Hands of Praise (Mar 28, 2021)

Hands of Praise (Mar 28, 2021)

April 13, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

Hands of Praise

Palm Sunday Worship – Mark 11:1-10

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Arriving at your destination is always a joyous occasion. Whether that be to your vacation destination, to grandma and grandpa’s house, or home for a holiday. It’s especially joyous when there’s what you might call a “big reveal” – turning the last corner, finally past the tree line, or coming over the top of the hill and suddenly you can see it! That’s what it was like for travelers to Jerusalem on Passover if they were coming from the east. Passover was one of those festivals, or holidays, that people would journey to Jerusalem for. The road from Jericho makes a steep ascent of over 3,500 feet in the course of 17 miles. Approaching from the east, the city is not visible because it is hidden behind the Mount of Olives. But after making that final climb after the shoulder of the mountain, Jerusalem just bursts into view! The weary travelers have “the big reveal” they’ve been anticipating. It’s not hard to imagine bands of weary travelers joining in a psalm of joyful thanksgiving at this point! “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures forever.’” (Ps 118:1-4).

This time, however, there was even more reason to rejoice. As many anticipated the festivities of the Passover – gathering with family, the meal, finding and sacrificing the Passover lamb – this time, the Passover Lamb was right there with them, walking into Jerusalem to lay down his life for the people – once and for all. By now, many knew about Jesus. And although they perhaps didn’t know exactly how he would accomplish his work, many knew he was the promised Messiah. Today we join the crowds with Jesus as they crest the top of the Mount of Olives. We lift up our hands and voices to praise Jesus. As we do, we will acknowledge who he is, give him honor fit for a king, and respond to him in a proper way.

The people acknowledged who Jesus was. He was the one to bring about “the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mk 11:10) – the promised Messiah! And although Jesus would be betrayed, beaten, and crucified in just days, he demonstrated that he was in complete control of the events of his life. In this account, Jesus shows himself as Lord. He does this in several ways. First, he gives his followers directions that he expects to be followed. “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here” (Mk 11:2). He also gives an exact description of what they would find and the conversation they would have clearly denoting that he was much more than just an earthly king. And for the first time recorded in the book of Mark, Jesus actually asks his disciples to refer to him as “Lord” – “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” (Mk 11:3).

There’s more, though. There is an undeniable sign to anyone who knows the Scriptures that he is indeed the Messianic King. The prophet Zechariah foretold, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you… riding… on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). In some countries, people actually refer to their influential people by the symbols of power they bear. In Kenya, for example, they call their influential people “WaBenzi” because they often arrive in Mercedes-Benz. The Messiah, long before he walked the earth was referred to by Zechariah as “the one riding on a donkey.” As you study the Scriptures, it becomes increasingly evident who he is. Scripture acknowledges him not only as “the one riding on a donkey,” but also as “the Son of David,” “The suffering servant,” “The Passover Lamb,” “The kinsman Redeemer,” and so much more. Jesus fulfills all these titles and all these roles. And very soon, he would reveal to the world how he would fulfill the role of the Promised Messiah.

There is some debate, however, on what riding in on a donkey symbolized. Does it denote humility and lowliness? Or, is it a noble mode of transportation? To us, it definitely sounds less majestic than a noble steed. But there’s evidence that in those days, riding a donkey was not lowly at all. Rather, leaders would ride horses if they rode to war, and donkeys if they came in peace. Scripture mentions King Solomon riding a donkey (1 Kgs 1:33). Some of the leaders during the time of the judges rode donkeys (Jdg 10:4; 12:14). And, donkeys were given as gifts as well. Regardless of what the donkey itself symbolized, the important point to note is that by entering Jerusalem as the donkey-rider, Jesus was fulfilling Scripture. We also know from elsewhere in Scripture that Jesus came to earth in lowliness, yet still possessed the full power of God.

To demonstrate this, we will start with the colt. Scripture notes that this is a colt “which no one has ever ridden” (Mk 11:2). And yet, Jesus would not have to break the animal. Nor would it balk or bolt despite the crowds singing and waving branches all around. This colt knows it is carrying its Creator, its Lord. So it is calm.

Jesus also demonstrated that he was a different kind of king than was typical of those days. He veiled his glory and used his power in a different way. He comes, armed, not with legions of angels to fight for him – though he certainly could have. He comes, not to demand the obedience of all – Pharisee, scribe, and Roman alike – with a show of force, though he certainly could have. He could have come with a physical power to wipe out all disease and create a kingdom where bread was free. But if he did, man’s real problem would have remained. The spiritual battle would have been conceded to Satan. People would still be dying in their sin. You and I would still be condemned to spend the length of eternity away from God and his joy. This is not a battle that can be won in the traditional way that kings wage war.

This King is a different kind of king. He is not interested in increasing his own power, but in securing our eternal freedom. He uses none of his authority to serve himself, but puts himself at the service of his subjects. In this way he wins our hearts and inspires our joyful obedience, compelled not by force, but out of deep love for us. So, he came looking powerless, as a servant. He came “in the name of the Lord!” (Mk 11:9). He came not only to win our hearts, but to fight and conquer our real problems. He came to wage war on our behalf against the spiritual enemies which threatened us. He came armed with the only weapons that would work – relying on the spiritual strength God had promised in his word. “He comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mk 11:9). The result? Death is abolished, sin is paid for, and Satan made powerless. The victory is won!

Which side of that victory are you on? Are you numbered with the disciples who took Jesus at his word and obeyed his commands, trusting them to be true? Are you numbered with the crowds laying down their cloaks for Jesus and carpeting his way with palms, acknowledging who he is and honoring him as the promised Messiah? Or are you numbered with the Pharisees and teachers of the law who questioned everything that Jesus did, tirelessly tried to point out flaws with him, and ended up crucifying him? The ones about whom Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Mt 23:37).

There are times when I am not willing. Times when I would rather kill and stone the clear Word of God because it prevents me from doing what my sinful flesh desires or points out my sinful corruption. There are times when I waver and question what Scripture undeniably says. And when I do this, when I reject the Word and would rather trust my sinful nature, follow my sinful desires, how can I deny that I’m numbered with those who said, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!… Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Lk 23:18,21). That’s what I’m doing every time I know who Jesus is, yet blatantly go against his Word.

My brothers and sisters, this should not be. My brothers and sisters, lets change this. Thankfully, Jesus has already done something to change this. Thankfully, he’s left a clear record of everything he has done for you. This coming week, we will be going through that work in great detail – on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. I encourage you to be here on those days as we walk the road together and praise God for his great love for us. Because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). He entered Jerusalem, fully aware that he went to die. But he did so to get at the real root of the problem and free you from the sin that turns you away from him.

That being said, lets do three things. 1) Obey him. Trust his word to be true. Whether he tells you to find a donkey or he declares that your sins are completely forgiven. Whether he says endure this for a little while, or reminds you, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Heb 13:5). His word is always true. 2) Praise him! Join the travelers who shouted “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!… Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mk 11:9-10). 3) Lean upon him. We do not fight against flesh and blood. We fight against Satan. We fight against the spiritual evil in ourselves and in the world around us. The only way we can achieve victory is to rely on him. It’s the same way that David achieved victory when he faced Goliath.

Unlike Palm Sunday when there were shouts of joy when they crested the Mt. of Olives, when young David surveyed the battlefield there was fear and trembling. Everybody in the army of Israel was afraid. They saw the battle only in earthly, physical terms. A battle which could only be won with earthly power and physical weapons. Who in Israel had the power to match Goliath? Who on earth has the power to match Satan and the forces of evil in this world?

David, however, knew the battle, at its core, was spiritual. Goliath defied the only true God and shouted insults at the army of God’s people. David knew victory could only be won with spiritual strength. He left behind the king’s armor and relied upon the strength the Lord has promised to supply those who put their trust in him. David defeated Goliath not merely with his sling and a stone, but with a prayer – trusting in God’s promises.

Your God goes to battle this week. He goes to the cross to conquer sin, death, and Satan. We know the outcome from his Word. We know that next Sunday brings his resurrection and ours. So we worship him with hands of praise, and eagerly anticipate the empty tomb!