Why a Donkey?

Jesus and Palm Sunday

So what’s the big deal about the donkey? Why did Jesus ride a donkey into Jerusalem? Why is this such a celebrated act for Christians on Palm Sunday?

Entry into Jerusalem, Hippolyte Flandrin, 1842

It is called the triumphal entry. The scene of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem conveyed a certain anticipation that something important was happening. The details of the entrance were precisely choreographed and planned by Jesus himself.

The disciples were told to go to a precise location where they would find tied a donkey and her colt. They were instructed to “untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, the Lord needs them, and he will send them at once” (Matthew 21:2-3)

Interestingly, the disciples seem to accept these instructions without question. No one asks Jesus, “Now why are we doing all of this? Doesn’t this seem a little strange?”

Matthew, the writer of the Gospel, anticipates that the reader hearing the story read may be more than a little puzzled.

We who have heard the story anticipate that Jesus is a great leader who will bring hope and salvation. And yet the drama of a person riding on a donkey seems a little anticlimactic, and to put it bluntly, rather normal.

People ride into Jerusalem on donkeys on a daily basis. These were beasts of burden, farm animals. They were the work vehicles of the ancient world.

But the significance of the donkey is found in the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy which provides this interpretive key to understanding Jesus instructions and actions. It reads,

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).

Matthew, the gospel writer, understands Jesus’ actions to be a fulfillment of a prediction made by the prophet Zechariah concerning the coming of the royal Messianic king to Jerusalem the capital city of Judah and Israel. The prophecy explicitly foretold that when the Messiah comes to usher in the age of restoration, salvation and peace he will enter the city riding on the back of a donkey and her colt.

Matthew doesn’t quote the entire reference from Zechariah. But, if we go back to the original prophecy we would have greater understanding of the reason for the donkey as opposed to some other means of transportation.

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you also,
because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

Return to your stronghold,
O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double (Zechariah 9:10-12).

The donkey is a sign that the Messiah will come as an instrument of peace and restoration and not as an instrument of war and violence.

A Roman king would enter a city triumphantly riding in on chariot powered by a mighty stallion of war. His parade would be long, with battalions of troops with swords and spears, with chariots and war horses. In his train, would be the spoils of battles, trophies in the form of slaves and women captured in humiliation and defeat, treasures galore.

We still use the phrase of the hero riding in on a “white horse” to save the day or rescue the oppressed. Jesus rode in on a simple donkey to save the world.

Here we see the mystery and paradox Jesus intentionally established by his actions. Jesus would indeed ride into the city on the beast of burden enthroned on the praises of a mighty crowd of supporters. Jesus salvation comes through humility and humiliation. Yet would the crowds perceive just how low he would go for them.

The action was public and dramatic.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).

The story describes how the “whole city was stirred up”. Those who were roused by the activity questioned others in the crowd, “Who is this?” And the crowd would respond,

“This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:10-11).

The question is left for us to answer. “Who is this?” We live in a world that marvels and celebrates the powerful and wealthy. Yes the king of the universe enters our hearts and lives, not with bravado and pomp, but through humble access.

As we embark on Holy Week, humble your heart. Jesus would gain lordship over your life. Submit pride of self to the Servant King. Walk the way of the cross with Jesus, take on his mindset, manifest his character and live his life. The path to true triumph is a humble road.

We Will Not Neglect the House of Our God

Prophet_nehemiahIn the Old Testament, the testimony of the people was to keep covenant and maintain the Temple through faithful worship, offerings, and tithes. They had promised, “We will not neglect the House of our God” (Nehemiah 10:39). In chapter 13, Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and finds that they have indeed broken their commitment. They were neglecting the house of their God in their stewardship of four critical areas: space, resources, time, and relationships. We often do the same.

The first neglect was caused when Eliashab, the priest in charge of the temple chambers, allowed a foreigner to dwell in a room which had a specific purpose for offerings to the Lord. Nehemiah kicked him out and restored the chamber for its godly purpose (13:4-9). In our own lives, are there inappropriate things cluttering up key spaces that should be properly devoted to godly use?

A second neglect was caused by a failure to bring the appointed offerings to the Levites, thus forcing them to abandon the service of worship in order to provide for their families (13:10-14). Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). Our patterns of giving can reveal a neglect of our relationship with God. Practically, when the people of God withhold their tithes and offerings, the worship of our God and the ministry of His Church falls into neglect.

A third neglect was caused by buying and selling on the Sabbath (13:15-22). If our time is focused on doing personal work on the Sabbath, then we will not be focused on praising God and His work that day. The Lord calls us to devote one day out of the week to worship and work for Him.

Finally, the marriages of Israelites to foreigners were leading the hearts of the people into idolatry and away from God. Paul warned the church about being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). The friendships, partnerships, and marriages we make can draw us away from the love of God, thus causing neglect of our primary relationship with God.

Nehemiah led the people to repentance in all four neglects of space, money, time, and relationships. Is there one or more of these areas in your stewardship that requires reform?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, show me any area in my life where I have neglected your house. I repent of my neglect of you with my stewardship of space, money, time, and personal relationships. Please forgive my neglect and restore me to your goodness. Amen.


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.

Prayer In the Midst of the Insurmountable

By studying the prayers of Scripture, we can learn a lot about how to pray effective prayers. Constantly throughout the Bible, we see prayers like the one Hezekiah offers to the LORD. “So now, O LORD save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.” – 2 Kings 19:8

Things are looking bleak for Judea and Jerusalem. The hordes of the Assyrian army are mocking YHWH God and His people, threatening at the gates. Yet Hezekiah does not resort to bravado; no, he encourages his men NOT to answer the Assyrian mockers (2 Kings 18:36).

He does resort to prayer. THAT he prays in this situation is instructive in and of itself. The forces outside the gate of Jerusalem appeared to be insurmountable in sheer numbers. Why even hope? Why even pray? There is not a chance. But that is precisely the moment to pray!

The LORD loves to show His hand on behalf of His people in seemingly insurmountable situations. Hezekiah knows the LORD well enough to understand that if He so chooses, He can overcome such odds and forces. But notice the way Hezekiah makes his appeal to the LORD to act. His humble request for salvation comes with a purpose or motivation for the LORD– “…that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”

When the LORD acts on behalf of His faithful people by overcoming insurmountable odds in spite of their weakness, His strength is revealed, His name is glorified.

The LORD desires to be worshiped and obeyed to the ends of the earth. Human beings are made to do that very thing. In your prayers, appeal to the LORD’s preeminence over all other powers and forces. God loves an opportunity to reveal His power and glory through the weakness of His faithful people. When we are at our weakest, God delights to show Himself strong. Pray to that end.

LORD, I am not able to save myself, but you alone have the strength and power to forgive, to heal, to restore. Please show your strength in my life that others may see that you alone are God and that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.

Dust to Life

With these words, the priest marks a sign of the cross in ash on the Christian worshiper’s forehead: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It is a stark reminder that we are sinful, fallen and under the curse of Adam. Ashes are used throughout the Bible as a symbol of our mortality, of our sin and of our need for repentance. In the Bible, people don sackcloth and cover their heads with ashes to tangibly grieve and mourn sins. When Job is humbled before the sovereign Lord he says, “I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6). The prophet Daniel’s prayer of corporate repentance on behalf of the people of God is marked with physical signs of grief over sin:  “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).

Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of Lent. The period of Lent is a 40-day journey of self-denial. Through “self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 265), we are invited by the Church and the Lord to individually and corporately prepare ourselves for the annual celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus during Holy Week and Easter.

The Ash Wednesday service has a tone of solemnity. We begin in silence with a collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have
made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and
make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 264.)

The words of this prayer echo Psalm 51, a prayer of repentance from King David after he committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba. David prayed:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:10-12).

Repentance leads to joy. God longs to restore his people and bring us out of the bondage of sin and death into new life in His son. This is the entire goal of our Lenten discipline—to be restored to the joy of God’s salvation. To be restored, yes, from dust to life.

Ash Wednesday does not leave us in the dust.  The season of Lent invites us to the throne of grace.  We are invited to the table where the Lord has given us another firm reminder—one of grace, redemption, and restoration. In the bread and wine, we mysteriously commune with the body and blood of our crucified Savior.  Through the Sacrament, we remember what He has done for us in bearing in His body the finite and mortal nature of man.  By becoming one of us and like us in our death, God has made it possible for us to become like Him.

Before going to the cross,

Jesus took bread. And when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20).

So, today mark your course in ash and set out in the way of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Begin a holy Lent, from dust to life.

The Heart of a Reformer

King Ahaz was a corrupt and faithless king. He set up altars to false gods in every corner of Jerusalem, and he made unholy alliances with foreign kings. The most dramatic act of his rebellion against the Lord was when he “shut up the doors of the house of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:24).

Image via geralt on pixabay

His son Hezekiah took the throne, and he was the complete opposite of his father. The very first act of his reign was “he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them” (2 Chr. 29:3). The main point of the book of 2 Chronicles is to demonstrate that repentance leads to restoration. Earlier in the book, the Chronicler recorded this word from the Lord for King Solomon and his descendants:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” – 2 Chr. 7:14

Hezekiah stands as a model reformer of society for all time. By turning away from the “filth” and “unfaithfulness” of his predecessors and by seeking the face of the Lord, he demonstrates the character and actions that God is seeking in his people. The people followed his lead and were reorganized in the service of worship of the Lord. Hezekiah had the heart of a reformer:

“Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, in order that his fierce anger may turn away from us.” – 2 Chr. 29:10

Have we not inherited a culture that has “shut up the doors” to the worship of the Lord Jesus? Have we not experienced and even been participants in the “unfaithfulness” and the “filth” of a culture that has set up idols “in every corner”? In our day, just as in Hezekiah’s day, we desperately need leaders with the heart of covenant faithfulness. We need leaders who will make true worship of the one true Lord, Jesus Christ, the priority of our common life. We need followers who will be ready themselves to be ministers of the Lord.

Do you have the heart and character of a reformer?

Lord, make me an instrument of reform and renewal in our day. Show me the place where my family, my work place, my church, my school, my government need godly change. Guide me to the places that can be reorganized and centered on you. Give me the courage to act in Jesus name, Amen.

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This post originally appeared here.