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The Triumphant and Transforming Entry (Mark 11:1–12:12)

by Doug Van Meter | Easter Sermons 2024

Mark 11:1–12:12, which records the events of Passover Week, appear to be anything but triumphant. However, there is plenty of trauma, even some terrifying actions and declarations. Yet what occurs in this Passion Week transformed not only Jerusalem, but the entire creation.

It has been said that to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. Well, for someone with a correct understanding of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13; Matthew 24; Luke 21), everything might look like AD 70! I will exercise restraint with my interpretive hammer, yet the events associated with Jesus’ triumphal entry arecentred on Jesus and the temple. The events of Passion Week, commencing with Palm Sunday, would result in a glorious answer to “Hosanna!” but not in the way the crowds both outside and inside Jerusalem anticipated. Jesus came and accomplished a great hosanna “in the name of the Lord.” We bless his name for doing so. But, as I hope we will see, his deliverance resulted in a whole new house of the Lord into which those who now enter are likewise blessed.

We will take a bird’s eye look at this passage under several headings:

  1. Messianic Expectations (vv. 1–10)
  2. Messiah’s Examination (vv. 11–19)
  3. Messiah’s Exhortation (vv. 20–26)
  4. Messiah’s Expectation (vv. 27–12:12)

May the Holy Spirit point us to our Saviour. May this result in a greater appreciation of who he is and what he has done. And may we have a greater appreciation for his house of the Lord. The crowd chanted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We need to see that he and or she still is. Have you come today, truly, in the name of the Lord?

Messianic Expectations

The account opens with a record of what we might call “messianic expectations”:
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
(Mark 11:1–10)

After three years of itinerant ministry and discipleship training, largely in Galilee, Jesus had left Capernaum (9:33; 10:1) and, having travelled through Jericho (where palms grow), was now outside of Jerusalem. Just before coming to the edge of the city, he healed a blind man by the name of Bartimaeus, who identified Jesus as “the Son of David,” a Messianic title (10:46–52). It is interesting that Jesus did not instruct him to keep that to himself as he had throughout the Marcan narrative. In fact, he even drowned demons who wouldn’t keep their mouths shut about this (Mark 5)!

Bartimaeus joined the crowds that were coming from all around, including those from Galilee, for Passover Feast. The place was busy.

Having secured their lodging with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Jesus prepared for the Passover feast. While on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, no doubt Jesus’ heart was heavy, knowing something of what lay before him, while at the same time not sure of all that lay before him. In his humanity, he knew that he would suffer betrayal, arrest, mistreatment, and crucifixion (8:31–32; 9:30–32). How would he handle it?

At some point, Jesus gave instructions to his disciples to secure the colt of a donkey on which he planned to ride into Jerusalem. This was rather an uncharacteristic action on his part. He who was meek and lowly (Matthew 11:28–30) was deliberately putting himself front and centre, displaying something of a royal symbolism. After all, he was a king. In fact, he was the King.

It seems, for a few reasons, that Jesus had prearranged the temporary use of this animal. But I love the assurance he gave that he would return it to its owner after he had used it. Imagine the Creator’s condescension in returning what he ultimately owned. But why this action? To symbolise his identity and to deliberately fulfil Scripture (Zechariah 9:9). As Sinclair Ferguson writes, “This was no spur-of-the-moment idea on Jesus’ part. For those who had eyes to see, it was a deliberate claim to be the one of whom the prophets had so clearly written.”

Jesus, the King, was coming to establish his kingdom. Interestingly, however, he did not come riding on a horse, per military imagery. Rather, he came in humility (Philippians 2:1–5). There is a lesson in this for each of us.

There are several things about this episode we should think upon.

First, why a young colt rather than a fully grown donkey? Probably because Jesus was heading for Jerusalem from where he would be sacrificed. According to Old Testament law, an offering was to be without spot or blemish, including not being “broken”—particularly an offering of this magnitude (Number 19:2).

Second, the disciples put clothes as a saddle, much like when Jehu was declared and installed as king (2 Kings 9:13). All of this points to the fact that Jesus was making a deliberate statement. In the words of Witherington, “Mark depicts Jesus as deliberately setting out to fulfil the Zecharian vision of Messiah, which is a picture of a shepherd rather than primarily a warrior Messiah, and a humble one at that.”

Third, those accompanying Jesus paved the way for his entrance into Jerusalem with branches and palm fronds (John 12:13). This latter “offering” is interesting, for palms do not grow in the region of Jerusalem; however, they do grow in Jericho, where Jesus had just come from. Apparently, this crowd was not from Jerusalem and its environs but rather from Galilee. This is important concerning what follows. But hang tight.

Fourth, those with Jesus were singing the Hallel Psalms (113–118) and here they were singing the final one. Psalm 118 celebrates God’s steadfast love to his people Israel, his protection of them, his deliverance of them from their enemies. But it is clearly Messianic, and it is quoted several times in the New Testament, including once here and again in 12:10–11. It is a psalm that fuels the faith of God’s people as it reminds them of God’s covenantal faithfulness, particularly in times when his people are especially beleaguered.

Along with Psalms of Ascent (121–135) the Hallel Psalms were sung by pilgrims as they went to the house of the Lord (118:26). Therefore, with the temple in sight, and with the Son of David riding towards it, shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!” were most fitting.

The cry “Hosanna!” means, “Save now!” It is a faithful cry of desperation and hope. God’s people, desperate for deliverance from their enemies, looked to the Lord to rescue them.

At this stage of history, the people of Israel sought to be saved from the tyranny of Rome. Those accompanying Jesus had heard his teaching in the synagogues, had witnessed his miracles, had seen his life, and were persuaded that he must be Messiah. Seeing him head for Jerusalem, and presumably to the temple, they cried out, “The long-awaited King has come: Save us now!”

As mentioned, there is good reason to assume that this crowd was from Galilee rather than Judea. At that time of year, there were so many Jews coming to sacrifice that different times were set for the sacrifices. Since those from Galilee measured a day differently than those in Judea, this worked well. It reduced the “sacrificial congestion” that would occur, with an estimated 200,000 lambs being slaughtered at Passover. It also facilitated the sinful prejudice that existed between Galileans and Judeans.

I make this point because there is little reason for the rhetorical jibe often muttered at this time of the year, “Those who shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ would soon shout, ‘Crucify him!’” These were two different groups of people. Those shouting “Hosanna!” may indeed have been misguided concerning what they needed to be saved from, but there is no ground to claim they were fickle.

Sometimes, we are like this Galilean crowd. We cry out to the Lord, “Deliver us—now—from our poverty, our illness, our political mess, and our trials,” yet we are ignorant of our need for the greater deliverance from our sin.

And what about you, friend? Perhaps you have cried out to Jesus to deliver you from your trials and then, once “rescued,” have turned on him. Do you realise that your greatest need is to be rescued from sin and guilt and hostile alienation from God?

The point we need to grasp is that the Messianic expectation of these Galilean Jews (as well as many Judean Jews) was short-sighted and shallow.

I am afraid that many will attend churches this Easter week with a wrongheaded expectation. Some—including politicians—will gather focused on the upcoming elections. Others will gather to scratch their religious itch. But we should take advantage of these calendrical reminders that the King we need is the King who was crucified for us and who rose again for our justification. The kingdom we need is the one with the demands that we seek first the Lord and his righteousness.

Messiah’s Examination

Verses 11–19 portrays Jesus closely examining what he found in Jerusalem:
And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.
(Mark 11:11–19)

As Jesus rode the colt from the Mount of Olives, he eventually approached the gate to Jerusalem. It was customary, at Passover, for pilgrims to walk within the city rather than using transport. We can only speculate how the final and ultimate Passover Lamb entered. Regardless, he headed to the temple.

Jesus saw the crowds, the moneychangers, and the many animals being sold for sacrifice. Most alarmingly, he saw that Gentiles were being hindered from access to the Court of the Gentiles, where they were permitted to gather to pray, and even perchance to get a glimpse into the area where Jews were able to get nearer to the holy place.

Many contemporary accounts record that those selling sacrificial animals and exchanging money for payment of the temple tax set up shop in areas that was to be reserved for Gentiles.

All of this is necessary to keep before us as we read v. 11: “And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was very late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” What are we to make of this?

Jesus was not looking around as a tourist but rather as a worshipper—a worshipper deeply troubled by what he saw (Luke 19:41–42). The word suggests looking everywhere and all round everything. It suggests a thoroughness in looking. It is “the voluntary contemplation of what is already known,” says G. Campbell Morgan. Think lament, sorrow, heartache.

You see, Jesus went into the temple as the King of Jerusalem. He went as the Lord of the temple. He went as the one to whom the temple pointed. He went as the one of whom Malachi spoke of four hundred years earlier: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1).

Jesus looked at what was going on in the temple with x-ray vision and what he saw was deeply disturbing. He saw the condition of the corporate worship of the people of God, and it was vacuous, rotten, and corrupt. It was barren. And Jesus planned to do something about it. But not now.

It was late, and so Jesus returned with his disciples for the night to Bethany. After seeing what he saw, I wonder how well he slept? From what follows, we know that he had a plan for his next visit to the temple. He would fulfil the rest of Malachi’s prophecy: “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years” (Malachi 3:2–4).

The next morning, Jesus and the disciples headed back to the Temple Mount and, on the way, Jesus is hungry. He saw a fig tree with leaves, advertising the potential of early season fruit. He approached, found none, and pronounced an imprecatory curse upon it. Jesus then proceeded to the temple where, with righteous indignation, he turned over the tables of the moneychangers, chasing out those selling sacrifices in areas where they should not have, and then he blockaded any illicit traffic through the temple. He did so while prophetically declaring how they were replicating Israel’s sins of old (Jeremiah 8:13).

Jesus, quoting Isaiah 56:7, denounced how they had turned God’s house of prayer for all nations into a perverse and parochial place of self-indulgence in which those who were not Jewish were hindered from seeking and finding the Lord.

(Now the Galilean emphasis becomes thematically clearer. No wonder, after his resurrection, he would meet with his disciples in Galilee, giving them the Great Commission there. No wonder that, of the original twelve disciples, all except Judas Iscariot were from Galilee. The nation that was chosen to be a light to all the nations, through whom all nations would be blessed, had corrupted worship, thereby hindering the nations from access to God [see John 12:20–24]).

Jesus was passionately pitiful for Gentiles who desired access to God. Consider a possible scene.

Some Gentiles had heard about Yahweh, the one true and living God, and so they made the trip to Jerusalem to meet with him, to worship him, to pour out their hearts before him in prayer (Psalm 62:8).

For too long, they had been enslaved to the worship of idols, to dead and useless gods, enslaved to a superstitious, futile, and useless religion. But God, in his grace, had reached out to them, drawing them to his meeting place. They arrived with great anticipation. They saw the beautiful building. They observed the busyness as worshippers came and went. They could hardly believe that they were so blessed to be here, to be so near to meeting with this glorious God!

As they approached the temple, they encountered a barricade, about one and a half meters high, posted with various signs warning that trespassers would be executed. One sign from that era that has been unearthed reads, “No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” Nice. “Welcome to the house of God. We hope you feel at home!” Sure.

Yet the Gentile seekers would not be detoured. They happily remained in the spacious Court of the Gentiles, which goes right around the temple. At least, they could view the meeting place of God. And they could pray. At least they thought so.

But as the Gentile worshippers arrived, they were completely disoriented as the animals and crowds of people so flooded the courtyard that it was impossible to pray, let alone to even have access any longer. Do you get the picture?

Israel, graced with access to God, the recipients of God’s steadfast covenantal love, had become so irreverent at the place of worship that they had become a barrier to others from experiencing this same grace. It was no longer a house of prayer for all peoples; it had become a place where would-be worshippers were robbed of grace. God’s people had become “grace thieves.”

In other words, Jesus saw what was taking place in the temple of God and it had very little, if anything, to do with God. The house of God had become a house of hypocrisy. The temple was indeed beautiful (13:1) but when it came to its God-intended purpose, it was useless. Like the fig tree, it was nothing but leaves.

When it came to fidelity to God, and thus helpfulness to the nations, Israel proved to be leaves only. How tragic. And today? Sadly, this malady continues.

By way of application, consider the words of G Campbell Morgan who, a century ago, observed,

He still looks round about all things in the church, upon all its worship and upon all its work. We need to remember that when Jesus looks, he sees everything thoroughly. He sees the good, and he sees the bad. He sees that which is high, and that which is low. He sees that which is true, and that which is merely formal. He knows when our lips recite the prayer he taught his disciples whether we are indulging in the talk of parrots or praying. He sees thoroughly the internal as well as the external, the motive as well as the manner, the aspiration as well as the achievement.

We need to remember that the true temple, the church of Jesus Christ, is to be characterised as a worshipping people. That is, all peoples are to be a part of this temple. This is why missions matters. This is why our financial commitment to missions matters. This is why church planting matters. This is why church membership with integrity matters.

What does Jesus see today as he looks at us as we gather? What will he see as we gather on Easter week? May we who have been converted through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ so worship and work in spirit and in truth that we bear fruit rather than merely leaves.

Messiah’s Exhortation

Next, we find Messiah’s exhortation:

As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

(Mark 11:20–26)

The next morning Jesus faithfully and courageously returned with his disciples to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. On the way, they noticed the fruitless fig tree shrivelled dead. They marvelled that something seemingly so full of life one day was dead and useless the next. As usual, Peter was the mouthpiece.

Jesus’ response seems, at least on the surface, to be odd, almost unrelated to the question. But upon biblical reflection, it is very relevant.

Mountains in Scripture speak of kingdoms. Zechariah speaks of a day of God’s judgement during which the Mount of Olives will be split and then life will flow from the city of God (Zechariah 14:1ff). That prophecy has nothing to do with a future (to us) restoration of geopolitical Israel with a rebuilt temple, etc. Rather, it has to do with the removal of the kingdom of Israel and the establishment of Christ’s kingdom, which he gave to his new covenant people, the church. With reference to Jesus’ parable in Mark 12:1–12, he was speaking of the removal of the old covenant vineyard—geopolitical Israel—and the planting of his new covenant vineyard—the true Israel, the new covenant church composed of believing Jews and Gentiles. In other words, “the primarymountain, the primary obstacle standing in the way of the mountain of God’s kingdom is Mount Zion as represented by the temple. Until this is removed, the kingdom of God will not prosper.” Therefore, “the prayer [is] specifically a Passover prayer for God to establish his reign” (William Lane).

In a nutshell, Jesus was exhorting his disciples to pray for the removal of that which hindered the worship of God. The disciples were to pray for this imprecatory outcome while guarding their hearts (see, for example, Psalm 139:19–24).

Jesus would flesh this out in chapter 13. For our purposes, our prayers should be focused on God’s glory among the nations. We should be praying that we be more than leaves. We should be praying that his kingdom spreads and that his vineyard is increasingly fruitful with all different varieties.

We must pray for big things: the removal of political obstacles to the advancement of the gospel (1 Timothy 2:1ff); the economic assistance for the funding of the Great Commission; the revival of God’s people that more will be reached with the gospel and healthier churches established; the restoring of relationships for the unifying of God’s people for the extension of God’s kingdom; the reforming of churches for the glory of God’s name; the rescuing of God’s people from enemies of the gospel so the kingdom will march on; etc.

Messiah’s Expectation

Finally, we come across Messiah’s expectation:

And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.  And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully.  And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.  Have you not read this Scripture:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes’?”

And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.

(Mark 11:27–12:12)

With Jesus having thrown down the gauntlet in cleansing the temple, at this point he intensified the conflict with a pointed parable—pointed right at the Judean religious leaders. They felt the point though, sadly, they failed to really get the point.

Jesus made clear that he expected to be killed, by them. Of course, he had predicted this several times earlier, but with the quotation of Psalm 118:22–23 Jesus used temple language, making clear his expectation that those responsible for the well-being of the temple would kill the one to whom the temple points and yet he would be the foundation of the new temple (see John 2:18–22).

Jesus expected to be killed—by crucifixion—and yet he also expected to rise from the dead. It was only in this way that he could answer the biblical messianic expectation of “Hosanna!”; that is, “Save us!” Jesus expected to do much more than the well-intentioned crowd expected of him.

He expected to be destroyed. He expected to rise from the destruction of death. And he expected to then construct a new temple, the people of the new covenant. And this construction would parallel his destruction of the old covenant temple (chapter 13).

I wonder what needs to be destroyed in your life in order for you to become a temple of God. I wonder what needs to be destroyed in your life in order for you to become a part of the true temple of God. Your pride? Your religious self-righteousness? Your erroneous expectations of Christianity? Whatever the answer, are you willing to let Jesus destroy that today?

Don’t be like the Judean leaders and much of the Judean crowd. Rather, be like the Galileans who, quite surely, came to believe in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world (see 1 Corinthians 15:6 with Mark 16:5–8).

The Galilean crowd shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” They meant Jesus, of course. But the writer of the psalm they quoted had others in mind as well. The psalmist was saying, “Blessed are those who come to the house of the Lord truly in the name of the Lord.” That is, those who have been saved in the name of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). Is that you? Men and women, boys and girls, come today to the true Temple, the Lord Jesus Christ. Be delivered from your sin and guilt and alienation. Yes, be eternally blessed.