Thursday, July 17, 2008

Worshiping Jesus: Mark 11:1-10

Recently I was talking with another Christian about the church he attends. I asked him, “Tell me about your church’s worship service.” He said, “Oh, we usually worship for about 30 minutes, and then we have prayer and preaching.” Now, immediately I understood what he meant by that. You probably do too. He is equating worship with music. To him, when the last note of music fades into silence, worship has ended, and something else involving preaching and prayer begins. He is not alone. The music employed in worship has become a profitable industry by record sales, the cult of personality, and the machine of marketing so that music has become the most immediate association in our minds when we say the word “worship.” I don’t have to tell you how divisive the issue of music in worship has been over the last few decades, for all of us know of many churches who have experienced rifts and splits over the style of music used in church worship services. We have so emphasized music in church today that many will say, “I cannot worship without music,” or “I cannot worship without certain types of music.” While we would admit quickly that music is a biblical element of worship, we should also recognize that when we limit our worship to the moments when music is available or suitable to our tastes, we have placed music in a dangerous place of prominence. The simple fact is that the Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of our perpetual worship, when music is playing and when it is not, and when I like the song being played and when I don’t. And if I let the presence or absence of music, or the style of music affect my worship, I am in danger of making an idol out of music. Worship is about God, and it is about God’s revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. If we make it about something else, or confine it to something else, we have put Christ in second place and elevated whatever other element of worship we value so highly to a place of dangerous preeminence.

Worship is not an event to which we come. It is an action we render unto a God who is infinitely worthy to receive it. It is rendered in response to the revelation of His glorious attributes and His saving power. When we limit worship to an event or to a certain element, we have ceased to worship Him in the way in which He deserves. In our text today, we find the most explicit public demonstration of worship given to Jesus thus far in the Gospel of Mark. It is spontaneous and exuberant. And we know that the Lord Jesus received this worship gladly, for in Luke’s Gospel we read that the Pharisees demanded that Jesus silence the praises of these people, and He refused to do so.

The traditional timeline associated with this passage places this event on the Sunday before Passover, the Sunday before the crucifixion. That being understood, we should note that fully one-third of Mark’s gospel is devoted to the final week of the earthy life and ministry of Jesus. This signals to use the importance of this final week in understanding His mission and purpose. He had come to establish the Kingdom of God under the New Covenant, which would be sealed in His blood, shed for us on the cross. And as He enters Jerusalem on the beginning of this final week, the people expressed their worship of Him in various ways. So as we look at our text today, we will see several ways in which we may express our worship to the Lord Jesus.

I. We may express our worship to Jesus in our obedient service to Him (vv1-6a)

It would be appropriate to say that worship is an expression of our love for Christ. And we must remember that Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” In Luke 6:46, He said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” So it seems that in Jesus’ eyes, our obedience is an important element of our worship.

In the first three verses of our text, we see that Jesus gives very specific instructions to two unnamed disciples. They are to go into a specific village, and they will find a colt (a very specific colt in a very specific location), and they must untie it and bring it back to Jesus. And He tells them that if anyone questions what they are doing, they must give a very specific answer: “Say, ‘The Lord has need of it.” Now, in the NASB, the quotation marks end there, but it is likely that they should be placed after the next phrase, as the NIV has it. They are to say, “The Lord has need of it and immediately He (that is, the Lord, so the “H” in “He” should be capitalized) will send it back here.” Notice, by the way, how Jesus speaks of Himself as “the Lord,” and instructs the disciples to refer to Him in that way, indicating His deity and His worthiness of worship. But we do not claim He is divine simply because He said so. He demonstrates His deity in His attributes. One of them is clearly seen here: His omniscience. He knows where in the village a specific colt is tied, and He knows specifically what will be said to the disciples when they go to retrieve it. Only God has this kind of perfect foreknowledge, and Jesus demonstrates Himself to be God in the flesh by the exercise of His divine omniscience.

Now, in a way not typically seen before in the disciples, notice in the next three verses that they obey Him with exact precision. He said, “Go into the village opposite you,” and we read in verse 4, “They went away.” He said, “immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there on which no one yet has ever sat,” and we read in verse 4 that they “found a colt tied at the door outside in the street.” He said, “untie it and bring it here.” And in verse 4 we read that they untied it.” Jesus said, “If anyone says to you ‘Why are you doing this?’ you say, ‘The Lord has need of it and immediately He will send it back here.’” And in verse 5, we see that the question was asked just as the Lord foretold, and in verse 6, “They spoke to them just as Jesus had told them.” Every detail in the command was carried out in obedient service by the disciples.

Now, had Jesus sent you or me, we might be tempted to take a shortcut. We might find some colt tied up somewhere else and said, “Oh, this one will do. A colt is a colt, and He will never know the difference.” Ah, but He would know the difference. This was a very special animal which had been set apart for a very special purpose. The Law of Moses established a principle that any animal devoted to a sacred purpose must be one that had never been put to ordinary use. This colt had never been sat upon before. And it was not going to be used simply as a means of transportation. It was being used as a means of fulfilling prophecy. In Genesis 49:8-12, a promise is spoken over Judah likening him to a lion and proclaiming that he shall bear the scepter, the rod of the ruler, and foretelling that one would come forth from him who would “tie His foal to the vine and His donkey’s colt to the choice vine; He washes His garments in wine and His robes in the blood of grapes.” This speaks of the Messiah coming to reign, and associates His coming with a colt. In Zechariah 9:9, we also read, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Here in this prophecy we see the elements which unfold in our text of Mark’s Gospel: His entry into the city; the colt on which He rides; and the rejoicing of the people. So the event we read about here in Mark 11 is not a happenstance occurrence, but one that had been foreordained from the earliest pages of the Old Testament and reiterated in its closing pages. Therefore, the disciples must fully obey the Lord’s instructions, that all things be carried out on this momentous occasion just as the Lord had promised.

Just as these disciples demonstrated their reverence for the Lord in their obedient service, so must we. We must not think that the Lord is only concerned with our emotions which are stirred at 11:00 on Sunday morning. He is concerned with our daily obedience to His commands found in His Word! All of our dressing up and singing and smiling in the sanctuary is meaningless if it is not joined together with a regular expression of worship through obedient service to Him. This is one of the ways we worship the Lord Jesus.

Secondly, we see further in the passage …

II. We may express our worship to Jesus in our sacrificial giving (vv6b-8)

We see in the end of verse 6 that once the overseers of the colt knew that it was the Lord who needed it, they gave permission for the colt to be taken. This was a costly gift. Livestock was a precious commodity in those days, and still is. Though they had been promised that the Lord would return it, they ultimately had to trust His disciples were telling the truth and that indeed it would return. But ultimately, there came the moment of release when they said, “If the Lord can use what I have, then I will give it to Him.”

And they were not alone. We see in v7 that the disciples gave up their coats for Jesus to use as a saddle as He mounted the colt. And then we see in v8 that others began to spread their coats in the road. This was a symbolic gesture on their part, indicating the arrival of a king. When Jehu came to power in 2 Kings 9, we read that the people “hurried and each man took his garment and placed it under him on the bare steps, and blew the trumpet, saying, ‘Jehu is king!’” It was their way of saying, “Let not his feet touch the dirty ground.” And there is a practical element as well, for the coats would cover up the stones and holes that might cause the animal to stumble, and softened the surface so that it could walk in comfort. Their coats may become soiled, torn, and never be able to be worn again, but it was worth the sacrifice, for they gave their coats as a gift of worship to the Lord. Those who had no coats to give pulled the branches from the palms and spread them on the road.

We see that everyone was able to give something. Only one person could give a colt. Only a few could give coats to be saddles. Many could give coats to spread on the road, and many more could spread branches out before Him. What matters is not the monetary value of the gift, but the devotion expressed in giving these gifts to the Lord.

William Hendriksen writes, “Whether it was a place of lodging, a colt, a room in which to celebrate the Passover, or even at last a tomb, whatever it was that He needed, if they had it these friends were ready to provide it. That one word, ‘The Lord needs it,’ was all that was required. Today, too, such a broad body of true followers of the Lord and supporters of his causes is urgently needed.”[1] Ellen Gates writes in a poem called Your Mission:

“If you cannot sail on the ocean, sail among the swiftest fleet,

rocking on the highest billows, laughing at the storms you meet,

You can stand among the sailors, anchored still within the bay

You can lend a hand to help them as they launch their boats away.”[2]

All of us have something we can give to the Lord as an act of worship. The Lord knows what we give, and He knows what we are able to give. If we can only give branches, He does not expect a colt from us. But if we give Him branches when we could give Him a colt, we are not rendering to Him the sacrificial worship He deserves. Sacrificial giving, in addition to obedient service, is an important way of worshiping the Lord Jesus that we must not neglect.

Finally, as we come to verse 9, we see …

III. We may express our worship to Jesus in our vocal praise (vv9-10)

As Jesus entered the city, the shouts of those ahead of Him and those coming behind went up in praise to the King who had come to save them. “Hosanna,” they shouted. This is a word that many of us have read in Scripture before, but with which some of us may be unfamiliar. What does it mean? It is a transliteration of a Hebrew word that means either, “Save, I pray,” or “Save now!” It expresses a prayer and praise to the Messiah as if to say, “O Lord, save us now, deliver us because of Your mercy and grace.” Then the closing phrase, “Hosanna in the highest!” is this same praise and prayer expressed to Him who dwells in the highest place, recognizing Christ as the incarnation of God. How did this crowd of people reach this conclusion about Jesus? Luke 19:37 says that they were praising God for all the miracles which they had seen. Which miracles had they seen? Well, we know from John’s gospel that immediately prior to this, when Jesus was at Bethany, He had raised Lazarus from the dead. This had convinced them that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who had come to save them.

With this understanding, they began to praise Him with the words of Psalm 118. That Psalm is distinctly Messianic. It speaks of the stone that the builders rejected becoming the chief corner stone, an idea that parallels the wonderful prophecy of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. And in verses 25-26 of that Psalm, praise for the Messiah goes up: “O LORD, do save [that’s our Hebrew word “Hosanna”], we beseech You; O LORD, we beseech You, do send prosperity! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD!” So with words of Scripture, the people voice their praise for the Messiah Jesus as He enters Jerusalem to become the atoning sacrifice for the sins of man, and to shed the blood of the new covenant which will inaugurate the Kingdom of God, the everlasting Kingdom that had been promised to David concerning his descendant. So they say, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” This praise demonstrates their awareness of Jesus’ mission: He has come in the name of the Lord, and He has come to establish the long-awaited Kingdom promised so long ago to David. It is likely that these words were spoken or sung in what is called antiphony, with one group saying, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” and another group responding with, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest.”

I think this expression of vocal praise demonstrates significant insight into the Word of God on the people’s behalf. They understood the significance of the miracles they saw performed. They understood the significance of Jesus coming into the city from the Mount of Olives, that location where the prophets foresaw the glory of God resting, and which they associated with Messiah’s arrival. They understood the significance of Him coming mounted on a colt. And their biblical understanding informed the praise that they rendered unto Him.

This praise was exuberant and enthusiastic, for the Scriptures say that they were shouting! But, we must understand that it was not the style but the substance of this worship which was most appropriate. We see in this vocal expression of praise that worship should be voiced to Christ in recognition of who He is and what He has accomplished for us. It should be informed by the Scriptures in both its content, its outlook, and its vocabulary. We must ask ourselves concerning the songs we sing and the words we employ in our worship: Are we expressing biblical truth concerning the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ? He is the object of our worship and must be the subject of our praise. And this means that we must know the Scriptures well enough to evaluate our worship on these grounds.

We see here in this passage that in the most spontaneous and widespread public act of worship to the Lord Jesus that had been given so far, much more was involved than just singing jubilant songs. There were acts of obedient service, offerings of sacrificial gifts, and expressions of vocal praise. And these things must characterize our worship as well – not only the worship we bring to God through Christ on Sunday mornings, but the worship that flows from our daily lives; the worship He deserves. He is worthy of more than one hour of song in our time-stretched weeks. He is worthy of our devoted service, giving, and praising every moment of every day, and we must render it to Him.

But there is also a word of severe warning underlying this passage, and we must not draw the message to a close without voicing it. Though we see a great example of true worship here, we must remember that this crowd of worshipers quickly disappeared within a matter of a very short time. This was Sunday. By Thursday, many who were in this crowd would abandon their cries of “Hosanna,” and take up the cry of “Crucify Him!” Though they had praised Him publicly with great enthusiasm, many in this number had hearts which were far from Him. It is one thing to show up and worship on Sunday, but where will be on Thursday? What will we say when we aren’t gathered together like this? Will we continue to speak His praise, continue to be a witness to His glorious attributes and His powerful works? Or do we comfortably put worship aside as we take off our Sunday dress?

There may be some in our midst today who have come to church for any number of reasons, and joined in the singing and blended right in with those who have come to worship together with God’s people in this place. But deep down, that individual knows that his or heart is far from God, and the religious performance they render today is in no way a reflection of the true condition of his or her life. Let me state the matter plainly: Is Jesus Christ Lord of your life? Do you know His saving power? Have you come to Him in faith believing that He died for your sins and is risen from the dead? If not, then you remain lost in your sins, regardless of any service you render, any offering you give, or any words you say. But you do not have to remain that way. Jesus Christ offers you the promise of eternal life and a personal relationship with God if you will turn from sin and come to Him today. Perhaps some need to make just such a decision in this very moment.

And then others perhaps recognize from the text today that our ideas about worship have been mistaken. We have focused on the emotional excitement of various forms of worship, or the performance of certain duties, and neglected the weightier matters of obedience, giving, and true praise. Perhaps in this moment, someone may need to repent of false notions of worship and return to genuinely living daily in adoration and devotion to Christ. Let your worship be evident by your obedient service to Him, your sacrificial giving to Him, and your vocal and biblical praise. He is worthy of all this and more.

[1] Hendriksen, 436.

[2] Cited Ibid.

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