A Lamb Rides Into Jerusalem On A Donkey
It sounds like a setup for a bad joke: "A lamb rides into Jerusalem on a donkey." But, that is exactly what happened. A coronation for a king. For THE King. For years in the church I helped present the story of Jesus as He made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. You can go to the Mount of Olives today, pay a local Arab a few bucks and he will let you sit on the back of his donkey as you pose for your "Palm Sunday" photo moment. Pay a few more bucks and that same guy will let you ride the donkey all the way down the path. We just walk it.
I remember the year in Children's Ministries we found a lady with a donkey, paid her some money to bring it to our church on as we had a parade with the kids who waved palm branches while singing "Hosanna In The Highest." I grew up with this narrative that Jesus was coming in as the Hero-King, only to lose at the end of the week. But Sunday was "a-comin'." But what's really going on here?
We're missing a big part of the story.
Picture it. Passover week in Jerusalem. It's crowded, there is a hustle and bustle about the city. Go there today for Passover week and that hustle and bustle still exists. Unleavened bread is flying off the shelves and your family prepares to remember the ancient ancestral feast of flight from Egypt. Bible nerds say that at the time, the population of Jerusalem was around 50,000. Passover is one of three pilgrimage feasts where you take the family on a road trip to Jerusalem to celebrate. According to other Bible nerds, this added another 150,000 people in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.
Throughout His three years of ministry, on more than one occasion, Jesus does a miracle and sends the people away saying, "see that you don’t tell this to anyone" (Mark 1:41-45). After healing a deaf and mute man, "Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it" (Mark 7:36). He would tell His followers, "My time has not yet come," (John 7:6) and they continued to wait. This Passover would be the culmination of what Luke chronicles for us beginning in chapter 9 through 19:27 – that “He set His face toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). The secret no longer needed to be kept, the hour was about to come. Jesus was entering Jerusalem as the King of Israel, a king Who would suffer on behalf of His people to bring them ultimate peace.
The account shows up in all four gospels. (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19) This is from Matthew 21:1-11.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
What was this moment about? Why would a king ride a donkey instead of a warhorse?
"For such a lowly beast of burden, it is surprising to see how unobtrusively significant a role the donkey plays in the history of Israel’s kingdom. While it seldom occupies the centre of the narrative frame, it is a ubiquitous yet inconspicuous presence at pivotal historical moments in the kingdom’s establishment and a supporting actor in prophesies concerning it." - Alastair Roberts
It's a fascinating piece of Biblical history, kings and donkeys. Donkeys, not horses, were ridden by rulers. Take King Saul. His journey to kingship starts with a search for his fathers donkeys who have taken off (1 Samuel 9), only to run into the prophet Samuel who confirms his call as king. Don't worry, they find the donkeys, eventually. In 1 Samuel 15, God rejects Saul as King only to find an interesting foreshadowing in the following chapter as "...Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul" (1 Samuel 16:20). King David rode on donkeys, as they were a royal gift to the king (2 Samuel 16:2). Adonijah presumes himself to be king and sets up his own parade, but with horses, not donkeys. This doesn't go well for Adonijah. Later, Solomon rides his father's donkey into Jerusalem for his coronation as king (1 Kings 1:38-40). This is just the tip of the Biblical donkey iceberg.
This basic formula makes things easy, or easier. In the ancient Middle East, leaders rode horses to war, but donkeys if they came in peace. At the birth of Jesus, the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Three decades later, Jesus rides into Jerusalem and fulfills the ancient words of Zechariah, "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" (Zechariah 9:9).
"This is a kingdom that comes, not with the din and clamour of armies, their fearful fanfares, and their terrible instruments of war, but as the astonishing and wonderful unravelling of a divinely wrought eucatastrophe. The rule of God is brought near, not with the snorting and stamping of royal stallions, or with the thunderous rumbling of tanks, but in a lowly Messiah borne on the back of a humble colt, the joyful promises and songs of the prophets before him, the fullness of God’s blessing in his train." - Alastair Roberts
Two thousand years ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem in victory to make peace for His people. That victory did not turn out as most of His followers anticipated. Today marks the beginning of what has been called the Passion Week. Peace will come, but it is going to feel a lot more like war before we get there. More than anything right now, we need peace. I need peace. The world has been turned upside down and every moment is filled with headlines that hold us in suspense wondering if the bottom is going to fully drop out from underneath us. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, said this week would be “the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives.” We can come to Jesus, especially this week, as our hardest week parallels His hardest week, and be humbly led by the One Who brings us peace.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33