Back when I was growing up, Palm Sunday and Easter were special occasions when my sister and I would get new dresses, shoes, hats and gloves to wear to church! I remember that every pew was filled on those Sundays; no one wanted to miss out on the celebration!
No one wanted to miss out on Passover in Jesus’ time either. It was the most important of the Hebrew festivals. In Jesus’ day the temple was filled to overflowing as the population of Jerusalem skyrocketed. Every righteous Jew who lived a prescribed distance from the city came to celebrate and remember the Jews deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Into this crowd, on what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus came riding on a donkey. As the people shouted Hosanna, Luke tells us that Jesus is weeping (see Luke 19:41-44).
In typical style, Mark supplies us in his gospel with just the basic facts about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Jesus entered the city, looked around, and returned to Bethany, perhaps to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The next day will be a busy one; Jesus curses the fig tree and cleanses the temple.
I am fascinated, as many people are, by Jesus’ actions concerning the fig tree. Michael Card tells us in his commentary on Mark: The Gospel of Passion that the fig tree story provides “bookends” around the temple cleansing. Both events speak of judgement.
In the temple, “Jesus’ actions are clearly prophetic,” Michael Card says. The temple was to be “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 46:7). The Jews had disrespectfully used the Court of the Gentiles as their marketplace. Card tells us, “The Mishnah records that during Jesus’ time, prices for doves in the temple market soared.” This would be especially unacceptable to Jesus because doves were the offering set aside for the poor (see Lev. 5:7), the very people Jesus comes to with the good news.
With the telling of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the countdown has begun. The tension we have experienced since the beginning of Mark’s gospel has ramped up even higher. In the few chapters we have remaining, we are given what is called the “Olivet Discourse.” In it, Jesus tells his disciples about events in the near future – and the signs of the end of the age. He admonishes them, “Watch out that no one deceives you” (Mark 13:5).
I can’t help but think that Jesus’ warning is a fresh word for us today. Many gods (idols) vie for our attention, don’t they? Will we give in to the easy and the popular things of the world? Or will we press in and learn more of the One who wept over Jerusalem? This Easter, my prayer is that you will be filled with a new sense of God’s presence and purpose in your life!