[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church by the title "The Beginning of the End". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]
Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey marks the beginning of the end of His earthly ministry. He purposely declares Himself to be the Messiah through His method of entrance, and He receives the honor due to the Messiah through cloaks, branches, and cries of God's salvation. He comes at Passover to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All this is clear as we look back on this popular event from Jesus' life.
However, it was not as clear to those who were there. In John 12, we read the reaction of the disciples and the crowds to Jesus' coming. "His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him." The gospel of Mark has continually made note of the disciples' inability to understand everything about Jesus and His mission, and John's words confirm that. For example...though Peter had proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ (Mk. 8:29), Jesus' intentional fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 still left him lacking understanding.
It was no better for the crowds. I pointed to a little of this in my sermon from Sunday. The laying down of cloaks and branches was a way to show honor, but the crowds were not necessarily honoring a man they thought of as a king. They would not immediately have the incident with Jehu in their mind (2 Kings 9:13). Also, the words they spoke had become very familiar phrases used in worship. For example, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' had lost some of its original meaning through its repetitive use. The phrase about David's kingdom was a familiar prayer to Jews. Familiarity sometimes breeds forgetfulness, and this quote of Psalm 118 had become something like that.
Also, IF they truly understood what Jesus was proclaiming here, then there would have been quite an uproar. If they realized that He was declaring that He was the Messiah...the King who was to come...then there would be no stopping such information. Jerusalem would have been buzzing with the news: "Jesus is claiming to be God's King." However, Jesus is not immediately taken into custody for such a claim. It would have been treason in the eyes of the Romans, who controlled Jerusalem at the time. No, Mark 11:11 has the day ending quietly, with Jesus freely leaving Jerusalem to get some rest at Bethany. No traitor to the Roman authorities would be allowed the freedom to move and act and speak that Jesus has in the coming chapters of Mark.
One more thought on why I think the crowds weren't fully engaged in this activity...on why they didn't fully understand who Jesus was. Here...they are shouting what appears to be praise for God's King and Messiah. Yet, only a few chapters later, they will be shouting words of condemnation at the same man. They will no longer be honoring Him as a king but condemning Him as a criminal. Cloaks will not be laid at His feet...rather, His clothes will be torn off Him so that He might be beaten and mocked and killed. The apparent love of this crowd will turn into obvious hatred. Those truly committed to Jesus' identity do not rejoice in Him at the beginning of the week and then change their tune by the end of it. [By the way, that's a helpful reminder to all of us who proclaim allegiance to the Lord Jesus each Sunday as we worship Him in song and in word. Is our tune different in our words and lives through the rest of the week?]
So, here is a public pronouncement of Jesus' identity and mission, but the disciples don't get it...the crowds don't get it. Why is that? Why would their eyes be so blind to Jesus at this crucial point in His life? This is a good question, and I think we find our answer in remembering the purpose of Mark's gospel. Mark's gospel is not a story about how people respond to Jesus, though we see a lot of responses along the way. Mark's gospel is about how God has responded to sinful mankind...by sending Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). The gospel of Mark is about the fact that God has acted definitively to bring salvation to clueless, helpless, hopeless mankind through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son...Jesus. Those are the lenses through which we must see this book of the Bible.
One closing thought...while it is beneficial to consider the responses of different groups and individuals to Jesus, we should not simply get caught up in evaluating others. The real question is the one Pilate asked in Matthew 27:22, "...what shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?" Is my response to Jesus the repentance and faith which His gospel demands (1:14-15)?