Summary: The Donkey is the key to understanding why the crowds turned on Jesus in the most momentous week of antiquity
Palm Sunday 2008
This morning’s Gospel reading is the beginning of one of the most momentous weeks in Antiquity – in AD 29.
Indeed one of the most important weeks in history.
We know the story so well that it is hard to find something new to say.
So I would like to ask you a question this morning:
“Why do you think that in the space of one short week Jesus could go from being the most popular person on the planet to public enemy number 1.”
The key to the answer can, I believe be found with the ownership of the Donkey.
In a parallel passage in St Luke’s gospel, Luke records this:
33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
I’ll explain that later.
But let me start with the background to the political situation in Jerusalem at the beginning of the third Decade of the First Century AD
The Jews had been waiting a long time for a Messiah – someone who would free them from the oppression of a foreign ruler.
They looked back in history about 200 years to BC 167 the time when Judas Maccabees threw off the yoke of the Seleucid kings of Syria - and reclaimed Jewish independence.
For the Jews THAT was the type of Messiah they were expecting at the beginning of Holy Week.
However in Holy Week Jesus dispels their illusions.
Why did the crowd change in one short week from worshipping Jesus to baying for his blood?
I would like to suggest to you it is because Jesus brought unacceptable CHANGE to their thinking
He challenged their concept of the Messiah - and as with change – religious people didn’t like that
In fact if the crowds had been watching carefully they would have realised that - even on Palm Sunday itself -that something wasn’t quite right.
Because if Jesus was coming as an all conquering King, he would not have ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey
Instead had he come as a political Messiah, he would have ridden into Jerusalem on a white stallion – the symbol of power.
But he came to Jerusalem riding on a donkey – the symbol of servanthood.
You may recall earlier in my sermon, I said that the key to understanding why the crowds turned on Jesus lay in the ownership of the donkey.
Let me explain now why I think that
2. The donkey was planned
And I believe that Jesus had purposely planned riding a donkey into Jerusalem – that was no mere chance.
Why do I think that?
3.1 Jesus instructions
My evidence starts with Jesus’ instructions:
Let me read them to you. He tells his disciples
30"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. 31If anyone asks you, ’Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ’The Lord needs it.’
Clearly the disciples did not know the donkey’s owners – otherwise Jesus would have simply said “Go and get the donkey from whatever the owner’s name was.”
St Luke then records that when the disciples
did go and fetch the donkey, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
NOTE: Plural owners
This is important because if the donkey had at least two owners you can be sure the owners were poor.
The donkey didn’t belong to some rich landowner to whom the donkey wasn’t a prize possession and he wasn’t too worried if one of his donkeys when missing for a week.
So the donkey would have had to be a sizeable investment for each owner.
So WHY would the owners would have parted with such an investment to complete strangers - the disciples.
The only reasonable explanation is that the expression “The Lord needs it" was a pre-arranged codeword.
If this is so, Jesus has put a lot of meticulous planning into riding the donkey into Jerusalem
3.2 So what was Jesus saying by using a donkey
So if Jesus has planned the event, what is the point that He is making by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Jesus was well versed in Scripture.
And he would have been well aware of Zechariah’s prophecy – given four centuries earlier that said one day the true King would come - not on a charger but on a donkey
The prophecy reads like this:
9 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. (Zech 9:9)
But the crowds couldn’t hear the statement Jesus was making when he came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.