Palm Sunday is almost upon us. If you’ve read through New Testament, it’s a familiar scene. The week of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem. In Luke’s account, he says, ‘When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ ” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it” ’ (Luke 19:29-34).
Now, if you’re casually reading this, you may think it’s interesting that Jesus rode into Jerusalem considering he usually walked everywhere. Or maybe you’ll see here an example to follow in these who owned the donkey colt. Without warning, they were willing to depart with their goods because the Lord had need of it. Or maybe still, you’ll wonder why these details are important to include at all?
Quite frankly, this is the most important donkey in history. In this one colt, we see the evidence of God’s faithfulness to his promises spanning thousands of years, assuring us of Christ’s kingship as the Messiah. But why a donkey?
We tend to think of horses as beasts worthy of royalty, but in 1 Kings, as David is about to die, he says that Solomon should be his successor on the throne of Israel. For the coronation, David commands his own donkey be sent to Solomon for him to ride in on (1 Kings 32-37). At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, we see emphasized over and over again that Jesus is descendant of David. More than that, we see that he is the promised Davidic Messiah. The anointed one will be King over God’s people.
But then there’s Zechariah 9. Even more directly, the prophet says: “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 riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). The Messiah isn’t a king who has to prove his worth by reigning with an iron hand. Quite the opposite. Toward his people, he comes with humility and righteousness to bring salvation.
Finally, notice that this is a donkey that’s never been ridden. If you know the Old Testament well, you’ll remember passages like Numbers 2 and Deuteronomy 21 which show a principle of purity necessary for the things for the Lord. You don’t offer God your leftovers. You don’t offer him the rejects. You offer him the best. Here’s a colt that never been ridden. Meaning that no other sinful person has ridden it before. That could be the emphasis of the unridden donkey.
But I think the inclusion of the donkey is even more significant. Some of you may not know the Old Testament, but you know animals. Others of you are like me–you’ve watched Bonanza and Little House enough to know what happens when you try to ride an animal that’s not been broken in.
The animal will resist! It bucks and jumps and doesn’t like being ridden. Why? Read Genesis 9. There is a fear of mankind given to the animals. They have to be broken. They have to be trained to accept people and not be afraid of them. But then, think about animals in large groups of people. They get spooked!
So, think again about what is happening in the passage. Jesus is about to ride a colt that’s never been ridden, through a yelling, joyous crowd of people, throwing down coats and palm branches. It should be impossible! But he’s the humble king with authority over all things, even the animals that he’s created. Jesus doesn’t need to break it. He’s gentle in his authority. Tim Keller observes that he simply heals the donkey of its fear, making it useful for him.1
With Jesus riding it, in control, this beast becomes completely fearless in the midst of the crowd.
If Jesus can do that for a mere donkey, how much more his people? How much more should we present ourselves for service, trusting in Christ’s humble authority to take care of, lead us, make us fearless in the face of any circumstance?