The ways of a Donkey
Today is a very significant day in the life of every Christian. Palm Sunday is the gateway through which we enter holy week. A week of incredible significance that begins with Christ entering the city of Jerusalem, received and lauded as a king, and ends with a resurrected Savior. But as you may already know, those two glorious punctuation points are not the full story.
Absent an intentional slowing down and walking through Jesus’ last week day-by-day, Palm Sunday can be relegated to a 30-second commercial for the BIG day. There’d be palm leaves, talk of new Easter outfits and a reminder to purchase baskets, fill the plastic eggs, and plan the Easter morning “hunt.” Absent that same intention, holy week is little more than a short work week, with Good Friday not much more than a welcomed vacation day and some extra time to spend with family and friends. But here’s the thing … Easter Sunday is not just a Spring holiday, and Good Friday is not just a vacation day, they are the two most significant days in the Christian faith. They are the days that CHANGED EVERYTHING!
So why don’t we just make a bigger deal of them? Why this “intentional slowing down,” and focus on the events of every single day in the last week of Jesus’ life? Because when you begin to look more closely at each and every day, at least two things happen. First, the proper anticipation begins to build for those two significant days. And second, there are some really amazing things and stories that you fly by if you only see the parade on Palm Sunday, the cross on Good Friday and the empty tomb on Resurrection Day. So let’s begin our journey…
So today we begin with the image of a King riding into town … on a donkey. I have known all along that the donkey was significant to this “parade day” story, but I had always stopped at the reasons of prophecy and humility. In Zechariah 9:9-10 it was prophesied that Christ would arrive on the back of a donkey. And as for humility, it’s pretty easy and obvious to make the connection all the way back to Jesus’ birth. Christ’s two big entrances were both made in great humility: born, not with fanfare in the halls of a gilded palace, but in the anonymity and humility of a feed trough; and riding into Jerusalem as a King, not on the back of a noble and strong horse, but on the foal of a lowly donkey. These are perfect illustrations that seem to wrap up the significance into a nice neat package.
In my thorough study of this particular day over the course of several years, I was introduced to a deeper significance in God’s choice of this animal. I am certain that my father-in-law has explained this to me before (having owned a mule for many years), but I was reminded in my studies, that the donkey is a very smart animal. It’s certainly true to its general description as a beast of burden, but do not be mistaken, this is no clueless, led-around-by-the-nose farm animal. It is equal parts stubborn will and faithful servant, and in that truth is where I found the nugget.
Each one of the four gospels give an account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, underscoring its obvious significance. But it is the striking lack of any other significant event during that day that began to intrigue me. Jesus rides into Jerusalem to this rapturous greeting, this major parade, and then … nothing. Okay, there is one other brief mention in Mark’s gospel that we’ll hear about tomorrow, but this big parade and then nothing else of obvious note?! It seems generally accepted that the time of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was mid-morning, but then all that’s mentioned (that many people miss) of the rest of His day is a quiet visit to the temple just before dark. Huh?! Wouldn’t this have been the perfect moment to ascend to the bully pulpit and play to the crowd?! Or better yet, march on to the seat of government and overthrow it? The crowd was anticipating a conquering king. They showed it in their use of palm branches (a symbol of military victory), and cries of “Hosanna!” (which in Hebrew means “save us” or “save us now”). But Jesus is not the type of king the Jews are expecting, and that is not what happens. There is very little circumstance that follows the pomp. There’s a parade led by a humble looking man on a young donkey, a quiet walk through the temple, and then a return to the suburb of Bethany around dusk.
Now, let’s get back to this young donkey. In my studies on this seemingly lowly animal, I found an Old Testament story (Numbers 22:21-35) about a prophet (Balaam) who rode a donkey which saw an angel and refused to confront the angel, then got off of the path and was beaten by the angry prophet … how’s that for cliff notes? This story reveals a great truth about the donkey. Namely, that it senses danger and stubbornly refuses to go headlong into it. A horse? Sound the bugle and kick your heels, and he/she goes charging. But a donkey? No way, sister! You can push and prod all you want, but this animal is holding its ground. We see this same picture in the lack of any mention of a significant event after Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem. Although this might have been an opportune moment to go charging onward with the full support and might of an adoring and boisterous crowd, Jesus did nothing. I would seem reasonable that Jesus heard some calls for that and maybe deflected the pressure to act. These people were expecting a conquering king; man of action who would bring the rod and make right all those times the people of Israel were at the short end of the conquering stick. Yet in the face of all that, this is a King who was not here for that purpose. This is a King who knew his time and held his ground, refusing to move at another’s pace or for another’s purpose.
And lastly, there is the truth of a donkey’s true nature. It is very much a beast of burden, but bears those burdens as a wise and faithful servant. Balaam’s donkey knew not to confront but also did not run. He submitted himself to the beating of an angry prophet in order to save him. In Christ’s entry, He did not confront nor did he run from the suffering He knew was coming. He submitted to God’s purpose and became the bearer of the greatest burden there ever has been, or ever will be … the weight of the sins of every person that would ever live. In His birth, life, and purpose, there was never an intent to take an earthly throne. Our King’s earthly throne would be a cross. There He would hang, in His true nature, the full weight and burden of all our sins, faithfully born.
In Christ’s stubborn and unfailing will, He bore our burden as only He could, and paid the price so that we might live. What a perfect choice God made in his plan for Christ’s entry and for our redemption. Let’s all go into this week, and the remainder of the days God has for us, walking in the ways of a donkey … and of our Savior!.
ONE FINAL NOTE: We invite you into our intentional journey through holy week; the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. We encourage you to take time each day, reading the story and following Jesus’ path to the cross, the grave, and out of the tomb! What an amazing punctuation we have waiting for us at the end of this week. Let us not reduce its meaning by running past the deep significance in the details of Jesus’ final days before death and resurrection. He is risen! He is risen indeed!!