Summary of the Text

Ancient Lens: What can we learn from the historical context?  

At last we come to Jerusalem. On this sixth Sunday of Lent, lectionary-following congregations may read either the account of Jesus’ triumphant ride into the city (Mark 11:1-11) or the account of Jesus’ Passion (Mark 14:1-15:47), or both. In any case, the preacher should bear in mind the connection between Jesus’ joyous and expectant arrival in Jerusalem and his betrayal and execution just a few days later. This summary will focus on the Triumphal Entry with several inter-textual connections to the Passion. 

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus warns his disciples of his coming death and resurrection in Jerusalem. However, the disciples continually misunderstand and deny his prophecies. Just after confessing Jesus as the coming Messiah, Peter rebukes Jesus for predicting his death and resurrection at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes (8:32). The next time he predicts his death and resurrection Mark tell us that his disciples, “did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him” (9:32). And after his third warning, James and John immediately ask him if they can sit at his right and left hand when he comes into his glory (10:37), thus betraying their persisting belief that Jesus is soon to take an earthly throne.

As Mark 11 opens up, Jesus and his entourage finally draw near to Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the climax of Mark’s Gospel. Before entering the city, they pause at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mt. of Olives. They are only a short walk from the city gate, but Jesus wants to make a dramatic entrance. Jesus send two of his disciples into the small village. He instructs them that as soon as they enter the village they will find a “a colt that has never been ridden,” and asks them to untie it and bring it to him. “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Just that the Lord has need of it and will send it back immediately,” he adds.

Upon entering the village the disciples find everything as Jesus described. Mark does not tell the readers whether Jesus’ knowledge of this colt and its willing owner was miraculous or humanly derived, but the detail adds a sense of divine destiny to the narrative.  A few chapters later, the disciples experience a similar sequence of events when Jesus sends them to find the Upper Room for the Last Supper (14:13-16).

Biblical scholar Eugene Boring suggests that Mark employs this detail to demonstrate that Jesus is a reliable prophet. “Just as the passion predictions had made it clear to the reader that Jesus’ suffering and death in Jerusalem wold not be that of an involuntary victim, so in the passion narrative itself Mark portrays Jesus as in charge, accurately predicting events in advance rather than being their victim” (Boring, 315). 

Ἰησοῦς LensHow do we point to Jesus?

Jesus’ choice to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey is not an act of self-deprecating humility as some describe it. Most of Jesus’ ministry he moves on foot. His mounting of the donkey signifies his entrance into Jerusalem as its rightful king. Unlike Matthew and John, Mark does not explicitly cite Zechariah 9:9 or Genesis 49:11. However, these Messianic prophecies loom in the background and help explain the enthusiasm of the crowds as Jesus and his followers process through the city gate. Jesus’ acceptance of this praise is not neutral. He too recognizes himself as the Messiah and King, though his vision of what that means, fundamentally contrasts with the expectations of the crowd. 

What precisely Jesus envisions when he claims Messianic kingship is the fundamental question of political theology. Some modern, Western circles understand Jesus’ kingship as purely spiritual. The crowd expects a political deliverer who will rout the Romans, defeat the phony King Herod, and establish a new authentic Davidic theocracy. Jesus, as we see in the unfolding Passion, has no military or even miraculous political agenda. While he does cleanse the Temple for its participation in Herod’s opulent corruption, he sheds no blood nor does he directly challenge the rule of Rome or Herod.

However, Jesus’ reign is not simply a gnostic escapism from the political problems of the world. Soon Jesus will find himself before both Herod and Pilate. His intrinsic authority as the Son of God (Mark 1:1) challenges the claims and corruption of these worldly powers. But more than that, Jesus does not ultimately take a non-political exit from Jerusalem.

He ascends to the throne of the cross, shedding his own blood, giving his own body, and dying at the meeting place between the powers of earth and the powers of hell. The loud cry (Greek: φωνὴν μεγάλην) that sucks away Jesus last breath (15:37) echoes the Gerasene demoniac’s torment (Mark 5:7). Yet, Jesus’ death is not an isolated spiritual possession, but an execution at the hands of the Empire. Far from acting in an only spiritual manner, Jesus comes to Jerusalem to prove once and for all that all politics are spiritual and every spiritual reality has political implications for the people of earth. 

When the people of Jerusalem see Jesus coming, they throw down their cloaks and palm branches, making a sort of royal red carpet for the prophet-healer who has finally arrived in the capitol city. Their cry, “Hosanna,” was by Jesus’ time a liturgical term meaning God save us. The phrase “Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” was commonly said of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem at Passover. However, the subsequent, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” signifies the crowd’s belief that Jesus is in fact the offspring of David, the promised Messiah coming to establish Jerusalem’s everlasting kingdom (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-16). 

Modern Lens: How does this touch our heart, life, emotions, thoughts and relationships today?

While the cries of Hosanna and laying of garments and branches were cultural signs of welcoming a new king during the Second Temple period (cf. the enthronement of Solomon, 1 Kings 1:38, 44; and the welcome of Simon Maccabaeus, 1 Macc 13:51), it takes on a rich liturgical meaning for Christian worship. As Christian worshipers wave palm branches and sing Hosanna each Palm Sunday, we declare both our confession of Jesus as Messiah and Lord and our own location among the fickle crowd. Liturgies which include the Passion jar the palm branch waving worshippers with their subsequent line: “Crucify him, crucify him!” 

Sacramental traditions also highlight the importance of the earthly confession of Hosanna through the Sanctus, which begins with the cry of Heaven, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory” (Rev. 4:8b); and ends with the cry of earth, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” When liturgical Christians sing this hymn before receiving the Eucharist they join their voices with the angels and archangels of heaven, proclaiming the preeminence and Lordship of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Crucified and Risen one. The Compassion of Christ is to be both our Earthly and Heavenly King. His presence on earth joins us to his presence in Heaven.

When at last Jesus arrives in Jerusalem he does not march on Herod’s place or lead an insurrection against Rome. He dismounts at the Temple, observes everything going on there and then retreats out of the city until the following day, when he returns to cleanse the Temple of its money-making corruption. In Mark’s account Jesus’ cleaning of the Temple is not an emotional outburst, but an intentional and calculated response to sacrilege. 

Given the intense political climate of the last year, the preacher may wish to compare the expectations of the crowd who greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday to our own political expectations. Have we allowed the King on the Cross to transform our approach to worldly powers? 

Anglican Priest and Professor of Theology, Dennis Okholm, friend to several contributors of TPW, reflecting on a service he conducted on the Sunday before the 4th of July, said to the effect, “The church follows an alternative calendar and thus an alternative reality.” Our citizenship is in a kingdom that transcends the earthly nation in which we live. The independence that we experience as sons and daughters of this kingdom and the work of its victorious king triumphs over any other allegiance or affiliation we may have. 

On January 20th, when the executive branch transitioned power from one administration to another with the inauguration of a new president, we who have allowed the King of the Cross to transform our approach to worldly powers were not nonplussed. While we may have preferences and affinities one way or another as citizens and voters of the United States of America, our trust is not, “in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation [but in the One] who sets the prisoners free…opens the eyes of the blind…and lifts up those who are bowed down,” (Psalm 146:2-8). Our trust is in him who comes in the name of the Lord, “Hosanna,” the God who saves us, whose name is Jesus.

Recommended Resources: 

Boring, M, Eugene. Mark: A CommentaryThe New Testament Library, Westminster, John Knox Press, Louisville, 2006. 

Marcus, Joel. Mark 8-16, Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009. 

Stu Headshot

Heather Ghormley is the Founding Pastor of Tree of Life Anglican Church in Mishawaka Indiana. Heather is passionate about helping the church fulfill its mission to go to all the peoples baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them all that Jesus commanded. Heather also cares deeply about bringing healing and the reconciling power of Jesus into the wounds of abuse, trauma, rejection and division.  

Heather is married to a Bible Professor named Justus Ghormley and is mom to three wonderful kids who keep her on her toes. Before moving to South Bend, Heather attended Wheaton College, IL and Yale Divinity School, CT.

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

And his way is truly the way of the heart, or spirit. If we would walk with him, we must walk with him at that interior level. There are very few who really do not understand this about him. He saves us by realistic restoration of our heart to God and then by dwelling there with his Father through the distinctively divine Spirit. The heart thus renovated and inhabited is the only real hope of humanity on earth.

Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ

Key Illustration

Ted Lasso and Rebecca’s Heart Change

In the Apple Plus television show Ted Lasso, Rebecca, the owner of the English Premiere League (Soccer) team AFC Richmond, hires the eponymous Ted Lasso to coach her team. Everyone assumes she is doing so as a publicity stunt, or worse that she’s gone mad (to use a British colloquialism). Instead, the reason she has done so is to get back at her ex-husband, from whom she has recently inherited the team by way of a nasty divorce. After years of putting up with his infidelity, Rebecca decides she is done with his cheating and the best way to get back at her ex is to run the team into the ground.

At every step of the way Rebecca attempts to sabotage Ted Lasso’s work with the team.  Yet at every step of the way Ted’s goodness; his genuine love for his players, belief in their ability to succeed, begins to change Rebecca.  Her heart is changed by the kindness, humility, gentleness, and love that Ted exudes.  When she finally comes clean, admitting her attempts to foil the season, Ted extends forgiveness and the heart that was consumed with bitterness, revenge, and anger, is replaced by a heart of joy, compassion, and love.

Jonathan Cornell & Stuart Strachan Jr.

More Illustration Ideas:

  1. There are ways in which God’s prophecy in Jeremiah 31 is not fulfilled yet.  Our hearts are still a work in progress.  One glaring example of this right now is the struggle we still face as a nation with racial reconciliation.
  2. Those who receive heart or bone marrow transplants actually receive a new DNA structure. As an analogy, this is similar to what we experience through the new covenant in Jesus: our spiritual DNA changes.
  3. The Story of Keith Blackburn and Misty Wallace, (Link here) two people whose lives were entwined by a heinous crime, and who each experienced a transformation of their hearts. The two now travel together speaking to groups of people about repentance and reconciliation.


Additional Sermon Resources