The Mount of Determination
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
6. THE MOUNT OF DETERMINATION
‘ And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the Mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples . . . All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet’, Matt. 21. 1, 4.
Luke tells us that ‘When the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem’, 9. 51. Some have seen in the last days of our Lord at Jerusalem a final effort on His part to win the people to His teaching and that He failed in the attempt and died as others have done, as a martyr. How different is this from what the Gospel teaches! Rather do we see One who is moving forward with a conscious purpose along a path that has been clearly defined for Him, to a goal that is clearly seen. There could be no illusion in the mind of Him who is the Truth as to what would happen when He went to Jerusalem. The things that had been written of Him must all be fulfilled. The dark shadow of the Cross lay upon His path, yet He set His face as a flint. He was not rebellious; He turned neither back nor aside but went straight forward. Hence we have given this meditation the title ‘The Mount of Determination’.
In the setting out of our Lord from Olivet to Jerusalem, we shall note first the fulfilment of the Scriptures, then the followers of Jesus with their praise and expectations, and finally, the seeming ‘failure’ of the Lord Jesus to take advantage of the situation that had arisen.
The Fulfilment of the Scriptures
In the Lord’s pathway of determination, the humble and believing student of the Bible cannot fail to observe that there was a conscious fulfilment of the Scriptures. This may be summed up in the words of the risen Lord to His disciples, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day’, Luke 24. 46. Zechariah, a prophet of the returned remnant from Babylon, had called upon Jerusalem to rejoice greatly: ‘Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass’, 9. 9. Matthew, writing over five hundred and fifty years later, says, ‘All this was done, that it might be fulfilled . . . ’. Here was Israel’s King. The bitter taunting jest of Pilate, ‘This is the King of the Jews’ written over a man nailed to a cross was true. It was recognised as true by the dying robber who said, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom’, Luke 23. 42. He was Jerusalem’s King, and as King He will enter His city.
But what was His character? Note the description that Zechariah gave. He is ‘just’. Heaven and earth bore witness to it. The unjust judge cried, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just person’. Peter, speaking in the fulness of the Spirit’s power said, ‘ye denied the Holy One and the Just’. It is said of Him also that he would be just ‘and having salvation’. Let the words of His enemies at the foot of the cross bear witness, ‘He saved others’. He was to be ‘lowly, and riding upon an ass’. Here was the stumblingblock. What was the popular expectation? What was the popular conception of a King? If we think of the course of human history, men who have exalted themselves, who have conquered their enemies, who have ridden to power over the prostrate and the slaughtered, these have been called great. The war horse is the symbol of kingly pride and not the lowly despised ass. Yet to us whose eyes have been opened by the grace of God, is not His lowliness the crowning beauty of His person? ‘Come’, He says, ‘unto me ... I am meek and lowly in heart’. Matt. 11. 28-29. Thus does He leave the Mount of Determination to enter His capital city.
It has often been said that some of those who cried ‘Hosanna to the son of David’ were soon to be crying ‘Crucify him’. Although it is true that crowds are notoriously fickle, such a view has no foundation in the Gospel narratives. Those who cried ‘Hosanna’ were pilgrims from Galilee and also His immediate followers. There were also those who knew of the raising of Lazarus and, finally, there were the children of the temple courts. How beautiful is the Lord’s reply to the cavilling priests and scribes, ‘Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?’, Matt. 21. 16. ‘These children’s voices were angels’ echoes, echoes of the far-off praises of heaven, which children’s souls had caught and children’s lips welled forth’.
The volume of praise on that wonderful day was such that the rulers gnashed their teeth in impotent rage, saying ‘Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him’, John 12. 19. All the city was moved so that the inhabitants said, ‘Who is this?’ and they received the joyous answer that had gladdened the ears of so many infirm and sick, ‘This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee’.
What were the expectations of the followers of the Lord Jesus on that day? We are told what they were on the road to Jerusalem for ‘they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear’, Luke 19. 11, and that being so, how much greater must have been their sense of expectancy as the multitude acclaimed their Master. If one has a proper understanding of human nature, it must be clear that predominant in the mind of Peter, James and John was the vision of transcendent glory on the Holy Mount. Would He not once again discard His aspect of lowliness; would not suddenly the flashing of His radiant Person once more be seen, not now on a lonely mountain but here in Mount Zion, in the crowded city street, and would not the words of the prophet ring through the city stirring with joy and wonder the thoughts of all, ‘Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee’? Would not Jerusalem lift up her voice, saying to the cities of Judah, ‘behold, your God’? The disciples were on the tip-toe of expectation.
The ‘Failure’ of Jesus
What an anti-climax to a great and stirring day! From the human standpoint the Lord might have ridden on that day on the wave of popularity and seized power. The rulers clearly feared it and they found all their plotting in vain. Yet the Lord went to the temple, looked at all things that were happening there, and then quietly took His disciples away from the city to the village of Bethany. (From Mark’s Gospel we may gather that the cleansing of the temple did not take place until the second day.) What a keen sense of disappointment must have taken hold of the followers of the Lord once again. He had sent away the Galilean multitude when they had wanted to make Him King; now the acclamations of the multitude within the city had been silenced, not indeed by His command, but by His attitude. What was the reason? They did not know until after the resurrection, for they were ‘slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken’ and all that He had told them. On that very day He had said, ‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit’, John 12. 24.
We see in the events of that day from Olivet to Jerusalem not an anti-climax, not a failure, but rather the victory of a fixed determination, an inflexible resolve alone to do the Father’s will. Though it led quickly to the death on the cross with its immeasurable agony, it also led to the throne of God, and the ingathering into His kingdom of a multitude that no man can number, the fruit of His travail and death.