A Church Full of Donkeys
Why is it only now that Jesus receives so much acclaim? He has been travelling all around doing miracles and only as he goes up the hill to Jerusalem do people start going crazy about him.
They have mobbed him, marveled at the authority of his preaching, seen him perform miracles and heal the sick for a long time, but it is now that everything reaches a head. There is something important about him going into Jerusalem.
This is the showdown, the final scene. This is where he is to die, but it is also where he is to rise.
Jerusalem is the local Roman seat of power, as well as the Jewish holy place.
It is the place where things happen. It was the ancient city of the great kings of Israel. But it was ruled by the hated Romans. There was a tension there, and Jesus was riding into the middle of it.
When Jesus chose to ride into the city on a donkey, he was fulfilling an Old Testament Prophecy that Jerusalem’s King (or Messiah) would come, humble and riding on a Donkey.
The word humble has to be put into context. This doesn’t mean humble compared to normal everyday people, but humble for a King.
Jesus was identifying himself as a king by his symbolic action. Any King who came at the head of a mighty army rode into the city on a war-horse, but Jesus was not that kind of King. Instead, he followed a different tradition.
King David’s family rode donkeys when they went about their normal business. The donkey was not seen as a lowly animal like it is for us. It was a royal mount.
There was one king that was even more powerful, more wealthy, and more famous throughout the ancient world than King David, and he rode on a donkey into Jerusalem to his coronation.
King Solomon was placed on King David’s donkey, and he rode it to where he was anointed as King.
Now we can understand the symbolism of Jesus’ actions. He was identifying himself as a certain type of King.
He was claiming his family heritage, reminding people that he was of David’s line.
He was riding into Jerusalem to be crowned. What the people didn’t realise was that the crown would be made of thorns, and that he would be anointed not with oil, but with his own blood. A very different kingship indeed.
The people identified Jesus as the Messiah. They shouted: Blessed is the coming one.
The coming one is a Jewish title for the Messiah, the one who would come in the Lord’s name.
They picked up on the fact that he was coming into the city as a king when they said “blessed is the King who comes.”
They understood the symbolism.
And the people gave him the red carpet treatment. They threw their cloaks on the road, as well as on the donkey so that he had a soft ride. This was special treatment. Like throwing rose petals at the feet of royalty or in front of a bride and groom at their wedding.
Yet they were not praising him but God. At the coronation of King Solomon the people shouted “Long live King Solomon”, but here the people were “joyfully praising” God the Father, not Jesus.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord is not so much a celebration of Jesus as an individual, but the fact that he was God’s Messiah.
To call anyone a king within the Roman world was trouble in its highest form. It was treason against the Emperor, punishable by death.
Jesus was not an earthly king. His kingdom, as he was to tell Pilate at his trial, was not an earthly kingdom.
So this ride into Jerusalem as a king was a very bold move for a man who was wanted by the law. The Pharisees already wanted to arrest him .
He might have crept into town or past one of the gates and hidden in the poorer parts of town but instead he made a spectacular entry in the public eye. He was almost daring the Pharisees to do something about it. He was stirring up passions, either for or against him.
Some of the people recognised him as a king, as I have already said, but most didn’t. Even the ones that did were still thinking in terms of purely human, physical kingship.
How many of these people would turn against Jesus in a week’s time? It was almost dangerous that they were praising him so much.
Their anger and disappointment at his crucifixion would be made so much greater because they had got their hopes up.
If they had looked on his triumphal entry as a sham, and on him as a pretender, they would not have had the same need to hurl insults and hatred at him when he was on the cross. They would have smugly thought how they had been proved right.
But their longing for a great power to rise up and overthrow the rule of the Romans was not realised. How disappointing it must have been for them. When this became clear it led loyal followers to turn around and betray him. It led other followers to abandon him. All because he didn’t fit in with their ideas about what he should be.
Do we react the same way? We are so quick to tell God what we want our lives to be like once we believe in him.
“Okay, fine, so you are God, right? Well, that means you should be able to fix it so if I believe in you I will never be sick again, I never want any money worries for the rest of my life, all my enemies will be destroyed, we will always have exactly as much rain as we want when we want, and Australia will always win in the cricket. Is that all right? Good. Then you can count me in.”
Wouldn’t everyone believe in God if they received exactly what they wanted out of it? That would make reaching out with the Christian message very easy.
The problem is that God defines who we are, not the other way around. God created us as he wanted us, we don’t create him the way we want.
The people on that first Palm Sunday wanted Jesus to free them from slavery to an earthly power, the Romans, and when it became clear that he wasn’t going to do that, they turned on him.
What they didn’t realise was that he was saving all nations from a much worse alliance, Sin, death and the Devil. That is surely better than just saving one nation. But they didn’t see it helping them.
When we get upset about what God isn’t doing for us, maybe we should hang in there and realise the bigger picture.
Being with God doesn’t make our life perfect, but it means a perfect life in eternity. It doesn’t always mean freedom from every earthly power, but it means freedom from sin and death. We so often tend to look only a few kilometres in front of us, but God knows the road before we travel it. He wants to give us not the easy road, but the bigger prize at the end.
Jesus isn’t always what he seems.
The King is coming. You carry him into the world wherever you go. An older pastor once preached at the congregation where my father was the pastor, and he said “You are all donkeys. And your pastor, he is the biggest donkey of the lot.” I don’t know that my father was impressed, but there is some truth to it. A donkey was the one who bore Christ on that Palm Sunday, and we are all called to bear Christ in the world.
Take him out there with you today, this week. Sometimes he will be welcomed, sometimes he will be turned upon and attacked. Blessed are the donkeys of the lord.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus, Amen.