Palm Sunday: Start Spreading the News!

Palm Sunday: Start Spreading the News!
A Message on Mark 11:1-11
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 28, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 11:1-11 (NRSV)

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then 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.

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If you haven’t figured it out by now, today is Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

This event is recorded in all four of the gospels. We find it also in Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:28-40, and in John 12:12-19. And I’ll give you a little theological inside information: If it’s in all four gospels, it’s important.

Jesus has been in ministry for about three years. He’s about 33 years old. He has traveled, taught, healed, performed other miracles (such as raising people from the dead), and stumped and stymied the smartest religious of the time. He had pretty much turned the religious world upside down. He has people who believe he is the long awaited messiah, while other people, especially the religious leaders, not only hate him but want to kill him.

If there had been social media in the first century Jesus would have been trending. Talk of him had gotten around and people were very curious about him. Was he the messiah? But how could he be? He was from little ol’ Nazareth, after all. But he was impressive with the miracles and healing all those that were ill. But word was that he healed lepers by touching them. Surely the messiah wouldn’t be touching “unclean” people, because that would make him “unclean.”

And then you have that whole “walking on water” thing! And calming storms just by talking to them. And bringing dead people back to life. Wow!

So excitement was building about Jesus of Nazareth. There was quite the buzz going on about him.

In the previous chapter of Mark we find Jesus telling the disciples, for the third time, that he will be arrested, beaten, and crucified. And that three days after he is dead, he will rise from the dead.

Now this had to have puzzled the disciples. If this guy really was the messiah, surely he wouldn’t let that happen, right? What’s all this talk of death and rising from the dead?

The disciples just didn’t get it. Immediately after Jesus tells them, again for the third time, that he is going to die and then rise from the dead, two of the disciples, James and John, ask Jesus to name them as his favorites. Really? Did you not hear that death part?

Then Jesus heals Blind Bartamaeus, who immediately becomes a follower of Jesus.

And that’s where the scripture we read today comes in. Jesus knows his time is limited. He knows what awaits him. And he knows that the time has come. It’s time. It’s time to enter Jerusalem.

Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem becomes what we know as Palm Sunday. We call it that because people were so excited Jesus was entering Jerusalem that they tore branches off of the trees along the road and laid them down for the donkey to walk on.

Now that kind of sounds weird to us. But for first century folks it was a way of showing that someone important was coming down the road.

During Bible Study this past week at Mini Methodists we were talking about this with the kids. I asked them why they thought people were laying palm branches in the road for Jesus’ donkey to walk on. They came up with some great and creative answers. Close, but not quite.

Then I asked them if they knew what a red carpet was. They knew that. It was for famous people to walk on, people like movie stars and pop music stars. (Ariana Grande was mentioned by name, by the way. Not sure how I feel about that…)

I told them that the palm branches were the red carpet of the day in first century Jerusalem. It was the way people set certain people above others. It was their way of saying “This person is someone important!”

But Jesus’ ride at the time was not a big, shiny limousine with a well dressed chauffeur. Nope. It was more like an old Super-C Farmall tractor.

One of the expectations of the messiah was that he would restore the kingdom of Israel. At the time the people were living under the rule of the Roman Empire. Rome had an excellent army, and through military might they conquered not only the Holy Land, but much of the known world at the time. They were the big dog of the world at the time.

The thought among the Jewish people was that the messiah would come in and overthrow the Romans. And how was the messiah to do that? Human reasoning said that the way to overthrow a military power was with an even bigger and more powerful military power. They were hoping the messiah would come in with an army of angels armed with swords that would brutally attack the Roman army and devastate them.

Because of this, most thought the messiah would come riding a stallion, a large, muscular, fearless horse. That is what military leaders at the time rode, either that or a big, fancy chariot.

But Jesus doesn’t roll into town in a Hummer or even an M1A1 Abrams tank. He doesn’t ride a huge, fearless stallion. Instead he arrives on a donkey.

Now the scripture we read today from Mark simply says “colt,” as does Luke. But in the gospel of Matthew, we find that it says, “a donkey tied, and a colt with her.” And in John we find Jesus’ steed described as “a young donkey.”

Just to make sure what I learned from my upbringing in Delta County was right, I Googled what the correct terminology was for a young, male donkey. Any guesses as to what it is? Yep, it’s called a “colt.” Specifically it said that “A colt is a young male donkey which is less than four years of age.”

So even though the writers of the different gospels may have used different terms, they are all referring to the same animal: a young donkey.

So Jesus gets on a young donkey that has never been ridden. Now this is significant for a couple of reasons. One has to do with the purity laws of the time. I won’t go into specific details, but you can look them up in Leviticus 15 if you so desire.

Another reason is that it is symbolic that something new is about to happen. Brand new. It’s similar to a VIP rolling up to the red carpet in a brand new limousine compared to a used one. This colt still had that new donkey smell.

Another reason, and the one that impresses me the most, is that the donkey was not “broke.” Being the farm boy that I am, I am familiar with “breaking” horses. This means training them to have a rider on their back.

My dad had a firm belief in breaking horses while they were young. Being the compassionate man that he was, he didn’t want to hurt the young horses by climbing up there on them himself, especially when he had a son that was small and light. Yep. He delegated it to me to break the horses. (Wasn’t that nice and thoughtful of him?)

I faced a choice: crawl on the horse, knowing it would be rodeo time when I did, or face a beating from Dad if I didn’t. (Wasn’t really much of a choice, was it?) I still vividly remember the feeling of flying through the air like a ragdoll knowing that the impact with the ground was coming and knowing that it wouldn’t be pleasant when it did.

Breaking horses takes time, persistence, and a willingness to get back up on that horse again and again. Some horses broke quicker than others. Some horses convinced me that they were the spawn of Satan. But I never had one that didn’t buck any at all.

But Jesus does. He gets on the young donkey and it doesn’t try to throw him off. Instead he humbly carries the Messiah into Jerusalem. (I thought about that a lot as a kid. I always wished Jesus was there to help me break the horses without them bucking.)

So Jesus starts into the city on a donkey. Again, it would be like him riding a Farmall tractor instead of a large military vehicle.

So why a donkey?

A donkey is a beast of burden. It was, and still is in many parts of the world, used to carry things or to pull things. It was an animal used for work.

A tractor is similar. Although we do live in East Texas and will occasionally see people driving the tractors to town as their primary mode of transportation, for the most part tractors are work vehicles. They are used to cultivate fields, to feed livestock, to make hay, and those kinds of things. And while today some of them are super fancy with air conditioning and heat and even GPS computers in them, for the most part they are still humble machinery.

Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem is an expression of humbleness. Just as a donkey works for others, not itself, Jesus also humbly gives himself for others. I think it’s important to remember that just a few days after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus celebrates the passover meal with his disciples, which has become known as the Last Supper. And in John’s gospel Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, a very humbling act, especially when you consider that he washed the feet of his betrayer, Judas.

As Jesus says in Matthew 23:11-12, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

That is why Jesus rode victoriously into Jerusalem on a donkey. And on Palm Sunday it is a good time to remember that.

The voices that cry “Hosanna!” (which means, “Save us,” by the way), will in a few days time will be the same voices yelling “Crucify him!”

Our mission, as disciples of Jesus Christ, is to share the Good News with others. To quote that old Frank Sinatra song, we are to, “Start spreading the news…” We are to tell others about the difference Jesus Christ has made in our lives so that others may experience it for themselves.

So my challenge to you this week (and every week, actually), is to “Start spreading the news.” Invite someone to attend Easter services with you next week. Invite them to attend Sunday school with you, to become a part of one of the many ministries we have here at the church, to basically become a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ rides into Jerusalem victoriously, humbly riding on a beast of burden. He knows what is coming, what will happen that week, how he will be betrayed and killed. But he rides into town anyway, out of love for you. Out of love for me. Out of love for all of humankind.

Start spreading the news.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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