banner

Jesus Takes Command ©

Palm Sunday is upon us.  What a great day!  The Savior’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem hits a high note in the life of faith. Notice first where the story begins.  “When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives” (Mark 11:1a). Bethany is sometimes translated as the “house of the poor” or the “house of dates.”  It was one of the recognized lodging places for religious pilgrims approaching the holy days in Jerusalem (being just a short mile or so outside of Jerusalem).  Significantly Jesus doesn’t start in the center of the holy city.  Oh no, the action begins where we live!  This was true then and it is true now.  We don’t need to go someplace special to be truly Christian.  It all starts here on the journey of faith from Bethany. The opening verse might almost be entitled “Jesus takes command.”  Those of you who know your Civil War history may remember a significant turning point early in the Civil War.  It happened when General Johnson, then the leader of the army of Northern Virginia, was wounded and President Jefferson Davis sent for General Lee.  Robert E. Lee took command, repulsed the Union advance, and changed the whole course of American history.  Others might hearken to the Korean War and the genius of General Douglas MacArthur as he took command at Inchon;  or perhaps Patton in Europe with his brilliance, Rommel in North Africa, Hannibal crossing the Alps, or Caesar in Gaul.  They are all illustrations from history of a great leader taking charge.  This is precisely what happens in the opening verse and yet far more.  It is the one true leader who takes command.  “When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples” (Mark 11:1). “He sent.”  Those two simple words tell us so much.  Scholar after scholar, author after author, notes that this is a crucial turning point where Jesus takes command of events and actions.  Jesus takes the initiative to proclaim and declare for all to see that he really is the savior.  The instructions to the disciples in verses two and three – “go into the village … find a colt … if any one asks” – demonstrate that he is the one in charge.  He who comes mounted on a colt is the supreme commander, the king. Thus this day we call Palm Sunday invites us in the retelling and rehearing of the story to ask, is Jesus the commander of my life.  Am I willing to march to His orders? What unfolds in the next verse (Mark 11:4) is the answer of those called disciples.  So often in the Bible these guys – Peter, James, John and the rest of them – got it wrong; but on this day they got it right.  The disciples obeyed the Lord.  Verse four tells us “they went” as instructed.  They trusted Jesus and shared what he had told them in verse five.  In other words they acted as model disciples understanding that faith really is a matter of trust and obedience.  Once again the lesson of the Bible is clear for us.  As we enter Holy Week, are we willing to trust and obey? What fascinates me here is not only did the disciples’ get it right but so too did the bystanders.  They untie the colt, a valuable possession, and simply say, “The Lord needs it” (Mark 11:3).  The amazing example for us is the response made in verse six.  “They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it” (Mark 11:6). The Palm Sunday road from Bethany challenges and invites us to respond in faith to God’s call and claim on our life.  The Lord has need not just of the colt but of you and me. Notice how the crowd responded. “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.  Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!’ Hosanna in the highest heaven!" (Mark 11:8-10) A famous Methodist preacher of an earlier age, Halford Luccock comments: “There was no debate about it; no cautious trial and balance to see whether or not the risk to the clothes was really called for; no wondering if some show of respect at a cheaper price might not be enough.  These people were lifted on a tide of hope and joy and love. . . . The life that never forgets itself in a great lift of devotion is poor, no matter how richly upholstered its furniture” (Halford Luccock, Interpreter’s Bible, Mark, Vol. 7, p. 826). That day they gave Jesus a conqueror’s welcome.  The shout was actually a reference back to the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). There is this punctuation of praise in the word “hosanna.”  It literally means “Save Now!”  It is a shout of adulation to the Lord.  Thus here at this start of Holy Week we are reminded that worship always begins in praise.  When we praise, we remember who God is and recommit ourselves to the one who alone has the full right to command our allegiance. Their cry has it right.  “Hosanna! [Save us now!]  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9).  I dare to say it is the same cry we bring to this day, however deeply that cry may be buried in the secret places of our heart, both in praise and as a plea. Jesus rides the road from Bethany to enter the Holy City this day.  He rides that road to enter the holy city of our hearts and minds, our wills and way.  He comes as commander, the leader, the Lord.  However we might break down this day; however we might celebrate and seek to understand it, the one unmistakable truth is the claim Jesus makes about himself for the disciples, for those in the crowd so long ago and for us.  He is the king, the commander, the ruler, the Lord.    This is the cardinal creed of the Christian faith.  In fact the earliest Christians didn’t have the Apostles’ Creed.  They used a three-word affirmation.  “Jesus is Lord.” That is what this day is about.  He rides from Bethany and enters the holy city of our lives proclaiming that he is the Lord, the ruler and commander.  He rides down the road of our life and says, “Will you follow me?”