“When they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples and told them, “Go into the village ahead of you. As soon as you enter it, you will find a young donkey tied there, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this? ’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here right away.’ ” So they went and found a young donkey outside in the street, tied by a door. They untied it, and some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the donkey? ” They answered them just as Jesus had said, so they let them go. Then they brought the donkey to Jesus and threw their robes on it, and He sat on it. Many people spread their robes on the road, and others spread leafy branches cut from the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed kept shouting: Hosanna! He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One! The coming kingdom of our father David is blessed! Hosanna in the highest heaven! And He went into Jerusalem and into the temple complex. After looking around at everything, since it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” (Mark 11:1-11 HCSB)
Anticipation. It is that longing for something that is expected, desired and sought out. It can make our mouths water and hearts beat a little faster. It is often associated with the sense of taste, but is not entirely dependent upon it since your anticipation can be enjoyed by all of the senses or none of them. What happens when your anticipation isn’t fulfilled by the experience? When it smells good but tastes awful? When it looks good but smells hideous? Or even, when it looks fantastic but just tastes normal? What happens when your expectations aren’t really met? Is there a sense of sadness? Do you feel let down? What happens when your hopes aren’t realized and your dreams lay shattered on the ground like a broken mirror?
In many ways, this is a description of life. As children we are excited by the possibilities and dreams of the future, what could be or what might happen. We dream. We hope. We live in anticipation of what lies ahead. Then as we mature and learn we begin to find our hopes and dreams lying shattered before us. Anticipation turns to disappointment and dread. Hope is often replaced with a realism that expects shattered hopes, agonizing frustration and debilitating failure. But, if hope dies completely then so do we and, most often, in the most tragic of ways.
That’s why we are living in the midst of an existential crisis in our modern culture. The hopes and dreams of many young people lie shattered at their feet and they have no idea how to deal with the sense of hopelessness and emptiness they feel. Where do you turn when everywhere you turn you’re confronted with chaos and confusion, fear and anxiety? No wonder teenage depression and suicide are at all time highs. From a recent study, 30% of teens experience overwhelming feelings of sadness or hopelessness and the numbers for teen girls are twice that of teen boys (40% vs 20%). Again, 22.4% of teenage girls have seriously considered attempting suicide, 16.9 % have made a plan and 10.6% have made an attempt on taking their own life and teen boys statistics are 17%, 13.6% and 8% respectively.
What is the root cause of this hopelessness? I think Jesus said it best in Matthew 7, “When you build your life on sand, you go splat when the storms hit. When you build your life on the rock, you don’t collapse when the storms hit.” (My paraphrase) As I said above, we are living in the midst of an existential crisis. Our culture says that our survival as a species is dependent upon our ability to manage life and our world in such a way as to keep them from “splatting” or collapsing into chaos and ruin. Our children are losing hope and faith in our chances of surviving these storms and, unfortunately, the storms seem to be growing in destruction and intensity. Whether you agree with the dire outlook that science has regarding global warming, you must surely recognize the effect this has on a young generation who lives on a constant diet of depressing news and dire predictions. They’re losing hope and their dreams lie shattered before them! The Psalmist spoke of them when he said:
“Their idols (gods) are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk. They cannot make a sound with their throats. Those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them.” (Psalms 115:4-8 HCSB)
In many ways, these same conditions are reflected in the lives of those Jesus encountered every day. People who had based their hopes and dreams in promises that never seemed to come true. They had begun to lose hope. Dreams lay shattered on the ground. Shattered by Roman swords and ground to a fine powder under their cruel, relentless, marching feet. Their hopes lay shattered, that is, until word began to spread about Him. Whispers and rumors of a man who spoke and taught like someone from a dream, someone they had only dared hope would come. The holy scriptures had promised He would come, but that was so long ago. But now, now it seems to be happening right in front of them! They had heard Him speak, preach and teach. He taught as one who knew and was certain, who had authority from God and not like their scribes and teachers.
In fact, even as they journeyed towards Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, word had been spreading throughout the crowd that He was among them. Walking with them on His way to the Temple. He had even healed a blind man as they passed through Jericho. Now, as they climbed those last few miles towards the city of Peace and they sang the old Psalms, there was a growing anticipation. Have mercy on us, oh God!
“Hallelujah! Give praise… Who is like Yahweh our God — the One enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the garbage pile in order to seat them with nobles — with the nobles of His people. He gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children. Hallelujah!” (Psalms 113:1-9 HCSB)
As they approached Jerusalem, Jesus called two of His disciples over and gave them instructions. They are to “go into the village ahead. As you enter, you’ll find a young colt tied, one that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, tell them the LORD needs it and will send it back, soon.” In all likelihood, the village is Bethphage and it lies on the road between Bethany and Jerusalem. Jesus appears to have prearranged for the use of the young foal and His instructions to the disciples account for such. From the beginning of Mark’s story, Jesus had been telling the disciples to keep these things to themselves. Don’t tell anyone who I am or what you’ve seen or heard. It was not HIS time, not yet.
But now, NOW it is time!
Consider Jacob’s prophetic words about his son, Judah: “The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until He whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him. He ties his donkey to a vine, and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine and his robes in the blood of grapes.” (Genesis 49:10-11 HCSB) Jacob had seen that the ONE God had promised would come through Judah, “until He whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him!” Notice, He has a RIGHT [to rule] when He comes and OBEDIENCE of the peoples [all tribes, nations] belongs to Him.
So, God has told Jacob that one of his children, a descendant through the line of Judah, would come with the right to rule and demand and expect obedience from all peoples. That time has come! Jesus has arranged for the use of this young donkey foal as a means of demonstrating His fulfillment of God’s long awaited promise to Jacob. But He is also the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9 HCSB)
Mark has put a lot of details into this story, but why? Why do we need to know that Jesus is the fulfillment of ancient promises or obscure prophecies? Because hopelessness needs a solid foundation on which to build our lives and on which to base our dreams. Young people today are being told that our hopes and dreams lie in our knowledge, our understanding of the universe, our ability to conquer the mysteries of science but each new day reveals the depths of our despair and the sheer hopelessness of this struggle. This became painfully apparent to us during the Covid pandemic and the results left us reeling. Are there glimpses of goodness in man? Oh, yes. Definitely. But there are also glaring portraits of evil and inhumanity. We look for someone to blame and for someone to fix the problem…
“They brought the donkey to Jesus and threw their outer garments on it, and He sat on it… Many people spread their outer garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches from from the trees and fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed kept shouting: Hosanna!”
Hosanna! Such an interesting word. It is not translated for us, but is transliterated directly into “hosanna”. The meaning of the word is “save us, now we pray!” It is a cry to God and is found throughout Psalms 113-118. These are the Psalms the people would have been singing as they approached Jerusalem on this journey to the Passover celebration. The people recognized their need for God and His help. They KNEW they needed His salvation.
The donkey Jesus rides has never been ridden, yet it submitted to Him and His will. Mark has emphasized that the foal/colt had never been ridden. Some attribute this to the demand and expectation that the King’s animal is never used for anyone but him. So, the new foal that has never been ridden is only for the king’s use. I think it also goes back to those words of Jacob: “until He who’s right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him.” We need His salvation but it only comes when we relinquish our right to rule over and define/determine our own lives. Like the young foal, we must submit to the King’s will and be ridden (or controlled) by no one else.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty “donkey like” in my reaction to God’s lead and will. I often find myself stubbornly refusing to go the direction He is trying to lead me. I glance down and find myself building my life on sand, not on the rock. Yes, I know. I’m mixing analogies here. As I said, I’m pretty stubborn. To be honest, I’m a lot like these people in Mark’s story…
They “kept shouting: Hosanna! He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One! The coming kingdom of our father David is blessed! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” And then, then everybody is simply gone. The crowd that was so excited and raucous a few minutes ago has now dissipated and disappeared. We gather on a Sunday and we listen to God’s Word and we hear His promises and we get excited and begin to anticipate… then the music fades, the crowd grows quiet, begins to dissipate and we’re left wondering where God went and why His salvation didn’t come. But, He did come. We just expected Him to fit our mold, give us what we wanted and not what we needed. This same crowd that is shouting “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” will be shouting “Crucify Him!”, very soon.
Jesus makes His way into Jerusalem and to the Temple complex. Now, the shouting crowd is gone and He and the twelve enter the Temple and look around. The LORD has come to His Temple and nobody is there to worship Him. I think it is crucial to understand these things and to keep in mind the words of the prophecies and the Psalms. The one who has the RIGHT to rule and to demand OBEDIENCE from the people has entered His house and nobody recognizes Him or comes to greet and welcome Him.
Next week, we will gather to celebrate the incredible fulfillment of the promises we have considered today. We will gather to celebrate the empty tomb and the risen Savior but will our words be empty praise and will our actions be feigned obedience? Or will we come, prepared to hear a word from the mouth of our God, the King of the Universe? Will we come completely surrendered and ready to pick up our cross and follow Him?
What did Jesus see when He stepped into the Temple? His reaction will tell us… but I get ahead of myself.
For now, I simply call you to prayerful preparation and humble submission. Oh God, save us! You don’t have to live in a constant state of hopelessness, fear or anxiety about tomorrow. At least, you don’t when you trust the ONE who holds tomorrow in the palm of His hand. Begin now building your life on the rock, Jesus the promised Messiah. I’m not talking about trying to live up to some semblance of moral goodness or even about your ties to a church. This is about knowing Jesus in an intimate way and seeking to follow Him sacrificially and obediently. Nothing more, nothing less. Believe me, He wants to overwhelm your hopelessness with His presence.
Join us on Wednesday as we begin a day of fasting and prayer. We will begin our fast at the time of the evening meal on Wednesday and continue throughout the night and into the morning and afternoon on Thursday. If you are able, we ask you to join us for a solemn 24 hours of fasting and prayer. Then join us Thursday evening at 6 PM as we come together to remember our Lord’s call to service and as we pray, take the Lord’s Supper together and break our fast. We will enjoy a meal of celebration for His goodness and His salvation. I look forward to seeing you…
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