If I ever get to ride into a city as a conquering hero, I know how I don’t want to do it. A beautiful majestic white stallion would be nice. An armed escort, a marching band, important dignitaries, adoring crowds. How would you do it?
When General Patton returned to Boston after World War 2, a million people lined the streets. Patton glittered with 24 stars: four on each shoulder, four on each collar, four on his helmet, and four on the holster that cradled his pearl-handled revolver. He sat up straight and absorbed the adoration of the crowds.
How did Jesus enter Jerusalem on Sunday before he died on Friday? On a donkey. Can you imagine General Patton riding into Boston on a donkey? Jesus’ entry was one more emphatic point that he wasn’t the kind of king the people expected, but we really need to know what kind of king he is. Here’s Mark’s version of the story:
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:1-10).
Sure, there were crowds, and they adored him, at least for now. But a donkey? God is riding a donkey? If the disciples had any lingering notions that Jesus planned to lead the Jewish armies in rebellion to Rome, this should’ve done it for them. No general they’d ever heard of rode a donkey. And of course that’s why he did it.
The people needed to understand that Jesus didn’t come as an earthly king or a conquering hero. He didn’t come with Churchill-esque speeches to stir the masses to battle. He didn’t come with some new kind of insurgent strategy to chase the Roman legions back to Italy. He had been telling the crowds for months now that his kingdom was different from what they expected. He came to teach them about servanthood, not power. Humility, not arrogance.
So now he teaches them through a striking visual image. An omnipotent, everlasting, Creator God climbed up on the back of a young, awkward donkey and slowly made his way into the city. I think that image ought to stick with us. The next time we think people at work or church or school ought to throw us a ticker-tape parade because of something we’ve done, think of the Lord’s triumphal entry. The next time we think we’re all that, we should remember that our Savior wasn’t. He was humble. He was submissive. He’s the example of what we ought to be. —Chuck