Posted by: pmarkrobb | March 31, 2012

the ways of a donkey

Today is a very significant day in the life of every Christian.  Palm Sunday is the gateway through which we enter holy week.  A week of incredible significance that begins with Christ entering the city of Jerusalem, received and lauded as a king, and ends with a resurrected Savior.  But as you may already know, those two glorious punctuation points are not the full story.

This is my fourth consecutive year of practicing Lent and walking with intention through holy week.  In my pre-Lenten years, Palm Sunday was just a 30-second commercial for the anticipated “big day.”  There were palm leaves and talk of new Easter outfits.  There was the reminder to purchase baskets, fill the plastic eggs, and plan the Easter morning “hunt.”  It was the anticipation of a short work week, with Good Friday relegated to not much more than a welcomed vacation day.  It was season treason and full of everything but spiritual significance.

Then came the casual inquiry from a friend as to whether I had ever practiced Lent.  And on that blessed fulcrum, the spiritual momentum of my life began to tip in a wholly new direction.  The time of Lent, and my practice of it, has become central to my true self.  And the specific emphasis on holy week has awoken within me an entirely new and deep sense of thanksgiving for what Jesus did for me (and for you).  It has blown the seal off the cap that I had put on the spiritual side of Easter.  It has brought true and vibrant color to each day in my walk from parade to resurrection.  The bright colors pop, while at the same time, the grays and blacks have taken on new contrast and depth.

So today, I begin where holy week begins, with the image of a King riding into town … on a donkey.  I have known all along that the donkey was significant to this “triumphal entrance” story, but I had always stopped at the reasons of prophesy and humility.  In Zechariah 9:9-10 it was prophesied that Christ would arrive on the back of a donkey.  And as for humility, it is pretty easy and obvious to make the connection with our King’s birth.  Christ’s two big entrances were both made in great humility:  born, not with herald in the halls of a gilded palace, but in the anonymity and humility of a feed trough within a common stable; riding into Jerusalem as a King, not on the back of a noble and strong horse, but on the foal of a lowly donkey.  These are perfect illustrations that seem to wrap up the significance into a nice neat package.

As I studied this past week, however, I was introduced to a deeper significance in God’s choice of this animal.  I am certain that my father-in-law has explained this to me before (having owned a mule (the offspring of a male donkey and female horse) for several years), but I was reminded in my studies, that the donkey is a very smart animal.  It is true to its description as a beast of burden, but do not be mistaken.  This is no clueless, led-around-by-the-nose farm animal.  It is equal parts stubborn will and faithful servant, and this is where I found the nugget.

All of the gospels give an account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, underscoring its obvious significance.  But it is the complete lack of any other significant event during that day that began to intrigue me.  Jesus rides into Jerusalem to this glorious greeting, this major parade, and then … nothing.  Ok, there is brief mention in Mark’s gospel that he took a look around the temple, and because it was getting dark, he returned to Bethany.  But what else happened that day?!  It seems generally accepted that the time of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was mid-morning.  And then the next detail we hear is of him looking around the temple just before dark.  Huh?  Wouldn’t this have been the perfect moment to take up the bully pulpit and play to the crowd?  Or better yet, march on to the seat of government and overthrow it?  The crowd was anticipating a conquering king.  They showed it in their use of palm branches (a symbol of military victory), and cries of “Hoseanna!” (which in Hebrew means “save us” or “save us now”).  But Jesus is not the type of king the Jews are expecting, and that is not what happens.  There is very little circumstance that follows the pomp.  There’s a parade led by a man on a young donkey, a quiet walk through the temple and then back home around dusk.

Now back to this young donkey.  In my studies on this seemingly lowly animal, I found an Old Testament story (Numbers 22:21-35) about a prophet (Balaam) who rode a donkey, who saw an angel, refused to confront the angel, got off of the path and was beaten by an angry prophet … how’s that for cliff notes?  That story reveals a great truth about the donkey.  Namely, that it senses danger and stubbornly refuses to go headlong into it.  A horse?  Sound the bugle and kick your heels, and he goes charging.  But a donkey?  No way, sister.  You can push and prod all you want, but this animal is holding its ground.  We see this same picture in the lack of mention of any significant event after Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem.  Although this might have been an opportune moment to go charging onward with the full support of an adoring and boisterous crowd, Jesus did nothing.  I would think there had to be some talk or even possibly some pressure to act.  These people were expecting a conquering king.  A man of action who would bring the rod and make right all those times the people of Israel were at the short end of the conquering stick.  Yet in the face of all that, this is a King who was not here for that purpose.  This is a King who knew his time and held his ground, refusing to move at another’s pace or for another’s purpose.

Further, there is the area of the donkey’s true nature.  It is very much a beast of burden, but bears those burdens as a wise and faithful servant.  Balaam’s donkey knew not to confront but also did not run.  He submitted himself to the beating of an angry prophet.  In Christ’s entry, He did not confront nor did he run from the suffering He knew was coming.  He submitted to God’s purpose and became the bearer of the greatest burden there ever has or ever will be, the weight of the sins of every person for all time.  In His birth, life, and purpose, there was never an intent to take an earthly throne.  Our King’s earthly throne would be a cross.  There He would hang, in His true nature, the full weight and burden of all our sins, faithfully born.

In Christ’s stubborn and unfailing will, He bore our burden as only He could, and paid the price so that we might live.  What a perfect choice God made in his plan for Christ’s entry and for our redemption.  Let’s all go into this week, and the remainder of the days God has for us, walking in the ways of a donkey.

I invite you into our journey onWord through holy week.  To take time each day, search the scriptures, and follow Jesus’ path to the cross, the grave, and out of the tomb.  What an amazing punctuation we have waiting for us at the end of this week.  Let us not reduce its meaning by running past the deep significance in the details of Jesus’ final days before death and resurrection.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!!


Responses

  1. Hi brother,

    Thanks for sharing the insights He has given you. Syncing with God’s purpose and time speak to the events of my life and once again draw me to His place of purpose and things that go beyond fair and right. Fair and right really can become shallow and insignificant, falling way short of what He is offering and providing for my life. To see and live as He sees and lives……..a place where I am “able to to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12: 1-2)

    Thanks for spurring me on!

    Jerry

  2. I like the connect of Christ’s stubborn will and the picture of Him on a donkey, a great visual to ponder this week, His stubborn, purposeful focus on doing the will of His Father. Oh to be so obedient to Him in this life.

    I agree with Jerry, thanks for the spurs…

    The other mark


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