This year (like we did last year), we are going to engage Holy Week one day at a time. On Palm Sunday, we’ll read what Jesus did on Palm Sunday. On Monday, we will read what Jesus did on the Monday of that week (and so on throughout the week).
Some days our reading will be shorter than it normally is, but some days it will be longer. Try to fully engage with each day’s reading as we aim to learn all that we can from the week that changed the world forever.
Holy Week Overview
Before we dive in, let’s make sure we understand all that was happening as this week began. N.T. Wright, one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars alive today, refers to Palm Sunday (and all of what we now refer to as Holy Week) as “the perfect storm”, where the conditions and complexities all came together just right for this week to unfold as it did.
From the west, you have the Roman Empire. Initially Rome was a republic, but over the previous few decades it had turned into a political, cultural, and military empire. It had become an almost unstoppable force in the world. On top of that, the previous few emperors had staked a claim to divinity themselves, referring to themselves as the “sons of God.” Clearly, Jesus making a similar claim (albeit true) didn’t sit well with them. They needed to find a way to get rid of this man.
Another element in this storm is Israel–the people of God. They had a long complicated history, as they waited and hoped for God to deliver them. Think back to the story of the Exodus, for example. They had been oppressed and under tyrannical rule before and God helped deliver them out of that. Throughout all of their wandering. returning, and wandering again, they knew that someone was coming to rescue them. They were there again, waiting to be delivered. Their scriptures pointed to a Messiah–someone who was going to come and do just that.
The third element in this story is God. God promised his people that He would come back and establish His kingdom here on earth. There is a tension here because Israel thought this meant they as a nation would be put back to their rightful place, but the prophets of the Old Testament (and John the Baptist) all made it clear that God would come back on his own terms and with His own purpose in mind.
Read Mark 11:1-11.
Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King
11 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “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. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“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 heaven!”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 11 begins with Jesus nearing the entrance to Jerusalem. Fully aware of what is in front of him and the reality that he is facing, Jesus instructs two of his disciples to go ahead and bring him back a colt. At first glance, this might seem like a random set of instructions but what Jesus is doing here is intentional. He is fulfilling a prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 and essentially identifying himself as the Messiah that Israel has been waiting for this entire time. As he rides into town, Jesus is greeted by excited onlookers waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna”, which means “Save us now”.
The crowd knew this was the Messiah coming to save them…but how was he going to do it? Was he going to topple the Roman Empire? Was he going to turn the world upside down and declare himself king? It seemed like everyone one in the crowd had certain expectations of what they thought Jesus was going to do. But Jesus, as he did all throughout his earthly ministry, flipped those expectations on their heads.
Instead of a warhorse, Jesus came riding into town on a donkey. He was definitely coming to establish a new Kingdom–it just wasn’t the kind they were expecting. And Jesus was absolutely going to save them from tyranny and oppression, but instead of saving them from the Roman Empire Jesus was going to save them from eternal separation from Him.
It seems life rarely goes the way we draw it up, right? We have our own expectations of how things should go. We make five year and ten year plans. But what happens when those plans get blown up? It is in those moments where we come face-to-face with the questions that Jesus’s followers had to reckon with almost 2,000 years ago: Is Jesus really enough? The life that Jesus is calling us to, where we pick up our cross and follow him, is one of day-to-day faithfulness.
Even when things don’t go according to our plans or line up with the expectations we had in our minds, we can still choose to follow Jesus faithfully.
What word or phrase would you use to describe the scene as Jesus entered town? Why?
What is the most recent example in your own life where your expectations were not met?
What are practical steps you can take to follow Jesus today, even when there are circumstances out of your control?
By the Way
John’s account of Palm Sunday tells us that even the disciples didn’t fully grasp what was happening that day until after the fact. John 12:16 says, “At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.” Praise God that we know how the story ends!