Our reading from Luke starts a bit abruptly, we read “After Jesus had said this.” Said what? Well in brief, Jesus had just finished teaching that if you follow Him you cannot just sit on your hands and do nothing, that if you are a Christian you need to work for the Kingdom of God here and now in this time on this earth.
And our reading continues ‘he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem’. What is going on? Has Jesus got the hump, is He upset? It sounds like he has just told some people off and stormed on ahead in the direction of Jerusalem, and maybe Jesus is frustrated, maybe he expected his listeners to understand at this point that you can’t just sit and say ‘I follow Jesus’. You have to build that connection through prayer, through doing what Jesus has done, using our gifts for the Kingdom of God. I wonder what Jesus would think of some of us? He had only been spreading the gospel for three years at this point, now over 2000 years later some people who call themselves Christians still do not get it.
Also maybe Jesus was a little stressed. He was on His way to Jerusalem, to fulfill the reason He came in the first place, and may be the human side of Jesus was saying “are they worth it? all that I am going to do for them and they want to sit on their hands!” I wonder what Jesus would say to us today: ‘well done good and faithful servant’ or ‘away from me I do not know you’.
Our reading continues in verse 29. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ”
Jesus leads his followers in front of the group. Jesus leads the way to his appointment with destiny. Destiny doesn’t somehow overtake him accidentally, it was always part of God’s plan and Jesus is willing to go ahead with that plan.
“Going up to Jerusalem” is literal, since Jerusalem is at a higher elevation than most of the towns of Palestine. The road Jesus is traveling rises from 850 feet below sea level at Jericho, to elevation of 2,100 to 2,526 feet above sea level at Jerusalem.
The Mount of Olives is located just east of Jerusalem, is a ridge about 2-1/2 miles long, If you stand where the Jericho Road crosses the ridge, to the west is the city of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley, and just to the east of the summit lie the towns of Bethphage and Bethany.
Today Bethphage is a suburb of Jerusalem, its name in Aramaic meaning “house of the early figs.”
Bethany is the town where Jesus’ friends live — Lazarus, Martha, and Mary — at whose home he was a welcome guest whenever he was in the City.
Jesus looks up to the villages on the hillside just ahead and gives precise instructions to two of his disciples:
“He sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’ The two went as requested and found the colt just as Jesus had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
The Lord needs it, oh ok then take it its yours, what faithful servant’s ‘yes Lord whatever you want, no questions, there is no further argument’. The owners are happy to have the Lord use their possessions for His work.
How about you? Do you argue when the Lord makes a demand on something that belongs to you? Yes, you have said, “I give you my life, everything I have,” but now when he makes a specific request, do you draw back?
The significance of the donkey
Luke does not discuss the significance of the young donkey, but Matthew and John quote from Zechariah 9:9, a passage that comprises one of the great soprano arias of Handel’s Messiah:
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-10)
I read recently that the donkey was domesticated from the wild African ass in north eastern Africa, Egypt about 6,000 years ago.
It was the main beast of burden, donkeys are renowned for their strength and it was the animal normally ridden by non-military personnel (Numbers 22:21; Judges 10:4; 1 Samuel 25:20). Scripture tells us that riding a donkey is not beneath the dignity of Israel’s noblemen and kings (2 Samuel 18:9; 19:26). Indeed, David indicates his choice of Solomon to be king by decreeing that the young man should ride on the king’s own mule (1 Kings 1:32-40).
Jesus’ instructions are clear that the donkey must be one that has never been ridden. It is set apart, consecrated for a specific use — for the Master’s use. There was a Jewish tradition that no one should use the animal on which a king rides. When Jesus indicates to his disciples that he should ride on a donkey that no one had ever ridden before, he is initiating a public, kingly act. He is revealing openly that he is the Messiah. The symbolism is not lost on the disciples and Jesus’ other followers. The King has arrived – the Messiah is here.
We read in verse 35 and 36 “They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.”
Spreading clothing to carpet a pathway was a way to honour a person. When the people start to be aware that Jesus Has made this statement by using this symbolism, Marks Gospel tells us, “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields” (Mark 11:8).
John’s Gospel indicates the people were going out to meet the procession with palm branches (John 12:13).
Praise from the disciples
It is a day of excitement and jubilation as the King’s procession reaches the road’s highest point as it crosses the ridge of the Mount of Olives. At this time of year, pilgrims clogging the roads rejoice as they come. And the pilgrims already in Jerusalem hear that Jesus is about to enter the city, and they come out to meet him (John 12:12, 18).
The city is abuzz with the news of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and the pilgrims are eager to see this miracle worker.
“When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ “quoting Psalm 118:26
As this increasingly large group of people crosses the ridge and begins its descent into the Kidron Valley the people are sing praises from Psalm 118:25.
The sound is increasing. The enthusiasm is building with a carpet of clothing and branches on the road, with singing, and with rejoicing. People in the crowd are now shouting out clearly messianic phrases:
“Hosanna to the Son of David! (Matthew 21:9)
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Luke 19:38)
“Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12:13)
The Pharisees present in the crowd are scowling. They are deeply offended and can’t suppress their disdain.
We read in verse 39 -40 “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’
‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ ”
Jesus could be saying that if the disciples are silent the rocks themselves would be forced to offer praise.
Indeed, praise is sometimes poetically attributed to objects and animals, Jewish writings sometimes mention mute stones bearing witness when sin has been committed — in this case the sin of not offering praise when praise is due.
It is time to be recognized as Messiah
Up until now Jesus has been very guarded about his identity as Messiah. Rather than using the term Christ or Messiah Jesus identifies himself as Son of Man.
If Jesus had previously acknowledged publicly that he was the Messiah, the political implications would be such that he could not complete his intended ministry of teaching, healing, and proclaiming the Kingdom. But now that ministry is complete. All that remains is to accomplish his “exodus” in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Jesus now moves to fulfil messianic prophecy, and directs his disciples to find the donkey that his Father has prepared for his public entry into the City.
His claim as King must now be clear. Indeed, this claim of Messiahship, this open acknowledgement of Kingship is out there in the open.
Lessons to learn
So as we finish what lessons can we take from this event.
Regarding Jesus’ instructions about obtaining the donkey, we are to obey Jesus when he tells us to do something. Just because we don’t understand how everything will work out is no reason to refuse to budge when it is time to obey.
We must be ready and willing for Jesus to claim use of our possessions and positions. Since he is our Master, they don’t belong to us, but to him. When he sends a message, “The Lord has need of it,” we must relinquish our control willingly and immediately.
Praise can be received with humility. Jesus did not crave the praise of men, but neither did he silence it. It was fitting. It was appropriate.
There is a time to be guarded about who we are in God, and there is a time to be fully open about it.
We must not operate out of fear or self-interest, but be sensitive to what God wants to do and then cooperate with that.
Rejoicing and pain can co-exist. They did in Jesus at the Triumphal Entry, and they often exist in our lives, too. There will be no complete rejoicing until we rejoice fully in heaven, after God has wiped away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4).
And, of course, one of the strongest lessons of this passage is that Jesus IS King! He IS the Messiah, the Son of David, and as such, it is fitting that we worship him. Because as it says in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Let’s pray: “Lord, please help me to be willing to obey your instructions, even when I don’t understand all the details or their importance. Thank you for the enormous privilege you grant to me and to all who call you Lord to be members in your mission, to play important parts in what you are doing. Help me to rejoice in you and praise you with an open heart, not to resist because of my pain or from the wound of a doubting or distrustful heart. In your name I pray. Amen.”