Welcoming the Sovereign Servant King – Mark 11:1-11
Just like that, we are brought to Mark 11. It was an action-packed ride but now he slows down big time. Mark 11-16, 1/3 of the whole gospel (by contrast, John spends chapters 12-21 on the death and resurrection of Christ) is given to just seven days in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the focus of all the Gospels. (Since we covered Mark 14-16 during our Lenten season, we should be done in about eight more weeks with the Gospel of Mark).
If you ever watched an award show, like the Academy Awards, you may have noticed that before the show starts, stars walk on a red carpet. Sometimes you wonder if it’s even about the awards themselves because “while the awards take place inside, much of the publicity and excitement takes place outside with journalists discussing the red carpet fashions, what designers are being worn by which stars and photographers taking pictures.” Everyone’s eye is on the red carpet.
Did you know that the earliest known reference to walking a red carpet in literature is in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus (pronounced Escalus) written in 458 BC? When Agamemnon returns from Troy, his wife offers him a red path to walk upon. She says,
Now my beloved, step down from your chariot, and let not your foot, my lord, touch the Earth. Servants, let there be spread before [him]…a crimson path. Interestingly, Agamemnon, is afraid to, because such luxuries were for gods and he is but “…a mortal, a man.”
Since then, our culture puts out the red carpet in our worship of celebrities. No more fear, though, like Agamemnon that they are not gods, but mere mortals. The red carpet says, “Welcome. We adore you. You are so valuable and important. I worship you.” The person on the carpet says, “Look at me! Don’t you wish you were me?” It conveys honor and status.
We all want red carpet treatment. Is it better to be ignored or hated? Maybe we won’t get it in Hollywood, but we definitely desire it in our lives. It starts really young with a child saying, “Dad, Mom, watch me do this.” I was convicted from Jiju’s message last week of how much we want to be seen and respected by others. Look at James and John in Mark 10:37: “Let me sit one at your right hand and one at your left.” We want to be seen. We want a red carpet treatment. When someone cuts you off, you want to drive next to them and say, “Didn’t you see me? The Great King Robin driving?”
Social media has given us all the chance to get red carpet treatment. A lot of us like to instagram our lives. Look at me! I am a great dad. I am a great, spiritual pastor. I am a loving husband. Look at me in this cute outfit. The word of the year last year was selfie. Look at how I can go on these amazing vacations. See, I’m not a loser. Roll out the red carpet. Look at how defensive we get when we are criticized. How dare you say that about me the great one who is never wrong?
In our text today, we will see our Servant King given a “red carpet treatment.” He is really the only one who deserves it, but in a twist, He is a different kind of King. It is only when we truly look at our Servant King for who He is and what He has done for us red-carpet-hungry people, will be cut down to size, freed from our captivity of self-love and truly live for His glory and not ours. Let’s start with this:
- The Servant King is Sovereign (vv.1-6)
We find Jesus on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Lazarus has just been raised from the dead (John 11) and blind Bartimaeus received his sight (Mark 10:52). There is a lot of commotion and you can imagine great crowds were coming out from Jerusalem to see him and the resurrected Lazarus. Amusingly, John 12 tells us that the chief priests were plotting to kill Lazarus after Jesus raised him from the dead. Do you think Lazarus was scared?
Jesus then sends two unnamed disciples on a mission. They were to go to a nearby village and not search too long for a baby donkey, a colt, that will be tied up and never been sat on before. Why an animal that has never been ridden before? In those days, an animal that has not been ridden on was considered “unbroken” and it was considered special and sacred (Num. 19:2; Deut 21:3). This was something done by kings.
They were to untie it and anticipating people wondering if they were going to steal it, he tells them to just say, “The Lord needs it and we’ll return it.” This does not sound like a good explanation right? Why are you taking this animal? Oh, the Lord needs it! Makes sense! Notice Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples or anyone why or what He’s doing. It doesn’t make sense. The owner of this colt had no idea that letting Jesus borrow it would make it into the Bible!
Commentator David Garland summarizes this section when he says, “Jesus impresses the animal as a king would who is entitled to whatever he needs; but, unlike plundering kings, Jesus will return the animal immediately. The disciples obey at once, and everything takes place as Jesus said it would.”
How does Jesus know all this? He’s God. What do we see here? Edwards comments, “Jesus thus does not enter Jerusalem as an unknowing victim, but with the same foreknowledge and sovereignty with which he traveled “on the way.” In other words, He comes to Jerusalem in complete control. He knows every detail. He knows the owner of the colt will respond. He knows where the animal is. He knows who the man is. He knows what the man will do.
He also calls Himself “the Lord.” This word can mean “sir” or “Master,” but it can also refer to “the supreme ruler and sovereign.” Pastor R.C. Sproul translates it, “Tell them the Sovereign One…requires that donkey.” And what happens when Jesus commands this? It happens just as He said. Jesus has ordered everything. This is all planned and carefully premeditated. What an encouragement to the disciples that their Master is headed to Jerusalem in charge of the whole thing, even when things are about to get really chaotic in just a few days. He is the Sovereign Servant King.
So what? What does that do for us today? First:
We can have comfort in our anxieties. At the root of anxiety is not believing that God will get the details of our life right. Listen if He is the Lord and Master of every detail of His divine destiny, what makes you think He does not know every detail of yours? There is not one molecule floating around that He is not aware of. There is not one tear that He hasn’t stored in His bottle. Secondly,
We can be free to be small when He’s so big. As he looks back on his long life, Jayber Crow, the main character in Wendell Berry’s novel, reflects on how God’s guidance and providence often catch us by surprise.
I can’t look back from where I am now and feel that I have been very much in charge of my life…I have made plans enough, but I see now that I have never lived by plan…. Nearly everything that has happened to me has happened by surprise. All the important things have happened by surprise. And whatever has been happening usually has happened before I had time to expect it…and so when I have thought I was in my story or in charge of it, I really have been only on the edge of it, carried along. Is this because we are in an eternal story that is happening [only] partly in time?
I love that. When I thought I was in my story or in charge of it, I really have been only carried along! We are all part of an eternal story of our Sovereign King. And because He’s sovereign, I’m free to not be sovereign of my life. If anxiety is not believing God will get the details of my life right, bitterness is believing that God got the details of my life wrong.
However, when I see that my story is still being written and this is just a chapter and that God is sovereign and He works all things work together for the good of those who love Him (though all things are not good), I can be free from bitterness. Here is what I am learning over and over again as I get older. First, I am more incapable than I first thought. Second, God is more capable than I ever imagined or ever hoped. What is He doing? He’s making me small and the smaller I get, the bigger He is in my life and greater I see that my life is all of grace.  Nothing I have achieved, everything I have received. And I get off the red carpet as I start to see that He takes all of the whole thing!
When you convince yourself that your world is out of control, you are on the verge of paralysis. Watch your self-talk. Preach the Gospel to yourself. Are you saying to yourself: “God is in control of this circumstance, He is my Father, and He is ruling this for my benefit”?
- The Servant King came to fulfill God’s agenda, not ours (vv. 7-11)
Now we see the red carpet treatment but it’s not exactly the kind of treatment He truly deserves, which we will see in a moment. The disciples put their outer cloaks on the colt as a makeshift saddle. Jesus gets on it. Can you picture this? Do you see how unkingly this looks? His feet must be dangling on both sides and dragging on the ground. Typically a king would come on some powerful Arabian warhorse and golden chariot if he paraded into a city. Garland says, “Jesus does not enter Jerusalem on a white charger. He does not brandish a series of war trophies, and a train of captives does not trail behind him.” Here was Jesus Christ, the King of authoritative, miraculous power, riding into town on a steed fit for a child or a hobbit.
This is almost a comic sight. But this is how he comes. Meek and lowly. Without pomp. Without ceremony. Without even the slightest concern for appearances. The crowd gets excited. Men throw off their cloaks, women spread their shawls, children climb trees tearing off palm and olive branches. Matthew 21:9 tells us that Jesus in doing this has fulfilled prophecy made 500 years before in Zech. 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” So Jesus, in a way, is saying, “I am a King, but I’m not a King that fits into the world’s categories. I bring together majesty and meekness, power and weakness.” In essence He’s saying, since I am coming in weakness to get you, you must come in weakness to get me.
But they missed why He’s riding into Jerusalem. They shout “Hosanna!” I used to think this means, “Hooray!” but it literally means save us, we pray and was originally a plea for help. But save us from what? Save us from Rome! They are shouting nationalistic slogans, quoting Scripture like from Ps. 118:26 and hoping to restore the power and glory of the Davidic kingdom. Don’t forget the disciples are joining in as well, no matter how many times Jesus has said He will go to Jerusalem to His death. By the way, sometimes we talk about how fickle the crowds are and how in a week the same crowd that cried “Hosanna” will cry “Crucify Him!” However, they are not the same crowd. The Galilean pilgrims shouted ‘Hosanna’ as they approached the city; the Jerusalem crowd shouted, ‘Crucify him’. Nevertheless, some from this crowd is certainly going to be in the other crowd in a week as well.
Is He in fact the Messiah that was predicted to come from the line of David? Yes. Is He in fact a King? Absolutely. He does come to rule, but not now.
This is why Jesus is not impressed with the red carpet treatment of a celebrity. Notice the blah ending of this section in v.11. He comes into the temple, looks around, realizes it was late and they leave. Why no celebration? He is not riding in to reign. He is riding in to die. He rides to face His cross and to win my crown.
But notice that they don’t want a Savior for their sins. They want a Jesus who fulfills their own agenda in their own time. Jesus refuses to be controlled by the people. Listen to them, “Save us from our circumstances! Save us from our situation and problems! Do it now!” But Jesus says, “I have come to save you from a greater danger. You need to be saved from yourself and your sins.” Purge Israel of foreign domination! No, I am here to purge you of your sin! Destroy Rome because they are ruining the world! Ok, but since you are part of the same human race, how can I do that without destroying you? They are looking and longing for a temporal, political, and military Savior. He, however, is bringing what only He can bring: a complete and eternal salvation of body and soul!
We are just like this crowd and the crowd later: “You need to give me what I think I need from you.” The moment Jesus allows things in our life that we don’t understand, the moment He doesn’t fit our timeline or our agenda, we turn on Him. When we do that, we are falsely coronating Him. We really don’t want a Savior and King, we want a secretary and Jesus refuses to make Himself that small. We don’t want a Sovereign God. We want to be mini-Sovereigns with our mini-kingdoms.
I once heard Tim Keller use this example, which was helpful: “A woman, named Barbara Boyd, said, ‘If somebody says to me, ‘Come on in, Barbara, but stay out, Boyd,’ it’s a bit of a problem, because I can’t separate them. It’s not like the top half of me is Barbara, and the bottom half of me is Boyd. So if you won’t have Boyd, you can’t get Barbara. If you’re going to keep the Boyd out, I can’t come in at all!’” She continued: ‘To say, ‘Jesus, come into my life, forgive my sins, answer my prayers; do this for me, do that for me—but don’t be the absolute master of my life; Jesus, Savior, come in; but Lord, stay out,’ how can he come in at all? Come in Helper, [personal assistant, genie, cosmic Santa Claus] but stay out King, stay out Sovereign, [how can He come in at all?]. Because he’s all Savior, and he’s all Lord. He’s Lord because he’s Savior. He’s Savior because he’s Lord.” When you say come in Lord, you are saying, “Come in Savior and Lord. Come and be the center of my life and heart—all of it–have authority in every area of my life.”
So how can we truly be freed from a red-carpet-seeking, self-absorbed, proud, self-righteous, sin-rationalizing, fickle heart that wants to be a mini-sovereign? I just finished reading a book called The Hammer of God, which details three fictional stories of pastors in Sweden who continue to rediscover the Gospel afresh in their lives.
I totally resonated when one of the pastors, Savonius, confessed to a friend: “I want to be humble, but I seek only my own honor. I keep wondering what [others] think of me. I am jealously concerned about my reputation as a revival preacher. I want to serve God only; but if I get a few of my spiritual poems published [somewhere], I wonder right away if there will be an honorarium. When someone praises my sermons, or some troubled soul from another [congregation] thanks me, I begin immediately to think how through all this my reputation may spread and I might receive…and if I am called to conduct a funeral, I wonder in my greedy heart whether I shall get a fee for it. And this is only a small part of my misery. Such is my condition!”
Savonius is struggling with his inner corruption and confesses the same thing to another pastor who replies, “Of course it is dreadful…But the corruption of sin is something that you cannot put away yourself. For this you need a Redeemer, one who suffers in your place…we have not become finished ourselves. Now I have instead begun to preach about that which is finished, about that which is built on Calvary and which is a safe fortress to come to when the thunder rolls over our sinful heads…And I find strength each day for my own poor heart at the fount of redemption.” These are saved pastors recognizing that they still need a Gospel rescue every day.
Seeing His Sovereignty is not enough. We need a Redeemer. We need to see His love for us. See Him ride into Jerusalem willingly, humbly and in weakneson a baby donkey. Really the donkey is the only character in this story that treats Him right. This donkey is just here to serve. It has never been ridden on, but Jesus subdues it and it does what Jesus asks. It is the luckiest animal on the earth to give a ride the Creator of the Universe!
But Jesus didn’t come to die for it. No, He came to die for self-declared mini-sovereigns like us, red-carpet wanting, demanding, fickle sinners who treat Him much less than He deserves, He will, in a few short days, hand Himself over to be treated as our sins deserve. They are throwing their cloaks to honor Him here, but that won’t hide their spiritual nakedness, so He will willingly become naked and take our shame. He is on a beast of a burden now, but soon the burden of all of our sin will be made heavy on His back.
Soon Roman guards will lead him out of the city as a defeated captive…Here is your King, who will be crowned with thorns, enthroned on a cross, and hailed as the chief of fools. No party there, even the sun can’t even shine, it gets dark, no red-carpet treatment, but the silent treatment, just as the crimson blood flows rom His hands and feet. Why? He was made naked, so you and I can be truly clothed. Bound and nailed, so you and I can be free. He was shut out from the party, so you and I can have premier access to the true party. So how can we be proud followers of such a humble Savior?
Listen to late theologian John Stott, “Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.”
He says in another place, “Our sins put him there [on the cross]. So, far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness. We can stand before it only with a bowed head and a broken spirit. And there we remain until the Lord Jesus speaks to our hearts his word of pardon and acceptance, and we, gripped by his love and full of thanksgiving, go out into the world to live our lives in his service.”
Pastor C.J. Mahaney prays this every day: “Father, I want to stand as close to the cross as I possibly can, because it’s harder for me to be arrogant when I’m there.” That’s a good prayer to pray.
The story is told of an old missionary couple, having spent 30-40 years out on the field in Africa, who finally came back to the US, too weak now to serve. On their flight home, a prominent United States Senator also was coming back to the US from his visit. When they landed at the airport, the Senator got out and was greeted with the media. There were photographers, television cameras and lots of journalists and news reporters. Right behind him was the couple. The husband looked at his wife and said, “We’re back from the mission field serving so hard and we get nothing.” Then his wife replied, “But honey, we are not home yet!”
Hear this verse: 2 Pet. 1:11. Peter is talking about true believers to persevere because “…there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” One commentator says,
“More literally this would read, ‘Your entrance will be richly provided for.’ The picture is that of a patron who lavishly celebrates the arrival of a friend or faithful servant at his home.”
Do you see? Jesus gets the silent treatment on the cross as our sins deserved, so we can have the royal red carpet treatment that He deserved! One day He will come back to reign in power on a warrior horse (Rev. 19:11ff) as the Exalted King and Judge of the universe and miracle of miracles right behind Him, co-heirs with Christ, we will be there, truly worshipping Him, knowing we are only there because He was so committed to saving us by sheer grace.
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