Luke 19:28-40New International Version (NIV)
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 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. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 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:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
The other day I was singing as I was making lunch for the children, which happens quite often (both the singing and the making of lunch). Our family isn’t exactly the Von Trapps, but I like to sing when people can’t hear me. And, of course, I like to sing songs that show off my range…or lack thereof. So lately, I’ve been singing one of my favorites by Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of the rock group, Pearl Jam, who has more recently done some solo work. When I get a song in my head, it tends to stay there for a while, and I guess I was singing this song little too much for one member of my family, because Paxton, 6 years old, asked me, “Dad, do you know any other songs?”
I bet you all know what it is like to have a song stuck in your head. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that there are only two kinds of songs that stick in our heads: really good songs, and really bad songs. I don’t know why, but bad songs tend to stick with me as much as the good ones. When Paxton asked if I knew any other songs, I told him that I take requests. He told me he wanted to hear the “Gummy Bear” song.
What’s that you say? You don’t know the Gummy Bear Song? Allow me to help you with that! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=astISOttCQ0 And now it will be stuck in your head all day. You are welcome.
But like I said, really good songs stick in your head as well. And when you love a song, you don’t mind hearing it over and over again.
I grew up in the days before digital music, and I grew up without a lot of money. So what my brothers and I would do when we wanted a tape of a certain song, was to find an old cassette tape (remember those?), put it in our shared boom box (remember those?), and tune in to our favorite radio station at 6:00 pm to listen to the “Top Six at Six.” When our jam would come on, we would push the “play” and “record” button at the same time to tape whatever we were into at the time. And then we would listen to that same song over and over.
When there is a song you really like, you don’t mind hearing it over and over again.
Over the next couple of weeks you are going to be hearing sermons and scriptures that you have heard many times before. If you grew up going to church, you have probably heard about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey before. And spoiler alert!—next Sunday, we are going to talk about the resurrection!
For me, these sermons and scriptures can be like a really good song. I don’t mind hearing them over and over again. I don’t mind having “Hosanna in the highest,” “He is risen indeed!,” and “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” (sung by Johnny Cash) stuck in my head.
But you also know that I like to push things out a bit. I like to explore uncharted territory and learn new things. So we are also going to see if we can look at these texts from a different angle.
Often when a song gets popular another musician will record the same song and put their own personal twist on it. We sometimes call this a “cover” version. Old Crow Medicine Show is probably best known for the song “Wagon Wheel.” I love that song, even if it is a little blue grassy. Then Darius Rucker, of Hootie and the Blowfish fame, came along and recorded his own version of the song.
It didn’t work for me.
These next couple of weeks we may do a bit of a “cover song” version of these favorite texts. You are welcome to not like them, but I hope that we can learn something new in the process. And if nothing else, we will be reminded to shout “Hosanna in the Highest,” “He is Risen, Indeed,” and maybe even sing a little Johnny Cash.
Have you ever notice how important of a role donkeys play in the Bible? This is one of the things that can easily be missed if you aren’t looking for it, but keep in mind that the things that Jesus does that seem weird to us often have significant symbolism. If we go all the way back to Genesis 49 we find Jacob giving his dying words to his sons. In verses 8-11 Jacob tells his son Judah that his brothers will serve him as king and that his descendants will continue to rule. Then there is this strange thing about Judah tying a colt of a donkey to a choice vine, the kind that would be used to grow grapes for wine.
Things are just kind of left there. Judah’s descendants will be kings over their brothers, who collectively are referred to as Israel, and there is some connection of donkeys and wine.
Many years go by and the Israelites grow in number. They become slaves in Egypt and they experience the Passover where they are to take either a lamb or a goat (Exodus 12:5) and slaughter it, placing its blood on their door posts and eating the meat. God then “passed over” the houses with blood on their door posts when completing the final plague.
These Israelites then wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years, took possession of the Promised Land, and started grumbling about a king. They wanted a king like the other nations, but the prophet Samuel told them no, God was their king. They continued to grumble, so God allowed them to have a king, but he told Samuel to warn them that a king would abuse his power. They still wanted a king, an earthly king.
Then in 1 Samuel 9 we find another story about donkeys. A man named Kish has lost his donkeys and doesn’t know where to find them. So he sends his son, Saul, along with a servant, to go look for them. After looking high and low, Saul and the servant decide to go to the prophet Samuel to see if Samuel has any divine insight as to where they might be able to find the donkeys. Because, you know, what better use is there for a prophet than to find lost donkeys? Samuel had been told that God would be sending him the one who was to be anointed king of Israel, and it was Saul.
I think Saul’s reaction was to say something like, “Get out of town, I’m just a simple man!” He had some reservations about this, so Samuel told him to send back the servant and God would reveal that this was his will. So Saul stays with Samuel and sends the servant home. When Samuel sends Saul back home, he tells him that he will meet several messengers on his way and they will be a sign to him that God has indeed chosen him as the king. First, two men will meet him and tell him that the donkeys have been found. Then he will meet three men, one carrying three goats, another three loaves of bread, and the third a skin of wine.
Donkeys, goats, wine and bread.
As we all know, Saul’s time as king didn’t go as the people of Israel had hoped, and soon his successor was named. In 1 Samuel 15 we are told that God rejects Saul as king, and in chapter 16 David is anointed by Samuel as Saul’s successor.
We are told that David is a pretty good musician and that Saul is having a difficult time relaxing. So Saul asks for someone who can play the lyre to play for him to soothe his nerves, and one of his servants suggests a young shepherd boy named David. So Saul sends a message to Jesse, David’s father, asking him to send David to him to play him soothing music. And in 1 Samuel 16:20 we read this: “So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.”
Donkeys, goats, bread and wine.
Did Jesse intend to send these things to Saul as a subversive warning that Saul’s time as king was coming to an end? Just six chapters earlier we read that donkeys, goats, bread and wine were signs given to Saul that he would become king. Was Jesse telling Saul in this prophetic and subversive way that his time as king was soon to be over and that David would become the king of Israel?
Perhaps I’m making too much of this, but in 2 Samuel 16 we read about an attempted coup where a group is trying to overthrow David. Verse 1 says, “When David had gone a short distance beyond the summit, there was Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth, waiting to meet him. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread… and a skin of wine.” Donkeys, bread, and wine. No goats here, and perhaps that is why the coup failed.
When David was handing the role of king over to his son Solomon, we are told that Solomon rode into town on King David’s mule (1 Kings 1:38), and he was told to do so by a group of leaders which included a prophet and a priest.
Donkeys, goats, wine and bread. These seemingly everyday items are quite symbolic in the Old Testament. They seem to be symbols of a change in power. They seem to represent a new ruler.
Let’s add one more symbol. In 2 Kings 9 we are told that the prophet Elisha is given a message from God to anoint Jehu as the next king of Israel. Elisha takes Jehu aside and anoints him. When Jehu meets back up with the other leaders of Israel, they ask him what Elisha wanted. His response is found in 2 Kings 9:12a-13, “Jehu said, Here is what he told me: ‘This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel.’ They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, ‘Jehu is king!’”
So we finally come to our text for this morning, and now I have to ask you, do you think any of this was accidental? You have to think that if anyone knew the Hebrew Bible, it was Jesus.
We are told that Jesus sends two disciples ahead of him to bring him back an animal to ride into Jerusalem upon. The word translated in the NIV as colt can refer to either a young horse or a young donkey. Other Gospels are a little more clear, Jesus rode in on a colt, the foal of a donkey, which seems to be a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, to which we will return shortly.
We often refer to this day as Palm Sunday, but there is no reference to waving palm branches in Luke’s account. Instead, Luke focuses on the people responding to Jesus riding the young donkey by spreading their cloaks on the ground, welcoming their king to Jerusalem in the same way Jehu was welcomed by his people.
Later we find Jesus sending some of his disciples ahead to find a room and prepare the Passover meal for Jesus and his disciples to participate in this festival. The Passover meal was a reenactment of the meal that the Israelites participated in before the final plague in Egypt where the Israelites ate symbolic food like bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of slavery; bread made without yeast because they had to leave in such a hurry; and either a lamb or a goat, to remember the blood that was placed on the doorframes of the Israelite homes causing God to pass over those households.
And Jesus introduced a couple of new elements with new meanings during their last supper. He took the bread, broke it, and said, “This is my body, broken for you.” And after the meal, he took the cup of wine and said, “This is my blood, poured out for you as the new covenant.”
Donkeys, goats, bread and wine.
Is there any doubt that this was intentional? Just as Jesse the father of David sent a subversive message to Saul by sending him donkeys, goats, bread and wine, so too was Jesus delivering a message: there is a new king in town. But not a king like Saul, or even like David. The rulers of this world had failed the Israelites, just as God had warned them. And now Jesus was declaring himself to be king once again. Jesus, God in human form, is the King of kings, Lord of lords.
The prophet Zechariah proclaimed that it would happen in such a way: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses 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.” (9:9-10)
My friends, we have heard this song before. Perhaps you have heard it today in a new way, a way that will cause you to think about the Lordship of Jesus in a different way. My prayer is that it will stick in your head, not because it is annoying, like the Gummy Bear song. May it stick in your head today and always because it is the very essence of the Good News.
We have a king. He isn’t a Republican, nor is he a Democrat. Our king demands that we love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and care for the least of these. He has a foreign relations policy. He has a lot to say about violence and the value of human life. A lot of people want to say that Jesus isn’t political, I would say just the opposite. Perhaps Jesus doesn’t want to get bogged down in our political systems, and who would blame him. But riding a donkey, sharing a meal of broiled goat, and breaking bread and sharing the cup, these are indeed political acts. They are Jesus’s reminder that he is the King. And we are called to “Do this, in remembrance of [him].”
May that stick in your mind today, and may it be lived out for eternity.