Mark 11:1-11: Palm Sunday

The Road from Jericho to Jerusalem is just 14 miles. A half-day's journey, uphill all the way. Bethany, just on the other side of the Mount of Olives. A natural place to stop and rest before the final ascent and the view of Jersualem. But its not the road that should capture our attention.

Dusty roads through dramatic scenery were as common then as now, indeed there is little changed today. Israeli gun emplacements, barbed wire and military settlements have replaced the Roman garrisons but it is still occupied territory.

Ironically if Jesus were born in Blackpool he would have no problem getting from Jericho to Jerusalem today for Palm Sunday. But because he was born in Bethlehem he would not be able to make the journey to the Mount of Olives, let alone join the Palm Sunday procession into the Old City. Like hundreds of West Bank Christians wishing to worship in Jerusalem today, Jesus would be turned back at a military checkpoint - all for being born in Bethlehem. Pray for your brothers and sisters today in the Holy Land who are denied the most basic of human rights - freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom to worship, freedom to live in the land of their birth. Yet its not the road or even the political situation that makes Palm Sunday such a controversial event. Its the man who walks it. For Jesus is on a journey. His final journey. If you want to know someone's heart, observe that person's final journey. This was no ordinary walk. No ordinary week. In the verses before us this morning in Mark 11 we learn three things about Jesus.

1. The Preparation for the King 11:1-6
Read 11:1-6 We see here how Jesus acted with.....

1.1 Jesus - The Deliberate Intent
This journey on Palm Sunday was no accident or whim. This is obvious from the clear instructions to the disciples on what to do. Jesus rode into Jerusalem by his own free will and upon His own initiative. Deliberate intent.

1.2 Jesus - The Prophetic Fulfilment
Jesus was making a statement - a deliberate claim to be the anointed One. The quotation is from Zechariah 9 and is steeped in significance. Zechariah is a message about a king who would be rejected, but a rejected king who would nevertheless be enthroned. We see here then how He who inspired the prophecy, came to fulfil it. Deliberate Intent and Prophetic Fulfilment.

1.3 Jesus - The Unquestioned Authority
Read 21:3. Some commentators have suggested that Jesus had simply booked the donkey for this ride. That he'd paid a deposit the week before. No I don't think so. Jesus spoke with unquestioned authority because He is king and everything belongs to Him. Jesus was not intimidated or afraid of what was going to happen. Jesus had every excuse to avoid Jerusalem at this time, but no. We find everything He did, especially in that last week, was done with deliberate intent, in fulfilment of the Scriptures and with unquestioned authority. The King of the Universe was in control.

What does that teach us today? Are there things we are afraid about? Anxious over? Intimidated by? Decisions we would rather put off? How should this story affect the way we act? Jesus calls us to follow Him. Here we find Jesus demonstrating deliberate intent, in fulfilment of the Scriptures and with unquestioned authority. The Preparation for the King.

2. The Presentation to the King 11:7-11
We know this story so well, I simply want to pick out one word to give us a different perspective. In Matthew's account he tells us that the whole of Jerusalem was "stirred" The Greek word is the one from which we obtain our word "seismic". Jesus arrival in Jerusalem had the impact of an earthquake. It was as if a psychological earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale had hit the city. Jerusalem was the epicentre. The presence of Jesus shook the city to its very foundations. Here was their King, riding on a borrowed donkey, mobbed by unsophisticated fishermen and country Gallileans. Defying the Church and State with palm branches and children's choruses. Jerusalem had never seen anything like it.

Within a week that earthquake would have torn the thick temple curtain from top to bottom. No longer would access to God be limited by race and ritual. This was His intention, to compel Jerusalem to recognise Him, even if only for an hour. They had heard His teaching, seen His miracles, now He had come to claim His city. He would stir her as by an earthquake, offering a choice - peace and reconciliation or judgement and separation. Abraham Kuyper the Dutch theologian and politician put it like this,

"When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin, you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy with all the fire of your faith."

Jesus did so on Palm Sunday, and it led Him to the cross.
The preparation for the King, the presentation to the King.

3. The Pronouncement of the King 11:12-19
Read passage. Here again we see the King asserting His royal authority. There is a magnificence and dignity even in His anger. Why did Jesus act in this way? Notice very carefully His own words. Read 11:17. Two quotations from the Old Testament prophecies are brought together. Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 vindicated His action, one descriptive of what the house should be - a house of prayer; the other descriptive of what the house had become - a den of robbers. The house that ought to be a house of prayer had become a den of robbers, in the area reserved for non-Jews - the Court of the Gentiles, denying the world access to God.

They had turned the Temple into an ugly sight, but for one brief moment Jesus turned it into a place of beauty. In Matthew 21:14 we read of one brief moment of restoration. For one brief moment the house was no longer a den of robbers, but a house of prayer. What a picture.

The Temple court was thrown into total disarray, doves, lambs, sheep and goats running loose. People scrambling for the coins amidst the upturned money tables. But here also were the blind and the lame. The face that a moment before had flamed with indignation was soft with the radiance of compassion. This is one of the most moving pictures in the Gospels. Jesus casts out but He also takes in.

He overthrows but He also builds up. "for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations... I will gather still others to them..." Jesus did not merely quote it - he fulfilled it.

He cast out and he overthrew, but then he gathered the exiles, the outcasts, the blind and the lame. This is the King in action. What a King. Thank God for this vision of the King. I could not live in a world so full of evil if it were not for my belief in a king of justice. A king who can and does overthrow and cast out.

But thank God also, before everything is put straight, before the house is put in order, with the tables still upset, the money scattered, and the people still in confusion, this King gathers the outcasts and heals them. Like Jesus we must work as he gives us the opportunity. We must work even while the world is going astray, where ever there is arrogance and racism, where ever there is ethnic cleansing, where ever there are refugees and asylum seekers. It should not surprise us that much of this world is a war zone.

The events of Palm Sunday and the example of our Lord teach us to be in the business of rebuking injustice but also relieving injustice. Challenging evil and cleansing evil - and beginning with our own hearts. Worshipping the peace maker but working at peace making. That is why I invite you to send your palm cross to Tony Blair and urge him to work for peace in Jerusalem. Be a servant of the Prince of Peace who rode into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday to die to take away your sin and mine. Cross the divide. Be a bridge builder. Be a peace maker this Easter.
Let us pray.