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Triumphal Entry

Mark 11:1 -- 12

(Note: it is important to read the other accounts of the Triumphal Entry, as they include certain details that Mark left out.)

We now come to the last week of Christ’s earthly ministry. As with the other Gospels, we still have a substantial amount of text left. On balance, the Gospels devote about half the text to the final week. It begins with the Triumphal Entry:

The Holy Bible, New International Version

Mark 11

1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the
Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples,
2saying 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.
3If anyone asks you,
‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here

4They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they
untied it,
5some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that
6They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.
7When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.
8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they
had cut in the fields.
9Those 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!”

11Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at
everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Play Ball

Suppose, for the moment, that you were from another planet. You have a grasp of the language, but no learning on our customs, traditions and pleasures. You see a crowd going into a stadium, and you follow along to see your very first baseball game. What would you see; how would you react?

The National Anthem

From the loudspeakers come two bars of music. Everyone stands and turns to look in a particular direction. It appears they are looking at a piece of colored cloth on a pole. Most place their hand over their heart. At the end of the two bars, everyone begins singing a tune which seems well beyond the capacity of the average human being. What is going on here?

  • Ritual – the singing of the National Anthem is a ritual. It is an affirmation of patriotism. It recollects a war long since over, but mostly it is a way of uniting the crowd. Standing, hands over heart – all these are ritual movements meant to portray a meaning. Ritual unites, but it also proclaims certain things to be true.
  • Symbolism – that colored cloth (the flag, obviously) clearly cannot be the object of their devotion. It must, therefore, represent something else which is not easily portrayed. The meaning of the symbol depends largely upon the experiences of those who see it. To our interplanetary visitor, it means nothing. To a veteran, it may be of deep significance. Interestingly, all agree on what it means, yet all have a different experience of it.
Hand signals

You now note that various individuals, clad in three differing uniforms, take the field. Those guys in black seem to be obsessed with making gestures with their hands. Sometimes the crowd applauds; other times they boo. There seems to be no connection between the gesture and the reaction. What’s going on here?

  • Open signals – the signals of the umpires are open to all. Balls and strikes, safe and out, these are ways of conveying the decision to the crowd.
  • Secret signals – the coaches along the side of the infield have signals too. But these are supposed to be kept secret, as they are meant for one team only. To understand these, you would have to be a member of one of the teams.
Pattern of the game

Most curious of all seems to be the pattern of the game. It evidently has no clock. They change sides suddenly, but all players seem to know when to do this.

  • Prescribed – it’s clear that the rules for this game are prescribed somewhere. There must be a rule book. Somehow or other everyone knew to stand up half way through the seventh inning.
  • Not predestined – it’s equally clear that this is no stage performance. The players attempt to perform as best they can, but obviously no one has predestined the results.

A curious game, baseball.

Triumphal Entry

The Triumphal Entry is a fixture in most churches. Palm Sunday comes around, and little children are given long palm branches (and a stern injunction not to hit other small children with them). This gives the kids something to do during the services and provokes any number of cute pictures. Most churches skip the part with the donkey (donkeys are not amenable to indoor cleanliness). But do we get the meaning of the entry?

Rituals and symbols

Just like the singing of the National Anthem and the flag on the pole, this passage uses ritual and symbols to show meaning:

  • See that colt? You’ll note that it is the symbol of a King coming in peace. (Kings coming in war ride a horse). Jesus is offering himself to the Jews as their king, in the lineage of David.
  • It’s not entirely obvious at first reading, but if you will map out the route Jesus takes to get here, it’s clear that he went from the southwestern corner of Jerusalem, out one gate to Bethphage – a village near the Mount of Olives – to come through a particular gate. That gate is the Eastern gate (now called the Golden Gate). We know from Ezekiel that this gate is the one through which “the Prince” will ride. Jesus is presenting himself as Prince of Peace.

That last may take a bit more explaining. Ezekiel (44th chapter) describes a Temple not yet built. Premillennialists insist that this is the Temple that will exist during the Millennium. Whether or not this is a fulfillment (at least in part) of this prophecy cannot be stated for certain. But that gate had the significance mentioned. We still say that we “orient” ourselves. The original meaning of that word was to face east – towards the Orient.

Curiously, and in accord with Ezekiel, this gate is now shut permanently. It is blocked with masonry. This prophecy is so important that in 1917, when General Allenby (British Army) conquered Jerusalem, he came in using a gate on the western side. It did know good. Postmillennialists (who know that 1917 is a crucial year in their timetable) immediately seized upon the event as being prophetic fulfillment. Mayhap it is. The British occupation of Palestine ended with the establishment of modern Israel.

Make of it what you may: Jesus wanted to enter through that gate. He proclaimed himself “the Prince.”


Just like in our baseball game, there are signals being used here:

  • One is the “Conqueror’s Psalm.” It’s from Psalm 118. It was sung as Judas Maccabeus entered the city in triumph. This, then, is entry in triumph.
  • The disciples and the crowd shout “Hosanna.” The word means “save now.” So this signals that Jesus is coming as Savior.
  • Palm branches? Cloaks on the ground? This is the traditional welcome given to a King.
Pattern and prophecy

All happens according to God’s plan; but all happens as people do it of their own free will. Just as our baseball game has nine innings, three strikes and you’re out, so this portrayal his its pattern as well. It comes from prophecy. Recall that colt. Do you see that it has never been put to agricultural use? If you will go back into Numbers, chapter 19, you will see the significance of that. Such an animal was required as a sacrifice for purification of the Tabernacle – a forerunner of the Temple. Jesus is presenting himself – at the time of Passover – as the Sacrifice which makes atonement for sin.


Well, all this is interesting stuff (I hope) – but what good is it? Its use is simply this: in the Triumphal Entry our Lord presents himself to the Jews (and thus to us) in several roles. We need to ask ourselves how we see him – and do we respond to him in those roles.


“Hosanna.” Most of us connect the word savior with Jesus. But do we really feel ourselves in need of a savior? Some – whose lives have been wrecked – know this feeling intimately. But for many of us the attitude is one of good works. We feel that our good deeds outweigh the evil we have done, and God will be generous in rewarding that. The sense that we are all sinners is something which is downplayed in much of the church today. We forget: the only acceptable sacrifice for God is the pure one. Only Jesus can make atonement for us.

We’re in the position of a counterfeiter caught in the act – who asks a few minutes to print up some more bills to pay his fine. The Judge is not amused.


It’s difficult for modern Americans to accept anyone, even Jesus, as King. We have trouble with the word “Lord.” We are so used to the idea that no one has that right (1776 and all that). But human beings need righteous authority in their lives.

So here’s the test: do you feel any call to obedience to Christ? Or are his commands useful in justifying what you had planned to do anyway – and ignored when convenient?


Suppose, for a moment, I could tell you the price of any stock on the market – a year from today. Do you suppose my advice would be sought? My purchases carefully watched? Count on it.

That Jesus is a prophet is acknowledged. But do we consider him in that role? A prophet is one who “foretells and forthtells.” Do we listen to his warnings? Over and over he gives us instruction in righteousness.

More than that: he has prophesied his return. On that day all will be revealed. Are we ready for it?


(Parallel accounts indicate Jesus’ words that the stones would cry out if his disciples were silent.)

There are two ways in which we ignore this about Jesus. One, in aggregate, is the way in which we are mistreating his planet. But more important for the individual Christian is this: we are often guilty of treating Jesus as “buddy.” We forget that we are the pot in his potter’s hands. The matter is one of respect merging into awe. Do we see him as the Almighty Creator?


Of all things we miss, this is surely the most grievous. Every week we take Communion, just to remember that sacrifice. He who had no sin became sin for us. Do we have any sense of gratitude for that? Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

If you really want a personal relationship with someone, you must know quite a bit about them – who they really are. Jesus here presents himself as Savior, King, Prophet, Creator and Sacrifice. If we truly wish to be his friend, we will begin by acknowledging this.

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