The Countdown to the Cross: Christ's Final Week of Ministry

Today is Palm Sunday, which has always marked the countdown to the Cross and to the Empty Tomb, which are the greatest days in the history of the Universe. As we open to Mark 11, my desire is that the truth of this great day in Christ's life touches each of our lives today.

Palm Sunday also marks the start of Passion Week, recording the days of Christ's final earthly ministry before the Cross. The Four Gospels record Christ's life in 89 chapters, His Final Week fills more than 1/3 of the chapters of the Gospels[1]: from Matthew 21 on, Mark 11 on, Luke 19 on, and John 12 onward. Also:

Palm Sunday was in the Top 3 Events

Before the events of Palm Sunday only one other event in Christ's life is covered by all of the Gospels, and that is the Feeding of the 5,000. After Palm Sunday, only one event fills all four of the Gospels, and that is His Death, Burial, and Resurrection.

So among the events that God wanted us to especially focus upon in His Word, Palm Sunday is the middle of those top three events. To summarize what is going on prior to Mark 11, we could say that after over three years of ministry, the deadly tensions Jesus faced from the national leaders of the Jewish people were the highest anyone had ever known.

In the week before Palm Sunday Lazarus had fallen gravely ill and then died in Bethany and was buried. People everywhere were now talking about what happened to Lazarus who was dead, had been buried in his tomb four days, and now he was alive.

Jews of the day had a superstition that a dead person's spirit hovered above the corpse for 3 days and then left. On the fourth day the person was considered really gone. Jesus waited (John 11:39) so that on the fourth day when He raised Lazarus, no one could possibly think there was any hope of him returning.

When Jesus raised Lazarus, He was offering the seventh and final "sign" that the Gospel by John was designed around, and records.[2]  Jesus gave these signs to authenticate His Deity.

After the resurrection of Lazarus, John 11:45 records that "many" Jews believed and that is what triggered those explosively high tensions that culminated in the Crucifixion. It seemed that:

Everyone Had Heard About Christ's Miraculous Powers

As Jesus entered Jerusalem in Mark 11, there was a man following Him that had also amazed the crowds. One of the busiest roads in the Land of Israel was the Jerusalem to Jericho Road. In Mark 10, if you look back a few verses from our passage for today, you see in v. 46-52 the healing of blind Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus had been a fixture along the roadside of this well traveled corridor, as predictably as the morning. Jesus had stopped and called out to him, and in front of the crowds, had restored his sight. Bartimaeus could see, and was he ever sure how he regained his sight! Mark 10:52 says that he followed Jesus.

Probably the voice that had been heard above the crowds in v. 48, begging for mercy, got even louder praising Christ's miraculous powers.

So the normal crowds that had been fed, taught, and seen many other miracles were now joined by those touched with the miracle of Lazarus raised from the dead, and then the healing of blind Bartimaeus.

Welcome to Sunday, Nisan the 9th of AD 30, as Jesus Christ left a small village 2 miles outside Jerusalem called Bethany.

Christ's coming into Jerusalem was precisely predicted 1,500 years before by Moses (because Jesus was the Passover Lamb portrayed by all those being taken into Jewish homes that very week).

The way Jesus would come into Jerusalem was predicted by Zechariah 500 years before. He said that the Messiah would come as a King riding on a colt (Zech. 9:9).

God's Word had declared for hundreds of years that He would come: as a Lamb and as a King!

Palm Sunday's Lessons For Each of Us Today

The events of that Sunday can deeply touch our lives today if we will allow them to. Here are the simple lessons of Palm Sunday:

1. Jesus Christ will not force His Kingship upon anyone.
He Reigns; we must choose to bow to Him.

2. Christ's entrance can often be mistaken for that of a lowly servant.
He Waits; we must choose to humbly respond to Him.

3. Christ's Omniscience encompasses every detail of the lives of all who surround Him. 
He Knows all about us; we must choose to trust Him.

4. Christ's Omnipotent warnings of Doom will come to pass exactly as He promised. 
He Judges all unrepentant sinners; we must flee to Him for mercy and grace.

5. Christ's Amazing Declaration about praise that is His will be given to Him.
If we won't praise Him, He will find someone who will! We must choose to praise Him.

If nothing else, choose one of these five lessons and apply it to your life starting today.

Open your Bible to Mark 11, and witness the start of the greatest weeks in the history of the universe since it was spoken into creation by the Creator.

The Start of the Greatest Week in History

Ever since God flung the endless myriads of solar furnaces into space and whispered to each their name, creation has watched, shouting the glory of God!

From the moment Satan rebelled and drew a third of the angelic heavenly hosts along with him into war against the Most High Creator, and the toll of death and decay echoed about the Cosmos, creation has groaned for the redemption of God .

And on this day if the voices of countless Jews had not cried Hosanna to God in the Highest, Jesus said the rocks He had created would have cried out His praises. Why? Because the King of Glory, the Creator, the Redeemer and Judge was coming home to His town!

Mark gives the traditional account of what we call today, Palm Sunday. To best understand this day, and to most respond to what Jesus calls us to do this day, look at the events of this passage and organize your thoughts around these truths that God's Word clearly presents:

Mark 11:1-11 (NKJV) Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; 2 and He said to them, "Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. 3 And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?' say, ‘The Lord has need of it,' and immediately he will send it here." 4 So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. 5 But some of those who stood there said to them, "What are you doing, loosing the colt?" 6 And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. 8 And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: 

      " Hosanna! 

      ‘ Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'[
       10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David 
      That comes in the name of the Lord!
      Hosanna in the highest!"

11 And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

First we see:

God Promised the Day Christ Would Come (11:1)

Mark paints for us a Picture of Christ Offering Himself as the Lamb of God.

What day is this in the life of Christ?

John 12 tells us it was six days before the Passover that Jesus went to Lazarus, Mary and Martha's home in Bethany on Friday and Saturday. Then the next day He marches triumphantly into Jerusalem on Sunday.

This day was a prophesied day.  It was part of that irresistible countdown to the cross. What do I mean? Remember the powerful prophetic roadmap given in Daniel 9:24?

"Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy. (NKJV).

Many Bible teachers believe God has a 490 year plan for Jerusalem[3].  It started with Artaxerxes' decrees to rebuild Jerusalem  ca. 445BC, as Nehemiah 2:1-8 records; and after a total of exactly 483 years later Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Jesus rode in meek and mild and sitting on a donkey on the very same day the people were to select their Passover lamb and take it into their homes as Ex. 12 instructed them.  

Christ rode into Jerusalem to the sounds of hundreds, if not thousands of chanting voices. He rode on a pathway carpeted by the cloaks of the crowds, fanned by the waving palm branches they used to portray His glory.  As He approached the Eastern Gate of the Temple, He was coming as the promised Lamb of God.

On that day over ¼ million lambs would be selected and purchased and taken home. Following the 1,476 year-old tradition of Passover, the countdown to the cross ticks on. It was the promised day of the Lamb of God presenting Himself as the One who would die for the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Next we see:

The Disciples Discovered that Christ Provides all they Needed (11:2-6)

Mark next paints a picture of the Disciples Finding that Christ provides everything needed.

Historian Josephus of the 1st Century tells us that at that during this year of Christ's Final Passover, over 250,000 lambs were sacrificed for the number of pilgrims in Jerusalem. The Bible instructed one lamb per family and up to ten could partake. There must have been as many as two and a half million people milling around as visitors in Jerusalem that week!

They overflowed the walls, spilled out the gates, lined the hillsides with tents. There was no room in the jammed city. Just as at His birth, there was no room!

Through this crowd streaming into Jerusalem, the disciples entered this tiny village and found exactly what Christ said. God has said if we'll trust Him, and obey Him, He will provide exactly what we need, just when we need it. God is NEVER late, He is RARELY early, but He is ALWAYS on time in His provisions of what we need!

Remember that Christ's Omniscience encompasses every detail of the lives of all who surround Him. He Knows all about us, we must choose to trust Him.

That was the lesson the disciples had powerfully impressed upon them that day.

Next, see with me:

Few Recognized the Donkey's Real Rider (11:7)

Mark also paints a picture of God Showing Himself to the humble.

This event of Christ riding into town as King in a humble way is predicted from the opening pages of God's Word. Look in the first book of the Bible, Genesis 49:10-11, for a veiled promise of His coming:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him [shall be] the obedience of the people. 11 Binding his donkey to the vine, And his donkey's colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, And his clothes in the blood of grapes. (NKJV)

Now turn to almost the end of the Old Testaments and see the very precise words of  Zechariah 9:9:

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He [is] just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey. (NKJV)

God's Word has said for centuries to all who would listen: Your Shiloh, your King, your Redeemer is going to come, riding on a donkey.

And He did and they missed it! The vast majority of cheers that day were only for a political liberator, not for a Redeemer and Lord. They didn't follow Jesus because He was such a contrast to other kings who marched to town with swords held high, cruelty filling their eyes, and captives trudging in their wake.

No, on Palm Sunday the King of Kings comes quietly on a humble donkey as the sacrificial, substitutionary Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. As He comes into Jerusalem, note next:

The Crowd's Amazing Display of Worship (11:8-10)

Mark records in these verses a picture of the Crowds Worshipping the King.

In a scene that pictures the future royal tribute to Christ in Revelation 7:9, we see palm branches and robes. Coats are cast down to make a road fit for a king, branches are waving from enthused crowds lining that road, and countless voices are unhesitatingly shouting loud Hosannas ("Save Now" literally).

It sounds so grand, it looked so triumphal: but not to the Romans.

After all the Romans were experts at parades and official public events. We have called this event "the Triumphal Entry," but no Roman would have used that term.  An official "Roman Triumph" was indeed something to behold.

When a Roman general came back to Rome after a complete conquest of an enemy, he was welcomed home with an elaborate official parade.  In the parade he would exhibit his trophies of war and the illustrious prisoners he had captured.  The victorious general rode in a golden chariot, priests burned incense in his honor, and the people shouted his name and praised him. The procession ended at the arena where the people were entertained by watching the captives fight to the death with the wild beasts. That was a "Roman Triumph."

Our Lord's "triumphal entry" was nothing like that, but it was a spiritual triumph just the same. 

Christ was God's anointed King and Savior, but this conquest would be spiritual and not military. A Roman general had to kill at least 5,000 enemy soldiers to merit a triumph; but in a few weeks the "gospel" would "conquer" some 5,000 Jews and transform their lives (Acts 4:4). Christ's "triumph" would be the victory of love over hatred, truth over error, and life over death[4].

But Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes quietly and will be praised even if overlooked!

Mark chooses to portray Jesus as the humble servant and does not add the rest of the details of this entry on Palm Sunday. For a moment, turn over to Luke 19:37-41 where in this climactic moment we see finally:

The Depths of Christ's Sorrow (Luke 19:41)

Luke adds to the Palm Sunday scene, a Picture of Christ's Compassion as He wept for His People.

Suddenly over the excited chants of the throng Christ stops. As the city came into view a loud lament throbs from Christ as He weeps over the city.

What did He weep over? The same things He weeps over in the lives of His people today! Jesus could see the shallowness of their commitment (like the early church in Ephesus we so quickly lose our first love); and Jesus wept over the blindness of their spiritual devotion (like the early church at Laodicea we are so easily blinded by materialism); and because of that Jesus wept over their lost opportunities (that is why Jesus tells His church in His last words to them: Repent and don't miss my best for you).

Today is a day we all need to respond to those simple lessons of Palm Sunday:

  1. Jesus Christ will not force His Kingship upon anyone. He Reigns; we must choose to bow to Him. Bow to Him today.
  2. Christ's entrance can often be mistaken for that of a lowly servant. He Waits; we must choose to humbly respond to Him. Humble yourself in His sight today.
  3. Christ's Omniscience encompasses every detail of the lives of all who surround Him. He Knows all about us; we must choose to trust Him. Choose to trust Him for some area of your life today.
  4. Christ's Omnipotent warnings of Doom will come to pass exactly as He promised. He Judges all unrepentant sinners; we must flee to Him for mercy and grace. Flee to Him as your only hope for mercy and grace today.
  5. Christ's Amazing Declaration about praise that is His will be given to Him. If we won't praise Him, He will find someone who will! We must choose to praise Him. Choose to praise Him today.

[1] Matthew 21-28 (8); Mark 11-16 (6); Luke 19-24 (6); and John 12-21 (10) for a total of 30 chapters out of the 89 total chapters in the Four Gospels.

[2] The Seven Signs of the Gospel by John were the miracles of: water to wine (2:1-12); healing the Nobleman's son (4:46-54); healing the lame man at Bethesda (5:1-17); feeding 5,000 (6:1-14); walking on and calming the Sea of Galilee (6:15-21); healing the man blind from birth (9:1-41); and raising Lazarus after 4 days (11:17-45).

[3] After Artaxerxes decreed the rebuilding of Jerusalem there were 49 years to the end of Nehemiah's building and Malachi's prophetic ministry (seven sevens); and then 434 more years passed called the "silent" years of inter-testamental period (62 sevens).

[4] Wiersbe in situ Mark 11.