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Triumphal Entry of Jesus

Mark 11:1-10

This week Jesus both Compels and Confuses us with his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. It’s time for the king to arrive and take his throne, but Jesus’ entry changes everything.

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year March Madness.  I’ve lived in Florida 14 years now – you guys just don’t get it.  You’re into this namby pamby football junk … and have no appreciation for the best sport on the planet … basketball.

I’m a Hoosier.  It’s what we’re known for.  My high-school, the Crawford County Wolfpack, just made the state championship in Indiana.  First time ever.

The total population of Crawford County is 10,000.  There were over 5,000 residents in attendance at the game last weekend.

Crawford County is the poorest county in Indiana.  Life is hard there.  There isn’t much to be very excited about.  And so the people put all their hopes and dreams into this young team.

This past weekend, was like a remake of the Gene Hackman movie Hoosiers.  Underdog team, from a podunk town, a bunch of nobodies, no D1 recruits on the team, no one over 6’4 …

Everyone was cheering for them.  Celebrating these players.  The excitement had never been higher.  There were pep rally’s, news crews coming to do interviews …

The citizens of Crawford County were convinced that this team was going to bring them the VICTORY that they had forever longed for.  Sadly, they lost the game.  It wasn’t the victory they hoped for.

But as my friend Chad posted on Facebook this week: “While it is a tough pill for them to swallow, they are already legendary in the minds of the kids of Crawford County who will remember and talk about their run to the State Championship for years to come.”

And they will.  Because for a small town in Indiana, this is the stuff of legends.  This basketball game made the people of Crawford County feel a part of something bigger than themselves.  An opportunity to be winners.   To feel successful.

Tonight it’s the Final Four of March Madness for college basketball.  How many of you did brackets? How many of your brackets are busted?  How many want me to hurry up because you know the South Carolina/Gonzaga game started at 6pm?

People from Indiana, as much as we like to see our Hoosiers win, we almost like it as much to see the Kentucky Wildcats lose:

  • because they’re Kentucky.
  • because they always seem to win

This past weekend Kentucky is playing North Carolina.  Two top tier teams.  #1 vs #2.  The game lived up to the hype.  Back and forth.  High level of play.And it comes down to the final seconds.  Some are already calling it the greatest 10-seconds in basketball …

UK/UNC Final 10-Seconds Video

There’s something about us humans.  We love to be on the winning side.  It’s as if we’re a part of the winning, even if were not actually winning, just watching from our couch.  Sometimes I’ll even flip channels, to watch 3-games at one time, so at least one of my teams will win.

I think we all realize that we have no effect on the outcomes of the games (I hope).  But somehow we feel a part of it.  It’s something bigger than ourselves.   When our team wins, we celebrate.  When our team loses, we move into despair.

Watch this final 10-seconds again, this time from the point of view of a bar somewhere in Kentucky …

UK Bar Video 

I’m pretty sure I just people crying in that video.  Grown up human beings, with jobs … crying, because they’re team was just defeated.


There is something about us, that longs to be a part of something bigger than we are.

There’s something inside of us that wants to WIN; Wants to SUCCEED; Wants to feel as if we’ve CONQUERED.  We all want to slay the dragons, even if it’s just watching  a game from a bar in Kentucky, or our living room.

There’s a moment like this in the life of Jesus.

Jesus comes into Jerusalem, and people are celebrating.  They can almost taste a victory.  They’ve put all their hopes into this one man.  They’re cheering for something bigger than themselves.

The crowds are convinced that Jesus is going to bring them the VICTORY that they had forever longed for. 

Tonight we continue our study of the Gospel of Mark, as we turn now to the final week of Jesus’ life … which begins with this Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

YouVersion Live // Mark 11:1–10 (ESV) 

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 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. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’”

 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go.

 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting,  

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

This triumphant entry of Jesus is what we know today as Palm Sunday.  It’s a week from tomorrow.  The Sunday before Good Friday.

This incident is included in all four gospels, so it’s obviously important.  As I’ve read Mark, there seems to be underlying tension between Jesus/Crowds/Disciples on his Kingship …

But this is the only time where there is no TENSION about the identity of Jesus as the Messiah.  Jesus allows this brief period of celebration.  A pep rally before the big game … before his VICTORY as the Messiah.

But the victory that Jesus knows is coming, is much different than the one the crowds are expecting.

That’s the ministry of Jesus.  A ministry of tension.  One that both compels and confuses.

Jesus had a very short public ministry.  30-years of his life, he lives in obscurity … then for 3-years, he lives as a public figure.

He calls the 12-disciples … and they’re compelled to follow him, but they are confused by his teaching.

The crowds are compelled to come to him.  Massive crowds have been seen following him throughout his public ministry.  But He talks in parables, confusing them.

The blind, deaf and sick are compelled to ask for healing, they put their faith in him, but he confounds us even still today by telling them not to tell anyone.

Still something has continued to compel the people to come to Jesus, to follow him, to jump on the bandwagon.  And they’re here.  And they’re celebrating.

They’re like … OK, now is the time he goes BIG.  It’s been a little bumpy.  He’s confused us, but he’s been getting ready.  But this is the moment we’ve been waiting for.  Finally, Jesus is going to show us that he is the Messiah, and he’s going to be the King we’ve always wanted.  Finally, we’re going to be on the winning team.    

If you’ve done a March Madness bracket, you know what it’s like to think you’ve picked the winner … you put all your office pool hopes and dreams into that ONE team who’s going to bring you victory, only to be disappointed when they’re knocked out by a 12-seed.

This day is known as the Triumphant Entry.  The crowds are RECEIVING Jesus, as if he was coming to bring them the ultimate TRIUMPH.  They’ve put all their hopes into Jesus.  He’s their National Champion.

He’s going to conquer the Roman empire, liberate the people of Israel, and be established as the King … and the people would finally have the freedom, and the lives, and the victory that they longed for.  Finally, they’d be on the winning team.

So they are celebrating Jesus, which is a good thing right?

The problem is they weren’t celebrating the Jesus who was actually there … they were celebrating the Jesus who they wanted to be there.  They were projecting onto Jesus, the Jesus they wanted him to be.

Do we still do this today? 

Like these crowds, we celebrate a Political Jesus, that says we can change the world with power and might.  That we can legislate family values and morality with our political Jesus power.

Or we create an 8-ball Jesus … that we can just shake and shake until he gives us the answers that we want to hear.

Or make Jesus into a Mr. Rogers Jesus … who just wants us to be happy all the time, never convicts us, and wants us to just have a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Or the Santa Jesus … be nice not naughty, and then he owes us good gifts.

Or the Self-Help Jesus … who wants us to have our best life now.

And when the real Jesus doesn’t live up to our imaginary Jesus’ expectations, we hold it against him.  Or even worse, we can turn on him, like these crowds ultimately did.

Man is made in the image of God, but we so often try to create God into the image of man, and then use that God to justify our actions.  Instead of coming to Jesus, trying to know who he is … we tell him who he should be.

These crowds are worshipping Jesus, and they are celebrating him, and they are declaring his triumph, but they didn’t bother to HEAR what his intention was for Himself and the world.

They thought Jerusalem was the place where he would put down his stake, where he would establish his kingdom, and rule over nations and empires, and become the kind of King they had always wanted …

The Gospel of Luke tells us that as Jesus approached the city, he began to weep. He knows the kind of King the people are wanting, and He knows how easily a mob can turn.  Voices who shouted “Hosanna!” on this day, in just a week would be shouting “Crucify him!” …

Just like the UK fans in that video, on this day, they were celebrating what seemed like eminent victory, ultimate triumph.  The mood was hype.  Fists pumped in the air.  But soon, they would feel crushed in defeat, heads dropped, tears shed, even turning on their own …

Did you notice that Mark spends 7 out of 10 verses in this triumphant entry, talking about a DONKEY?

It’s time for the KING to show up.  The hero who is going to save the day.  The man who single handedly is going to take down the # 1 seeded Roman Empire.

And so I imagined this week, a Roman officer, who stops by to see what all the disturbance is about.

This officer has attended processions like this where they do it right.  It would be a well organized event.

The king rides in on the largest stallion with head held high.  Behind him, are soldiers, in polished armor, displaying the flags of captured armies and nations.  At the rear comes a ragtag procession of prisoners and slaves, in chains, to serve as living proof of how powerful the King is, and what happens to those who defy him.

But when the officer looks out onto this scene, he sees the ragtag group of prisoners and slaves making up both the crowd and leading procession.  It’s unorganized.  The object of their affection, their supposed King, who they are shouting Hosanna for, riding on not a large Stallion, but on the back of a donkey, with a borrowed coat draped across it’s back for a saddle is crying,

It would look like pure comedy to this Roman officer.  (like the Refuge softball team)

For 3-years, Jesus ministry has all built to this moment.  It’s time for the King to arrive, to take the throne, to plant his stake in the ground.  The people are shouting …

“Hosanna.  (God save us) Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. “

Yet Mark spends 7 of 10 verses to say …

Oh, by the way … Jesus got a donkey.  And that’s what he rode into town.

King’s were supposed to ride the highest, tallest, most powerful horse.  You wouldn’t dare ride next to a king, on a horse more powerful than his.

It would be a regal entry, head held high (illustrate)

But Jesus chooses a donkey.  Not just a donkey.  But John’s Gospel tells us it’s a Donkey’s Colt.  Jesus can’t just pick a donkey; he picks a baby donkey.  A burrito.

Can you imagine the confusion of the disciples?

Alright Jesus, this is your moment Jesus.  The people are ready to crown you as king.  What kind of horse should we get you?   A Clydesdale?  A Kentucky Thoroughbred?

Jesus says … No, I want a donkey. 

Oh wait a minute …  I see what you’re doing here.  We’ll get you 8-strong donkeys to pull you in a chariot of gold.  That’s even better than riding a single stallion into town.  Excellent idea Lord. 

Jesus says … No, I already have one picked out … the little baby donkey in that village over there.  Now let’s go usher in my Kingdom. 

Remember I said Jesus both compels and confuses.

Jesus compels us.  We know we need him.

But he confuses us, because he doesn’t give us what it is that we think we need.

We think we need a God who comes on a stallion, not a God who rides on a donkey.

It’d be so much easier if our God came in on a stallion wouldn’t it?  Because that’d mean he’d put us on a stallion too.

Imagine being in the crowd that day, and you’ve made your bracket for a King who’s going to win the the BIG game, who’s going to take down the evil Roman Empire.

All your hopes and dreams projected onto Him …

And your guy, the one that you’ve put all your faith in, shows up, not galloping like a hero on a Stallion, but like a peasant on a small little donkey.  Not with head held high, but weeping, as his head bobs back and forth, as the donkey slowly plods along the procession.

You’d be confused.  If this is who God is, what does it mean about who we are?  How is this guy going to bring us victory?

If Jesus came in on a great white horse know that he is promising his followers power, and authority and stature.

But he comes on a donkey.   And in so doing, He’s redefining greatness.

In this moment, Jesus violates our definition of greatness, and redefines it as humility.   This changes everything. 

This means if we’re going to trust God with our lives, we’ve got to get off of our high horse, and get onto our donkey.

We have to move away from fame and power, and move towards service.

We have to step away from self-centeredness, and move to treating others how we’d want to be treated.

It means we choose humility over arrogance.

Gentleness over violence. Generosity over greed.

And then all of a sudden we begin to change.

We start to see the face of a child with down syndrome as more beautiful that an airbrushed model on the cover of a magazine.

The homeless man on the street corner, as important in our lives, as that person who can help us climb the social ladder.

That being a part of a small messy church, might be just as valuable in the Kingdom of God, as an organized Megachurch.

When we’re riding a donkey, it becomes much easier to not take ourselves so seriously, to laugh at ourselves, to honestly evaluate our brokenness, to find rest from trying to constantly prove ourselves as powerful and worthy.

When we step down from our high horse, and onto our donkey, we relinquish our entitlements, our preferences, our selfish desires …

Because what entitlements can WE hold on to, if Jesus, as the King of the World, gave them all up.

The donkey changes everything.  It tells us who Jesus is.  It tells us who God is.  And it tells us who we are able to become.

God didn’t come to earth to fight the war we wanted him to fight, but to fight the war that we didn’t even know we were in.

And so we call this the triumphal entry of Jesus, not because He came and conquered nations and empires, but because he came and conquered sin and death.

Our new victory chant moves from Hosanna (God save us) to … Where o death is your sting?  Where o hell is your victory?

We call this the triumphal entry, because as our team looked to like it was going to be eliminated from the tournament, we won the ultimate victory.

We call this the triumphal entry, not because Jesus ascended to the throne of Israel, but because He declared His throne our hearts.

Jesus came and conquered the war of pride within us …

The donkey ushers in that victory … and the cross finalizes it.

This donkey reminds us that God will never justify our greed, or lust for power, or self-centeredness …  Because Jesus, the King of Kings, God incarnate … demonstrated humility by riding on a humble beast, and now calls us to do the same.

This past weekend, the reason we weren’t here, is we were at a vow renewal ceremony for some dear friends of ours.

Truth be told, I love these friends, but wasn’t all that excited about the ceremony.  I was tired from a wedding I officiated the night before.  And I’ve always said, a vow is a promise, and you can’t re-do a promise, so vow renewals ceremonies are kind of pointless.

But this one was unique.  The couple, celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary, invited people who were influential in their lives and marriage.  And instead of making this vow renewal all about them, made it all about their guests.  They had us sit in a circle, and walked around that circle together, and read special notes they had written to each one of us sitting there, why WE were special to them.  Many hugs were exchanged.  Many tears were shed.

What a beautiful picture of riding our donkey.

Later we all had dinner together, and the couple asked questions and advice from their guests.  One of the questions was what’s your #1 key to having a successful marriage … to which Karen answered with a one-word answer … HUMILITY!

Humility is the key to marriage, and the key to life.

Unfortunately, we’ve been taught our whole lives in nearly every venue, including at times, even the church, that the only way to win in life, is to defeat everyone else.  To be the strongest and most powerful …

But Jesus teaches us, that the way to win, is to suffer and sacrifice.   To humbly put others ahead of yourself.

That’s the confusing part of how Jesus has decided to grow his Kingdom on earth.

Tim Keller says the following in his book,  Jesus the King (ladies group just finished)

“God says, “the route to gaining influence is not taking power. Influence gained through power and control doesn’t really change society; it doesn’t change hearts. I’m calling you to a totally different approach. Be so sacrificially loving that the people around you, who don’t believe what you believe, will soon be unable to imagine the place without you. They’ll trust you because they see that you’re not only out for yourself, but out for them, too. When they voluntarily begin to look up to you because of the attractiveness of your service and love, you’ll have real influence. It will be an influence given to you by others, not taken by you from others.”

Who is the model for that way of gaining influence? It’s Jesus himself, of course. How did he respond to his enemies? He didn’t call down legions of angels to fight them. He died for their sins, and as he was dying he prayed for them. And if at the very heart of your worldview is a man dying for his enemies, then the way you’re going to win influence in society is through service rather power and control. “

Jesus turns everything upside down.  He rides into town, people laid their cloaks on the road in front of him and hailed him as king, and yet Jesus deliberately departs from the script and does something very different than we’d expect.   He doesn’t ride on a powerful horse, but a small donkey.  He wasn’t going to fit into a category of kingship people had created in their minds.

Can we learn from this as a church?  Can we turn everything upside down?  Can we deliberately depart from the script?  Humbly do things differently?

Can we learn from this in our lives?  It’s not easy to give up power.  Whether it be your marriage.  Or to forgive someone who has hurt you.  Or to love someone who doesn’t respect you.

It’s not easy to ride a donkey, in a world that over and over and over tells us we need to do everything we can to jump on the biggest horse we can find.

But as much as the world says that … the world is also, deep in our souls, compelled to cheer for the underdog.  Whether it be a small school in Indiana, a 16-seed in March Madness, a little church in Fort Myers, or a hero riding into town on a donkey.

Jesus knew that victory would be found in defeat.  Just a few verses back, he told his disciples …

Mk 10:33–34

 “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”

Easter is in two weeks, but tonight, and every day you can celebrate this victory.

Have you experienced the triumphal entry of Jesus into your life?  It won’t come with power and might, but love and humility.

God is not a King who powers and rules over us with force and violence, he won’t force himself upon you …

He’s a God who has come to serve and give us life through defeat.  A God who rode to the throne of our hearts on a donkey.

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