It’s just a few days before Passover, which is the night Jesus knows He will be arrested. Stopping off in Bethany to visit with His good friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, Jesus is reclining at the table when Mary suddenly makes a bold move. She comes over to Jesus with a very expensive vial of perfume, breaks it, and pours it on Him. Mary loves Jesus, and this highly honoring act is no doubt at least in part her attempt to thank Jesus for bringing her dear brother Lazarus back from the grave. Mary was devastated by her brother’s death, and Jesus fixed it. When our hearts are right before God and He chooses to really bless us, we can often feel at a loss for words. It’s been an emotionally intense season for Mary, and she hasn’t gotten to see Jesus for a while. This act of dousing Jesus in fragrant liquid is her way of trying to communicate how much she cherishes and admires Him. It’s a very sweet and sincere act of worship. But Jesus’ disciples can always be counted on to miss the import of a moment, and now they rudely pipe up with some nasty criticism.
“Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly.
But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to Me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have Me. She has done what she could and has anointed My body for burial ahead of time. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” (Mk. 14:4-9)
Now is Mary really trying to anoint Jesus for burial? No, she’s trying to honor Him. But by talking about His burial, Jesus underscores how right and timely her actions are, which makes the disciples look all the more rude for griping. It would be like if your friend gives you a surprise present just to be nice, and you say, “This is really great! I was just about to buy this exact thing!” Your friend then feels extra good when you tell him that his gift has more significance to you than he realized. Mary wasn’t trying to prep Jesus for burial, but when she finds out that her actions have extra significance to Him, it’s a compliment to her. And when Jesus says she’ll always be remembered—well, that’s a very high compliment. The Jews were very concerned about being remembered after they were dead, and to be world famous on top if it is super great.
Now Lazarus’ recent resurrection has turned him into a famous figure overnight, and soon a great crowd comes to Bethany to see both Jesus and the man who was dead for four days. Four days—can you imagine? Today people are making tons of money just by claiming to have been dead for a matter of minutes. Lazarus was dead for over half a week.
When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see Him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus. (Jn. 12:9-11)
It’s dangerous to be a friend of Jesus. And it’s kind of strange to talk about murdering a man who just came back from the dead, but this is how angry the preachers of the day are about Jesus crowding into their turf. The next time you come across a man who calls himself a priest or a reverend or some other holy sounding title, remember these vipers in Jesus’ time and be wary. Just because a man knows Scriptures and has received religious training doesn’t mean he is safe.
THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
After leaving Bethany, Jesus goes a short way to the Mount of Olives. He then pauses to organize a strange bit of theatrics. He tells two of His disciples to go into a specific village nearby where He says they will find a female donkey with her colt. The colt will have never been ridden before. The mother donkey will be useful for guiding the colt, which is why Jesus wants them both. The disciples are to just take the animals without asking permission. That’s a bit awkward.
“If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.” (Mt. 21:3)
Jesus is planning to ride the colt. It would be much simpler and more natural to ride a donkey which has already been trained to handle human riders, but Jesus is doing it the hard way by borrowing someone’s untrained colt. Why? Because Jesus has a rather cunning plan in mind and Matthew gives us an important clue by inserting a side note that this whole donkey charade is going to fulfill a Messianic prophecy from Zechariah 9. Matthew’s grasp of the Old Testament isn’t all that sharp, and he tends to see Messianic prophecies where none exist, so you can’t just believe him whenever he claims Jesus is fulfilling some ancient promise. But in this case, Matthew is correct: there is a portion of Zechariah 9 that does apply to Jesus. The problem is that the language in that passage is very misleading.
“Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt.
I will remove the battle chariots from Israel and the warhorses from Jerusalem. I will destroy all the weapons used in battle, and your king will bring peace to the nations. His realm will stretch from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.” (Zech. 9:9-10)
Is Jesus really humble? No, He loves to exalt Himself. This donkey stunt is not at all His way of saying “I’m nobody special.” On the contrary, He knows that this passage from Zechariah is considered a Messianic prophecy, and He’s intentionally using it to ignite a bunch of fanfare in which He will be showered with praise, cheers, and applause. It’s highly ironic that while Zechariah 9 paints a picture of a king meekly riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, Jesus is going to find a way to fulfill the technical actions while turning the whole moment into a glory fest. And what about this bit where Yahweh promises to remove all threats of war from Israel and Jerusalem? Is this really going to happen? Not hardly. And is Jesus going to bring peace to the nations? Not the kind of peace Yahweh is talking about in this passage. Yahweh is describing a king who ends up taking over the whole world and abolishing all war. Now there’s a laugh. And if we finish the chapter, it gets even more ludicrous.
“Because of the Covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon.
Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. Judah is My bow, and Israel is My arrow. Jerusalem is My sword, and like a warrior, I will brandish it against the Greeks.
Yahweh will appear above His people; His arrows will fly like lightning! The Sovereign Lord will sound the ram’s horn and attack like a whirlwind from the southern desert. Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies will protect His people, and they will defeat their enemies by hurling great stones. They will shout in battle as though drunk with wine. They will be filled with blood like a bowl, drenched with blood like the corners of the altar. On that day Yahweh their God will rescue His people, just as a shepherd rescues His sheep. They will sparkle in His land like jewels in a crown. How wonderful and beautiful they will be! The young men will thrive on abundant grain, and the young women will flourish on new wine.” (Zech. 9:11-17)
Are you seeing why the Jews get worked into an excited lather when Jesus comes riding into view on a donkey? This speech from Zechariah makes it quite clear that Jesus is launching Israel into a new golden age. He’s identifying Himself as the undefeatable king who is going to massacre all of Israel’s enemies, establish a glorious kingdom, and make it so all the Jews are going to be rolling in wealth. Here’s the sequence: Messiah shows up on donkey, Yahweh launches an epic assault on everyone Israel hates. It’s obvious. It’s right there in Scriptures, and we all know that Scriptures are some binding contract which God can’t possibly wiggle out of, right? So here it is: the beginning of heaven on earth for the Jews. No wonder the crowd goes nuts. No wonder they’re ripping their coats off and tossing them onto the ground for Jesus to ride over. Jesus is going to make all of their problems go away.
Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of Him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around Him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the Name of Yahweh! Praise God in highest heaven!”
The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as He entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee!” (Matt. 21:8-11)
Wow, talk about a con job. Jesus is encouraging these people to think He’s going to do something totally different than He is. Is it disturbing to realize how intentionally false Jesus is being here? Of course it is, and Yahweh isn’t any better, for He’s the One who originally put out that guff about Israel entering some golden era when her humble king comes riding into view.
Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after Him!” (Jn. 12:19)
Surrounded by evidence of how rapidly they are losing control over people’s minds, the Pharisees march up to Jesus and demand that He get the crowd under control.
But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke Your followers for saying things like that!”
Jesus replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” (Lk. 19:39-40)
So much for a humble king. Jesus has decided this is the moment when He’s going to be worshiped. If the crowd doesn’t oblige, He’ll make the rocks start singing. Being God, that would be quite easy to do.
So let’s consider what we have here. Jesus is using theatrics with a donkey to make everyone think He’s going to be the political savior of Israel. Yahweh has made the epic deception of this moment possible by putting out a bunch of empty promises centuries before. And now as Jesus looks upon Jerusalem, He suddenly bursts into tears and prophesies what is actually going to happen in her future—and it’s a message which totally counters what Yahweh has said.
But as He came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, He began to weep. “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” (Lk. 19:41-44)
Where was the conditional language in Zechariah 9? When did Yahweh say, “But all these great things will only happen to you Jews if you pass a spiritual test I’m going to throw at you centuries from now”? He doesn’t say anything like this. When Yahweh prophesied about Israel’s golden age, He made it sound so final—so written in stone. Now Jesus shows up and says, “Nope, forget it. You people could have had a great life, but you refused to listen to Me, so now you’re going to get trampled.” This new prophecy about Jerusalem totally counters what Yahweh says. Hello, since when do our Gods contradict Each Other? Hey, They’re Gods. They will lie, contradict, and cancel any promise They want to any time They want.
When we refuse to respect our Gods, we will find Them making some very surprising course changes on us. This isn’t the first time spiritual rebellion has inspired Yahweh to cancel a promise or take back a blessing. When you spit in God’s face, and then you wax on and on about all the promises He can’t break because He’s bound to His Word, you’re being a total fool. Defiance often results in unexpected, terrifying consequences. The Jews have been clinging to promises of glorious victory and exaltation for centuries. Now Jesus has just announced that their precious Jerusalem will be destroyed, and that’s exactly what happens. In 70 AD, after a long and terrifying battle which involves Jerusalem being surrounded on all sides just as Jesus said, the Romans come in and mow down both the city and the Temple inside. It is a bloodbath. This is what happens when we spit in God’s face without apology and then wave a bunch of verses at Him and demand that He fulfill His promises to us. He ends up ramming His wrath down our throats instead. Don’t think you can jerk your Creators around and nothing bad will come of it. Once you understand the Messianic prophecies Jesus has made everyone focus on during this famous Triumphal Entry, His prophecy against Jerusalem is downright chilling.
After returning to Bethany to spend the night, Jesus heads back to Jerusalem the next morning to cause more trouble. Remember that the Jews are preparing for the Passover. This is a major holiday on the Jewish calendar, and Jerusalem is packed with visitors. Jesus is teaching at the Temple, telling off the Pharisees, and acting like His usual obnoxious Self. But because the people are so enthralled with Him, the Pharisees are afraid to lay their hands on Him. Jewish leaders know that the Romans are very riot sensitive. If they attack Jesus in public, the crowds will undoubtedly protest, and a huge fight will break out. Then Roman soldiers will come charging in with swords swinging. It’s just too dangerous to arrest Jesus in the Temple or in the presence of any large crowd. As much as the religious leaders detest letting Him roam free, they are forced to wait for a safer time to make their move. Meanwhile, they keep trying to trap Him into saying something that will offend the Jews, but He just keeps turning the tables on them. Rats. And while they are stewing with anger, Jesus launches into a long speech in which He dishes out insult after insult to the religious leaders in Israel using language that is shockingly caustic. As we’ll learn in our next lesson, Jesus made no effort to be diplomatic with the Jews.
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