Introduction – Donkeys:
Palm Sunday – it’s time for that donkey story again!
Donkeys, for us, are possibly seaside attractions, or objects of pity (donkey sanctuaries). Scarborough, Whitby, Bridlington, almost every seaside resort has donkeys.
“Donkey rides have been available since 1886 in Weston Super Mare and since 1895 in Bridlington.” (Wikipedia)
Janet remembers as a young girl being left in charge of one at Borth in mid-Wales while Emlyn, its minder, went away, and how it kicked her.
My dad, who went to be with the Lord 24 years ago (1994), was in the Indian Army during the second World War, where he looked after mule trains! Mules are a cross between a horse and a donkey. So when I think of donkeys I think of my dad, who used to say that the mule could stand on one leg and kick with the other three!
The Hebrew Bible (our OT) refers frequently to both donkeys and mules, as beast of burden, to be ridden or loaded up, possessions of people including kings. Absalom was riding a mule when he was caught in a tree and killed.
But only twice do we read about specific, individual donkeys – once in the Old Testament, when the prophet Balaam rode a donkey whom God enabled to speak, in order to get his message across (because Balaam was being stubborn!), and once in the New Testament, on the occasion we are thinking about today, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, (and no, the “little donkey” of nativity plays is not actually in the Bible! But that doesn’t mean Mary didn’t ride a donkey to Bethlehem!)
I’ve got 3 “R’s” – A Royal Procession; a Terrible Rebellion; and a Redeeming Sacrifice.
A Royal procession. Our God came among us, and was recognised by the people as “the one who comes in the Name of the Lord”, who was the King, riding on a donkey, who they praised with shouts of “Hosanna!” – “Save us, Lord, save us!” (Heb. Hosanna!). Our reading from Ps 118 says:
25 Save us, Lord, save us! (Heb. Hosanna!)
May God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
No doubt they knew the prophecy in Zecheriah 9:9:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
In the ancient Middle Eastern world, kings, and other leaders, rode horses if they rode to war, but donkeys if they came in peace. Think of those parades of tanks and missiles in Moscow or Beijing, and then compare them with
Rather than riding to conquer, this king, the Messiah, would enter in peace.
So on the first “Palm Sunday”, Jesus allowed himself to be welcomed by the pilgrims into Jerusalem, as its Messiah, Saviour, King, explicitly fulfilling OT prophecies.
But as we know, the same pilgrims who cried “Hosanna!” turned against him on the following Friday, shouting instead, “Crucify him!”:-
A Terrible Rebellion: The same people who shouted “Hosanna” (“Save us Lord!”) today turned against Jesus on Good Friday, changing their shouts to “crucify him!” – reminding us that all of us (me, Tim, each of you) are more than capable of rebelling against God (= definition of sin). Christians most certainly are not perfect! I like the definition of a Christian as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”. We humans are intrinsically sinful (just read the news), yet each of us is loved by God, and able to be reconciled to God because of Jesus.
How can that be? :-
A Redeeming Sacrifice: Jesus says, later in John 12, verses 23-24 (part of last Sunday’s reading):
Aside: last Sunday’s service was one of the “new” services, “CONNECT”, when we learned from one another as well as the preacher – very refreshing!
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
So Jesus sees today (Palm Sunday) as the start of “the hour” – the time when he will act to redeem humanity, rescue people from the consequences of their rebellion. Redemption, the “buying back” of a pawned object, the restoration of a broken relationship, lies at the heart of God’s purpose for humanity. It’s sometimes called “atonement” – or “at-one-ment”, the bringing together of separated people.So at the start of this service we sang:
Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die,
bow Your meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O Christ, Your pow'r and reign.
Reflection and Application
This event in the story of Jesus’ life, which we call “Palm Sunday”, is only really talked about once a year – why might that be?
Is it not important? Surely it is.
Is it that it doesn’t fit in with the theme of Holy Week? (Jesus’ preparation for his death?)
It must be relevant, and perhaps the OT references give the clue.Here is Jesus, riding a donkey as a King, yet about to be executed as a criminal, who asks us to follow him in the same way!
I just leave you with this challenge:
If Jesus, the triumphal Monarch, is to be our King,
Are we willing for him to rule our lives?
Are we prepared to go with him carrying a cross? (maybe accepting a punishment we don’t deserve?)
Because he has every right to be our King, having died in our place on that Cross, and Risen from the dead to live for ever and to be our judge.
A comment from a recent SU reading, was about God’s love for us:
The most radical thing in the universe is God’s grace. It’s a grace that says, “I know everything about you: your darkest secrets, your biggest failures, all the mistakes you have ever made and ever will make. And I love you anyway; I accept you and everything you are; you can approach my throne with confidence.”
That’s the God we can know through following Jesus!
A poem written a few years ago:
“Untie the colt, you’ll find it by its mother”,
the Master told us, with authority.
We found them, browsing quietly together,
and dared to loose them, with temerity.
The donkey’s owners asked the reason why;
We trusted Jesus, who always seemed to know:
“The Master needs them” was our swift reply,
the right response, the proper way to go.
The colt, unridden, and at first unwilling,
it sensed its prophecy-fulfilling role,
the amazing task of carrying the King,
Jesus had planned for this, the donkey’s foal.
That day the Master rode upon our colt,
he set his face towards his destiny.
The crowds that cheered him then would all revolt
and turn against him, crying “crucify!”
We who had followed down from Olivet,
would face a week we never could abide,
of highs and lows, our faith could be upset:
a week in which we saw him crucified.
But Jesus’ death was not the final blow:
God raised him up to life, so he could bring
new life to all who trust him. Now we know
the man who rode the donkey – he’s our King!
“Donkey” 3 verses in Mat 21 and two in John 12.
“Colt” 3 in Mat 21, 4 in Mark 11, 3 in Luke 19, and 1 in John 12. (Quoting Zechariah 9:9)
There is only one place in the OT where a donkey is identified specifically, the incident of Balaam the prophet, who gets involved with Balak, the king of Moab, on behalf of the people of Israel.
Balaam sets out in the morning to go to king Balak, with the princes of Moab. God becomes angry that he went, and sends the Angel of the Lord (Numbers 22:22) to prevent him. At first the angel is seen only by the donkey Balaam is riding, which tries to avoid the angel. After Balaam starts punishing the donkey for refusing to move, it is miraculously given the power to speak to Balaam (Numbers 22:28), and it complains about Balaam's treatment.
“Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”” (Numbers 22:26-28)
Elsewhere in ancient literature, we read that rulers rode donkeys unless in war, when they rode a horse.