Kings 1:32-40). But that’s not all.
How does Jesus get this donkey? Well, Jesus sends his disciples out to requisition the animal from its owner. And in 1 Samuel 8, Samuel predicts that Israel’s future kings will, “...take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work.” And how do the disciples go about acquiring this donkey in the first place? Well, the disciples untie it...which is related to something that Jacob predicts about Israel’s anticipated kings at the end of the book of Genesis (Genesis 49:11).
And that’s just about the donkey.
We can also talk about the way that the people in the crowd spread their garments out before Jesus, which is also something that happens in 2 Kings 9 right after Jehu is anointed king (2 Kings 9:13). Or, we can talk about the way that the crowds’ shouts of “Hosanna!” come from a Psalm that was used when a new king took his place on the throne (Psalm 118:45). Or, we can talk about the way that palm branches were used to welcome another conquering hero into the city of Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 10:1-8).
And when you put all of these things together, it becomes clear that Mark wants us to know that Jesus isn’t just a teacher who’s been traveling through the northern part of Israel. And Mark wants us to know that Jesus isn’t just a miracle worker who has been healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. Mark is making it clear that Jesus is king.
Jesus is king.
And there’s a reason why Mark goes to such extreme lengths to show us that Jesus is king. Mark goes to these extreme lengths to show us that Jesus is king because even though everything that takes place in this story seems like it couldn’t be any better, it doesn’t stay that way. When this story of Jesus’ triumphal entry ends, life gets real.
Here’s what I mean: By the end of Holy Week, the crowd that welcomed Jesus like a king will be calling for his execution. By the end of Holy Week, Jesus will be betrayed or abandoned by all of his closest friends. And by the end of Holy Week, Jesus will be crucified like a common criminal.
So Mark starts out the story of Holy Week by telling us about Jesus’ triumphal entry because Mark wants us to know that no matter what else may happen over the rest of the week that Jesus is still king. Even though the crowd will turn against him, Jesus is still king. Even though his friends will betray him and abandon him, Jesus is still king. Even though he will be tortured and humiliated, Jesus is still king. Even though he will die on a cross, Jesus is still king.
And that’s something that we all need to remember when we’re going through difficult times in our lives. We need to remember that Jesus is still king. No matter how many problems you may be facing, Jesus is still king. No matter how hard your struggles may be, Jesus is still king. No matter how difficult your life may seem, Jesus is still king. Or to put it another way, no matter what the world may bring, Jesus is still king.
No matter what the world may bring, Jesus is still king.
And there is nothing that can change that.
We’ve seen that over the last eleven months. We’ve seen that Jesus has still been king even as we’ve lived through a pandemic. Jesus has still been king even though we haven’t been able to worship together in-person for more than eleven months. Jesus has still been king even when we’ve been cooped up in our houses to try to keep from spreading this novel virus.
So the first thing you need to know to keep following Jesus, even in the most difficult times, is that Jesus is still king. And you need to remember that Jesus is still king to help you keep things in the right perspective. Because it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to be in pain. It’s ok to have problems. But you have to remember that your struggles don’t rule over your life. You have to remember that your pain isn’t in charge of your life. You have to remember that your problems won’t get the last word in your life.
You have to remember that Jesus is still king. So Jesus rules over your life. Jesus is in charge of your life. Jesus gets the last word in your life. And there is nothing that can change that. So, no matter what you’re facing, no matter how hard life may be, remember who is ultimately in control. Remember that Jesus is still king...and remind yourself to trust in your king.