An alliteration of Cs.
Context, culture, contrasts, confrontations, crossword puzzles, and a coming King.
I love the newspaper! When I pick up the local newspaper, I learn of current goings-on and happenings; there is greater detail on sports stories, and I truly enjoy the challenge of the daily crossword puzzle.
Consider this a moment. As I read the paper, I understand the context in which the newspaper is written, the cultural thinking it addresses, contrasting thoughts and articles it presents. More precisely, I know the language in which it is written and its nuances, the current political climate, and even many of the things that are uppermost in readers’ minds today. We surely must do much the same when reading the beloved words of Scripture to gain proper understanding. This requires study and effort, and it is well worth the time.
As we read of Jesus’ move toward Jerusalem in the tenth chapter of Mark, we look at these very elements: context of the account, the cultural thinking of that day, the contrasts within the narrative and sometimes consider the Greek language in which it was written. Making the effort to grasp these elements gives greater understanding of the entire text and most importantly, of Jesus himself, our Savior—who he was, why he came, what he was doing, and any application for us today.
Heading south toward Jerusalem, Jesus stopped east of the Jordan River, in what was then called Perea, ruled by Herod Antipas, part of the contextual setting of the day. While the Jewish leaders had heckled Jesus as he taught and ministered around the Sea of Galilee, as he moved ever nearer Jerusalem, they get more and more confrontational. So when they asked Jesus about marriage and divorce,1 we must look at their motive; they posed the question to trap him, aiming for the same result that had befallen John the Baptist. The Baptizer had called out Herod Antipas for his adulterous marriage to his sister-in-law, who ultimately got her revenge by having John beheaded.2
The pious Pharisees’ question was not a random one about marriage and divorce, it was intended to draw the ire of Herod Antipas that he might execute Jesus, just as he had John the Baptist. Aha.
Mark writes “They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them.”3 Wait, going to Jerusalem from Galilee is going south, down . . . but this says ‘up to Jerusalem’? Yes, the geographic context of Jesus’ travel is important too. When we are walking in Jesus’ footsteps in Israel, it is nothing to hop aboard the air-conditioned bus to traverse the distance from the Jericho area around the Dead Sea to the Old City in Jerusalem, about 18 miles . . . but bear in mind that the elevation goes from 1290 feet below sea level to 2600 feet above. And Jesus. Was. Walking. What a contrast—our comfortable bus today versus Jesus carrying his few belongings on his back, walking all the way up to Jerusalem. Hmmm.
Throughout the gospels, we do not find Jesus using any mode of transportation besides his own two feet except for one time, this time—as he enters Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.
O, we all love the stories of Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey, as people hailed him, laying down their garments for the path he trod, waving palm branches overhead. Why, no Palm Sunday observance would be complete without children walking down the center aisle, waving palm branches as uplifting music plays!
But, wait—there is so much more to this poetic vision.
You see, without saying a word, Jesus was making one very loud statement--a very Lous announcement. He is coming out as the Messiah, the One of whom the prophets foretold. The 'faithful' knew all about this – they were not just caught up in a tide of hopeful emotion. You see, their prophet had said it would be like this when the Messiah came—yes, about 500 years earlier, Zechariah had written, "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."4
Did you catch it? This was not just any donkey – it was a donkey's colt, so Jesus’ feet just may have been touching the garments of those who were shouting his name. Wow, what a picture. Coming into town as he did this day, riding that young donkey, Jesus is announcing "I. Am. Your. King." The faithful waving palm branches crying out, ‘Hosanna’, are shouting to Jesus, ‘yes, save us now!’ They thought they were seeing the one who would overthrow Rome and bring the Messianic kingdom to earth—right then.
Jesus envisioned something far beyond that colt, those palm branches, the religious leaders, and even the cross, he envisioned life forever with you. Without saying a word, he said it all, by voluntarily coming into Jerusalem where he would be crucified six days later.
Just as Zechariah prophesied of Jesus’ coming on the colt of a donkey, so too Jesus promised he will come again. He will come and gather us up to be with him forever.
Because He lives, because we too can live with Him forever~
In the footsteps of Jesus, gospel of Mark, #34
1 – Mark 10.1-12
2 – Matthew 14.1-12
3 - Mark 10.32
4 - Zechariah 9.9