“The Donkey” (by G. K. Chesterton, 20th century English author and poet)
When fishes flew and forests walk’d
And figs grew upon thorn
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings
The Devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things
The tatter’d outlaw of the earth
Of ancient crooked will
Starve, scourge, deride me, I am dumb
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour
One far fierce hour and sweet
There was a shout about my ears
And palms beneath my feet.
I thought this poem might be the best way to introduce myself. Yes, I am that donkey, the one who carried your savior into Jerusalem on what you call, “Palm Sunday.” As the poet noted, we donkeys are a bit freakish with our big ears and our bothersome braying. We’re not prized like stallions or feared like bears, but I hope you’ll listen to what I have to tell you because you and I have more in common than you think. Just as I was located, loosed, and led on that first Palm Sunday, so are you, dear Christian. You too have been located, loosed, and led by Jesus. I want to help you understand how wonderful that is.
Let me be clear: this talk is not about me, the donkey; it’s about Jesus. Without Jesus there would be no Palm Sunday, no humble king to carry into Jerusalem to sit upon his splintery throne of the cross lest you be eternally lost. So let’s talk about Jesus. Do you know what he had been up to before Palm Sunday? He had spent time in Jericho where he had healed a blind man, and then hung out with a tax collector named Zacchaeus. From there he walked to Bethany where he enjoyed a meal with his friends Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus – the very Lazarus Jesus had recently raised from the dead. Jesus then started out again for Jerusalem but before he had gone far, he told two of his disciples to fetch me, the donkey. That command should have struck his disciples as strange. Except for his fishing boat cruises on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus had walked everywhere else. Why did he suddenly now want a ride for a couple of kilometers? It was to fulfill the words of the Old Testament prophet, Zechariah, who had written five hundred years earlier: “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” (Zechariah 9:9).
Long before I was born, God knew me. Oh more than that. He had a plan for me! You see, you and I are not that different. Before you were born God knew you, says the Apostle Paul who wrote to Christians living in Ephesus: “For [God] chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:4, 5). If you’ve ever felt that no one cares about you; if you’ve ever wondered what you’re doing on earth, believe me, I know how you feel! We donkeys are kicked around and made fun of all the time. Why, even my fellow donkeys didn’t think much of me because I was still a little colt and hadn’t ever carried anyone yet when Jesus sent for me. But it doesn’t really matter what others think of you. What counts is what God thinks. And God does think about you. He has thought about you for a very long time – since before he created the world! You are someone that God wants to spend an eternity with. But for that to happen, I had to deliver Jesus to Jerusalem. So let’s get back to our Palm Sunday story.
When Jesus told two of his disciples to fetch me, he gave them detailed instructions as to where they would find me and what they should say if asked why they were taking me. The disciples found everything just as Jesus had said. What does that tell you about your Savior? It tells you that he knows all things – even what’s waiting for you around the next bend in the road! Therefore you can be certain that Jesus is never going to send you on a wild goose chase, no matter how crazy his directions to you might seem.
I was surprised when the two disciples showed up looking for me. You see at that time I didn’t know anything about Zechariah’s prophecy. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have dreamed that I was the donkey to carry the Savior. Before I could be of any service to Jesus though, I had to be located. And that’s true of you too. Jesus once said that he came to “seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). God has been seeking sinners since Adam and Eve fell into sin. It has to be that way because sinners don’t seek God. They either think they don’t need to because they believe they’re not that bad, or if aware for their sin, they’ll run and hide and blame others for their shortcomings.
But Jesus sought you out, friends, and he has located you. No, you may not have met Jesus personally but you have come to know him through his disciples like I did at first. Jesus sought you out because he wants you to be aware just how dangerous your sins are. They are a cancer that if left untreated, will lead to never-ending suffering in hell. Really? What would a donkey know about these things? Good point. So listen to Jesus. He said: “…if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:47, 48). Jesus isn’t seeking you just to scare you. He seeks to save – like the doctor who desperately wants to get in touch with his cancer-carrying patient so he can begin treatment. That will become clear if we can get back to the Palm Sunday story again.
After I was located, I had to be loosed from the hitching post outside my master’s house. Here’s another way in which we’re similar. You too have been bound, not with rope but with sin. Jesus once said: “…everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34b). Jesus also went on to remark that those who sin have Satan himself as their master (John 8:42-47). I’ve seen how my owner and his family act when Satan is their master. They’re not very patient with each other. They insist on getting their own way and it makes their lives pretty miserable. I suspect you understand what I’m talking about. But Jesus freed you from those bonds when on the cross he shed his innocent blood to dissolve the knot that had tethered you to Satan. You’re no longer Satan’s donkey! You’re free – not just from Satan but from the punishment you deserve for your sins.
But note well: you haven’t been loosed to gallop off on your own. Oh no. When the disciples untied me they led me to Jesus for I was to serve him, and so are you. So have you just traded one slave driver for another? Jesus is your Lord and master but he’s not a slave driver. He once said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
I admit, when Jesus sat on my back, I felt his weight. But it’s not the same for you. When Jesus comes into your life it’s more like putting on a winter coat. When the cold wind blows you don’t think to yourself: “Man this jacket is heavy. I wish I could take it off.” No, you say: “Wow this jacket is warm. I’m sure glad I have it!” And Jesus does warm you with his love and promises – protecting you from life’s cold blasts.
How can you be certain of this? Why, Palm Sunday should make you certain of it. Look at Jesus. He didn’t breeze into Jerusalem on a war horse like a king come to route the Romans. Nor did he sit atop a thoroughbred like some rich guy intent on giving out free bread to the masses. He could have but if that’s all he did, those people still would have died in their sins and would have been eternally lost, as would you have been. Instead Jesus rode on a lowly little donkey (me!), as if he was nothing more than a stack of wood bound for the altar of burnt offering at the temple. In a way Jesus was kindling because he would be consumed by God’s righteous anger over your sins. That humble sacrifice is what saves you.
“Ah, but if only Jesus would come to us himself to assure us of this truth,” you say. Guess what? Jesus is coming to you today. No, I won’t be carrying him but your pastor will when he hands you the bread and wine of Holy Communion. It won’t look like much is about to happen when you get to that portion of your worship service but you’ll have every reason to sing: “Hosanna!” before you receive the Lord’s Supper, for the King is coming to you with his body and his blood and for that reason, and that reason alone you are blessed. For through his body and blood you are made certain of forgiveness…again.
When Jesus got on to my back, he could have spurred me into the wilderness far away from the crowds and the painful death that awaited him in Jerusalem. But he didn’t. Jesus’ coming, therefore, was not an invasion; it was your salvation. Neither is his presence in your life now an intrusion; it’s a benediction. For through Jesus you have been located, loosed, and are now being led to heaven. Let all of God’s people, no, let all of God’s creatures cry: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” Amen.